Why a Formal Warning Is No Cue to Act Tough

An employee who received a formal warning for being late to work wants to know why it matters.

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Suzanne Lucas

I do a great job at work. In fact, I perform at a higher level than my coworkers. However, my boss just gave me a formal warning for coming in late. I'm an exempt employee. I put in more than 50 hours each week.If my work is good and getting done, why does it matter if I'm there by 8:30 every morning?

It matters because it matters to your boss.

Now, we'll set aside the fact that we are often the worst judges of our own performance. What you think is spectacular, your boss may think is mediocre. (And while bad performance is easier to spot in a coworker, superior performance can be hard to gauge from the side view.) But I'll accept that you are a stellar performer.

You were hired to do a job. That's pretty much the definition of an exempt employee anyway. You aren't paid by the hour, so what does it matter what hours you work? That's your logic—and, for the record, that's mine as well. I'm a huge fan of a results-oriented workplace environment, where managers stop looking at face time as a surrogate for performance and start looking at performance. Not everyone is. It's a very different mindset that requires the entire company to think differently.

For your boss, part of your job is to be there at 8:30. This may not make sense to you. It makes sense to her. If you aren't there when everyone else is, where are your phone calls directed? To the department admin who is already overworked? To your voicemail, where important people have to wait for a response? Or do your clients hang up when they can't get you and call your boss directly? Does your boss like to hold staff meetings at 8:30 and you aren't there? Do your coworkers have to pick up the slack on any emergencies that arise in the early morning?

Even if you answer 'no' to all of these, she likes you to be there. So, it's now part of your job expectations. But it's not unreasonable to negotiate a different starting time. If you know you are going to have a problem with an 8:30 start time, you should bring that up in the negotiation phase of the job offer. (That's after the offer and before the acceptance—don't bring it up in an interview.) It's too late for that now, but it's not too late to work with your boss.

If your reason for not being in by 8:30 is that you like to sleep in, well, that doesn't put you in a strong position. If your reason is that your kindergartner has to get on the bus at 8:30, and you can put her on and be at work by 9, your boss is more likely to listen. Talk with your boss about it and see if you can come to a compromise.

The most important thing is for you not to say: "I get my work done. I do a good job, so I'm going to ignore this." A formal warning is a serious thing. This bothers her enough that she's making steps to fire you if you don't comply. Do not ignore this. If even after talking with her, you think she is still irrational about the need to be there by 8:30, you need to ask yourself how much you want this job—because if you want it, you'll be there by 8:30. If you don't, you may not have to come in at all. Better check with your financial adviser before you select that option.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of h uman r esources experience, most of which has been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a p rofessional in h uman r esources c ertificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady .

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