Outing the Excessive Break Taker

By Lindsey Novak

November 27, 2014 4 min read

Q: This sounds petty, but this problem could eventually affect me in my job. My co-workers and I share a group office. One in particular is a smoker. Smoking is banned inside, so he has to take cigarette breaks about every two hours. The problem is that with his cigarette breaks, bathroom breaks and leaving to take personal calls on his cellphone, he is gone more often than he is in the office.

I have never said a word to our boss. The only breaks I take are quick bathroom breaks. We don't have a formal policy about breaks. We are treated with respect and expected to act professionally. We have no decision-making power, though, so we need to ask our boss for any changes regarding work hours and time off.

Because of nightmarish traffic and traveling far to get to work, I am sometimes late arriving. When this happens, I stay late for even more time than I missed because I never want to take advantage or do anything that would make me feel guilty about not doing an honest day's work.

Although I do not owe any co-worker an explanation, I always say why I have arrived late. What makes me angrier than the breaks is that when I am late, he openly makes loud, snarky comments about it when I arrive. I'd like to tell him off, but I do my internal counting to help me ignore it and remain polite. I also think he makes sure that the boss knows when I'm late. Of course, the boss is totally unaware of his many breaks throughout the day.

I don't want to stoop to his level by reporting his numerous breaks to the boss, but I'm afraid that if I don't say anything and the boss somehow finds out, I will be asked why I never said anything. I am damned if I do and damned if I don't. For now, I look like the one who is casual about time, when the facts are that he is the one who does little. How do I inform the boss without directly reporting him?

A: An experienced manager can usually separate the hard workers from the slackers without anyone's saying a word. You may think your boss doesn't notice, but bosses have ways to find out without direct questioning. Some may even keep notes on employees, even though nothing may be formally said to the employees about the behavior. Your boss may not know the details about this employee's numerous breaks, but you have other workers around you, and at some point, the situation will come to the boss's attention.

To protect your reputation without turning snarky yourself, communicate directly to your boss every time you're late; it's always better to hear it from the source. Each time it happens, explain you will stay late to make up the time. Keep in mind that if you are missing the busiest 15 minutes of your workday, your boss may still be upset. Also know that making up for missed time is only required of "nonexempt" employees (generally hourly employees who are to receive overtime). "Exempt" employees (generally those who receive salaries and do not receive overtime pay) are not required to make up sporadically missed time. (See the many requirements for classifying employees according to federal law under the Fair Labor Standards Act.)

Apart from one's job classification, any employee should let bosses and subordinates know if he/she is to arrive late or leave early, but this is out of responsibility and consideration to the bosses and co-workers who rely on the person. Be assured that missing-in-action employees are eventually discovered, regardless of their guile and their positions.

Email your problems and questions to workplace expert Lindsey Novak at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter @I_truly_care. To find out more about Lindsey Novak and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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