fast answer Friday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s fast answer Friday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Are you supposed to drop everything to schedule an interview?

Today I was excited to get a call from a woman (while I was busy ) who wanted to set up a phone interview with me. I asked if I could call her back with a date and time that works best once I had a chance to look at my schedule. (I’m a fitness instructor and my schedule changes weekly.) I called her back in 20 minutes though. However, my boyfriend said it was very impolite of me, that I should always be aware of my schedule, and that it made me appear unprepared. He says that this is “job hunting 101 stuff.” I’m usually inclined to listen to him, and I am more so with things pertaining to this position because he has pull with the organization, but I can’t shake the feeling that he is wrong.

Do employers really expect this? Am I just supposed to drop everything anytime someone calls with an interview offer?

No. Your boyfriend is wrong on this. You are not supposed to just be sitting by your phone all day in case an employer calls, ready to respond to their every whim with no regard for your own schedule. It’s completely reasonable to ask to call someone back. Please remind your boyfriend that job-searching is a two-way street; you’re contemplating a business relationship with them, not prostrating yourself at their feet in the hope that they will bestow their favors on you.

2. Federal hiring during the sequester

I just received a call to set up an interview for a federal government position that I applied for a long time ago…before I had even heard of the sequester or was even serious about my own job search.

Given the sequester, I am concerned about this agency having the ability to make hires now. Can I ask them about this during the interview? I have had a friend in the past who was “screwed over” by a budget issue in the past. I don’t want to put them off by asking about the money stuff, but I don’t want to invest myself in something that may be fruitless.

Sure, that’s fine to ask. The sequester is big news and it’s not going to surprise them that it’s on your mind. Just say something like, “How is the sequester affecting you? Will it impact hiring in your division?” Keep in mind, by the way, that not all federal jobs are impacted, only some, and plenty of hiring is continuing to go on. (Also, job searching is always about investing yourself to some extent in something that may not pan out, so don’t get too caught up in wanting to avoid that, either.)

3. Intern isn’t getting reimbursements owed to her

I am really curious on what my friend should do in this situation. She and I interned together 3 months ago. I am still at the internship position but she left in December, because of her limited availability. During her (unpaid) internship, she paid for several things (cab ride back home from company event, catering services for the event, etc.) that she should be compensated for. Because she isn’t in the office anymore, she had sent a couple of emails to the supervisors since the time she had left, asking for the compensation. Still, she didn’t hear from them. So, she contacted the HR manager who oversees the internship program. The HR manager asked for the receipts from my friend in February, so my friend sent them over electronically immediately. There’s been no response from her! I’ve offered to send her the expense forms from my end, but I imagine that won’t do much for my friend, since the supervisors aren’t doing anything to address this problem. What should she do?

She should call up the HR manager, today, and ask her when she will receive the reimbursement. If she doesn’t get a specific date, she should tell her that she needs it resolved by next Friday and ask if she can come by then to pick up a check. She’s been doing this all by email; it’s time to move to the phone, where she’s actually speaking to someone.

4. Listing references who were laid off

My temporary job has ended, and I’m updating my references. In the meantime, I’ve learned that one of my references (former manager) was laid off (two years after I was). Fortunately, I got in touch with him and now have his current (personal) contact info. My question is, when listing him as a reference, how do I list his title if he no longer works there? “Joe Smith, former Principal, Firm ABC”? Also, the info I have listed for my references includes the street address, phone number, and email address. Will it look weird to be missing his street address, and that the email is a Yahoo address rather than a company address?

Yes, list it exactly like that — with what his former position was. They don’t care what he’s doing currently; they care what his position was when they worked with you.

As for not having his street address, you don’t need it. In fact, get rid of all the other addresses on there, because that’s weird to include in references. No one is mailing your references (and if some odd employer is, they can ask you for an address). Phone number and email address, and that’s all you need. The fact that it’s his personal email address is fine.

5. Office requires food and drinks to be stored in one cabinet

Our company wants no food or drink in our work areas. They have a metal cabinet with doors that stay closed, with 35 or more people putting half-eaten food and drinks in the same cabinet. Can this be healthy? We don`t even have a sink to wash your hands nearby. The cabinet is in the break area, but the manager doesn’t want people setting there lunches down just anywhere because it looks unprofessional. Same with drinks and food. Please advise

I have no idea if it’s healthy or not, but people do the same thing with office refrigerators and cabinets, so I’m not sure how this any different, except for the lack of refrigeration. I hope people aren’t putting perishable stuff in there, but that’s more for their own safety.

6. Company-issued iPads

My company issued iPads for business and good-judgment personal use. They are supplying the device and 4G service. They want the employees to buy a case with our money. And if the device is lost or stolen, the employee will incur the cost. Is this normal?

It’s not shockingly unusual, but it’s annoying. If you don’t want to play along, can you simply decline the iPad and say you’re not comfortable assuming the risk?

7. Do lateral moves hurt your career?

Do lateral moves have the potential to hurt your career progression if the lateral move is in the opposite direction of your future career? My intentions are to transition into HR. However, due to being pregnant and not wanting to give up my well deserved maternity benefits by applying externally, my only option is to apply internally. HR positions within my company are few and far between. Also, since I don’t have as much HR experience as other HR professionals, I’m very unlikely to secure an HR position if it does become available.

However, I’m miserable in my current position. I was forced to transfer to this role when my previous line of business closed. While I thought things would get better, I’ve been here for a little over a year and they’re getting worse. To make matters worse my manager isn’t that great of a manager and at the end of the day could care less about me.

I’ve started looking at current positions that are a good fit for me, but not in line with my career path. Would taking a lateral move (actually a demotion, as my current role truly doesn’t reflect the scope of what I do in relation to my employer’s job codes) hurt more than help?

Yes, it will hurt, if you then try to move into HR later; you’ll look like you have no idea what you want to do and are just trying things out. Stick it out where you are until you’re done with maternity leave, and then look into moving into HR.

{ 144 comments… read them below }

  1. Kou

    #5 It is in no way unsanitary to store your food together, don’t worry. The good news is it’s not any different than if it was kept in the open. The bad news is that’s because your germs are all already intermingling and keeping the food slightly more separate ain’t gonna help that at all.

  2. Chloe

    #1, I totally get why your boyfriend thinks that, because its so hard to get a job now. But I don’t think any employer is going to respect or want you more if every time they say “jump” you ask “how high?”. I’d think you’re organised and thorough because you calmly said you needed to check your schedule and got back to them very promptly – 20 minutes is very efficient! Good luck with the interview.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      Agreed. My only thought, if I called a candidate without having made an appointment first and she asked to get back to me with her availability, is “this person has a job.” Which probably makes her a more, not less, desirable candidate. (And yes, I realize that many good people are unemployed in this economy — but the tough times have not quite hit my line of work as badly, so the candidates I’ve seen that are not currently working are generally not as strong as the ones who are.)

      1. danr

        Good first though, but even those of us who are not employed have schedules to check and coordinate.

    2. VictoriaHR

      I do phone prescreens all day, every day. If a candidate asked to check his/her schedule and call me back, I’d be 100% fine with it.

  3. Jamie

    #6 – IMO they should buy the case – but I see nothing wrong with expecting you to reimburse if lost or stolen. It’s common practice.

    As long as they aren’t hitting you for normal wear and tear I don’t see the problem. And yes, if you aren’t comfortable with that just refuse to accept it stating you don’t want the responsibility.

    1. Blinx

      Wow — iPad to use AND 4G service? Sign me up!! I think they are being very prudent, requiring replacement if lost or stolen for such a hot item. Some dishonest employees could easily say they left it in a coffee shop, meanwhile they gave it to their kid.

      As for the case? Yeah, they could issue a standard boring black case, but maybe you prefer one with keyboard attached? Purple with pink flowers? Plaid and puffy with handles attached? Such as small thing to purchase — not sure why anyone would have an issue with it. I’ve bought plenty of things to put my company laptop in and never thought twice about it.

      1. VictoriaHR

        Agreed – WANT. I’d happily shell out $50 for a nice iPad case if the iPad within were given to me free. And since I’ve had an iPad2 for the past 2 years and it’s still going strong, I feel confident in my ability to keep a new one safe. So you can send the new one to me at VictoriaHR…

      2. Jamie

        Actually I issue cases with iPads because they are not all created equally and I want to make sure it’s substantial (I really hate processing breakage insurance through the credit card.)

        I do give people options though – and I’m a huge fan of the Zagg keyboard cases…but if you want an Otterbox I’m fine with that, too.

        And for the ones which will be used outside and in the production environment the Otterboxes are amazing – those things can take a hit!

        1. Esra

          I have an Otter Box on my smartphone! They are really great. I’m a super klutz and my phone yet lives.

        2. Chinook

          Remember though that not all Otterbox lines are equal. DH bought the toughest line and has had his phone bounce off the road numerous times without a scratch. But, if he had bought their commuter series, it would have been toast after the first bounce. (DH is a copy, not a klutz)

        3. Elizabeth West

          I’m going to pick your brain when I get a tablet/smartphone. if that’s okay. I don’t want to waste money on accessories I don’t need.

          LOL I haz mad zombie skills.

        4. Ask a Manager Post author

          I just want to say that I have the most beautiful ipad case from Portenzo.com, and while I don’t know how much protection it provides, it makes me happy to look at every time.

      3. Lisa

        See.. I would be mad though. Let’s say ipad (now is $300 with group discount). it gets stolen / broken in 2015, are they wanting a replacement of same old verion or do they want a new ipad now, still more money than the group discount they prob getting.

        1. Jamie

          I’m totally not being sarcastic here – if anyone out there is getting these discounts which have been mentioned a couple of times please email me (through linkedin if you’re a member of the AAM group). Because I’ve got a corporate account and my rep has told me repeatedly that there are no volume discounts. I haven’t bought within the last year or so – so if this has changed and my rep didn’t tell me…grrr.

          And I think most ITs are like me in that we’d want to recoup the depreciated cost. Like if you lost a iPhone 3GS right now I’d give you change back from a dollar – since they are only worth $0.99. :)

    2. Coelura

      Its really common to be required to purchase a case. I’ve had to purchase my own carrying case for my company issued laptop. A case for an iPad is no big deal.

      1. Mike C.

        It’s a business expense, and they can likely get a great company wide discount, so why should employees be on the hook for this?

        1. Jamie

          There are not company discounts for Apple stuff. We get to go to the business reps at the store on Black Thursday to avoid the lines – but the lack of corporate discount for those of us with corporate accounts is something we bitch about all the time.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit

            But even so, it seems unreasonable that employees should have to pay for a business expense. My organization doesn’t provide laptop bags/cases, even though they provide laptops (because we’re all remote, and we all travel 25% – 75%) – but they do reimburse for them. I ended up buying a Lo&Sons bag and not asking for reimbursement, but still. Cheez.

            1. Jamie

              I agree with this – if you are issued equipment you shouldn’t have to incur any costs to accept it, IMO. I issue with cases, car chargers, all that crap…but if you want something special above and beyond what’s typical there is nothing wrong with the company reimbursing for reasonable costs.

              I.e. a Zagg iPad case is about $100. If a user wanted one that cost $300 – then I’ll reimburse for the $100 which I feel is reasonable.

              I don’t think people should have to shell out any money for necessary items to protect/use the equipment. I do think if the company wants you to use it in the course of your work it’s an expense they should incur – same with cell phones.

            2. fposte

              I confess my view is colored by being an academic, since we pay for business expenses all the time.

                1. fposte

                  I can understand your feeling, but I also understand that the state of Illinois doesn’t have enough money to pay for both indigent health care and my conference in Texas.

            3. Ellie H.

              I would be annoyed to be required to buy a case as well. (To say nothing of the fact that I wouldn’t want an iPad even if it came in a diamond encrusted case.) If I had the option to decide to buy my own case, that’s one thing, but to be told “You must accept this AND buy a case” would not sit well.

      2. Elizabeth West

        We weren’t; we get backpacks. Inside is an ethernet cable and a spare power brick. It is AWESOME. All I have to do is jam my lappy in there and book.

    3. Ann O'Nemity

      I agree with Jamie. My company pays for wifi-only iPads and basic cases, but the employee pays if they want a fancier case and is responsible for paying a prorated amount in case of loss or theft.

      1. Ann O'Nemity

        I should add, my company does in-house repairs. It’s just in case of loss or theft that the employee is on the hook.

    4. KarenT

      I would never have accepted my company iPad if I had to replace it if it were lost/stolen. For me, I have to take my iPad to business meetings on university campuses, conferences, and travel with it (taking it to busy airports). I think the company is creating the risk so they should be on the hook, as these are all places where it is very likely to get stolen (and easier for me to lose).

      1. KarenT

        Also, my company tends to be very forgiving of a person’s first incident–not so much with the second.

    5. Blue Dog

      This kind of entitled attitude is why companies are becoming increasingly reluctant to provide any incentives, benefits or perks to employees. We will give you an iPad. We will hook it up with 4G. We will pay the fees. We don’t even care if you use it for personal use. Just don’t break it or else you have to replace it. And people are actually bitching about this as if the employer is acting unreasonable?

      There are a lot of people who would love it if their employers behaved in this fashion. Get a little perspective!

      1. Sandrine

        I’m sorry, but I see nothing entitled here.

        No one is demanding Ipads or whatnot, or special cases. People are just saying that if they haven’t asked for an Ipad, they shouldn’t be responsible for one.

        I “only” own a Galaxy Note phone, which is big enough already, so why risk an Ipad ?

      2. Cube Ninja

        People are commenting because it IS unreasonable and in fact, is illegal in some states. An employer can’t simply willy-nilly require that an employee reimburse the company for a loss, whether it’s an iPad, or a half dozen cheeseburgers. That’s called cost of doing business.

        Fixed (or mobile) assets *will* get lost, stolen, broken, etc. If my desktop PC in the office breaks because someone else was screwing around with it while I’m away, should I be liable for that?

        Cases should ideally just go through the company’s procurement folks, up to a certain dollar amount. If the employee wants something fancier, they can go out of pocket for the difference.

        Ultimately, though, unless the employer is giving the employee the iPad (which, for a 4G model, would be taxable income), I don’t see how it’s either reasonable (or in many cases, legal) for the employer to require that the employee pay for the device in the event of theft/destruction/etc. If the employer incurs a loss because of the employee’s misconduct, they can take whatever action they feel the need to, including termination, but it’s ridiculous to even ask that the employee pay for the device.

  4. De Minimis

    #2–Only some agencies are directly affected by the sequester, and even then some of the operating divisions/subagencies may not be hit by it. Contrary to popular belief, there can be a lot of turnover for some government jobs, and in many cases they are looking to fill vacant positions. I know that is the case where I work.

    The thing that would really affect things would be a government shutdown at the end of the month, and that is looking less likely.

    1. De Minimis

      I should add that honestly a lot of the time the people in charge are hiring won’t really know about how they might be affected by things until it actually happens. In many cases, if they actually have an announcement out there that means they have the funding, although I have heard of cases where people have been selected for a job but have been in limbo for months/years due to funding issues.

      At any rate, I wouldn’t let it keep me from applying.

    2. Chrissi

      I work for a federal agency and we were informed the day before the sequester of what the impacts would be, one of which was a hiring freeze. When hiring is frozen, we (other agencies may differ) don’t have the jobs posted, but even if we did, no one would ever be called in for an interview. However, even during hiring freezes a division can request special permission to hire for a vacancy if it is deemed mission critical. It’s not necessarily easy to get that permission, but if the vacancy occurred after the sequester and you fill it (usually with a lower paid employee), you’re not out any money, so sometimes they are granted. Just FYI.

  5. Jessie

    #1 – I agree that it won’t hurt you and not to worry. However, more broadly: why answer your phone when you’re busy in the first place? Maybe this is symptomatic of having grown up in the age of the cell phones and texting/email but I never answer phones (work or cell) if I can’t stop to discuss something, particularly when I’m job hunting. In fact, my phone volume is off 99% of the time. This is not a judgement and more of a sidebar, and I completely agree that it’s fine to not have your schedule completely memorized. In fact, I would expect that of a busy and interesting candidate.

    1. Rayner

      Some people, like my mother, have to have their phones on them at all times, because of important work calls which might come through at any time. Sometimes, you just can’t afford to keep it turn off/volume down all the time.

      Also, as a side note for me personally, I’m always nervous about missing calls. Unless I was in a meeting, or seriously knuckling down for very serious, intense work, I wouldn’t turn my phone off at all.

      I suppose it’s all relative as to what job you do , and how much you’re expected to be in contact with people etc.

      OP: I don’t think you did anything wrong. 20 minutes call back to check things and confirm is more than okay. Not everybody can be free every minute of every day even when job hunting, like Alison said. You want to make it clear the caller is important to you, but not the only thing in your life at the moment.

      1. Jane Doe

        I keep my cell phone on all the time and when I was job-searching, I’d answer it unless I was out running errands (since it’s annoying for some people to talk to someone who’s in a crowded area or where you can hear traffic) because I often found it harder to reach them again if I let it go to voicemail the first time.
        I ended up playing phone tag with one HR person because we both kept missing each other’s calls.

    2. Natalie

      There’s nothing in the letter to the suggest that the LW answered her phone at a time when she couldn’t talk. Perhaps she just didn’t want to evaluate her schedule with a potential employer waiting on the other end of the line.

  6. Miss M

    I’m going to disagree with Alison on #7. HR is one area of the organization that interacts with every other area. Therefore, there could be some benefit to having knowledge and experience in multiple departments within the company; to have a more well-rounded, big picture idea of how the company operates. If you later get an opportunity to apply for an HR position, you can explain that you always wanted a career in HR, but while waiting for the right opportunity to become available, you decided to broaden your understanding of the company by working in various areas.

    1. Timara

      Thanks Miss M. When I read Alison’s response to my #7 I wasn’t sure if I could “stick it out” in my current role. It doesn’t help that my company is still doing layoffs, which has already affected my husband. On top of that my current department is going through a major realignment and instead of promoting internally, they’re bringing in new help. So I’m a little anxious but completely realistic about the possibility of being laid off in the near future. I think I’ll definitely keep looking and if an opportunity comes my way, I’ll always refer back to this. Thanks.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      The thing is, though, that she’ll look flighty. She’s been in her current job a little more than a year. Then she’s going to transfer to another, then go on maternity leave, then come back and want a third job in a different area. All that bouncing around is going to make her look like she doesn’t know what she wants or isn’t likely to stay in the next one either.

      1. Timara

        To put things into perspective, I’ve been with my current company for a little over 6 years and I’ve held 4 different titles. The culture is that it is acceptable to be in a role for a year and then move on. My current role I’ve been in for 2 years, although I’ve served under 2 different departments in this role. Does that still make me look flighty?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Are they all different areas of the organization, or related? It’s the former that would cause the flightiness worry, and only if it was more than 2.

          1. Timara

            I’ve worked in 2 LOBs – Consumer Banking and Home Loans. The previous 3 titles were in Consumer Banking and naturally progressed from one role to the next. The last role started out in Consumer Banking and ended up in Home Loans when the specific Consumer Banking department I was in closed. All associates were then transitioned to Home Loans.

  7. Not So NewReader

    This isn’t really advice to the OP who wrote about replacing lost or stolen company widgets, but this is more of an observation.

    A friend worked for a company that provided him with a $5000 communication device. (This was back before cells were mainstream.) My friend accidentally left it on the roof of his car as he struggled to pack all his other things into the car. The device flew off the roof of the car once he got on the highway…. a very busy highway. Since my friend knew he had to pay the $5K back to the company and he also knew that he did not have $5k, you can guess what happened next. The gizmo bounced across several lanes of traffic. My friend pulled over. He got out of the car and went after the device along that very busy, dangerous highway. He felt he had no choice.

    Companies have to take a look at how their policies can drive undesirable or dangerous decisions by employees.

    Yes, he was fine, and oddly, the device was fine. (Ok, I found that part of his story VERY ODD.) He was very lucky.
    Don’t companies carry insurance for these problems? I can see if an employee has lost several company devices, that DOES reflect on the employee. However, to lose one company device will not cause the end of the world, so why make the employee pay for it? Most people I know are not able to write out a check for $5K right away, if at all…

      1. Josh S

        For $5k??!? I know those things were like the indestructible black boxes of airplane legend, but still, I wouldn’t pay that much… ;p

    1. Ann

      My husband’s work also issued iPads, along with similar stipulations. The big difference between your friend’s story and getting an iPad, is that iPad’s are around $700. While not an easy sum to give up, neither is it so high as to be devastating. Also, if you’re carrying around an expensive piece of equipment and through your own negligence, you break or lose it, then yes, you should pay for it (Sure, it may be an accident, but still…). If the employee feels they are so careless as to need it, perhaps the employee should offer to pay the monthly cost for the insurance.
      I do disagree with Allison on one point, if the company is issuing iPads, there must be a reason for it. So for the employee to say, no thanks, may cause issues. I know with my husband’s office, they moved client presentation materials to be all digital, so the iPad was essential to his ability to do his job.

      1. some1

        I agree with you that the employee needs to take responsibility if the ipad gets lost or damaged through their own negligence, but I disagree that $700 is not devastating to cough up for some people. You can’t make a judgement like that based on someone’s salary because you may not be privy to their personal budget. Perhaps the employee is paying tuition, taking care of elderly parents, has medical bills, loans, etc.

        1. Ann

          I guess the point I was trying to make was the two sums weren’t really comparable.
          I wouldn’t want to have to replace $700, it would be extraordinarily difficult. But, a sum like $5,000 would be straight up impossible for pretty much anyone. I think the point is that it would be company negligence not to insure a $5,000 piece of equipment.

    2. Jamie

      How does this employee’s whiffing on leaving a 5k device on the top of his car and making a further bad decision to risk his life for it mean his company should eat the loss?

      If a cop goes to pull me over and I don’t have money for the ticket so I stupidly try to outrun the cop and crash my car the answer isn’t that the cops should stop giving tickets.

      I have about 10 iPads deployed – should everyone get a free gimme for ‘losing’ one each? Because if that’s coming out of my budget there are other things not getting done…and a lot fewer people are getting company issued equipment.

      I think it’s important to understand that when you’re issued company equipment it isn’t yours. It’s like renting a house or car – the usage is yours but you are responsible if you don’t take of it.

      1. K

        I think the company should eat the loss because things happen and it’s a cost of doing business. It’s the same way the company covers it if an employee makes a mistake at their job function that costs the company money. You can (and should) take that into account when reviewing the employee’s performance, but business risk should be assumed by the employer. If you’re requiring your employees to carry expensive, fragile, tiny electronic devices that are highly attractive to thieves, you’re creating that risk and it’s up to you to cover it.

        (And yeah, there’s a risk that employees will pretend to lose them and give them to their kids; there’s also a risk that your employees will embezzle from the company, and yet we continue hiring accountants.)

        1. fposte

          One alternative is the situation discussed in a post a few weeks back–where people supplied their own expensive, fragile, tiny electronic devices, and those that could afford better ones had a work advantage. I don’t think that’s really better.

          The problem isn’t so much losing or wrecking the device, it’s the replacing of the device–in our office Jane’s replacement iPad would mean that Wakeen isn’t going to get his InDesign upgrade, because the budget doesn’t have room for extras. I suppose you could have a policy where you didn’t have to pay it back but you were expected to buy your own replacement, but that would end up making Jamie’s head explode.

          1. K

            I guess I think if you can’t factor in a bit of a buffer for replacements, you’re probably not at a point where you can be giving your employees devices like that and need to go for something cheaper. Things are going to be broken or lost or stolen; if it happens often, it’s a problem with your employees and should be addressed as such, but if you have 100 people and two devices get messed up a year – while, you can and should plan for that. I don’t think electronic devices – which are notoriously easy to screw up – should be basically the only exception to the rule that the employer bears the risk for business activities.

            The situation a few weeks ago was an extremely specific one where (a) you had salespeople working on commission, with (b) a limited client pool for whom they were essentially explicitly competing, and (c) the company refused to make their database available in any number of more easily accessible formats. I gather there are plenty of good reasons not to let employees use their personal electronics for work, but I don’t think that’s the standard case why not, or a common problem that is going to arise.

            And really, if you’re asking employees to bear the risk associated to carrying their devices, you’re going to the other extreme and telling them “you don’t actually get to own this, but you do have to pay for it if something goes wrong. Have fun with that.”

            1. Jamie

              I actually agree with you about breakage. Unless I saw someone taking a hammer to it I would assume it was just one of those things and eat that cost…only if they were constantly breaking everything through lack of care (spilled water on laptop, not using a case, etc.) would that be an issue for me.

              Electronic stuff breaks – it happens – I think that’s totally different than losing it.

              1. Lora

                Panasonic Toughbooks for everyone who needs a laptop then. They cost twice as much, but that means management needs to think twice as hard about whether they should be asking employees to work on Saturday.

                Ahem. Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions…

            2. fposte

              To be fair, it’s not the only exception to the “cost of doing business” rule. When you’re getting into placing orders (like the poster here who ordered something like $30,000 worth of flyers instead of $300, though her company didn’t know) or going offsite, it’s not uncommon for loss to be the responsibility of the employee when there’s no insurance that could handle it.

              1. K

                That might be true in some places; it hasn’t been in the places I’ve worked, and I think they’ve been better places for it. (That $30k versus $300 worth of flyers story was a doozy; I don’t know that I can think of a good way to handle it, but I don’t think the answer is “20-something employee who made an honest mistake while attempting to perform her job has her finances ruined for the next several years because of it.”)

                1. fposte

                  Yeah, I have no idea what we’d have done in a situation like that in my unit, which is teeny and very financially limited. I suspect we’d probably be faced with the choice of closing down, losing an employee, or coming up with the money personally between us. I agree with the not-ruining-the-young-employee thing, but I’d be pretty bitter to be unemployed as a consequence of somebody else making such a mistake. (Not that it doesn’t happen all the time in companies, of course, but usually that’s senior massive errors, not junior massive errors.)

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I bet that the employer could have talked to the copy place, explained what happened, and worked out some kind of massive discount. I bet it’s not the only time it happened there.

                3. fposte

                  I don’t think they could in our case, because it would be a state unit doing the printing–they don’t have the leeway. I think I’ll just be glad it didn’t happen.

                4. Julie K

                  Just saw the link to the article, below. I think I was remembering that salaried employees can’t have deductions taken from their pay due to having cost the company money.

                5. Christina

                  For what it’s worth, I think that it was 30,000 COPIES instead of 300, not $30,000, since the girl said she covered it herself.

              2. Julie K

                Didn’t AAM say at one time that employees can’t be required to pay for mistakes they make that cost the company money? Or am I remembering that wrong?

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Note, by the way, that that article is talking mainly about deductions from paychecks, which is different from asking for separate reimbursement. So it’s not totally clear.

            3. fposte

              “I guess I think if you can’t factor in a bit of a buffer for replacements, you’re probably not at a point where you can be giving your employees devices like that and need to go for something cheaper.” We’re saved by the fact that we can’t afford to give anything at all :-). Which is where Jamie’s head explodes again because of the lack of standardization in all the self-bought materials, but that’s the price end we’re prepared to pay. (The lack of standardization, not Jamie’s head.)

              1. Jamie

                Ha – and to be fair the lack of standardization would be a much bigger problem for someone like me than for some other companies.

                I am a one person IT department and I have 50+ users now in several different states. Apple is nice and simple for the average user and I don’t have to keep tons of different settings in my head to troubleshoot if everyone was on different systems.

                Then again our company pays for the equipment and doesn’t expect you to supply your own hardware to do your job…so it simplifies it for everyone.

                And fwiw I’ve found most users do take good care of company issued electronics – it’s very rare that it’s even an issue. But I still require a signature spelling out financial responsibilities before I slide that pretty Apple box across my desk…I believe in precautions.

                1. Jamie

                  In common parlance fines are punitive and that’s not what we’re talking about here – and wholly different from reimbursement at the depreciated value.

          2. Jamie

            Ha :). Although I am reasonable and if you could find a better deal than my usual channels (for the same thing) I’m totally open to the lowest replacement cost available.

            And that’s the thing to remember – my policy is typical of many and it’s not brand new replacement cost you’re being charged. If you lose the original iPad (1) I issued you a couple of years ago I’m not charging you for a new 4th gen brand new with Applecare out of the box. I’m charging the replacement on a refurbished/used model identical to what you lost.

            And now if you lost your 3GS iPhone I’d charge you a whopping $0.99 – so you’d get change from a dollar.

            Also, most people are reasonable. If someone came to me and had their iPad or whatever stolen out of their hand/purse stolen and they had a police report to that effect then I would treat it as a cost of doing business because they used reasonable care and I wouldn’t charge. I do not expect people to protect them with their lives. But if it was stolen because you left it on the seat of your car? Or on the train? Or you lost it? That’s not using reasonable care and you should bear the brunt of that cost.

            1. fposte

              I was thinking more of people who’d replace a lost iPad with a $50 yFujiPad that ran on the KayPro OS.

        2. GeekChic

          I agree with K – largely because that’s what my current employer does ;). We supply iPads, laptops (lenovos or mac books) and smart phones (Blackberry or iPhone). Stolen / loss / damage is part of our insurance and provides for replacement – we don’t bill the employee.

          Now, if we had a employee with a track record of “losing” equipment then we would deal with that employee (one was fired a few years ago for losing one too many cell phones).

          1. Blinx

            This makes sense to me. My old company issued thousands of laptops, and employees traveled all over the world with them. I don’t remember any cases of them being lost or stolen (although I’m sure it’s happened). If people were personally liable for them, they might be tempted just to leave them in the office instead of actually using them as the should be used.

        3. Victoria Nonprofit

          Agreed. Stuff happens. If you’re obligating me to use something you should be responsible for the cost of maintaining that stuff – including the inevitable, accidental loss of it.

      2. Construction HR

        Yeah, the $5k story just reinforces the company’s position.

        “Insurance”? I’m reasonably sure most companies have deductibles far exceeding the value of an iPad.

        They’re a little cheap on the case issue and I think I’d have a “Police report needs to be attached to request for replacement.” proviso on the replacement form. (I had a company laptop stolen from my truck, bag was behind the seat, under a coat, on a main street, in a major city.)

        1. Phyllis

          I work in a school district and have to track purchases like this made with federal funds. Folks have to sign a transfer acceptance document and if something happens to the item, an incident report is completed. And if the incident is such that it doesn’t meet the typical standard of care (ex. ‘mysterious disappearance’ i.e. I dunno?) a police report is filed.

    1. some1

      I wondered about that, too. My company reimbursed for cabs home from our Christmas party, but everywhere I worked (besides the government, because we were funded by taxpayer $), the company threw the holiday party they could afford, with the exception of, for example, each employee received two drink tickets, and after that it was a cash bar.

      1. fposte

        Usually a situation like this isn’t about what a company could afford–the staffer pays not because the company doesn’t have the money but because they’re the pickup person, which happens a lot here (I usually just give them money out of my wallet since I can afford the wait for the reimbursement better than they can). But that’s for, like, a sandwich.

        Just in case it happened similarly here–interns, don’t offer or agree to use your own money/card for catering.

        1. Jazzy Red

          THIS! In fact, not just interns but everyone below management level should NEVER use their own money for company business. (Why? Because they are the ones who can least afford it.)

    2. Another Emily

      This is also a warning for the OP: if you absolutely must charge something, be very assertive in getting reimbursed before your internship is over.

      I hope your friends gets her reimbursements soon. I think AAM’s advice is spot on, but the company still shouldn’t be forcing her to ask multiple times for her own money back. They should really be more organized.

    3. Lindsay

      I’ve put all kinds of stuff on my debit card for my work. Lots of operating supplies, food for parties, etc. I never had any problem with it.

      The difference is that I was always paid back through petty cash immediately afterwards. If I had to wait for reimbursement, I probably would have stopped doing it.

  8. tangoecho5

    I know someone who took a job for a company who after doing some auditing realized a few company trucks and thousands of dollars of tools were “missing”. That’s just for his division, I can only imagine the loss rate company wide. Supposedly the items were lost/stolen with employees saying “I don’t know where it went”. That’s because the employees were never held financially responsible for their safe return &/or for reporting them lost or stolen to both the company and the police. How do you loose a $50,000 truck? Or if it’s the truck you drive to the work site and get done for the day and it’s no longer there when you’re ready to drive home? Just say, oh stolen and catch a ride home with your co-worker and think nothing of it? No, you don’t. Funny how when my friend implemented a sign out policy for work tools and other company equipment and held the workers accountable to return the items, things being lost or stolen decreased significantly.

    1. some1

      “How do you loose a $50,000 truck? Or if it’s the truck you drive to the work site and get done for the day and it’s no longer there when you’re ready to drive home? Just say, oh stolen and catch a ride home with your co-worker and think nothing of it? No, you don’t.”

      Or if you do, you shouldn’t expect to keep your job.

      1. DA

        The larger the company gets, you would be amazed at the amount of things that go ‘missing.’

        I used to work in procurement for a large company (rhymes with ‘Towing’) and I was constantly purchasing replacement parts because the originals had ‘gone missing.’

        The problem was, is the company just viewed that situation as a cost of doing business and it was too much of a hassle to focus on the blatant theft of items.

    2. Construction HR

      Ya Think! Sounds like maybe a small company got big very quickly & just couldn’t develop the internal controls fast enough, but a TRUCK?? That is really clueless.

  9. Mike C.

    Why is it ok to charge employees for damaged iPads but not damage to other equipment? If someone bumps a Costco sized shelve with a forklift and brings the whole thing down, employees don’t have to pay for it, and you can’t deduct the expenses from a paycheck. The same goes for any other type of equipment used for the business. That’s what insurance is for.

    Why are iPads different? I’m sorry, but if I’m on the road and someone steals company equipment out of my locked hotel room or mugs me for it, it will be a cold day in hell before I’m paying for that out of my own pocket. It’s one thing if the company wants me to use locks or keep it on my person, but if I’m doing everything right and there’s damage/theft/loss that isn’t my fault, I’m not paying for it.

    1. KellyK

      That’s totally reasonable. I tend to think that personal responsibility for company equipment should only kick in if you were actually irresponsible and/or stupid. Otherwise, it’s a normal cost of doing business.

      It might be reasonable to have a stricter policy on theft/loss if the company isn’t requiring people to use the shiny, fragile tech device, but providing it for the employee’s convenience. If I borrow a laptop because I’d like to work from home, I’m willing to be more “on the hook” for it than if my job just requires 24/7 availability and I’m taking the laptop home whether I want to or not. (I’d take good care of it and take the same precautions in either case, but if I’m being given a perk, I’m willing to take on the risks associated with that perk.)

      1. Mike C.

        The “personal responsibility” comes into play when a screw up results in drug testing, being written up or walked out the door. Owing money to the company you work for has a really, really ugly past in this and many other countries and I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that employees could be asked to directly pay for stuff like this.

        Aren’t employers not allowed to fine their employees?

        1. KellyK

          Yeah, that is a good point. I guess I have mixed feelings about the whole concept. If someone is taking company property offsite, it seems reasonable for the company to have some safeguards in place to make sure that property doesn’t get lost or stolen. But that does have to be balanced with the inappropriateness of asking people to take on what should be business expenses. (I still feel like the question, “Is it for the employee’s benefit or the company’s, or a little of both?” is a relevant distinction here.)

          1. fposte

            I agree with you–I think it’s not an entirely clear area. I also think when people talk about the employer absorbing losses they’re thinking of bigger, more corporate employers. Small businesses don’t have a lot of absorption space in their budget (and we’re unlikely to be talking $5k Nokias there, but there are always loss possibilities).

            1. K

              I think it’s still on the small business to manage their risk, though. That may mean not handing out iphones to its employees and figuring out how to get business done another way. Being a small business probably is usually riskier than being a large business, but that doesn’t justify pushing that risk onto your employees. (Unless you’re going to give those same employees an equal share of the profits should you become the next Facebook or whatnot!)

              1. fposte

                I’m meaning generally, not just portable electronics. A three-person lawnmowing concern may not be able to replace a lawnmower if somebody drives it over a rock. I think it’s unrealistic to argue that they need to have enough money to replace lawnmowers if they’re going to start up a business.

                I understand the theory of what you’re saying, K and Mike, but I’m in a small town with a lot of businesses like that, and the employees would rather accept the lawnmower-replacement risk than not have the lawnmowing job in the first place.

              2. K

                I mean, okay, yeah, at a certain point, people who are desperate to feed their family will agree to a lot of things, and one of those things might be that they have to pay for the lawnmower they’re going to use. But as a general rule, businesses need to figure out how they’re going to deal with the losses that will inevitably come up and need to figure out how to do so in a way that doesn’t involve “eh, we’ll just shove it onto our employees.”

                And in the lawnmower example, I suspect that the partners in the lawnmower concern actually are more able to bear the loss than the person who had to take a lawnmowing job for those partners, but that’s just a guess. The conventions of hiring people to do hard physical labor for your start-up business at extremely low cost probably do generally involve forcing those people to provide and maintain their own equipment. That’s hardly a laudable business strategy though and certainly not once you expand it past your tiny and informal lawn care business.

                1. fposte

                  I think also I’m writing from a more rural perspective–we’ve got a lot of family + 1 ag-based situations around here.

                  I’m not saying it’s good that people have to cover their own breakage or that I’d fight legislation to prevent such policies because the family biznesses OMG! Additionally, I think this question has been taken care of in many industries by hiring people as contractors who have to cover *all* the expense for their own equipment, not just the replacement cost–which I’m not sure is an overall gain for them. But I think any argument for best practice needs to examine unintended consequences as well as the intended, and I for one would rather pay for my conference travel than have my unit shut down because it couldn’t support the budget increase of covering it all–which is what would happen.

                2. K

                  I think there is a distinction to be made between optional and mandatory. Does your job require that you pay for travel to particular conferences as a condition of keeping it? If so . . .well, I know academia is what it is, but that strikes me as pretty harsh. If it’s a softer “if you want to go, it’s on you to fund it” perhaps combined with “we do expect you to find some way to be visible” – not ideal, but makes more sense to me.

                  Similarly, I don’t really have a big problem with a company saying “We have iPhones available for loan if and only if you want them but know that you WILL be responsible for anything that happens.” That’s different than saying “You have to have this and you have to pay for it,” in my opinion.

                3. fposte

                  It’s pretty much required. It’s not specific conferences, but if you don’t attend any, you’re not keeping the job.

                  You can write some of it into grants if you’re in funded areas, but, as the sequester demonstrates, no funding is ever a sure thing.

                4. fposte

                  Oh, and for perspective, the scale means that to raise the travel cap to what I actually spend (which is pretty average) would mean an additional hit to the taxpayers of seven million dollars.

                5. K

                  I see what you’re saying about, well, kind of pitching in to help out your cash strapped org, fposte. But I guess ultimately this doesn’t seem like something that individual employees should have to externalize; it seems like the ultimate question is: do the people of our state want to fund a university system with prominent professors who can travel to conferences or don’t they? If they do, then they need to fund it; if it’s not a priority, then they lose that benefit. But refusing to fund it and then pushing the burden onto employees seems like a problem. Which is not to say any individual shouldn’t choose to spend their money however they seem fit; just that, ultimately, as a policy matter, I don’t like it.

                6. fposte

                  Citizens don’t generally have the opportunity to earmark their own taxes, unfortunately. Given that there’s worse going on with pensions and there’s still no support for tax hikes, conference travel is going to have to wait in line and it’s quite a ways back. It’s also quite a common policy, so leaving for a better place would likely get me a higher COL with no better travel funding. I’m happy to agree with you that in a perfect world it’d be paid for, but in this world, making that funding a keystone of my job plans would leave me poorer.

                7. K

                  No, but citizens in the aggregate do make policy choices that have the effect of earmarking taxes (or eliminating them). I’m not happy that those policy choices are not funding universities right now – and I’m not blaming any individual for making any choice they want to or have to make. But I also don’t think it’s necessarily right to take the current policy choices citizens have made and then put the costs of them on people who just need jobs to get by. It seems like the better choice would be to say “the conferences are here if you want to go, but since we can’t fund them, we can no longer make it a requirement.” It sucks for both the professors and the students, who are losing out on the benefits of that, but, well, if we as a society are not willing to fund it, what can you do?

                  The alternative is taking people who are competing for jobs that are extremely scarce and already low-paid (and who may have god knows how much in student loans, gotten as a condition of getting the degree necessary for that job) and tell them that they need to decrease their salary even further if they want a shot at being employed in the profession they trained long and hard for. Which obviously is what happens, but that doesn’t make it right.

                8. fposte

                  That’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater and then beating the baby up with the bath :-). Faculty at a research university are not going to be relieved to hear that their research will no longer be considered part of their job performance, given that that’s what they want to do the job for.

                  People make trades like this all the time. Work hours for exempt positions are another a big one, where you certainly *could* go home at 40 hours and you don’t get paid more money for 50 hours than for 40. But you’re in an industry that runs this way, and it’s okay with you, even if people fought elsewhere for a 40-hour week. Money’s just one of many kinds of currency, after all.

                9. K

                  Who’s beating up the baby? All I said was that people shouldn’t be required to pay for trips on their own dime if their employer can’t fund it. I get that some prof. development activities are reasonable (as is expecting people to apply for grants). That said – yeah, I’m not really thinking of tenure-track professors. I’m thinking of people like my friend who adjuncts for peanuts and is expected to pick up all sorts of incidental expenses around it. That kind of position just ends up as exploitative, IMO. And I think that kind of thing ends up happening a lot at universities these days; it’s not just adjuncts, it’s a variety of non-tenure track positions. I get that the universities don’t have the money to fix it – but at a certain point there has to be a limit of what you expect from people who you’re not willing to compensate.

            2. Mike C.

              The risk of damage or loss needs to be taken into account regardless of the size of the company. Outside of situations where you share ownership of the company, employees shouldn’t be taking on the risk of company decisions outside of if their paycheck will continue. I don’t get to choose what my company picks for their equipment, and thus I shouldn’t be liable for bad things that might happen outside of my direct action.

          2. Mike C.

            I don’t see the distinction at all. The employee is an agent of the company doing work on their behalf. Either the item in question is for work or it’s a benefit for the employee.

            1. Jamie

              I think some things have a dual benefit. Like a company car which you’re allowed to use for personal use – or like tablets or phones if your company allows personal use as well.

              Sure, and iPad is a work tool and that’s why they are issued. I’ve yet to meet an IT who cared if they were also used for personal browsing, Words with Friends, Angry Birds….whatever. My employer allows personal use on phones, as long as there are no overages they don’t care if I use it to call home every day or text my kids or my sisters. Or take movies of my dogs in the snow….there is a lot more innocuous personal use out of these devices than say a forklift or copy machine you’d use at work.

              Some employers do require they are all business – so in those instances it’s different – but for many with relaxed policies it’s a perk.

    2. class factotum

      Exactly. It’s bad enough that I have to go on a business trip that involves a 13-hour flight, but if I have to haul my computer with me – and carry it on the plane because of course you can’t check it – and then carry it through the airport and have it hurting my shoulder because it’s not as light as a feather, then I am not going to be happy about having to pay for it if it’s stolen out of my hotel room. I am more than happy not to take the trip, or, if I have to take the trip, not take my computer.

    3. Joey

      This is really pretty simple. If you’re going to have specific expectations they should be spelled out. For example for my devices, you’re provided a case, have to agree to use the case at all times, and have to abide by certain reasonable care expectations (ie keeping it with you, no leaving it in the car, etc). If it was damaged or lost and you didn’t abide by the expectations you pay. Otherwise I do.

      1. Jamie

        I think this is what’s getting lost – reasonable care.

        Of course if it’s stolen out of your locked hotel room, or ripped off your shoulder when your bag is stolen most reasonable employers won’t leave you on the hook for that.

        But an employer should be able to have a reasonable expectation that you won’t lose it or leave it somewhere uncontrolled and accessible.

        I have a couple of iPads which are mine – my kids can take them to school or whatever…because if they are lost it’s on me. The company issued iPad is never out of my control or it’s case – because it’s not mine and I have a greater obligation to make sure it’s not left on the floor of some teenagers car.

        1. Jamie

          I looked into this a while back and it turned out we had better insurance coverage just through the credit card used for purchasing than the third parties – so check that, too. For breakages you may already have coverage through your card.

  10. WorkIt

    Regarding #1: Perhaps the boyfriend has heard of, or experienced, missing a call from a potential employer and then having them disappear. This happened to me recently. I had a message, called back, and never got a response. Oh well. I think the OP did the right thing.

    1. Dulcinea

      I was traveling recently when I got a voicemail regarding a job application. Because things were so hectic on my trip I wasn’t able to call back until 2 business days later. Now it’s been several more days and I haven’t heard anything . : (

  11. Christine

    #3 – Interns not getting reimbursed

    Something similar happened to me. I recall at least one of the two unpaid internships I had two years ago offered to reimburse me for my transportation costs (all public transportation), but never followed through. I think I even followed up on this via email as to how to set the wheels in motion (no pun intended), but all I got was crickets. I never did pursue the issue further because I just didn’t know who to escalate the issue to (it was a state agency, and I was reporting pretty much directly to the Director of the division).

  12. Suz

    #5 – My company did the same thing. It’s because they found mice in the building. A lot of people complained until a few rebels who didn’t comply with the new policy found mouse turds in their desks.

    1. A Bug!

      That gives me an idea for how to deal with unrepentant messy desk-eaters. That is, if you could get a pet shop that doesn’t hang up on you the second you ask about mouse turds.

      1. Lindsay

        You might actually be able to get them from a petshop. Dirty mouse bedding is sometimes used to “scent” food items for snakes that are reluctant to eat, since the droppings are more pungent than the mouse itself.

  13. AG

    Why are recruiters calling to schedule interviews? I have always had interviews scheduled by email.

  14. Elizabeth West

    #1–I think boyfriends, girlfriends, and partners, unless they are hiring managers or some other experts, should be filed under the “don’t take job advice from your parents” category.

    #5–If the people are wrapping up their leftover food, it should be fine. I personally think this policy is a bit draconian, but that’s just me.

    1. Dan

      I thought the “don’t take job advice from your parents” rule was about generational differences and how much things have changed in the last 10 – 20 years and not about people who are close to you.

      There’s no reason why my girlfriend could not be a good source of job info just because she’s my girlfriend.

      On the other hand, you’d have to question her judgement…

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        More broadly, it’s “don’t take job search advice from people who don’t have any expertise but do have an emotional investment in your search that may cause them to urge you to do things that aren’t correct.”

  15. Sydney Bristow

    I know this isn’t what #6 was about, but consider this a friendly reminder to be careful about using company-issued devices to conduct personal business. Also, don’t use your company email for personal emails. You’d be amazed what sorts of documents are turned over to attorneys during litigation and how much those attorneys learn about employees’ personal lives in the process.

  16. Abby

    Of course, if you lose an iPad or are do something irresponsible that causes it to be stolen (thinking of leaving it on the bus or your unlocked care) then you should replace. I would be deeply disappointed in an employee who wasn’t willing to accept that.

  17. Cassie

    #6: I’d be annoyed if I had to buy a case for an iPad. If they can afford getting iPads for everyone, they can afford getting the cases too.

    As for paying if it was lost or stolen, I don’t think our university would do that. I had a work laptop stolen from my house before (I had stupidly left my bedroom window open; the window faced the backyard so how anyone knew the window was open is beyond me…) and I filed a police report and a lost equipment report at work. And that was it.

    If an employee repeatedly “lost” or had equipment stolen from his/her possession, I’d suspect fraud and probably stop issuing gadgets to him/her. But I wouldn’t want to be in the position of judging whether someone was financially responsible because he/she was careless or not.

  18. Anonymous

    #1 – It’s all in the wording, but I don’t see what would be wrong about saying that you’d check one thing on your schedule and get back right away, which is apparently what you did.

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