my coworker saw the Excel sheet I use to track his sick days — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I made a mistake and a coworker saw the Excel sheet that I was using to track his repeated absences.

I’m not his supervisor, but I’ve been flabbergasted at the amount of sick days he takes. It started immediately when I started working here 14 months ago, but I started tracking it in January to see how many he takes in 2019. It’s always “I have a migraine” or “I have food poisoning” or “I have a fever and chills.” They are all one-day absences, he’s back the next day, so it’s not like he’s getting cancer treatments or something. It always sounds fake to me. But whatever, right? He gets sick days, so use them, right?

The thing is, I think he’s used more sick days since I’ve worked at this job than I’ve ever used in the 20 years I’ve been in the workforce. Am I a sucker? Is this what people do when they are super healthy and don’t use sick time for actual sicknesses? I don’t have any kids and likely never will, so I don’t save them up for their doctor’s appointments like my coworkers do. Half the reason I’ve been tracking is to see what the pattern is and what I can get away with. I’d like an extra 12 days off a year! (He takes one off every month, exactly the amount we are allocated.)

So I guess my question is twofold: (1) Should I just ignore the fact that I’m sure he saw the tracking? It’s not like it had his name on it or anything, but I think he can put two and two together. He saw it while looking over my shoulder at my computer and I brought up Excel and it was the last thing that was open so, yeah, there ya go. (2) After 14 months of him doing this, it doesn’t seem like an issue with my supervisors. As a matter of fact, he seems to get special treatment and extra projects, which I would also love. This job is so slow! I’ve specifically asked for more to do but they only give it to him (not the other two I work with, either).

I talk with my two other coworkers and we all kind of trash-talk about how much he calls in sick, so I’m not the only one who notices. I’m thinking about calling in sick once a month. If I get talked to, I was thinking of bringing up what I’ve witnessed the past 14 months, so I thought it was okay. Is this what other people do and I’m missing out?

So … it’s not a good idea to track your coworker’s sick time and you should stop doing that immediately.

It’s one thing to discreetly track something that impacts you directly, like the times you’ve had to cover for him or do his work in addition to your own, but in that case you’d be logging those specific impacts, not his attendance overall. And you’d only do that to give yourself data to eventually take to your manager, or maybe to verify for yourself that it’s happening as much as it feels like.

But just tracking a coworker’s sick days to see how much sick time he’s using will come across as a huge and inappropriate overstep if anyone finds out about it. It’s not your business, and it risks making you look to your manager as if you’re not clear on the boundaries of your role and aren’t respectful of your colleagues.

And the thing is, your conclusion that he’s lying might be wrong. He could have a chronic illness he’s dealing with, your manager could be in the loop, he could have formal medical accommodations in place — who knows. It sounds like you’re thinking that since he uses a different excuse every time, he’s clearly BSing, but not everyone wants to share the details of a medical condition with coworkers, and he could be using cover stories with you and your coworkers in order to protect his privacy. Which he’s allowed to do. And if he is struggling with something real, then glimpsing your tracking sheet was a really, really crappy experience for him.

If his absences affect your own work in some way, that’s something you can speak to your manager about. But otherwise, leave this alone.

To answer your questions:

I don’t think you should say anything to him about the sheet he saw. There’s nothing you can say here that would make him feel better. Resolve to do better in the future, and move on.

As for your own sick time … if you hardly ever take any, then yes, go ahead and be a bit more relaxed about your use of it. That doesn’t mean you should use each sick day as it accrues — both because of how you’ve seen that looks and because you need to have some saved up as a safety net in case you do need it at some point. But feel free to use it for medical appointments and an occasional mental health day (meaning like once or twice a year if you’re not taking a lot of sick time otherwise).

But seriously, get rid of the tracking sheet. And stop gossiping with your coworkers about his absence patterns. It’s unkind and it’s pretty toxic.

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