update: telling my company to revoke my IT access during our legal dispute

Remember the letter-writer last month who was on unpaid leave during a legal dispute with her company, had discovered that they hadn’t revoked her high-level IT access, and was wondering how to suggest they do so? (#5 at the link) Here’s the update.

I’m the letter-writer who asked about how to tell a company I was embroiled in a legal dispute with that I still had high-level IT admin permissions that had never been removed. A few folks in the comments asked for an update, and I am happy to have one.

A quick clarification first–nearly everyone told me all this communication should be coming from my lawyer and not me, and seemed shocked I was still talking to my company directly. I think this is a cultural difference between the U.S. and here–the process here is designed to minimise the need for litigation and NOT involve lawyers directly until very late. There’s about 4-6 rounds to the full process (as opposed to the U.S., where it seems like there’s nothing between “hope they come to their senses” and “take them to court”), and lawyers don’t really get involved directly until about round 5 (actually appearing in court). Earlier than that you’re allowed to have “legal advice” but are supposed to self-represent and have to petition the court to have a lawyer officially represent you in the earlier stages. While my company knew I was seeking legal advice, the communication stayed through me (advised by her) and my lawyer repeatedly advised me to minimize references to her, getting legal advice, “my lawyer says,” “I’ve been advised by a lawyer that,” etc. because she says that usually escalates things too quickly and makes it less likely to get a satisfactory outcome at the earlier stages. This sounds unlike what I’ve read on here about the U.S., where it seems this is often used as a soft threat to get people to back down before going to court.

A couple of things happened shortly after my question was answered. First, the HR person who had been so hostile ramped up their behaviour again and tried to have me flat out fired on a trumped up charge. I immediately escalated to the next step in the legal proceedings (essentially from the “flag that it’s happening but try to work it out yourselves” stage to the “telling the court we don’t think we can work it out and requesting official mediation” stage, which is mandatory before a hearing) and then I demanded to work with a different HR person.

This solidified for me that I needed to handle this access issue ASAP to reduce my personal risk. But based on the commentariat here, I knew I needed to approach it really carefully. I was pretty taken aback by the number of people who were of the opinion that I had done something wrong or that my company was going to think I had done something wrong by even knowing I still had access to the system (from passive alerts, as I clarified in the comments) or by thinking about the fact that I did. Junior Dev really hit the nail on the head with their comment: “It’s part of my job to make computer systems more secure; that means I have to understand the ways they could be insecure. But to people who don’t deal with those issues on a daily basis, all this can sound like scary hacker talk, or at least be hard to understand why someone could have good intentions yet still see opportunities to do harm.” I was thinking like an IT person trying to make security better talking to people who don’t understand IT security and I needed to moderate my message to accommodate for that.

I decided the best way to handle this was in the context of playing the “being the bigger person” card, even though part of me still just wants to tell them where to stuff it. I wrote the new HR person and told them with their permission I was planning to send my boss a short document to ease the difficulty of my unexpected absence on the company, which they said would be very appreciated. Then I spent about 30 minutes brain-dumping a document outlining things I had admin access to that needed to be transferred to other people, including things I knew had been missed because they hadn’t transferred my permissions yet (e.g., some of those passive notifications I mentioned, like error messages about integration between these systems).

This gave me the chance to both flag I needed to be removed from these systems and a chance to say politely “your info sec is crap; you should probably fix that for the future” (but worded much more professionally with a line taken nearly verbatim from from of the commenters about probably needing to update policies for the future to accommodate people being on unexpected absences for security and functional reasons), but all under the guise of helping them out. It was my assumption (cleared with my lawyer!) that this document would likely cut off any trouble before it started, but also protect me in case the worst I feared did happen.

I’ve always tried to deal with my company in good faith even when they weren’t returning the effort, and in this case it paid off. Between the new HR person and the goodwill over this document, they changed the tone of our interactions entirely and we went into the conciliation process with them being actually, well, conciliatory. We were able to negotiate a mostly-amicable settlement deal and I agreed to transition out in exchange for a reasonable severance. This let us avoid going to court entirely.

I wish none of this had happened and I was still working there, but it’s the best outcome for a crap situation, and now I am going to take a bit of a break then figure out how to move forward. A giant thanks to everyone here for helping me sort out my head about this during a very, very stressful time. It was extremely, extremely useful to have all of your perspectives.

open thread – July 21-22, 2017

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue :)

calling in sick with cramps, application system is flagging me as using “inappropriate words,” and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Calling in sick with cramps

I tend to get pretty crippling menstrual cramps on the first day of my period — not enough that I’ve seen a doctor about it, but enough that it cramps my style for an entire day. Sometimes, I feel well enough to get things done, but not well enough to be off the couch and in public.

What should I say to my manager (a man some years older than me) if I need to call in sick? I am tempted to just say “I’m sick” and leave it at that, but I’m worried that it’ll look fishy when I come into work the next day totally fine, since most illnesses don’t put you out of commission for just one day.

I don’t want to make him uncomfortable or give TMI, but I *really* don’t want to come off as lying. We have a pretty good rapport and have talked about marginally personal stuff before, and I know he’s a staunch feminist so can’t imagine him being too squeamish about female body stuff. I’d also like the opportunity to ask if I could work from home instead of using a sick day, if that seems reasonable. It would be ideal to do it every month (assuming that first day didn’t fall on a weekend), although maybe half the time it’s tolerable enough that I *can* go in, just really don’t want to.

I’m wondering if it seems ok to say something like: “I’m dealing with cramps today, but I still have work I’d like to get done — can I work from home for the day, or should I take a sick day instead?”

It’s not going to look weird to take a single sick day and then show up the next day; that’s actually really, really common. The bigger issue is that if it’s happening every month with no context, that’s going to eventually be noticeable.

Given that, my advice would be to say something like this to him: “I get horrific cramps one day a month and would like to work remotely that day if I’m able to work but not able to easily come in. I wanted to just ask you about it overall rather than asking monthly.”

(And then if there’s a day where the cramps won’t even let you work remotely, just handle that like a normal sick day … with no worries about it looking odd that it’s not followed by a second day.)

2. Application system is flagging me as using “inappropriate words”

I’m currently on my first real post-grad job hunt and your website has been super helpful in terms of cover letters and resumes! However, I’ve come across somewhat of a conundrum while job searching. What should I do when a job application that requires me to submit my resume in text form flags some words as inappropriate? And I’m not talking about any four letter words or sexual innuendos. One HR website I’ve applied through, in two different industries, has flagged the words “refugee” and “religious” in my resume, even though those words are integral in my resume; the word “refugee” is literally part of my current job title! Is this scaring potential employers off if/when they see my application has “inappropriate” words? And if so, how the heck do I get around it?

There’s a small icon that’s clickable right underneath the text box, and when you click on it, another window pops up with the “Word Filter Report.” It lists how many words, how many unique words, how many inappropriate words, and then lists the inappropriate words with how many times they’re used. This hasn’t barred me from submitting and doesn’t outright say “You have a resume with inappropriate words” upon submitting the application, but it still makes me wonder if hiring managers can see that something’s up with my resume.

This is just a weird part of some online application systems. You can ignore it. The vast majority of hiring managers aren’t paying any attention to it and in many/most cases won’t even see it (and even among the small number who might, it’s pretty widely known that this kind of filter will flag things that aren’t actually problematic in the context they’re being used in). It’s not like the hiring manager is getting a report that says “this candidate used questionable language.”

3. Can I tell another team to stop doing my team’s work?

I work for a company that has a headquarters in one state and several remote offices in another state. My team is based in one of the remote offices. Over the years, many of my team’s job functions have slowly been assumed by other teams at corporate. It’s not that my team is shirking their responsibilities; they are already performing these tasks. I think the problem is that the corporate teams may not know that these are already being handled by our team. I’m worried about losing our jobs because people don’t realize what we do.

If I find out that someone in corporate is working on something I normally work on, is there a tactful way to tell that person that that is something I handle and they should back off and send those tasks to me?

Two things: First in the moment, it’s fine to say to the person, “I saw you are working on teapot orders. I normally handle everything having to do with teapot orders — can I ask you to forward that stuff over to me to handle when you see it, so that I’m in the loop on all of it? There can be some fussy bits that wouldn’t be intuitive if you didn’t have the whole order file.”

But second, talk to your boss about the pattern. If it’s happening more than very rarely, it’s something she should be aware of and addressing more in a more big-picture way. Or, if you’re a manager yourself (I’m not entirely sure from your letter), then you have standing to talk with managers over at headquarters to explain the problem and try to come up with a broader solution.

4. Having women-only bathrooms without men-only bathrooms

At my workplace, we had four single-person bathrooms (separate entrances and not shared once inside). These were gender neutral so anyone could use them.

I think in response to people being perceived to leave the bathroom in a mess (several emails went around on the topic) and complaints from female employees (I’m guessing here), management have placed a sign on one of these bathrooms indicating that it is for women only. Occasionally male people are caught(!) using the women’s bathroom, and a “reminder” email goes around.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ve stayed out of toiletgate, but I guess my thoughts are 1) not that big a deal so don’t worry, 2) single person gendered bathrooms are dumb, 3) if they’re going to gender bathrooms, it should apply both ways, and 4) I resent the implication that all men leave bathrooms in a dirty state (even if that may be true :) ). Interested in your thoughts!

Yeah, having a women-only bathroom while all the others are gender-neutral does imply that women are getting special treatment because men are gross. I’d say it’s moderately annoying, but not so egregious that it demands that good people fight back … but that if you want to advocate for a different system, it would be entirely reasonable to do so.

5. I saw a part-time job opening that would be perfect if it were full-time

I am in the private sector of a relatively small field where jobs are hard to come by. Recently, a job at a nearby academic institution has become available that I am well qualified for. I have wanted to break into the academic sector for a long time. It is a data management job, not a professorship. The problem is the job is part-time. I need full-time work. Is there advice you can give me on the etiquette and protocol for applying for a part-time job I would want if it was full-time or would it be poor form to submit my application materials?

If they’re advertising it as part-time, it’s very unlikely that they want to make it full-time. There may only be part-time work, or there may only be a part-time salary in their budget. So the only real way you can do this is by contacting them and saying something like, “I realize that this is part-time position, and I’m really only looking for full-time work. But I wanted to reach out and let you know that I’d love to talk with you if you ever decide to hire for a full-time role in this area.” Attach your resume, etc.

You’d do this not really expecting anything to come from it — since after all, they’re hiring for something different than you’re a match for — but if on the off chance it turns out that they’ve already been on the verge of realizing that maybe they need someone full-time after all, then great.

The point here, though, is that your framing — both to them and to yourself — needs to be “I realize this is unlikely, but just in case.”

we hired someone without talking to any references … and it went badly

About a month ago, a reader posted this in an open thread:

Does anyone have any experience hiring someone when you couldn’t get in touch with any real references? We recently interviewed some one who seemed okay but I had reservations. We didn’t have many good options, so we asked for her references. The only one we got in touch with was someone who worked with for 3 months 15 years ago and who is now her friend. We tried calling more recent employers and no one returned our (multiple) calls. Anyway, my boss was desperate and hired her.

I get that there might be some innocent explanation, but it’s a major red flag to me. Any stories (whether with good endings or bad) from similar situations?

At the time, I responded there with this: “It’s a major red flag. Can we use this as a test — will you report back to us in a few months about how she turned out as an employee?”

She did, and here’s what happened:

In an open thread a few weeks ago, I asked for experiences other commenters had with hiring someone when you couldn’t get in touch with any of their references, and you asked to report back with my story. Well…

Backstory: We were searching for someone for a position that required relatively difficult-to-find skills. The search went pretty poorly. At the interview stage, we had one candidate who I would categorize as “not great, but could work.” My manager and I agreed to move forward with her.

But then … we tried contacting her references. She has 10+ years of work history and we could not get in touch with anybody. When we went back to her asking for help, she provided references who, no joke, worked with her for 3 months 15+ years ago. We had been clear that even providing coworkers from her more recent jobs would have worked.

At this point, I was blinded by red flags and rescinded my support of her candidacy. Nevertheless, my boss offered her the job.

So … it’s been 3 weeks, and we’re letting her go tomorrow. It’s nothing egregious, but she lacks certain skills/personality traits (like resourcefulness, flexibility, etc.) that are necessary for the job. She’s also someone who I could definitely see being an “okay” employee in other jobs, but not someone who I would want to give a reference for.

I don’t know whether to consider this a “lesson learned” in terms of the references, because I’ve always known (partially from being a religious reader of this site) how important they are. But I’m a new supervisor, and I have learned that I need to put my foot down on hiring decisions when I will ultimately be cleaning the mess. I’m not sure how successful putting my foot down will be (since my manager is “involved” to say the least) but I will at least speak my mind.

Me again.

Yeah, it’s a lesson learned.

It’s not that there’s no conceivable situation where someone could have legitimate reasons for difficulty in coming up with references. Stuff happens — managers die, go off the grid, whatever. Or for people who are in their first job, it can sometimes be hard to figure who to use (since they usually won’t want to use a current boss who doesn’t know they’re looking). But that’s not what happened here. In this case, she didn’t give an explanation that made sense, and she didn’t take you up on it when you offered to let her use coworkers rather than bosses. There’s a reason for that.

And someone who’s a good employee with good judgment isn’t going to suggest references they worked with 15 years ago for three months.

So, the lessons to draw out for the future:

1. When someone can’t give you suitable references, have a conversation with them about why. You’ll get more insight by talking with them about it.

2. When you have reservations about a candidate, take those seriously. “Not great, but could work” is not enough to hire someone in most situations.

3. When you have reservations about a candidate but are considering hiring the person anyway, then you really, really need to speak with references to learn more. If you have reservations and the person can’t produce any references, that’s pretty much always got to end up with not hiring them.

4. When your boss wants to hire someone who you don’t think is the right choice, speak up. Ultimately your boss may overrule you, but it’s good to be on record clearly saying “I think this person would be the wrong hire, and here’s why.” (And I don’t think you managed this person but if I’m wrong and you did, then you have standing to push even harder.)

But also … experiences like this tend to be how people learn these lessons. I think everyone who’s been managing and hiring for a while has at least one story like this — so I wouldn’t beat yourself up over it too much.

with teen employees, where’s the line between reprimands and firing? (and a niece weighs in)

A reader writes:

This is not a question about something I am dealing with, but there was something in the news in my community that is really generating a lot of discussion. I was wondering what you thought about it.

A bunch of lifeguards (largely teens) were fired from our community pool. The director of the rec center won’t say much, only that it was about social media use. See here and here.

The comments are a mixed bag. Many people think this is extreme, but some also thought if they were sharing pictures of pool patrons, that would be a dealbreaker. Personally, I thought that if there is sexual harassment or racism/other bigotry, I can see where there would be a zero-tolerance policy. But it also made me think: where should the line be between reprimands and dismissal?

I expect the real cause will be leaked, but for the time being it’s generated a lot of conversation among those of us who manage high school or college students, who may not always have a good feel for what’s appropriate. We’re trying to figure out how we would have responded in various situations.

I know we just heard from a niece, but this question was too perfect to pass up bringing in a different niece: 17-year-old M., who’s in her second year of lifeguarding and thus is my lifeguard expert (and who has been making occasional appearances here since she was 12). Here’s our email exchange about this letter.

Me: So you’re a lifeguard. We obviously don’t have all the details here, but what’s your take on this?

M.: We don’t know exactly what was in the chats, but it sounds like it was “raunchy jokes” and in that case, I don’t think the guards should have been fired. But if a guard was making inappropriate jokes about another lifeguard, then the perpetrator should be let go.

However, because so many guards were fired, it seems like the management overreacted because probably not all of those guards said hurtful things.

From the comments and articles, it sounds like this pool has a very bad culture over​all, but the managers do have the right to fire​ people​ at any time because lifeguards are (to my knowledge) always hired at-will.  As long as the pool remains safely guarded with the correct number of lifeguards who get sufficient breaks, I would say the managers are still doing their jobs, except for keeping morale high.

Me: People are going to have group chats and stuff like that with their coworkers, especially when you get a group of people who are all around the same age. But it’s also true that sometimes it spirals out of control. Where do you think the right boundaries are for this kind of thing with coworkers?

M.: It probably differs at every pool, and each situation is different, which is why this is a difficult issue. In this particular pool, one of the guards was so hurt or disturbed by the group chat that they actually showed it to the superiors, believing it would be bad enough to warrant their attention. In my work group chats, there is very little that would get anybody fired, and I don’t think anybody would show it to our boss.

If I were a lifeguard manager, or whoever fired these people, I would draw the line at bullying or harassment. If one or more specific people were targeted in the chats, I would take action, and if it were bad enough, would let people go. But it is a delicate subject because the texts are not part of the job, so I would tread very lightly, as the whole thing is an invasion of privacy.

Me: So from the manager point of view, the concern is sometimes that the people involved in the group chat think that everyone is okay with, for example, raunchy jokes … but that really there’s one or more people who feel really uncomfortable with it, and who feel like they’re being subjected to a sexualized workplace, which can get into sexual harassment issues. Because a lot of times, people won’t speak up if they feel uncomfortable about something … which leads to everyone else assuming they’re fine with it, but they’re actually not. That’s why workplaces will often shut down any kind of chat like that, because it can lead to legal issues for them even if it’s all happening during non-work hours.

That said, with young employees, like lifeguards tend to be, I think it generally makes sense to just explain this to them rather than firing them for it (unless it was really egregious, and I’d put “sharing photos of pool patrons” in the really egregious category). People aren’t born knowing this stuff, and the way they learn it is usually that some manager takes the time to explain it to them. What do you think about that — does it ring true to you?

M.: That is true, and I didn’t really think about it.

I know that my coworkers have lots of different group chats, so you just have to know your audience. But in person, it seems that everyone is chill with one another and can say whatever they want, too. A chat just seems more permanent. Probably, if nobody was bullied or harassed personally, then the managers should just explain everything in an inservice, so people can adjust the chats accordingly.

But, also, it depends on the culture of the workplace. At a pool I used to work at, we didn’t have any group chats (that I know of), or at least any with the majority or all of the staff. Almost all communication was through email, with the boss CC’d. It was not a super fun environment, but strictly professional. At my job now, many more friendships are made, and it is a very fun place to work, and there are more chats, and those who don’t want to be in the chats just leave them.

Me: Yeah, culture is always a huge factor. You are weirdly smart about this stuff. Do you feel like you understand workplace stuff better than most of your friends? Where do you think it comes from? I’d love to take the credit, but I don’t think I’m actually responsible for it.

M.: ​Thank you! I just think because I have had a few different jobs with some bad managers, some so/so, and some good, I am able to see what works and what doesn’t. I think that people my age who work understand this, because people always think about what they wish a manager would do.

Me: AND because of fervent reading of Ask a Manager, right?

M.: Yes of course.

my family thinks my daughter is too picky about the jobs she applies for

A reader writes:

My daughter, a university student, recently was hired for a summer job that matches her field of study. My question, now that she has a job for the summer, is not urgent, but I am sure will come up again next year, and when she graduates.

She is an introvert, and quite shy on top of that. She knows that she would find jobs that require a lot of contact with the public torturous, and therefore did not apply to any openings for fast food or retail outlets, although that is the type of job that is most plentiful for her age group. (Her current position involves very limited contact with the public—perfect for her!) She has worked at residential camps for the last two summers, and reached the conclusion that she never again wants to work with children, so she also did not apply for anything that would involve supervising kids. Although these decisions limited the number of jobs available, she found and applied for a couple of dozen positions that looked like they would be a better fit for her, and had some interviews.

I supported her in her decision not to apply for jobs she didn’t want, but other relatives were not so kind. She/we had to endure many lectures about how she should be applying for every opening she saw, even if she would hate the job, as “any job is better than none.” If money was an issue, I might agree, but she is in the fortunate position of already having money set aside to complete her degree. Getting work this summer was more a case of developing a work history for her resume. (She was prepared to volunteer for the summer if she couldn’t find a job.)

My question concerns all the flack we got about her choosiness in what to apply for. Was I right to encourage her to only apply for jobs she actually wanted? Or should I have been joining the rest of the family in insisting the important thing was to have a job—any job? The thing is, not only would she hate jobs that required a lot of public contact, from my past experience with her when forced to deal with strangers, she probably wouldn’t be very good at them either. You have often stated that interviewing goes both ways—the job seeker is determining if they want the position as much as the employer is determining whether they want this person for the position. If you aren’t desperate for a position, is there any point in applying for ones you know you don’t want? (The problem being, if she applied and then got an offer—because as far as I can tell, fast food outlets hire any warm body that expresses an interest–the logic that any job is better than none would result her working in a job she hated, and likely was not good at, and therefore resulting in not being able to use her supervisors as future references, which in my opinion partly defeats the goal of building a work history.) Any thoughts?

She got a job, and one in her field, so it sounds like this strategy worked just fine. And in the process, you hopefully reinforced for her the idea that she should think about what she’s good at and what she likes when she’s thinking about what jobs to apply for. That’s a message that will serve her well.

If she had been struggling to find a job using this strategy, then at some point you would have needed to talk with her about what one does when that happens — things like at what point to decide that you’re being too choosy for your circumstances, and how to balance meeting your financial obligations with not wanting to be miserable. Her search didn’t play out that way so you didn’t have to have that conversation, although it could still be an interesting one to have now.

But the goal, of course, is to work to get yourself into a position where you can be choosy. Choosy is good, when circumstances allow for it. If your daughter was able to be choosy and land a job she wanted, good for her!

The easiest way to shut down lectures from relatives who have Very Important Input to provide about your daughter’s job search is to drastically limit the amount of information you give them about it. If you keep things vague, they won’t have a lot to opine on.

However, with closer relatives who are generally reasonable, you could also point out in the future that your daughter’s strategy has served her well so far, and that she’s smart enough to adjust it if it becomes clear that she needs to.

how to disinvite an intern from our trivia team, I was told to take a week off unpaid due to someone else’s health, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How to disinvite an intern from our trivia team

I work for a large company in a small town. Like “literally everyone in town works for this company” large. It’s the summer and now there are tons of interns about. Last summer I had an awesome trivia team and it’s started up again this summer. Last year, we kind of cobbled together a team and we turned out to be pretty good! There were four of us, but we brought friends every now and then, no big deal. I was hanging out with another set of friends and there was a guy, Cosmo, who said he was into trivia, so I invited him.

Big mistake.

Cosmo doesn’t actually know much trivia. He makes fun of us when we make bad puns or spout some extra trivia knowledge (calling us dorks/geeks/nerds, we all have a STEM background so this is just strange to me…). He doesn’t speak English well enough to understand the host on the mic, so we end up repeating the question to him several times and then he always says “oh, I don’t know [that category]”. He will contribute nothing and then if we win, he’ll still take a cut of the prize. All of these things on their own have happened with guests we bring, we’re usually pretty laid back about it but all of these things together have been a headache!

Another intern, Wanda, organizes the group and has agreed with me several times that she doesn’t appreciate Cosmo being there, bringing us down (mood wise but also the score), and then taking our prize money. Wanda has stopped responding to his messages, but there’s one trivia night in town, he knows where we’ll be even if we don’t confirm it. This is a small town, everyone knows each other, everyone works with each other, how are we supposed to tell Cosmo to take a hike?

Can you be straightforward with him about the problems? For example: “When we’ve invited you in the past, you’ve made fun of us, called us names, and taken a cut of the winnings after not contributing any trivia answers. So for now we’re going to keep the team to just the four of us.”

2. I was told to take a week off unpaid due to someone else’s health

I’d love to hear what you and your readers think of an HR incident that happened to me a few years back. For over a decade now, I’ve worked in payroll in HR departments across the Canadian federal government. This occurred in 2010, when I was a senior compensation advisor.

Against all odds, I came down with a case of acute viral parotitis, also known as the mumps. I had virtually no pain at all (besides the embarrassment of looking like a greedy hamster) and felt completely normal, but I was considered contagious for about a week following the first signs of symptoms.

I stayed home for the week as recommended by my doctor and with my manager’s approval. But then I was out of sick leave to use and could not afford to take unpaid time off. I was, after all, feeling perfectly fine and, as per my doctor, not likely to be contagious anymore.

However, I had a slightly junior colleague of mine who happened to be expecting and going through a particularly difficult pregnancy (she was later on put on bed rest at five months along, unrelated to this incident). She asked our manager that I not be allowed back to work yet since parotitis is extremely dangerous to pregnancy, let alone challenging ones. I of course agreed, as I would never willingly put anyone’s health or pregnancy in jeopardy.

The issue is that my manager asked that I take another full week off, unpaid. As someone who lived paycheck to paycheck, I could not afford this at all. In hindsight, I should’ve taken this to Labour Relations in hopes of finding a compromise of some sort, but I didn’t (my manager at the time was a rather intimidating woman). I ended up losing a week’s wages, which impacted my personal life in a number of horrible ways for months following the incident.

How do you figure a situation like this should be handled, particularly in an office that, for very legitimate security reasons, does not allow working from home?

Ooof, this is tough.

It’s easy to say that if you were cleared by your doctor to return to work, then you should have been allowed to return to work, and that if your coworker had concerns about being around you, at that point the burden should be on her to be the one to stay home. But in reality, it’s a lot easier to say to the person who’s been sick “let’s have you stay out one more week to be sure since we have a pregnant person here” than to say to the pregnant person “if you’re worried, too bad, handle that on your own.”

But your employer could have solved the whole thing by covering your pay that second week, and they should have. As it was, they helped out your coworker at real financial cost to you.

3. Spending weeks off the grid in the middle of a job search

I’m job searching, and have submitted several applications that I’m hoping to hear back about. I’m also planning a three-week backpacking trip in the wilderness in a few months and will be 100% off the grid.

For work, I will of course use an auto-away message, but I hesitate to do that on my personal email. The people in my life who need to know already know, so I don’t want to look overly braggy, and I also don’t want to advertise that my apartment will be unoccupied for such a long period of time.

But will this hurt me if an employer tries to contact me for an interview? If I don’t reply for 2.5 weeks but then respond with a sincere apology and sincere interest in the position, is it possible that they would have moved too far along in the process to consider interviewing me at that point? And if a company is moving that quickly, would an auto-reply saying that I’ll be away for three weeks help slow them down, or would they continue to move on without me anyway (rendering the auto-away useless in its intention)?

If you’d be willing to set up the auto-reply, that’s the best solution. Some employers won’t be willing or able to wait, but some might be, especially if you’re a very strong candidate. But if you don’t want to do that for security reasons, then yeah, responding to any emails with an explanation once you’re back is your best bet. A lot of employers will be too far along in their process at that point for it to matter, but others might not be.

Basically, going off the grid for three weeks in the middle of a job search means there’s some risk that you could lose out on some of the positions you’ve applied for, and there’s no way to guard against that 100%, so it’s just a possibility you have to be okay with.

However, if you can, I’d stop applying for things a couple of weeks before you leave so that you’re not sending applications out there and then immediately going dark when people might be trying to respond to your latest round.

4. How to screen for candidates who can put up with internal bureaucracy

I was recently promoted at work, and now have to hire a replacement for my previous role. Based on my experience and the experience of my colleagues, I’ve seen that people who are willing to put up with internal bureaucracy (lots of internal meetings, BS memos, etc.) and are comfortable with a top-down approach perform better than people who expect more autonomy. What is the best way to screen for this quality in interviews?

First, be transparent about this aspect of your culture, so that people who know they aren’t a fit for it can self-select out. Give a few examples of what you mean, so that they can clear picture the sort of thing you’re describing. If you use shorthand, there’s a risk that people will picture something different, so clear examples help.

As for interview questions, ask people to tell you about a time or two when internal bureaucracy was slowing down a project or process they were involved in, and how they handled it. Also ask them to tell you about a time when their boss wanted them to do something differently than how they would have chosen to approach it, and how they handled that. With these questions, be prepared to ask follow-ups to really dig in to how they operated in those circumstances (for example, “What was the hardest part of that?” or “that sounds tough — how did you respond to X?”). The idea here is to explore how they’ve done in situations in their past that are similar to what they’d encounter in your organization, and to listen to how they talk about it too. (Do they sound matter-of-fact, frustrated, jaded, etc.?)

5. My former job keeps paying me

I resigned from my job, but they keep depositing a check in my direct deposit. I can’t get in contact with anyone! Can I get in trouble?

They can make you return the money once they realize it’s been happening. Keep trying to reach them. (And if you’ve only been emailing, start calling instead.)

And for now, put the money aside and don’t touch it, since it’s very likely that at some point they will reclaim it (which legally they can do).

courtesy interviews: when colleagues pressure you to interview candidates they’ve referred

A reader writes:

What is your opinion on “courtesy interviews”? Specifically, interviews for the sake of appeasing higher-ups when you have no interest in the candidate?

I am not a hiring manager and do not work in HR, but rather my boss has tasked myself and a few colleagues to filter through resumes for a new position and conduct initial phone interviews before we pass a few candidates on to him. For the record, I work in a decentralized academic environment that leavings hiring to the specific research center directors since positions are very project and grant specific.

After looking through applications, we determined a list of applicants to offer initial interviews to. However, several of our more senior colleagues have been emailing us about applicants they are referring and are encouraging us to interview them. After looking at their applications (and compared to the larger pool of applicants), we did not feel they were a fit for the position but are feeling pressured to talk to interview them anyway. I feel guilty as this is a waste of our time and theirs. We have tried to push back, saying that we didn’t feel they were qualified for the position but they are saying they still want us to “talk to them.” We are crunched on time as we all have vacations coming up that limit our availability and we’re needing to get someone in the position as soon as possible. Just wanting to know your opinion on professional standards for the practice of courtesy interviews.

Courtesy interviews are an interesting thing.

Usually the term is used to mean a courtesy to the candidate, rather than to pushy colleagues. The idea is that you know the candidate isn’t going to be right for the job, but they’re a friend of the organization in some way (like a client or a colleague at an another organization who you work closely with), or a personal referral from someone in that category, or enough of a bigwig in your field that it would come across as a slight not to talk to them at all. The idea is that the context around the relationship means that rejecting them without an interview would leave them feeling like they didn’t get real consideration, despite the relationship.

I used to feel pretty strongly opposed to this, since if you know the person isn’t right for the job, it’s rude and unkind to waste their time on an interview. But I’ve come to appreciate that it can actually hurt an employer not to do it — because you end up with people feeling stung and (sometimes) feeling bitter toward the organization, in ways that truly can be problems. I still think it’s not especially courteous, but that can be trumped by the organization’s interest in preserving its relationships with people.

Now, what’s happening in your case is a bit different. It’s possible that some of the referrals your colleagues are pushing are courtesy interviews by the definition above, but it sounds like at least some of it is just your coworkers being pushy.

The thing to do here is to get more information (about why they want you to interview a given candidate), and to share more information yourself (about why you don’t want to). Say something like this to those colleagues: “Jane isn’t the right match for what we’re looking for because of XYZ. We have a limited period of time to get interviews done and we’ve filled all our available interview slots. Is she someone we need to talk to for courtesy reasons, even knowing she won’t be a competitive candidate? And if so, how urgent is it that we do that, given that we’re in triage mode with our interview time?”

If you get the sense that this isn’t really about preserving relationships for the organization but rather is just about people being sure their candidate could do the job, then you can say something like this instead: “We had a lot of great candidates for this position and so we decided not to schedule an interview with Jane because she wasn’t competitive with other candidates in areas X and Y. But thank you for referring her!” Or, depending on the details, “We’re determined to hire someone with strong experience in X, which Jane doesn’t have, so we’re not advancing her to an interview. But thank you for sending her our way!”

don’t bring cupcakes to work when you’re new on the job

A reader writes:

I am a young (25) woman who has just been promoted into a mid-level management position, managing about 25 staff. This is my first job in management, and while I am very confident going into the new role, I naturally have some nerves about the huge change in my career.

The team I am joining is a very tight-knit group of people, many of whom have worked together a long time. I am wondering it would be appropriate to bring in some kind of treat, say cupcakes, on the first day as a warm gesture or greeting. This is not something I plan on doing on a regular basis unless it is appropriate, such as for a reward for achieving a goal or celebration of some kind. I would just like to do something nice for the staff coming into the role but I certainly do not want to be taken for a ‘softy’ given the first impression. What do you think?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

my employee lies and says other people’s work is her own

A reader writes:

I manage a small team of researchers and analysts. I have one team member, Anna, who does some great work but, as I’ve increasingly noticed, also has a habit of claiming others’ work as her own.

In her recent performance review she spoke and wrote about work she’d done on a project which I know was actually done by a colleague because (unbeknownst to Anna) I’d worked with the colleague one-on-one on it a number of times and knew what he’d done on it. She also referred to a set of guidelines she’d “developed” for our external partners (which I was surprised by as we already have one, again written by a colleague some time ago). When I then looked at it, it was clear that she’d simply created a new document with a title page and her name on it but copied and pasted the guidelines from a document she’d found in the colleague’s folder, just in a different order. She has also sent documents to me that she’s “put together with…[a colleague]” but in actual fact the colleague has written it and asked her to proofread. Rather than send it back to the colleague, she’s forwarded directly to me as though it’s a joint piece of work.

I’m now finding it difficult to evaluate her performance (and that of her colleagues) because I find myself questioning whether it’s her work or not. I want to raise it with her – and as it will be the first time I’ve done so – try to frame it as constructively as possible. Any thoughts would be much appreciated!

This is serious stuff.

She’s lying to you, and she’s doing it in order to try to accrue benefits to herself at the expense of her coworkers. That’s a serious integrity problem, and it’s not one you can have on your staff.

If she’s willing to lie to you about this, you won’t be able to take her word for anything. That’s unworkable in an employee.

This isn’t someone fluffing up their work on a project around the edges. She copied someone else’s work and put her name on it.

So this shouldn’t be about finding a way to frame it as constructively as possible or even about trying to figure out how to know if something is really her work or not. It needs to be about telling her extremely clearly that this isn’t okay and that she’s created a situation where you can’t trust her.

And it also needs to be about deciding if you can even keep her. Lying, especially a pattern of lying, is the kind of thing that you need to fire over.

But before you decide anything in that regard, you need to talk to her. I’d start this way: “You mentioned in your performance review that you’d developed a set of guidelines for external partners. Can you tell me about the work you did to create that?” This is a chance for her to come clean.* If she doesn’t, then you proceed to this: “I took a look at it, and it appears to be the document Jane wrote a while ago, but with a title page with your name on it. How did that come about?” And then you go to: “You had also mentioned work you did on the X project, but my understanding is that work was done by Fergus. What can you tell me about that?” (Talk to Fergus beforehand to make sure that your employee didn’t play a role on the project that you didn’t know about.)

How she handles this is going to give you some useful information. There’s a pretty good chance that she’s going to dig in deeper and try to keep the lie going, which means you have someone on your team who’s willing to lie to your face even when you’ve told her the jig is up (and you really, really can’t have that). But who knows, maybe she’ll tell you something you didn’t realize that exonerates her, so it’s important to have the conversation and give her a chance to do that, just in case. But assuming that doesn’t happen, then the next step is this:

“I’m seeing a pattern of you claiming other people’s work as your own. This is a very serious thing, to the point that I’m questioning whether we can keep working together. I need to be able to take you at your word when you tell me things because the alternative is that I’d have to check up on everything you tell me, and that’s not workable. I need to think about where we go from here, but meanwhile is there anything you want to tell me about what’s going on?”

But unless you hear something in this conversation that changes your understanding of what’s been happening, you’re going to need to let Anna go.

* Updated to add: Since this has come up in the comments, I want to clarify it here. The idea isn’t that if Anna does confess, all is forgiven. But the details matter, and can impact how you handle her departure, future references, etc. If you hear “this has been a heavy burden on me and I feel horrible about it — my spouse is dying and I’m not myself and I made terrible decisions in trying to get by at work during this time and I understand you may need to let me go as a result,” that’s different than someone who digs in and doubles-down on the lying.