mini answer Monday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s mini answer Monday — seven short answers to seven short questions. We have a boss who lies, cheats, and steals; an employee whose side work is interfering with his primary job; and much more. Here we go…

1. My boss keeps telling us how many other people would like our jobs

We had a departmental meeting today and one of the things my manager said struck me as being very rude. He said, “Don’t take your jobs for granted. I have 40 other applicants looking for your job.” It was like a threat. Are there any possible legal ramifications to saying like this if someone pursued it or is this just a politically incorrect and mean thing to say? He has also threatened to “cull” the herd of less efficient people, again mentioning the number of applications he has received.

Legal ramifications to what, exactly? To pointing out that this isn’t a job market that people should be slacking off in? No, there’s nothing illegal about that.

It’s not the most graceful or supportive way of motivating people, obviously. A good manager who has concerns about someone’s performance talks with them about it one-on-one and is specific about where the bar is and how it’s not being met. And a good manager lays out clear consequences for lack of improvement, including letting you know if your job is at risk. Your manager isn’t operating that way, unfortunately. And either you’re all doing a great job and he’s just being a jerk, or you’re not all doing a great job and he’s talking out of frustration rather than managing the situation properly. Either way, if I worked for this guy and heard a rant like this, I’d just talk with him one-on-one and ask how I was doing overall and where I could be doing better.

2. Closing the office early when employees have different start and end times

Is there a general rule employers follow when they close the office early but employees have different start and end times? For example, prior to the last holiday, the office closed at 3 PM. I work 7 AM to 4 PM but a few people work 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. So I ended up working 7 hours but other staff worked 5-1/2 hours. That doesn’t seem fair, and it adds up throughout the year.

There’s no harm in asking whether on days when the office will close early, you can come in at 8:30 like the others so that your workday is the same length. But if they don’t know in advance when they’re going to close early and thus you can’t plan for it, then you just need to live with this. Stuff isnt’t always perfectly fair.

3. How to let an employee know that his outside work can’t interfere with his primary job

One of my employees called me yesterday and asked if he could leave work to go on a rescue call (he’s on the local fire dept. rescue team). I told him he could, but it really threw a monkey wrench into our scheduled work for the day. Because he left work early, the owner had to leave the office and go to the job site to finish the job in order to fulfill our company obligation to the customer. How can I delicately let my employee know that, although we support his decision to be on the rescue team at the fire department, the company can’t afford this type of disruption during the work day?

Just be straightforward and say it like you said it here: “We really support your rescue work, but at the same time, it’s hard for us to accommodate unplanned absences during the work day.” Then tell him what that means — “I want to make sure you know in advance that we’re going to have to say no more than we can say yes to the type of thing the other day,” or “we can’t typically approve you leaving on short notice for rescue calls, as important as that work is,” or whatever. If he pushes back, it’s fine to simply say, “I completely understand and admire your commitment to the rescue work you do. Unfortunately, for this role, we really do need you to be here all day, unless we’ve made other arrangements in advance. If you decide this isn’t for you because of it, I’ll understand your decision. Do you want to take some time to think about it?” This is just about both of you dealing with the reality of his competing commitments; you’ve just got to tackle it head-on.

4. My boss lies, cheats, and steals

I have worked for my boss, who is an attorney, for about 10 years. He lies, cheats and steals. He even has a bank account in his dead mother’s name with money he does not completely claim on taxes. He thinks he is above the law and can out-smart everyone because he is an attorney. He used to pay my corporation that he set up so that he could avoid taxes as an employer. Then, when I demanded he pay me personally, he reduced my pay to cover the taxes he has to pay. He is vulgar and cusses and yells at me. Who would I even contact? What remedy other than leaving the job would there even be? Is that even the right thing to do, trouble out of hate-sake?

You could report him to the IRS and the Department of Labor (for the financial shenanigans, not for the cussing and yelling). But yeah, I would leave as soon as you can, because this guy is breaking the law and you don’t want to be a part of that.

5. How do I answer these interview questions?

I have received the following questions and have struggled to answer them: Why do you have so many temporary jobs? Why do you have such a gap in an employment / Why have you not worked in over a year?

Well, what are the answers? These aren’t questions where there’s a one-size-fits-all response. You answer with whatever the truth is, trying to put as positive a spin on it as possible. For instance, if you were laid off from your last job and have struggled to find work since then, you’d say something like, “Like a lot of people, I was laid off when my company had financial struggles a year ago. Since then, I’ve kept busy by working a series of short-term jobs while looking for somewhere that I can stay for a significant period of time.”

6. I’m about to be demoted

I have been with the same company for 21 years. I think a new manager (I’m the assistant manager) is going to demote me to a regular customer service rep and take my salary. Can she do that? If so, can I ask to be let go and collect unemployment?

Yes, she can do that. And you can ask to be laid off instead; she may or may not agree (paying unemployment costs the company money). If you do get her to lay you off, you can definitely collect unemployment. If she won’t and you quit, you may or may not be able to collect unemployment based on the terms of your job fundamentally changing; in this case, you’d want to call your local unemployment office first and find out.

7. Interviewing with two out-of-town companies at the same time

This is a question for my wife. We live in Indiana. She’s had phone interviews with two companies in Seattle. One is arranging to fly her up to Seattle for another interview, and it’s possible the other company may want to as well soon. What is the etiquette should both companies want her to come up around the same time? Say within a day or two?

She should contact the second company and let them know that she’ll be in Seattle on whatever dates, in case they’d like to meet while she’s in town. They may say no even if they’re interested (because those days are bad for them, or because they’re not ready to hold in-person interviews yet, or whatever), or they may say yes. However, she should make sure that she’s not booking an interview with the second company during time that the first company expects her to be available. In fact, she may want to extend the visit a day or two at her own expense so that there’s no conflict.

(And I know I had a post last year about interviewing with a second company when you’re in town on the first company’s dime, but I can’t find it and it’s driving me crazy.)

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    If you have concrete proof of an attorney doing things like mishandling money, avoiding taxes, etc., you can report him to the State Bar. Just a thought.

    1. V*

      Agreed. The State Bar is the best place to report this type of illegal/inappropriate activity by an attorney, since they regulate attorney licenses, not the Department of Labor.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s true. But the Dept of Labor would also be interested in the shady stuff he’s doing with the OP’s pay. So report him to all three places!

    2. Kim Stiens*

      Oooh, that’s a good idea. At the very least, they’d be interested in helping you figure out what the next step is.

      1. Meredith*

        Yeah, I would 100% report this to the State Bar as well as any local bar associations he’s part of. Call the State Bar’s ethics hotline (it should be on their website) and ask about what exactly you should do as far as formal complaints with them, local bars, the IRS, etc. I’d also recommend asking them for a list of attorneys in your area who deal with tax fraud to find someone for a consultation to see if you have any liability re: the whole corporation payment business… But, I have to say, I’d try to line up a new job before I started the reporting business. If this guy is well-respected in your town, he could smear your name. You’re a whistle-blower and other employers should recognize that as such, but it still wouldn’t hurt to be safely elsewhere rather than dealing with reputation fallout. Also, document document document while you’re still there! Write down dates all of this occurred, everything, as well as future dates of anything re: financial stuff. I feel for you! What a mess.

    3. TrixMix*

      #1 – Would it make you feel better to know that that manager’s peers and higher-ups probably sh*t themselves when they heard what he did and he’s lost their trust too (but they can’t tell you this)? Only an incredibly obtuse person damages morale, trust, and their own credibility. The only person he’s shot here is himself, in the foot.

      #4 – Something in the post gives me a nagging feeling that the poster is hinting some complicity in this. “My corporation?” There will be consequences for them as well if they have willingly participated and materially benefitted ($cha-ching) from this behavior. Maybe cut your losses and abandon ship.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        #1. It’s actually possible that this wasn’t as bad as this interpretation. Let’s say there’s a lot of slacking off going on. It’s possible the guy pointed out, “Hey, if you don’t want to do the work, there are other people who will.” There are some contexts where it wouldn’t be a complete a-hole thing to say.

        1. TrixMix*

          We could get into a whole debate over whether punitive mgmt styles are ever appropriate, and maybe he works for an organization that embraces these ideals yadda yadda, and whether perception is reality, but I’m really just trying to make the guy feel better about a situation that has brought him way down!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Understood. I tend to think that what makes people feel the best in the long run is a clear-eyed view of the reality of their situation (and I have a strict no-sugarcoating policy with the advice I give here), so if it’s possible the boss wasn’t being a complete jerk for no reason, I’d rather the OP recognize that piece of the situation.

      2. Under Stand*

        Alright, the way it is painted by OP #1, the manager looks like a jerk. However we do not know if that is what was said or if that is how #1 heard it. Why do I say that? Because #1 asked if telling an employee that there are 40 applications in his office looking for work and wants to know if firing #1 is legal. Because #1 thinks telling employees that they could be fired if they are not efficient and that they should not be taking their jobs for granted was rude and not politically correct to say. What the heck is not politically correct in telling people that if they keep phoning it in that they will be gone and replaced with another employee? And firing someone for not giving the job 100% is perfectly legal. This employee acts as if she is owed the job. Maybe the manager could have put it nicer- heck maybe the manager has put it nicer a half dozen times without anyone getting the hint- but at the end of the day, if you are not giving your job your all, there are probably 40 people wanting everyone of our jobs. That is the sad thing about this economy. A lot of great workers are unemployed. And none of us should take our jobs for granted.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Exactly. When I first started writing my answer to that question, I was writing as if the boss was clearly a jerk. And then I realized exactly what you wrote above — that depending on the context it was said in, it might not have been horrifically jerky. I’m not saying that’s ever the perfect way to word that message, but there are definitely contexts where it wouldn’t be outrageous to say.

          1. Under Stand*

            No, definitely not the perfect way, but we all know someone who does not get subtlety and you have to use a baseball bat to get there attention.

            Heck, I am at times that someone, so I relate.

            1. Diana*

              The problem with telling the whole group of employees is that the oblivious one will remain ignorant that the manager is addressing them. I vaguely remember a story posted here where a manager made a comment to a group of employees about standards for work clothes and the one person guilty was the one who didn’t get that the comment was to her. The way this manager is handling it, all of the employees will think it’s someone else that is slacking (what do you mean it’s me?!) and the manager won’t see any improvement in behavior/work. Even if every single one of them needs improvement, they will all be left wondering unless the manager addresses the problem more specifically.

              1. The gold digger*

                I went to a dance class once where the teacher stopped the record, looked at the ceiling, and said, “SOMEone isn’t rocking back on the two count.”

                We all looked at each other, wondering, “Is it I?” Then we wondered, “Why doesn’t she just tell the person who’s not doing it right? We are paying for her to teach us to dance!”

              2. Natalie*

                That concept came up in the crazy long comment thread about the assistant who’s shirts were too low cut. I think a few people chimed in with stories where the one offender didn’t understand.

                I’ve had a sort-of opposite, but equally bad situation – everyone knew who the one person was, including her, and it felt like a public call-out. I thought it was embarrassing and pretty shitty of the manager.

              3. Anonymous*

                This is so right!!! Often times, those who are the most likely to miss these hints are the ones who are intended to hear them. It’s a ridiculous way to communicate. As AAM said, the comment itself isn’t necessarily that bad. But as someone who has worked under this type of management style, it does NOT work. It’s also embarrassing for the person it’s intended for, and creates unnecessary fear in those who are doing their jobs well. I think this practice comes from a general laziness on the manager’s part, and a reluctance to have a more detailed, 1-on-1 conversation. *Sigh*

  2. Kim Stiens*

    I wonder if, in the case of the final question, there is value to telling both companies “Look, I’m applying for you both, and I really want to find out if I’m a good match for either of you. If you want to fly me out for an interview, I can help you arrange it to split the costs between both companies, and we can make sure to coordinate the trip between our 3 schedules.” In more flowery language. It’s a bit forward, but it does let each company (honestly) know where they stand, and is giving both a way to save money. Good?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Theoretically, yes. But there are lots of employers who are really weird about this kind of thing, like they want to delude themselves into believing the applicant isn’t interested in any other job. Not defending that mindset — it’s super odd — but it’s out there.

      1. TrixMix*

        In theory this makes total sense but the cost of coordination would outweigh the travel benefits. And as Alison articulated, employers act like dates; they don’t want to know the next one is later that day, down the block!

  3. MBA Newbie*

    #1: I’d be looking for a new job in the mean time and 9 times out of 10, the “is this legal” questions ARE legal but always entertaining, regardless.

    #2: A major case of sour grapes here… transfer positions or ask to change hours or just get over it?!

    #3: I agree completely with AAM.

    #4: Definitely turn him in… on multiple accounts. IRS and anyone else he has screwed over would love to hear what you have to say HOWEVER I wouldn’t turn him in, only because I believe in karma. He’ll get his if he is doing wrong but I’m not sure there is a long list of attornies desperate to sign up employees who will sell them out. Might make it difficult ot be hired elsewhere especially since, odds are, this will go public.

    #5: Just like AAM said… just answer them.

    #6: I’d be looking for a new job. Hold onto what you have and simultaneously start looking for alternative employment.

    #7: What is it with spouses asking questions on their spouses’ behalf… always strikes me as odd. If the wifey wants to know – wouldn’t she be doing the asking? Or is this just another case of a husband trying to inflict his beliefs on his wife without actually asking her if she cares for his opinion… just a thought. Anyone can ask AAM a question… this isn’t like FB and you have to FRIEND the blogger… just seems very odd.

    1. Kim Stiens*

      Eh, maybe his wife isn’t an “ask the blogger” type but he is. I read AAM every single day but my boyfriend would probably never think to write in here, it’s just not the way he approaches things. But I definitely wouldn’t feel weird writing in about it myself if I were curious!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I agree. I do think it’s problematic when the spouse/significant other is conducting the other person’s job search for them, or interfering with their work life. But just seeking advice seems reasonable to me, for the reason you said.

    2. Jaime*

      #2 – Sour grapes? Sure is and why shouldn’t the person be irritated by this practice? AAM was spot on when she said life is not always perfectly fair, but many employers use that as a cop out to not even try. This is how I view it with my own employer: I didn’t ask them to have 6-10 different shifts to accomodate, though I really appreciate it most days, so why are they now acting like they’re doing me a big favor? Presumably, these different shifts are offered because they service a business need of theirs – it’s certainly not out of any charity in their hearts. So, since they’ve set up the situation, it is now their responsibility to deal with it equitably.

      In my case, some of us work 10 hour shifts 4 days a week, some work 5 8hr days, some work 3 12hr days + 1 4hr, some work 4 9 hr days and 1 4hr, and some work p/t – we are open 24/7. However, any company holiday is paid out at 8 hours of straight pay. It’s the easiest solution in the end for payroll, but it’s frustrating because roughly half of the workforce in my department is now affected since only about half of us work 5 8 hr days. We didn’t ask for this mess of schedules, but the company acts as if we created the situation and are totally unreasonable to want a more equitable solution.

      My company does the same thing with breaks. 2 breaks a day, regardless of your schedule. So people who work longer schedules are screwed over the course of a week. Yeah, I may only work 4 days but I’m still working 40 hours just like the others. Their response – we’re not required to give you breaks in your state but since one of our other offices is in a state that requires breaks, you’ve got them too. So suck it. :eyeroll: They created the situation, then act insulted that we ask for a better solution.

      Is it the worst thing? Absolutely not, but all of these things add up and sometimes what you get in the end are unhappy employees and high turnover. If you can easily solve the situation, why let something simply fester?

    3. Long Time Admin*

      MBA Newbie, I cringed when I read your reply to # 4. This person must definitely turn in her employer. Karma won’t help her if she lands in jail. She could be made the fall guy here if she doesn’t act soon.

      Legally, because she knows about her employer’s fraud and hasn’t done anything yet, she’s on very thin ice. She needs to get advice right away about protecting herself while she blows the whistle on this guy. I’ve known of several administrative assistants and secretaries who got into serious trouble because they knew what was going on and didn’t report it. They were considered accomplices.

      OP # 4 – you don’t want the FBI or anyone else knocking on your door because of your employer’s misdeeds. Take the advice of the first couple of commenters. Document everything you can (and NEVER let it out of your possession) and save yourself.

  4. Julie*

    Re: #7 — I think you mean “out of town” companies, not “out of time.” That would just be odd. I was expecting a question about really outdated interview practices, or companies that don’t have access to email or phones or something.

  5. IRS employee*


    If you suspect or know of an individual or company that is not complying with the tax laws, you may report this activity by completing Form 3949-A. You may fill out Form 3949-A online, print it and mail it to:

    Internal Revenue Service
    Fresno, CA 93888

    If you do not wish to use Form 3949-A, you may send a letter to the address above. Please include the following information, if available:

    Name and address of the person you are reporting
    The taxpayer identification number (social security number for an individual or employer identification number for a business)
    A brief description of the alleged violation, including how you became aware of or obtained the information
    The years involved
    The estimated dollar amount of any unreported income
    Your name, address and daytime telephone number
    Although you are not required to identify yourself, it is helpful to do so. Your identity can be kept confidential.

    1. Nichole*

      The FEIN (federal identification number for a business) can be a bear to find for people not in a position to view confidential records. It should be on your W2’s-though if tax fraud is part of your boss’s repetoire, we can’t assume you have one…

  6. Under Stand*

    #6. Yes, they can do that. Depending on the state, and you do not tell us what state you are in, you can quit with cause- unless of course you are being demoted because of mistakes in the job that you have made but I will presume since you have been an employee there for 21 years that is probably not the case. If you live in a state that allows you to quit because the position is a significantly lower position with a significantly lower pay rate, then you can remind them of that and see what happens. But make no mistake if you do that, they will find a cause to fire you be it that day or a month later. Several states have allowed people to quit with cause for such a situation. As well as a situation where the company cut your hours to make you quit. It has been found that is the same as letting you go and unemployment must be paid.

    Bottom line is that if the new manager wants you gone, you will be gone.

  7. Anonymous*

    Re: #2 – Closing the office early

    My office allows employees to go home early too right before a big holiday weekend. We have employees that come in at different times, so to make it fair, management says we can go home like 2 hours earlier than our usual time. So if you work 8-4, you can leave at 2 and if you work 9 to 5, you leave at 3. That way, everyone works an equal 6 hours. We have also had another instances in which we know ahead of time that we are allowed to leave early, so management would tell us that everyone must come in at the same time, like 8am or so. I think both ways are very fair. Maybe you can bring these suggestions to your manager?

  8. Anonymous*

    Re: #4. My boss lies, cheats, and steals

    Don’t mean to scare you and I’m not exactly an attorney, but isn’t it also true that if you know that someone is doing something illegal, you have a responsibility to report it? And if you don’t, you are just as liable as the person committing the fraud? I agree with AAM and make even an anonymous report to the IRS just to have your back covered.

  9. Anonymous*

    #2 My workplace lets people go early, but is super secretive about it. If people talk about it, or act like its going to happen, the boss doesn’t give it to us because we were acting entitled. I know not every workplace is the same, but for my office — asking about days before holidays when you leave early — would likely result in there being no surprise time for anyone.

    1. Esra*

      That sounds childish and petty. I hope the boss’ kids never sneak a peek at birthday/holiday presents etc, lest the events be cancelled altogether.

  10. Charles*

    #3; AAM, your title doesn’t exactly match what is going on with this employee. Volunteering on Fire or Rescue or being in the military reserve isn’t exactly “outside work.” It isn’t like this employee left early to go do a shift at the local whatever to earn some extra cash. (I know that you know it isn’t; but I just wanted to point that out – EMS and Fire aren’t some namby-pamby volunteer gigs – they are serious stuff)

    I would suggest that companies, no matter how small, find a way to accomodate such volunteers. Let’s say one of your co-workers or your boss has a heart-attack or an accident; what if every employer felt that their customer’s needs come before some stranger’s needs for that call? Just what is your reaction going to be when NO ONE shows up to YOUR 911 call?

    In many US communities it is exactly these volunteers who will be there when YOU need them. Please, please try to work this employee’s schedule around when he/she is on call. (SAYING that you support his decision and ACTUALLY supporting it are not the same thing)

    Most volunteers that I know are very grateful that their employers understand the dedication involved in such volunteering and make adjustments accordingly. A volunteer EMS or firefighter has to study just as much as a professional in the same field. But they are giving of their own extra time on weekends and evenings. Is it really that much of a burden that the employer doesn’t want to or can’t find room to accomodate the occasional “leaving the job” to go on a call? (I’m playing tiny violins feeling so sorry for the owner to have to fill in – boo hoo)

    Also, have you, the OP, never heard of good PR for your company? Or worse yet, how about negative PR? Do you really want it to be known by customers that you feel their needs are more important than an emergency call? Is so, then, please let me know exactly what your company is so that I never, NEVER, am your customer! (sorry to sound pissy; but too many folks today have so little sense of obligation)

    1. Jaime*

      I agree that it is fantastic and exceptional that this employee volunteers his time for something so worthy. However, why is his volunteer activity all of a sudden the employer’s volunteer activity? Did he disclose his time commitment when he was hired? Was he able to accurately estimate the amount of time lost/inconvenience to the employer so they could make an informed decision when they hired him?

      Yes, his volunteer work is incredible needful and admirable, but that does not mean that his employer is a jerk when they must also cover their responsibilities to their clients and employees. I think it’s an awkward situation for all involved since no one wants to say that they don’t want you to do something so worthy, yet they still have to cover their work.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        My question is, what does this guy do on his job that no one else can do when he’s gone? You can’t have undependable people in critical jobs (even when they’re going off to save lives.) My point is that he leaves his job and it creates an emergency there. Maybe he’s not really the best person for this job.

        They have a lot of talking to do.

      2. Jamie*

        +1 for everything Jaime said.

        It’s an admirable thing to do, but needing adequate coverage for a business isn’t exactly unreasonable. If a company is running lean then unplanned absences can easily be a huge issue – whatever the reason.

        Everyone has to balance work commitments with the other commitments in their lives – and if they have something like this which is important to them then they need to find a job where the employer can work around the time missed.

        Not every employer can do that – it doesn’t make them Scrooge.

    2. Andrew*

      It is this kind of attitude that leads employers NOT to hire people who have “first responder” commitments outside of work.

      Volunteer firefighters, EMS, rescue workers and the like do important work. However, they are generally not shy about touting the importance of that work, and a great many seem to feel that they are immune to criticism. This attitude is abetted by a starry-eyed news media. It is the ultimate in political incorrectness to even suggest that other people in other jobs may be just as worthy of our admiration.

    3. KellyK*

      I agree that it’s important to figure out a way to work with this employee, and that the company should consider what their reaction would be if one of their employees died because no one came to the 911 call. In the grand scheme of things, what he’s doing is really important.

      I don’t think that means he has to always be able to leave with a moment’s notice and cause the rest of the company to have to scramble, though.

      I think instead of saying that he’s going to have to say “no” to a bunch of these requests, it would be more productive to just tell the employee that when he left for a call, it caused this specific problem, and they need to figure out a way to prevent that problem from occurring in the future. Maybe he needs to schedule his on-call time at less busy periods, maybe he needs to give advance notice of his schedule. What would actually solve the problem depends a lot on the company, but unless his position is absolutely critical, there should be a reasonable compromise to be found. It won’t be perfect, I’m sure–he might need to cut down his on-call hours with the fire department and will probably need to not respond to some calls that he would like to.

      I think that if he made the company aware of this commitment when he was hired, and they said it was okay, they’re obliged (ethically at least) to figure something out. If he didn’t, they should still try to work something out, but I don’t see them as quite so obligated.

    4. KayDay*

      I agree with Charles here. In some communities (like the one I grew up in), volunteers make up the bulk of emergency personnel, so it is essential that people be able to do these jobs. As the manager, I think the OP needs to take a long, hard look at the organizational structure and determine if there is any way the organization can work with the employee to better accommodate the emergency responded work. Maybe there isn’t, but the OP should make an effort. For example, in my community, the emergency responders were not on call all the time–perhaps the employee could make it clear to the OP when exactly he will be on call and when he is not?

    5. ARM2008*

      I live in a community where the ONLY fire and ambulance crews are volunteers. The major employer in town has long made it a policy to allow their factory workers to leave to reply to calls. In addition to the founder being a philanthropist, they kind of like it when the fire department or ambulance shows up when they need it… Calls during the day are often very hard to respond to because many volunteers work out of town (if it was a big town they would have paid responders, no?).

      How exactly are they supporting him: “we support his decision to be on the rescue team at the fire department, the company can’t afford this type of disruption during the work day?” Is that like we support your decision to stay home with your critically ill child, but we’re firing you because we’re not covered by FMLA?

      A more respectable approach is “under these circumstances (identify them) we can find a way to let you go; under these circumstances (list them) we just can’t. As time goes on we’ll evaluate how this is working.” And we really really appreciate having you as an employee because when the owner’s karma kicks in we know we can count on you to be there for him.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think that’s unfair. There are some jobs — and especially in smaller offices — where you really just can’t have people leaving without notice. There are some jobs where you can — but not all of them.

        1. Grey*

          I agree completely, but I was sure you were going to call him out for saying “we support his decision to be on the rescue team” when in fact they don’t.

          I was also surprised that you suggested “we’re going to have to say no more than we can say yes to the type of thing the other day”. Isn’t that like saying, “Sorry. I know someone’s life needs to be saved, but we really need you here.”?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t see it that way. They could feel very supportive of what he’s doing, without it being compatible with what they need from his position at their company. In other words, they’re glad he’s doing it, but it’s at odd with the needs of his role with them.

            On your second paragraph, I don’t think it’s any more like that than it would be to tell an on-call heart surgeon that he wouldn’t be the best person to volunteer to man a front desk that always needs someone at it. Some things are hugely worthy but not compatible with other things.

            1. KellyK*

              I think “We support…” is inaccurate in this case, no matter how many warm fuzzies they might have about it in general terms. I wouldn’t recommend saying they support what he does unless they’re willing to find a way to actually support it, not just to feel supportive and tell him he can’t.

              He might well be in a position where they *can’t* support his rescue activities, and that’s understandable. It just seems disingenuous to say they do when they don’t.

              1. KellyK*

                Yeah, I do tend to nitpick semantics. “Support” to me just seems active, like more than being in favor of something on general principles. “We’re glad you do this,” or “We recognize that it’s important,” or even “We’d love to be able to support you in this, but as small a company we are, we can’t,” just seems more honest to me.

            2. Grey*

              I agree the positions aren’t compatible. I just think it’s wrong to say, “No. You can’t go rescue someone. We need you here today”.

              Until they can find someone else for the job, they should let this guy go save lives whenever he needs to.

            3. Jamie*

              “hugely worthy but not compatible with other things.”

              I don’t understand the pov that says just because it’s a worthy endeavor that a company should or can work around it.

              There are many worthy and even honorable and necessary things that aren’t compatible with certain jobs.

              There was a time in my life I provided hospice care for my mom who was dying of cancer. Shortly thereafter one of my sons was diagnosed with a serious developmental disability. I spent years managing doctor’s appointments, therapies, chemo, IEP meetings, etc.

              All crucial things, and imo, worthy activities – but wholly incompatible with working 9-5. So I didn’t.

              No one could argue that those things needed to get done, but to expect an employer to work around the needs of my mother and son would have been ridiculous.

              It’s no different here – it’s just that he is serving the community rather than his own family which makes him more selfless. But the point is the same.

              If you have something in your life that is important enough to you to structure your job around, then you need to make sure you have a job which allows for this flexibility.

              Employees who can’t be depended on to be consistently at work (regardless of the reason) put strain on a small business both the extra work to others covering for them and to the potential loss of business if one of the balls is dropped.

              Being a responder impacts the lives of the community. But so do employers through which people make their livings. That’s a noble causes as well, imo.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                This is my take on it too. Lots of things are worthy and truly crucial, but it’s not feasible for a business to be expected to take on all of them.

      2. Anonymous*

        Another consideration could be the seriousness of the rescue call. Some “emergency” calls (Probable broken arm) are not life-threatening (chest pains, trouble breathing). If the employer is open to it, they could allow the employee to monitor their pager only during certain pre-determined times and leave only if the severity of the problem reached a certain level. I guess I’m saying it’s not necessarily an all or nothing situation.

        1. KellyK*

          My brother-in-law is an EMT and used to run with the local rescue squad. My husband did the class and ran as a trainee too. From what they’ve said and the pages I’ve overheard, you don’t necessarily get tons of information from the 911 dispatcher. “Sick” could mean anything from “chest pains and trouble breathing” to “has the flu and really should just go to a doctor.” You usually know how serious it is when you get there.

    6. Anonymous*

      “Because he left work early, the owner had to leave the office and go to the job site to finish the job in order to fulfill our company obligation to the customer”

      The OP clearly states that this person caused issues by leaving unannounced. While I’m not saying people who volunteer for these jobs are not deserving of admiration and respect, you also have to look at the impact on the company. If the owner had to leave to complete the task it sounds to me like this is a small business since there weren’t other employees to send to complete the work. Losing even one customer or having a customer bad-mouth you can lead to a lot of lost revenue and issues for a small business. While many customers would be ok with someone leaving to answer a fire call, there are also some that would not, unfortunately, these are the people likely to be most vocal about their displeasure.

      The suggestion I would give is that the volunteer specify the hours they are available to their volunteer position, that way they won’t receive calls while at work.

      This is a really great way to contribute to the community, but the volunteer should also maintain a healthy balance where they aren’t neglecting their other life commitments.

  11. bob*

    For the author of #4: If the lawyer put your name on ANYTHING get the hell out now before the IRS comes looking for you.

  12. Cassie*

    Our division usually lets us out at 3pm for three-day holidays – some people work from 7am-4pm, others from 8am-5pm. A while back, our manager sent out an email to everyone saying that if the division closes at 3pm for the holidays, that means 3pm. It doesn’t mean if you 2pm if you usually leave at 4. I have flexible hours anyway so it doesn’t affect me, but I don’t think it’s fair to those who start work early. A better idea would be to let everyone leave 2 hours prior to their normal ending time, since it eliminates the problem of some people working 1 hour more than others.

    Our dept has been closing at noon on the day before the big holidays (Thanksgiving & Christmas break). It doesn’t eliminate the problem, though – some people are working 4 hours, others are working 5. Though how much work really gets done on a day before a major holiday (like Thanksgiving or Christmas break) anyway?

  13. Liz*

    1) I once had a boss who liked to point out that 100+ people had applied for my job. She probably did mean it to be negative, but “We chose you over 100 people” is also a pretty big compliment. So whenever she mentioned it I played it up as a really nice thing to say about my qualifications. Maybe the OP could flip it around on the boss? “Yes, we’re the best of the best at a time when 40 people are available to do this job…”

    2) Unlike most people, I don’t think it’s a good idea to turn in the shady lawyer. In my (unfortunate) experience, people who are THIS over the top in breaking all the rules seem to have been getting away with it for a reason – either he has a friend in the right spot, or he’s a brutal and shameless liar. Either way, his energy and inventiveness for not getting caught is going to greatly exceed any would-be whistle blower former employee’s energy for making the charges stick. And most disciplinary bodies just want an excuse to drop the charges, which is how jerks like this stick around. Whistleblowing is the right sentiment, but it just seems like it rarely turns out well in practice when the power disparities are unequal, as they are here.

  14. TheSnarkyB*

    #3: I’m wondering whether this question had more to it. If the volunteer fire fighter (or whatever) asked for the portion of the day off, he’s presumably asking you, a supervisor, right?
    I love when AAM is blunt about the need to be direct, but this seems to lack that sentiment. He asked (employee to employer) and you said ‘yes’. We have no way of knowing HOW he asked, so next time, say ‘no’. The question should be answered as it was asked (something like: “How can I nicely deny an employee the time to do volunteer life-saving stuff while he’s still on the clock?”)
    Not answered as if it asked “Should I let my employee do this? If not, why?”

  15. Chuck*

    Re: #6 – Please do not ask to be laid off. That is the wimpy, cowardly way out. Our country is in too much financial trouble and we all need to do what we can to help. So don’t take unemployment if you don’t have to.

    If you get demoted, act honorably and continue to work there UNTIL you find your next job.

    OP wrote he/she “thinks” they’re about to be demoted. Many (most?) fears are irrational. Is that the case here? And, if you think you’re going to be demoted, why not be proactive and approach your manager to prevent that? Make the business case that your long-time experience w/ the company is invaluable. You look forward to working w/ the new manager. You’re willing to help them make the department a raving success, etc. Perhaps the new manager is intimidated by this long-time employee? If so, the OP could do well by showing him/herself to be a great team player in helping this new manager.

    1. Nichole*

      I like the sentiment here (especially after spending a year and a half becoming very good at spotting people on the lookout for ways to misuse the unemployment system). I agree that the most important thing is the preemptive strike against the demotion. However, if that doesn’t help, being demoted, regardless of the reason, could look like a strike in finding a new job, the sentiment being “This person was good enough to be an assistant manager for 21 years and now isn’t? What did s/he DO?!?” Laid off is much easier to explain, especially if a new AM will not be hired. Ultimately, due diligence goes in to determining if unemployment is granted, and this person has to weigh what a demotion will do to future job prospects before deciding how to handle this.

      1. KellyK*

        You bring up a really good point, that the demotion could really hurt the person’s future job prospects. I don’t think that they owe it to the company or to the country not to ask for a layoff if the demotion seems like a way of pushing them to quit. There are rules about constructive dismissal for a reason.

  16. Kate*

    I once worked at a company who hired a man who was also a volunteer fireman in a neighboring town. This was rural Maine,where many of the fire departments were (and still are) run by volunteers.
    Well, in his first week, he had 3 fires he had to respond to. In his second, another 2 or 3, and there was no third week, since his manager was smart enough to check the guy’s “emergencies” against news reports in the town.
    Like everything else, the relatively few who abuse a system frequently ruin it for everyone.

    1. KellyK*

      Wow. That’s horrible. I hope the other folks on the VFD found out what he did, since he’s potentially screwing it up for all of them personally.

  17. Greg*

    Obviously, we don’t know all the details about the boss who’s breaking the law, and in theory we should all be Good Samaritans and report wrongdoing wherever we see it, good should triumph over evil, etc, etc.

    But my advice to the OP is *be very careful*. Being a whistleblower is incredibly risky. The employer could retaliate, either via a lawsuit (this guy is a lawyer, after all) or by implicating the OP in some way (as long as he’s cooking the books, what’s to stop him from framing someone else for his misdeeds?)

    As frustrating and cowardly as it may sound, the wisest course of action in these cases is often to simply give notice immediately and get out of there before you get drawn in any deeper. You won’t win any Profiles in Courage awards, but you also are less likely to have your life turned upside down.

  18. Emily*

    #4 If you do decide not to report him, be careful that you are not implicated in some wrongdoing. You did mention that your corporation did get paid until you insisted on being paid directly. I would do more research on how to report people to the Bar and/or IRS before making a decision. Maybe there are ways to do it that would protect you from this guy. I wouldn’t just walk away without taking at least some action to protect myself.

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