my friend is in trouble for attendance issues caused by her dad being sick — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I’m wondering if you have any advice on encouraging a coworker (or former coworker) to stand up for themselves. I have a feeling there’s not a lot I can do, but I feel so helpless watching this situation.

My former coworker and friend, Jane, is still at the job where we met. It’s not the worst employment situation I’ve ever heard of, but they keep salaries low, are extremely cliquey, and encourage in-fighting among staff. HR is primarily concerned with pressuring employees to give up federally protected rights, spreading confidential information, and micromanaging people’s clock in/out times.

Jane’s father is in hospice. He is unfortunately terminal and is unlikely to be around for very much longer. She is in her late 20s, so still quite young to be losing a parent. Due to the distressing nature of this, she had some issues with attendance as she tried to balance her ill father and multiple jobs. HR’s response to this was to place her on a PIP for attendance. Am I crazy to think this is totally bananapants and unbelievably unsympathetic? (I only left this job a few months ago, and I’m unsure how much it warped my idea of what is normal.) I get that it is technically allowed, but I can’t imagine my new team or company doing this — I’m hard pressed to think it’s now the professional standard.

I’ve encouraged her to look into FMLA and various forms of paid (or unpaid) time off to be with her father, but she’s extremely averse to conflict. Additionally, I’m fairly new to the corporate world and I’m unsure whether I’m giving the right advice or if I need to be more specific. I’ve tried to encourage her to look for new jobs but with so much going on obviously now is not a great time for that.

Because of her nature and now being placed on a PIP, she’s concerned about bringing it up or pushing back on these circumstances at all. For various reasons, she can’t afford to be without a full-time job for long and she’s also relatively inexperienced in the professional world. I think while she values my support she’s unsure if she can take my advice seriously (I’m a bit younger but a little more world weary, having been on my own since I was 17 years old). I’m wondering if someone with more experience than either of us confirming this is indeed insane would help give her a push.

(To be clear, she is in no way integral to the functioning of the company. The team could absolutely handle her taking a week or two off. They are griping about being short staffed but they just walked out an employee on the team who put in their two weeks, for no reason other than to make some kind of point? None of us under the manager that runs that team had or have access to confidential information/trade secrets.)

Is the answer simply “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”? Or is there something I’m missing beyond general advice-giving?

Do you know exactly what the attendance issues have been? If it’s just that she’s missed some work because her dad is terminally ill, then yes, her company is being horrible. They instead should be talking to her about options for time off (including things like FMLA).

On the other hand, if it’s something like she’s missed work without alerting anyone she’d be out, or that her presence at work has been unreliable without talking to anyone about the reason why … well, she still shouldn’t be on a PIP if they now understand what’s happening; they should be explaining what they need on her end (like an alert when she’ll be out, to the extent that’s realistic) and what her options are for time off.

You mentioned some of the attendance issues may have stemmed from working multiple jobs; if that’s been part of it, that’s going to draw a less sympathetic response. Either way, her dad is still dying and they should assume she’s devastated and not working at optimal capacity, and they should be trying to work with her on getting everyone’s needs met, not being punitive. But some of this depends on how much has been “my dad is sick” versus “I’m working multiple jobs” (as well as on how much of the situation with her dad has been communicated to them).

As for what she should do from here, you’re absolutely right that she should be inquiring about FMLA. Some things to know about FMLA: to be eligible for it, her company needs to have 50+ employees and she needs to have worked there for at least a year and have worked at least 1,250 hours during that year. But if she meets those requirements, FMLA should be her next step since it will protect her job while she’s out for dad-related reasons. It’s not adversarial to use FMLA! It’s there for exactly situations like this. And that PIP is her company telling her that she risks getting fired if something doesn’t change; one thing it would be smart to change is the legal framework they’re using for that leave, and FMLA will do that.

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