short answer Saturday: 6 short answers to 6 short questions

It’s short answer Saturday — six short answers to six short questions. We’ve got a bad manager issuing bad instructions in a bad manner, revoked mileage reimbursements, and more. Here we go…

1. Telling our boss we’re engaged

My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year. We’re planning to get married and he is planning to propose in the very near future. We work together and the working situation is tricky in that we also live at the jobsite and work with a population of high school aged kids who have not been allowed to know we are dating. I am very sure we need to let the boss know that we plan on getting engaged and married but my question is, how? It seems like such a strange thing to ask for a meeting about and an email seems a little too informal. I don’t think he’s been disappointed with either of our performance since we started dating, quite the opposite actually. Do you have any points for how to go about getting the ball rolling on this?

Wait until you’re engaged, and then simply meet with him, let him know you’re engaged, and ask him how he’d like you to handle it with the kids you work with. Don’t feel weird about asking for a meeting to talk about it — it’s reasonable to discuss it if secrecy has been expected up to this point.

2. How far back should a resume go?

I have a question about how far back a resume should go. I have seen a 10-12 year rule before. I have a friend who I’m helping putting together a resume. She was with company A for 4 years, then company A was bought by company B, who she was with for 8 years. Altogether that is 12 years in the same position. Should she go back further on her resume? She has more experience that would show more of her expertise and accomplishments. Or does going back further too much? She is applying for management type positions.

Yes, she should go back further, because otherwise she’s only going to have one job on her resume, and that’s not ideal. Often people say to only go back X years (I’d say 15ish, depending on the specifics) because you don’t need a resume full of tons of jobs, but that doesn’t apply in this case. Of course, people also advise that in order to avoid age discrimination, but in this case, showing that she’s had more than one job trumps that concern. Don’t go back to the 1970s or anything (experience from 40 years ago isn’t likely to be relevant now anyway), but add in a couple of jobs from before the current one.

3. Boss asked us to tell a coworker not to speak a foreign language in the office

I work for a small HR outsourcing company with under ten employees. The owner of the company (let’s call him Bob) is the supervisor of all of the employees and has stated more than once that we do not report to anybody but him and that we are all at the same level. Yesterday, a new employee from Israel was speaking on her phone in her cubicle in Hebrew, presumably to a family member. Today Bob called me and two other coworkers into his office and said that he overheard her speaking in Hebrew on her phone and that if she wants to talk on the phone in another language she needs to do so outside of the office. He said that it was so distracting he had to close his door. Since this Israeli employee reports to him directly, we have no idea who is actually supposed to talk to her, or what we are supposed to say.

Bob tends to give blanket responsibilities to all of us as a group with no indication of who should do what and puts nobody in charge of delegating, so we often are confused as to whether certain tasks are being completed or who is expected to do them. We are all extremely busy and none of us jump at the prospect of more work or responsibility, especially when it comes to disciplining each other. What are the legal issues here that we need to be aware of in terms of speaking with the new employee about not using her native language at work? Also how do you recommend we as a group handle Bob’s odd management style?

It’s funny that Bob runs an HR outsourcing company and doesn’t know this is this is a legally tricky area (assuming you’re in the U.S.). Without knowing more details, it’s hard to say for sure if his instruction would violate the law, but based on your short letter, it probably does. Go back to Bob and tell him that you’re concerned that this instruction has legal implications — and while you’re there, tell him that none of you feel comfortable reprimanding or disciplining peers, and suggest that if he doesn’t want to do it himself, the company needs a second-in-command who has the authority to do it.

P.S. Bob is a bad manager.

4. Upper management ignoring work processes

My daughter is a graphics designer who has been noticed for her quality work by the president and vice president of a large company (over $1B sales). They come directly to her and give her assignments, bypassing the process all the divisions are supposed to use, which is: send a support request to the graphics department project managers, who then assign the work, coordinate with the requester, and manage the assignments. The project managers and their boss are upset. My daughter’s boss (4 levels below the vice president) is also upset and ordered her to tell the president of the company to stop calling her and to use the “process.” I think her boss should do this, not her. How should she handle this situation?

It’s pretty common for people at the top of a company to do this, and it might never change. They might not care what the department’s work processes are, or have determined that their immediate needs trump those processes (which they legitimately might). Rather than your daughter being in the position of saying “no” to people multiple levels above her, her manager (or people above that manager) should handle this. But if it continues — and it probably will — then your daughter should simply let her boss know about these requests whenever she gets them, so that her boss is in the loop about work that’s been requested.

5. Can my employer refuse to reimburse mileage?

Recently, my employer eliminated mileage reimbursement as an effort to cut costs. At the same time, they started requiring supervisors to pick up supplies each day and transport them to various locations for the organization. Is this legal?

Yes. No law requires employers to reimburse mileage (at least not in most states), and legally, they can say that using your personal car for work without reimbursement is indeed a condition of employment. But that doesn’t mean that it’s fair or smart, and ideally all the people affected by this new policy would speak to them about it and protest it.

6. Dressing for a business casual interview

Is a shift dress too formal for an interview in a business casual environment?

No! It’s perfect. Remember, just because the office is business casual, that doesn’t mean that the interview is. It’s still a business meeting.

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. Esra

    I’m a graphic designer as well. Upper management not following process (even if they came up with it themselves!) seems to be a problem everywhere. You have to have a thick skin as a designer, throughout your career you’re going to be facing out-of-date established standards, the dreaded design by committee, many many critiques, and people trying to demand changes right up to and then past the last second. Learning to say no, politely but firmly is a skill you need to have. You need to be able to defend your designs confidently, or amend them to critique when need be, and you need to be able to manage your time. So it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the daughter was able to learn to turn away these requests/redirect them to her manager, even though she really shouldn’t have to.

    It’s a shame the manager doesn’t deal with it directly, instead of telling their reports to say ‘no’. I mean, if the manager spoke with the pres/vp/other higher up, it would reinforce that the manager is the one process should go through, not the designers directly.

    1. M-C

      The graphic designer sounds like she’s in trouble either way. I’d try a 2-prong approach: first, tell the manager when she’s been assigned some overriding work and won’t be working on her official assignments because of it. Slip in something about how it’s not her job to protest the reassignments, if any protesting is really to be done. Then gently inform the upper management that they’re getting her in trouble with her direct supervisors, and ask them to inform them of the need for this new assignment. It may also be helpful to say ‘I’m supposed to be working on project X right now. Is this new project a higher priority then?’. Might ding the jerk’s brain about how he’s interfering with the good running of his own company. Process may be too big of a word, or too cumbersome of a path, for upper management to follow, but bumping priorities for a department cannot be done by sneaking around with the lowest employee. There is definitely a problem with upper management here. (it’s also their own damn fault if process is too bureaucratic, they should be fixing that..).

    1. bob

      I was going to ask what the hell a”shift dress” is! Thanks!

      PS: I’m not a bad manager…

    2. ARM2008

      LOL! I looked it up before coming to the comments. All the images I saw lead me to say a shift dress is not formal enough for an interview. They look all looked casual, dressy, or juvenile to me – none of the ones I saw impressed me as “business” – casual or otherwise.

      1. Corporate Cliff

        Agreed. They look flirty, almost something that would be worn to a club or bar. Then again, I have no idea, maybe the interview is at one of those.

  2. Cube Ninja

    Regarding #5, even if your company doesn’t reimburse for mileage, as long as you’re using your personal vehicle and not a vehicle owned by the company, there’s a good chance you can deduct mileage on your tax return at whatever the IRS rate is for the given year.

    That said, not reimbursing for mileage is kind of silly, since the company can deduct that expense. Unless mileage-only travel expense reimbursements were really eating up a lot of staff time, the only tangible effect this will have is annoying the employees who won’t get that reimbursement directly from the company.

    1. ThomasT

      Federal tax deductibility only means that you recoup whatever percentage your tax rate is. For the employee that’s probably 15-25%; I don’t know corporate rates. And if it’s a nonprofit, tax deductibility of the expense is a non-issue. But it sure is a great way to demotivate your employees.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, the employee will get a percentage back, based on their tax rate (even if they’re a nonprofit employee). Better than nothing, of course, but fully agree that it’s a great way to demotivate people. And employers who do this give up any right to expect employees to go above and beyond for them.

        1. Alan Miller

          It also seems that the company would be surrendering any right to dictate how it’s done at the very least. If I’m told to drive to other locations on company business, on the clock, at my own expense, the incentive is for me to minimize the cost to me, not the cost to the company. If that means I take back roads instead of tollways, well, it saved me $1.50 in tolls and some money on gas even if it took an extra half hour.

          Further, considering the price of gas these days (and where it’s forecast to go over the summer), non-reimbursement seems like it could be a serious problem depending on the errands involved – if I’m making $10/hour and I’m expected to drive around to locations at a personal cost of $5/hour in gas, how am I not making less than miniumum wage?

          1. NicoleW

            This.
            I protested a few summers ago when gas hit its previous peak – we had to do some “mandatory volunteering” (we’re all exempt, yay) for work on a Sunday at a location 50 minutes from my home. Since we weren’t going to the office first, the company wouldn’t reimburse for mileage. Even for me with a sedan, it was going to be about $15 in gas round trip. The company finally agreed to reimburse us for a portion of it, but not the full amount. I just found it especially crappy not to reimburse for working unpaid/exempt on a weekend.

  3. Anonymous

    3. Boss asked us to tell a coworker not to speak a foreign language in the office

    I wonder if the boss isn’t wanting the co-workers to be the ones to say something so he avoids the legal rules. The employee is just getting a request by co-workers instead of an order.

    1. M-C

      Very possibly. Frankly, just from that short letter, I’d be looking for a new job. Bob sounds like a total bully, as well as a manipulative creep.

      1. Jolene

        I’m the OP for this question. I have never really thought about Bob being a bully before, but you’re right. For example, he will belittle us by telling us our jobs should take 4 hours a week, basically insinuating that we are all slow or lazy. Also, he seems to attempt to pit the employees against each other by bad-mouthing everyone to everyone else. It’s a tough situation because he’s the owner/president/boss and there is nobody else to go to when I have a problem or question.

        I would love to look for a new job however my resume already has too much job-hopping so I am hoping to ride it out for a while longer. What is most unfortunate is that I actually like my work and my clients and I have actually learned a lot from working here, though not from my boss’s mentoring but from being thrown into situations where I have no idea what to do and figuring it out by researching on my own.

  4. KristineM

    The unreimbursed business expenses also excludes income up to 2% of your Adjusted Gross Income and you have to itemize to get it. So very few people get any benefit from it. And those that do only do so the extent of their tax rate.

    I’ve seen companies reimburse less than the IRS rates ($.25 instead of $.555) and I think that’d go over better at cheapskate companies. (The difference between the IRS and company rates would still be deductible, if anyone wanted to bother.)

  5. Kev

    Re: #2 – Uh oh… I’ve been in the same job for 13 years, and that’s the only job I’ve been including on my resume. Other previous jobs aren’t really applicable to my job search, but I’m sure I could work the job description to be beneficial.

    1. Anonymous

      If that’s the only job listed on your resume, can I ask what else is helping to fill up the whitespace? (I was recently helping my father with his and this was a bit of a challenge.)

  6. M-C

    No 1 is just weird. They’re planning to get married, but meanwhile he’s planning to propose?? How’s all this planning happening if no proposal has already occurred? Or is it unilateral planning? And the definition of engaged is precisely planning to get married, so if it’s mutual agreement they are engaged already. I’d stop pussyfooting around, and sneaking around the office thinking nobody can tell, and just call a meeting with the manager to try and level with them.

    1. Ellie H.

      I don’t think it’s weird. Plenty of people make practical plans for marriage without being formally engaged. People like tradition and it is nice to have one emotional moment like a proposal. Maybe it’s a little silly viewed from the outside but some customs and traditions are nice to do just to have the memories of them, even if they are not intrinsically decisive moments.

      1. Anonymous

        I have to go with M-C on this. If you’re planning on getting married, you are engaged. That’s very different from talking about marriage or talking about getting married. And frankly, I think an orchestrated proposal never has the emotional moment as the actual moment a couple decides to wed. I have friends who did the same as the OP – the formal proposal moment is fairly dismissed in the retellings.

        And since I am in an awesome mood – I’ll say the moment we knew we were in for the long haul was when I told him he better not propose, and he said good! (going on 9 years living in sin hooray!)

        1. Mike C.

          How we all just trust the couple to understand what their status is and not try to correct them?

          1. M-C

            The point actually was that it’s very unlikely that nobody in the office has noticed anything. Come on people, do you think you’re so skilled at acting, or that your coworkers are total nitwits? You’d do yourself and everyone around you (especially the poor manager) a favor by coming out and speaking honestly about your situation, as soon as possible.

    2. Jenna

      My hubby and I talked about getting married before he did the traditional proposal. We each wanted to know where the other thought the relationship was going long term. Then, once we knew we were on the same page, he picked up the ring that I really wanted and suprised me with it. It took the pressure off of him a bit since he knew I would say yes :)

    3. Lexy

      Meh… My husband and I set a date picked a venue and I had the fabric & pattern for my dress before he “officially” proposed. One could certainly make the argument that we were engaged (I did in fact) but we still had a proposal with the ring and everything that is a more concrete marker of “we’re engaged” as opposed to “we’re planning to get married”.

      Let people define their own relationships, it will cause you much less stress in life.

  7. Bob G

    Regarding #2 (How far back a resume should go).

    I’ve been at the same company (luckily) for 15 years. I have my resume designed showing the various positions I’ve held in the company. Hopefully for OP the person he is helping can define some progression in his roles and use those as different “jobs” on his resume. Since it has been the same company I often had overlapping duties when I started doing more of one task but was still doing the previous duties as well. This was often an evolution of my role and not an “official” job change. I simply estimated a date when I started doing “more” of one as the start date. I don’t feel any of this is lying but truly reflects what I’ve done even though my title may not have changed.

      1. Anonymous

        Would it be proper to run your resume past your company? Like Bob G, my duties have evolved quite a bit since I started. I have them all listed under my current title, but it reads like I have multiple personalities!

        Chief Widget Maker
        makes widgets
        designs bolts
        rewrote handbook
        chocolate teapot quality control (haha)

        Since I am hoping to move on in a year or two, should I get feedback now?

      2. Bob G

        I’m not overly concerned with that since my official title during most of that time was “application specialist”. For 3 years I basically ran projects so as the description for my work for that time I designate it as “project management” and list the work I did managing projects. The “application specialist” title in our field basically means nothing, it is not a common position or title, and was made up by the manager because he thought it “sounded good”. I’ve never had an issue with it because in every job interview I’ve been able to justify the titles I used and explained the reasoning behind it.

        1. Ali

          This is a good point, many of us have official titles that are completely non-descript, such as “Research Associate”. Is it okay to put our working titles (“Webmaster”) on our resumes in that case? I see how it would cause problems with verification through HR, but isn’t it more important for the hiring people to see what it is you really do? If I’m applying for a job where the title is “Webmaster”, they’re going to be glancing over my resume to see that I have Webmaster experience, not that I’ve been a “Research Associate”.

  8. Hazel Edmunds

    Re #6 I’d simply say that here in the UK we’d expect a jacket over the shift dress (definitely not a cardigan).

    1. CH

      I’m interested to know why no cardigan. I’m also in the UK and I wore a cardigan over a button shirt for my interview. Is it just with a dress?
      If it’s business casual and you wanted to wear a jacket, I’d go for a blazer or smart boyfriend type jacket.

  9. Joey

    #3. Sounds like Bob needs an HR management consultant himself. And frankly he sounds a little close minded.

    1. Jolene

      I’m the OP for this question – We always joke about how ridiculously bad at HR this supposed HR expert is. He is closed minded. For example- he does not want to hire people with experience because they bring bad habits. Isn’t that the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard?

      1. Joey

        More likely is that he doesn’t want to hire someone that will call out his shenanigans or just generally disagree with him. And hes probably cheap. At least you’re learning what not to do.

  10. Gene

    A couple of thoughts on the graphic designer query.

    Why in the mother/father asking this question and not the daughter who is actually involved? This sentence is telling, “I think her boss should do this, not her.” Advice for the parent, butt out. Your daughter is an adult and you gave no indication that she came to you for advice.

    A bit of advice for the daughter, one way to handle this is to tell the VP that you have been instructed to send all requests like this to your manager. This deflects any ire from the VP to the manager and establishes some boundaries that really should exist.

    Now a Machiavellian suggestion; since upper management likes your work so much, and they don’t like following the process (Gods how I hate that word in this usage), maybe they want a Senior Graphic Designer who reports to, and works for, them. }:-)>

  11. Anonymouse

    #1 -I’d wait until there’s an actual engagement. Right now you are just dating. Until you are engaged, you aren’t engaged.

    #4 – Your daughter is always going to work with people who have conflicting priorities and she is going to need to figure out how to navigate that effectively. I cannot emphasize this enough.

    Now to this particular situation: This is a really common scenario. The broad purpose of a model like this is to align resources and priorities. The job of the President is to *decide* the priorities of the company and make those high-level resource decisions (many of which are made based on information known only to a close circle of executives). We can assume pretty confidently that whatever priority the President has, it trumps all others and he/she need not explain their reasons. Your daughter should support the President but keep her boss in the loop. One way to keep her boss happy would be to email them both with “I have been pulled from assignment FRIGGLE by Pres. to work on DOOBIE. As it stands, I anticipate that it will take X hours/days, and that I will be back on assignment DOOBIE come Thursday.” After all, what her manager really needs to know is when she will be back on track with her previous assignments. She could also tell the Pres “Hey, don’t get me in trouble, please copy Boss on these requests.” In whatever formality of language seems appropriate.

    For the record, many people assume that once they make it to management, they are privy to every rational and part of every decision. It sounds a bit like her boss is laboring under this destructively false assumption.

    I’m a PM and having resources pulled is simply part and parcel of the job. It’s frustrating, sure, but it happens all of the time. We know that this is a very real eventuality and simply deal with it constructively. If it’s having a big negative impact, we go to the President and make our case.

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