Communication; Employee Problems and Problem Employees; Rules and Policies

tHe seNsitiVe eMployee

Primary Topic—Criticism and Discipline

Additional Topics—Communication; Employee Problems and Problem Employees; Rules and Policies

May as well get it over with, thought business office manager Theresa Fallon as she summoned billing clerk Barbara Goodman to her office. It was with dread that Theresa arranged the papers on her desk and waited for Barbara to be seated. Theresa felt that she knew exactly what was coming and she was determined that this time she would address the continuing problem as well as the specific problem.

Theresa handed a warning form to Barbara and said, “Barb, we have to talk about your excessive absenteeism. This is your second warning. I’m sure you knew it was coming.”

Barbara barely glanced at the warning and dropped it on Theresa’s desk. “I knew nothing of the kind,” she snapped. “There’s nothing excessive or unusual about my few days off because I was sick. I’m not signing any warning.”

Theresa sighed. “Barb,” she said, “you can count the days yourself. Ten sick days in the last 6 months, and 7 of them on Mondays.”

“I can’t help it if I’m sick a lot.” “Even if you’re legitimately ill on those days, and honestly, Barb, it’s tough to

accept all those Mondays as legitimate sick days, you make it difficult to staff the department reliably.”

“Why me? Why don’t you lean on Judy for a change? She’s been out as much as I have.”

Theresa said, “No, she hasn’t. Not nearly as much. At any rate, that’s strictly between Judy and me. Just like this is strictly between you and me.”

Theresa continued, “You know that you’ve used up all of your sick time.” “I know. This place made me use vacation the last two times.” There was accusa-

tion in Barbara’s voice. “You wanted to get a full paycheck, didn’t you?” Barbara glared at her supervisor. “I think it stinks to make me use vacation when

I’m sick.” Theresa looked at Barbara. Barbara’s face was stony, her eyes cold, and her

mouth a thin line. Theresa thought, Any time now—the next thing I say will do it.

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Theresa, fighting against the knot in her throat, said, “Barbara, you haven’t been reliable. I just can’t count on you to be here when I need you. Your first warning was deserved, and this one is deserved. You can appeal, if you want, through proper chan- nels, but the warning stands.”

Theresa watched Barbara’s face. Barbara’s eyes grew round and quickly filled with tears. Her mouth turned down and she began to sob.

If any other employee had been involved, Theresa might have felt sympathy. However, she had been through this a number of times, in fact every time she had occasion to reprimand Barbara. The pattern was always the same: anger and defen- siveness, even belligerence, followed by tears and charges of persecution and injus- tice. And as always, Theresa wondered what to do next.


1. Although Theresa was well prepared with the facts concerning Barbara’s absenteeism, she might have considered a different opening for the disciplin- ary dialogue. What opening would you consider suggesting? Why?

2. How did knowing “exactly what was coming” bias Theresa in her approach to Barbara?

3. What would you suggest as a possible way of dealing with this apparently resentful and emotional employee?

46 Case 9: The Sensitive Employee

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