It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. Coworker regularly mock-slaps me with a clipboard while yelling at me
The manager of the department next to mine frequently marches in front of my desk and, in a standing position, mocks slapping my face with a clipboard while yelling, stomping her feet, and pointing animatedly with her arms, then drops the clipboard to the ground for emphasis at the conclusion of her tirades. I find her actions aggressive and physically threatening. Certainly they are unprofessional and inappropriate. Can I legally report her for wrongdoing and to whom? My immediate supervisor is aware.
No, there’s no law agains mock slapping if she’s not actually making physical contact. You can, however, tell her directly to stop: “Please stop waving that clipboard in my face right now.” You might also add on, “Please stop speaking to me that way,” followed by, “I’m not willing to be spoken to this way, and I’m going to walk away from this conversation now.”
And your manager sucks for knowing about this and doing nothing. If you have a reasonably responsive HR department, you might consider talking to them about it.
2. The friend I referred did horribly; should I talk to her about it?
I’ve been working freelance in film and television for the last two years since graduating college. What this usually entails is long hours, being detail-oriented, being on time, and having a good attitude. I assume this isn’t too far off from qualities required in other job fields, so I don’t usually explain crew expectations to people I recommend for jobs.
I have a slightly younger friend who recently graduated and is looking for work in the same field. She sees me as kind of a junior mentor since I’m slightly older than her, we have similar personalties and interests, and I’ve gone through all the job hurdles she’s about to encounter for the first time. All summer I’ve been recommending her for opportunities when I can. This morning though, I got a call from a coordinator friend at a major TV network. They recently hired my friend as a production assistant for a shoot, and it went horribly. They said she was nice, but she was repeatedly late to work (ranging from 20-60 minutes late), did not pay attention to details (got the director tea instead of coffee, etc.), and in general wasn’t motivated/a good worker. It caused some problems for my coordinator friend at the network. I apologized and made sure to get the story straight (I don’t want to ruin my reputation with a bad recommendation).
Should I talk to my friend about any of this? She wasn’t fired because the job was only a few days long, but she definitely soured her reputation at this network and isn’t going to get hired back. She is new to our industry and I want to make sure that she knows what the expectations are at future jobs, because I care about her and want her to do well. I got permission from my coordinator friend to chat with her about this, but I’m not really sure how to proceed. It’s worth mentioning my younger friend is incredibly, sweet, talented and shy, so I’m also a little worried about a talk like this doing more to hurt her than help her. Do you think I should talk to her, and if so how should I go about it?
Yes, you should talk to her. I’d say this: “I talked to Jane, and she mentioned that they weren’t happy with how things went on the X job. They gave me some feedback; would you like me to share it with you?” Assuming she says yes, be straightforward about what they told you.
No matter how receptive she is to this, though, you should stop recommending her until you know for a fact that she’s become a different type of worker; otherwise you risk harming your own reputation (not having future referrals taken seriously).
3. Telling my boss about a coworker’s inappropriate comments in a meeting
I was supporting a senior colleague in an external-facing meeting, and he made a number of analogies using terms generally inappropriate for the workplace. The tamest was “pooping in other people’s pools”; the least tame involved UV lights and bedding. At the end of the meeting, the external folks noted that the analogies “need to be sanitized” in future; the senior colleague responded, “Well, at least I didn’t say ‘semen’.”
I notified my other senior colleagues (notably my own boss) about the external folks’ comments (verbatim: “need to be sanitized”) as part of my predesignated role of relaying their feedback. Most of these other senior colleagues corroborated with similar accounts from their experiences with this guy, but one wants to know exactly what he said in order to prep/warn him in future.
Bottom line: I don’t think these comments should be put in writing anywhere (international team, very reliant on email) and I’m extremely uncomfortable having to repeat his comments (particularly because my boss has also made inappropriate comments in the past). So – how do I handle this without having to say the word “semen” to my colleagues?
I would just tell him; you’re allowed to say the word “semen” at work when it’s in the context of explaining someone’s inappropriate comments so that they can be addressed.
If you really don’t want to put it in email, you could say, “I’m uncomfortable repeating it in an email; feel free to give me a call if you need the verbatim quotes.” If you’re uncomfortable repeating it at all, you could explain that, but I’d urge you to just report the language dryly and factually.
4. Employees want details about a potentially contagious virus
One of our managers reached out to me regarding an employee who told a few of her coworkers that she had a viral infection that caused her to go on medical leave. They want to know if I can share what she has, whether it is contagious, and whether her work area needs to be cleaned because she works in a shared space. I know I can’t disclose the information per HIPAA, but how do I respond?
Actually, you’re probably not restricted by HIPAA. HIPAA applies to medical professionals, like doctor’s offices, but in most cases not employers.
That said, there’s no reason to disclose an employee’s medical information; you should protect her privacy even though the law doesn’t require it. But her coworkers aren’t being unreasonable to want to know if any precautions need to be taken. You can answer those questions without discussing the details of sick employee’s own situation.
5. If we’re on a call when our break comes, we have to skip the break
I am working at home for a call center that provides insurance agents for insurance company call centers. The company is domiciled outside the U.S., but the workers are U.S.-based; I am in Florida. We work standard shifts of 9 hours, with an hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks. We have been told that if we are on a call and we miss out break time, we can not take it and just have to work until our lunch break or the end of the shift. To me, this does not seem correct. Is my employer skirting the law on this issue?
Florida doesn’t have a law requiring meal or other breaks during the work day (and nor does federal law), so it’s up to the employer whether to offer breaks or not. That means that your company is free to do what they’re doing; the breaks they’re offering are above the minimum required by law (which in this case is zero), so they’re free to revoke them if they want to. (That said, it sounds like you might have coworkers in a bunch of different states; if any of them are in states that do require breaks, your company would have to honor those laws for those workers, despite the fact that the company itself is based elsewhere.)