A thought experiment - thoughts on co-worker missing too much work

A thought experiment for you:
Imagine a scenario where you work in a busy department, and you have a co-worker who has been sick 20 or 25 days already, not even halfway into the year. You’re each allowed 10 sick days per year. Everyone is suffering from this co-worker not being at work and not getting their own work done, which causes more work for everyone. The company in spite of its stated limit of 10 sick days per year, after which you are no longer paid for missed days, has done nothing about this co-worker.

How do you feel about this scenario? What would you like your company to do? What seems fair to you?

Now, do any of your answers change if you find out that the reason for all this sickness is pregnancy? Why or why not?

I’d suck it up because it’s not really any of business what co-worker is going through. Furthermore, I’d hope that whatever difficulties co-worker is having with her pregnancy are not threatening to her life or to her unborn child. If the department starts to suffer enough, I’d suggest that perhaps management might want to look into hiring a part-time temp to pick up the slack.

I guess I could get all bent out of shape because she has two weeks more paid leave than I do and it’s all unfair and boo-hoo. But life isn’t fair in lots of different ways, and quite frankly, I’d rather not need 20 days of sick leave.

I wouldn’t be thinking about ‘the company,’ I would be thinking about (or talking to) his or her direct supervisor. I would be a bit more understanding if it was pregnancy or an ongoing illness (rather than a crap immune system or too many hangovers)… but I’d still like to know there was some plan of action for the future. Switching to part-time, early maternity leave, something like that.

I guess I’m not sure what you expect the company to do, besides not pay salary for the extra sick days, which I presume is automatic. It’s too bad that she’s so ill, and I agree that a temp would be a help.

I would certainly want an explanation for why I was doing someone else’s work as well as my own and not getting paid for it.

Pregnancy has nothing to do with it. It’s a choice.

If the company has 50+ employees, the FMLA requires that an employee with at least a year of service be given up to 12 weeks time off for a serious health condition. This time does not need to be consecutive. Complications of pregnancy would likely fall under this definition of serious. If this company has 50+ employees, most likely the 10 sick days are 10 paid sick days, but the 12 weeks of FMLA, which can be unpaid, still applies.

If the situation is not covered by the FMLA, the company’s main legal issue is applying its policy consistently, so it doesn’t get accused of discriminating based on some other illegal basis.

Assuming the company is required legally or for consistency with how it generally applies its policies to not terminate the employee, management needs to address the staffing issue. Hire part-time staff, have management pitch in to provide coverage, hire a temp, whatever fits the situation.

If the company is legally free to terminate this employee, they need to consider the best interests of the business in doing so. Sometimes this means letting someone go, to keep the business running smoothly and set a consistent precedent. Other times it might mean making an exception for an exceptionally valuable employee.

ETA D’oh, just realized you’re in Canada. If, hypothetically, you were in the U.S., see above, or adapt the idea to Canada’s laws.

Do you know for sure that your co-worker is being paid for the time off beyond the 10-day limit? If so, how do you know that?

Are they consecutive days, or just one or two days at a time? I don’t know how things work in Calgary, but hereabouts more than a certain number of consecutive days off for medical reasons makes a person eligible for state disability insurance payments.

It would be nice to know that if you yourself were genuinely unable to work beyond the 10-day limit, that the company is generous. And if you were not given the same consideration, you would have grounds to cry discrimination.

Finally, if you and others are being given grief for not getting enough work done, you have an easy response: “We’re shorthanded.”

It’s not your job to worry about it; it’s your manager’s job. That said, if you can’t take on the extra work, you need to tell your manager that you cannot cope with the extra workload. Obviously you’re going to have to phrase it appropriately: “If you want me to do that now, I’ll have to put off doing X until tomorrow” or similar. That way the manager can make the appropriate decision.

There’s really nothing you can do, I don’t think.

There’s a similar scenario where I work. The personal assistant to a very high mucky-muck has I know used up her 5 sick days, her 1 personal day and probably 85-90% of her 4 weeks vacation. The mucky-much is well aware of it; I’ve stepped into the void on occasion to help out, but it really gets annoying. I’d never say anything because I don’t supervise her, and it would really be re-stating the obvious.


I am in a similar situation. It sucks, but there’s not much we can do. The lead person in our department is incensed, but has no power to discipline her…that’s our supervisor’s job. She’s still got vacation time, and they’re making her use that. Not sure if she’s got FMLA yet or not, but since she’s pregnant, she probably qualifies.

I was sympathetic at first…after all, if my kids were sick for a week, my husband and I could at least trade off, or my dad could come over and help out so we could go back to work. The dad’s not in the picture, and perhaps she doesn’t have relatives who can help out that way. However, I don’t think you need to take the entire day off for a prenatal appointment. (She puts in for two hours or whatever, and then calls later to say she won’t be coming back. No problems with the baby. She’s done this twice so far. The baby is due in January. I’m not sure I’ll be able to stand it.)

The company knows we’re shorthanded, and we get extra help from other departments. Rumor is that they will be posting an opening for an extra person soon.

I think it depends on a number of other factors. If this person is pregnant and puking their face off their most likely not going to get much work done anyway - in that situation I would just prefer that everyone suck it up (myself included) and help that person out. Presumably once the pregnancy has progressed the person will be feeling better and it will no longer be an issue.

My opinion is probably influenced by the fact that I get paid overtime.

If the person has a chronic illness which won’t get better any time in the near future, I would hope that person would begin persuing short-term and/or long-term leave solutions, and the company would hire a temp to assist while they’re getting better.

However, my work-place is very much a team environment and everyone (save for one person) is pretty good about helping out if someone else is sick or otherwise unable to come into the office, recognizing that at some point they might themselves be sick, or have a bereavement issue, or whatever and need to take extra days off.

If your co-worker is pregnant, and seems to be one of the unlucky women who is sick throughout her pregnancy, she can begin her leave a full 2 months before her due date - if she’s missing more and more work, perhaps this could be suggested to her. She’ll only get 10 months with her baby if she does that, but her co-workers may be less inclined to slug her.

This has happened to me twice in the three years I have worked for my current company. One was my boss and it turned out to be breast cancer and she needed a lot of time off for doctors appointments. One reason why I both both selfish and paradoxically unselfish at the same time is because I want to know what these situations have to do with me. They don’t have anything to do with me except for switching the work load around and why should I care about that? I am still putting up an elbow to force my way out of the door everyday at the same time to pick up my young daughters. I don’t care if any of my coworkers ever come to work as long as it doesn’t affect the length of my day.

It doesn’t seem that remarkable. 10 sick days a year isn’t going to cover anything serious or ongoing. I think it’s right and proper to let the sick employee draw on other leave, if they have any. Once that runs out I suppose the company has to decide whether they’re better off trying to dismiss the employee or tough it out in the hope that they’ll get some productivity out of them further down the line, if and when they get well again. If they do sack the employee, they’d need to be careful to protect themselves from wrongful dismissal or discrimination claims (in jurisdictions where such exist).

Well, in my case, it often does affect the length of my day, since the work needs to get done. If we think she’s coming in, but then she doesn’t, we can be left scrambling. I get paid OT, so it’s not as bad as it could be. I feel a bit taken advantage of, though.

Interestingly enough, she was about to be disciplined for missing too many days when she told the supervisor that she was pregnant. Then all ideas of disciplining her for missing days was off the table. That’s why I phrased the OP as I did - your take on a co-worker missing so much work, and then how you’d feel if you knew it was because of pregnancy, because that sure seemed to change my company’s policy.

Does Canada have laws against firing someone because they are pregnant? The US does. Even if you know that the flaky behavior started before she was pregnant, I’d bet that your company doesn’t want to risk a lawsuit.

I suspect they also would have backed off if she’d revealed she had cancer, or kidney failure, or hep C. The issue isn’t that pregnancy gets a bye, it’s that serious medical conditions–including pregnancy–get a bye. What matters is that she isn’t just hung over a lot.

Now, one can argue that pregnancy is more easily prevented than some other conditions, but that gets into very murky waters very quickly regarding reproductive freedom.

Don’t be “that guy” that bitches about someone else’s performance. Evaluate your job on your OWN terms and leave your coworkers out of it. If you’re being worked too hard, tell your manager that they are requiring too much of you. If you think you’re performing well enough to get a raise, don’t point out how badly everyone else is doing compared to you. Nobody likes that guy.

I’d want to know why isn’t a replacement being brought in.

I have no problem with someone being off work for a long time due to illness (pregnancy or otherwise), but I do have a problem with everybody having to “pull extra” when there’s such a thing as temp agencies out there and the missing coworker will be missing for a while still. If the company pays extra wage for extra time, doing it for too long becomes more expensive than hiring a temp; if they don’t, it becomes more expensive once people start getting ulcers, bad backs, etc.

Mind you, I work in a country (Spain, yes I’m in Glasgow but it’s “overseas work”) where there’s no such thing as sick days. Someone can be missing work due to “disabling illness” for two years straight before being permanently replaced; this doesn’t mean they haven’t been replaced in those two years, but the replacement was treated as temporary. Usually someone who hasn’t been able to work for two years will get “permanent disability” or “permanent disability for X kind of work,” at the end of the two years.

I wish I had worked with you - I got penalized when pregnant for missing time when for the previous 2 years I missed one day [a tree fell on my car] and made it in the 50 miles one fucking way through snow storms that had people who lived less than 5 miles away crying they couldn’t make it in.

Mark me down as someone who is morning sick noon and night the entire time it takes the growing fetus to shut my kidneys down and die, causing me to get hospitalized - 5 months the first time, 7 months the second time and the third time for 2 months until I could get in to have it officially diagnosed and terminated. [hey as far as the navy cared, I had a tubal ligation 15 years previously so i obviously wasnt pregnant despite the call from the lab to tell me I was pregnant, back when just going in to the base hospital essentially involved a pregnancy test no matter what.]