weekend free-for-all – October 21-22, 2017

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. It starts out deeply funny and then it turns into something you didn’t expect. This is one of my favorite books this year.

4 updates from letter-writers (the cheating boss, the strong-arming of a promotion, and more)

Here are four updates from people who had their letters answered here recently.

1. My friend tried to strong-arm her way into a promotion

Well, as you may have guessed, Sansa did not get the promotion she was seeking. The managers involved didn’t explain their thinking to her, or give her any indication that strong-arming your way into a job is not great for your career. She ended up leaving the company soon after they filled the position she wanted. She did get a job she really likes in a related field and is doing quite well for herself.

One amusing side note: A few months after her strong-arming strategy failed, I saw that she was leading a salary negotiation workshop at an industry conference. That made me chuckle a bit.

2. My boss enlists me in hiding his multiple affairs from his wife (first update here)

My former boss was fired. His wife outed a fourth woman for sleeping with him, same as the others. She works here. Having an affair with a subordinate and the multiple yelling matches with the other three women here at the office was enough to get him fired. The fourth woman was married (unlike the other three) and her husband filed for divorce after she was outed. She took job somewhere else but left amicably and was not fired like my former boss was. At least two of the women his wife was suing are settling with her to avoid it going to trial. The yelling matches he was having made it clear she wasn’t using the lawsuits as a bargaining chip and would not drop them in exchange for stuff from him.

Now that both he and the woman from here that he was having an affair with are gone, things have calmed down. No one has mentioned the affair in weeks and everything here is boring again. I don’t mind the lack of gossip and am still enjoying my new job and great colleagues. I got a small bonus at my yearly review because my boss was so happy with my work. I love my new colleagues and they have been nothing but welcoming to me.

(Also there was speculation in the comments in my first update about whether his wife outed the escort for her affair or being an escort. The answer is both. I don’t agree with her actions but I empathize with how much pain the affairs have caused her.)

3. Should I give this recruiter a third chance? (#4 at the link)

Talk about a fast update, I actually had an interview arranged by another lady agency who was very pleasant, a gob on a stick, but very professional in her approach. That was on Tuesday and I received a job offer which I accepted yesterday. So I’m now in the rather delicious situation of having a job and being able to reply to the bad agency with this information a mere two days later. I loved reading the replies and now have the decision of writing a short “k thx bai” email or a more pointed one. Thanks for the advice.

4. What to tell my employee about another employee who’s underperforming

There’s not much to tell on this front. Ford was let go; Arthur didn’t really bring it up any more. Arthur has continued to be a strong performer and has not had any of the issues that I was worried about with regard to his own performance/status at the company. I didn’t have to address anything other than giving regular coaching and “performance check-ins” which are largely positive.

I understand Arthur still keeps up with Ford who has been working as a bartender–far from our industry. I don’t believe their personal relationship impacts Arthur’s professional life much, if at all.

I’ve since moved on to another client team, so I no longer manage Arthur.

open thread – October 20-21, 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.

why are contractors treated like second-class citizens, boss enters without knocking, and more

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

1. Why do some people look down on contractors and freelancers?

I’m a freelance writer contracting at a large company, and I’ve noticed that some people tend to look down on contractors and freelancers. The majority of people I’ve worked with have been lovely, but frequently there seems to be an attitude of mild disdain for contract workers. The row of cubicles that my fellow freelancers and I sit in right now is jokingly referred to as “Contractor’s Row.” Even the full-time project manager who trained me in said (facetiously) that contractors are sometimes treated like second-class citizens. Why do some people seem to have this aversion to contract workers?

They’re jerks?

In some companies there’s a culture where contractors are indeed seen as second-class citizens. To some extent, that can arise from the legal distinctions that companies are required to make between employees and contractors; if they treat them the same, they risk being forced to reclassify the contractors as employees (with all the accompanying costs for payroll taxes, benefits, and in some cases government-imposed fines). Preserving that distinction often means that contractors aren’t invited to company parties, aren’t allowed to use perks like company gyms, aren’t eligible for various awards, and so forth.

Once you have those distinctions in place, for some people it’s a short hop to actually thinking of or talking about contractors as “less than” in some way. And of course, some people really, really like distinctions that allow them to feel like they’re in the more favored group, and this set-up can bring that out.

2. Employee’s father is dying, and he’s struggling at work

I manage a part-time, junior level employee who started as an intern. “Bran” was fabulous, turning in high-level work quickly and consistently, which was why we asked him to stay on when his internship ended. However, over the past three months, the quality of his work has dipped significantly. We’ve had conversations about going slower, checking his work, and really focusing on minute details. I have shown him specific examples of errors so that he better knows his weak spots. It isn’t working. I know he’s capable of better work—he’s repeatedly demonstrated as such.

While under other circumstances I would put a PIP in place, this one is a special case. Bran’s father is very ill, and is now in hospice. I don’t want to cut Bran’s hours (his mother isn’t working so she can better take care of his father), or have a harsh conversation when he has so much going on at home. At the same time, I’m spending a lot of time proofing Bran’s work and fixing errors, which is affecting my own workload. We do not have an EAP. We’re a very small company without many resources. Any advice?

Talk to him, explain what you’re seeing, and ask what he thinks would help. This doesn’t have to be a harsh conversation; it can be a kind but straightforward one and you can frame it as finding out what kind of support he thinks might help. For example, you could say something like this: “I know you’re going through a really tough time right now with your dad. I want to give you as much flexibility and leeway as I can and I don’t expect you to be performing at 100% right now, but I’m spending more time fixing your work than I can realistically continue to do. But we have a bunch of options here, depending on what you think might help. I can let you pull back on your hours if you need to right now, or if it would help to be able to work from home some of the time, we could do that too. Or there might be other things you think would help that I don’t even know about, so I’m hoping to hear your thoughts — and don’t be afraid to make creative suggestions. If there are accommodations we can make, I’m open to them.”

3. My boss enters my office without knocking on my closed door

I am a physician in an academic medical institution. The door culture in our department is wide-ranging and fairly relaxed, as our personal offices are spread out and have different levels of noise and privacy. My colleague’s door to my right is nearly always open, my colleague’s door to my left is nearly always shut. I myself have been a fan of the half-open door, as my desk faces directly at the door and I find foot traffic from the conference room across the hall to be distracting.

When I’m on speakerphone for conference calls, discussing patient information on the phone, or (rarely) making personal calls, I tend to shut my office door for that time and reopen afterwards. My problem is that my “boss” (my department chairman) has a habit of opening doors and walking right into any office without knocking. I’ve seen him do it to other offices as well, so I know it’s not just me. It bothers me a lot, as I find it a bit rude and intrusive, particularly for patient confidentiality. I’ve taken to locking my door when I hear or see him coming down the hall, probably in a passive-aggressive move to show him that he can’t just barge in and force him to wait.

He’s not technically my manager and we tend to operate quite independently. This might not be a typical office culture you get asked about. I don’t feel in a position to have an etiquette talk with him, and I don’t think he even realizes people might find it intrusive to barge in without knocking. Is there anything I can do subtly to try to change his behavior?

So much of this is going to come down to your particular office culture, and since I can’t speak to that, you should adapt this accordingly. But given that patient confidentiality is in play, it generally should be reasonable to say something like, “Hey Bob, when I have my door closed it’s usually because I’m on a call where I might be discussing confidential patient information or otherwise need privacy. Can I ask you to knock first because of that?”

I do think you should say something though rather than just continuing to lock your door (unless lots of your colleagues do that too), since most offices don’t have a lot of locked doors and you risk him wondering what’s going on behind yours.

4. We’re required to bring in treats for meetings

I work part-time at a library and earn $12 an hour. We have monthly meetings and we rotate who will bring treats. The employees have to purchase the treats for the meetings with their own money, usually one or two times a year. I am the lowest-paid employee at these meetings and it seems like the average wage there is $17 an hour. For me the cost of these treats is at least an hour of my pay. Baking treats at home is not an option for me to lower the cost.

My question is can my employer require me to spend my own money on treats for a work meeting and is this illegal? How can I bring up that this seems unfair to employees without being a party pooper? I feel that I am there to make money, not to spend it even if it is only a couple times of the year. There was a period when my husband lost his job and we were starting to look into food pantries for help — thankfully I did not have treat duty during this time. However, if I cannot support both of us, let alone myself on a part-time job. Is it fair to ask part time employees to pay for a donut reward during a work meeting when they are not being paid a living wage?

They can require it, but a reasonable employer will let you opt out if you ask to. Try just saying this to whoever organizes it: “The cost of bringing in treats for everyone is out of my budget, so I need to opt out of the rotation.” If you want, you can add, “I of course won’t eat the treats others bring in since I’m opting out.”

5. Can I be required to fill out an anonymous survey?

Can my employer require me to fill out an anonymous survey? I’ve read how they aren’t necessarily anonymous, but do I have grounds to refuse? It would be better to have a smaller response rate than lies, I would think, but not if it’s going to lead to a write-up!

They can indeed require you to fill it out. That said, there’s nothing stopping you from writing “no comment” or “no answer” or even “not comfortable answering this” to questions you don’t want to answer.

I don’t want to refer my ex-girlfriend to a previous employer … but I feel guilty about it

A reader writes:

I’m trying to decide whether to refer my ex-girlfriend to my previous employer. They are looking for someone with her background and she really needs the job, but I am worried about a few things.

I dated Jane for two years, and we broke up last year. There was a lot of emotional pain in the relationship, but the breakup itself was pretty amicable. She’s reached out a few times since then trying to establish a friendship, but I’ve told her that I’m not interested.

I ran into her at a social event a few weeks ago, and she mentioned that her current employer is reorganizing, she’s going to be laid off in a few months, and this could affect her visa status and mean she needs to leave the country. She’s lived here on-and-off for over a decade, most of her friends are here, and she wants to stay.

Separately, I left a job earlier this year at company X, which is fairly small (< 100 people). I was there for about three years, and I’m still on good terms with many of my old coworkers who I value as friends and professional contacts. Yesterday I learned that they are in severe need of role Y, which is exactly Jane’s experience.

If it were any other company, I wouldn’t hesitate to point Jane in that direction and in fact last week I did send her a different job posting I came across elsewhere for a similar role. She’s in a tough situation and I wish her well in life! And I want the company to fill the role, which would make my old colleagues’ lives easier. But I’m conflicted.

First, I don’t actually know whether Jane is good at her job. She’s smart and generally capable, but she’s been fired or let go a few times, and some of the stories she has told me about her work made me wonder about her performance. I don’t want to refer a bad candidate to work with a bunch of people I know. It might reflect badly on me, and I want my former co-workers (especially the managers doing the hiring) to be ongoing professional contacts who respect my judgment.

Second, I don’t even know how I would make the referral. I worry that it would be unprofessional to introduce her as my ex-girlfriend, which could reflect badly on me but also make them take her application less seriously. But of course if I introduce her as a friend or I know her socially and then she gets hired, the truth will come out eventually which won’t be good either.

Third, even in the “best case scenario” where she gets hired and its a great fit, I don’t know if I’m happy with that outcome. Basically I don’t want my friendships with my former coworkers to involve her at all — I don’t want to see her when I hang out with them, I don’t want to hear stories about her, I don’t want them to know anything about our relationship besides what I choose to tell them.

I know I don’t have any obligation to make the connection, but it would really help out a few people and some of my reasons not to do it feel kind of selfish. What do you think I should do? Are my worries reasonable? And if I decide to go through with it, how do you think I should proceed?

I think the key part of your letter is this:

“I don’t actually know whether Jane is good at her job … She’s been fired or let go a few times, and some of the stories she has told me about her work made me wonder about her performance.”

When you recommend someone for a job, you’re vouching for them, and you’re putting your own professional reputation on the line. At a minimum, you don’t really know if you can vouch for Jane or not, and that means that you can’t recommend her.

But if that weren’t the case, then I’d tell you that this is relevant too:

“I don’t want my friendships with my former coworkers to involve her at all — I don’t want to see her when I hang out with them, I don’t want to hear stories about her, I don’t want them to know anything about our relationship besides what I choose to tell them.”

In general, you’re not obligated to connect an ex to a job if you don’t want the things that will result from that. It would be nice of you to do it, but you’re also entitled to consider your own interests. In this case, it sounds like you’d be inviting something into your life that you don’t particularly want in it. However … when you put her visa situation in the mix, it gets more complicated. Is your interest in keeping your friendships and professional relationships Jane-free more important than her interest in being able to stay in the country? I’d argue no. If the visa situation weren’t in play, I’d tell you that your former company isn’t the only one in the world where she can work and you don’t need to connect her to the one place where you’d rather she not be. But the visa situation changes that a bit, as it makes her need more urgent.

Another factor in play is how often you see or talk to these former coworkers. If you only talk to them once or twice a year, the impact on you of Jane working with them is going to be pretty limited. If you talk to them regularly, it’s more of a legitimate concern. In that case, you’re allowed to decide that no, you don’t want to disrupt those relationships (although again, the visa complicates it).

Of course, all of this is moot since you shouldn’t be recommending her anyway. But there is another option, which would be to connect them but explicitly not vouch for her work. In that case, you’d say something like, “I know you’re looking for people with a background in X. I actually used to date someone with that experience, but I’ve never worked with her and I can’t vouch for her work. With that caveat in place, would you like me to connect you?” (It’s fine to be up-front about the nature of the relationship. It’s not unprofessional to acknowledge you’ve had girlfriends. It would be much weirder if you were cagey about how you know her.)

There’s still a risk to that approach because if she doesn’t work out, they’re still likely to think of her as your ex who you sent their way. And depending on just how badly things go, it could still impact your reputation (and their interest in taking recommendations from you in the future). In theory that shouldn’t happen because you’ll have been clear with them about the limits of your knowledge about her, but in reality people are going to associate you with the situation anyway.

Considering the situation as a whole, I think this is one where you can pass on referring her and feel okay about it.

my boss borrows money from me and doesn’t pay me back

A reader writes:

I lent $220 to my manager a few months ago. She promised to pay me within weeks, but has not mentioned anything about it til now. How can I ask for the money in a polite and professional way so as not to ruin our working relationship? Also, please give me more excuses not to lend her money because in these three months, she has tried to borrow five times again. I lent her some the fifth time and again she has not paid on the agreed date. The amount this time is $45.

I answer this question — and four others — 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.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Employee reacted badly when I gave him a raise
  • Handling a divorce at work
  • Is it presumptuous to ask for my own office?
  • Should I apologize for taking feedback badly?

update: my employee is refusing to travel because her husband said she can’t

Remember the letter-writer in March whose employee was refusing to go on business trips because her husband didn’t want her to and her religion required her to obey her husband? They’d also gotten rid of her car because “queens don’t drive”? Here’s the update.

The situation got worse before it got better, and my boss didn’t want to take much action. My boss felt this was out of the norm for the employee so maybe it was a phase that would pass and she wouldn’t let me take any action beyond verbal warnings and write-ups for behavior obviously against the handbook. She was also afraid that the employee would bring a religious discrimination suit against us, which are usually not settled in favor of the employer in our state (for Christianity anyway).

A lot of folks in the comments were worried the employee was being abused — I don’t have any evidence that she wasn’t a willing participant, but I did post fliers in the bathrooms about an abuse hotline, just in case. (Also, there were some comments veering into Islamaphobia on the original post. I want to note for the record this person is a fundamentalist Christian in the American south.)

I started with the issue of the employee getting anxious and not working as soon as her husband pulled into the parking lot because it seemed easiest to tackle. She said she just didn’t want to make her husband wait on her, but insisted it wasn’t an issue for her work. Talking to her about it did not help. She kept getting jittery every day (and still leaving as soon as he got there) so I moved her to an interior desk away from the windows, which helped for a couple weeks but she was upset that her desk was “downgraded” (not really because she wasn’t upgraded to the window to begin with, it was just open when she started).

We’re not strict on exact working hours since everyone is salaried, but there is an expectation that you’ll be around from about 8:30 am until 5:30 pm most days. She started arriving at least an hour late and sneaking out (literally telling fibs about where she was going, and leaving through the back door) two hours early. Her computer login times revealed she was only at work about 25 hours a week, instead of 40 like we expect. When confronted about it, she said she knew she was working lower hours but it was because she relied on transportation from her husband, so she had to go when he said to. I told her she needed to report to work for a full 40 hours unless she was taking documented PTO, or we would be forced to move her to a part-time non-managerial role. She complained about the “inconvenience” but she did resume normal working hours with a lot of complaining.

Then, after a new intern joined our office, she announced that as a Christian woman, she could not meet privately with any unmarried men (this only applied to the intern). In private, I asked her if the intern had done something that made her uncomfortable or if there was anything I needed to know. She said she just felt it was improper for a married woman to have “any intimacies” with single men, and strongly implied that she felt anyone who acts differently was not as virtuous as herself.

Honestly, she was acting so extreme that we couldn’t send her on a business trip even if she would have agreed. I don’t know if that was her intention or not. But to keep up morale, I took all of her trips instead, and didn’t ask anyone from her team to do it since they didn’t get the extra travel pay.

She increasingly made grumbles that she felt she needed more accommodation for her religion. She filled her desk up with crosses and scripture plaques. She started saying things like “Praise be” and “God is Good” and “Thank the Almighty Lord” to all good news (even small things like approval on a project or her lunch order arriving early). If you asked her how she was doing, it was a “blessed day” or “in his glory” or “I’m just a sinner, seeking salvation.” To project deadlines or status updates, they would be completed “as God’s will allows” or “praying to Jesus that it will be done Friday.” Every anecdote she told was about her Bible study group or church service. It was so much that even other church-going Christians were complaining that she was making them uncomfortable.

As many predicted in the comments on the original post, she resigned her job within three months, saying she and her husband decided it was improper for her to be working at all. We have replaced her role with a new hire and you can feel the relief on the team.

Thanks for everyone’s help!!

my coworker is doing my work, what’s up with “dream jobs,” and more

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

1. What’s up with “dream jobs”?

This may be a pet peeve of mine, but it grates on my nerves when I see the term “dream job” in a letter writer’s question. I see it used so frequently — once or twice a week, maybe more — that it leaves me wondering how many of these jobs can truly be “dream jobs.” Maybe a better term would be “fantastic opportunity” or “chance to get my foot in the door of this industry/organization.”

Do you have any sense from readers as to how many of those “dream jobs” truly manifested into the unbelievable opportunity they thought it would be? Realistically, I’d bet that after they got the job they found out the boss sucked or the coworkers were unpleasant or they hadn’t anticipated how much they would hate the long commute or that there were zero opportunities for raises/promotions or any number of other factors. To me, the term “dream job” is something a young person who hasn’t spent much time in the work world would say, and it strikes me as very naïve. A job is a collection of factors, and they’d all have to be nearly perfect for me to consider it a dream job. And it’s impossible to know all those factors when you haven’t even worked at the place yet.

Totally agree. I actually ranted about that here a few years ago.

You can’t tell if something is your dream job until you’re already there and working in. There is literally zero way to tell from the outside if you’ll be happy there — you could end up hating your coworkers, your boss, the culture, all sorts of things.

Of course, what people really mean when they say “dream job” is “this is the type of work I want to do, configured exactly the way I’d create a job for myself if I could.” Or sometimes it’s company-specific — “I’ve always thought it would be amazing/prestigious/rewarding to work at this particular organization.” But either way, it can be a dangerous mindset, because when you go into a hiring process thinking “dream job,” you’re more likely to miss signs that it’s not actually a situation you’ll be happy in.

2. My coworker is doing my work, but it’s not her fault

I work on a team that is at least double the size it needs to be for the amount of work we have. Occasionally there will be busy periods, but mostly we all have quite a bit of downtime. One of my coworkers, Jane, who is extremely good at this job, put in her resignation because she was moving. My manager didn’t want to lose such a good worker, so offered for Jane to work second shift remotely from her new locale.

The gist of our job is that we all are assigned tickets from a big chunk. We all can see all of the tickets, but certain ones are assigned to us and then we “help out” when we’re finished with our assignments. Jane has been doing all of my work. I come to work in the morning and only have about one-third to one-half of the work I was expecting for the day (which was not very much to begin with). When I look to see where all of my work went, I see that Jane did it. Sometimes it’s work that isn’t due for a week or more (and I was “saving” for slow times). I am getting frustrated because now I have large sections of time with absolutely nothing to do. It’s not Jane’s fault, we’re all just trying to get our eight hours in. I’ve asked my manager for additional projects, but nothing more has been given to me. Do I risk sounding like I’m not a team player if I talk to Jane or my manager, since we are expected to help out when we’ve finished our own assignments and Jane isn’t doing anything wrong?

I’d start with Jane. Can you say something like this to her: “I’ve noticed that recently you’ve been doing a large portion of the tickets assigned to me. Often it’s work that isn’t due for a week or more and that I’m saving for slower times. I’m coming in in the mornings and finding that you already did up to half of the work I planned to do that day, which is really impacting my ability to manage my workload. So if there are tickets assigned to me, can you leave them for me? I’d really appreciate it.”

Of course, that may not work — it sounds like there’s a fundamental problem here with the staffing levels — but it’s a reasonable thing to say and it may help. More broadly, though, if your team is double the size needed for the work, I’d worry about your longer-term job security (and I’d worry that this situation with Jane may be the thing that brings the problem to light for your boss), and so it might be smart to think about whether you want to lay the groundwork for a job search too.

3. My position isn’t mentioned in a job posting for my boss

I work for as a development associate for a nonprofit. I report to the junior development director and the senior development director. The senior director was just fired and she was the one who hired me (around six months ago). The junior director is in the midst of transferring positions within the organization. I found the job posting for the junior posting and it mentions overseeing every member of my six-person department except my position. Two of those positions have been added recently (created and hired six months ago), while I believe my position has existed for quite some time. Should I be concerned that this may allude to plans to eliminate my position or that I’m going to be fired?

It’s possible that it was just an oversight, which wouldn’t be surprising given the amount of turmoil that it sounds like they have there right now, but it’s also possible that it wasn’t. The best thing you can do is to ask your boss (even though she’s in the process of moving positions). Say this: “I noticed that in the ad for your replacement, it mentions the person will manage each of the positions on our team except for mine. Do you know if there are other plans for my position?”

If they do plan to eliminate your job and haven’t told you that yet, she’s not likely to tell you just because you ask (the timing of that is usually strictly controlled). But you’ll probably learn something by asking the question and hearing her reaction. She may instantly tell you she noticed that too and was kicking herself for forgetting it in the job description, or that you’re actually going to be reporting to someone else on the team, or who knows. Or she may stammer and look nervous, which would be its own kind of information.

4. I’m getting business emails from a company I don’t work for

I’ve been in the job hunt for a while now, and I’ve applied for a couple of positions at a local company. While I haven’t gotten a reply to my applications, something odd has happened a couple of times: I’ve been getting business correspondence from the people who work there. It’s never anything compromising — it seems to be back-and-forth emails about making travel plans — and I think what’s happening is that one of the parties involved has a name similar enough to mine that when someone types in the first few letters of their name, I accidentally jump ahead of them in their contacts list.

Should I jump in and tell them? Up until now, I’ve been ignoring these when they pop up because I didn’t want my first interaction with these people to be pointing out one of them making a mistake (that just screams “bad first impression”). However, it occurs to me that even though it hasn’t been anything serious yet, there’s no guarantee that it won’t be later, not to mention if these emails are getting sent to me, it’s possibly they’re not going to who they’re supposed to. Should I say something or just let them work it out on their own?

Say something! You’re not going to make a bad impression by politely alerting them that you’re receiving emails they didn’t intend for you. You will make a bad impression if you apply in the future, they search for previous correspondence with you, and a bunch of misdirected emails pop up that you never said anything about.

So: “I think you intended this for a different Jane! Wanted to alert you so that it gets to the right person.”

5. Job applications through Facebook

We are hiring for an entry-level position. It’s pretty much intended for someone’s first job — the pay is low, but the benefits are good, and it’s a foot in the door of a university that does have lots of good jobs (a lot of the better-paying jobs require that someone have worked at the university). In other words, we’re working with applicants who aren’t very experienced at job-hunting.

We posted a link/ad for the job on Facebook, and didn’t realize that Facebook makes it look as though you can apply directly through them! There is a button says “Apply Now,” and it takes people to a form that they can fill out. Facebook says it is sending on the application. We didn’t know that (the receptionist who left wasn’t checking Facebook in the last week), so I just found out today that there are people who submitted applications that way.

The job has closed, and we were about to start interviewing. I think we owe it to people who applied via Facebook to consider their applications. It might mean we would have to open the job again; I’m fairly sure the U does require that applicants use their portal for job applications. Other people on the hiring team think that the applicants were “boneheads” for not applying for a job through the proper channels.

If you posted an ad on Facebook, people were not boneheads for thinking that the “apply now” button was in fact a place where they could apply now. The people on your hiring team who think otherwise are being really unfair with that assumption; they’re bringing their own internal knowledge to it (“we only accept applications through our official job portal!”) and assuming outside candidates will know that, which they can’t.

That said, you’re not obligated to consider the applicants who came to you through Facebook; you’re never obligated to consider any particular group of candidates (as long as you’re not discriminating based on race, sex, religion, disability, etc.). It would be a courtesy to do that since they spent time applying, but you don’t have to. If you’re very happy with the candidates you already have, you could decide to stick with them. But I think you’d be doing yourselves a disservice by not at least looking through those candidates to see if there’s anyone you want to invite to apply through your portal. The difference between an okay person in the job and a great person in the job is a significant one, and I’d hate for you to overlook a potentially great candidate on principle.

our security guard slept with an employee, then asked her to pay him for it

A reader writes:

I’m desperate for some guidance and hope you can help me. I’m fearful that I’m about to lose the friendship of one of my colleagues after I had to report to HR what he told me about someone else where we work. HR made me disclose from whom I got my information, and I told them if asked, I would deny telling them. But I don’t know that I can live with this secret hanging over our relationship and always wondering if my friend knows it was me who told HR about it.

My friend, Marco, told me one night over dinner that one of the security guards where we work was also a male prostitute. I don’t have a problem with that. But he also told me that the guard had sex with one of our coworkers, a woman who thought it was a romance, and who was shocked when the guard demanded money from her afterwards. She refused to pay him, and later found that he had vandalized her car. It is my understanding that the vandalization happened on the work premises, because I asked Marco if they had seen him do it on the security tapes, and Marco told me the woman didn’t report it. She was embarrassed and maybe even afraid, and just wanted it to go away. After the vandalization, she paid him.

It was about three weeks ago that Marco told me this story, and I haven’t really thought much more about it since. That is, until the Harvey Weinstein story exploded. It’s been a trigger for me, having left my career behind in the motion picture industry for just those same reasons, and getting angry all over again about male-pattern abuse. It made me think of the woman whose car had been vandalized by just the person who should make her feel secure — a security guard! To me, that is such a violation, and not the type of environment at work that she should be subject to have to endure.

So I made the decision to speak with the guard’s supervisor, as she is someone I feel could understand where I was coming from, since she herself had been married to someone in the film industry. She asked me if I would be willing to report this to HR so they could do a discreet investigation, and I agreed. However, once we were talking with HR, they made me disclose who told me the information, because I really didn’t know enough about the players in the story to even identify the woman. I begged them to obfuscate their inquiry so that Marco wouldn’t know the information came from me — it seemed to me from when he told me the story that there were others who knew also, which could diffuse the source.

However, I am now uncertain if I should confess to Marco what I’ve done, because I know after I left, they called him up to HR to talk. Of course, I would prefer if Marco never finds out it was me, but I have a feeling he will always suspect, and I don’t want that hanging over us. Please advice me what to do in terms of approaching or not approaching Marco.

I don’t think you’re absolutely obligated to tell Marco that you shared this with HR, but it sounds like you’ll feel better if you’re honest with him.

Yes, ideally you would have alerted him ahead of time as a courtesy … but that would have been just a courtesy, not an opportunity for him to talk you out of it (since you should have reported it regardless). And please don’t beat yourself up about not having done that, because handling this stuff can be really hard. It’s normal to be afraid of pushback, afraid of being told that you’re making too big a deal out of something, and afraid of being pressured to stay quiet. And those fears aren’t groundless — that stuff happens. A lot. The important thing here is that you got the most crucial part right: speaking up.

But it does sound like you’d feel more comfortable if you went back and talked to Marco now. You could say this to him: “I want to tell you that I was really concerned by what you told me about the security guard demanding money from a coworker who had slept with him and vandalizing her car. Honestly, the Harvey Weinstein stories and all the reports of people who knew about his behavior but didn’t say anything made me feel like I couldn’t just say nothing and so I talked to HR about it. I realize you didn’t share it with me with the intention that I’d report it, but I don’t think we can stay quiet when we have an employee doing that to someone here, especially a security guard who’s supposed to be making people feel secure. I hope you understand.”

Also, just to be clear, when you report this kind of thing to HR, they often will need to require you to disclose more details than you might prefer to disclose, because they can’t properly investigate otherwise. A good HR department will agree to protect their sources when it’s possible, but often they do need to share where information came from in order to follow up it. That can create some discomfort for people — but it sounds like it was very much the right choice for you to make here.

should I tell my boss that my coworker’s work sucks?

A reader writes:

I work as a web developer on a small team of four people, and we often collaborate on projects. It was just three of us for a while, and we recently hired a fourth person. He was hired primarily as a back-end developer, but also to do front-end work (mainly HTML and CSS) when we need him to.

The problem? His HTML and CSS work are terrible. This is his first “real” job out of college, so I understand that he has some catching up to do as far as honing his skills (as well as how he conducts himself in the office, but that’s another story entirely), but I don’t think that excuses his lack of front-end coding skill if that was part of his job description. I’m currently trying to jump in to help develop one of his projects, and I’ve wasted the past two hours trying to pick apart his code into something I can use. My other coworker has met the same frustrations when trying to use this person’s code.

My boss doesn’t often deal with this employee’s code, so I’m not sure he knows how bad it is. It took us a long time to find someone to fill this position, so I think my boss is just glad to have a back-end developer here at all. As new employees we are supposed to have three-month reviews with our boss to discuss our progress, but this employee was even let off the hook for his review.

Should I go to my boss with my concerns/frustrations, and if so, is there a professional way to do it that doesn’t sound like I’m “tattling”? My other coworker and I are incredibly frustrated by having to deal with the bad code, and wasting so much time trying to decipher it before we can do our own work. It makes it very hard to do our job when we have to spend hours cleaning up someone else’s code before we can add our own.

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.