my boss won’t do anything about a coworker with attendance problems

A reader writes:

I am the office manager for a small business. Part of my job is to keep attendance for payroll. The previous office manager had problems with the staff turning in approved PTO request forms in time. I joined last year, and I inherited a mess. The employees weren’t notifying their managers when they were taking time off and managers weren’t doing anything about it. There weren’t accurate records of how much time off some employees took.

I had a meeting with the managers and had some success in collecting approved PTO forms, with the exception of one person. This particular employee has been with the company since the day the company started, 15 years ago. She was a successful salesperson and she did most of the work to acquire one of the company’s most profitable accounts.

When the company first started, there were only 4 employees so there weren’t any formal procedures for taking time off. She seems to be stuck in the past. She is consistently late for work. Business hours start at 9 a.m. and she shows up whenever she wants. Sometimes she does not show up at all and does not call or email the office. Other employees have commented that she comes in whenever she wants and that she acts like the “Queen Bee.” I have reminded her directly regarding the company’s policy on attendance and referenced the employee handbook. I even offered her a different work schedule of 10 am to 6 pm but she is still late.

She reports to the president of the company. I have discussed this matter with him. I told him that he needs to reiterate the importance of asking for time off in advance and coming in on time. He has only asked her to let me know if she will be late. When he is out of town, she does not show up and emails me after lunch, telling me something came up and will work from home. We don’t have a work from home policy.

I feel like my hands are tied and the boss won’t do anything. I think he won’t fire her because of her influence in our industry as well as her tenure. I can’t write her up even though I have suggested this to the president. I want to take a different action to resolve this but I don’t know what else to do. What do you suggest?

Stop worrying about it. It doesn’t sound like this is your job.

Your job is to keep attendance for payroll. It’s not to write people up or set their hours or discipline them for not working specific hours or stop them from working from home. Those things are the job of their managers.

More importantly, it also sounds like you’re way out of alignment with the company president about what matters to the company. You’re wondering why he won’t fire a top salesperson for working a flexible schedule, when he doesn’t even seem to object to flexible schedules?

Since you’ve brought your concerns to his attention and he’s declined to do anything about it, that means that one of the following two things is happening:

1. The president doesn’t care because she does good work, and he’s more interested in the results she produces than in how she handles her hours. This is a very common attitude, particularly when dealing with senior-level people, and in fact it’s a good one -- good managers focus on results over face time. Many high performers keep their own hours and telecommute when the work allows it, and many companies welcome it, because (a) these are benefits that attract and retain high performers and (b) results are what matter.

2. Alternately, maybe the president does care, but isn’t willing to do anything about it because he’s not sufficiently assertive. If this is the case, though, it’s still not your problem. He’s her boss, and the way he manages her is up to him.

Now, if her habits are causing real problems for you, then you can certainly bring those problems to the president’s attention. But it needs to be framed in terms of the impact on you or the office’s work — not in terms of her not following the office rules, because he’s already shown that he doesn’t consider that sufficient cause for him to take action. And if you’re not able to point to specific impacts on you, and the issue is just that it seems unfair that she’s not following the same rules that everyone else is following, then it’s time to let this drop entirely. Because again, you’re not her manager, and this isn’t your job to act on.

Ultimately, as the office manager, you can point out problems and suggest solutions, but you can’t tell other managers how to manage their staff. If the president of the company doesn’t have a problem with a top salesperson having this type of flexibility, you shouldn’t have a problem with it either.

By continuing to pursue this, you risk looking like you don’t understand what’s important to the business, and that’s a much more serious issue than someone coming in late and still getting all their work done.

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