Perpetually Valid Excuses

---(from 2007)

I stumbled into this one today. I usually am an active participant in the stories I post. This time is was just dumb luck.

I have a meeting scheduled with the local HR manager. The actual HR director works in our northern office, so when I have questions I need information on, I see the person in my office. If it's urgent, I travel.

The basic deal was I needed some information on {compliance to a state regulation}. The entire meeting would take five minutes and I figured I had most of what I needed already; I just wanted to verify it with the source.

I walk over to the HR manager's office a little early. She is speaking with one of the supervisors with the door mostly closed, I figure I can wait. Their conversation lasts a little longer than they probably expected and they noticed I was outside. I was about to say I can come back later, what I needed wasn't urgent.

When I was just about ready to say that, the HR manager opens the door and asks if I can come in and help them with something.

Honestly, I didn't want to. It's not that it isn't my job; it's just that nothing good comes from commenting on HR issues as they relate to managing people and usually interpreting policy. As a general rule, I avoid these like the plague.

I say, sure, if I can provide some perspective, I will, but that my input is opinion only and that if they have HR questions they really need to speak with the HR director and review relevant policies on the subject. They of course say, they will do that.

I walk in and they close the door behind me. Not a good sign. Into the lion's den wearing a a suit lined with hamburger.

The HR manager's office is larger than others and has three chairs on one side of the desk. For the most part, the only reason anyone is in this office is to talk about someone else's problem or be told about "Your" problem. Both are usually painful. Luckily, I fall into the first category.

The supervisor starts out and says there is an employee that works in their department that is having some issues.

I ask what the issues are.

The supervisor says the employee has missed eleven days in the past two months (that's 11 out of 38 working days or 28%) and that their performance is really behind everyone else. I want to say, well Duh, they have missed over a quarter of their work days possible what did you expect. I pull a Silent Bob and say nothing.

The supervisor continues: The employee is just over their 90 day mark and is no longer into their probationary period.

I think they should have probably extended the probationary period if they had tangible signs this was going to happen, buts that's just me.

I learned something long ago from an old HR manager; there are Problem Employees and Employees with Problems. So I asked the question, which one was this person.

The supervisors says the employee is nice and easy to get along with but they aren't here enough to get their job done and they don't have any time off to use.

I don't think the supervisor answered my question. I didn't ask if the person was nice, or easy to get along with. I asked if they were a problem or if they had a problem. Since it's pretty much an interpretation issue, I don't say anything. That and I don't really want to be here to begin with.

I guess that the employee has problems and isn't the corporate version of a trouble maker. So I ask the supervisor to explain what the situation has been with this person.

The supervisor says the employee misses work mostly on Monday's and Fridays and every other week or so, some other day in the middle of the week.

Well from my experience, people that miss a lot of Monday's have "lifestyle" issues. Usually means, they party too much on the weekend and can't make it to work. Not always, but more often than you would think.

I ask what the excuse is for this behavior from the employee.

This is where my trademarked theory of Perpetually Valid Excuses® comes in.

I ask the Supervisor to get their notes and tell me the reasons for the prior ten or so absences.

Going back from the oldest to the newest:

1) Employee called in and said their car broke down and they would be late, if in at all.
a. Employee never showed up and later said they had to get their car towed.
b. Employee came in the next day with a receipt for a tow truck
c. Excuse seems valid
2) Employee called in said they would not be in because their child was ill and daycare said they had to come get their child.
a. Employee came in the next day with a note from daycare
b. Excuse seems valid
3) Employee didn't call in the morning, called in later in the day saying their spouse was sick and they had to stay home to take their spouse to the doctor. There is some reference to the child's illness being a cause of the parents illness
a. Employee comes in the next day with a copy of a prescription for {anti biotic} for their spouse from the prior day
b. Excuse seems valid
4) Employee had a scheduled day off because family was in town. Employee was advised that due to unscheduled absences, employee needed to come in to make up work.
a. Employee came in half day and left saying they weren't feeling good
b. No notes from doctor or anything else.
c. Excuse seems contrived given circumstances.
5) Employee calls in sick saying that they have a re-occurring medical condition and that they need to see the doctor because their medication ran out.
a. Employee comes in the next day with a receipt from the doctor's office visit
b. Excuse seems valid.

I interrupt the supervisor and ask if the remainder of their absences can be explained with the same type of excuses. The supervisor says yes.

I give my disclaimer again about my input is an opinion and that they need to contact the HR director. In other words, grant me Amnesty and don't later throw me under the bus for giving an opinion.

I say that the employee has what is considered Perpetually Valid Excuses®. While each one can be traced back to a valid reason for missing work (all but the family in town that is), after a while it simply doesn't matter what their rationale is. The employee is expected to be at work, at their desk, during defined work hours doing the job they were hired to do. It is not the responsibility of the company to manage the employee's personal affairs. Employees are responsible to manage their own medical conditions; the company cannot do that for them.

The HR manager understands what I am saying but doesn't really say a thing. The supervisor has this shocked look on their face and stares at me like I just yelled "F*CK" in church.

I sit there for a moment and wait for a response. The supervisor says they don't believe I am being fair to the employee. My response is that the company hires people with an expectation that they will be here to do their job. After 90 days they begin to accrue time off. Until that point that don't have any. The company knows that emergencies will occur; it is likely far less than 28% of the available work days in a two month period I comment. That amount of time is simply excessive. It's nothing personal against the employee and it's not something that the company did to cause the problem.

I follow this up with the statement that the supervisor initially said the employee was not getting their job done. The supervisor reaffirms this is the case.

So I rhetorically inquire, then what are you asking me?

Are you asking me if I think it's acceptable for an employee to not meet the basic standards of their job, as they were hired? To that I say, no.

Are you asking me if I think it's acceptable for an employee to take unscheduled time off, and that unscheduled time off causes other people to have to work harder to keep up with performance goals for the department they work. To that I say, no.

Are you asking me if I think the company should have a responsibility to monitor and assist employees manage their personal affairs outside of work, and to help manage their personal medical conditions? To that I say, no.

I indicate that I think if the person, regardless of their Perpetually Valid Excuses® isn't doing their job, and it's primarily because they have absences, why should they be treated different than the people that are here, that don't meet their performance standards. This means they will receive some form of performance counseling. And, if their performance doesn't improve, they may end up being let go. If they had scheduled and approved time off, well then it's a management issue, but this isn't the case.

I feel bad for people when bad things happen to them, but they need to be at work doing their job if they want to keep a job. Or wait until they get their life in order before making a commitment to an employer to do a job they agreed to do.

So I ask, what is it you want me to say?

The supervisor says they will call the HR director and leaves the office.

I ask the HR manager if they have time for our meeting.

Life goes on