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The file situation was becoming ridiculous. In the month’s that I had become larger and larger, and my pregnancy now becoming the heavy-lifting liability that it was, my supervisor was faced with a very serious situation that we would need another staffer. I had brought to his attention the old filing that I was given, all attributable to one person and he promised to “deal with it.”

His way of dealing with it, like with most things, was to ignore it until the aggravated party just gave up. I imagine that’s what went on with this as well. I don’t blame him. The person in question was one of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever had the misfortune of running across. She’s had run-ins with just about everyone in the department, complaining to Human Resources about being discriminated against on at least three occasions in the six years she’d been in our department.

Unwilling to acknowledge error, and absolutely dead-set in her self-righteous ways, she used her race and religion to justify any number of bad behaviors toward her colleagues. My supervisor’s fear of being hauled in to Human Resources for another racially motivated complaint from her probably held him back more than he should have, but I can’t say I blame him. For the record, I don’t feel he is biased against her or anyone of color, but his reputation being on the line, one simply has to choose their battles, and paperwork usually isn’t one of them.

As I’ve recounted before, part of my work involves auditing. Doing the work I do for as long as I have, you can get a sense of how well a customer understands the sometimes tricky submission process from one or two encounters. Without the authority to ask for it outright, I have to wait for a customer to request my auditing services, unless we uncover such egregious issues as to warrant a “for cause” site visit.

So, when I was approached over the summer for a site visit following a staffing change, which was then abruptly “rescheduled,” I had a bad feeling. I knew there would be a lot of missing documentation, but with a baby on the way, my time was somewhat limited. I had to make my case to the unfortunately overwhelmed new hire that she’d need to schedule time with me soon so she could get what she needed before the baby came.

Eventually, my summer visit was rescheduled for December. It took me two days, and what I uncovered was the usual stuff. Items missing on their end, which could be easily recovered from our source documents. What I did not expect to find, was that there were huge sections of our own regulatory submissions that were missing from our files. All of these items, unfortunately, were from the same individual. From what I could tell, they were simply never put away and may have possibly been destroyed, because they existed in the customer’s file and in our database.

The paper copies were simply gone. Nearly six months’ worth of documentation were missing. I began to get a bad feeling in my gut about it. While I had only sampled about six projects, there would be countless others during this same time period where documents would likely be missing. I took extra time writing up my audit report, and when I presented it to my supervisor, I was sure to include the note that all of our missing items were from the same person. I hit send and held my breath.

The next day, he asked about it. I gave him a sad, but knowing look which hopefully conveyed both my sympathy for what he was now fully aware of. He would have to say something to her, and it was absolutely certain that it would not go well. Still, to ignore the results, which were in a formal report, would be catastrophic should a regulator see them, could cost all of us our jobs. It was not an enviable position to be in, to say the least.

Fortunately, I was able to recover some of the documentation from the customer. But, the bigger picture was that there were likely other issues that were underlying here. Be it willful destruction of source documents or simple gross negligence, neither could stand. And, if these six files were missing huge sections of items, it was likely that others were too. The only way to be sure was to do a full audit of her activity, which would go over like a lead balloon.

In the coming days, I was also working on a separate issue, with a software upgrade of a program we all used, but I was most familiar. Working with the technology support people, I began to put two and two together for the underlying issue that was also exacerbating the documentation issue with this same staff member. While the process should have involved a direct upload of the documentation once it was approved and sent to her for processing, she would simply print and delete the item.

What was happening, I would learn later, was that instead of printing the entire package, she would only print the first item. While this was enough for her to do her component of the work, the remaining documents would be lost to the electronic ether forever. Because we worked via email, the documents could only be recovered going back about a month.

In completing my audit results for the customer, I had found that an item was missing the second component but luckily it was only from about three weeks prior. This one might be salvageable, I’d hoped. I sent a gently worded email to my supervisor and to this colleague in the hopes that they’d be able to send it to me.

I did get the document back, but not without some sass from this colleague. She claimed that her attachment only had one item, but when I opened it, the package was intact, and both items were there. My response to both she and my supervisor was that it was indeed there, that I had what I needed and thanked her. Unfortunately, that was not acceptable, I suppose it was my fault for telling her she was wrong. It was also the realization that she was indeed doing the job incorrectly, printing only the first piece of the submission and deleting the rest, and anyone with rudimentary analytic skills could put two and two together to realize her error.

Her response was an offer for me to “show her” where the item was. Mine was a screenshot demonstrating exactly that, with a helpful note that printing might be tricky and how it was critical to print all the documents, not just the cover page. This provoked a rage email back, chiding me for wasting numerous emails where a conversation could have sufficed. I chuckled at that, as if I would give up the beauty of a paper trail for her to engage in verbal conversation where I would no longer have any evidence of her malfeasance.

Of course, our supervisor was included in all the responses, and after her email, he went in to speak to her directly. What ensued was a loud outburst from her about how sick of the “nitpicking” and what I assumed was a general commentary about me. I couldn’t hear what was directly said, nor was I about to engage her. She went on for a few minutes, loudly enough so that every person in the area could hear. I felt no victory, only that the message was received but largely ignored.

By making it about a personal attack, the reprimand was now insult to injury, and very likely to take place at all. The error would continue to be made, now likely to be done out of spite. The supervisor could not return to the subject without invoking the same rage that was now hotly directed at me. And, the worst part of all, nothing would be done about it. Her behavior was somehow okay, and now I was the jerk for pointing it out. I left that day in tears, feeling so defeated I wished I could take maternity leave and never return.