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I'm trying to put this is the most non offensive way I can think of, but I realize some people may be offended by it. Just a heads up.


I have a peer who is a woman and has recently been slipping on her timelines constantly. When confronted she'll just reply "I have doctors appointments" \ "I have to go to the hospital", etc.

Now, I escalated this to my manager (that the work is not getting done, not that she's not telling the medical issue), and the response was essentially on the lines of "yeah, when women have medical issues, the rest of the team just needs to absorb the load". Now, she is not really using her medical leave or vacation days either, she'll just disappear during the day citing appointments.

I got a peek at her vacation printout when she printed it to the wrong printer and left it there. As a result, I have some insight that she's not taking vacation time. Also, the fact that our vacation tool automatically puts an "out of office" block on your calendar, which is not present on hers in addition to the fact that she does turn up in office for a while every day.

Added complication:

She is the only woman on the team and cannot be fired or have any disciplinary action taken against her since, if she leaves the team, we will be in violation of diversity guidelines, and the manager will be in hot water.


How are such situations resolved by experienced managers? I imagine the solution I experienced is suboptimal and managers with more experience would solve it differently. My manager has < 6 months people management experience.

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*comments removed* Please remember what comments are for. –  jmac Jun 9 '14 at 2:25
For those with editing permissions, and for those who want to use their suggested edits to help out, here's what you can do: If you see answers to clarifying questions in the comments, edit them into the post body, and flag the comments as obsolete. If enough people flag comments, they'll go away on their own. This is a great way to help improve content and keep the site clutter free. Hope this helps. –  jmort253 Jun 11 '14 at 2:28

7 Answers 7

Do not try to manage your peer. Your manager may even know the details and choose not to share them with you. I can't imagine how you know whether she's using vacation or leave time, or not - but it's none of your business anyway. Perhaps she has made arrangements to make up the time later. Anyway, none of this matters to you, leave it to the manager.

What matters to you is that the work is not getting done and the deadlines are in danger. Focus on that when talking to your manager. Between her taking a half day here and there and you discussing it with various people, the team could be losing as much as a day, day and a half a week. What is your manager's plan for keeping the project on pace? Is there to be overtime? Will it be paid? Are they bringing in someone to handle a specific task to lighten the load on the rest of the team? Can the deadlines be moved? These are good questions for you to ask. "Are you having a miscarriage or what?" is not. For one thing what would you do with the answer? Even if she's completely inventing these medical issues, that changes nothing for you since you think she can't be fired. So get your mind off what you cannot change and start thinking about what you can change.

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I'd like to add this link: modelviewculture.com/pieces/managing-silicon-spoons which explains a lot about working and living with a chronic condition, and how employers and coworkers must, should and should not act in relation to this. –  Jenny D Jun 12 '14 at 7:21
@JennyD Thanks for the link. What a nightmare employee, I emailed our HR to make sure nobody gets hired like that. –  NickNo Jun 13 '14 at 2:01

If you're in the United States, labor laws prevent companies from using discriminatory hiring practices and also prevent companies from taking later discriminatory action on employees as well.

This includes 'disabled' people and this further includes people who manage chronic health conditions.

It also enforces a 'don't ask don't tell' policy when and if an employee is disabled and/or manages a medical condition which may need treatment during the course of their work term.

The HR manager/staff will need to know and this information IN ITS MOST BASIC FORM (literally, this employee manages a chronic medical condition) - may be passed down to the employee's manager (the employee is more often than not given the choice to further disclose to their manager or not)... but this information is otherwise completely confidential and is partly related to HIPAA laws regarding the privacy of health-related information.

That said, it is NOT your business in any way, shape, or form.

It's great that your male co-workers can spill the beans on the whys and wherefores, but not everyone (and NO, this is NOT a women-only issue) is willing to do so for a variety of reasons including the possibility of being further discriminated against.

If your company is willing to keep her on staff because despite her need for accommodations, she is still qualified, then the company needs to also know that accommodating her may equate to rebalancing the work load by adding extra help, extending deadlines at times, etc.

(Edit - 06.09.14: The next three blocks of text were added to elaborate on my response specifically regarding the OP's issue/concern re: shouldering the additional workload at the behest of their manager and addressing that specific concern as opposed to 'how do I deal with this particular co-worker' because of that concern.)

No two workplaces are alike and if your manager is wanting you to do some extra work, then that is your manager's prerogative AND perhaps an issue to take up with your manager once more OR escalate to -their- manager if you feel you are being unfairly or wrongly treated or discriminated against, etc.

HOWEVER, you would NOT address this issue in the way you asked this question by blaming another employee and what you see to be potentially suspicious health-related absences. It is inappropriate and also an invasion of another person's right to privacy regarding personal matters and could get you 'dinged'/monitored for harassment/discrimination against that employee... especially if she complains about your confrontation(s) with her.

Monitor your workload and your team's workload and the rate at which things are getting done and if you and the team are struggling to get things done according to the timeline the manager has set, then present the problem factually and logically as it is and without playing the blame game.



It is NOT a WOMEN issue or even a CO-WORKER issue and additionally, by CONFRONTING ANY co-worker on their 'medical issues', you open yourself up for a harassment case filed against you.

What your co-worker's situation is is a PRIVATE one and the people to address it isn't fellow co-workers.

And no, your co-worker is under no obligation whatsoever to provide YOU or anyone else who is NOT HR/management a doctor's note.

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In most countries I know of, staff are not required to explain what their medical issues are, except for explaining accommodations they need made for medical issues, and possibly disclosing certain contagious diseases. People have a right to privacy where their medical information is concerned.

This has nothing to do with being male or female. If someone doesn't want all their coworkers knowing what's going on, that's their choice. Do you really want a detailed description of what they're going to the hospital for? I've never gone to a coworker and said "hey, wanna watch a video of doctors shoving cameras in various places?". They don't want to tell, and you probably don't want to know. Leave it at that.

Typically all someone has to do is prove they were at the doctors or needed the time off. That's what a doctor's note is for. Perhaps your manager has asked for a doctors note, perhaps not. Either way, that shouldn't be your concern.

How should your manager deal with it? Ask for doctor's notes for their absences. As for sick days - many places will let you slip out for a quick doctor's appointment and work a little late another day to make up the time. As long as they do make up the time, or use the equivalent in sick/vacation days, that's fine.

The diversity policy is a whole other problem. I realize why they exist, but they often lead to HAVING to hire or keep a less qualified person just because of their gender. If I were your manager, I would try to hire another competent woman or two. For one, this makes the team more diverse, so bonus points for following the policy. For two, it means I don't have to rush to find ANY female to work here. I can wait until I find a competent female.

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*comments removed* Please remember what comments are for. –  jmac Jun 10 '14 at 1:24

The specifics of the medical issue are clearly none of your business. The issue is that your manager has so poorly constructed the team that it can not easily deal with situations which should be expected. Humans will have medical issues, deaths in the family, family obligations, and other situations which make them less available at times. Failing to factor this in and overloading a team to the point where these (entirely forseeable) limitations cause the team to miss deadlines and the like is a failure of management.

There are various ways to deal with it, but they must be done by a manager, and not by a peer. Either the team needs to have more employees, the projects the team is assigned need to be smaller, or the schedule needs to be more generous, or similar. If the issue is that the employee who has a medical issue has some specific domain experience or skills that make it difficult for other members of the team to take over the tasks that they aren't able to complete on time, it would be a good idea to examine the spread of skills and experience of the team and engage in some cross-training. This will also require adapting schedules and considering workload, and might require bringing on another team member if such training simply isn't practical.

If your team can't handle a particular member going on vacation or getting sick or such, then the team is either too small or is overloaded or knowledge and skills are too thinly spread. Balancing a team and its assignments so that these things can be handled is difficult, and often are made moreso by pressures from upper management to reduce headcount and to meet untenable deadlines, but it is a necessary task of managers.

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Medical issues can be a very private and embarrassing matter, so when someone wants to keep them secret, this should be respected. This has nothing to do with gender.

When you would need regular visits to an urologist, for example because you have an orchitis, would you be comfortable with everyone at work knowing?

Or another example which isn't gender-specific: What if you would regularly visit a therapist because of a psychological problem? Would you want everyone to know about that?

So what would a professional manager do when an employee says they need time off due to medical reasons they don't want to talk about? They will respect the employees privacy and not attempt to force them to disclose more about their medical condition than they are comfortable to speak about. They might ask for a doctors certificate which states that the employee is unable to work, but they will not require the certificate to name the ailment or therapy method.

They might ask for a time estimate when the employee will be able to work again fully, but will not insist when the employee can't or doesn't want to answer. When it is to be expected that the employee will be unable to do their work for an extended amount of time, they might consider to hire a temporary replacement.

When an employee has very frequent health issues and is thus unable to pull their weight, they might consider laying them off because it's simply not justifiable from a business point of view to keep them on the payroll. However, depending on where in the world they are, laying off a worker just because of frequent sickness might violate employment laws. Also, under some conditions an insurance company might pay the wage of a sick employee, in which case there is no economical reason to sanction the employee for their sickness.

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I am gonna read between the lines here, but I think what you are trying to say is that you suspect she is hiding behind the cloak of 'women's medical issues' and using the fact that she can't be fired as a way to take half-days thereby increasing your own workload.

This situation bothers your sense of fairness and your belief in gender equality it seems.

My suggestion is to give her benefit of the doubt and imagine if you for example got raped, and were infected with anal warts and needed 30 weeks of bi-weekly appointments to burn them off, as well as hiv treatments, removing stitches, and group therapy, looking at mugshots at police station, etc.

I am not sure how comfortable you would be announcing something like that even to members of your own gender much less to a group of co-workers who were all the opposite gender.

If you are a team, what you should do is go up to her and volunteer to take the extra work so she won't have to be stressed out during whatever she needs to take care of and for her to never feel you all hate her because of the time that she takes off (when most likely she herself would rather be working and healthy).

And if it turns out later that she was faking it, nobody can look down on you for what you did and your coworkers will look at you in high regard.

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Yes the proper repsonse when someone is having medical issues and the deadlines are affected is to volunteer (to the manager rather than the employee) to help shoulder some of the load and stay late to do it if need be. I have had to do this many times in my career for both men and women and they have had to do it for me. If you don't, you deserve the karma you will get when no one wants to help you when you are sick as you will likely be someday. Only a narcissitic jerk would do anything else. Questioning if she is really sick because she is a woman is so offensive I can't even discuss that. –  HLGEM Jun 8 '14 at 21:32
tbh the manager giving preferential medical allowances to women is no less offensive. It is a crazy world when questioning discrimination is looked on more negatively than actual discrimination! –  JamesRyan Jun 10 '14 at 11:48
@HLGEM: <sarcasm>What kind of jerk are you that you have free time in your schedule to make such an offer to pick up additional work? All your free time should already be spent helping the needy.</sarcasm> But seriously, you need to have some consideration for all the reasons someone's schedule might be too full to pick up extra work unexpectedly, because not all those reasons are selfish. OP may have other obligations that the extra unscheduled work is interfering with. –  Ben Voigt Jun 10 '14 at 16:28

I know from personal experience as a project manager at an IT firm how a couple of women on the team can quickly turn a positive team velocity into a nightmare.

One girl we had in the team worked 6 hours a day because of "medical issues". She was also frequently late to work blaming traffic and a faulty alarm clock (an excuse straight out of junior high school). She put in 80% of the hours required of her by the company, but her velocity (how much work she did on a weekly basis) was below 50% of the team average (six guys and two girls). When I brought the issue up with a partner (a senior manager of sorts) they allowed me to let her go only because we had another woman on the team.

After she left and we redistributed the workload, things started to get back on track. That is, before the remaining woman started to exhibit the same behavior. It was slightly eerie how similar her mimicry had gotten to her ex-teammate. It was like the spirit of the fired person had somehow lingered in the office and decided to possess the remaining female co-worker. Long story short, her beyond-unsatisfactory work performance remained for six more months until I received a better job offering elsewhere and had to go.

My advice, since there is no way you can force her to disclose private information about herself, is to stop focusing on "why" she isn't putting in sufficient hours at the workplace, and instead focus on working closely with your manager to ensure that her workload remains her own and is not distributed among her co-workers.

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That's interesting, I've had men in my IT firm do the same thing. –  littlekellilee Jun 10 '14 at 14:32
@littlekellilee And I've seen plenty of those in my day so I know exactly what you're talking about. But guess what - they all got fired pretty quickly! The virtual immunity that female and some minority workers enjoy is what seems to be the problem and the reason barely any businesses are hiring outside of the state-enforced quota. –  Troy Jun 10 '14 at 16:10
A state enforced quota seems ridiculous. I agree, part of the reason some women give the rest of us a bad name is that they're using that as their shield. There are a lot of women who work as hard as men do and were hired because of their knowledge, intelligence, and hard work. Re-reading your post, I see that you're not pointing at all women, just the ones that are doing that, so I apologize for being so hasty. Don't give up hope, there are a lot of good women in the IT field, we're just a bit harder to find! –  littlekellilee Jun 10 '14 at 16:44

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