It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. I got chastised for taking initiative
I work as a staff member for the executive office of a membership organization which has a council made up of members. A council member emailed me recently asking me if Task X was possible to do relatively easily and quickly. I thought it was strange that he was emailing me directly rather than going through the usual channels of the executive office, but I politely told him I would look into it. As it turns out, complying with his wish was not a big deal. It was an easy fix which took 10 minutes. So I executed Task X and sent the link of the work to three people — my boss, the relevant department head, and our technology VP — for review prior to me making the result public. I told them this was an easy fix that will solve a problem that our members have found to be troublesome.
The response of our technology VP — an email to me copying my boss — was that I breached protocol by creating and publishing the solution prior to consulting with the department head and without first looping in my boss. I immediately replied, apologizing if I overstepped my boundaries. But I said the solution is only visible to four people: me, the VP, my boss, and the department head. I haven’t made it public knowledge. I wouldn’t knowingly make things visible to the public unless I had the OK and green light from them. No response after that.
I am a bit puzzled by the VP’s response. I solved a sticky problem. And I did it with minimal cost in time, manpower and money. Yet I got admonished for it. What might be going on in the VP’s mind with this type of response?
It’s hard to say without knowing the specifics, but I can think of lots of things that I wouldn’t want an employee doing without checking with me first, even if it seemed like a good idea on the face, because I might have background or context that they didn’t know about and which would make it not in fact a good idea. I wouldn’t look at this as being chastised for taking initiative, but rather as finding out that you should loop others in before making changes in this category of stuff (and possibly other categories too — it could be a good opportunity to get aligned with your boss about what you can proceed with on your own and when you should check with someone else).
2. I know my coworker secretly plans to quit after her maternity leave
A close friend coworker of mine is due with her second baby in July. We have a temp coming in to transition her work during her leave from June to October. She confided in me over lunch that 3 weeks after she comes back to work, she is resigning and moving across the country. This plan is elaborate and already in the works.
I think taking months of maternity leave pay and benefits, knowing you are going to quit shortly thereafter (within 2 months), is robbery and a truly bad thing to do. I am on very good terms with our head of HR and talent. I feel bad keeping this secret. I know the temp coming in (former employee who saw grass isn’t always greener) and strongly assume that she will want the full-time gig if presented to her after the current employee’s departure.
I assume I should keep my mouth shut, because it isn’t my secret to share and the mom may change her mind (unlikely but of course, possible). What do you think?
I agree that it’s a crappy thing to do (less so if it’s a large organization that can easily absorb the burden, and more so if it’s a small organization that will be more impacted), but the law does allow it. (Well, sort of; if an employee gives unequivocal notice that she won’t be returning to work at the end of the leave, the employer’s FMLA obligations do end.) To be clear, I don’t have a problem with people doing this if they’re not totally sure of their plans and think they might actually end up going back or want to keep that option open; my objection is only to situations like this one where it’s a certain plan and she’s misleading people.
As for whether you should tell HR: If you’re in a management role, you have more of an obligation to share what you know, but if you’re not, I’d figure that she was talking to you as a friend and you should keep her confidence accordingly.
3. Inconsistent tattoo policy
I work for a premium cosmetics brand that had a policy concerning visible tattoos when I joined the company that stated all tattoos must be covered except small tattoos on the wrist. There has never been any official change to dress code regarding tattoos, but my colleagues in other cities in the UK do not and have never been asked to cover up their tattoos, despite working for the brand longer than I have, including some who have full sleeve tattoos. I understand being tattooed is not a protected characteristic and that I chose to get them, but my question regards the inconsistency. If my colleague in London does not have to cover up, then why does someone in Glasgow or Manchester have to cover up? Is this a fairness/equality issue?
This is the kind of thing that’s up to individual managers. Sometimes it comes down to personal preference (perhaps annoying, but allowed and not uncommon) and sometimes it comes down to legitimately feeling that something that will fly in London won’t fly somewhere else (possibly wrongly, but still allowed and not uncommon).
4. Working and freelancing for the same company
I am working part-time for a company that was, until recently, paying me to write as a freelancer on the side. They processed my freelance pay through my paycheck, which was generous, I thought. They listed it separately from my hourly rate, and took out taxes and paid on my behalf and all, so I guess that means I was not really a freelancer. Still. I enjoyed the extra cash and the work.
One day I was in a meeting, and was told, because of a mysterious tax law that nobody could name, employees are no longer permitted to “freelance” because of tax liability. I was not the only person affected by this new rule, and three months later, the rule is still not being consistently enforced.
The sudden change was really hard on my finances, and I have expressed my dissatisfaction with the new rule and its arrival without warning to my immediate supervisor. Recently, they asked us to re-sign the employee manual policy, and I brought it up again with my supervisor. I asked if the no freelancing rule should go into the manual.
Is it illegal for my employer to pay me on the side for additional work that I am happy to do? And do you have any ideas about how to approach the subject with my boss–the person above my supervisor?
It would be legally shaky if they’d actually been paying you for that side work as a contractor — meaning that weren’t taking out payroll taxes for that part of your pay. But they were — they were paying you as an employee for all of the work you were doing, and there’s nothing illegal about that. They were basically saying “we’ll pay you $X to do your main job, plus $Y to do this additional work.” That’s common and legal and not shady at all. It’s not all that different than getting a bonus in your check for taking on extra work that’s not part of your regular job. In fact, it’s exactly like that.
It sounds like your manager heard — correctly — that employees shouldn’t also be contractors for the same company, but didn’t realize that that refers solely to how you’re paid. If the company is taking payroll taxes out of your check for all your work, they’re not treating you like a contractor and the government won’t care, despite what they’re calling it. Try pointing out to your boss that the laws he’s thinking of apply to people being paid as contractors, which you were not.
5. Am I obligated to stay if I accept an offer from the company acquiring my employer?
I have worked for years for a company that has recently been bought, and I have a severance document that specifies my last day. I’ve been working on my job search (and your book has completely saved my sanity), but it is not complete. Recently I’ve learned that New Big Boss is very interested in keeping me on, but I don’t feel good about the culture at the acquiring company. This is not a good fit for me and I intend to keep searching. My question is about what to do if New Big Boss does contact me about staying. Is this like getting a job offer from a whole new company, where you should not accept if you know you’re not interested in staying? Or does this qualify as staying at the job I already have until I find a new one? It seems I am on the verge of a cardinal job sin on either side if I don’t correctly understand this situation.
I’d say it depends on exactly what’s being offered. If it’s “hey, we’d like you to stay in your current job after all,” then I think you can accept without any special obligation to stay for a long time; they’d essentially just be canceling your layoff. But if it’s more “we’d like to offer you a different role,” then yeah, I think you’d want to plan on staying for a while if you accept it. If it’s the latter — or if you just don’t want to accept regardless — one option would be to just say, “I really appreciate that, but I’m in the process of talking with other companies and think I’m going to keep pursuing those.”