When, if ever, should you report a co-worker for violating company policy?
A reader we’re calling Andy wrote that recently a co-worker told him she planned to use a sick day as part of an upcoming vacation so she could use fewer vacation days.
“It didn’t feel right,” wrote Andy. “But I said nothing.” Andy added that their employer is not a private company but a public agency.
While on her vacation, Andy’s co-worker told him she was having such a good time that she decided to call in sick again to extend the vacation. “And she did it again the next day, so she ended up taking three sick days to pad her vacation," he wrote.
Andy knows this because his co-worker texted him as it was happening. She “admitted to feeling a bit guilty but tried to rationalize it by saying how often she covered for others who called in sick,” adding: “Don’t tell on me.”
Andy didn’t tell on her. But after she returned, he told her he was surprised and upset by her actions since he had always “seen her as very ethical.” He told her he believed everyone is entitled to take a “mental health day” from time to time but that using sick days to extend a vacation felt wrong.
After Andy asked her not to tell him if she decided to do something like this again, she agreed, but seemed taken aback and asked: “Isn’t it all my time anyway?”
Now Andy’s co-worker is angry with him. She “feels I was implying she doesn’t work hard (something I never said),” he wrote.
“My concern is that as a public employee, she is accountable to me and other taxpayers for using her time ethically,” he wrote. Her “attempts to justify her actions by saying how hard she works or how she has to cover for others … are not valid arguments, in my opinion.”
As a public employee and taxpayer, Andy wrote he felt it was appropriate to share his opinion with her on her actions. “Should I have said anything?” Andy asks. “Or would it have been better to let it go?”
If a public agency or private company wanted to avoid putting employees in the position of having to decide whether to lie about using sick days, perhaps they could give them a number of personal days to use any way they want. But that’s not the case here, and Andy’s co-worker was wrong to lie about being sick to extend her vacation.
Andy was not wrong to say something to his co-worker and to ask she not involve him in any future decisions she made about fudging the truth to her agency. Rather than being angry with Andy for questioning her actions, his co-worker might have been appreciative that he didn’t “tell on her.”
If Andy’s co-worker believes she is being taken advantage of by having to cover for others in her workplace who call in sick, the right thing is for her to tell her supervisor. But if she doesn’t really mind covering for others who are truly sick and was simply using that to justify her decision to lie to her company about being sick, then perhaps she should save her vacation days for vacations and sick days for when she is really sick.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to email@example.com.
Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.