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  • Problem with "fragile" employee - CA California

    Hi All,

    I have been reading this board for about a year now - this is my first post.

    I am an HR Assistant for a commercial construction company in California with an average of 25 employees (this fluctuates throughout the year depending on how many jobs are going on), with nine of us working in the office.

    We have an employee who has been with us for over 10 years now. This employee handles our contract compliance.

    We have had issues with this employee for years. She is very "fragile" - oversensitive, extremely insecure (has talked to other employees about suicide, etc.) and very paranoid about losing her job. We also think she may have OCD tendencies, because she is obsessed with certain things (from keeping the kitchen clean even though it is not her job to making sure her papers are exactly straight and in order before she goes home at night).

    Her obsession with order and having things a certain way eats up quite a bit of her time during the day. Furthermore, she obsesses on things that have nothing to do with her duties - such as buying cards for employee's birthdays (also not her job) and making sure the person whose turn it is to bring breakfast on Friday knows it's their turn (she has been known to tell the person repeatedly throughout the day, as well as telling myself, the company President and the Controller that it's their turn - she has gone so far as to call employees at night to remind them). These distractions, of course, cause her to fall behind in her work.

    A separate issue with her is that she comes to work much earlier and leaves much earlier than her set schedule. We think she does this because she believes it will give her more job security (her job is not at risk, she is just very paranoid). The Controller (this employee's and my supervisor) has told her in the past to stop this, but she will stop for awhile and go back to her old ways. She is logging many hours coming in before and staying late - and not being paid overtime for it. Sometimes she is doing personal stuff, but sometimes she is trying to get caught up on her work when she is behind. I know this is a huge issue and liability for our company and so does the Controller. However, the President (next and last step above the Controller) hesitates to discipline this employee to get the message across because she is so sensitive. Most of the time if the Controller or President tries to discipline her, she cries and we all have to walk on eggshells around her for the next two weeks.

    This employee is good at her job and we value her contribution. She is a nice person, but it can be hard to deal with her fragile nature and her need for control.

    To sum up, I suppose I am looking for some back up on the overtime issue at least, so I can present it to the President so he realizes what a big deal it is. I'm also wondering if she does have an OCD condition (I don't think she has ever been diagnosed or treated for it - I doubt she would admit it was an actual issue), if this would fall under some sort of ADA protection?

    The Controller and I are kind of at our wits end. We need to make the President realize what is going on and we need to know how to deal with this employee. Any advice is greatly appreciated. I apologize for the lengthy post.

    Thank you.

  • #2
    However, the President (next and last step above the Controller) hesitates to discipline this employee to get the message across because she is so sensitive. Most of the time if the Controller or President tries to discipline her, she cries and we all have to walk on eggshells around her for the next two weeks. Whether consciously or not, she's using her "fragility" to manipulate everybody. My experience with this is that she's much more aware of how to work this behavior to her advantage than anybody imagines.

    Yes, the company is at major risk for a wage and hour violation for all the unpaid overtime she's been working. All it takes is for her to place a call to CA's department of labor when she's having a disgruntled day.

    The bottom line is this. Either the President develops a backbone and allows the Controller to deal firmly with her performance issues at work or all of you just have to continue to tolerate the situation.

    BTW, do NOT attempt to diagnose any mental health problems she may have. You are not doctors and the law doesn't require you to guess that she has OCD, an anxiety disorder, or whatever. Until SHE tells you that she has a medial problem and requests reasonable accommodation, you don't have to and shouldn't do anything. Even if she tells you she's been diagnosed with whatever, you don't have to accommodate her until it's been determined that she has a disability as defined in the ADA. So just don't go there. Deal with her work performance problems, unapproved OT, and disruptive behavior at work.

    Good luck.
    Last edited by Beth3; 05-07-2010, 12:17 PM. Reason: typo

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    • #3
      I am in full agreement with all that Beth has to say and also have the following thoughts.

      It seems your problem is with the company president, more than with the employee. Upper management preventing problems from being dealt with directly just don't understand that they guarantee that the problem will never go away. No one is helping this person by letting her continue this way, and I suspect the activities you describe also cause inefficiencies in the work of you and other employees.

      It is hard to tell if the problems you describe can be remedied. The behaviors appear to be too deeply ingrained in this person to change. But, as Beth said, do not attempt to perform a medical diagnosis. The focus on non-job related tasks and the free-wheeling approach to hours hints to me that she feels that by making it difficult to tell what she is doing when, no one can tell if she is doing her job or not. Sort of the idea of clutter up the landscape enough and no one can tell for sure if the grass is green or not.

      IF the problems can be remedied, there is only one approach that I can see. She must be made aware of all things that need change. I would write a letter stating that she should no longer coordinate birthday cards, Friday breakfasts, or any of the other things that she does that are not part of her job. All of the issues need to be covered in the letter. Specify in the letter that the work schedule must be adhered to. The letter should be signed by the controller, but the president must be 100% on board and prepared to tell her that that is how it is when she goes to him to complain.

      Verbally, all should give her support in encouraging her to do as the letter says and letting her know that, while compliance is required, her job is safe if she does. The kicker is, the president must be prepared to terminate her if she does not change.
      Please post questions on the forum rather than sending me a private message or email. That way others who have similar issues have access to the discussion.

      Comment


      • #4
        BTW, do NOT attempt to diagnose any mental health problems she may have. You are not doctors and the law doesn't require you to guess that she has OCD, an anxiety disorder, or whatever. Until SHE tells you that she has a medial problem and requests reasonable accommodation, you don't have to and shouldn't do anything. Even if she tells you she's been diagnosed with whatever, you don't have to accommodate her until it's been determined that she has a disability as defined in the ADA. So just don't go there.
        I would disagree with this. First, we're dealing with California, so the definition of disability is much broader than under the ADA. Second, the employee need not directly ask for an accommodation. Once the employer is aware, from any source, that an employee may be disabled (which under CA law, can be virtually any condition), they are on notice of a potential need for accommodation. Not that the employer should be making medical diagnoses, and it doesn't appear as if accommodation is really an issue here yet, but it seems like it should at least be on the employer's radar.

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        • #5
          Endeavor, I would agree with you if the employee had some sort of physical impairment but a guess at a possible mental health disorder is another thing entirely. All that can be definitely said about this employee is that she's a pain-in-the-fanny, her behavior is disruptive in the workplace, and that she works unauthorized OT which she is not putting on her time card. There is no basis whatsoever to assume this employee is disabled nor is the employer aware from any source that she even may be disabled.

          Comment


          • #6
            The only thing I disagreed with was your characterization of the disability issue and that the employee had to request an accommodation. Also that we're dealing with California law, not the ADA. Otherwise, I don't disagree with you. There is no clear disbility issue here yet but the poster asked about it so I wanted to clarify.

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            • #7
              Ok - we're on the same page and I don't pretend to be expert at CA labor laws. I know they're unique.

              I just wanted to be sure the OP realized they didn't have to "arm chair" diagnose the employee and think they had to accommodate her behavior.

              Comment


              • #8
                Business is business...sorry to be harsh, but if the employee is not working out things need to change.

                However, from reading your post I am unable to determine if the employee is good or bad...you seem to bounce back and forth on the bad...then state she is a good employee.
                Not everything in America is actionable in a court of law. Please remember that attorneys are in business for profit, and they get paid regardless of whether or not you win or lose.

                I offer my knowledge and experience at no charge, I admit that I am NOT infallible, I am wrong sometimes, hopefully another responder will correct me if that is the case with the answer above, regardless, it is your responsibility to verify any and all information provided.

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                • #9
                  Follow up

                  Thank you all for the input.

                  I definitely was not considering trying to diagnose this person myself. I just wanted to know if this was an issue we needed to tip-toe around, if it hadn't actually been brought up by the employee at all.

                  She is a good employee, except for these admittedly major issues and does her job quite well - when she does it.

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                  • #10
                    That's rather like saying that she does a good job WHEN she bothers to show up for work. I think what you're saying is that she's capable of doing a good job when these behaviors don't interfere with her job performance - but they're interfering big-time and that is a big problem.

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