tiny answer Tuesday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

This post was set to automatically publish since I may or may not have power right now, due to the storm. (How’s that for preparation though?)

It’s tiny answer Tuesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Do we have to let this employee return to the office to clean out her desk?

We’ve got an awkward situation and could sure use some guidance. One of our employees went out on a 4-month leave of absence to have a baby. One week before she was scheduled to come back to work, she called in and told us she decided not to return to work. With only one week’s “notice” (or lack thereof) she has put our firm in a very difficult position. And, of course, we’re all very upset that she did not provide more notice.

My question is, what are her “rights” as far as coming back and cleaning out her desk? Would it be customary for someone in this situation to return during normal business hours? I believe that it will be disruptive to our office and to our staff if she comes in when we’re trying to work and it could potentially become hostile. I’m hoping the boss could meet her after hours and take care of her remaining items but I don’t know what she is entitled to.

She’s not legally entitled to return during business hours if you don’t want her to. If you want, you can box up her things for her and mail them to her, deliver them to her, or have her come by at a mutually-agreed-upon time to pick them up. Any of those are perfectly reasonable, and not uncommon. However, I’m curious why you’re worried that it could become hostile if she returned during regular hours. After all, people leave jobs. Sometimes they leave them in irresponsible ways. It’s generally not personal, and you shouldn’t make this hostile. Get her stuff back to her however is most convenient, but leave any anger out of it.

2. My manager doesn’t ask me to cover for her when she’s away

I am an assistant to a manager. Lately my manager has not asked me to cover for her position when she is away. It is absolutely clear that my experience and qualifications are far ahead of the person she chose to cover for her. I feel that she has a personal issue with me because her decision is not a decision that shows good business practice. I have already asked for an explanation previously and I did not receive a response that was valid. Please advise if there is anything I can do.

No. Your boss can decide who covers for her without having to justify her decision to you, and it very well may be made for reasons other than experience. For instance, it might be that she trusts the other person’s judgment more, or feels she has a better rapport with other employees, or all kinds of other reasons. It’s your boss’s call.

It’s reasonable to ask her if there’s any reason you’re not asked to cover for her, but she doesn’t owe you an explanation. If you’re concerned that there are issues between the two of you aside from this, it would be smart to bring those to the surface and try to resolve them, but I wouldn’t keep focusing on this.

3. Time clock clocks us in and out incorrectly

I work for a periodontist in Massachusetts. They have us clock in, but if we clock in at 7:30, the timekeeper autos to 7:45. For lunch, it is put in 12-1 automatically even if we work into our lunch. If we stay past 5 due to patients, sometimes til 6 due to the doctor running late, we are still clocked out at 5. The periodontist’s manager is salaried so it doesn’t matter to her. I have mentioned to her that this is not correct, and she states that he has been fined before and won’t do anything about it. If we run a errand for work, do we need to clock out?

If you’re non-exempt, this is illegal. You must be paid for all time worked (including running errands for work). If you want to take action, you’d go to the Massachusetts Department of Labor.

4. Explaining long-term travel when applying for jobs

I was laid off at the end of February from my full-time nonprofit job. I chose to spend some time overseas visiting family and backpacking. It’s been about three months since I returned to the country and have actually started looking for a job again, but I still haven’t found anything full-time. Should I say anything about spending time out of the country in my resume or cover letter? I feel like I need to justify the long-term unemployment, but am not sure how to do it.

Yes, you should explain it at least in your cover letter, and possibly on your resume too. It shouldn’t be anything lengthy — just a sentence that lets employers know how you were spending that time.

5. Listing current but unrelated experience on a resume

I have recently decided to take on a part-time retail position to fill a gap on my resume. I want to list the position to show that I am doing something during my period of now underemployment, but I don’t want it to take up too much space on my resume. I worry that it will take away from my relevant experience to the full-time positions I am applying for. What is the best way to show that you are currently working, without making it stand out too much? Is it okay to just list the title and dates for this, or does it have to mirror the rest of my resume with duties and accomplishments?

No, it’s completely fine to just list the title and dates. You can also kick off your resume with a “relevant experience” section, and then list this in an “other experience” section after it.

6. Employer hasn’t been paying my commission

My employer offered me a position that I accepted that included salary plus commission. I have been with the company just over 1-1/2 years. I have received only two commission checks that are supposed to be paid quarterly. They are 1 year behind in paying out the commissions. Are employers required to make these payments timely?

It depends on what kind of agreement you have with them. If you have a written agreement that clearly spells out when they’ll pay the commission and under what circumstances, and those circumstances have been met, you probably have a wage claim. If it was left less formal than that, you probably don’t have much recourse, unfortunately.

7. I don’t want to carry my company cell phone to church

Can my boss write me up because I will not carry my company cell phone to church? I am an hourly employee in Florida, at a large company with 500-700 employees.

This probably falls under your employer’s legal obligation to provide you with reasonable religious accommodation, unless this would cause them “undue hardship,” which I doubt it would at their size.

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. Tater B.*

    #7: That used to drive me bananas. I had a manager who made it his business to text message me during church about non-emergency things, i.e., “Can’t wait to see you all at our rockin’ Monday morning meeting! Please respond when you get this text.”

    One of the many reasons why I’m glad that job is now just a bullet point on my resume.

      1. The IT Manager*

        You can have your cell company block all texts (and never get charged for one), but the problem with that is the sender doesn’t know you never got it. I used to do that but started paying for the minumum monthly texts because so many people now assume everyone can recieve texts on their cell phone. You and the sender never realize that a message was never recieved.

      2. Jamie*

        I know I’m a broken record on this topic, but I can’t help it.

        There is nothing wrong with your work calling your personal cell on occasion (like to let your know work is cancelled due to weather, lack of marshmallows, whatever) – but if you’re on call and obligated to have a phone on you at all times they should issue the phone.

        Otherwise it omits our ability to use your property as you see fit. If I used my personal phone for work I couldn’t lend it to one of my kids, etc. that’s not right even if they reimburse the part of the bill used for work.

        If you expect employees to be in constant communication then issue the equipment and pay the bill. That’s what ethical companies do, IMO.

        1. Jamie*

          Omits = limits. I’m typing through a Benadril haze without my glasses so it’s kind of amazing hat came out in English.

        2. KellyK*

          Yes, I totally agree with this. Someone who isn’t likely to lend their phone out and doesn’t want to carry two might say “No, thanks,” to a company cell phone, but the option should definitely be there.

        3. anon-2*

          Ditto — I was asked to carry a cell 24/7, and said I’d do so, with the understanding that the company would pay 100 percent of the cost.

          “Well, we have this policy, people of your grade, umm,nnnh, policy says, ummm…. policy. Yeah, policy, that’s the ticket. We can’t do that.”

          When I remarked – “there seem to be a lot of exceptions to this arbitrary ‘policy’ of which you speak. Managers get them. Sales reps get them. Field reps get them. Two of my colleagues get them. I guess you’ll have to scrap the policy, in my case, too, otherwise I can’t give you a ‘yes’.”

          End of discussion. No, I don’t carry one. Well , I *do* but very few people have that number.

  2. KellyK*

    For #7, I think it might make a difference whether you’re officially “on call” during church or not whether it’s an “undue hardship,” as well as whether the company would legitimately need anything urgent from you.

    If you’re the person to call when the chocolate teapot assembly line backs up and there’s hot melted chocolate going all over the place, you probably need to keep the phone on vibrate during church.

    But if you aren’t on call, and if you check your messages after the service, I can’t picture that being an undue hardship.

    1. The IT Manager*

      I agree. If you’re on call the answer is an obvious “yes.” If the answer is “no” you’re not on call, I would tend to think you do not have to carry your phone at all, but it also depends on your agreement with your work and if you are unofficially or officially always on call and what that entails. When I was in the military (where everyone was exempt) my unit had an crisis response team that had to be able to be at work ready to leave the country within 1 hour of being called. That kind of on call is very restrictive obviously (can’t leave town even on weekends, can’t get drunk, can’t turn off the pager, etc), and people were only on-call for a month at the time.

      Question: If an hourly employee is on call, do they get paid for the time on-call or only if they’re called?

      1. Josh S*

        I have a friend that worked with various HAZWOPER duties in the military. He was trained for chemical, biological, and nuclear emergency response. Part of that was a responsibility to have a pager on his person at all times–we called it the ‘Doomsday Beeper’ because if it ever went off, it meant that something horrific had just happened.

        Thankfully, the only time it went off (scared us all to death!) was when he was being decommissioned out of that role and was called into the office to return the pager (which he knew about beforehand, I guess it was just so he didn’t forget the pager or something).

        Answer: Depends on the agreement with the employer. Most employers I know who use an on-call system pay an ‘on call wage’ of like $1.00/hour, and then the actual hourly wage if/when the person gets called in. But that’s not universal–some employers are cheap and don’t pay the ‘on call wage.’

        And I’m not sure about the legal/not legal status of that. And most of the people I know in that situation are in IT, so I think they tend to fall as exempt, so YMMV…

      2. fposte*

        I wondered about hourly/on-call too, and here’s what I found on the DOL site:

        “Whether on-call time is hours worked under the FLSA depends upon the particular circumstances. Generally, the facts may show that the employee was engaged to wait (which is work time) or the facts may show that the employee was waiting to be engaged (which is not work time).

        For example, a secretary who reads a book while waiting for dictation or a fireman who plays checkers while waiting for an alarm is working during such periods of inactivity. These employees have been “engaged to wait.” An employee who is required to remain on call on the employer’s premises is working while “on call.” An employee who is allowed to leave a message where he/she can be reached is not working (in most cases) while on call. Additional constraints on the employee’s freedom could require this time to be compensated.”

        So it sounds like it’s legal to be unpaid for the on-call status–they just have to pay you once you’re actually called.

        1. KellyK*

          Yep. I’m wondering at what point the “additional constraints on the employee’s freedom” are significant enough that they require on-call time to be paid. For example, it’s pretty common to require people who are on-call to stay within a certain distance of work.

    2. Kelly O*

      I know plenty of people who keep their phones on vibrate during service, because they are on call, or they are the person who gets called if the proverbial worst case scenario might happen.

      And I’ve seen them stand up and slip out of services, head to the narthex, and take their call, and either come back in to get the rest of the family to head out, or who come back in, sit down, and participate in worship.

      I guess living with someone who can be on call all the time, I’m used to the phone. There are times it goes on vibrate, and everyone seems to understand there are times you just can’t grab the phone, so long as you respond when you can.

      (Granted, I know not everyone is like that, but it’s nice when organizations do “get it.”)

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you could argue that your religion prevents you from doing any work on Sundays, including responding to work situations. If that’s the case, and it’s a sincerely held religious belief, then I think the employer would need to prove that it was an “undue hardship” on them to not be able to contact the OP on Sundays.

      1. Kelly O*

        Of course, then you get into the stickiness of how much you really observe not working on Sundays, how it affects your worship experience, etc., etc., etc.

        (I’m actually doing a reasonably in-depth Bible study with a group at church and we had this whole conversation about what keeping the Sabbath truly means… this one might be hard to beg off for the whole day, every time. That was kind of our general consensus at least, across several different sorts of organizations.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, except that the law doesn’t really allow the employer to start quizzing the person on that. If it’s a sincerely held religious belief, it meets the requirement.

          1. KellyK*

            Which is a very good thing! The last thing employers need to get into is theology debates with their employees!

            If you claim a belief that you don’t fully observe, then you open yourself up to questions about whether it actually *is* sincerely held. Someone who says, “My religion expressly prohibits me from doing any work at all on Sundays,” might be in trouble (or even just perceived as a slacker and a liar) if coworkers routinely drive by their house and see them doing yard work on Sunday afternoons.

            But nitpicking whether the tenets of your religion actually require what you’ve asked for (how strictly to observe the Sabbath, whether Christmas Eve should be a day off because it isn’t a holy day of obligation, etc.) isn’t an employers business.

      2. KellyK*

        That’s true, and that’s a good point. It depends a lot on what the employee’s belief actually is, whether it’s attending religious services or doing any work on a Sunday that’s the issue.

      3. Bri*

        My Dad is the national director of security for a major bank is on call 24/7 and basicully has been for the last 10 year. He never really had that many phone problems, he just always slipped out and took the call. For awhile though he had a two way radio with no silent option. We went to a small church and people knew about the radio and was ok with it. They would rather have my Dad in church.

  3. -X-*

    “she states that he has been fined before and won’t do anything about it. ”

    Sad that fines are just viewed as a cost of doing business. This is argument for having fines escalate for repeat offenses.

  4. Jamie*

    #1 what kind of hostile reaction are you worried about? as Alison said people quit under less than optimal circumstances every day, if you have employees who can’t handle that professionally that’s your real problem. Oh, and I’d just box her stuff and mail it if it’s the usual trivial stuff – but pricier things like a digital pic frame or Rx glasses which she cold claim she didn’t get I’d box it and have her pick it up and sign that everything was received in full.

    Heck, I take that back – id want a signature of receipt no matter what there was. I’m all about cya w/paperwork.

    #2 what do you mean you didn’t receive an explanation that was valid? What dd she say? There is a degree of hubris in this letter that would lead me to believe she may very well just want to leave her responsibilities in te hands of someone with whom she has a more comfortable relationship. I’m reading a lot of judgement here, and it’s hard enough to have someone cover for you without dealing with their judgement.

    1. Construction HR*

      I think the answer to the problem was provided in the OP’s letter, but they probably won’t think it’s valid.

    2. Anonymous*

      Sometimes I wonder how many letters like #2 are written by ex-military, as they imply some form of seniority-based authority that doesn’t really exist in a civilian workspace. Your qualifications and experience has no bearing on who your boss picks as a stand-in. It’s simply who your boss thinks is best for that – that may include judgement, the feelings of the team (nobody wants the micromanaging meddling colleague left in charge) , the person in charge of the area most needing attention, and the person most likely to get it right when deciding whether to interrupt the boss’s holiday. Frankly it’s usually the person with the best management potential, and so I think that us sending you a message, but as Alison said, one you want to follow up in a more general context, not “why didn’t you pick me when when you went to Bora-Bora, whyyyyyyyyyy”.

    3. Anonymous*

      My thoughts exactly on #2. OP asked the manager, the manager gave a reason, and the OP dismissed it as “not valid”. Even if you don’t think it’s valid, listen to the feedback and think how you can work to counter that impression, even if you think it’s not valid. Clearly the manager does, and it’s her opinion that matters in this case.

  5. Jenn*

    Re: #1, I can see it potentially being hostile, if the other employees are ticked that they’re now (indefinitely) covering the ex-employee’s work. Probably not a good idea to have this person come in during business hours, if you even suspect there might be some hard feelings. Just box it and ship it; send it return-receipt.

    1. some1*

      I work at a large company and it’s my job to box the stuff up of employees who don’t come back from leaves or temps who don’t work out. I would much prefer boxing it all up and mailing it in some sort of trackable way than waiting for the employee to come get it. IME employees who quit in flaky ways like this typically don’t show up to pick up their belongings when they say they will. And when they finally do make an appearance, it’s when I have 10 things to do right now, and I have to drop everything and get their box of stuff from storage.

      1. -X-*

        It’s not that flaky to only give a weeks notice. It’s bad, but not horrendous. And considering it has a pretty significant “cause” the speculation of hostility is over-the-top.

        I think it’s not real hostility but rather fear of feeling uncomfortable, or awkward discussions disrupting work a little bit. Let’s be honest about that.

        In any case, just box it and mail it, or ask the person to come in at the end of the day so that if there are discussions with ex-employees they won’t last too long.

        1. Jenn*

          Eh, I could argue there could be some legit hostility – born out of frustration, at least. I’d be peeved if I was covering for someone, which added to my workload, and I couldn’t wait til she got back so I could unload these extra duties…..only to be told a week before that she WASN’T coming back after all.

          That’s annoying, at the very least. Like the USPS says – if it fits, it ships. ;-)

        2. Vicki*

          In this particular case, it’s one week’s notice on top of 4 months of not being there at all. This isn’t the “usual” case of “OMG, we have 1 week to offload all of Jane’s tasks.” You have people in the office now who have never met Jane. You probably have a temp in the office doing her tasks already.

          Extend the temp’s time (if possible). If you’ve all been waiting desperately for the past 4 months for Jane to come back, you’ve got a bigger problem than boxing up her stuff.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That assumes they have a temp. In a lot of maternity leave situations, there’s no temp — because not all jobs can be temporarily filled by a temp. The only jobs I’ve ever been willing to fill with temps have been admin jobs, accounting, some I.T., and very junior roles.

          2. Anonymouse*

            People *do* decide that they just cannot leave their baby and return to work as they planned. It’s not terribly uncommon, nor any short of moral shortcoming. One week is not an ideal situation, but considering that 2 weeks is typical business protocol, I don’t see why anyone would be hostile to her, or vice versa.

            I think it also depends if the company has a track-record of working with employees to plan transitions. I have left jobs with two weeks notice even when I knew well in advance that I was going… because I had no reason to believe that they would work with me. No one likes a gap in their healthcare or paycheck.

            Box her things up and send them Priority Mail. Move on.

  6. some1*

    As for #1, I don’t know where the LW lives or what kind of salary her co-worker earned, but my state has the 2nd highest cost in the U.S. for daycare. I have a handful of former co-workers who had every intention of coming back to work full-time after maternity leave, but then they found out that day care would be so expensive they’d basically be working to pay for daycare, and decided not to come back. Nobody gave only a week’s notice as far as I know, though.

      1. some1*

        Agreed. All of my working mom friends researched this stuff before the baby was born, and started visiting day cares when their babies were a few weeks old.

        1. bearing*

          But a lot of people may not realize that they don’t *want* to leave their new baby until they’ve got their baby in their arms. I have complete sympathy for someone who thought she’d want to go back to work and then realized that she really wanted to quit and stay home.

          1. Janet*

            That’s what I was thinking. Hell, I knew I would have to go back to work for financial reasons but when I had my first child I had intense anxiety about returning to work – I never would have thought that would be the case but I spent the last week of maternity leave crying about it. I had a sitter lined up but if I hadn’t had the financial need to return to work, I probably would have quit and stayed home. I have two other friends that I recall being the same way. Both had every intention of returning and then when the time came – really really really didn’t want to. One crunched numbers and discovered she could stay at home, the other returned but went to part-time soon after. Others race back to the office and have no issues at all.

            You really have no idea how you’re going to react once the baby comes. All of your careful planning can go out the window.

            1. some1*

              I don’t have kids, but I would think the mother-child bond where this employee felt she couldn’t leave the new baby would have been formed before the baby was 4 months old. I can totally understand a mom feeling that way, but the fact that she waited so long makes me wonder of she made the decision well before & wanted to keep getting maternity pay.

              1. EM*

                “…but the fact that she waited so long makes me wonder of she made the decision well before & wanted to keep getting maternity pay.”

                Yeah, probably. I honestly have a hard time feeling angry at people who do this, though. If our country had any decent maternity leave policies (we’re the ONLY industrialized nation that doesn’t have paid maternity leave for any length of time legally guaranteed), people wouldn’t feel the need to quit with little notice in these instances.

                Every day, I realize how lucky I am in this regard. I was financially able to stay home with my son for 2 years, and now I’m back at work at a professional job in my field that I love where I work part-time and have the flexibility to go to my son’s Halloween party at school tomorrow. :)

                1. some1*

                  I agree that maternity leave sucks in the U.S., and it’s not a new mom’s fault that it does. It’s also not the fault of the LW and the rest of her co-workers who have to pick up the slack because she deceived them like that.

                2. Some European*

                  They have no problem doing that work for months and the moment they get told it will continue that way for a bit longer they suddenly start whining about it?

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Well, it could go like this: “We’re not going to hire a temp to fill in while Jane’s on maternity leave because she’ll only be gone four months and it would take that long to get a new person up to speed. So we’re asking everyone to pitch in to help, knowing it’s only for four months.” But now it’s going to be closer to eight months, because they have to start the hiring process from scratch, rather than knowing to start it earlier.

                  I’m not saying the new mom is in the wrong here, but I can see that being the thinking of the coworkers who now have to do extra work twice as long.

                4. some1*

                  Exactly what AAM said. I have been on that co-worker asked to pick up slack for a leave and I agreed knowing it would be a *finite* amount of time. I have have also been the co-worker who was TOLD I’d be picking up the slack.

          2. AnotherAlison*

            When I was looking for newborn daycare for my youngest son, I visited this family daycare in my neighborhood and they told me they were going to have an opening soon because one 7 mo. child was very fussy & they told his parents that they couldn’t keep him there anymore. I flipped on the news that night and saw THAT DAYCARE. That baby had passed away (SIDS or something – no charges filed or wrongdoing found) later the same afternoon. Had I not been the *only* income at the time, that might have been enough to scare me into staying home even though that was something I never, ever planned to do.

          3. Vicki*

            That was my first reaction and I don’t have children. Is this her first? There may also be extenuating circumstances (a MIL that was going to help but can’t, a change in the spouse’s finances, a minor or major medical issue) that really are none of your business but have changed the situation.

            And yes, perhaps she should have given two week’s notice, but again She Has Already Been Out For 4 Months. Would that additional week really have made that much difference?? Or is the OP really simmering because she thought Jane was coming back and Jane isn’t coming back?

        2. Anonymous*

          it’s possible that they had another arrangement such as a relative looking after the baby, the husband could be working less now, took a paycut because of the economy and a whole bunch of other reasons that are personal and for whatever reason they now cannot make the childcare work.

          1. Adam V*

            Something like that, though, you’d think the employee would be quite apologetic and the company wouldn’t be worrying about hostility. The letter makes it sound like the woman knew all along she wouldn’t be coming back, and the company feels like she took advantage of them.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Taking the paid leave without every having any intention of returning, and not bothering to tell them until one week before she was supposed to come back.

                1. Jessica*

                  I was recently reading up on FMLA, and I understood it like this: You get four months leave, total, but you have to use your vacation and sick time concurrently. Which is money you would receive anyway if you quit, so there’s no taking advantage of anyone there.

                  Then, and I don’t remember if this was FMLA or my company’s policy, but if you didn’t return to work for at least twenty days, you had to repay any maternity leave income.

                2. fposte*

                  The pay thing is de facto “you have to take your sick and vacation leave,” but the law actually just leaves it to the employer’s discretion, so if your company was okay with you taking leave unpaid and saving your sick leave, the law would be okay with that.

                  Also, it’s only twelve weeks (three months) federal FMLA, so if the employee in the query was out for four months she was either in one of the states that grants more or she got another month at the company’s discretion–which may have contributed to their displeasure at her departure.

                3. Aimee*

                  I’m in CA, so the law could be different, or it could just be how my company does it, but I don’t have to use my vacation time while I’m on maternity leave. Maternity leave is paid out by state disability here, and the first week out is not paid, but my company will let me use sick time for that week (we have unlimited sick time, though taking too much can affect your annual review and/or require you to start having to bring a doctor’s note every time you call in sick, etc). At least they did 4 years ago when I had my son. I have asked my HR person at least twice about it this time around and have yet to get an answer.

              2. fposte*

                If she got paid, that’s pretty advantageous right there; she also had her job held for her rather than a replacement being put in four months ago. I can understand colleagues being frustrated if they had to cover for the empty position for four months only to find out that somebody else could have been put in place.

                But I don’t think that’s the same thing as the ex-employee being evil. She has her reasons, and they’re not really anything anybody else needs to know; a week’s notice is actual notice, not “notice.” It sounds like it might not the ex-employee who’d be the problem collecting her things but the current employees, and if so they need to pull themselves together.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Ditto. I think it is a lot harder than people anticipate to return to work after having a baby. We’ve had a number of employees return for 2 days then resign because they just couldn’t handle the anxiety/realized they would rather be home with the baby despite financial constraints. It is frustrating for employers, but no reason to get hostile about it… I’m sure she planned to return and then realized she just couldn’t when she realized she had 1 week left.

                2. Judy*

                  I would call it “notice” because she’s not going to be at work for the one week. Actual notice is time for an employee to transition project & job knowledge to someone else. You could argue that it may have been done when she went on leave. It certainly was done when I went on my maternity disability leave. Both times for the last 2 months I left detailed information in my project notebooks, much more than usual, in case I was unable to be at work the next day, and did actual transition work with others the last 3-4 weeks or so.

            1. some1*

              If it were me, I would at least want to break this to my supervisor face-to-face, and explain my reasons. And apologize for the late notice.

        3. Kelly O*

          I had to laugh a bit at visiting when the baby is a few weeks old. I had to put my name on a waiting list as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and pay a deposit to hold a spot.

          We wound up moving for work right before Sarah was born, and I had to scramble to find a daycare in the new place. I was really lucky to get her in where she is. Lots of places, especially “good” places, have months-long waiting lists for all different age groups.

          And you know, it was really hard to leave her when she was little, but it’s almost harder now that she’s older. I really wish I could do a partial from-home thing, or at least have more flexible arrangements.

          I don’t know that I’d want to stay home all the time, but after you factor in all the extra costs, nearly half my take-home pay goes toward child care and related expenses. It’s been a huge challenge to make our ends meet.

        4. Anonymous*

          Agreed. All of my working mom friends researched this stuff before the baby was born, and started visiting day cares when their babies were a few weeks old.

          My husband and I started researching daycares about three months prior to the birth – and discovered that most places had twelve month waiting lists for newborn care (think about it…).

          1. Rana*

            Insurance policies work the same way: twelve month waiting periods before they’ll cover a new policy-holder’s pregnancy-related costs. So if you’re pregnant and discover you need new insurance, you’re screwed.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Some people do know how much daycare costs & don’t plan to come back, but don’t want to risk losing their paid leave if they give notice earlier and are terminated immediately.

        1. Anonymous*

          Some employers terminate your health insurance on your last day—- if you tell your employer you are leaving, they are going to cancel your insurance the day you go into labor because that is your last day of employment with them?!!! um yeah, $20,000 in medical bills is good enough reason to fib, especially if you aren’t 100% sure whether you want to be a stay at home mom or not.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Many women say that they’re taking the leave and that they’re not sure if they’re going to return or not. That’s a more honest way of handling it that still gets them those benefits, and doesn’t involve outright deception.

          2. Kelly O*

            I wouldn’t assume anything bad. It can be really hard to realize you’re leaving your tiny person with people who are pretty much strangers. Factor in any difficulties in finding a good facility, and it is enough to drive the sanest woman a little bonkers.

            1. Julie*

              COBRA can be VERY expensive, depending on the type of health insurance plan you had when you left your job. I was fortunate to have excellent (expensive) health care benefits at one job, but when I left for another job that didn’t offer benefits, I had to use COBRA, and my excellent health insurance was now a big burden financially – something like $400/month in 1993. I could barely swing it, but I didn’t want to not have health insurance.

              1. fposte*

                Looks like it’s probably over $1000 a month for a family now. And of course that doesn’t include any co-pays.

            2. Rana*

              And if you can’t afford COBRA, it’s too late to self-insure. As I noted above, insurance companies typically have a year-long waiting period before maternity coverage kicks in and it’s more expensive.

      3. Mike C.*

        Maybe they didn’t need daycare until recently? Perhaps other family members were going to take care of this responsibility and those plans fell through? A promised alternate work schedule with her partner didn’t materialize or their schedule changed at the last minute?

        1. Rana*

          Or the baby got seriously sick, or has been diagnosed with something that wasn’t apparent earlier, or…

          (Lots of possibilities, really.)

          1. fposte*

            Yes, I had a vision of the new mother going in to get her stuff, getting sneered at for her sudden departure, and bursting into tears about her baby’s recent diagnosis with leukemia.

  7. Jenna*

    #3 – I have had to deal with the Massachusetts Dept of Labor before about not getting overtime from an employer while working as a W-2 contractor. FYI – the Mass Dept of Labor is VERY responsive and good to deal with. Good luck!

  8. Anonymous*

    #7 – If you’re not on call, and not something like a doctor or firefighter, then even if you do have to carry it, you can switch it on to silent and check every half hour (or so). Most people don’t carry their cellphone into the bathroom, or hear it while doing yard work or DIY or many other weekend activities, so a short delay in returning any call shouldn’t make any difference.

    1. Anonymous*

      And as someone that does carry their phone into the bathroom (it’s in my pocket!), I think I’m doing the world a favor by not answering while I’m *ahem* otherwise occupied.

    2. V*

      I agree. It’s one thing for them to call you during church, it is another thing for them to expect you to answer during church.

      As long as they respect that you are busy and will respond in a timely manner, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

  9. Mike C.*

    Re: #1.

    Look, you don’t know what her situation is. Maybe their long term care plan fell through. Maybe there are special medical issues that need to be taken care of. Who knows, and none of these things can always be planned for and none of them are any of your business.

    Give her a box, give her a bit of time to pack up her things and wash your hands of it. Do you really think that her presence will disrupt the workplace so much that you’d rather pull someone off of a project to pack up her stuff (and then miss one or two things and so on)? Even if you’re in a secure facility you can have someone watch her.

    Really, it sounds like you’re upset that she’s leaving and want to take it out on her. Don’t – you don’t know why she had to make the decision she did and it’s not your place to judge.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      True, but in that case, when people are giving short notice through reasons beyond their control, they’re usually apologetic about it and there’s no reason to worry about hostility.

      1. Rana*

        Do we know that she wasn’t apologetic, though? There’s no information about it one way or the other in the OP’s letter.

        1. Adam V*

          I got the general sense from the letter writer that the woman wasn’t apologetic *enough* to appease everyone. Unsure exactly how to gauge that, but the letter mentions “we’re all very upset”, “it could potentially become hostile” and put “rights” in quotes.

          To me, the letter comes across as “what’s the bare minimum I ‘need’ to do for this ex-employee, since one week is the bare minimum notice she could have given us?”

          1. Adam V*

            Er, meant to say “*if the woman was apologetic*, she wasn’t apologetic enough”. I’ll leave open the possibility that she didn’t apologize at all.

    2. Jenn*

      By the same token, we really don’t know what the office situation is. Maybe this employee was a slacker, and her abrupt departure was the final straw. Maybe the employees are all overstressed and taking it out on this lady. Who knows. All we can do is take the OP’s word for it when he/she states that is could become potentially hostile, and advise accordingly.

      Now if the office is hostile to everyone who leaves……then you might have yourself a problem. ;-)

  10. BCW*

    As for #1, those employees seem very petty they are going to be hostile because someone came in to pick up their things. I mean, as many said, she had a baby. I don’t look at it as that “flaky”. Also, she gave one week notice. Not ideal, but I mean lets be real, the office was managing to cope without her for 4 months, so even if she gave 2 weeks notice, I can’t see it being that much different.

    1. Ellie H.*

      Yeah, I agree. I mean, it’s not great or even acceptable that she did this. But it is something that people do, and as you say, given that they have been doing without her for four months it seems unlikely (not impossible, but unlikely) that it would be a major crisis which could have been easily averted with an extra week of notice. “Hostile” seems quite extreme. It seems more likely to be awkward than hostile, and any awkwardness will be most negatively experienced by the employee in question as opposed to the current employees. It doesn’t seem like it should be that big a deal.

      1. Ellie H.*

        By the way, by “acceptable” I was only referring to the amount of notice, not the general idea of saying you would come back and then deciding not to – of course I would consider that “acceptable.” I totally agree with Mike C. above, especially the potential reasons he outlined for why someone would change her mind. I just think the amount of notice is a bit lousy especially because you have to presume she had been contemplating not returning for longer than that moment.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, she didn’t handle it well, but she also didn’t handle it in a way that would excuse other co-workers turning a picking-up-stuff visit into a problem.

        2. BCW*

          I don’t even find the amount of notice unacceptable. I mean companies “would like” 2 weeks notice. I’m sure lots of people who have been fired/laid of “would have liked” 2 weeks notice as well, but it just doesn’t always happen. And seeing as she had a perfectly valid reason, I don’t have that much of a problem with it. Its not like she waited until the morning of her expected return. Even if she had considered it for longer, you don’t tell your boss that, because they may just say something like, well I’ll make the decision for you.

          1. fposte*

            I think two weeks is a bit of a red herring here anyway; I don’t think the office would have been any happier being told two weeks before the end of her leave that she wasn’t returning.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Also, the law doesn’t allow the employer to make the decision for the person — they’re required to hold the person’s job while they’re on maternity leave (unless the position is cut in a layoff, etc. — unrelated to the person being on maternity leave).

    2. Steve G*

      I’m picturing the office as having a bunch of “Mean Girls” that are just going to say snide remarks as she cleans up such as “don’t worry about your job, I’ll just take it over for the same pay until we find someone,” but that would be the worst.

      But usually when someone has a baby they bring it into the office and then every goes “awwwww” 500 times. Why can’t that happen there?

          1. Julie*

            Perhaps the woman who isn’t coming back to work after maternity leave could send someone else to pick up her stuff.

  11. Shelley*

    #4 Be sure to mention any foreign language and cross-cultural skills on your resume as well. International experience is a great asset to a lot of employers.

    1. Ivy*

      This was my question. That’s a great point. I definitely learned how to communicate in languages that I don’t speak!

  12. Not So NewReader*

    For OP #1- I would just let the boss handle the situation. Am not trying to sound cold here- but perhaps the boss has an idea that we have not covered here. I’m not clear how you would be directly involved in the process, unless the boss asks you to escort her to her old desk and then back to the door. Does your workplace have a long history of hostility/anger toward other workers? In settings like this, I try to make myself look at my history with the company. What have I seen that justifies my concern about the possibility of x,y or z occurring?

    OP#2- I have been where you are. It’s not comfy. It could be that she just wants the new hire up to speed- sort of a baptism by fire- sudden and total immersion in every day goings on of the workplace. Try to take a look at the big picture. Are other job responsibilities being taken away from you? Do you have seemingly minor yet recurring (nagging) issues running in the back ground?
    Conversely, I have seen bosses dump a load of responsibility on a new hire in response to the new hire’s over-confidence or similar attitude issues. Or it could be that there is a bigger responsibility for you on the horizon that she is not at liberty to discuss right now. Tread carefully, in case her rationale is actually a piece of good news for you. You don’t want to do/say something that would derail this unforeseen happening.

    As an aside about the cell phone question. I think people get cell phones confused with dog leashes…we can’t go very far because the cell phone ropes us in. But I have to grin- here, where I live, a cell phone message can take 24 hours to even register on a person’s phone. Once I saw it take 36 hours. Yes, 36 hours after making the call, the recipient got the message. So I could return that phone call – right when I got the message …. at 2 AM. (No, I would not actually do that- but thinking about it puts a smile on my face.)

  13. Kimmie Sue*

    #4 – Definitely include a statement about your travels in the cover letter AND on the resume. Its an often debated topic, but not ALL recruiters and hiring managers read the cover letter.

  14. Anonymous*

    re: #4 and #5, I’m struggling with these issues myself and am still confused. I’ve been out of work for a (to me) long time, partially due to personal/medical issues, partially using what would have been vacation time to travel and clear my head, and partially due to the job market where I am. I’ve assumed this would only be a negative or TMI if I mentioned any of it prior to an interview…

    Also, resumes: On the one hand, we’re counseled to only include relevant experience on the resume and consider leaving off really short term gigs (i.e. it’s not a life history); on the other, people say that you shouldn’t have gaps on there. I can’t do both, so am currently opting for the former strategy, but wondering whether I shouldn’t start throwing everything in, even though it still won’t be seamless. But that may end up making me look more scattered than I already do. I recently picked up a bit of casual freelance work which only took about 6 weeks to complete and doesn’t really have much to do with anything I can imagine applying for – do I add that at the top of my resume to show I’ve at least done *something* recent, even if it would then trump my last long-term position?

    Guess this is why there’s such a focus on networking rather than relying on resume/cover letters…

    1. ARM2008*

      I’ve done a lot of IT contracting and a few years ago I went back to school for 2 years, and I always get asked about gaps when interviewing – even when I explain them in the cover letter and/or right in the resume. Hello? Could you spend at least a little time looking at my experience and what is there? And the tone of voice when they ask isn’t “let’s dialog about your time at college” it’s more like “what have you been doing you lazy deadbeat.” I LOVE the current buyers market. Not.

    2. Ivy*

      Both of these questions were mine, so I’m glad that there is someone who can sympathize.

      For me, it’s really a been delicate balance between justifying my unemployment and not disclosing too much. Sadly, prospective employers think they have the right to know why you were out of work for so long. There are so many reasons why someone could choose to not work– health, family, personal… I don’t think it is anyone’s business, but your own. Unfortunately, our culture dictates that you must have a job. It is abnormal not to. When I went abroad, I met so many Australians and Canadians who focused on LIVING more than working. It’s really sad that Americans can’t do the same.

      I’ve been very picky about the format of my resume, so I was worried that including a line about travel and a line about working retail would hurt the format that I have. After all, there is no official job title or company for backpacker. However, I don’t think I have much of a choice. Having a long break in dates I think makes it look bad. What I might do is break down the experience section into “Recent” experience and “Relevant” experience. In the “Recent” section, I could add a line about retail and add a line about international travel, maybe add the countries I visited… The “Relevant” section could stay consistent. That way the change in format would look more intentional.

      I think it will help with addressing any initial red flags a prospective employer could have when looking at my resume.

      Sadly yes…networking is often the only way to get a job…

      1. Anonymous*

        Good idea on the Recent/Relevant sections – I’ve toyed with the idea of doing Relevant/Other (currently just have Experience), but that seemed needlessly elaborate for my current level of experience. I’m also so aware now of the fabulous automated screening that I start thinking why bother, it will just get screened into oblivion anyway… I know, I need to find a way to think more positively on that one!

        I’m kind of thinking that anyone who’s going to be a stickler on the recent downtime (particularly given the recent economy) is someone I don’t want to work for anyway. But I’ll give your multi-section idea a try – thanks :) And good luck!

        1. Ariancita*

          I have a relevant and other experience separation, but that’s because most of my recent experience has been in academia and I wanted to show that I also have “real world” work experience, even if it’s not relevant to the position. I also have a Qualifications Summary at the top to tease out the relevant points. I find it works really well.

      2. Ariancita*

        I would find a way to talk about your travel absence as a positive. I have tons of international long term travel and I found that it really helps to be able to talk about it proudly (not sheepishly, like I’ve done something wrong) and to spell out all the great ways the travel has enhanced my career/personal development.

  15. Cassie*

    For LW #1 – I thought maybe the question was because it could be momentarily distracting for the other workers when the ex-employee comes in to work to pick up her stuff. Yes, the workers aren’t six year olds who get distracted easily (we hope), but it’s unlikely people will just ignore her when she walks in to the office. People will want to see pictures of her newborn, ask questions, etc.

    Although that wouldn’t really explain why it would turn hostile (unless some workers are upset by the distractions?)…

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