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I work in the US. I have to develop some software with a disabled coworker (has disability parking card). He was working on this project alone for a few months and my manager added me to the project to take charge of it. He has accomplished very little so far.

It is absolutely clear that he uses medication which makes him groggy or sleepy or confused at work most of the time. Here are the problems with the disabled coworker:

  • Falls asleep during work hours or during remote meetings.
  • Plays video games and surfs non-work related websites often and quickly closes them when someone comes near his desk.
  • Does not follow simple 2-3 line instructions that are crucial and are applicable to everyone. Ends up getting into issue that could have been simply avoided by following instructions.
  • Is a senior employee, but seems to have little knowledge of software development (asks too basic questions).

I had asked him to work on what most beginner programmers would consider a "small" and "easy" problem. But, I saw that he was busy playing games for several minutes, while I was working in parallel to solve another problem in our project. He got back to work when I came near his desk. After more than a sufficient amount of time, he gave me a pretty crude and incorrect solution. I had to finally fix the problem assigned to him. This has happened some more times.

It seems that no one else in our team of 4 has called this out.Unfortunately, my manager works 100% remotely, so he cannot even see this coworker's behavior.

I could talk to my manager about this because he trusts my work ethic and capabilities. But, I am not sure if I should because nothing might come out of it. The manager might discipline him, but he might not be able to do much else because the coworker might be protected by disability law and also because he might have been hired to improve diversity. Then, it would be very unpleasant to continue working with him. Moreover, he cannot be replaced by other team members for this project because the others don't have the skills.

What should I do ?

[EDIT] PS - I want to help my disabled coworker out as much as possible, even if it means doing some of his work occasionally. I could even request for an extra person to be hired to balance work load. If video games (or guitar, meditation, music etc) help him to relax, then we could let him have that. But, the way he has been playing video games is reason to be concerned.

As for the sleeping at work, I don't know if he does that only due to medication and/or due to playing video games late at night. The latter would be a bigger problem for us.

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    @DavidK not the same, this could run afoul of the Americans With Disabilities act if he doesn't handle this right. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jul 11 '18 at 21:28
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    @HighFlyer what do you want to do... are you OK with that? Do you want him to stop wasting time? Are you up to escalating this? – DarkCygnus Jul 11 '18 at 21:42
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    The answer to this question, as to the duplicate is, "go and ask your manager what you should do if someone needs a lot more help than you expect them to need" – Kate Gregory Jul 12 '18 at 0:45
  • What does any of the behavior you describe have to do with the fact this employee is disabled? If your coworker saw this question, and ends up being fired, you have opened yourself and the company to a case of unlawful termination. If the employee isn’t meeting the expectations their manager has, then the manager should document that is the case, and take steps to let the employee go. – Donald Jul 25 '18 at 1:20
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    @HighFlyer - You suggested your coworker might not actually be disabled. Don't you see how that could be viewed as being hostile towards people with disabilities? – Donald Jul 25 '18 at 18:29
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There are 2 causes for this employees behavior:

  1. Medication
  2. Motivation

I once worked with someone on medication for schizophrenia. The person explained to us (the whole team) that the meds make them drowsy, make it hard for them to concentrate for more than 20 minutes and that they have to sleep during work hours. You cannot do anything against that. Never ever suggest that they not take meds or take a lower dosage.

The frequest browsing / playing can be a short relaxation when his concentration is "used up", but it can be a lack of motivation as well. He seems to feel somewhat guilty for it.

The motivation problem is comparable to any unmotivated teen or someone just before the pension. You have to consider the possibility that this person may have never accomplished anything of notice in their entire work life due to the medication. Why should he be motivated at all? Especially if he needs your help for very simple tasks. Surely he is aware of the burden he is and may not want to disturb you too often.


To address the problem, you should:

  • First think carefully about how much you expect from him. He will never be a "good" programmer, but what is the minimum contribution he should make for you to respect him?
  • Think about how much you are willing to help him. If it's "a lot" then consider asking your manager how much time you are allowed to invest into him. If it's "not at all", continue to give him baby tasks and do all the real work on your own.
  • Only after you are clear about the first 2 points, talk to him. Explain that you understand a little about his behavior (the sleeping), but ask him about how he personally copes with the medication. He may tell you that he can concentrate best at a certain time and cannot concentrate at a different time. Adjust your schedule according to this information, especially if you plan to give him a new task or teach him something.
  • You could work out some rules - like sleeping is ok, browsing or staring out the window is acceptable for 10 minutes, but playing games is not acceptable. You both must agree on those rules. If he breakes them, print them out to remind him. If he cannot comply, change the rules again.
  • Write instruction on post-it notes (or print them) so he can have them always in his line of sight. This reduces his need to focus on and remember several things at the same time. Give him no more that 3 - 4 notes at the same time and remove obsolete notes if necessary.
  • Try to motivate him. To be honest, I'm not an expert on that. But constantly struggling with your work and then seeing the next best person reworking / fixing eveything you did must be demotivating. Maybe try to accomplish something together as a shared achievement.
  • I don't think informing your manager will accomplish anything. He probably is well aware of the shortcommings of your collegue and either accepts them or he cannot do anything against it.
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    YElm - Your answer was very useful for me. I got the courage to speak to my manager about it and he said that whenever I see my coworker is unable to work, I should pick up his work and finish it off as if I was the only one working on the project. As for the video games, my manager only thanked me for bringing it up. My coworker continues to enjoy video games at work. If its his style of taking a break, then we could let him play it openly. If not, then maybe show evidence that it is a problem. If all fails, then I can join him in multiplayer mode. I'll ask my manager what to do. – HighFlyer Jul 23 '18 at 17:19
  • Wrong. His 2 problems are: Ethics and Ethics. He gets paid for time - if he has no motivation he should not claim a paycheck. SImple like that. Same with disability - disabled people are protected, in most contries actually the employer gets part of their wage paid (which means : yes, you are half as productive bug you only cost 60% or so). But if you are unable to fullfill your job, there is no protection. – TomTom Jul 24 '18 at 12:59
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    @TomTom Do you want to be treated like a machine with expected output and be declared "faulty" when your own output doesn't equal the expectation? Or do you want to be treated like a human being with good and bad days, strengths and faults, ambitions and disappointments? Treat others like you want to be treated. It's true that the privileges of disabled employees seem unfair to us "hard working people", but that's the only way how they can contribute to society in their own way. – Elmy Jul 24 '18 at 13:11
  • Ah, but we do not talk good or bad DAYS - we talk permanent underdelivery. And seriously, I am treaded like that. As are many people in alpha level teams. As is every athlete in a team. Want a good productive team then yes, you must demand deliveries. And yes, I like being treated like the valuable delivering resource that I am. If you can not do a job, there is no excuse to pull down a team, disabled or not. Disabled may make you slower (which is offset with payment benefits often for the employer) but if yo uread the OP that is not the problem. The problem is a lazy incompetent person. – TomTom Jul 24 '18 at 13:21
  • @TomTom - How would you like to be treated if you were in my co-worker's position ? – HighFlyer Jul 25 '18 at 18:26
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I work in the US. I have to develop some software with a disabled coworker (self declared, has disability parking card etc).

If your coworker has a placard, he's not self-declared.

It is absolutely clear that he uses medication which makes him groggy or sleepy or confused at work most of the time.

Again, if he's taking medication, he is not self-declared.

The manager might discipline him, but he might not be able to do much else because the coworker might be protected by disability law and also because he might have been hired to improve diversity.

I would caution you about voicing opinions such as this. Your coworker is ABSOLUTELY protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act when it comes to a hostile work environment, and voicing opinions such as this, disparaging what may be side effects from either his condition or medication, et cetera will likely get you on the wrong side of an ADA action, and you will lose.

If you bring up difficulties that this person may be having due to reactions to medications or problems with his disability, you might be on the wrong end of an ADA action and could be finding yourself working elsewhere as a best case scenario.

This person may be adjusting to their medications and be having difficulties. That is between your manager, the coworker, and HR, if he is unable to perform his job duties due to his disabilities, then he may have to go out on temporary or permanent disability. Again, this is HR's business, not yours.

The only legitimate issue you have is the video games, that may be something to bring to the attention of management, but if you have been voicing your opinions about his disabilities, you still may be seen as going after him for his disabilities and using the video games as an excuse.

Now, I want to address something specifically.

he might have been hired to improve diversity.

If I EVER heard someone say this at my company, that person would be out the door so fast their head would spin. That is creating a hostile work environment as well as making a very negative statement about your employer. In many places, that would be grounds for disciplinary action up to and including termination. NEVER refer to a coworker as a diversity hire, it is beyond unprofessional.

What should I do ?

TLDR

Do your job, don't be concerned about others. Keep your eyes open, your mouth shut and your nose clean. Anything else and you could wind up fired, or worse.

Worse?

Yes, in this day of social media and posts going viral, saying something like this could blow up in a very big way if the outrage mob out there has nothing better to do.

It would behoove you to let this matter drop if you have said one word about his disabilities as you have already poisoned the well.

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    thank you! Love this answer. I myself would not be so polite. – user7360 Jul 12 '18 at 20:56
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    To the answer's author : Your answer does not tell me how I can deal with this situation. It merely asks me to just keep working as if nothing has happened. You believe that only the point about video games is ok, and yet you did not suggest how to deal with it. I wonder why this answer got so many up votes. – HighFlyer Jul 23 '18 at 16:51
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    Also, I never have and will never tell anyone that a person might have been hired for diversity. But, companies sometimes do hire people merely for the sake of diversity which is why I mentioned that possibility. – HighFlyer Jul 23 '18 at 16:52
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    @cgTag - Its not really an answer if you look at it dispassionately. He says that the video games are valid concern, but suggests nothing to deal with it. Moreover, he is essentially asking me to bear with it, without offering solutions to manage the situation. I strongly recommend that you check out this answer instead - workplace.stackexchange.com/a/115703/89172. – HighFlyer Jul 23 '18 at 16:59
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    This answer is suggests that the OP simply ignore the issue of a non-productive co-worker. However, he's working on a project with this co-worker. How can the OP simply "let the matter drop" or "keep your nose clean" when his work requires that his co-worker perform? – DaveG Jul 23 '18 at 17:26
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I agree with much of what Richard U says in his answer; however, to me that answer gives too much of an impression that disabled employees are somehow 'untouchable' and beyond accountability, which is not true.

Firstly, I must admit that I am not disabled myself; however, in my view, being disabled means that you are protected from unfair treatment or discrimination, because of your disability. It's not a license to under-perform or be lazy. A disabled employee still needs to perform and do their job effectively.

So, really the fact that they are disabled is entirely irrelevant to your question (and frankly none of your business). Your question could (should) have been written without even mentioning it, to ask what to do about a coworker that is being lazy and not doing their job properly. In which case, it would probably be a duplicate, as mentioned in the comments.

In the situation you describe, if your coworker is slacking off and not doing their job effectively, I think it would be reasonable for you to discuss your concerns with your Manager and then let them handle it. However, be very careful not to mention or criticize the fact that they are disabled, as it really is not relevant.

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    "I agree with much of what Don Thermidor_Lobster Mobster says in their answer" -- did this answer get deleted? I don't see it. – mcknz Jul 23 '18 at 21:08
  • @mcknz it looks like that user has changed their user name to 'Richard U'. I will edit my answer accordingly. Thanks! – Time4Tea Jul 23 '18 at 21:11
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    You could also just link to the answer directly: workplace.stackexchange.com/a/115719/4781 – mcknz Jul 23 '18 at 21:14
  • @Time4Tea - A better answer - workplace.stackexchange.com/a/115703/89172 . Disability matters, but I would not criticize it. It matters because he often falls asleep at work/online meetings, & it could be due to medication (or too much video games at night). We need to address the sleep and video games. Perhaps, management could let him take sleep breaks as long as he gets his work done properly before a realistic & fair deadline. Management could let him play if that refreshes him. But, I don't want to be taken advantage of & end up doing most of the work. – HighFlyer Jul 24 '18 at 23:27
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    So report the behavior to the manager. You could have easily describe the employee without indicating they were disabled. – Donald Jul 25 '18 at 1:30
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Core Solution

Document, document, document.

And after that continue working as normal.


Breakdown

The first bullet point might be a legitimate issue that he has no control over, because as you mentioned he takes medication that makes him sleepy. While it is an issue, there is really nothing you can do to fix this. The managers probably already know about this (as I assume they were in at least one call where he fell asleep) and are taking steps to solve this if they feel it is necessary.

The other three points, however, are not something you can attribute to the use of medication.

Plays video games and surfs non-work related websites often and quickly closes them when someone comes near his desk.

There isn't much you can prove here, unless you can manage to take a picture of him in the act. If you do end up complaining to management, there are ways to remotely go through someone's browsing history. Whether you explicitly remind them or not, I'll leave up to you, but if you report numerous instances of this occurring then the thought will probably cross their minds at some point.

Does not follow simple 2-3 line instructions that are crucial and are applicable to everyone. Ends up getting into issue that could have been simply avoided by following instructions.

Get written documentation, such as an email to him explaining the steps, and compile them whenever he fails to do so. Doing this leaves a paper trail that can be referenced back to when you are being questioned about the lack of work your coworker is doing. CYA (Cover your a**) effective immediately.

Is a senior employee, but seems to have little knowledge of software development (asks too basic questions).

Again, try to get written documentation on this fact, like emails. You could write down all the instances he asks you about a basic concept, but it is not as substantial proof as an email is (emails have a date and time stamp, while you could write fake instances in a notebook and give them random times etc.)


Summary

You may be right in the fact that nothing might come of this because of disability law, but written documentation about the problems he is causing will take some liability off of your back if the problems have a drastic impact. If you are able to prove your coworker is not living up to their full potential (games at work are never useful), the door might open allowing for the eventual firing of this employee if he does not improve.

  • Thanks for your answer. I prefer that we try to correct any problems like people playing video games at work, without them providing us solid justification for doing so. Also, I'd like to accommodate him within "reasonable" limits, i.e completing his work occasionally (not always, not mostly, but occasionally). In short, give him a few chances and see if he tries to work to the best of his abilities. If he still tries to be sneaky with video games and if there is too much work for me, then I guess I'll have to quit my job if we can't hire another person to help us. – HighFlyer Jul 25 '18 at 18:49
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IMHO, you may voice you concerns, stating examples of his incompetence / problems. Because his bad performance is affecting yours as well.

In other words that he makes you look bad professionally. By separating his performance from his condition you will avoid any correctness related accusations toward yourself.

Unless you his immediate superior.

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