When employees take advantage of their employers' goodwill, companies are faced with tough choices.

QMy husband and I have a small business. There are four employees, and the problem is the full-time office assistant. We have always liked her very much. But she increasingly takes time off for personal reasons to the point where she works only 81/2 out of 10 workdays. Finally, she was told she had a certain number of paid sick days and paid vacation days. That was two years ago. Since then, she ran out of paid leave in July of each year.

She is also often tardy. We have had sick children, sick parents, family emergencies, school meetings and the like, and we believe the right thing to do is to work around such things. Our colleagues tell us we are chumps and we should fire the assistant. So what to do?

AOn the Job is sure that many employers would have long ago fired this worker. But Pam Farr, president and chief operating officer of the Cabot Advisory Group, a Bedminster, N.J., firm that advises businesses on workplace problems, said the worker should get one last chance.

"The word stunning comes to mind on this worker," Farr said. "She is not fulfilling her basic obligation, to show up on time ready to work."

Farr said that if the company owners do not deal firmly with her, it "risks compromising standards and their relationship with the rest of their employees, which could severely lower morale and productivity."

"They need to sit down with this worker and put in writing what is expected, reiterate the paid-leave policy and state that she has fallen short of the standards. They have to be very declarative that any further violation of the paid-leave policy will not be tolerated and could result in disciplinary action, including termination.

"This company has been eminently fair and patient." If the employee violates the rules again, Farr said, "they really do have to fire her."

-- Kenneth Bredemeier

E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at bredemeier@washpost.com. Discuss workplace issues with him Wednesday at 11 a.m. at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.