will employers care I’ve been venting on Twitter, I got confronted about “anonymous” feedback, and more

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

1. Will future employers care that I’ve been venting on Twitter?

I’m upset that companies have laid off vulnerable staff, like part-timers, interns, temps, and contract workers, and I’m venting a bit on Twitter about how unreasonable that is. Will this be seen as unprofessional or distasteful to future employers? I do believe in these rights, and I think an appropriate employer should too, but I don’t want to look like an aggressive candidate.

It depends on what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. If you sound like you don’t understand basic business realities (like that some companies, particularly small ones, literally don’t have the money to keep making payroll when they have no revenue coming in, and it might not make sense to keep interns and temps over someone doing more critical work), then yeah, that’s going to give some employers pause. If you sound hostile or volatile, that’ll give can be a concern too.

That’s not to say that you can’t speak up about genuinely abusive practices — you can and you should. And certainly layoffs are sometimes (but not always) carried out in awful, callous ways. But if you sound like you think all layoffs are inherently unjustifiable, employers who see that will probably question about how much you understand about the reality of running a business (and how difficult you might be to work with as a result).

2. HR confronted me about my “anonymous” feedback

For my company’s quarterly feedback surveys, they ask us to be honest, open and responses are anonymous. So in the last one, I mentioned that our HR team lacks experience and their overall knowledge of employee laws and regulations is weak.

A day later, our HR (who’s my friend too) messaged me saying that she was upset at my response because she thought she’s always tried to support me. She also said she was disappointed because while I’m welcome to give genuine feedback, I should’ve been more mindful as she was the one collating the responses. I haven’t responded to her message yet.

I’m confused and annoyed because I was contacted about my “anonymous” survey response — by someone on the management team too. And I was told to be honest and then when I did, I’m chastised for it. Am I right to feel this way? And what should I do next?

Yes, you’re right to feel this way. If you were told your feedback was anonymous, you should be able to expect it was in fact anonymous — and then to not only be identified, but confronted about it too? And by HR, no less? Your coworker/friend was out of line, and this reveals a significant problem with the survey and what you were told about this.

Personally, I’d respond to her with, “We were told these surveys were anonymous, so I’m confused about why you’re saying this to me. If the surveys weren’t in fact anonymous, that seems like a major error that we should alert the rest of the staff to.”

But if you want to respond to the substance of her message, you could say, “We were asked for candid feedback and I tried to supply that. I’m happy to give more input to HR about my thoughts, but if we tell people we’re disappointed in their responses because they’re critical, that’s going to be the end of any candid feedback.” Frankly, I’d also add, “I’d hope that’s something HR would be instrumental in helping managers understand” and “It’s a real violation of trust to promise anonymity and then question people on what they wrote. I hope you are not doing this to others.”

3. Can my company fire me if I refuse to work from home?

My job has set most people up to work from home right now. I am still coming in to a physical job site because I am the only one who works at it. With my state talking about quarantining people in their houses, I was wondering if your job can make you work from home. I have the ability to do so, but I would need to get internet, which I don’t currently have at home. Also, I have kids and dogs that are loud and a very small house, so there is no way to get away from the noise. I have a spouse with PTSD who would be triggered by a phone ringing off the hook all day (my job involves answering our company phone to customers during the hours we are open). It would be extremely inconvenient and detrimental to the mental health of everyone I live with to have to be quiet and listen to me be on the phone all day in our tiny house.

I can afford to take unpaid leave for a while, and if we are quarantined I would rather do that. Can my work fire me for not being willing to work at home and wanting to take unpaid leave if there is a quarantine? They are a good company, I have been with them for five years, am a valued employee, and I don’t think they would want to fire me over this but I don’t think they would be happy that I can’t work at home when other people are.

Yes, they can making working from home a condition of your job. But if you’re generally in good standing and you explain that your family situation makes this impossible (as opposed to just “I don’t want to”), they might be very willing to try to work with you on this — to let you take unpaid leave, a leave of absence, or something else. (Hell, they might be relieved to have a lower payroll right now, if there’s another way for your work to get done). Or they might push back and tell you that a lot of people are working from home in less-than-ideal circumstances right now, and they might pressure you to do the same. But it’s a reasonable conversation to have.

The problem, though, is how your work will get done. If there’s no one who can fill in for you, they’ll need to hire someone else to do your job. They might be willing to hire someone temporarily, especially if training someone to pick up the job would be pretty straightforward. But if it will be tough to hire and train someone else right now, they might really lean on you to find a way to make it work.

4. Can I ask for a phone meeting to learn more about a job that’s closed?

I recently got word of a job posting at an organization I’m very interested in working for. The person who posted the job opening is the person responsible for evaluating applications, so I connected with them on social media to express interest and asked some questions about the opportunity. They were helpful and personable and gave detailed answers.

Shortly after it was posted, they let me know that they’re actually taking down the opening for now and will likely reopen it later on in a couple months. (I’m guessing they’re waiting for things to stabilize regarding coronavirus.) I want to make sure I stay top of mind because I’d love to work there, and I’m wondering what the best way to do that would look like? Can I request a phone meeting to learn more about their work/their organization and just get to know them? Can I use that phone meeting to ask more questions about what they’re looking for with that position once they start intending to hire for it again so I can tailor my resume/cover letter and make sure it’s a good fit for me?

Don’t do any of that! It’s too likely to come across as annoying and inconsiderate of their time. They’re busy with priorities higher than this position that’s no longer open, and you’ll come across as trying to use their time to help yourself (and when they’ve already done a conversation with you to answer your questions). When the position opens back up, they’ll presumably have a hiring process that’s designed to give strong candidates the chance to learn more about them — but if you try to claim that time for yourself now, you’ll be circumventing the part of the process where they first assess your qualifications against other candidates and decide if it makes sense to put you in the small group of people they’re investing their time in.

Instead, just keep an eye on their job postings, apply when the job opens back up, and mention in your cover letter that you spoke with Jane Smith back in April and are excited to learn more now.

5. Do employers ever discriminate based on where you live?

I was speaking with a colleague who has had a successful career and has changed jobs throughout it. We were going over someone’s resume, and my colleague said to remove the address as there could be discrimination based on the fact that it is a poorer, less white neighborhood. She said she never includes her address.

I had never thought of this and I have always included at least my town and state on my resume. Is there any basis for this and should people leave off their town if they feel they would be rejected because of it?

You can leave your town off if you want. It’s very common to see resumes without a street address (just city and state), and it’s increasingly common to not even see the city and state. Most hiring managers do prefer to see city and state — it can be annoying when candidates aren’t up-front about whether they’re local or would need to relocate — but it’s very unlikely that you’d be rejected for not including it; they’d just ask you about your location early in their process.

That said, if you’re applying through an employer’s online system (as opposed to just emailing your resume), you’re probably going to be asked for your address anyway (although often that info isn’t passed along when your resume makes it way to the hiring manager).

But to what you’re really asking: Yes, location discrimination can be a thing. It’s not a common thing, but if you know that your region has significant class and racial division and/or prejudice against particular neighborhoods, it’s not unreasonable to take steps to guard against it.

my boss mooches off me while I’m living paycheck to paycheck

A reader writes:

I am part of a small team that works with the support staff at a hospital. My supervisor treats me like her personal assistant on most days, and like her servant on other days. On a nearly daily basis, I am putting off my own duties to help her with hers. It’s beyond delegating, it’s more like she procrastinates and fools around and then just has me do her work while she scrolls instagram and takes two-hour lunches.

Worse still, she will ask me to do stuff for her like fetch her things, like drinks or papers off the printer, or pick up something she has dropped. All of these things are not my job, but only moderately irritating.

What really bothers me is when she mooches. She will often ask me to buy her coffee, or she will ask to have part of my lunch. She will go through my lunch bag and start eating my food. She has taken drinks out of my office without asking. She will ask me what I brought and be disappointed if its not to her liking, or ask if I am lying about what I brought because I just don’t want to give it to her.

Have I mentioned that I am an hourly employee, living paycheck to paycheck? I am a mom and my husband is currently out of work. I dye my own hair, I wear Walmart clothes, and I bring my own coffee from home. She spends hundreds on hair treatments, lash extensions, lip injections, etc. She gets coffee from Starbucks at least once a day. She makes twice what I do and her husband has a good job. She is aware of my dangerous financial situation. Yet she still takes advantage of me.

I am afraid to say no to her because we have a friendly working relationship and I don’t want to make things awkward. I am also afraid that upper management has noticed as well. They think I am like her puppy dog and, worse, I am not making my quotas. I cannot defend myself without throwing her under the bus, which would result in her hating me and making my life miserable. I just don’t know how to handle the situation and have just started looking for another job. Is it as hopeless as it feels?

Your boss is a jerk.

If it were just small things like asking you to bring her a drink or pick up something she’d dropped, that would be annoying but not a huge deal. (And stuff like asking you to bring her papers off the printer could be legitimate —for example, if she’s racing to get on a call with a VIP and you’re not working on anything urgent.) That’s mostly just the privilege of hierarchy, although good managers will use it in moderation, if at all.

But it’s not okay that she has you do her work while she wastes hours on Instagram and takes long lunches. That’s an abuse of her position.

But not as much of an abuse as asking you to buy her things or stealing your food.

And accusing you of lying about what you brought for lunch because you don’t want to give it to her — well, if she thinks that, that should clue her in that perhaps she’s asking something of you that she shouldn’t.

This wouldn’t be okay even if you were living in a garden of money, but it’s even more offensive and wrong given your relative financial situations and her awareness of those.

I’d try using responses that will highlight what a jerk she’s being, which you can do by spelling out your situation:

* “I’d share my lunch if I could, but I can’t afford it. This is the only food I’ll have until dinner.”

* “I can grab you coffee, but I’m on such a tight budget that I can’t front the money. Can I get cash from you before I head over there?”

* “I’m on a really tight budget, and when you take things from my lunch, I can’t afford to replace them. So please don’t go through my lunch bag or take my drinks.”

To be clear, you’re entitled to ask her to stop doing this stuff without alluding to your finances at all, but we’re hoping this shames her a bit. And even if she’s impervious to shame (and she might be!), this might be more effective than just telling her to cut it out without any context.

If you can’t bring yourself to do that, another option is to just hold firm: “Sorry, I only brought enough for me” or “I’m planning to eat all of this myself so can’t share.” Say it like of course she won’t push once she hears that. Sometimes when your tone signals that you take it as a given that the other person is kind and reasonable, people have a harder time demonstrating that you’re wrong.

You also need to talk to her about your workload, especially since you’re not making your quotas. Consider saying something like this: “I am very concerned that I haven’t been making my quotas, and I’ve been looking at how to structure my time so I get my numbers where they need to be. I’d like to be able to focus on X and Y, since I know those are the highest priorities for my role, but that means that on many days I won’t be able to do Z (her stuff).” You could add, “If it’s important that I continue doing Z, can we formalize that as part of my role, so that upper management realizes I’m being pulled away from X and Y and doesn’t just see me missing quotas without knowing why?”

But truly, your boss is a jerk — and the fact that you’re scared to push back because you fear she’ll make your life miserable is a very bad sign about working for her. Even if all of the above works beautifully, you’ll still be working for someone who abuses her power and makes you fearful, and that’s likely to come out in other ways, even if she leaves your lunch alone.

you won’t need to explain your current work gap

I keep hearing from people asking about the best way to explain a layoff right now, or a work gap on their resume caused by the current outbreak.

You will not need to explain it.

Everyone will get it.

Many of your interviewers will have been in the same situation themselves. If they weren’t, they’ll know plenty of people who were — spouses, kids, parents, friends, and other loved ones.

People tend to worry too much about explaining layoffs and work gaps under normal circumstances. You really don’t need to worry about them right now.

What happened in 2020 is going to be remembered and understood for a long time.

This is one thing you don’t need to feel anxious about right now.

my boss expects me to be available 24/7 since we’re stuck at home

A reader writes:

I want to start by saying that I know I’m in a very privileged position right now: I have a stable job, which I’ve been doing remotely from the comfort of my apartment for the last two weeks. The issue I’m having is with setting boundaries.

Since we started working remotely, my workload has really ramped up. I’m generally happy to step up my game, keep the business moving, and help satisfy my company’s founder, who is (understandably) pretty stressed right now. What I’m finding difficult are the expectations that because we’re at home all the time anyway, we should be online and available at almost all times.

It’s gotten to the point where I’m eating every meal (breakfast, lunch, and some dinners) in front of my laptop, and I’m checking Slack on my phone while I make a coffee from my kitchen. I’m also being asked to do extra work during the evenings some nights – not exactly because of the crisis, but because everyone knows we’re all here anyway. Without the normal excuse of having plans, I’m finding it hard to say no.

I know it’s a difficult time right now but, just two weeks in, I can already feel myself and my colleagues getting seriously burnt out. How do I push back and set reasonable boundaries without looking like I’m not thankful for having a job or aren’t willing to go the extra mile during desperate times? Please help!

You can read my answer to this letter at Vice today. Head over there to read it.

our coworker came to work when his family had COVID-19 symptoms

A reader writes:

I work in a small department of six that is family-like. One of our coworkers, “Claude,” is nice enough but he tends to do things that offend. He always grabs the first donut, or jumps to the front of the line during office potluck or pizzas. Afterwards, he disappears and doesn’t offer to help. These are all food-related offenses, but that’s where his social deficiencies most come to light.

In early March, right when COVID-19 was starting to affect our area, Claude left the office early on a Friday because his daughter was sent home from school with a fever. On Monday morning, another coworker, Jim, asked about his kid and Claude said she was better but his wife also had a fever and a dry cough all weekend. Alarmed that she was exhibiting the primary symptoms of COVID-19, Jim asked Claude why he was in the office, to which he replied, “I’m fine … I slept on the sofa” (in his small two-bedroom condo). Deeply unsettled, Jim told our director about Claude’s home situation, and Claude was instructed to leave immediately and stay home for 14 days. By coincidence, later that day, a company-wide directive instructed all employees to work from home until further notice.

We’re on our fourth week at home and none of us have seen Claude since the incident. The rest of us have been on a text chain. We’re all angry that Claude created a situation where he could have spread this virus throughout the office. It’s puzzling because he’s not a dumb person. Also, his wife is a health care worker, so it’s improbable that they were in ignorance. There’s a possibility that because he has primary childcare responsibility and his kid gets sick often, he was trying to save his sick days prior to COVID-related leave policies being implemented.

He might be feeling the cold shoulder because he sent a “What’s up, guys?” text in week 2 that no one responded to.

Do we say anything to Claude? Of the various office personalities, I would be the logical person to say something, but what would be the best way? I don’t really have a digital relationship with him so text, Insta, etc. would be weird. I don’t want to send anything via company email. Do I leave a note/letter on his desk? Do I wait until we’re all back to working in the office and pull him aside? I’m not keen to get involved and it’s looking like another 3-4 weeks of working from home, so maybe it’s better to let it all slide?

Claude was really reckless and irresponsible … but given how much time has passed and the fact that you’re not in regular contact, I don’t think you need to initiate a special communication about it until you’re back at work.

To be clear, Claude put you all at risk, as well as anyone you lived with or were still physically around (including not just your loved ones, but strangers in public too and especially anyone in a higher-risk group). What he did was either remarkably ignorant or remarkably negligent.

And it would have been fine to call him on it immediately or soon after, including contacting him after he’d been sent home to say, “Dude, you put us all at risk, and everyone we come in contact with. Are you not clear on the public health rules right now and why we have them? You need to quarantine yourself and stop risking giving other people a virus that could kill them.”

But at this point … it’s been four weeks, and (it sounds like) none of you got sick. It’s still awful of him because he could have gotten people sick — and really, it’s possible he did pass it to someone who become an asymptomatic carrier and infected someone else. We probably can’t know. But at this point, you’ve passed the period where there’s a time-sensitive need to contact him and make sure he understands the situation.

That doesn’t mean you can’t say something to him. You can — and if this has shaken your trust in his judgment, you do need to clear the air at some point. But since you’re not in regular contact and you say the communication methods you have right now would be weird, I’d wait until you’re back at work* and talk in-person. At that point, you can say, “I was taken aback that you came into work and risked exposing us all, which could have had serious consequences for us or other people. Were you not clear on the symptoms or the risk of transmission at that point?” … and maybe, “I want to make sure you’re not going to put us at risk like that again.”

But meanwhile, while you’re still working from home … are you and your coworkers freezing him out? If it’s just that no one responded to one “what’s up?” text from him, whatever. But if people are actively ostracizing him, that’s a problem — and that would make me think it’ll need to be addressed sooner rather than later, because you can’t actively ostracize a colleague. You don’t need to socially embrace this Typhoid Mary — actions have consequences — but you do still need to work with him. If things are at that point, it might even be worth talking to his manager about what’s going on, so she can make him aware of the need to repair his relationships.

* Your letter mentioned another 3-4 weeks of working from home. It’s almost certainly going to need to be longer than that. Be prepared to push back with public health guidance if your company starts seriously planning to bring you back in mid-May.

we’re laid off but still getting work emails, coworker accused us of laughing at her, and more

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

1. We’re laid off but being “strongly encouraged” to attend work webinars

I’ve spent three years in sales for a major luxury brand. Stores are individually franchised. Our firm has 70 or so employees.

As this COVID crisis emerged, our firm was quite slow to react. 18 hours after the governor announced sales had to cease operations, our manager finally called to tell us we were being laid off. Assured us “we still have a job,” but where I sit, if I’m not on the payroll, I don’t have a job. Encouraged us to immediately file for unemployment. Which I did, but it’s so backed up, no idea when I’ll see any of it. Thankfully, I don’t need it to take care of my essentials. Would still be nice to have.

Fast forward two weeks. In his first communication since the layoff, the brand issues their new programs for April and the owner forwarded the email to his (former) sales staff, and attached were links to webinars the brand is hosting next week. Today I got another email from the owner, with yet another webinar series he is strongly suggesting we participate in.

These emails had zero preface — no well wishes, no asking how everyone is doing, or asking about family, etc. Am I wrong for not wanting to receive anything work-related from a place I’m not currently employed with and which isn’t paying me?

There are some communications that would be appropriate for them to send, like updates on their plans and how that might impact the timing of your return to work. But just … work suggestions? Encouragement to attend brand webinars? Noooo. You don’t currently work there, you’re not being paid, and it’s inappropriate to suggest you participate in work events.

It’s possible that he’s thinking you’ll be back to work in a month or so (which you probably will not be) and this will help you hit the ground running when you return, but … noooo. He’s not paying you, so he has no standing to “strongly encourage” you to do activities to bolster his business. No pay means no work expectations.

(Also, is he sending these emails to your work email or your home email? If it’s your work email, is there also an expectation you’ll be checking it right now? There shouldn’t be — and really, they should have turned off your access to it!)

2. Can I ask my office to stop announcing pregnancies at staff meetings?

I’ve been at my current job for about 2-1/2 years. Shortly before joining this organization, I had a rather traumatic pregnancy loss. Despite therapy and anti-depressant medication, pregnancy announcements, baby showers, etc. all still make my eyes well up with tears.

Twice in the past year, my boss’ boss has announced coworkers’ pregnancies (I’m assuming with their permission) during all-staff meetings. It is really hard to hold back the tears and look happy for them. Is there any way I can tactfully ask that she stop this practice? Can I suggest they do it over email instead, where I don’t have to put on a fake happy face?

I’m so sorry. I think it’s a tough request to make in an office that’s used to celebrating this kind of thing at staff meetings, because other people want the opportunity to share good news in their lives in-person. But would it help if you had a heads-up in advance via email, or the opportunity to slip out before the announcement was made? Those are both reasonable things to ask for.

3. My coworker accused us of laughing at her on a conference call

I am a paralegal and currently trying to adjust to working from home. I am really feeling the stress of this new working environment, as I’m sure my coworkers are as well.

Since our work from home started, we have been having regular paralegal meetings via conference calls. Today after another uneventful meeting with two shareholders, we received an email to the paralegals only, from one of the more senior paralegals. She stated that she heard someone laughing AT HER (my emphasis added) while she was talking. She said it was rude and that if anyone wanted to laugh at her, they should mute their end.

I don’t recall anyone laughing while she was talking, and it was a very uneventful meeting. I found it wildly unprofessional of her to accuse someone of laughing at her, let alone the raw display of her low self-esteem. After the shock wore off, I wondered if she is just really, really stressed. Should I have committed the unthinkable and forward her message to leadership?

Nah. If it’s symptomatic of larger problems with the way she interacts with you — like if she’s regularly reading into things that aren’t there, being combative, or accusing people of things they haven’t done — then that might be something to bring up to someone above you. But if it’s just one weird moment, assume she’s stressed and let it go.

4. I’m being asked to return equipment during shelter-in-place

I recently worked as a contractor for a major retailer. They took quick action to get us set up to work from home and we got the local stay-in-place order less than a week later. Once the initial order was extended, they postponed our projects and ended my team’s contracts. They won’t allow us to return to campus to retrieve any of our personal items until it reopens. Fair enough. I don’t have anything there that I need urgently enough to risk exposure.

We were notified today that we’re required to ship back their laptops within 48 hours.

Dozens of employees (maybe hundreds?) have been furloughed or laid off. Because of this, I’m fairly certain that they don’t actually need these (5+ year old, out of warranty) laptops back right this second.

I have no intention of risking exposure in a FedEx store for something that isn’t absolutely necessary. I requested that we wait till campus reopens and exchange our stuff at the same time. Alternatively, and ONLY if there truly is an urgent need, I offered to drop it off at the mail room receiving door with minimal contact. I have not yet received a response. If they’re not open to compromise, what are my options here? Is it legal for them to ask this of me?

For what it’s worth, I’m 100% comfortable telling them they’ll get their stuff back when I get mine. But taking such a firm stance will definitely cost me good references and I don’t want to burn this bridge.

It doesn’t have to be adversarial or something that costs you a reference. You can simply say, “Right now I’m in quarantine and complying with the state’s shelter-in-place order. But I’ll of course ship it back once public health officials say we can safely conduct non-essential business again.” Say it as if of course that’s all that can be done and as if of course they’ll agree to that, and there’s a good chance they will.

If they push anyway, then just say, “I want to help, but I can’t violate the state order or break quarantine. If you’d like to arrange a pickup from my house, I can have it packaged up and ready to go.”

5. How can we give job applicants an easy way to ask for accommodations for their interview?

I work in recruiting and my team is trying to figure out the best way to give applicants an easy opportunity to say “I need an accommodation for the interview” so that we can provide it.

Do you have any recommended scripting around this? We are thinking we’d add it to our website application if that makes sense, as well as potentially adding a blurb in our scheduling outreach to make sure they have the opportunity if needed. Any recommendation would be helpful!

Doing both is smart. I’d consider language like, “We welcome and actively work to accommodate applicants and employees with disabilities. If, due to a medical condition, you need an accommodation to help you interview at your best with us, our recruiting team will work with you to provide it. We will keep any medical information you provide confidential and separate from the rest of your application.”

Also, when inviting people for interviews, spell out what the interview will include (for example, timed exercises, length of the meeting, any plans for a meal, etc.), and then make the offer again in that context — since people are better able to judge what accommodation they might need when they know exactly what the interview process involves.

6. Asking for donations for homemade masks at work

I’m currently sewing cotton medical masks to donate to healthcare providers while there’s a shortage of proper PPE (these cotton masks are not used by those in contact with Covid-19 patients, but for others in healthcare to wear or extend the life of N95s). My husband is an essential employee (not in healthcare), so I made him a mask to wear to work.

He’s a mid-level manager and several of his peers have expressed an interest in buying masks from me now that they’ve seen his. Personally, I don’t believe in charging for these masks during a public health crisis (and I also think it would be unethical for my husband to be selling anything at work), but would it be okay to ask for donations instead? I’m trying to buy as much fabric as possible so that I can donate as many masks as I can make, and small donations from non-medical mask recipients would really help with that.

Does it change your answer at all if these masks are going to his subordinates, peers, or even his boss?

It’s fine to ask for donations to help cover the cost of the fabric! You’re donating your labor to help people get masks, and if they can donate to help you cover the cost of supplies, that’s very reasonable to request. It would probably help to have a suggested donation amount (like “$X covers the fabric for five masks,” or so forth) so people have an idea of what range is reasonable.

And that’s fine to do no matter who is expressing interest, regardless of whether they’re subordinates, peers, or his boss. Your husband should just make sure his wording explains the full context so it’s clear he’s not selling the masks at the office. For example: “She’s mainly making them to donate for health care workers but she’s happy to make them for others if you can donate to help with the cost of the fabric. $X covers the fabric for five masks.”

your employer can take your temperature, and other changes

The EEOC has issued new guidance about coronavirus in the workplace — and has clarified that some practices that wouldn’t normally be allowed are permissible during the outbreak. Here’s what you need to know.

Your employer can ask if you’ve had symptoms associated with coronavirus (fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat), if you’ve been tested and what the results were, and if you’ve had contact with anyone with symptoms or who has tested positive. However, if they’re asking this, they need to ask it of everyone or only of people who seem to have symptoms; they can’t single someone out without a legitimate reason.

Also, note that they should not ask for other medical information (which could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act) or for medical information about your family members (which could violate the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act).

Employers can take your temperature as you arrive at work. Normally medical exams are restricted under the ADA — but the law does allow exams that are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” The EEOC says public safety during a pandemic qualifies, and this is allowed. (Bu they also say that failing to take other sensible measures to limit virus exposure — like limitations on non-essential travel, encouragement to work from home, and social distancing — may undermine an employer’s good-faith basis for using a temperature screen.)

Your employer can require you to provide a doctor’s note certifying your fitness to return to work if they’ve asked you to stay home based upon reasonable, objective evidence that you may have been infectious or if you have been quarantined by a health care provider or public health official. That said, the CDC is encouraging employers to accept less formal confirmation because of the current burden on health care providers.

If your employer learns you have coronavirus or its symptoms, they can inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to the virus, but should not identify you without your permission.

If you become infected and have only mild symptoms, coronavirus will not be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, if your reaction is severe or complicates another health condition, you’re likely protected under the ADA and entitled to its job accommodations. (Individual states may also have more expansive disability laws.)

If you’re using the new paid sick leave related to the outbreak, your employer can require documentation of your reason. In fact, in order to receive the tax credits that fund this new sick leave, your employer is required to have the following documented:
* the qualifying reason for requesting leave
* a statement that you are unable to work, including telework, for that reason
* the source of any quarantine or isolation order
* the name of the health care provider who has advised you to self-quarantine or written documentation from a health care provider advising you to self-quarantine, if applicable

can you fire someone in the midst of a pandemic?

A reader writes:

In the weeks before the outbreak hit, I was preparing to put someone on my team on a performance improvement plan. We’ve addressed my concerns about her work in performance reviews and will see some improvement, but it keeps slipping so the improvement plan will be the last step before letting this person go. I had a call with HR two weeks ago about the process and asked if we should wait until after things calm down. HR’s position was that the performance issues still need to be addressed and we should proceed, and “it’s never a good time to be fired.”

I do want to address everything, but also really don’t want to have to fire someone in the middle of a pandemic. I like this employee as a person and would feel absolutely terrible taking away her health care and income right now. Also, my company has started to float around the possibility of potential layoffs, and I’m interviewing somewhere else and might be leaving soon. Should I just … drag out this process so I don’t have to deal with it?

I answer this question — and several others — over at New York Magazine today. You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I don’t have anything to do at work now
  • Is it OK to take time off right now?
  • How should I follow up on a job interview in the middle of all this?

why can’t you contact your spouse’s employer to advocate for them?

A reader writes:

Why are you telling people that spouses as a rule cannot contact their partner’s boss and saying that is unprofessional?

Is that in every situation? What if my spouse is on the autism spectrum or what if an employer is forcing sick workers to come in and illegally break stay-at-home orders given by the government?

I think the advice you are giving on this is off-base. My partner and I are a team, and it is reaching a point where her employer is really pushing her boundaries and mine and she is at her wit’s end with trying to manage it herself. Your advice would be fine if every employer was reasonable and allowed people to stand up for themselves. We both know it doesn’t work like that. Personally, any employer who takes an ego bruising by being respectfully spoken to by someone outside of their employ, to me, is not worth working for at all.

She is trying everything she can to maintain healthy boundaries, but this employer is pushing and pushing and your advice has got people accusing me of not caring about my partner because I’m keeping my nose out of her business when she might be out there passing along COVID or getting it herself. Seriously, I’m being accused of not caring by thinking of her career over her health and safety! All because of your advice with no appreciation context at all.

So can you please rethink your position on this and give out some new advice in the context of life-threatening natural disasters and y’know, employers adhering to laws about discrimination, exploitation, and retaliation.

Also, let’s ask, who does your advice benefit? It benefits employers by shielding them from the realities of their staff’s humanity and seeks to keep them cocooned from that reality. There is no good reason why people should not be allowed to help each other and advocate for each other and I would rather test an employer to see how they react to this to see if they take their duty of care to their employees seriously.

An employer who takes their duty of care to their employees seriously will demonstrate that by how they respond when their employees raise concerns directly. If it takes a third party stepping in, they’ve already failed that test.

More to the point, though, this isn’t about how you believe things should work. It’s about how things do work. And the reality — whether or not you think it should be this way — is that contacting your partner’s employer to advocate on their behalf will undermine them and make them look unprofessional. (It also probably won’t work. If they didn’t listen to their own employee, they’re not likely to listen to someone wholly unconnected with their business.)

There are exceptions to this, but they’re rare: Certainly if your spouse is in the hospital or otherwise too sick to speak and can’t contact their employer on their own, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to do that.

But to advocate on their behalf, because you think you can do it more persuasively than your spouse can? Truly, no.

You asked about a spouse who’s on the autism spectrum. You can help behind the scenes — working out what they’ll say and helping them practice saying it. But it’s theirs to handle — and in most situations, you will undermine them significantly if you step in and handle it for them.

You also asked about an employer who is breaking stay-at-home orders given by the government and — as serious as that is — that’s still not your place. You can again help your spouse behind the scenes, but they’re the one who talks with their employer because those are the parties who have the business relationship. You can brainstorm with your spouse, you can coach them, hell, you can even report the employer to your state if you want to (ideally with your partner’s blessing), but you cannot contact their employer about it on their behalf. If you do, you will enormously weaken your partner’s standing at work and make them look unable to handle their own business affairs. (And really, do you think anyone is going to promote the person whose spouse called to try to fight their battles for them?)

Additionally, because this generally isn’t done, it will come across as controlling and interfering — which will raise some unpleasant thoughts for people about what might be going on in your relationship. Now your spouse has colleagues thinking about and speculating on her relationship, which is not what anyone wants at work.

Again, I’m not saying this is how things should be. I’m saying this is how they are. If you want to argue it would be a better world if spouses could advocate for each other with the other’s employer, feel free to make that argument! But we live in the world we live in, and your spouse has to manage her career in our current reality, not the one you think would be better.

is it weird to vape on a Zoom call, should you go to grad school to avoid a bad job market, and more

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

1. Is it weird to vape on a Zoom call?

I am one of the many students whose classes have all been moved online for the remainder of the semester, but I am in grad school, so many of my colleagues (including me) worked for a time before coming back to school. One of my colleagues regularly vapes on camera during our Zoom classes! I feel like this is really weird and distracting and am hoping for your take.

It’s weird and distracting. This is a class rather than work so things are a little more relaxed, but in most work contexts it would come across as unprofessional — overly casual, like cracking open a beer or painting your nails on a video conference.

You’re expected to maintain at least some illusion of professionalism and adherence to work norms, even when you’re at home.  (And granted, those are relaxing quickly; on a lot of teams, hoodies and pajamas are suddenly fine on video calls. But most teams still have some lines they frown on crossing.)

2. Should college seniors go to grad school to avoid the bad job market?

I’m sure you’ve received variants of this question already, but I am desperate for some advice on how to go about job searching in an economy that seems on the brink of collapse.

My college’s advisors are recommending seniors to postpone our entry into the job market by enrolling in a graduate program. While I was considering going back to school at some point, I don’t know what I would want a higher degree in, and I haven’t started the application process. Additionally, I’m graduating without debt, but would have to take out loans for a master’s program, which I’m not keen to do. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t apply or attend right now, but of course, these are not normal circumstances. Any advice?

Aggh, I hate that they’re blanket recommending this to students. I’m sure it seems like an easy escape option to them, but they should really talk to people who tried the same strategy during the 2008 recession and emerged from grad school to discover it had made their job searches harder, not easier … because employers often assumed they didn’t really want the job they were applying for if it wasn’t in the field they went to school for. It also can limit you by requiring you to find a higher-paying job than you might otherwise need since you need to pay back grad school loans, but without actually increasing your earning power (so now you’re in a tight job market with a ton of jobs off-limits to you because they won’t pay enough for your loans).

By all means, if you want to work in a field that requires a graduate degree, go to grad school. But if you can’t explain why you need the degree or you’re going because you don’t know what else to do in this job market, it’s often a very bad (and expensive) idea. At a minimum, they should be talking you through those downsides, not recommending it as a panacea.

3. Will my old manager sabotage me if she knows where my new job is?

After securing a new job, I left my last company because of a bad manager. I don’t want that former manager to know what company I went to, at least not for a few months or so, so I didn’t tell any of my former coworkers the new company name. I told them I’d share it later, as there was someone whom I didn’t want to know, and I didn’t want anyone else to be in the awkward position of keeping a secret.

I am not connected to the former manager on LinkedIn, but she could easily look me up. Some of my new coworkers have already connected with me on LinkedIn. Now I’m wondering, when should I update my employer name on my LinkedIn profile?

Could my former manager even do anything to sabotage me in my new position? My new manager doesn’t know her.

It’s possible but not likely — and really depends on how vindictive and deranged your old manager is. In theory, she could badmouth you to people at your new company, but if she doesn’t know people there, it’s unlikely she’d do that … it takes a relatively rare kind of awfulness to contact total strangers in an attempt to sabotage someone. How much to worry about that depends on what you know of her. If she’s just a garden variety bad manager, I wouldn’t worry about it. If you’ve seen her go out of her way to try to hurt people, then maybe.

But there’s nothing wrong with waiting a few months before you update LinkedIn. If anyone asks about it, you can just say you haven’t gotten to it yet (lots of people aren’t super on top of LinkedIn updates as long as you’re not in a field that depends heavily on it, like recruiting.) You’d also probably get some peace of mind if you block your old manager on the platform.

4. Can my company cut us to four days a week and make us take PTO for the fifth day?

In this crazy time, my company, to somehow save money with all of us working from home, has decided to cut us from five days a week to four. We also have to use our PTO time to make up that fifth day. This was, they said, in order to not have layoffs.

We don’t know what’s going to happen when we run out of time. We get 15 days a year, but some have already used days, and others have days scheduled. Will we just suddenly one check drop to 80% of our salary “until things change”? Is making this change starting immediately even legal? Is it just skeevy? Am I overreacting?

Sure, a four-day work week seems cool, but not at 80% of my current salary. I can’t pay bills on that.

A lot of companies are doing this right now as a way to avoid layoffs. Often their hope is that their revenues will start to recover in a few months and this will buy them time meanwhile. Whether or not that’s realistic depends on what field you’re in and what those projections are based on. In other cases, companies aren’t necessarily expecting revenues will pick up in a few months, but doing this is better than moving straight to layoffs right now. They’re trying to make it work, and they don’t have a lot of options.

In any case, yes, it’s legal. I don’t think it’s skeevy unless they’re rolling in money. Lots of businesses genuinely can’t afford to keep people employed when business is way down, even if they’re hoping for an eventual recovery, and they’re looking for ways to avoid cutting people outright.

But I’d also brace yourself for further cuts — layoffs, furloughs, having people go half-time, etc. It’s happening all over the country right now.

5. Should I offer to pay the insurance on my company car?

I am a senior manager at a large-ish nonprofit. We’re anticipating a 15-20% shortfall in income this year because of COVID-19.

My role requires a lot of in-state travel, and I am one of about five employees who drives a company car as my primary vehicle. I’ve been working from home for the past few weeks and the car has just been sitting in my driveway, except for the few times I’ve made personal trips to the store.

My coworker suggested offering to pay the insurance on “our” vehicles this month since the only use they’re receiving is personal, not business. (If it matters, our positions — and the vehicles we drive — are 100% grant funded and we’ve already received the check to cover expenses through May of 2021.)

On one hand, I don’t really like the idea of the company spending money for me to use something that belongs to them. On the other hand, I really don’t like the idea of making personal payments for the use of a business item. It’s probably a moot point because I’m 99% sure we’d be turned down if we made this offer, but it might be worth making as a gesture of goodwill. What’s the right thing to do?

Don’t offer to personally pay for a business item. Yes, it’s true that you’re getting some benefit from the car right now when your organization isn’t — but it’s not like you’re taking it on week-long road trips. You went to the store a couple of times.

The company needs to keep the car insured whether you’re using it or not, and frankly it’s better for the car to get used occasionally.