Please Tell Me Why Her Boss Doesn’t Fire This Horrible Employee?

Dear Work Coach,

I know an employee who has worked for umpteen years. During those years this person has arrived to work late more times than not. The person says they just cannot make it on time no matter what. The company has even tried changing the hours, yet the person will still arrive late.

This person also took off three months of work when things went wrong at home. No, this person did not go out on personal leave, this person just called in sick everyday for three months.

When work slows down, and this person does not have enough to do in the afternoon, this person reads their paperback novel for the rest of the day. I asked, “Don’t you get in trouble?” and the response was “They like me.”

Anyone one else would have been fired. Please explain how this person keeps their job? I just do not get it.


Hi D!

I can understand how unfair that seems! While ideally I’d want to know a few more facts, I’ll do my best to give you some answers.

Let’s look at the issues you raise one by one:

Arrives late: While some jobs require a person to be on time with absolutely no give whatsoever, many places understand there’s more to a job than just punching in on the dot. In this case, it seems the person (let’s assume it’s a she for this answer) has a flexible employer. The fact that she continues to arrive late and still has the job could simply mean the company understands she has personal issues – possibly health problems or problems at home – and is still willing to cut her some slack as long as she gets the work done.

In her post Always Late for Work? Melissa Dylan suggests ways for negotiating an issue like this:

“If you really can’t make it in on time—and some people really, truly can’t, no matter how hard they try—sit down with your boss before she has a chance to approach you…If you show that you’re working on your weaknesses and indicate a willingness to make it up in other areas, it will be easier for your employer to accept tardiness.”

As long as you have something to contribute, a good company will work with you to resolve personal issues.

Reads paperback novel at work: From what you write, it seems she gets her work done. Maybe that’s enough for the company – especially considering how long she’s worked for them. Also, there are companies or departments with unsteady workflows that expect people to keep themselves occupied during slow times so, when things speed up, they have ample trained help available. Not knowing her job or industry, I can only guess this could be part of the thinking.

But I’m also curious whether this is accepted practice for everyone in her department or only this one woman? If it’s only this one woman and she makes it obvious, that would be horrible for morale and show there’s a management problem that needs to be addressed. Otherwise, if this is accepted behavior for anyone, then it’s ok.

Three months off with no leave: As for being allowed to call in sick every day during a tough time, without knowing more I’d say this may be a reflection of a very understanding company with informal policies and room for special arrangements. But if this company requires others to follow strict rules and only makes exceptions for this one woman without good reason, then there’s clearly a real management problem here that’s bigger than just the decisions surrounding this one person. (I kind of doubt that’s the story here.)

What you didn’t tell us is whether you work with her or you’ve simply heard about her work habits. If you actually work with her and are not being treated fairly yourself, then you might want to speak with your supervisor. But please know you’d be most effective if you don’t make the discussion about her, since you don’t know what might be behind her “special” and unequal treatment. The real issue is: How can you make the job better for yourself? Is there something you need that you aren’t getting? Keep the discussion focused on you and stay away from what an employer would see as “sour grapes” since that would probably come back to bite you in the end.

But if you don’t work there and are only hearing about this, my guess is that even though it seems she’s getting away with something, in actuality, she may be within the bounds of acceptable behavior in her particular company.

This reminds me of a woman I worked with who always seemed to be on the phone or talking to someone in her office about personal matters. She also came in late almost every morning. It looked like she was getting away with murder just because the boss liked her and she knew how to get around him. But the more I found out, I realized she was getting a lot of quality work done – faster than most – and her boss understood this and let her do things her own way. As far as I’m concerned, as long as the work is getting done and the company is satisfied, a good boss (and there are plenty out there) shows flexibility where possible.

For me it’s mostly about perspective. We can never know what another person is going through until we walk in their shoes. If someone has a job that cuts her some slack but it doesn’t take away from me at all, then why should I worry about how she’s being treated? If I like her, I should be happy for her. If I don’t like her, well… then I think there’s more going on with my feelings than with her work habits.

Best advice is not to worry about what she is or isn’t doing and focus on improving your own job conditions if you aren’t getting everything you deserve! If she weren’t serving the company in some way – no matter what – she wouldn’t be there. That’s how business works – management makes room for certain quirks as long as they get what they need.

Of course, we don’t really have enough details to know what the actual story is… but if what she says is true and the real explanation turns out simply to be that – a la Sally Fields – they really like her, then the company might very well be cutting her some extra slack. So what? It happens. After all those years, she’s probably earned it. And if this bugs other employees she works with, their most effective “revenge” would be to focus their energies on getting the company to like them too!

Hope that helps a little, D. Good luck!

Ronnie Ann


Note: I’m one of the columnists on the Q&A site Job Lounge and will be sharing those posts like this one here on my Work Coach blog.


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. Kathy110 says:

    I was having a bad day with my controllinator and googled for help and found this site. Nice to see I am not alone…sorry to see this, too. I agree with Ronnie Ann that sitting down and discussing could work, but it is way too uncomfortable for me. My boss is close to retirement and has told all he is not changing…we just have to wait. Brought to tears one day (which is not easy) I called my sister. Her advice, though not easy, is to remember what is important…family and friends. Remember the folks that care and ignore these fools…just do your job the best you can. On top of that, keep track of the incidents…write down the conversation and your response (not how your felt…just the facts). Even if there is no one to witness and written record is quite powerful. I could help, too, if you decide to discuss this with her or her boss…a reminder of what was said and when.

  2. Your sister’s advice is wonderful. Yes…a lot of people can’t sit down with their bosses and have to find a way to put the work stuff in perspective. remembering what’s really important – and how lucky you are to have these things – is a great comforter. And her suggestion to document in a fact-filled non-emotional way is also solid advice.

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Kathy. Sorry you have to deal with a boss like that, but maybe your words helped someone today.

    And by the way…in the privacy of your own home, it sometimes help to journal your feelings from a rough day – being as honest as you like and telling your boss everything you wish you could have said – and then just delete that record. A nice catharsis. And just remember…while you have lovely things in your life that you can come home to, sadly your boss has to live with himself every day of his life. Yuch! That’s not excusing him of course…just a thought.

    Good luck!

  3. I work in the health care field in a workplace that is flooded with negative attitudes (new employees are routinely “initiated” by two employees inparticular who are rude, unhelpful and mean until the new employee stands up to them). Policies are not enforced, and honestly, I have read them and am not even sure the bosses have. Procedures change frequently with little forethought as to what is best for the patient and the company. Most of the practices employed by workers could likely kill someone. Things are done “because that’s how we do it here”, not based on evidence.
    I want to broach the subject with my boss, but I have only worked for the company for a little over three months and don’t know how to go about it. I supervise two other employees who look to me to help fix these major breeches in policy. I have read the policies and since I am not in management, I realize I don’t have the full picture, but these policies are clear and are not being followed at all. The field I work in is considered undesirable by many others in my profession, and because of this replacing employees is extremely difficult. I believe this is why negativity and bullying, not to mention complete disregard for policy (federal as well as company) is tolerated. The environment is chaotic and disorganized and extremely stressful. Employees learn their jobs not through training (of which most receive no formal training), but through trial and error… we are never told the right way to do a job… ever… we are only told that we did it wrong. No guidance is offered. The setting I work in, even if it were organized, is potentially dangerous on a daily basis. I feel the disorganization and lack of access to the boss’ ear(s) only make the environment even more dangerous. Quitting is not an option right now (any other job would be a $12 + an hour pay cut for me). Is there a way I can discuss these (there are many) situations with my boss tactfully without sending the message that I think I could do better than he is? (Incidentally, I am a new graduate in this field, but I have spent a lot of time reading the policies, and literally NONE of them are being followed). It is only a matter of time until someone dies or the company shuts us down… what do I do??? I do fear retribution from other employees for “rocking the boat”… if not from the boss himself, but I don’t believe in jumping chain of command without trying to solve the issue at the lowest level possible first… What do I do???

  4. dania smith says:

    I also have the same problem working in the Healthcare field as a Activity Director at Nursing
    Homes, Assisted Facilities and Retirement Centers. The problems that you have just posted are too numerous to post. There are however caring and compassionat facilities that are committed to the care and wellbeing of those that required these services. And then their others who are only it for the $$$. State and Federal laws are trying hard to combat these deficiencies, but it is up to families, staff and individuals such as yourself to see that the primary care at these facilities are up to standard. One way is to contact the area of Social Services in your local area and file a formal complaint. You can also call the Onbudsman. They will take down any infomation that you give them and will investigate the facility in a unannouced manner. Also, they will a not disclosed your name or contact number. The Health Department will also inquire about your complaints at your request while keeping anonymous. Everyone has some sort of horror story as it relates to the Health Care Workplace. I have worked with staff,administors and other health care employees who have always given me a hard or difficult time. I have even been fired!! But this has not stop me from pursuing my goal to provided the greatest care to those who neeed it the most. Hope this works? Good luck and God Bless.

  5. Great comment on such a tough problem, dania. Thank you!

    NFekete: My heart goes out to you. In the end, this has to be your decision of course. We can only offer opinions and share our experiences.

    There is most definitely a management problem there – but if it is anchored at the very top of the chain and the person/people there don’t want to change, there is little you can do from your position, especially being so new. Takes time to earn trust and respect for new ideas, especially if people are trying to protect their old ways.

    I was once hired to be the deputy director of a non-profit service provider that helped homeless folks. The staff who worked for me were begging me to help because of all the problems – and the way they were treated. Being new – and outraged at what I heard – I dug in and went head to head with the boss, who smiled, thanked me – and then went on with the old ways, firing those she thought ratted on her.

    Try as I might – using as tactful ways as I could – she was never going to budge. She just made sure her board was on her side no matter what they heard. Somehow this structure served HER needs. So I made sure I anonymously reported what was going on and found a new job. I didn’t want to leave when people so clearly needed help, but since my only internal choice was to play ball or go…I had to go. Not saying this is your best move – just sharing.

    BTW…despite my efforts, she managed to keep going with her old ways long after I was gone. Each person has to decide if a job is worth staying in. But when I’m not sure, I start looking just in case. 😉

    Following up on Nadia’s thoughts…some places choose not to change and fight to stay alive even with the flaws, but there are also good ones – or at least better ones. If you do have to stay, stay true to who you are best you can and, once you have established yourself there, if you can see places to help improve things – even small changes at first – that can lead to more later on. If not…well, only you know what you need to do.

    I wish you the best of luck!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

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