13

A member of my team took some leave to visit family overseas and requested an additional two weeks to work from their parents home. I agreed to the plan as our workplace has a flexible working location policy. However, based on no responses to emails (some that required a response), work not completed as agreed and not completing their timesheet, I am suspicious that they did not work for the first week (they reported ill for the second week). I am a relatively new manager and they are a seasoned staff member.

How best can I raise this with them when they return from their leave? (Remembering there is always the possibility of an innocent explanation so I don't want to make any accusations from the start).

2
  • 3
    Is the second week already passed too or yet to come? I.e. did it appear as if they only did not work the first week, but did work the second or is the second week still to come and uncertain whether they will properly work then? Are those mails not answered fast (i.e. not after an hour) or not at all (not even after you saw other activity from the employee? Could timezone differences or internet problems play a role? How important is a fixed work effort? Could the employee simply pick up more work the following week or are there crucial issues that need timely answers? Apr 24, 2022 at 6:29
  • @FrankHopkins [1] they reported in sick for the second week - still waiting for them to contact me when 'recovered'. [2] Emails not replied to at all. [3] There was no 'other' activity from the employee. [4] It is possible internet problems could have played a role although no replies to a text message either. Time zone issues were covered in pre-departure agreement so that shouldn't be a reason. [5] Catching up on work is an easy fix - the possible damage to trust, less so.
    – Mari153
    Apr 24, 2022 at 8:07

3 Answers 3

16

However, based on no responses to emails (some that required a response), work not completed as agreed and not completing their timesheet, I am suspicious that they did not work for the first week (they reported ill for the second week). I am a relatively new manager and they are a seasoned staff member.

How best can I raise this with them when they return from their leave? (Remembering there is always the possibility of an innocent explanation so I don't want to make any accusations from the start).

Have a one on one discussion when they return. Avoid any accusations. Focus on what actually happened.

Express disappointment that expectations regarding email responses, work tasks, and timesheet were not met. Indicate that it's unfortunate they were ill the entire second week. Review the company's policy on flexible work location policy (which I assume talks about actually working). Presumably, granting the flexible arrangement is optional, and at the discretion of the manager (you).

Make it clear that you are disappointed and that you expect better next time, if there is a next time.

A good employee will get the hint. If not, you'll need to decide how to deal with that issue (such as unpaid leave). It's possible this seasoned staff member is testing you to see how you'll respond.

9

Focus on the things you know.

You know: "no responses to emails (some that required a response), work not completed as agreed, and not completing their timesheet".

You are only "suspicious that they did not work".

Therefore, focus on the things you know for sure, and ask questions about those things to ascertain what was really happening. "You know you are supposed to fill in timesheets, why didn't you? Oh, couldn't access the VPN? What did you try to do about that? Did you contact IT? Why not?" (Adjusting the follow up questions accordingly).

Then: "We estimated X for task Y, so it should be finished by now. Why is it not finished? Oh, you discovered problem Z? Why didn't you let me know it wouldn't be finished on time? How did you try to solve it? Who did you ask for help? No-one? Why not? Please show me what progress you have made."

Then: "You did not respond to this email A about subject B from person C, though it clearly needed your response. Why not? You also did not respond to my text messages. Why not?"

(Presumably the answers will not include "I had complete failure of internet connectivity and phone signal" as they've been able to contact you to tell you that they are off sick. So whatever answers they give, keep asking "why?" until the situation is clear. Why didn't you do it? Why did that problem stop you? Why weren't you able to solve it? Why didn't you tell anyone about it, or ask for help?).

The idea is not to validate your suspicion that they "did not work", and not to make any accusations of which you are not already sure - you're not a lawyer and you're not trying to prove your case to a jury. You are simply bringing to this person's attention that there are at least three things (sounds like more) they knew were supposed to have done, but they did not do; and that unless the answers to your questions give genuine explanations otherwise, this is not acceptable.

On the assumption that they did not do what they were supposed to and have no good explanation, that sounds like a disciplinary issue; how this is handled in your company may vary and may depend on the laws in your area, so talk to your boss and/or HR first, but I'd say this probably qualifies for a formal written warning as to their conduct. But perhaps discretion can be shown, avoiding a disciplinary. Perhaps retrospectively call the missing two weeks vacation rather than working time, deducting it from their vacation allowance if they have any left; or agreeing to take it as unpaid time off if they don't have allowance remaining. Again, this will depend on your company, your judgement, the laws in your area, and the employee's circumstances.


Additional note: you should brace yourself for the possibility that they may not come back at all, or that they may resign shortly after doing so. I'm not saying this will definitely happen, I can't know that, but I've seen things like that happen before: someone takes an extended break; either because they're already unhappy with their job or they realise they're unhappy while on the break, especially if in that break they see family or their home country for the first time in a long time, and they check out. It can happen.

5
  • 2
    "...you're not a lawyer and you're not trying to prove your case to a jury." Yes, this exactly. Often people get caught up in legal concepts like "innocent until proven guilty" and "rights" but really it's about whether or not they did their job. The goal shouldn't be to collect proof that they were slacking off, it should be to point out that that whatever work they might have done, it was not sufficient.
    – barbecue
    Apr 24, 2022 at 15:24
  • This implicitely assumes US jurisdiction (or somewhere else with similar legal background). If this is in continental Europe, you could probably still try for some disciplinary action but I don't think any of your alternatives would be legal.
    – quarague
    Apr 26, 2022 at 12:34
  • 1
    @quarague I've added a line to explicitly note that it depends on local laws (I intended this to be included in "depends on your company", but I guess that wasn't clear). I still haven't become a lawyer since writing the post ;-) but I'd be surprised to find it was illegal anywhere to retroactively agree with an employee that days in which they had neglected to do any work should be treated as vacation (whether paid or unpaid), as opposed to taking disciplinary action against them.... it's doing them a favour! But, IANAL, so... Apr 26, 2022 at 13:28
  • @BittermanAndy: Even in the US, this is questionable. If the employee did any work at all, no matter how little, then reducing their pay may be a wage/hour violation under the FLSA. See some of the discussion in this FAQ. The question mentions failing to fill out timesheets; I imagine that the employee is eventually going to claim that they worked during this period, in which case they are (claiming to be) due the full amount of their wages, and their PTO likely cannot be touched. But you can still discipline them, of course.
    – Kevin
    Apr 26, 2022 at 22:47
  • @Kevin good point, any greater-than-zero amount of work at all would need to be paid. At that point a compromise / amicable agreement would become impossible I suppose, and it would need to be handled by the disciplinary process. And maybe it would be better to take that approach anyway from a CYA point of view. So, fair enough. I'd just like to think that "you didn't do any work, so how about we don't pay you and call it even" might in some circumstances be a preferable approach to "you didn't do any work, so it's time for a disciplinary process that might end up with you getting fired." Apr 27, 2022 at 12:26
0

Track work progress and deliverables.

If you have Jira or other task trackers use those. If not a simple document will do to. Do regular 1:1 meetings (once a week works great) to discuss what's on the list, what got done, what new stuff should be on the list, how things are going and where help or support are needed.

That will quickly highlight the issue and in most cases it will make the problem go away on its own.

I am a relatively new manager

Weekly one-on-one meeting is a great management tool. Helps all parties to keep on track, have clarity around expectations & priorities and helps to identify and solve problems quickly before they have a chance to linger and fester.

How best can I raise this with them when they return from their leave?

Don't wait for them to return. Weekly 1:1 can be done perfectly fine by Zoom etc. I've only downgraded to bi-weekly when the time zone difference was 12 hours (which makes it a bit more awkward for at least one person).

I don't want to make any accusations

Correct. Don't accuse. Focus on outcome and results, not the how. Make sure all assigned tasks have clear deliverables and an agreed upon timeline. In most cases this will sort itself out without further intervention required. If you find that the employee is consistently late, you need to have a discussion on why that is. You can use your meeting notes as objective data to lead the discussion.

3
  • 1
    I'm all in favour of regular 1:1 meetings, but they seem irrelevant to this question. At most, the employee would have missed one 1:1 meeting (or maybe they would have turned up to it and bluffed). This answer doesn't address what has already happened or what to do when someone does not do any of the work they were supposed to do. Apr 24, 2022 at 10:43
  • Try it. Knowing that you have a 1:1 next Wednesday is a great motivator to get your stuff done on Tuesday. What already has happened has happened and you can't change this. The idea is to change future behavior
    – Hilmar
    Apr 24, 2022 at 12:37
  • @Hilmar You raise an important point. Is the idea to change behavior? Or is it to collect evidence to support termination or some sort of legal action? If the company's goal is to improve the behavior of the employee, that's a different scenario than simply working up to firing them.
    – barbecue
    Apr 24, 2022 at 15:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .