It’s seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…
1. Did we waste money flying a fired employee back home?
I work for a company that justly terminated an employee while that employee was out of town on company business (for a company policy violation). Is the company obligated to provide that employee with transportation to get back to his home base?
The manager who did the firing wanted to leave the employee stranded, but I insisted we fly him home – and we did. However, now this continues to be a complaint of how money was “wasted” on this flight. What would be the correct answer in this case?
Of course you’re obligated to provide transportation back. Why should the employee have to pay to return himself home when he was there on business? The correct answer to that manager is: “We are not going to leave employees stranded when they’ve left town on business, both because that’s incredibly unethical and unkind and because other employees who hear about it will never want to go on business travel for us again, and quite rightly.”
2. Can my company make us ineligible for unemployment benefits?
I work for a company in California. That just sent an email alerting all employees today that there was a high likeliness we would not have jobs by the end of the year with company layoffs the first two weeks of December. Alarming, yes! Even more alarming is that they are suggesting that there is a law protecting them from us getting unemployment benefits because they are giving us notice. Is this possible?
No. If you’re being laid off, you should be eligible for unemployment. The only real law around advance notice of layoffs is the WARN Act, which requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide notification 60 days in advance of plant closings and mass layoffs. If an employer fails to give that required notice, they must pay the laid-off employees for those 60 days (so it’s basically severance in lieu of notice). So I wonder if what your company meant is that they’re not planning to pay out severance since they’re giving you the required notice. This would be totally different from unemployment benefits, though, which you should be eligible for.
3. Required to read a self-help book — and take a test on it
An employee of mine works for another dentist part-time.The dentist is requiring her and all of his staff to read a 292-page self-help book not related to her position or dentistry. He said they have to write a report and take a test on this book. They are not being paid to do this. They must read it on their own time and finish by a certain date. Is this legal for him to do?
It’s certainly legal for him to require them to read the book and test them on it (although the testing part of this is really weird and he should rethink at least that part of it). If they’re exempt employees, he does not have to pay them for the time they spend reading it. If they’re non-exempt and the book is required work, he does need to pay them for that time — since non-exempt employees must be paid for all their time.
4. Should you always email your thanks to people for answering questions, or will it clutter their in-box?
When you ask someone a question via email and they answer you, is it considered polite to email them back to thank them for answering your question? On the one hand, I sometimes feel rude not acknowledging when someone has taken the time to answer a question I’ve had. On the other hand, I don’t want to clutter their inbox with an email which might be considered unnecessary.
Depends on what is it. I don’t think constant thank-you’s are necessary for routine internal emails from coworkers (although they’re still gracious), but you should absolutely be thanking (a) coworkers who go out of their way for you and do something that isn’t part of the normal routine of their job and (b) any non-coworkers who answer anything for you.
5. Talking to an employee about inappropriate cell phone use
I am the principal for a small juvenile justice facility. I am on my cell a lot; my boss texts me, especially since my minutes have run out. We don’t have a long distance line yet as we are a new program and really just getting set up and severely technologically challenged.
I noticed that recently (the last 2 weeks) my assistant is on her cell more than I am. I’ve seen her playing games on her phone and having personal conversations…more than I’m really comfortable with. There were some transportation issues, and her child was sick. Those types of situations, I don’t really mind. However, chatting with a friend over what to buy a child for a birthday is unnecessary at work. But what I’m expecting when I tell her that we have a problem with her cell usage is that she will most likely throw it up in my face that I’m on my cell too. So I’m seeking advice before I get bent and say some things I probably shouldn’t.
She does a good job with paperwork and all that, but other people have said things to me about the cell use. She will also go MIA at times. She is also related to some of the other people who work in this building. So there is a PR issue on both sides. I’ve got to formulate a plan of action to deal with her because saying one or two things about the cell will most likely cause conflict that I’m hoping to avoid if possible.
You can’t avoid conflict as a manager; you will need to have tough conversations and give difficult feedback. This one is actually pretty straightforward though: “Jane, I don’t mind you using your cell phone for personal matters when it’s an emergency, like a sick child. But other than that, please don’t use it for personal conversations during the work day or play games on it.” If she responds that she sees you on your cell, then say, “I use my cell primarily for business, but we’re talking about you now, and I’m letting you know what I need from you.”
It’s really not her business how or why you use your cell phone. If she continues bringing it up after this, then you have an insubordination issue that’s probably bigger than the cell phone usage.
6. How can I thank my boss for taking me on this business trip?
I just returned from a work trip to Las Vegas with my boss, the managing director, and one other director. We had a conference for 3 days and stayed on an extra few days. We did so many cool things after the conference, like a helicopter tour to the Grand Canyon and a famous show. I really appreciate this and would never be able to thank my boss enough for taking me with them.
The question is, how do I show them my appreciation, other than working hard (as I always do)? Would a small gift be appropriate, and what if I do give them?
Don’t give a gift; that would be overkill. This was a business trip, first and foremost, and a gift wouldn’t seem quite right. Instead, just tell your boss how much you appreciated being able to go, and explain what you got out of the conference, and then add that you were thrilled to be able to stay those few extra days and you had a great time. That’s it. Make it sincere and heartfelt, and that will have far more meaning than a gift could.
7. Manager keeps calling employees “old”
I’m writing in to ask about a situation that my mother is in at work. She has been with the same company for the past 15 years or so. She’s in her early 60s and loves her job and does it well.
Her new supervisor has never managed people before and has had several slip-ups with her direct reports. These slip-ups mostly revolve around my mother and another seasoned coworker of hers. Namely, the supervisor has called them “old” in meetings and in individual encounters. Yesterday she called them “old” in a meeting of the whole staff. When my mother interrupted her and said that was inappropriate, the supervisor said “Would you rather I call you elderly?” She said this completely seriously and with a straight face!
I told my mother she should be documenting these instances and writing to her HR representative. She’s hesitant, though, because she’s approached the HR representative in the past about other issues and had no response. What do you suggest?
Just because she hasn’t had a response from HR in the past doesn’t mean she won’t now. She should talk to them in person and then follow up with an email summarizing her concerns, and she should be specific that she’s concerned that the manager is demonstrating an age-based biased “which could get us into trouble because of federal laws against age discrimination.”
Notice the “us” in that sentence. That’s intentional, because it’s far easier to have this conversation when you put yourself on the same side as the company than when you position yourself as an adversary.
Any competent HR department will hear about this and take action, because that manager is laying the grounds for a reasonably strong age discrimination lawsuit if any of the older staff happen to get laid off, fired, or demoted. (In other words, the comments on their own probably don’t provide grounds for a lawsuit, but combined with actual adverse action, they could.)