terse answer Thursday: 8 short answers to 8 short questions

It’s terse answer Thursday — eight short answers to eight short questions. We’ve got a sulking employee, concerns about a boss monitoring personal email, and more.

My employee sulks when his work is questioned

I am a manager of several remote workers in states other than my own. I have one worker that acts what I consider to be childish. Basically our work environment is fast-paced and can be stressful at times. When I or any of my supervisor staff calls to ask questions about work that was performed, he gets so sensitive about the inquiries that he takes offense and doesn’t want to talk to anyone anymore and puts himself out on an island. He’s doing his assigned work but doesn’t return phone calls because his feelings are somehow hurt by this and constantly needs to be handled with white gloves. It’s getting annoying and frankly I consider not returning phone calls to be insubordinate. I understand that if he’s busy he may not be able to get to the phone right away, but I’d expect to call back in a reasonable time frame. Thoughts?

Um, manage him? Tell him that he’s expected to return phone calls within whatever time period you deem reasonable (same business day? next business day?) and to work cooperative with his colleagues, which means not sulking. If there are issues that are bothering him, he’s welcome to raise them with you in a professional, direct way. If the problems continue after that, tell him that if he doesn’t meet the bar you’ve laid out, you’d need to replace him with someone who will. The fact that you’re not already doing this makes me worry that you’re not managing assertively in other areas too, so please use this as a wake-up call about the need to manage in general.

Can my boss check my personal email?

My company has a policy that it is OK to check personal emails as long as it does not interfere with work (like on breaks or lunch). When I open my Gmail account, I am careful to read only things I know for sure are safe. But if my husband sends me a personal email at my personal account, and I do not open it, can my boss or IT still get into it and see what he said? If so, is it only while I am online, or do they have instant access from then on to all my email at any time (after work, etc.)?

No, they can’t go into your Gmail and read your email there. However, if they have monitoring software that lets them see what’s on your screen at work, they could certainly see the messages that you open there. (When it comes to your work email account though, they can read anything they want.)

Caveat: If your company uses monitoring software that captures every keystroke you make, they could theoretically learn your Gmail password and use it to access your email. But I’m 99% sure, in my non-lawyer way, that would be illegal because it would get into legal expectations of privacy. (Oh, but if you want to check, click on the account activity in the bottom righthand corner of Gmail and you can see all the logins into your account by IP address.)

What should I do for my boss’ birthday?

What are you supposed to do for your boss’ birthday or for holidays? Giving a gift seems too personal but I’m the closest thing she has to an assistant.

Don’t give a gift. Give a card at the absolute most — but even that isn’t necessary.

Fired employee still lists old job on LinkedIn

I have an ex-employee who was fired for serious reasons and still lists his old position as current on LinkedIn. He has been asked on several occasions to update his profile. I reported it to LinkedIn to no avail. What, if anything can be done?

I don’t think anything can be done since you don’t own that account. Do any readers know differently?

To shake hands or not to shake hands?

I am preparing for an interview later this week (with the help of your e-book!), and there’s something that’s puzzled me for a long time: to shake or not to shake? I grew up in the country to our north, and was taught that when I meet someone for the first time, it’s polite to shake that person’s hand. However, since living here for a dozen years or so, I’ve noticed a slightly awkward vibe after I shake a colleague’s hand. Being female, I’m wondering if it’s somehow a gender issue. I asked my husband about this, and he told me that he’s never seen his female colleagues shake hands, but that the males do quite often. I don’t want to risk being considered rude, but don’t want to be considered awkward either! Am I overthinking this, or should I pay attention to that vibe, and just not shake?

I’ve never heard of women not shaking hands in a professional situation and wonder if you might be dealing with very young colleagues who don’t realize that. Shake!

Ethics of maternity leave

As a manager, what are you thoughts about an employee who goes maternity leave but then doesn’t return? Specifically, if they go on leave knowing they probably won’t come back? Is this unprofessional? Unethical? I am going on leave in two months and seriously doubt I will return to my job. I’ve been unsatisfied for quite some time and childcare expenses would eat up a HUGE portion of my salary. However, I’d prefer to search for a second job while on leave because employers seem to prefer candidates who are already employed. Plus, I’d like the option of returning to work just in case. I am on my husband’s health insurance plan, so there’s not a benefits issue. Also, I have no short-disability or remaining PTO so the leave would be entirely unpaid.

Personally, if you work for a small employer, I think it’s unethical to promise that you’re going to return after maternity leave if you know you’re not going to, knowing that they and your coworkers will likely be bearing the burden of keeping the position open while you’re gone. I also think it’s not particularly helpful to other women who do intend to return after their leave, because it reinforces the stereotype that women can’t be believed when they say they’re coming back. But it’s your legal right to do it.

Boss keeps asking me to come in on my days off

My bosses keep constantly ringing me and asking me to come in on my days off. Most of the time I have gone in, but yesterday they rang me and asked me to come in, but I was out of town so I said sorry I can’t, and then my phone was switched off this morning and I have turned it on to find a few answer phone messages off them asking me to come in AGAIN today, and its making me really anxious and nervous. I don’t know what to do because I don’t want to go in, but the longer I ignore them the worse it might get. I can’t handle them being mad with me because I’m not assertive at all and I feel really guilty and just worry about it if I don’t go in whenever they ask.

You should probably agree to these requests on occasion so that you look cooperative, but aside from that, just say you have other commitments that you can’t break, and that you usually need advance notice in order to schedule additional work days. You can also blame “family obligations” or something like that.

Boss won’t give me a date for internal transfer

I recently accepted a position in a different division within the same organization I currently work for. I accepted the position 3 weeks ago, and put in my notice to my supervisor. The problem is that my current supervisor will not give me a transition date. He’s said that he won’t give me one until a replacement has been found and trained. My question is, what are my options? Can my supervisor really just keep me indefinitely like this, or do I have some recourse in getting released?

It totally depends on how your company handles these situations. At many companies, the current manager does have to approve the transfer or transfer date. At other companies, the manager might have a limit on how long he can delay the transfer. Ask your HR department (or, if you don’t have one, the manager in the new role) how the process will work.

{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. Pamela*

    Thanks for answering my question! Good advice, I was glad to read it.

    In response to another question, I’d stay away from referencing “family obligations.” Usually people take that as an opening to ask for more information to disqualify the importance. For instance, your son’s soccer game could be considered a “family obligation” that your boss wouldn’t consider important.

    1. Josh S*

      Two options:
      “I have family obligations.”
      “Oh, and what are those?”
      “Obligations to my family which prevent me from coming in to work today. Thanks for your support!” (Cheerful tone!)


      “I have family obligations.”
      “Oh, and what are those?”
      “Well, I was trying to be discreet but I have Gross_Medical_Procedure scheduled for this afternoon. Thanks for asking!” (The grosser you can make the procedure, the less likely boss will ever ask again. Try, “I have an infected pustule on my back that will need to be lanced and drained. Thing oozes pus like a 3 inch zit! You’ve never seen so much white crap come out of a back zit before!” or “Ever seen a pilodinal cyst? Well, mine’s been oozing a lot lately and I’m finally getting it fixed.”)

      PS. If you don’t want to be grossed out, don’t Google those terms. Especially not on YouTube.

      1. Anonymous*

        I had a coworker use the pilodinal cyst excuse before! But then again, she’s always seems to be getting sick so I don’t know what’s fact from fiction. Anyway, it’s because of these sick days and another coworker’s lackadaisical attitude towards working in general that I too get called into work or scheduled on days I normally have off. I know your pain, OP. We just have to put our foot down from time to time.

        1. Diligent Worker*

          I actually HAD a pilonidal cyst – one of the most painful things one could ever imagine – right up there with the pain of childbirth but unrelenting. It had me knocked on my stomach for three weeks – couldn’t walk or even move from the waist down without excruciating pain. Had major surgery on it twice! Both times I was required to take time off work but no one ever questioned me, Thank God. Of course, I was willing to share with anyone who would listen how horrible this experience was! So, I guess, if you want to use it as an excuse, make sure you do your research!

          1. Kelly*

            Ha, I one too, and also two surgeries! I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone, not even on the biggest a-hole in my office.

      2. Jamie*

        Seriously don’t search for that on youtube! As a mom of two teenage sons I know what you’ll find – and there are not words to describe how gross it is – you’ve been warned :).

      3. Anonymous J*

        I did this. When I was trying to get a diagnosis for something and then found out I needed surgery and the tests leading up to it, it of course caused me to be out more than usual. My supervisors harrassed me about it. I gave them WAY too much information. Now, they leave me alone.

        Of course, I only take leave if I need it.

        As for being asked to come in on days off, where I work that doesn’t happen unless it’s pre-planned. When I used to work places where it DID happen, though, I simply was not reachable on my days off. That’s my time. I’m not obligated to be available. If you are going to need me, you need to tell me BEFORE you approve the time off.

    2. Cruella*

      How about responding “If I come in on my scheduled off day, I will need take XYZ day off this week instead.”

  2. steve*

    The answer about reading personal email is somewhat incorrect. Whatever gmail sends to your browser can be read by your employer without logging into your account. Gmail by default sends the subjects and first ~20 words of your first 50 emails, and can be configured to send much more.

    If you have emails that you absolutely do not want your employer to ever see, have them go to a separate email account that you never log into as work.

  3. Wilton Businessman*

    #1: If your employee is working remotely, he has to make himself available in some aspect. I would lay down guidelines (not rules) of what is expected from your remote employees. For example, if they are in a type of job that requires intense concentration for a contiguous period of time (like programmers), then maybe you set aside a window at the beginning of the day or the end of the day that everybody understands is the time to call.

    I agree with AAM, this is YOUR problem and NOT his.

  4. Wilton Businessman*

    #1: If your employee is working remotely, he has to make himself available in some aspect. I would lay down guidelines (not rules) of what is expected from your remote employees. For example, if they are in a type of job that requires intense concentration for a contiguous period of time (like programmers), then maybe you set aside a window at the beginning of the day or the end of the day that everybody understands is the time to call.

    I agree with AAM, this is YOUR problem and NOT his.

    #2: I use this rule of thumb: If I don’t mind printing out my personal email and posting it on my office door, I’ll read it in my office. Otherwise, don’t do it.

    #3: Lavish gifts of chocolate, single-malt scotch, and gift-certificates to the areas finest restaurants. After all, this is why you have a credit card.

    #4: I’m a shaker. I’ll shake anybody’s hand.

    #5: I agree, unethical. Your employer is holding your job open and somebody is going to have to do your work while you are out so that position is open when you get back. If you have no intention on coming back, you should just let them know right after you have the baby so they know not to hold it open. If there was STD at stake, I might be more sympathetic, but since there’s not it’s totally inexcusable. If you do return, I hope you re-commit yourself.

    #6: depends on if you’re paid by the hour and want the work or if you’re a salaried slave. If you’re on salary, you’ve got to put in the time every now and then, but it shouldn’t be constant. If you’re hourly and don’t need the money, I’m sure somebody else will be happy to get it. But bosses also have memories and when they have to choose between somebody that helps out when needed and somebody who just puts in their 8, don’t be surprised.

    #7: Your manager needs the work done. If you’re not there, she needs somebody else to do it. If this were me, I would be asking my manager if there was any way I could help recruit another person or help him interview other candidates to expedite filling the position. But if your company is big enough for divisions, it probably has HR which can also guide you on this.

    1. Mike C.*

      Regarding #6:

      Why in the heck do you think it’s appropriate to call people in to work on their days off? Do you think it’s useful to a business to have employees who never have time to charge their batteries or can never plan anything in the long term because the phone never stops ringing?

      I hate this attitude that “someone who just puts in their 8” is somehow lazy and entitled. They aren’t servants, they are employees. Employees have lives outside of their workplace and once the workday is done the workday is done. Doing otherwise, especially when the days off have already been paid out, scheduled and approved, only lead to low morale, low production and lowered quality of life. My boss doesn’t get to take money out of my wallet that was paid to me the week before, nor should they do the same with vacation time or similar benefits.

      If a boss cannot get what they need done with the staff they have then they need to make their processes more efficient, cross-train employees or hire more people. To regularly have to call people in is a sign of terrible labor and resource management.

      1. Cube Ninja*

        Forgive me, but this seems a little trollish.

        Asking someone to come in who is an hourly employee (for example, retail) is completely acceptable. Going aggro on them if they have a prior commitment, however, is not acceptable. But what Wilton said is accurate from my point of view – the folks in charge are going to look much more favorably on someone who goes above and beyond – even if it’s only once in a while – than someone who does the bare minimum in their job description.

        Regarding “bad management”, I think that’s pretty far out of line – if I have a team of four and approve one day off, have one person call in sick and another get rushed to the hospital because of a car accident on the way to work, that is in no way a failure on my part. Things like that happen all the time and to be honest, I’ve heard of very, very few employers who specifically build staffing models with coverage for unusual situations like that.

        1. Mike C.*

          The OP specifically mentioned being regularly called in on approved days off. So unless 75% of your team doesn’t show up on days where one person has an approved day off on a regular basis, I’m not sure your example applies.

          Being called in again and again is a basic lack of respect for the personal time of the employee and a lack of managerial will to do simple things like cross train and ensure there are backups in every role. It’s not that difficult to do and many businesses that don’t rely on being stretched to the breaking point manage it just fine.

          1. Cube Ninja*

            I don’t think it’s clear from the OP’s email that the days are specifically approved vacation days – that’s a pretty important piece of info that we don’t have.

            If they specifically approved days and this is an office job, I’d agree that it’s poor form to ask someone to come in. If we’re talking days that OP just isn’t scheduled to work, there may be something else going on. If it’s retail, it’s not horribly uncommon to be called if there a shortage of staff, but usually without an expectation that the employee is going to just drop everything for $8/hour. :)

            1. KellyK*

              I think you both have valid points, and it depends a lot on the individual situation. I think it *is* bad management to hire so few staff that you’re continually short-handed and constantly calling people on their days off. Similarly, it’s bad management to run a place so poorly that you end up short-handed because people quit left and right.

              On the other hand, being constantly overstaffed “just in case” is no way to run things either, and emergencies will always crop up no matter how well you run things.

              There’ s nothing wrong with *asking* people to come in on days off when you need them, particularly if you do your part to keep those situations to a minimum. Guilt-tripping them when they don’t or trying to pry into the details and convince them that their reasons aren’t valid is severely overstepping.

              If you *expect* people to be constantly available whenever you need them, that’s called being on call, and you need to make it clear when you hire them that that’s part of their duties.

              From the OP’s “constantly” it sounds likely that it’s either bad management or a short-term bad situation (like multiple people sick at once).

      2. Wilton Businessman*

        I guess it depends on what the definition of “regularly” and “day off”is.

        I expect my salaried people to put in a minimum of 45 hours a week. If they have to work one Saturday a month in addition to their 45, I don’t think twice about asking them to come in. If they have plans, I’ll ask somebody else. If nobody else can do it, I’ll do it myself. Is one day a month regular?

        Vacation is sacred to me. If one of my people schedules a vacation day, they are going to get it, period.

        1. Mike C.*

          That sounds reasonable to me. The place I used to work at had folks working for weeks without vacation or weekends, so I’ve seen the dark side of these practices.

          1. Jamie*

            I think 45 hours and an occasional weekend day is fine, and a reasonable expectation for salaried people.

            But, like Mike, I’ve seen the other side of this as well. You don’t want to bloat the staff just to make sure no one ever has to come in on Saturday – but the flip side of that is if you have some employees routinely putting in 60-70+ hour weeks – and it’s not uncommon for them to go weeks at a time between days off, that is absolutely a management and resource problem.

            A good litmus test is if you leave at the end of a 9 hour day and co-workers are surprised and ask if you’re going home sick or have an appointment…re-evaluate your work-life balance. (I hate that expression, but it fits.)

            Managers out there should really take note – even your best employees who love their jobs have a breaking point. Loyalty and work ethic doesn’t make you immune to burn-out…in fact it can hasten it.

            I do resent salaried people who do their eight and out…like they are doing the company a favor by showing up for 40 a week. But there are dangers of going too far in the other direction…shoot for a happy medium.

            1. KellyK*

              To me it seems odd to resent salaried people who “only” work 8 hours a day unless they’re not getting done what they need to get done.

              1. Jamie*

                Sloppy phrasing on my part.

                People who come in and put in a full 8 hours of work and do their job well and add value to the company – I have no problem.

                Okay, one problem. Extreme jealousy over their ability to maintain a sane schedule and excessive admiration.

                I was referring to the clock watchers. The people who consider it’s their job to show up, and what they do at work is enough not to get fired. You all know them:

                1. The co-worker who is “bored.” She’s meant for bigger things. The one who apparently thinks we all do cartwheels when we collate our budget reports – because every task should be exciting or it’s not worth doing.

                2. The co-worker who is there for 8 hours a day, but working for maybe 5. Breakfast, long lunches, cups of coffee which take 45 minutes to prepare, and web surfing take a lot of time so we should be super grateful they can spare a moment or two to talk about the business.

                3. The Not My Job co-worker. My personal favorite…the one who memorized their job description – perhaps has a laminated copy on them at all times. She can feel so bad for her colleagues when they are running around in a frenzy to meet a deadline or dealing with a crisis…and you know she feels bad because she tells you. She also tells you that she’d love to help, she really would, but then people would expect her to do that all the time and so it’s better to not get involved. Bonus when she comments loudly of how she would do XYZ faster, better, smarter if it were her job…like a backseat driver (if the backseat driver didn’t have a license.)

                Seriously, though…you’re right, Kelly – and I truly am jealous of those who can structure their jobs/lives so they can work normal hours and go home on time.

  5. Julie*

    With regards to the hand-shaking thing, what’s the ethnicity of the person (male, I assume) who seems uncomfortable? I ask because in many Arabic countries, men do not traditionally shake women’s hands. My mom had to get used to this when she was a schoolteacher and Arabic fathers would greet her politely — but not shake her hand — on parent-teacher nights.

    I believe there are other, Asian countries where hand-shaking is not the norm. If the uncomfortable co-worker is a recent immigrant, this might be the issue.

    1. Lina Souid*

      You are right. Arabs usually don’t shake hands (inter-gender wise) for religious reasons. I usually do when I’m dealing with non-Arabs because I don’t want to seem standoffish but I when I deal with Arabs I do as they do.

      Assimilation, to a reasonable degree, is important. There are some lines that I will never cross and there are some that I feel fine about crossing.

    2. Clobbered*

      I am a female and shake hands and I can definitely tell you I have seen surprise in western white men on occasion when I offer my hand – and these are definitely people who do shake men’s hands. However I do not work in business, so it may be field related.

      In other words there may be regional or age or class tendencies that are apparent in sectors where it is not the norm, and absent in sectors where business norms dictate it.

  6. Prairie Dog*

    I’m not clear on why working for a small employer specifically makes it “unethical to promise that you’re going to return after maternity leave if you know you’re not going to.” Why does the size of the employer matter in any way? If one is making a promise to do something, I would think that failure to keep that promise is unethical regardless of to whom the promise is being made.

    In this case I don’t think size matters.

    1. Natalie*

      I think holding a job open and having co-workers cover is probably more of a hardship for a smaller employer, simply because there are fewer people.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly. I think there are some things that ideally you wouldn’t do matter the size of the employer but which have a much worse impact if the employer is small. This is one, and another is reneging on a job offer that you already accepted.

      2. Prairie Dog*

        Regardless of hardship in keeping a job open, the fact remains that it’s unethical for the employee to say she will return to work after maternity leave knowing full-well she won’t no matter what the size of the employer is. Of course the impact might be different for a smaller employer, but that doesn’t make it any more or less ethical.

  7. Katie*

    LinkedIn: My understanding is unless they never actually held the position, there’s nothing wrong with them listing it. I mean, they *did* work in that position. Just because they were terrible at it doesn’t mean they aren’t able to list the experience.

    Lady Handshakes: I’m a woman, and I always shake hands (firmly!) when meeting someone new in a professional setting. In fact, I was taught it was bad business etiquette not to. I live in the US, so maybe this makes a difference?

    Maternity Leave Ethics: If you’re not sure whether you’re going to return to work, let your employer know that you aren’t certain, but that you reserve the right to return to the position *if* you choose to do so. (There’s absolutely nothing wrong with not being sure!) Let your employer know your final decision the moment you do make the decision while you’re out on maternity leave, though. Don’t wait until the last possible day to tell them you’re not coming back, because they will probably need to make plans to fill your position in the long-term. The only exception to this is if you have an employer who has given you reason to believe that you could be punished if you are honest about your intentions possibly not to return. In which case, I don’t think you have any obligation to be honest with them about any of your possible future career moves. It’s more important to protect yourself.

    1. Cube Ninja*

      Re: Maternity leave, you’re absolutely right that there’s nothing wrong with being unsure if you plan to return to work, but there’s also nothing wrong, in that type of scenario, with your employer not electing to wait for your answer (unless the leave is covered by FMLA or some other leave at state level).

      “I don’t think you have any obligation to be honest with them about any of your possible future career moves.”

      This really bothers me, and yes, I realize I’ve pulled it out of context. I’m of the opinion that you should always deal honestly. If you run into an employer who tries to retaliate over something as minor as being indecisive (or just not having a clear answer before the leave begins), a) you didn’t want to work for them anyway and b) at least you can (probably) collect unemployment during your unpaid leave. :)

      There’s really no good reason or excuse to string your employer along, though, either. If you’re going to be gone for a while without some type of covered leave that -will- guarantee your job for X amount of time, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that the employer will just rest on their laurels and have a position sitting open.

      1. Katie*

        I agree 100% that you should be honest with your employer…but as far as I’m concerned, when an employer violates the trust of its employees by retaliating against people for *anything*, they lose the privilege of being given complete information by their employees. I guess if you can take or leave the job, it might be different, but chances are, if you *could* leave it without any concerns, you would have already. Most people are in bad jobs with crappy employers because they have few other options…and trust me, trying to find a new job while you’re either late in your pregnancy ( because some truly rotten employers will find reasons to fire you before you go if they aren’t happy with the fact you’re taking leave) or have a brand new baby isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do, even if the job market is good.

    2. Maternity OP*

      I did let my employer know there’s a possibility I won’t return. At first I was certain I wouldn’t come back, but now I’m not so sure. I just don’t know right now.

      My employer has a history of letting employees go the second they put in any sort of notice, so telling them I’m not, or may not, come back could result in my being let go.

      1. Katie*

        If they have a history of doing that, I’d just tell them you’re leaning toward coming back. I can see why you wouldn’t *want* to come back, but I totally get why you might also want to keep the job as a safety net, just in case.

      2. J.B.*

        To Maternity OP: as someone who was there fairly recently, I would focus your attention on whether you want the job you have or to stay home. I would not count on getting an interview while on leave unless your field is strong right now. And I certainly would not count on doing well in an interview. Unless your newborn is one of those very few good sleepers, you will be truly exhausted. To the point where I personally wouldn’t have been up to learning a new job until my child was at least 9 months old.

        Good luck with your decision.

  8. ThomasT*

    On shaking hands – there is an antiquated, sexist rule that I was taught by the WASP side of my family that a gentleman doesn’t offer to shake a lady’s hand, but certainly accepts her proffered hand to shake. Since you’re the lady, then offering your hand to shake should not offend, though as Julie points out, there may be other ethnic or religious customs in play.

    I’d be surprised if a company that explicitly allows personal email use is also going to relatively great technical lengths to invade your privacy. Since Gmail (and most other major webmail offerings) is encrypted from the server all the way to the browser, they wouldn’t be able to intercept it in transit, even as it travels over their own network; it would have to be via monitoring software that records what’s actually on your screen. While Steve’s answer above is technically correct, my personal attitude is to be knowledgeable and safe, but not obsessive, about security. A personal smartphone would certainly circumvent all of this, but seems an expensive solution if you don’t want the phone for other reasons. Text messages could be another alternative.

    On the maternity leave question, consider the relative benefit of having a solid, recent, reference from your current employer as you look for a new job, vs. the safety net option of being able to return and the possible negative effects of seeking while unemployed. That, along with the ethical implications, suggests to me that you should leave your current job definitively when it’s time.

    1. Anonymous*

      Since Gmail (and most other major webmail offerings) is encrypted from the server all the way to the browser, they wouldn’t be able to intercept it in transit, even as it travels over their own network; it would have to be via monitoring software that records what’s actually on your screen

      Screen scraping is hardly the only alternative if the company owns the machine. The encryption is irrelevant insofar as the employer is concerned in that case.

      A more interesting question: since a lot of sites store your login information in cookies, your employer theoretically has access to your account without even having to record you type in your password. I’m plumbing my memory here, but I believe courts have held that there’s a difference in whether reading someone’s email in transit counts as wiretapping, based on whether the message was written out to hard drive, or simply held in memory for onward transmission. If I’m right, an employer replaying cookies could be an interesting test case.

      1. Gayle Laakmann McDowell*

        It doesn’t sound like the person is worried about the company doing obsessive, creepy, almost malicious monitoring.

        The question seemed to be more around, “if I read my personal mail at work, is it potentially exposed to the IT / security department?”

        The answer to that is no, not really. Sure, the company COULD install video cameras to do it (or do it all sorts of other bizarre ways), but if you’re worried about that, GET OUT.

        Regular IT monitoring will not be able to pick up messages on gmail since gmail is encrypted (or should be – check if the url is preceded with https). For other, encrypted web activity, they technically could monitor what’s is on your screen. It’d be sort of a mess to do that, as the data is just sent in giant blobs of information. Parsing through it to read a message would be very strange for a company to do. Very few companies do anything more than URL monitoring.

        So, in other words, don’t worry about it unless you’re doing something really wrong (like looking at porn at work).

        1. Anonymous*

          Regular IT monitoring will not be able to pick up messages on gmail since gmail is encrypted (or should be – check if the url is preceded with https).

          If they own the device, they can. You could create a browser add-on which saved a copy of every webpage loaded, to take a simple example. Hardly bizzare, and no video cameras required.

          1. Gayle Laakmann McDowell*

            Yes… a company could do this. They could also just install hidden video cameras, and then there’s no way to block anything you do at work, online or offline.

            But that’s hardly “regular IT monitoring,” is it? The kind of IT monitoring companies usually does involves URL filtering (blacklisting sites).

            My point, and other people’s, is that while a company COULD track your personal email, very very very few companies would ever employ the kind of monitoring that would be necessary to do this. They could, technically, but they don’t, because it’s far beyond the bounds of what’s acceptable.

            1. Anonymous*

              But that’s hardly “regular IT monitoring,” is it?

              How would I know? I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of finding out.

      2. Cube Ninja*

        “If I’m right, an employer replaying cookies could be an interesting test case.”

        I agree, but who in their right mind would be arsed to actually do this to create the test case in the first place? :) I mean, it’s not horribly difficult, but it’s well beyond your average user.

        1. Anonymous*

          I mean, it’s not horribly difficult, but it’s well beyond your average user

          But IT departments fall into two camps: well below the average user, and far, far beyond the average user.

          1. Jamie*

            Unless you’re working for crazy people – most IT departments are way too busy to hack into personal email accounts.

            I’ll let everyone in on a little IT secret…we don’t want to read your mail. Ever. If you are allowed to check personal email at work (why? but that’s another topic…) we only care if it affects the security of the network or anything that will cause us more work.

            It’s one of those things you get used to in IT, people making little comments about how you’re big brother – but trust me when I tell you that you’re personal email (and life) is far more interesting to you than it is it us. If we have to dig through your crap because we’re trying to protect the network we don’t like it any more than you do.

            1. Dan Ruiz*

              I’m glad to read your reply Jamie. As I was reading through the above, I was wondering about your opinion since I know you’re in IT.

              And you’re right, we all think IT has nothing better to do than spy on us all day ;-)


    2. James*

      “there is an antiquated, sexist rule that I was taught by the WASP side of my family that a gentleman doesn’t offer to shake a lady’s hand, but certainly accepts her proffered hand to shake. ”

      How is that guideline sexist? You don’t want to crush her hand, and you don’t want to give her the dead-fish handshake either. Not proffering your hand to a female means zero risk for an awkward handshake — there’s nothing sexist about that notion.

      1. LP*

        This would apply to males also though – you don’t want to crush their hand nor do you want to give the dead fish handshake. What is it that makes it awkward with a woman but not a man? The sexist part is not simply that you don’t offer to shake a person’s hand because of their sex, but the belief that a woman is unable to have her hand shaken firmly – more liable to have her hand crushed – than a man is. A good handshake is firm, but it should never be to the point of crushing someone’s hand, regardless of their gender.

        1. James*

          “What is it that makes it awkward with a woman but not a man?”

          The most important thing is that women are not (by and large) not taught how to shake hands, so they often present their hands in a way that makes it so that if you grip it firmly you will crush the hand. Your only alternative is to give them the dead fish. I actually shook a woman’s hand last week that did this: she presented her hand with her wrist flexed and palm facing downward. It was basically like the proper grip to protect yourself during an arm wrestling match, only the complete opposite. Damn near no man presents his hand like that. Call that sexist if you want.

          1. LP*

            I’ve never noticed women presenting hands like that although granted, it’s not something I would really be watching for. I can see how that would make for an awkward situation. That said, I’ve been in situations where a male is introduced to some males and myself and they skip over shaking my hand – I think this creates an awkward situation on it’s own. I personally prefer to have my hand shaken, but I suppose not every woman would feel this way. On a side note – when are men taught to shake hands? Is there a hand-shaking school I’m missing out on?

          2. Andrea*

            RE: hand-shaking
            “I actually shook a woman’s hand last week that did this: she presented her hand with her wrist flexed and palm facing downward”

            Some people with arthritis will do this in a situation that calls for hand-shaking. Normal pressure on an arthritic hand can hurt like hell. Dead-fish may be the only acceptable hand-shaking that woman could handle.

          3. LP*

            I played social hockey for a couple of months at the end of last year and shook hands with the opposite team members at the end of each game. After paying attention, I have to say that a surprising number of women offered their hand in an awkward way – but none of the men did. It surprised me, but I guess women don’t always have as much hand shaking experience as men do.

    3. Lesa*

      That “antiquated, sexist rule” on handshaking is for social situations, not for business situations. Shake hands! Men in the US should not be surprised by a female who offers her hand to shake. If they are, it is a sign they need to learn business etiquette.

  9. anon-2*

    Re LinkedIn — if – for instance he held a position and listed it this way –

    “Acme Slingshot Company, 1998-2011, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer”

    If he were fired this year — and indicated “2011” … he’s not lying, and you can’t do anything about it.

    There may also be legal ramifications as to why he’s ignoring any communication from you, but not being an attorney, that’s speculation.

    1. Lina Souid*

      I don’t see why the OP is getting so wound up about it. When the recruiter calls for a reference the HR of your company can share the exact end date and discuss the Linkedin issue. I’m sure that this kind of reference will take the candidate out of the running immediately.

      1. Anonymous*

        I get it. This will reflect poorly on the fired jackhole lying on his profile only after a company starts digging around. Rightly or wrongly, I think it will reflect poorly on the company as well for (the perception of) not being able to handle the situation with said jackhole. I’d want it resolved ASAP if this was my company and there was the potential that I look bad in the process.

        1. Mike C.*

          Why does it reflect poorly on the company? Unless they are LinkedIn, they cannot control it. Only the most unreasonable people would place blame for this situation.

        2. Dawn*

          I don’t think it says anything about the company at all. They have no control over it.

          My own opinion about LinkedIn is that it’s something that hasn’t caught on with everyone in the working world yet. Many people create a profile just to try it out and then decide it’s useless in some way and never go back to it. I’ve seen several profiles of former employees who list us as their last job and it’s still there as “current.” Doesn’t bother me. I know that most likely they forgot they have a profile or just don’t care about LinkedIn.

          1. Anonymous*

            Exactly. Most people don’t care as much about LinkedIn as hiring managers, HR folks, and marketing folks do. So take it for what it is worth: a self-reported resume that needs to be independently verified.

            LinkedIn affadavit

            I miss the spam-math.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Me too! The spam math suddenly started telling people that their answers were wrong when they were actually right though, so I’m taking at least a temporary break from it.

  10. Cube Ninja*

    AAM: “Caveat: If your company uses monitoring software that captures every keystroke you make, they could theoretically learn your Gmail password and use it to access your email. But I’m 99% sure, in my non-lawyer way, that would be illegal because it would get into legal expectations of privacy. (Oh, but if you want to check, click on the account activity in the bottom righthand corner of Gmail and you can see all the logins into your account by IP address.)”

    I would be flabbergasted to find any company who went to the lengths of installing a keylogger to monitor its employees. For starters, it’s overkill. Worse than that, it’s almost completely counter-productive to a good information security policy.

    My non-lawyer take on this would be that EVEN IF a company obtained the password to a personal account through an otherwise legal method such as monitoring software, keylogger, screen scrape, etc., it would still be illegal to access the employee’s personal accounts independently, as you’d have a pretty easy argument for unauthorized access.

    Now, if you were to run a remote access client and see what’s on the screen, and it’s a steamy love letter from their significant other, I’d think you’re in the clear as there shouldn’t be any particular expectation of privacy on a company computer. My company specifically provides all new hires (including temp staffers) documentation to that effect, but we also have heavy duty blocking software in place so you can’t access your e-mail anyway.

    In short, even if your company allows it, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a fab idea to poke around Gmail and Facebook even on breaks. :)

    1. Jenny*

      I am the original poster of this question, and though I may have misunderstood what folks are saying, I am only talking about my employer’s ability to get into _unopened_ emails. I am not worried about what they see or capture on a screen, and I am not worried about the first 50 or so characters of each email that appear on the “front page”. I am asking about when my mother forwards a cartoon from “Uncle Bud” that she thinks is funny that I know will be entirely inappropriate to view at work and would _never_ be opened there by me. I am asking if someone at work could open it anyway, which I believe that Ask a Manager did answer. Thank you.

      1. Anonymous*

        Jenny, get a smart phone and use it to check email. Don’t use your local wifi with it, stay on the cell network. I advise to everyone who asks.

    2. Anonymous*

      My company specifically say that you must realise that if you visit personal sites on work equipment there is the chance they may end up with some information that you would consider personal. They won’t accept any liability for misuse of that information.

      They do also say that they reserve the right to search the company equipment for inappropriate images – especially those of an illegal nature – and that the user would be asked to explain the reason for its existance on the company equipment.

  11. LP*

    To the handshaker:
    I’m from Australia and I’ve had this happen quite a bit. It’s usually more common if the male in question is older – the larger the age difference, the more common it is. I think it’s just that they don’t want to offend. In social situations, men often shake hands but women don’t. They might hug, or kiss cheeks or just say hi, but they rarely shake hands. So I think that in a professional situation, men aren’t sure what to do. I would be offering my hand – I really don’t think anyone would be offended and it immediately removes the awkward situation while making you look more confident/assertive

    1. fposte*

      I do think a lot of women don’t realize that the etiquette convention is that they need to extend their hands first (re: above discussion, it’s not about strength but about precedence, since the same convention would have the older/more senior person extending his hand first). And at least for me, it was a strange enough phenomenon that it initially felt weird enough to me in that “Do I look like a dork?” way that I bagged on it a few times when I should have done it. It’s not as de rigueur in my mostly female industry as in some, but it’s still a really useful custom at times for demarcating the start of a professional relationship.

  12. JT*

    “I’d want it resolved ASAP if this was my company and there was the potential that I look bad in the process.”

    But we can’t control everything. It would be good if more people realized this.

  13. Cassie*

    In the case of the LinkedIn question – is it possible the ex-employee just hasn’t updated his profile? On my Facebook profile, it said “worked at [current] company” (as in past tense) and I didn’t realize it until a friend asked about it.

  14. Anonymous*

    Re: Boss keeps asking me to come in on my days off

    If you are the most oft asked person to pitch in, then you might be being taken advantage of….the person who causes least fuss is often favoured for such stuff! And esp if you are never acknowledged for doing so, know that they just using your willingness.
    And contrary to what others have said about that working in your favour , I wouldnt be so sure.

    Sorry, am a cynic!

  15. qwerty*

    For the handshaking thing, it depends on the culture. I live in a muslim country, and even as a Western women, I tend to wait for the other person to offer before I shake hands: in Islam (and in a lot of other eastern cultures actually) it’s seen as disrespectful and rude to touch a woman who is not related to you. Now, that said, a LOT of men, when dealing with Western women, will just do it because in Western culture it would be rude not to. But since many guys are actually uncomfortable with it themselves, I just wait for them to offer. Instead, I’ve mastered the cheery-greeting wave :) I’m not saying that’s your situation, but my point is when in doubt, wait for them to offer the hand, and go with it. If they don’t, be prepared with an alternative. Other fun things: in a lot of Eastern cultures it’s rude to look a woman in the eye. Took me months to figure out why guys were dodging my direct gaze :P

  16. Long Time Admin*

    Re: Last Item – “Boss won’t give me a date for internal transfer”

    Here’s the real skinny on that – the boss wants the new manager to get so frustrated waiting for you that he withdraws the job offer and you have to stay where you are.

    Go to your HR department and ask nicely about the policy covering this. There probably isn’t one, but at least you’ll feel like you did something about it.

  17. Rachel*

    Re: LinkedIn, my current coworkers have left their former jobs as “current” (rather than update or say “unemployed”) so that their former employers couldn’t reach out to them or bad mouth them in their new companies. They look at LinkedIn as being separate from a formal job application.

  18. Cube Ninja*

    No disagreement regarding the employers losing any ‘right’ to complete information if they retaliate for honesty.

    From the management standpoint, though, I guess I’m just of the school of thought that unless FMLA (or a similar/additional state program) is in play, the employer really has to make the decision to either replace the person at the point where the position becomes vacant or ask everyone else to absorb the work on the chance the person comes back.

    I realize, of course, that FMLA, etc. doesn’t always factor in – I’ve seen instances where an employee who is very much worth keeping gets the other side of this – the company dragging its feet about whether or not it wants to do more than what the law requires to retain good talent.

  19. NikkiN*

    I have the experience of being the director of a person who took a 12 week maternity leave and then left shortly after her return. She also posted on Facebook (during her leave) that she was working on finding a management job and hoped everyone wished her luck. All I can say is,” really?” How tacky is that. The point is this was not only unprofessional- it will prevent her from returning to our organization (at least as long as I am there). She gave notice before leaving, but I will never rehire her, nor recommend her to anyone else. Do yourself a favor and don’t leave a legacy like that.

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