I’m in my first job out of college as a software developer and am adapting to how workplaces work. One of my co-workers is clearly having personal problems and is taking a lot of time off. Problems with his wife, mental health, etc. He has taken about 5 weeks of in the past 6-9.

My colleagues used to respect this guy, even in private conversations. Now, they bash him, hate on him, and several have publicly agitated that he be fired and replaced with someone more reliable.

This didn’t happen when another colleague took maternity leave. Why does it happen to people who take sick/personal leave?

I get that it is a burden for everyone else, but so is maternity leave. Why is there such a harsh reaction to this? Is physical illness typically treated the same way?

  • Are you not a north american by chance? And is this in can, mexico or usa? Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 15:09
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    Opinion based - Companies try to drive costs down thus creating bus factor close to 1. Maternity leave (especially in USA) is very limited in time while sick leave can take much longer and be much more unpredictable. Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 15:12
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    Have you asked your coworkers why they are acting like this? I don't think your conclusion (this is universal among North Americans) is really accurate, which makes it hard for us to answer on behalf of them.
    – dwizum
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 15:34
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    You mention they want someone "more reliable"; could be that everyone saw maternity leave as an event to plan for, while this sick leave was on short notice and open-ended?
    – spuck
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 15:55
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    Maternity leave is often covered by a temporary employee. But people off sick for an extended period don’t get replaced by the management so the others have to do more work to cover the absent person. If this happens often or for an extended period the other workers get resentful as they have to do more work for the same money....
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 17:00

3 Answers 3


Maternity leave is typically accompanied by a significant amount of preparation time. If Alice is due to have a child in 3 months, that's something that everyone can see coming and plan around. Likewise, most workplaces give a certain amount of time off. Whatever the number is, it's also something that can be planned around. If you know that Alice is going to be gone for 4 months starting 3 months from now, she's not going to be put alone on a mission-critical task that takes 6 months of solid work to complete.

On the other hand, a co-worker with an illness or personal problems can't be planned around in the same way. A relatively sudden absence that puts Bob out of the office for 5 of the last 6 weeks makes it hard on people who were relying on his work. Suddenly they have to change their priorities, push deadlines, and generally deal with something unexpected. There's also the factor that they might not know when Bob is getting back. If he's back tomorrow is he back for good? Should they plan around him being gone for another week? Or two? Your co-workers might not even be aware why the guy hasn't been in the office.

Additionally, someone having a child is generally a happy event that people like to celebrate, while mental illness and marital problems have negative stigmas attached. This also isn't something that happens everywhere. Different workplaces with different work cultures will tend towards different views of absense. Your specific workplace is not necessarily indicative of all of North America.

  • I feel this doesn't answer the question at all. The points you make are true everywhere, including where I work. And nobody I know frowns upon taking time off if it's really needed. As a matter of fact, everyone encourages it if they see people aren't well. Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 15:45
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    @ricardosilva What part of discussing the differences between maternity leave and extended, unexpected sick leave doesn't answer the question of why they're treated differently? We're not talking about taking a few days off because of the flu, nor whether or not anyone is justified in feeling resentful. Commented Feb 21, 2020 at 16:10

Depends on a lot of factors, many of which are going to be specific to your company and your culture.

Are your coworkers aware of the man's situation? If not maybe they think he's lazy.

Are the deadlines in your office tight to the point where everybody has to work extra hours? Maybe they're stressed out and feel like he's not pulling his weight.

Is their work dependent on his? Maybe they're frustrated because they feel like his absences are blocking them from doing their job.

Maybe somebody the coworkers respect has started slagging off on this guy for whatever reason and your coworkers are just following the lead.

Without knowing specific details it's impossible to say why they might feel the way they feel or if anything can be done to mitigate these feelings. I would say however that no, it's not normal.


Basically because he is being paid to do nothing more than half the time. While they have to work for a living. Also they may have to cover his work in addition to their own.

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