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So, here's the situation:

In our project team, there are some smaller subteams. We're with two in ours:

  • my colleague who's an employee
  • me, an external consultant, also 'team lead' responsible for the work of us both. I'm also kind of a mentor, as the colleague has transferred to our team and so it's a new job and skillset for her (since about half a year).

The last two weeks, this colleague has fallen asleep a couple of times, if you can call it that. It's lightly or almost, just sitting at her desk with the eyes closed. Also, on two occasions when I was explaining her something face-to-face, she almost couldn't keep her eyes open. Today, she actually said she was too tired when trying (and failing) to accomplish a difficult task.

The only possible reason I know is that her dogs keep her awake part of the night. (Of course there might be other, private causes.)

What should I do now? My options are:

  • talk to her and give her a chance to improve her behavior.
  • talk to the manager first and let him decide who's going to have the talk.

I would think it fair to give her a warning, but then again, this is pretty serious and (as an external consultant) I feel that the manager has the right to know accurate feedback on his employees. On the other hand, going directly to the manager doesn't feel entirely right either.

  • I live in terror of this being me :( Any chance you can talk to her first...? Maybe she doesn't realize how big of an impact it makes... – Cat'r'pillar May 3 '16 at 20:31
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    @Gnat, only by stretching the word "duplicate" to mean, something somewhat similar, but upon examination, nothing of the sort. – Retired Codger May 3 '16 at 20:38
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    @JoeStrazzere and if it's a medical issue? Lawsuit. – Retired Codger May 4 '16 at 12:17
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    @JoeStrazzere Diabetes, narcolepsy, cancer, chronic fatigue, Epstein barr syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression, are ALL conditions where either the conditions themselves or the treatments could cause those symptoms. Discipline her without eliminating a medical condition as a possible cause is begging for a lawsuit. I've seen ADA actions filed over the color of a spreadsheet. I am not making that up. – Retired Codger May 4 '16 at 12:41
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What should I do now? My options are:

  • talk to her and give her a chance to improve her behavior.
  • talk to the manager first and let him decide who's going to have the talk

If you are in a leader role, then you must lead.

As a leader, you should first take this person aside and talk to her privately. Something like "I've noticed that you seem extremely tired these past two weeks. I have to tell you that it is impacting your work negatively. And before I escalate this issue, I'd like to discuss what is going on."

Then listen to whatever she says. Her response will give you clues as to your next step.

If she acknowledges her sleepiness, and indicates that it is temporary and will stop soon, then you can tell her that you will be looking for that improvement soon, and that if it comes the issue doesn't need to go any farther.

If she doesn't acknowledge an issue, then you will be forced to discuss the issue with the manager, and ask for guidance.

She doesn't need to actually give you any reason why she is sleepy.

She may have a home problem. She may have a pet problem. She may have a medical condition. She may have a lifestyle issue - whatever. These things can happen, and that's her concern. But the thing for you to focus on is not how or why she is sleepy, but the impact on the project(s) you are leading.

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Be careful, she might have a medical problem. if you bring it to management, bring it up as a concern for her health and not as a disciplinary problem. You're not an employee, it's not your problem. Don't get in the middle of it by making it an issue in any way other than an indirect one, such as I've suggested.

  • To add to this. The question mentioned two symptoms of prescription painkiller use/abuse. Especially falling asleep while your talking to them. Be careful. – Randy D May 4 '16 at 3:34
  • @RandyD along with about ten other conditions and/or their treatments. VERY dangerous road here. – Retired Codger May 4 '16 at 12:42
  • NO, leave health out of it completely. You can discuss loss of productivity, but never health. – Xavier J May 4 '16 at 20:09
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    If there's a medical issue, it's the responsibility of the employee to bring it up to the manager and HR to see if accommodation can be made. The manager can't just randomly ask, "Is a health issue stopping you from staying awake???" -- that's improper. If a health issue is never put on the table, the employee is assumed to be capable of performing what's on the job description. – Xavier J May 4 '16 at 20:19
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    My point is that HR is in a better position to ask the employee about health issues than the manager is, because they have the right training. – Xavier J May 4 '16 at 20:36

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