A junior member of staff has just returned to work after taking a special leave to care for her elderly mother. For financial reasons she needs to work full-time. She is very competent in her work, but has difficulties with her mother's home care arrangements, causing her to miss a number of team meetings (which usually take place at the beginning of each day) and leave work early. Her absences are putting pressure on her and her overworked colleagues. You are her manager, and you are aware that the flow of work through the practice is coming under pressure. One of her male colleagues makes comments such as "a woman's place is in the home" and undermines her at every opportunity, putting her under even greater stress. What action would you take to handle the situation?

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Compassion and empathy should be inherent in managers.  As such, they ought to modify working arrangements when applicable to meet the needs of the organization and employees. In the difficult situation described here, there are a few areas the manager can review to see what options are available. Organizations differ...

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Compassion and empathy should be inherent in managers.  As such, they ought to modify working arrangements when applicable to meet the needs of the organization and employees. In the difficult situation described here, there are a few areas the manager can review to see what options are available. Organizations differ on the regulations regarding the following suggestions, but it should be assumed the manager has the authority to authorize such accommodations.

First, the employee and manager need to discuss the vital roles of the job which require the employee to be at the business location. The manager may have suggestions for adjusting meeting times or other blocks of responsibility to narrow down a window for the employee. As an example, after discussion it is deemed the employee must be present from 10 AM to 2 PM every day but can work at different, more flexible times the rest of the day.

Responsibilities that can be accomplished off-site should be reviewed as well. E-mails, documentation, research, and other tasks may be handled at any number of locations and may not require physical presence in the office. Reviewing hardware and software requirements for these tasks will help determine if the employee can telework, meaning they work from home part of the day.

With a work schedule created to accommodate the employee, the manager must set guidelines to evaluate the accommodations. A review might be conducted one month, three months, and then six months after the arrangements begin to ensure work products are not suffering and the arrangement can be handled by both parties. The managers must take care to demonstrate to the employee the flexibility is a show of good faith on the company's part, but if the arrangement no longer is effective then the employee may be expected to return to normal duty hours or face termination.

The remainder of the office needs to be alerted to the change, and this notification should come from the manager. The announcement should include the new schedule and note the arrangement was made with the full support of the management team. Any problems that arise should be brought to the manager's attention to be addressed. This lets other employees know management supports the new arrangement, but will also be receptive to concerns about the matter should they arise.

The last part is to address the male co-worker in private. He does not need a formal reprimand, but should be given a friendly reminder that comments such as the ones you noted could place him and the company in the position to defend a hostile work environment complaint from any number of female employees.

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