wee answer Wednesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s wee answer Wednesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Do I have to provide my employer with a copy of the reference I gave a former coworker?

My ex-coworker is in the process of looking for a new job, and she put my name as a reference without asking me. However, unaware that she told the hiring company that I was her supervisor, which I am not, I decided to help her and provide a reference. The company sent me a form in an email to fill out, which I did and emailed it back to them. I did not lie; I stated that I was her coworker, which was an option on the form.

The hiring company then called my company and spoke with her supervisor. My supervisor is now questioning me and asking me for a copy of the reference that I gave to the ex-coworker. Am I obligated to provide the reference I give for my ex-coworker to my supervisor? I don’t have an issue sharing the reference with my manager, but because I think it was a personal reference, I feel I am not obligated to share this information.

It wasn’t a personal reference, even if you look at it that way; it was a professional reference because you were a coworker, or at least I can pretty much guarantee you that the reference-checker sees it that way.

Your employer is entitled to want to see a copy of what you provided, since as long as you’re employed by your company, you’re representing them to some extent when you give references for their former employees. But even if that weren’t the case, taking a stand on this is unlikely to go well for you. At best, it will negatively impact your standing with your manager long-term, and at worst it could be insubordination. Do you really want to take on that battle for a former coworker who tried to get you to lie on her behalf?

2. Cutting hours for chronically absent employees

I have a manager who wants to make it a policy that if an employee is chronically absent, their hours will be reduced. Is this legal? Wouldn’t you have to give them warnings first?

There’s no law in the U.S. that requires that employees be warned about disciplinary action before it occurs — whether it’s cutting their hours or firing them. As long as the manager is talking about non-exempt employees (rather than exempt employees, who must be paid the same amount each week in which they do any work, regardless of how many hours they work), there’s no legal issue here. And it’s understandable that she might want to schedule them less often, if they’re not reliably at work.

3. Withdrew from a hiring process but now I want to get back in

I had an interview and was told I would hear from them by week’s end or beginning of the new week. I had a change of heart (or so I thought) over the weekend and considered staying with what I have been doing. I emailed the interviewer and told him this. He emailed me back and was very nice and wished me luck and thanked me for letting him know.

Now, I have had another change of heart and regret my emailing him. Is it acceptable to call him or email him to let him know I would still like to be considered?

No. You’ll look really flaky, and they won’t be able to trust that you won’t change your mind again. You really want to be sure before you withdraw from a hiring process, because it’s hard to reverse.

4. Listing multiple temp assignments on a resume

Since I was laid off back in 2009, I’ve worked many temp assignments. Now I’m having a hard time finding permanent work because it looks like I’ve bounced around a lot. How can I make my resume look more appealing so I can finally land a permanent position?

Rather than listing them all as separate jobs, list them all under one heading — Contract Work, Temp Work, or whatever is appropriate.

5. Changing fields when my resume doesn’t show my qualifications

I am looking to change the field I currently work in. I have the education in the field I want to pursue and extensive experience in the field I currently work in. I currently work as a paramedic and I want to move into health/preventive education and wellness programs. I have an MPH in this field. The problem is my resume doesn’t speak for my true qualifications for the new career move. I obviously don’t want to falsify my resume, but how do I make changes that won’t have a recruiter or HR department just toss it in the trash?

Why doesn’t your resume speak to your true qualifications? That’s the problem. It needs to.

If it can’t because these qualifications aren’t anything you can objectively demonstrate, well, you can’t really expect an hiring manager to pick you over someone who IS demonstrably qualified. You can try to write a really compelling cover letter, but it’s hard to change fields in this economy because employers don’t have incentive to pick less qualified candidates when they’re flooded with qualified ones.

That said, having an MPH and experience working with a paramedic sounds like a pretty good background for moving into health and wellness education. You might find it useful to talk to people in the field you want to move into about how you could play up the qualifications that you do bring.

6. What should you include on a reference list?

A library application is asking for my references up front. When I send the names, what else do I include besides name and contact information? I was going to separate them according to type, manager and professional colleague. Do I include job titles? All of the references are managers, but only one is my manager.

Names, contact info, job title when you worked together, and a short explanation of your relationship to them (one sentence or less). Unless the employer has specified otherwise, they’re going to be more interested in people who have managed you than people who haven’t.

7. Not allowed to keep employee handbook after leaving company

My company just rolled out a fancy employee policy book that looks like it cost some money to produce. Of course it has that section that requires you to sign and return a page that confirms you received it, read it, and will comply. But here’s the kicker. It states that when I leave the job, whether I quit or they fire me, I have to return all company property, “including this Staff Member Handbook. Otherwise the company may take action to recoup any replacement costs and/or seek the return of company property through appropriate legal recourse.” It’s got a lot of pages so photocopying would be kind of a pain.

In my opinion, I think that anything I sign my name to, I am entitled to a copy of. But my manager doesn’t see it that way. Is this legal? I’ve seen employers try to dissuade workers from copying employee personnel reviews as well.

Yes, it’s legal. While you should have a copy of any contract you sign, employee handbooks generally aren’t considered contracts (and most contain a disclaimer to that effect). Documents where you sign to acknowledge some fact (like the receipt of a handbook) aren’t obligational or contractual; they’re more akin to signing a sign-in sheet at a meeting, which you wouldn’t be entitled to a copy of either. And companies often do consider their handbooks to contain proprietary information about their operations.

But if you think there are particular policies that you might want to reference once you’re no longer employed there, photocopy those and keep them at home. Otherwise, this is not a battle worth waging.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessa*

    Regarding temp work on the resume, what I usually do is put the agency first (for instance Teapot Temps) then I bullet point the general skills they used me for, and name the biggest longest jobs. So if I worked at Chocolate Pots for 3 months that’d go under the bullet points with the Chocolate Pots specific stuff.

    The main point is that you’re employed by Teapot Temps not Chocolate Pots. You can put that you worked for Teapot Temps (2009-2013) and go from there.

    Most companies understand that working regularly for a temp co can be a good thing, as one of your main job skills is being able to quickly adapt to different jobs and get involved quickly. Because if you’re only there for 3 weeks, you need to be productive FAST. It makes you flexible. A good thing to put in your cover letter.

    If you’re getting regular or long term work from a temp co, that means the clients of that company thought you were good enough to do that. It’s very easy to dismiss a temp and a lot of companies will not give you another job if you blow the first one you got. This is what you want your cover letter to have them infer. That you’re awesome at jumping in and starting and learning new stuff because you had to do that in all these other jobs and look at the cool skills you have.

    As for the reference thing? I know this is after the fact. But I would never have filled out a specific form like that when the asking company thought I was a supervisor, without talking to my supervisor first. It’s one thing if you no longer work for them, but I totally get why they’d want to know what you said, because as a current employee and NOT a supervisor you may not be privy to something negative about your friend and they might not be happy with what you’ve put them on the record for. They absolutely have a right to know what’s being said under their name.

    1. Sunshine DC*

      #4 – I would also add that if you work in (or aspire to work in) a field where contract professionals and consultants are a major component to work teams, even if you put everything under one “umbrella” header, you’re still going to need to keep each of the contract roles separate, with its own sub-header and with achievement-info for each. This was a big lesson I had to learn, and finally had a mentor guide me on how to do this, when I wanted to move into long-term staff positions from consulting work.

  2. Lily*

    #2 I was definitely surprised by this question! I would have thought that cutting the hours of chronically absent employees is simply taking reality into account!

    1. Elizabeth*

      I had a moment where I felt like Alison the other day on a forum I frequent where teachers around the world ask each other advice. A student (not my student, just a student somewhere) found the forum and asked a question: “My girlfriend was out of school on Friday, and missed a quiz. Her teacher made her make up the quiz first thing on Monday morning. Is this legal?! Can we get the teacher fired?”

      1. Jessa*

        It’s no longer expected that you’d have to make it up? Wow. I mean that. I could understand “you missed a quiz come make it up,” and if it was an announced and not pop quiz the student going “whoa, I was out ill for a week, you gotta at least let me try and study for that.” But not expecting to make it up? Um. No.

        1. Elizabeth*

          Speaking as a teacher – yes, it’s still standard that you make up work you miss! But that doesn’t mean that teenagers won’t sometimes get surprised by things that they don’t like. I don’t think it’s new, though. I remember my classmates crying “no fair!” fifteen years ago when I was in high school to all kinds of things, including having to make up tests.

  3. EJ*

    #1 – the idea that a company would WANT or be entitled to review a reference is bizarre to me, unless it was provided on behalf of the company – which this one wasn’t, from what I can tell.

    #7 – if the handbook contains rules like non-compete policies that apply after you’ve left the company, you’ll want to at least copy those. Some companies might hold you to them, though I have yet to see it happen.

    1. FormerManager*

      #1 I think it’s the fact that ex-coworker misled the hiring company about her relationship with LW that’s causing the concern for LW’s supervisor.

      (Thanks to things like this and blanket “no reference” policies, one of my past managers just threw up her hands and refused to do any reference checks on potential hires–netting us some bad hires that could have been prevented.)

      1. Lisa*

        this totally makes sense now, the manager prob was asked about how that person managed, and was told that OP gave a reference and prob wants to see what else was said. Maybe the boss thinks OP lied about the ex-worker being a manager too, and doesn’t want anyone lying on references … period. Nothing to do with the OP, since OP thank god did not lie.

    2. Jamie*

      Also some handbooks contain how they payout unused PTO etc. I’d make sure you had copies of those pages referencing the companies stated obligations in event of separation.

    3. Lindsay*

      It may be that the company does not want anyone to provide references due to perceived liability reasons. The letter writer provided one anyway – she may not know of this policy because she is not a supervisor, or she may have known and chosen to do it anyway – and now the company wants to see what they are on the hook for, because if there were any consequences to the reference (not likely but companies seem to be paranoid about this) they would likely fall on the employer, not the employee that wrote the reference.

  4. moss*

    AAM, I hope you don’t mind an off topic question (and anyone who knows can answer)….

    What assurances do you need to have in place before switching jobs? I am in what I hope is my final round of interviewing for a new position with a new company. I think I wait to give notice at my current place until I have a signed hard copy of an offer letter, correct? Are there any other pitfalls I need to be aware of?

    Thank you.

  5. Mike C.*

    RE: #7 – Employee handbooks certainly aren’t contracts, but they’re treated in similar ways are they not?

    In any case, it feels sketchy as all heck that employees are not allowed to keep a copy.

    1. Jennifer*

      I think it depends on what the content of the handbook is. If it is merely dress code, leave policies, rules and regs, etc it does seem silly to require it to be returned. If it is purely a cost issue, perhaps the company should not have spent so much on the handbooks, particularly because they will likely become at least partially obsolete in the near future as policies change.

      However, if it is more of a manual and includes procedures or anything that could be considered proprietary information, I don’t see much of an issue with requiring employees to return the handbook once they are no longer employed with the company.

    2. Esra*

      I’m surprised there isn’t an electronic version available. You’d think they’d have a pdf kicking around somewhere.

      1. HR Pufnstuf*

        Public employers yes, many private employers avoid formats that can be made public since could contain proprietary info.

        1. Esra*

          I’ve only worked for private employers. All of them either had a pdf version of the handbook or it was on the intranet. Either way, easy to print/save and keep what you need.

  6. Runon*

    #1 While I agree that this isn’t a battle worth waging I would say that the idea that the company feels entitled to this is very concerning. If it had been a phone call would the company have wanted to listen in on what you said? Why would you even keep it? Why would they assume you kept it?

    #2 This could run into issues if there was an FMLA or protected class that was being targeted. The warnings that are often talked about are things that employee handbooks, or company policies (or sometimes unions) “require” but they aren’t legally bound to (except the union shops). And they don’t have to do anything like a warning. Especially if it is detailed in those handbooks or policies.

    1. K*

      Agreed on #1. I wouldn’t want to fight with my boss on this either, but asking for it is ridiculous and I have a hard time thinking of a legitimate business reason for it. If the concern is about the employee lying about who her supervisor was, address that; don’t act as if it’s reasonable to screen what your employees say about each other to third parties.

    2. Lora*

      #1, +1. I wouldn’t refuse but I’d probably give Boss a Look and a very opaque/vague answer or else obvious lies, delivered completely deadpan. “What did you say about co-worker?” The truth. You know, stuff. “What did they ask about?” Was she nice, what was her favorite beer. “Did they ask about the project you two worked on?” No, they asked about her favorite Harry Potter character. Oh gee, look at the time. “Director would like to know if…” I’d like a $10mil capex budget and a pony, moving right along, how bout them Red Sox this year, didja hear Fenway is making hotdogs two for one?

      They can feel entitled to the answer, but I feel entitled to think they are being nosy and intrusive. Maybe the answer is, “I told them she was fantastic and it was a shame a terrible boss couldn’t manage her with both hands and a flashlight, if you have any other job openings please let me know.” Maybe the answer is, “I think she’ll do great in a company that is really moving forward and is good at managing innovative thinkers unlike (current company).” Even if the answer was, “I told them the exact truth and it was (whatever),” I tend to think that if an employer wishes to manage its rep within the industry and with potential employees, they should pretty much assume the truth will out at the bar two blocks away regardless of what the employee handbook says.

      1. K*

        Not to mention that if everyone terrorized their employees into not giving honest references (because they’re going to be held accountable for anything that doesn’t reflect 100% positively on the company), you’re not going to get honest references when you hire people either. It’s just bad practice.

      2. Vicki*

        You comment (” the truth will out at the bar two blocks away…) reminded me of a former company’s handbook which explicitly stated “No alcohol allowed on the premises”.

        Said company had a beer bash every Friday and the CEO had installed a bottle opener under one end of the conference room table.

        They bought the handbook “boilerplate” from a company that specializes in such things and, apparently, never actually read it through.

  7. Joey*

    #2. Why not just deal with the attendance problem head on.

    #7. What are they going to do if cant find it when you leave? Absolutely nothing. All they’re trying to do is protect all of the work they put into it. But I can guarantee they’re not going to do squat if you don’t return it.

    1. Vicki*

      #7 I do have to wonder: Why would you want to keep an employee handbook for a company you left??

      My annual reviews, I might want copies of. But the Company’s policies? My shelf space is spoken for by more useful documents.

  8. KayDay*

    #1 Reference: I agree with most of the posters above that this battle isn’t worth fighting. It sounds like this is an exceptional situation, not that the company does this regularly.

    But……there is one bigger-picture thing I am confused about. Alison, you always say you would expect a candidate’s former supervisors/coworkers to break “no-references” policies and still give a reference. While the OP did not state that such a policy was in place, I was still a little surprised by your reaction. Would your answer be different if this was a straight-forward reference and there had not been concern that the former employee was lying?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes — an employer is still entitled to ask what its employees are saying on its behalf when giving references, if they happen to hear that they did. But certainly in this case the fact that they former coworker lied is adding fuel to the situation.

      1. Jessa*

        And I wonder if the former employee did that because there’s something the actual managers would have said or skirted around enough to have said (wow that’s convoluted but you get my point,) that would have been BAD.

        I would absolutely want to know what was said in cases like this because I would think that the former employee was trying to game the system.

  9. Frances*

    I wound up involved in a combination of #1 and #4 once when I was sent a background check form from the federal government for a person who worked for us as a temp for three days. The form made it look as if the temp had listed us as his direct employer, although he did not otherwise exaggerate the terms of his employment. I clarified on the form that he was a temp but that we were happy with his work; I still hope that I didn’t screw up his job chances just because he didn’t clarify his temp assignments on his resume.

    1. Elizabeth M*

      If that screwed up his job chances, it wasn’t you who did the screwing up – it was him, for leading the other company to believe he was a full employee with your company instead of a temp.

      1. Jessa*

        Or it could have just been the reviewing person being vague. They could have a requirement that they check every single individual reference (government work sometimes can be very nit picky especially if a security clearance is involved.) It might not have been the candidate’s fault at all. They might have said Teapot Temps for Silver Service Bank, and the employing agent just wrote SSB on the forms.

  10. Crystal*

    Thank you for that great advice how to revise getting around so many temp assignments. Hopefully it will stand out now!!

  11. jennie*

    #3 I often see people writing in about withdrawing from application processes. Why? Unless the interview process is interfering with your ability to keep or perform your current job, there’s very little benefit to withdrawing. Just wait until they make a decision and if you’re offered the position and aren’t interested, decline it. You may waste a little time interviewing but you get interview practice and the opportunity to see how you’re perceived, and possibly the ego-boost of an offer. Unless you’re 100% certain you’d never take the position for any amount of money, it makes more sense to see the process through.

    1. Runon*

      I withdrew from a process once. The process had started in August, after 4 interviews and 6 months I knew I was one of the top candidates but I also knew at that point I would despise the job and I was 90% sure I would get another position (I did get the offer for the other job, which I really enjoy). So I politely declined the next step (which would have been a whole day “interview” and at least a days prep or more) and withdrew. If they had offered me enough money I would have felt compelled to take it, so for me the best thing to do was not continue to waste my time and theirs.

    2. Vicki*

      I withdrew from an application process yesterday. It’s a “practical” interview process. They first asked me to write a short article; the next step would be editing a half dozen or so articles. (They pay a small sum / hour; it’s not unpaid work).

      I realized I don;t want the job. It’s not my kind of writing. I don’t intend to waste my time on the articles.

      I’ve backed out of the application process for other reasons: realized it’s not my kind of company environment, remembered that I don’t want a commute of more than 30 minutes, realized during the first interview that something didn’t “sit well” for me but it took til later that evening for that to bubble up into my conscious mind.

      I don’t want to waste my time. I don’t want to waste their time.

      If you’re iffy, sure, stick with it and see if you get an offer. If you’re sure, say no early.

    3. Dawn*

      I went ahead and emailed the gentleman who had given me my second interview and told him I was pre-mature in my decision to withdraw myself from the pool of candidates. He replied and then called me telling me I would have been the one they offered the job to! He is going to start me in 30 days so I am very happy I went ahead and followed my gut! Thanks for the advice tho Alison!!

  12. Marmite*

    I agree that unless you’re certain you will not accept the job then don’t withdraw.

    However, I think there are circumstances when withdrawing makes sense if you know you don’t want the job. For example, several interviews I’ve attended have been time consuming (full day affairs) and costly to attend, it wouldn’t be worth the time or cost just for interview practice and unless they give feedback to all candidates (most employers don’t seem to) I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn how I’m perceived.

    I’m also wary of bugging my references unnecessarily so if it was at the stage of providing references and I knew I wasn’t going to accept the job I’d withdraw. It might also make sense to withdraw if you know this job isn’t for you but you might want to work for this company in the future. Rather than leading them on and then declining the offer you could withdraw from this application but mention that you’d like to be considered for x position if it arises.

    I think some people also just like to be polite and view withdrawing when they know they don’t want a job as the polite course of action.

    1. KellyK*

      Yeah, I agree with this. I think that if you’re certain you won’t accept the job if offered, it’s appropriate to withdraw before wasting a bunch of the potential employer’s time or money (or yours). If you’ve already interviewed and there’s nothing more to the process, it’s totally reasonable to just wait and decline if it’s offered, but if there are more interviews, especially ones that are major time-sinks for you and them, it may be best to decline. But again, that’s only if you’re certain.

      1. Jessa*

        Yes absolutely, wasting their time and yours is bad. Just sleep on it. And sleep on it again. Be absolutely sure. Because you really can’t open that door again gracefully. On the other hand being honest about your fit for job x can serve you when job y comes open at the same place. “This was the employee who knew they wouldn’t be good for x and politely let us know so we didn’t waste time or money interviewing them further. Let’s look at them for y.”

  13. danr*

    #6… OP here. Thanks Alison. Your suggestion of an explanation line completes the picture. By the time I get a job, I’ll have this application stuff down pat.

    1. KayDay*

      By the time I get a job, I’ll have this application stuff down pat.

      Ha! That’s exactly how I feel/have felt.

  14. JLL*

    #4- I worked contract/temp for years (almost 12?), and I find it helpful to simply state which positions were contract. You might find the odd person who refuses to hire someone based on contract work, but generally when I had an interview, I let them that I was definitely not opposed to going permanent, however it was what was available/what was suitable at the time. Most people understand the economy and are pretty cool about it. And being able to show positions where you were extended or given more responsibility is a plus too.

  15. Catbertismyhero*

    #7. Keep in mind that the company owns th copyright to the Handbook, and may not want you using portions of it with your next employer. And if it is not a contract, why do you want it? It no longer applies to you when you are gone.

  16. Dan*


    Maybes, kindas, and sort ofs when it comes to a potential arrival or departure from a company are not good things.

    You withdraw your candidacy if you know for absolute certain that you will not take the job. Otherwise, you interview. And yes, I once went on an interview I was partially iffy about because an offer came after the plane tickets were booked. I believe that the tickets were booked a week out, and a few days after they were booked the offer came.

    You know what? I went, just to be sure. They were out the $ for the tickets anyway, and I wanted to see what they were already about. I did reject them fast ;)

    Switching subjects to the opposite end of the job horizon, my mom let it slip to her employer that she had interviewed with a company and was expecting an offer “any day now”. “Any day now” stretched into two months, and then the new employer ended up shutting its doors. Meanwhile, the company hired mom’s replacement, despite her claims that she hadn’t given notice yet. Employer said, “Who cares. We know you’re trying to leave, and we need to replace someone on our schedule, not yours.”

    When new company shut its doors, somehow mom managed to keep her job. But she got a good scare, and a lesson to not open her mouth about those kinds of things.

  17. Lindsay*

    For #7 I wonder if the company actually collects the handbook in practice? Unless it is a high security company or the handbook contains very guarded and proprietary information, I am betting that they include that wording but never actually collect the handbook at the end.

    I did have a job (Acme Grocery Store) where they had us sign paperwork in our orientation stating that we had received the handbook, and said that they would give it to us at the end. They didn’t give them to us. I was upset about that and learned my lesson about signing forms before whatever terms listed had been met. They also purposely misled me about the job role and pay-rate I had been hired in for, among other things, and wondered if they withheld the handbook so we would not know the correct procedures to escalate complaints about such things. So I understand being upset about the lack of handbook.

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