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I am in USA and I work as a programmer in a big company. We are a team of 6 people. My coworker is usually mentally impaired due to his medication, which is presumably needed for his undisclosed lifelong disability. He sometimes falls asleep in online meetings where either only he or only both of us are present from our team. Often, his speech is slurred and his thoughts are slow.

As a result, the quality of his work is usually not good, about 60% of the times or so. His work often has errors or it is simply a makeshift solution to a problem.

I feel for him and I would like to help him out as much as I can. But, I don't want to keep fixing the shortcomings in his work. Moreover, when I review his work and politely point out problems that could get him into trouble if they were overlooked, then he gets overly critical when its his turn to review my work. Once, he said that things were missing in my work when they were actually present! Despite these issues, I try to work with him without making him feel that I treat him differently due to his disability. I want him to feel valued and not pitied or beholden to anyone.

I wish he would not make the numerous errors that he does due to his problems. But, I would prefer that I don't have to fix issues that should have never happened in the first place. Luckily, there are other team members to help him also. But, I just don't like it when his work becomes an annoyance or a blocker for me. I also don't like the fact that he is often wasting time on popular online websites instead of trying to revisit his work, help us or learn something new. Learning something new is up to him & not for me to decide. But, its just an observation worth mentioning.

I don't know if I should bring this up to my manager or simply keep helping him out until it becomes unbearable. Honestly, I am scared if my genuine desire to help, without sacrificing too much of my time is misinterpreted as discrimination or such. What do I do ?

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    While this is a serious subject, I must confess the first thought I had was the very Dilbertian one that you should wait for him to be moved to a senior marketing position. :-) – StephenG Mar 27 '18 at 9:43
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    I wouldn't use "mentally impaired" your coming across very badly by using that – Neuromancer Mar 28 '18 at 10:11
  • It sounds like your manager is not doing his job and that you are doing it for him. He should be the one moderating code reviews. He should be the one setting standards and telling the worker to stop slacking off on the web. Also at my workplace, if we wanted to check our personal email or check facebook/reddit, there were a couple of Chromebooks we could use in a separate public area for that purpose. This physical separation made it clear to everyone whether we were on break and slacking off, or actually working. Also in your complaints, focus on the behavior, not on his condition. – Stephan Branczyk Mar 28 '18 at 18:02
  • Yes, whatever you do, don't say "mentally impaired". Please don't even mention his condition, management and HR already know that part. – Stephan Branczyk Mar 28 '18 at 18:04
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    I would like to help him out as much as I can Absolutely not your job. Your only job is to make money for the company (so that you all stay employed). if there's a problem, tell your manager and forget it. – Fattie Mar 29 '18 at 14:39
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Speak with your manager, who should be aware of this guy's health issues and should therefore be able to guide you to the most appropriate way to work with your colleague.

This is a pretty big burden for you to take on board and you should have support from your management to do so.

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    I would say "speak discretely" rather than "speak", given the nature of the subject. – StephenG Mar 27 '18 at 9:45
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    @StephenG You mean discreetly. – JAB Mar 27 '18 at 13:42
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    This seemed a little too obvious for me to mention. Only a fool would shout this across an office or bring it up in a team meeting... – Snow Mar 27 '18 at 13:46
  • @JAB You are correct. Habitually use "discrete" a lot in writing technical material myself - must watch for that error in the future. Thanks. – StephenG Mar 27 '18 at 17:20
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    I agree with @StephenG's second comment, but I'd take it a step further. The discussion shouldn't really even be about the coworker's perceived health issue. Whether there is a health issue, or a lazy coworker, or an underperforming coworker, or the coworker's cat died and he's depressed is irrelevent. That's frankly none of the OP's business. The discussion should be focused on impact to work, impact to quality, impact to the team, etc. Let the manager deal with the coworker, and let the manager help you with your work. – dwizum Mar 28 '18 at 15:27
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When dealing with perceived problems with coworkers, It is important to make a distinction: Separate your problems from their problems. Once you are able to do that, you can handle the things you have control and responsibility over, and work on ignoring those you don't.

Work with your manager on your problems:

  1. If your coworker's criticism is bothering you, ask your manager to clarify the standards you're supposed to be aiming for, and then make sure you're meeting those standards. Being clear with your boss about development standards will give you a filter through which to ignore the misplaced feedback the coworker is giving you.
  2. If your coworker's poor performance means you need to pick up the slack, make sure you work with your manager to clarify their expectations of your workload and priorities. This way, your manager has the opportunity to clarify how you should be spending your time: working on your "own" work, or focusing on issues with your coworker's code.
  3. If your team is poorly represented in meetings, mention to your manager that you are worried about the impression others will have and ask for clarification on how you should behave in these meetings and/or if the team should have additional representation.

Specifically separating out problems with your own workload (caused by your coworker) will allow you to focus on things you have control over, and things you are personally responsible for. It may seem like a subtle difference, but saying "I'm unexpectedly spending time fixing issues with other people's code" is very different from saying "my coworker writes poor code." The first is a problem your boss can help you solve or at least understand (in terms of explaining your priorities), the second is just a complaint. Your boss may already be aware of and working on your coworker's code issues, and he/she needs to be the one making the decisions about whether or not you're involved in fixing the issues (while he presumably works with the coworker on an improvement plan).

Him browsing popular websites or having issues with his work quality may be worth mentioning to your boss, but you can't expect to take responsibility for that and you can't expect to correct it yourself. That's the boss's job.

A hard lesson to learn is to be able to do good work yourself, even if you're on a team with people who don't pull their own weight.

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I have seen this before in the workplace. I believe your employer is in a catch-22 situation right now. They know he's incompetent but they're afraid to fire him because he might sue them due to his "documented" disability.

With that said, there is nothing you can do. Just express the difficulties working with him to your manager, and then avoid him. Let me crash and burn by himself by making sure you cover all your bases. Let him fail, but when doing so, allow yourself to show that you did everything you could. If he fails a task, write a email out:

Bug #123 was caused by file xyz, line 321 having a missed logic to check condition Y which was discussed on date Z, attached to this email.

That will show that you did not caused any problem, but because your co-worker failed it carried over and your code was able to intercept it and detect where it came from.

That's all you can hope for. That or find a new job.

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Take this in a logical manner and in the principal that a company is not a charitable institution and pays it's employees to work and produce a specified output in timely manner.

With the above in mind, a person in a position of a job responsibility needs to perform the duties as demanded by the job; irrespective of any challenges or disabilities. If a person cannot, then that person should not fill that specific position in the company.

From your post it is clear that the job is assigned to the team in aggregate and each of you have a specified part to fulfill. First draw your boundaries as to what are your responsibilities are and if you have to take up work outside of the boundary, document it thoroughly. In your above example of code review, document the results and circulate to appropriate audience.

As suggested in other answers, speak to your manager, may be informally, once and try to gauge what the situation is. However, keep documenting all the official communications, this will help you, if and when the time comes to produce a body of evidence in your favour.

The general idea is to do as much as you are paid for, if you do more, make it known that you have done more, document and have evidence that you were always in the right side of the regulations/procedures. If you cannot potentially change a situation, then it is only wise to have your position covered for any eventuality.

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You're in no position or obligation to evaluate your colleagues work or behaviour.

You may help him occasionally but don't overly accommodate or assist him.
In a team it's important and unavoidable to help or pick up the slack but NOT if that means you over exert yourself or if it becomes detrimental to your own work.

Concentrate on your own assignments and ONLY if his work or behaviour interferes with yours or your ability to fulfill your duties should you inform him about this (in writing).

Should it continue, inform your manager.

The company is aware of his reduced capacities and they'll keep that under advisement when they attempt to minimize the impact on your work.

Follow their instructions and keep records of further problems you face because of this and inform them again in cases of serious issues.
Should you get into trouble you can refer to your conversation with them.

Also, is he your colleague or also your superior? If he isn't in a lead or supervisor position he shouldn't evaluate your work either.

  • It is common in the software industry to have all code reviewed by someone else. Some employers even require a peer review for all code before it can go into production – marstato Dec 15 '18 at 22:23

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