Co-Worker Leaving Work Without Permission

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about leaving work for personal business while clocked in:

I work in a small office for a large corporation with small offices throughout the U.S. There are four employees in my location. One woman who has been here for 7ish years and has worked her way up has been leaving while clocked in. I was encouraged when I was hired to keep open communication with all members of the company. When there is a problem, take it up the chain. I am just not sure at this point on what to do.

This woman is leaving work while clocked in to get car work done staying at the mechanic while the work is being performed… while clocked in. She figures if she transfers the phone calls to her cell phone she can’t get into trouble. Now everyday she is leaving work on her 30 minute lunch break to go shed fat at weight watchers for 1 1/2 hours.It pushes my ethics button quite hard and have been quite temped to inform the three main bosses above her.

Signed, Offended Ethics

Dear Offended Ethics:

There are four courses of action about this situation:

1.Don’t say anything and let the coworker’s manager be the one to notice it and say something to her. I don’t think this is a good option.

2. Say something to the employee. You can do this by mentioning concern over what you’d say if a manager asked for her while she is gone. That would let her know that her actions are being noticed and not approved by coworkers. This might be the best option if you are good friends, talk about work to each other a lot, and you have always covered for her or supported her when she leaves.

3. Send an anonymous note to her manager, either stating what has happened or suggesting that the employee’s whereabouts should be checked at specific times. I don’t like anonymous messages. Further, if you and she are the only ones in the office; or even if there were only a few in the office; it would probably be obvious who sent the anonymous message.

4. Talk to your manager, giving him a few examples to show that it has happened several times. Some people might suggest talking directly to the employee, but I think the manager should be told and here is why:*If she is doing this type of thing, she may be doing other things to avoid work or that are slightly–or very–unethical and the manager needs to know about it. She may have made up stories about her location or why she couldn’t do a task, which would indicate much more serious issues.*She may have asked for permission and been told no. Or, asked to do it one time, but not been given permission to continue to do it. *The manager may feel you were equally unethical for knowing about a severe infraction but not saying anything.

If the culture in your organization is such that people at her level tend to flex their time or come and go as they need, what she is doing may not be considered much of a problem or may be approved. If she is supposed to be in the office except for lunch and the managers think she is there, I’m sure it would be considered a problem and would be stopped. A key issue is: What if everyone did it?Having said all of that, it may be that she does have permission to leave, due to the work she does or for some other reason. Your manager may feel that being able to answer the phone, no matter where an employee might actually be, is good enough. Or, it could be that this recent situation with going to a weight-loss class is approved because of a medical condition.Those reasons are why you should approach it with a tone of, “I’m concerned, but I realize I may not have all the facts.”I think the most honest way is the best way. Tell your manager that you considered either not mentioning it or talking to your coworker directly, but you were worried that the company view would be that you should have said something, so that’s what you’re doing.If the coworker is told about all of it and she later asks you why you didn’t talk to her directly, don’t apologize; you won’t have done anything wrong by reporting the situation. Instead, be honest and say that you debated it but decided you could be considered wrong to not report it. You might also say that it was difficult to be placed in that position and you’re glad it got handled. (Or something of that nature.)Best wishes to you as you deal with this challenging situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, we’d be very interested in knowing how you handled it and what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe