DEAR J.T. & DALE: A co-worker is taking serious advantage of our company. She strolls into work 10-15 minutes late and then spends 20 minutes in the bathroom, putting on her makeup. She takes more than a few breaks each day and ducks out for lunch. There is no way she is working eight hours a day, but I caught a look at her time card, and she is putting in for that. Our boss is trusting and says he doesn’t want to “police” everyone’s time, but I know others are noticing and now are starting to do the same. Should I say something? – Silvia
Dale: Say nothing. Only two things could result: One, your boss could ignore your report and perhaps even be annoyed that you are trying to drag him into issues in which he has declared that he does not wish to be involved. Or, the boss could declare a serious crackdown and start policing everyone’s time, whereupon it inevitably would come out that you were the one who started it, and the resulting resentments would lessen your effectiveness. Instead, focus on your work, embrace your marvelous work ethic and know that in the long run, it will be appreciated and rewarded.
J.T.: I agree that things will work out, but for a different reason. There always are people in an office who like to get away with something, usually because they are frustrated in their careers. They don’t like having to follow rules, so they break them in the smallest of ways to feel a sense of satisfaction. Eventually, your co-worker will keep taking more liberties, she will get caught and the boss will either bring her into alignment or let her go. One thing I know about trusting bosses: They don’t like to be duped! I suspect that your boss might know about her games already and might be passing her over for promotions or raises. Don’t assume that he is oblivious.
Dale: Speaking of not assuming, let’s not assume that this co-worker is a horrible employee. I’ve known plenty of people who routinely wander outside the building for smoke breaks, make personal phone calls or even nap at their desks; then they jump in and turn out an amazing amount of work. My point is that the important measure is productivity, not minutes. If you want to help your boss, try to find ways to measure the productivity of the people in your department. That way, you can go to him with numbers and with suggestions, not with complaints.
Dear J.T. & Dale: People with tats and piercings are everywhere. Could a company get charged with discrimination if it didn’t hire someone with tats, even if a policy about tattoos were part of the dress code? – Aric
J.T.: You can’t file a discrimination case for tattoos or piercings, especially if the company has a policy against them as part of the dress code. In the same way that it’s your right to do what you want to your body, it’s an employer’s right to say, “I don’t want those as part of the dress code.” It all comes down to choices: You can choose to display your body art, and they can choose to say, “No, thanks.”
Dale: Federal discrimination laws focus on race, gender, age and national origin, and also include religion, pregnancy and disabilities. I suppose you could make a case that a couple of these are personal choices, but they are major life (or even afterlife) choices, not lifestyle choices. That’s where things get trickier. For instance, there are a number of states that have passed laws prohibiting employers from discriminating against smokers. As for tattoos, I know of only one challenge to a dress code restricting them, but that centered on gender discrimination, arguing that women were allowed more latitude than men. So, for now, your hope is in greater acceptance. If employers come to see that they are missing out on talented young employees because their dress codes prohibit tattoos, the policies, unlike the tattoos, could quickly fade away.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.