employee’s girlfriend comes in every day, using sick time for doctor’s appointments, and more

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

1. Employee’s girlfriend comes in every day

I manage a small independent pharmacy. We recently brought on a young pharmacist. There are usually only three of us working. The pharmacist’s girlfriend works from home now, and since April she has been coming in every day to bring him lunch. At first it was fine, but they started to be very affectionate towards one another. They don’t necessarily make out but they will kiss multiple times, which is extremely audible. One morning they got into a fight, and when she brought him his lunch they decided to hash their fight out in the pharmacy.

They never do this in front of customers, but I finally put my foot down and asked him to not bring personal arguments into the work space and to limit his affection with his girlfriend. His reply was that he’s a human being and he doesn’t have enough time when he gets home to work things out. His solution to the affection is that he and his girlfriend walk outside. He does not get a lunch break because he has to be on the premises due to regulations, so he is on the clock when they go outside, usually for 15-20 minutes at a time. I’m second guessing myself that my decision to confront him didn’t get the point across.

Responding to a request not to engage in PDA at work with “I”m a human being!” is … interesting. Are you seeing other maturity/professionalism issues with this guy? It’s hard to think there aren’t more.

Anyway, if he doesn’t get a break the rest of the time, it’s not outrageous for him to go outside for 15-20 minutes once a day (assuming that doesn’t violate the regulations you mentioned), but presumably you’d want him to do that when there’s an opening for it in his workflow, not when his girlfriend happens to show up. If it’s causing workflow issues, violating regulations, or otherwise having a work impact, you should explain that and tell him you can’t allow it anymore or that he needs to time it differently.

But aside from that, it’s perfectly reasonable to say that he can’t visit with his girlfriend while he’s working (whether they’re fighting or not, since he’s already shown his judgment to be so bad and the visits have been disruptive) and that the kissing needs to stop (a single peck on the lips to say hello or goodbye is not worth intervening over, but more would be). Tell him this isn’t specific to your pharmacy, that these are norms he’d find in most workplaces, and that because it’s become disruptive, it can’t continue. If he seems disgruntled about that, I’d be pretty concerned about whether he’s mature enough for the job.

2. Should I ask my staff to use sick time for doctor’s appointments?

As a relatively new manager — and in the COVID pandemic, no less — I’m wondering about how to navigate sick time. Background: We’re currently 100% remote. I have weekly standing meetings with supervisees; apart from that, I don’t require details on what they’re doing through the day. Our workplace usually has a ton of rules and red tape, but things do feel more flexible while we’re remote.

When I know someone is at a doctor’s appointment for a few hours (they let me know, auto-responder on, meetings canceled, etc), is it appropriate to ask them to use sick time? They didn’t originally document it as such, and I’m sure made up their work in other ways, but I’m struggling to find the balance between flexibility in the current situation, and enforcing workplace rules.

Are they getting all their work done? Are they working flex hours, where it doesn’t matter if they’re away from 9-11 because they work a few extra hours later in the day or at night? Is your sense that they’re on top of their work and overall working the total number of hours you’d expect in a given week? Do they put in extra time when the work requires it? If those things are true, you shouldn’t ask them to use sick time for a few hours at the doctor. It’s counterproductive to nickel and dime people like that, and it will make them much less inclined to put in extra time when the work would benefit from it. (On the other hand, if those things aren’t true, that changes the equation.)

In general, you should err on the side of being generous with people, especially around things like sick leave, which you want to be there when they’re actually ill.

You’d also want to know what your workplace policies say about this. Some workplaces explicitly require people to use sick time for doctor’s appointments — but even then, managers often exercise discretion about it and especially if people are working more flexible hours these days because they’re at home.

3. Should I volunteer to be laid off?

My company announced today that we’d be having an unexpected round of layoffs due to a downturn in our industry that we aren’t expected to recover from any time soon. They told us what the severance package is and it’s VERY generous. Like, I-could-afford-to-not-work-for-a-year generous.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been job hunting. Due to industry volatility, I’d really like to switch industries entirely, maybe go back to school, or look into something else. Either way, I’ve been applying for jobs and am wanting out of my current industry if I can find something more stable that meets my needs.

Would I be completely bonkers to let my boss know that if he has to make cuts in our department and if it’s between me and someone else, I volunteer as Tribute? My boss is a very reasonable, kind, and supportive individual. I would have NEVER dreamed of doing this with my previous boss because the retaliation would have been abysmal, but my current boss genuinely wants what’s best for his employees and doesn’t take things personally.

Should I give him a heads-up that he’s going to lose me eventually either way, or should I not say anything just in case it affects things down the road?

You can indeed tell him that if it’s between you and someone else, you’d volunteer to be chosen. He might be grateful to hear it, or he might tell you he wouldn’t want to cut your position if he can avoid it. But don’t tell him he’s going to lose you eventually either way; that can backfire in ways you wouldn’t necessarily expect. (For example, you’re not laid off but you don’t get the same raise you might have otherwise received since they figure you’re not sticking around anyway, or you don’t get good projects, or so forth.)

4. My job wants to bring me back, but my kids are still at home

I live in California and was laid off as of July 17. I have a fifth grader and a three-month-old. My employer sent me an email on August 7 with a document offering me my job back as a temporary rehire at a somewhat same position at the same pay for a short-term employment through November 30.

I know that if I decline the temporary job, I will lose my unemployment insurance. I have two children who I am the primary caregiver for. My fifth grader’s school is doing online learning from home this new school year due to Covid. I cannot get daycare for my newborn due to Covid.

Is there anything I can do to decline the temporary position and still collect unemployment until I can safely get daycare for my children?

Yes! New unemployment regulations passed this spring make you eligible to collect unemployment if your child’s school or day care is closed because of the outbreak. Look at your state’s unemployment website for info, but you should remain eligible.

5. An applicant called my coworker’s mom

I don’t have a question, but I do have a story that I think highlights that there is some really bad job hunting advice out there.

My colleague and I co-manage our department, and we are currently conducting interviews for a couple of positions. We are guessing one of the applicants (who is a recent college graduate) used LinkedIn to figure out that my colleague is one of the hiring managers, so she looked up his contact information and called him. Only, she didn’t call him; the number she found was his mother’s house. She also figured out his work email and sent a message stating that his number online led to his mother’s phone, then followed by asking for an interview.

We screen our online applications ourselves, and her qualifications did not even match the job description. When he told her as much, she argued with him and asked for an interview again. Thankfully she backed off when he declined and directed her to some online resources that would help her learn more about our field.

I know it’s hard out there for new grads, especially now! I wish I could send a message to everyone who has been told to be aggressive with hiring managers and let them know that tactics like this are very off-putting. And they can make our mothers angry with us. :)

Oh nooooo. There is no reason for a job applicant ever to look up someone’s personal phone number and try to call them at home. Ever — not even if they’re at the finalist stages of the hiring process, and definitely not just to ask for an interview. Whoever is advising this resides in the “gumption” circle of hell.

how can we get dinner privacy with a live-in nanny?

A reader writes:

Due to COVID-19, we decided to hire a live-in nanny, “Jane.” Jane, though very sweet, takes so long to clean up at night that it is eating into our privacy. My husband and I both work during the day, and dinner is our time to be together after we feed our toddler. When we initially hired Jane, she expressed that she would like to go on walks around 7 or 8 pm. I told her that was perfect and suggested good walking areas around the home.

However, since she started working for us, it’s been taking her several hours to clean the kitchen at night. We are very neat and clean, so I’m not sure what’s taking so long. We have asked her to have our child’s dinner ready at 6 pm and told her we would feed her. All she had to do was clean up any pots used to cook our child’s meal and after that, she is done for the night. Ideally, I want privacy after 7 / 7:30.

She has sat down next to us for dinner when my husband and I were in a serious financial discussion. This made me very uncomfortable as these issues are private.

We also had my best friend’s family come for a few days. Jane did not sit down with us for dinner, but she did stay in the kitchen the entire time, either washing dishes for hours, or sitting and eating her down dinner at the kitchen island behind us. I would much rather have dinners with our friends in private!

I have already expressed to Jane that I’m uncomfortable with her working that late every night and that she should take her own time after 7. I also mentioned that it’s nice for us to also have our time too. But it has not stopped her from staying in the kitchen past when we finish dinner every single night. Last night, she waiting in the kitchen for her laundry to finish, making it feel very uncomfortable for me to speak freely at our dinner.

She has an entire separate 1500 square foot floor to herself in our home, so it’s not because she has nowhere to go.

How do I address the two issues of: 1) We don’t want another person hanging around during dinner time and 2) she needs to pick up the pace when she does dishes (I’m not sure what the problem is, but what takes me 10 minutes takes her 1 1/2 hours seemingly). I don’t mind doing dishes myself, which I have told her several time already. I even tried to show her how I do dishes, but she tells me that she does the the same way.

She is a very sweet woman and our daughter who is usually picky with people, loves her. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but this can’t go on. I can’t seem to get through to her :(

You’ve got to be more direct! You’ve been dancing around what you want and hoping she’d pick up on what you were getting at. And to be fair, many people would have. It’s not the worst thing to start out with a soft approach like the one you’ve used because often that will take care of what you need. But when it doesn’t, you need to be more direct.

So many people find themselves where you have: They try a soft approach, hoping it will work. When it doesn’t, they feel frustrated — why isn’t this person picking up on what I’m saying? how do I get through to them? But they feel that way because they haven’t moved to the next logical step, which is a more direct conversation. (My mail is full of letters from managers who are stuck at the first step and don’t realize there’s another step that would likely solve their problem.)

In your case, I suspect there’s an extra layer of awkwardness because nannies fall into a weird category of not really family but not just an employee either. This is someone who works in your home and bonds with your child and is part of the intimacy of your home life. The boundaries get really blurred, and that can make it feel harder to have straightforward conversations when something is happening that you don’t like. Of course, those are the very factors that make it even more important to do — but the reality is, it’s tough. You’re not alone in finding it tough. (There are whole books about the challenges of this dynamic.)

Anyway. It sounds like you need to sit down with her and talk. Tell her how happy you are with her work and how great she is with your daughter. Then say that now that you’ve all settled into this new arrangement, you’ve realized it’s important to you to have privacy after 7 pm — and that means you’d like her to plan to finish up in the kitchen by then, and if she doesn’t have time to finish cleaning up by then, you’ll take over at that point. You can say explicitly, “It’s important to (husband) and me to have time for just the two of us once we sit down for dinner. And we want you to be able to relax and enjoy your evening, not feel you’re still on duty. So we’re going to be sticklers about kicking you out of the kitchen at 7. Please don’t take it personally!”

And then you have to follow through on that. If it’s after 7 and she’s still washing dishes, etc., you’ll need to say, “Jane, I’m kicking you out of the kitchen! Your workday is over and we’ll take over from here. Thank you for everything you did today and go enjoy your evening.” If she protests that she doesn’t mind, then say, “We’re in evening mode ourselves, so please do leave it — we’ve got it from here.”

I’d focus on that — carving out private time after 7 — rather the rest of it. It sounds like doing that would give you plenty of space for private conversations and dinner with friends. And I think it’ll be more effective than trying to get her to wash dishes more quickly, which you’ve already tried without success. Anyone you hire to work in your home is going to have some weird quirks, and if hers is that she’s a bizarrely slow dish washer … well, it’s not the worst thing. You can work around it (especially since it’s not her primary job).

But I also think you have to accept that you do have someone else living in your home as part of your family right now. Yes, she’s still an employee, but the job is so woven into your family — especially since she’s live-in — that you’ve got to keep it looser than you would with an employee in your office. She might sit down with you for a meal or when you’re having a conversation she didn’t realize is private, because that’s the nature of having someone living in your house (doubly so during the pandemic, when she might not be getting much contact with anyone outside your family). It’s okay to enforce off-duty hours and set up some boundaries, but keep in mind that you’ve asked her to make this her home … and so you’re going to have to adjust to having her around when you previously would have had privacy.

my company is incredibly weird when people resign

A reader writes:

For the past seven years, I’ve worked for a small marketing agency with five full-time employees and two partners who own the businesses. It looks like (fingers crossed!) I’ll be receiving an offer for a new position with a different agency soon, working on projects that I’m excited about with a substantial pay increase and benefits. While I wait for the paperwork to go through, I’m thinking about how I’ll transition from one workplace to another.

The agency partners who I work for now are normally great. They have good management styles and are respectful of boundaries … until someone resigns. Then it’s like a switch is flipped, and all hell breaks loose.

A few examples: one colleague resigned and was met with three extravagant goodbye dinners, including expensive bottles of champagne, photo collages, and tearful speeches about how proud they were of her. Another was publicly berated about her “lack of loyalty” and “betrayal” until she cried, even though she was exceedingly professional and gave them more than a month’s notice. Another became so uncomfortable with their emotional outbursts (both positive and negative) that she started having panic attacks and, eventually, just skipped her last week of work.

It’s bewildering, considering they’re typically very even-tempered towards all other aspects of running their business. I don’t believe it has anything to do with favoritism/gender/seniority – their reactions genuinely seem to be random, but always at one end of the emotional spectrum or the other.

As much as I would like a middle-of-the-road, professional, and appropriate response to resigning, I don’t see that happening. It would be one thing if I could steel myself for a certain response, but not knowing how they’ll react (except that it will be extreme) has made me surprisingly nervous about resigning! I do not want any grand gestures or tantrums. I just want to hand in my two weeks and part on mutually respectful terms.

Do you have any advice or possible language to use? How do I mitigate all of these emotions when I’m not totally sure what’s in store for me? I’d like to keep this bridge intact, considering they’re otherwise great to work for.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

I wrote an awful story about a coworker, and it’s following me around years later

A reader writes:

I hope you are willing to hear me out and offer some advice.

Some background. I was molested as a child and worked as a prostitute at one time. That doesn’t excuse my behavior, but I feel I don’t have the best judgment.

I moved to a very rural state to help out my husband’s parents. Things didn’t work out the way I planned. I had a hard time finding a job and the one I did find was crappy.

I was angry and wrote a sexual story about a coworker. It was a BDSM story in which the coworker was the aggressor. I was angry that we had to move to a very rural, judgmental state and wanted an outlet for the anger, but obviously this was a poor decision. I thought I posted on a fetish site anonymously, but it turned out it wasn’t anonymous. I used a different name for her, but someone figured it out by the description. People found out and I was treated like a monster, even years later.

I left the job where I posted the story during my tenure there (I literally had people spitting on me) and went to the next job, where people were fine until someone associated with the last employer from a different location came in and made sure everyone knew. People who had been very professional and friendly became nasty. I was denied any kind of promotions (people who didn’t have as good of a performance were given promotions over me and the answer I was given on why was “wait”). This was five years after I left the last position, by the way.

I stayed another couple years, thinking it would blow over, but nada. There was even a staff meeting where my supervisor told people, “Don’t set up Facebook pages about a coworker. You are bullying them.” I’m pretty sure it was about me, but I have no proof. It never got better.

I finally left in April of this year to go elsewhere. Everything was fine until two weeks ago when an intern started. Wouldn’t you know, that same former employee who stirred up trouble at the last job knows her? And all the sudden people are avoiding me here too.

The story was nine years ago. I still have trouble getting and keeping employment because these same coworkers make it their job. Do I have to basically leave my husband, not because I don’t love him, but because I made a mistake years ago?

I’m definitely sorry, but it doesn’t seem right. I can’t help but wonder if I were a man if people would have shrugged and moved on. (I should mention my husband is a trans man, I am a queer woman, and the coworker is a woman as well.)

I’ve been thinking about this letter for a while, trying to decide how to respond.

Obviously, this was wrong. It must have made your coworker feel terribly violated — sexually and otherwise.

On one hand, I can understand why you feel like this shouldn’t still be keeping you from getting and keeping a job nearly a decade later. You know it was wrong, you regret it, and you never intended your colleagues to see it. But on the other hand, this is the kind of thing that stays with people, both the victim and people around her. It was likely so upsetting to her and alarming to people who heard about it that it might not be realistic to expect them not to warn other people about it.

If people were outright bullying you about it, that’s not okay, especially years later. Spitting on you wasn’t okay. The Facebook group thing, if used to bully you, wasn’t okay.

But it’s also true that people might not move on from this. I can understand why it comes up when your name comes up; it’s the kind of thing where people might feel they were being irresponsible if they didn’t fill in others who they learned were working with you. That’s just the crappy reality of it for everyone.

I don’t know if this is helpful, but I had a dude who did some disturbing stuff to/about me years ago, mostly but not entirely written. It was scary, and it was threatening. I felt violated. It’s been years without contact from him, and for all I know he could be a different person today. He might feel deep shame about what he did. But he left me so shaken (to the point that even years later, I feel uneasy about writing about it here, because I have to worry about it triggering another wave of contact) that if I heard he was working with someone I knew, I’d feel obligated to say … something. Maybe just that I’d had a bad experience with him and to be careful. It wouldn’t be gossip — it would be a genuine desire to warn people.

All of that is to say, the damage may be done here, no matter how regretful you are about it now (and I believe that you are regretful).

The solution isn’t that you need to leave your husband! But the solution might be that you and your husband both need to seriously consider whether this warrants going somewhere where this won’t follow you. I know “pick up and move” isn’t exactly an easy answer. But given that it sounds like you’re in a small area where things spread quickly, it might be the only way. I’m sorry — I know that’s not encouraging.

should I try to steal my old coworker’s job, are cotton clothes less professional, and more

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

1. Should I try to take my old coworker’s job?

I quit my job last February. A coworker was promoted to my position. She was totally unprepared and unqualified, and I have been secretly helping her ever since. She contacts me almost daily with questions and crises.

Now I desperately need a job, and wonder if I should try to get my old job back. The boss is happy with Shanna, but has no clue that I am still “training” her. I have all the emails to prove it, but that would sabotage Shanna’s career. What should I do?

Trying to take someone’s job from them would be a real dick move! Don’t do it.

You can certainly stop helping Shanna — explain to her that you no longer have the time to keep helping and at this point she should be able to do the job on her own — but you can’t secretly try to sabotage her.

At most, you could say something to your old boss like, “Shanna is still contacting me for help on a lot of things and I’m looking for work, which made me wonder if there might be space for a role for me to help with some of my old projects, or even something else.” You’d be proposing coming back, but not taking Shanna’s job to do it.

2. Are cotton clothes less professional?

I’m a mid-40s female professional in the biotech industry. Many years ago, I made the personal decision to avoid buying synthetic fabrics due to the large environmental impact and often ethically questionable workplace practices that synthetics and fast-fashion have. The prevents me from buying most items at popular fast-fashion places like Zara and H&M, and even more traditional places like Ann Taylor or White House Black Market, where the majority of the fabrics are synthetic. I inspect the tags on everything I buy and stick to a few retailers I know. I find myself buying a lot of items made from cotton since it’s a natural fiber. Since I’m also committed to buying from environmentally responsible and sweat-shop free businesses, they often come with a high price tag, but also with the bonus that they are well-made and are long-lasting.

One day I was talking with a European colleague about where we shop and she looked at me and said, “I have never worn a t-shirt in my life,” I think implying that my tops look like t-shirts because they are made of cotton. I noticed that she was wearing head-to-toe polyester, which made me think about the microplastics that pollute the ocean every time polyester is washed and the environmental sludge and throw-away culture that comes out of the manufacturing of fast-fashion. I feel like the clothing I choose usually looks cute and classic, not very trendy, but still flattering. Did my personal environment and ethical choices force me to wear clothing that looks too casual?

It’s true that some cotton tops can read as less professional and more t-shirt-ish. Not all of them — there are lots of professional-looking cotton tops (hello, cotton button-downs!). But our norms around profession dress do include a weird convention where the same top can look less professional in cotton than in synthetic fabrics. It depends on the top, and it depends on the specifics of the fabric — like whether it’s t-shirt fabric or something more structured or with a different drape. It also depends on the office — in many offices this would be a total non-issue, while in others it might matter more. (And as for why this is even a thing, it’s one of those inexplicable conventions that has its roots in something other than logic. My guess is it’s probably very old and rooted in the fact that cotton used to cost less.)

In any case, if your shirts aren’t cut like t-shirts and don’t drape like t-shirts, I think you’re fine.

3. Did I ruin an offer by asking for a three-month delay in my start date?

Last week, my dream company told me they would want to extend me an offer after two rounds of interviews which took place before the Covid-19 outbreak. The interviews took place in February and March, but the company had a hiring freeze in March, and told me they had to pause my application and hoped to pick it up as soon as they could. Last week, they emailed saying that the hiring has resumed and they wanted to give me an offer if I’m still interested. I emailed back saying of course I would be interested. However, I asked if I could start three months later than the start date proposed in the original job post because of Covid-19 reasons and a few things that got delayed in my current job. They said they would look into it.

A few days passed and yesterday I saw that they took down the original job post and posted a new one with slight changes (adding a term in the job title and proposed start date). Is it a sign that they already changed their mind about hiring me?

It’s likely a sign that they don’t want to wait three months for someone to start — especially since they’ve already been waiting since March. If you’d want the job even if you’d need to start it on their proposed start date, I’d contact them right now, say you’ve been able to move some things around and are available when they proposed, and ask if they’d still like to move forward. Otherwise, yeah, it looks likely that you might miss out on the job because of the extra time you’re asking for.

For what it’s worth, this isn’t how they should have handled it. If they couldn’t accommodate the extra three months, they should have told you that and given you a chance to decide if that worked for you or not. Just re-advertising while leaving you hanging isn’t great. (That said, asking for an extra three months might not have been great either, although it depends on the job. There are some jobs that would happily accommodate that — especially more senior and more skilled jobs — and others where just asking would come across strangely.)

4. Can I ask questions before coming back from a leave of absence?

When I had my annual review at the end of 2019, my boss (executive director of a small nonprofit) and I discussed the likelihood of, at the end of 2020, me receiving a title bump from, say, development specialist to director of development (a role that doesn’t currently exist at our organization). She told me to remind her mid-year so she could plan for this. She was also open about the fact that she was planning on retiring at the end of 2020, which I was looking forward to, since she’s been an okay-but-not-amazing boss.

Then 2020 happened. My boss postponed her retirement plans indefinitely to deal with seeing the organization through the pandemic. Around April-May, I was also diagnosed with a serious health problem requiring an extended period away from work for treatment. At the beginning of June, I started a six-month leave of absence to deal with my health stuff, and I didn’t ask my boss about whether my planned title bump was still a possibility before I left, which was probably an error on my part.

At this point, I’m not 100% sure I actually want to go back to this job, but I might be swayed depending on 1) whether my boss has any sort of new timeline for her retirement in mind and 2) whether my title bump is still in the pipeline for 2021. (I would totally understand if it’s not, given everything that’s happened, but I don’t want to assume that either!) How do I go about asking my boss either of these things in a reasonable way? Obviously I can’t say “I’m only coming back if you’re leaving in the near future,” but is there a less horrible-sounding way of getting that information? And if she tells me that she’s not leaving any time soon, or that my title bump isn’t in the cards after all, and then I decide not to return, won’t my reasons why be sort of obvious?

At some point later on in your leave of absence, ask to set up a phone call about your return. Then, on the call, discuss some of the logistics — and as part of that, you can say, “Obviously the pandemic and my leave of absence have both gotten in the way of moving me to the director of development position we’d discussed. Does that still look like something we can do at the end of this year, or is it more likely something we’d take up next year?” Additionally, as you’re talking, you can say in a chatty way, “I know you’d been planning to move on at the end of the year, and the pandemic disrupted that. Do you have a new timeline you’re planning on?” This is something you could easily be asking out of curiosity; it’s not going to be obvious that your return hinges on her answer (especially if your tone is just chatty/friendly).

The longer you wait to have this conversation, the more likely she’ll have an answer about her timeline, so I’d wait at least another month or so.

If you ultimately decide not to return, you can say it’s health-related or related to changes from the weirdness of this year or another opportunity dropped in your lap, etc. It shouldn’t look like a response to whatever answers you hear, assuming it doesn’t happen immediately afterwards.

5. Should I tell a new advisor about my family health situation?

I graduated from college in May and am about to start a PhD program across the country in a famously competitive STEM field. Due to a variety of circumstances, I only have a few living relatives: my parents, a sibling, a grandmother, and an uncle. My mother, grandmother, and uncle are all in poor health and unlikely to make it to the time I finish grad school.

However … I know many people are probably in a similar situation with the pandemic. And I had an experience as an undergrad where I lost a close friend in an accident, asked for that afternoon off when I found out, and my manager said since he wasn’t a blood relative or a student at my university, I couldn’t let it affect my work since “loss is just part of adult life.” Some people in academia have even said they assume students’ grandparents’ deaths are excuses! Should I let my advisor know about my family ahead of time so he knows I’m not fabricating? Or will it make it seem like I have one foot out the door or am not committed or “adult” enough? I won’t necessarily be asking for lots of time off if something happens, just the understanding that I may need a day or two, especially since travel is dangerous for the foreseeable future. What are the actual professional norms here?

What on earth — you’re only allowed to mourn blood relatives and other students?! (I’m hoping the “other students” was because they’d have independent verification of that, because otherwise that’s a bizarre addition.) No relatives by marriage? No close friends? No spouses? (I’m guessing it wasn’t an actual rule, but just him speaking off the cuff, but still — absurd.) That manager was an ass and not representative of what you should expect to find in any decent workplace.

That said, it wouldn’t hurt to inform your advisor of your situation early on — not because you won’t be believed otherwise, but because it’s something that could come up and it won’t hurt to have proactively explained things at the start.

you should be giving your interns mock interviews

A reader writes;

My husband and I were having a water cooler chat in our kitchen today (we’re working remotely on different floors) and he mentioned something he’d been doing this week that I thought was brilliant.

He’s a software engineering manager at a medium-sized division of a huge international corporation that does many things — so his division is essentially a tech firm inside a different industry. They have a bunch of interns right now and are fully remote — no one allowed on site most days — so managers are struggling more than usual to help interns have a valuable experience when office norms, etc. are all kind of up in the air.

So this week he decided to start giving them mock interviews. He felt like the interview process at this company was pretty similar to interviews he’d had and given in his other workplaces and so he scheduled a few with the interns to help them know what to expect if they applied anywhere in the industry.

The mock interviews quickly became so popular that he had to implement a request process so he’d still have time to do the rest of his job. And other managers are now asking him to sit in on his interviews so they can begin offering this to their own interns. Some have even asked to do their own with him!

This is one of those things that feels like such an obvious thing to do now that I’ve heard it, but I’ve been asking around among friends in many industries and no one remembered doing this either as a manager or an intern. So I thought I’d tell you just in case it’s an idea you might have a reason to pass along one day.

What a great idea! Consider it passed along.

managers still aren’t sure “working from home” means really working

There have always been managers who don’t believe that “working from home” means doing real work. These are the managers who, before the pandemic, would flat-out deny requests to work from home or only begrudgingly approve them for the occasional “good reason,” like waiting at home for the cable guy.

When vast quantities of people were forced to start working from home earlier this year, these managers didn’t have a magical change of heart. Instead, many of them have continued to believe that employees working from home aren’t really working, or will only work if they’re carefully monitored — often in intrusive and insulting ways.

I wrote about these managers over at Slate today. You can read it here.

someone sent our company revenge porn of our employee

A reader writes:

I’m in a senior position for a large public organization, and deal with correspondence and sensitive HR issues. Today our office received an email from a throwaway/burner address about a young, relatively junior female member of staff. It contained screenshots of her on an app that allows you to make money by livestreaming (I’m old and didn’t know what the app was, but have Googled it and it seems pretty popular as a dating app). The screenshots are racy but not obscene (e.g., bending over in short shorts), and from my perspective perfectly within what you’d expect on a dating app. The email said she mentioned our organization by name, and complained that we didn’t pay enough so she was soliciting donations. It also alluded to nude photos.

I don’t care what employees do in their spare time and think the email is clearly aimed at embarrassing her, and I’m planning to file it (as we do all correspondence) without responding. However, I’m not sure whether to say something to the employee. I’m not sure if it would be more reassuring to hear that we received it but won’t be doing anything about it, or more embarrassing. I’m mostly concerned with supporting her as best we can. I don’t feel that concerned about her allegedly mentioning our organization by name (we employ more than 1,000 people and our salary bands are all publicly posted), although would also welcome thoughts on that too.

Even though it might feel easier everyone if you ignored it and never mentioned it to her — saving you both the embarrassment of the conversation — I do think you need to let her know about it.

She needs to know because someone is trying to harm her, and that’s not info you can rightly keep from her. For all we know, she could be experiencing other harassing or stalking behavior from someone and needs to know they’ve escalated to trying to jeopardize her employment. She could have been told by police or a lawyer to document what’s happening. This even could be the piece that gets police to take action on her behalf. Or even if none of that’s happening, she still needs to know her photos and videos are being used in this way. I understand you’re trying to protect her from awkwardness, but she deserves to know about it for her own safety.

As with this letter last year from someone who received screenshots about an employee’s out-of-work behavior (and like you, didn’t care what the employee did outside of work), your employee needs to know because she’s the one who’s in the best position to decide if this is a violation that she wants to act on, file away in case it’s something she needs to act on later, or ignore.

And yeah, it’ll be an awkward conversation! But stress that it’s not something that will affect her at work in any way and that you’re not looking for any explanation, but want her to know so she can protect herself. You should also ask if there’s anything she’d like the company to do to ensure she feels safe at work.

As for her supposedly naming the organization while soliciting donations because she’s not being paid enough … if she really did that and did it in a public profile on an app (as opposed to something like one-on-one conversation in private), it’s not cool and she shouldn’t — but given the way you’ve been informed, I would put no weight on it at all. The main thing is that she’s been violated, and your focus should be on helping her feel and stay safe.

Speaking of which, if you can avoid filing that email like you do other correspondence, please do. She shouldn’t have to have those photos and videos on file with her employer, where someone else could come across them in the future. (She may need a copy herself in case of current or future action, but I’m quite sure she’d feel better if it’s not stored for all time in your files.)

interns want to break social distancing guidelines, cockroach etiquette, and more

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

1. My fellow interns want to break social distancing guidelines

I am working remotely on a summer internship with a group of about 25 other students. They want to meet up in person, as a group, by the end of the summer. Meeting in such a large group would break local social distancing guidelines and would not be safe. Our employer is not aware of these plans, and company policy is that employees are not allowed to have in-person work meetings. Should I claim to be busy, or should I be frank and tell them it is unsafe? Should I report them to authorities? Our employer? I am worried that speaking out could harm my working relationships, especially because some of the other interns are senior to me.

Speak up and tell them it’s a violation of local health guidelines as well as company policy! You could add something like, “I know we all want to make a good impression on (company) and I think it would reflect badly on us to organize something that’s explicitly against their rules.” If someone tries to tell you company rules are irrelevant since this would be outside of work and on your own time (which someone is almost definitely going to say), you can respond, “I’m pretty sure the company would be concerned about it since it would still be organized as a thing for our work cohort. I think we should check with (manager) to see if that’s right or not.”

And if you do check with your manager, know this isn’t “tattling” (which people sometimes worry about); it’s genuinely asking your manager for advice about how to handle something within your intern cohort, which managers will generally be very glad to advise you on.

And if they go ahead with it anyway, you don’t need to go! You can bow out and explain you’re just being really careful. There’s a good chance one or more other people in the group will feel more comfortable protecting themselves once they see you doing it. And it shouldn’t affect your relationships as long as you’re polite about it (you can still be direct while being polite)!

2. Cockroach etiquette

Some time ago I attended a two-day technical seminar at another company. I was one of the most junior people in attendance and spent the seminar mostly silent while taking copious notes.

During the first day, I went to grab a coffee from the office Keurig during a break — and when I opened the basket to add a pod, a cockroach climbed out. I removed and disposed of the cockroach while internally screaming and avoided the Keurig for the remainder of the seminar. I did not, however, alert anyone else — no one else was in the area, there was no obvious admin or other person I could alert to the invader, and the woman running the seminar was engaged with other participants and I really didn’t want to kick up a fuss since I was so junior compared to others.

In hindsight, I should have said something, but how on earth does one address this without causing a huge interuption or seeming unprofessional? I’m hoping it never comes up again but I’d like to be prepared if it does!

Oh noooo. Although there was no obvious admin around, was there anyone around from the company holding the seminar? I think you could have approached anyone who worked there and said, “I’m sure this isn’t your job, but could you point me to the right person to alert about a problem in the kitchen?”

If there was no one around, your options were more limited — but it even would have been okay to stick a sign on the Keurig saying “do not use — found roach inside.” That would be an alarming sign to come upon, but less alarming than the experience you had.

3. Should I pay for a certification from a course on teamwork and communication?

I lost my job, and essentially my career, to Covid. I was a successful costume designer in theater, and since it will be years before I can work at the same level as I was before, I found a job that I can work from home and it uses some of the skills I cultivated as a costume designer, though it is unrelated. It is much more corporate than I am used to, but it pays well and I am enjoying it so far.

They are having us take these online courses through Coursera. The first one is teamwork and communicating effectively in groups. The course is free to audit, but if you pay a fee ($50) you get a certificate that shows you completed the course. We are being paid for the time we use to take it, and I understand why the company doesn’t want to pay to get the certificate, but should I personally pay the fee to get the proper certification? Will it add anything to my hiring appeal? I am thinking that it might be years before I return to theater work, if ever, and I want to make myself as appealing to businesses as possible, as I spent the last decade outside the business world (I am taking online classes to get a business degree). Is it worth it for the certificate, and can I put it on my resume that I have a certificate in this training?

Definitely do not pay the fee. Some certifications are worth paying for, but definitely not one on teamwork and communicating effectively. That’s soft to the point of being utterly mushy as far as weight with employers is concerned. Employers do care about teamwork and communicating effectively, but they won’t care if you’ve taken a class in those things; they’ll only care if you can show evidence of those traits via your actual accomplishments. I wouldn’t bother putting it on your resume for the same reason. (That doesn’t mean you won’t find value in the class, though.)

4. My office is only paying for the time I spend on assignments

I work for a smallish firm, less than 40 people, and have worked here for about 3.5 years. When I started, I worked full-time, but over the last year and a half, I’ve been trying to phase in my retirement. What I really want to do is work three days a week. After many starts and stops, I was just settling into my new schedule when the pandemic hit. I’ve been working from home ever since.

When the pandemic first hit, I told my firm that I would be happy to work five days a week but only report the hours I actually “worked.” This worked pretty well at first as it gave me time to adjust to working from home, which I had never done before. In the office, I sat at my computer for 7.5 hours a day, asking people if they needed any help and waiting for work to come to me. And I billed for 7.5 hours a day. Now, I don’t just sit at my desk, I roam around my house and yard and wait to hear that “ding” that means someone needs my help. So some days, I have one, two, three, whatever hours of work. But I still am on that leash! It’s not like I can leave my house and go to the beach! I’m available when needed. Is there some other way to do this? What’s fair for them and for me?

They shouldn’t be paying you this way, because you’re what the law considers “engaged to wait” — meaning they have hired you to be available during those 7.5 hours and to wait for work to come in, which you’ll then take care of. When you’re “engaged to wait,” your employer is required by law to pay you for that full time (since, as you noted, your time is not your own — you can’t leave and go to the beach, etc.)

Say this: “I’ve just learned that the arrangement I originally proposed, where I’d only log time when I actually performed work, is putting us in violation of the law. It turns out that because I’m what the law calls ‘engaged to wait’ and can’t leave and do other things with my time, we’re required to treat it the same way as when I was in the office, and pay me for a regular workday. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that when I first proposed this!” (You don’t really need to apologize; it’s their job to know labor laws, not yours. But that language will probably make this feel easier to broach — although feel free to remove it if you don’t think you need it.)

Presumably you’d then want to propose that you return to your three-day-a-week schedule so all the work is contained within those days.

5. A job I was interviewing for has re-opened; how do I reconnect with the recruiter?

A few months ago, just as we were working to schedule an final interview, the internal recruiter for the company let me know they were no longer sure when they could hire for that position due to COVID and would not know until after a certain date.

I checked in with the recruiter again after that date and was told there hadn’t been any movement on the position and that they would alert me when they knew more. Fast forward a month to now and I get an alert for the job from Linkedin. I’ve also confirmed that it’s live on their website.

Now I’m in a pickle. I feel like if I bring up the posting to the recruiter, I’m essentially saying “you didn’t do the thing you said you would do” regardless of how polite the wording is. It also seems strange to resubmit my application without a word when I have been in contact with this recruiter and had two interviews for the position already. What is the most skillful and professional way to handle this?

Contact the recruiter again and say, “I saw the X job has been reposted and I’d love to reconnect with you about the role. I’d interviewed with Jane Valentine in February and we were working to schedule a final interview in March, but then Covid put everything on hold. Would it be possible to formally throw my hat back in the ring if things are now moving forward?”

You don’t need to worry about the subtext being “you didn’t do the thing you said you’d do.” Recruiters don’t bother to get back to people all the time; it’s practically an operating norm of the profession. Or she’s just been overloaded but you’re on her list and she’ll be glad you initiated the exchange so she doesn’t have to. Just be matter-of-fact about wanting to move forward and it won’t be weird.

weekend open thread – August 8-9, 2020

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: The Comeback, by Ella Berman. A former teen star grapples with her relationship with the man who made her famous and controlled her for years.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.