asking a reference to withhold information, how long can you skip work without getting fired, and more

It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. Can I ask my reference not to mention my likely timeline for a new job?

I was an assistant for almost two years, working hand in hand with my boss in her home. Having spent so much time together over the course of my employment, we have a fairly close relationship where we discuss personal lives and goals for the future. A couple months ago, I put in my notice because I decided to switch career paths. My new one requires further education, but I’m in a weird limbo state of the application process for going back to school. I could be accepted in August 2014 or it may be January 2015. I will be applying for new jobs to start January 2014.

Is it acceptable for me to mention to my former boss that I would like her to stay mum about these goals and going back to school if contacted for a reference? I’m aware that most jobs would prefer to not hire someone for potentially only 7 or 12 months, but I have to work somewhere! I don’t want her to feel like she is compromising her integrity by not disclosing what she knows, but I’m not sure if that’s standard information to provide when giving references, anyway.

I wouldn’t. I can see why you want to ask her that, but you’d be putting her in an awkward position where she might feel you’re asking her to lie (which then might also affect her view of your integrity, which could also come up in reference checks). Your boss may decide on her own that it’s in your best interest not to mention your longer-term goals, but I don’t think you can really ask her to do that.

2. The title I was offered isn’t the job I applied for

I recently had an interview for an HR Manager position. On Monday, I was delighted to be offered the job but I received the offer letter today and the job title was HR Officer.

I don’t want to sound pompous by questioning such a petty thing, but the role was always referred to / advertised as HR Manager in various correspondence, and the responsibilities that go with the position would most definitely be synonymous with a managerial role. How can I go about contacting the recruitment manager regarding this, and do I have any legal rights?

There’s no legal obligation for them to offer you the title that they advertised, but I’d start out by assuming that this was a mistake. Contact whoever sent you the offer and say, “I noticed the offer letter says HR officer, but I think it was meant to say HR manager.” It’s likely that they’ll tell you it was an error and simply correct it. If not, and they tell you that this is the title they’re offering you, it’s reasonable to ask what the difference is between the two positions and why it changed from what you applied for.

3. How long can you skip work before it’s considered job abandonment?

You have stated that employers can require an employee to take vacation time for any time taken off even though they have worked over 40 hours recently. You have also stated that employers cannot dock an exempt employee’s pay if they do not work 40 hours in a week.

Let’s say that a person uses all of their vacation time and does not have any left. How long (hours, days, weeks, etc.) can a person skip work and still have a job and have it not be considered job abandonment?

I realize that it is probably up to the employer. I realize that in most states and places that an employer can fire an employee for almost any reason (except based on the protected statuses). Theoretically, a person could use up all of their vacation time, take an hour off, and then get fired for doing so, correct? Though, I think we all agree that would be a bit extreme.

What about a public institution, let’s say a university, which has a policy which requires years or months of documentation, a performance improvement plan, and similar items before firing someone? In such a case, I would assume that it would be difficult to fire an exempt employee for taking an hour off when they don’t have vacation time. In such cases, are there any regulations which define job abandonment in which the person could be terminated immediately?

It varies by employer, but usually even employers that have lengthy documentation requirements before firing typically have exceptions to those policies that allow for immediate firing in certain egregious cases — and not showing up to work for multiple days could certainly be considered one of those. (But it’s very unlikely that such a policy would be invoked in the case of merely missing an hour or two.)

4. Can I keep my old employer’s insurance when I start a new job?

I have an 8-month severance package and I am on my second month of it at full base pay. It also includes my health insurance, which I do contribute to. I just took a new position which offers health insurance. For a couple of reasons, I would like to stay with the insurance at the old employer until they pull it away and decide to offer my COBRA (which may happen in 60 days or so). Is it wrong/unethical to stay with the former employer’s insurance offering? I have not informed the past employer that I have a new position.

It depends on the terms of whatever agreement you signed with your old company, and any terms governing your COBRA. If neither of those prohibit it, I don’t don’t see any ethical problem with doing it. However, keep in mind that once your COBRA runs out, you probably won’t be able to sign up with the new insurance until their annual open enrollment period, which could leave you with a period of not being insured at all. So you’d want to find out when their open enrollment is, and make sure that you time everything accordingly.

5. How can I make this hiring process move faster?

I responded to an ad on Craigslist and was able to interview the following day with HR. Two weeks later, I interviewed with the VP of stores. Now nine weeks in, the VP states says there are many internal issues and delays in reaching the final interview. He keeps in contact, but this seems quite outrageous. I’m unemployed and really need this gig. What can I do/suggest to expedite the process without coming across aggressive?

Nothing, really. They’re hiring on a timeline that’s convenient for them, not you, and you’ll look out of touch if you try to force them to move forward because you’re getting impatient and need a job. Keep in mind that it could be months more, they could cancel the position entirely, or they could hire someone else.

I know that’s frustrating, but the best thing you can do is to assume that this job won’t pan out (because it may or may not) and continue searching for other jobs just as actively as you would be if this job didn’t exist.

{ 106 comments… read them below }

  1. Seal*

    #3 – At my current and previous positions, all at large public universities, the terms of what is considered job abandonment are very clearly spelled out by HR. I believe it’s 3 days without contacting your supervisor at my current position, but it’s at the manager’s discretion to an extent, and extenuating circumstances can be taken into account. Also, any employee who’s fired here can also file an appeal. My impression from talking to other managers is that if a good employee suddenly stops showing up to work they would be far more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt than would a bad employee.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I’m familiar with the use of “job abandonment” for no-call no-show, not simply for going negative on leave balance. I’m not sure if the OP was trying to pin down job abandonment or just firing for absence generally.

      1. Chinook*

        Add me to understanding that job abandonment=no-call/no-show. That being said, employees deserve atleast a call home if they don’t show in case something bad has happenned. And, if they live alone, a call to their emergency contact would not be out of line either (says the person whose cousin’s best friend was missing a week before someone realized it). The reality is that, if this is out of character, they could be sick enough to sleep through an alarm clock.

        As for using negative vacation time, would it be safe tpo asusme that the exempt employee is also not completing their work in a timely fashion? that would make it a performance issue and not just an attendance one.

        1. fposte*

          Agreed, and I can’t imagine my university department summarily firing somebody who’s been reliable without investigating. However, I’m with Anon below in thinking the question is phrased in way that makes me raise an eyebrow–“skip work”? That’s not usually a phrase associated with illness. So that sounds more to me like a deliberate no-call no show or taking time after being told that the time off wasn’t permitted, both of which I could see being cause for immediate termination. (And possibly render you ineligible for UI as well.)

          1. Kelly O*

            That phrasing had me raising an eyebrow too.

            We have very, very strict rules about no-call/no-show, and ways to enforce that sooner, rather than later, especially if there is the suspicion that a declined request for time off was simply ignored.

            It sounds as though the OP wants to take time off in excess of what is allowed and is using the whole idea of a salaried employee as a means of justifying taking that time.

            Most places I’ve worked will allow you to take time, but it’s unpaid, salaried or not, especially if there are extenuating circumstances. Granted, it’s the exception, not the rule.

          1. Chinook*

            Unfortunately, he has never beenf found. Police suspect he was hit by a car on his bike late at night and thrown into a stream that leads out to the ocean (this happens in Vancouver). They found his backpack in inlet a week later with an uncashed birthday cheque in it – no university student voluntarily loses money! Finding the pack is what caused police to contact his parents in Alberta to look for him as no one had reported him missing.

            Needless to say, I was reminded of this story when I was travelling and forgot to call when I landed and my father managed to send a message to me thru a friend of a friend for me to CALL HOME regularly.

            1. Cath@VWXYNot?*

              My husband had a colleague who died in the exact same circumstances – knocked off his bike in a hit-and-run at night, went into the Fraser river and then into the ocean. Definitely not the same person (he wasn’t a university student). Terrifying that this can happen more than once.

    2. Anonymous*

      I can’t help feeling there is a lot more to this story. This was a very lengthy post which seemed to be all about how long someone could get away with not showing up for work without either addressing the issue themselves or having a manager address it for them.

      Professionals don’t behave this way. If there is something going on that would require a long absence from work, the appropriate action is to discuss it with your manager – not try to figure out how long you can avoid the conversation.

      I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt if there is something else going on here (meaning something with the employer rather than the OP) but what I’ve seen isn’t giving me a warm fuzzy that this is someone I’d want on my team.

      1. straws*

        I agree. My first thought was that this question isn’t even necessary if you just call out. I can’t think of a situation where researching job abandonment and planning an absence behind the employer’s back is more desirable than simply asking the employer. I’m also willing to admit that I could be overlooking or unfamiliar with a situation where that’s the case, but it strikes me as such an odd thing to be thinking about so heavily.

        1. JMegan*


          I was also thinking that Iwonder if #3’s manager reads AAM. There’s enough identifying information in that post that if I were a manager at “let’s say a university,” and I had a hypothetical employee who was hypothetically out of vacation time and hypothetically stopped showing up right at the end of the year, I would be more than a little suspicious.

          Hypothetically, of course.

          1. Michele*

            I also agree. My first thought when I read this was someone did not plan their vacation time well and realized with the holidays approaching they wanted to take more time off. Then came up with the brillant idea of I just won’t show up for a few days and make up some crazy excuse for not being able to call my manager to let them know. As an FYI that plan almost never works and will come back to bite you in the butt.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, my sense is that the question is trying to find out how long they can get away with not coming to work before some iron-clad firing rule will kick in … rather than just talking to their manager.

      3. EM*

        I actually read the question differently.

        I have a feeling that what happened is that the OP was out of vacation time, she missed an hour of work due to something, and was then fired.

        She is now attempting to see if that is a “reasonable” fire-able offense.

  2. Anonymous*

    On #2 – they may have used a descriptive term in the job announcement for their own language used inside the company. For example, the title of the child executive of the United Nations is secretary-general.

      1. John B Public*

        Pretty sure that was Chief Executive, not Child executive. Autocorrect (which on Swype wanted to call itself skyrocketed or Autocracy when I tried to type it) strikes again!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Mine is that way–the title in my HR information is different from what my boss told me to put on my email signature. It’s because the actual job title is more like an employee class, but I work under [Department] Assistant.

      The only way to find out is to ask.

  3. E*

    In my experience, getting kicked off of your current insurance is a qualifying event and allows you to enroll in your employer’s insurance outside of the enrollment period. I had that happen when I turned 26 and had to get off my parents’ insurance, but the way it was explained to me indicated that any reason I was kicked off of my existing insurance would have worked.

    But I do live in Massachusetts, so the rules may be different, since we’re not really allowed to go without insurance.

    1. Carolyn*

      Yes, losing group health coverage (even through COBRA) should be a qualifying event, which would allow the employee to join his/her group health plan, even if it’s past the initial enrollment period, or outside of annual open enrollment.

    2. some1*

      Same thing with most plans if you change your marital status or you have or adopt a(nother) child. My company just requires you to take action 30 days from the event.

      1. Non-profit HR*

        It’s actually the law for all insurers that you have 30 days to sign up after a qualifying event, no matter what that event is. So, if you get married, lose your old insurance, have a child, adopt a child, get divorced and lose the benefit you had, etc., you have 30 days in which to enroll in/add someone to your company’s insurance plan. The new insurance company usually (though, not always) asks for proof via your previous insurance group # and contract ID, which they can verify the termination date of.

        1. Natalie*

          Indeed, it’s a provision of HIPAA. It’s actually what the P stands for, even though most of us interact with HIPAA in regards to medical privacy.

        2. E*

          Thanks for explaining. I thought it was national, but I know Massachusetts can be special that way sometimes.

  4. EJ*

    #2 – they may see ‘officer’ as a better title than ‘manager’ (a la Chief Executive Officer, Chief Information Officer, and pretty much any other C-suite title). I wouldn’t assume there’s anything malicious going on.

          1. EvilQueenRegina*

            Some joker at my work once listed her job title on the directory as “Temporary Genius”. It was there for quite a long time, I don’t know if anything was said to this person about it.

      1. A cita*

        Wait, Sherpa is used? Ninja I’ve seen, but why would anyone want to apply to a job characterized as “Sherpa.” So that’s a job where you do all the grunt work for some ivy leaguer CEO son gets all the credit?

          1. A cita*

            Yes, exactly. Having met quite a few Sherpas, I don’t think I’d apply to a job with that title. Lots of respect, but wow, hard life!

            1. fposte*

              Seriously, on the Sherpa-meeting? That’s exceedingly cool. So is this trekking or climbing or just socially, and what’s Nepal like?

              1. A cita*

                For research. Which included a lot of trekking. Nepal is great…a lot like Himalaya India (if you’ve been). People are exceedingly friendly. I was there during the civil war, towards the end. So it was interesting going through Maoist check points. Not scary at all (have been in riots in India and in a market area while it was bombed–that was scarier). Had some really interesting interactions with some local students deeply invested in the political discourse. Oh, and the food is amazing! All cuisines.

                1. fposte*

                  I’ve eaten at a Nepalese restaurant in London–that’s as close as I’ve gotten to the Himalayas. I’m very envious of your adventures!

                2. A cita*

                  London does have some of the best South Asian food outside of South Asia. But still, the real thing can’t be beat.

                  All the travel is why I went into academia!

    1. Jen*

      It may just be an old title that they haven’t updated. My title is “officer” and I’m not c-suite at all. More of a project manager and it’s pretty much just a holdover from the 80s where mid-level managers were called “officers” and most departments updated the titles but mine has not.

    2. JCDC*

      I was going to say that too. At least in my field, officer is typically a step above manager. But maybe they didn’t use it in the posting for the sake of simplicity.

    3. Parfait*

      That may be, but in my previous workplace, they hired someone who thought her title was going to be “manager” and it turned out to be “team lead.” And the jobs were as different as you’d think. They really bait and switched her, so VERIFY.

  5. AnonHR*

    #2- My company will sometimes post for a title that more closely represents what we’ll need the position to do and more closely represents the pay for the position to get the right applicants.

    For us, that means we post for a position that sounds lower in the hierarchy because we have an inflated title structure to allow employees in small departments to more effectively deal with customers and vendors. We do explain that to new hires though, and I know yours is going in a less favorable direction, but I wanted to point out that there may be a reason. You won’t know until you ask!

    1. AnonHR*

      And, actually, the poster ahead of me is right, the company may see this is a more favorable title, too

  6. tango*

    Now doesn’t anyone think it’s weird a HR Manager/Officer would need to ask how to contact a recruiting manager to see if the title offerred to her is incorrect and then ask if she has any legal recourse if it isn’t?

    I’m a peon and I know if I accept a job with a supposed title and the offer letter says something else, to follow up and find out where the disconnect is. I’d start with the person whose signature is on the offer letter and work my way up as necessary.

    1. tango*

      And I certainly wouldn’t think I could sue or lodge a complaint if they changed the title name in the mean time or made a mistake in the listing if the job duties, responsibilities, etc, were the same as stated in the job description and interview. Now if not and the title change means a different job I don’t want to accept, then so be it. But I’d never think what legal recourse do I have?

      1. Anonymous*

        *Asking* about legal rights is not the same as thinking you can sue or lodge a legal complaint. It’s thinking such things *might* be possible.

          1. Jaimie*

            Agreed. It does seem a little off. But maybe the OP is being careful about de-inidentfying himself/herself, and so has just changed the titles.

      2. Mike C.*

        Anon is right, there’s nothing wrong with trying to better understand one’s own legal situation. After all, this feels a whole lot like bait and switch.

        1. Tabitha*

          Thanks for posting my question Alison and your informative answer. Thanks also for everyone’s replies and your different perspectives. I’ve been in HR for a number of years but don’t know all the answers! From a legal stance, I’m certainly not looking to sue the company, I just wanted to know if there was anything to back up my argument and I guess I feel a bit cheated, as I was led to believe I was going to be offered a more senior role. It’s a stand alone position and career wise, in the HR field, it will look better on my CV for my long term career prospects if my title is Manager. Thanks again and best wishes.

  7. Josh S*

    #4 — Lapse in coverage from COBRA to new employer

    It’s my understanding (though it’s been a few years, things may have changed), that losing coverage through COBRA is a Qualified Status Change that allows a person to add/change coverage elsewhere.

    So if your coverage through COBRA ends on, say Feb 15, you can contact your new employer’s HR dep’t and say, “I’ve had a Qualified Status Change since I lost insurance elsewhere, and I’d like to add coverage effective Feb 15.”

    That should take care of things for you.

    1. Toast*

      But why would you want to pay thousands more a month for COBRA when your new employer offers insurance upon hire? I guess there might be more there, but I’d certainly jump at the chance for affordable health insurance.

      1. RG*

        This is definitely something to consider – it sounds like the OP is paying part of the insurance coverage while on severance, but once that agreement is up, the OP would then be responsible for up to 103% of the cost of the insurance coverage (Premium plus a small administrative fee). And the cost of insurance premiums can come as quite a shock to some people. If the coverage is so awesome the OP doesn’t want to drop it, then I’m guessing it going to be pretty pricey.

      2. Audiophile*

        It may be that the package of the previous employer is better. I considered this when I left my first job. Because the insurance was really good and they they were offering to cover me for 18 months (obviously I was liable for paying the premiums).

      3. ExceptionToTheRule*

        If you’re in the middle of a treatment plan for a major injury or illness, you might not want to change coverage because it might mean you have to either change doctors mid-treatment or pay more because the doctor you’ve been seeing is out-of-network for your new plan.

        1. Loose Seal*

          Or if you’ve already reached your out-of-pocket maximum for this year. May be worth it to pay the (probably) higher costs of COBRA rather than the premiums of the new insurance.

      4. MondayMonday*

        I might be reading this wrong, but it sounds like the OP wants to stay on the former employer’s plan for as long as possible without having to enroll in COBRA.

        OP – Depending on when you start your new job, there might be some overlap due to coverage start/end dates. READ your severance contract and call your HR contact if you need to discuss. All payments/benefits might end when you take another job and become eligible for another employer’s benefits, or you might be able to keep everything for the full 8 months no matter what. Get some answers from the source before making your decision.

        IMO, it is not unethical to opt for COBRA over a new employer’s plan, but it is unethical to lie about your status so that you can stay on a group plan you for which you would otherwise not qualify.

    2. Vicki*

      Note that COBRA is expensive. If the company was supplementing your insurance before, under COBRA they are Not supplementing.

      E.g at LastJob I could get COBRA after the severance period but my $$ for insurance would have gone from 0 to $1000. COBRA is NOT free and likely much more expensive than whatever the new company is offering.

  8. OP aka Cajun2Core*

    #3 – I am the OP. This question was asked on behalf of a co-worker who puts in 60 hours a week and is still having to take Vacation time or sick leave instead of just being able to take a day off (due to comp time).

    She may run out of vacation time/sick leave. I was just wondering how long she could go before getting fired.

    In the comments above, it is assumed that the person did *not* contact their supervisor. However, what if they did contact their supervisor (I just assumed that they would when asking the question.)

    So let me rephrase the question. Person runs out of leave time. They want to take a day, week, etc. off. They do let their employer know. Again, I know that the employer can terminate them for any reason but for how long would the person likely have to be off before the employer says, “No, you have to come in today or your are fired.”

    What about an extended illness? I know about FMLA but what about with pay? Even if the employer does not/can not fire the person, at about what time frame would an employer likely stop paying her.

    I know that this is all theoretical and it varies from employer to employer.

    Thank you.

    1. Nikki T*

      Well, it’s a bit different if the employer ALLOWS her to take leave after she ran out. They typically won’t fire you just for asking, or if you come back at the appointed time.

      However, if they say she can take leave, they may say she has to take it unpaid. If she asks, she should be told all the options and parameters involved should the employer allow her the time off.

      And is she being forced to take the leave instead of using accrued comp-time? I’m confused, if she has comp time, can she ask to use that for the time she wants off.

          1. Judy*

            Many of the places I have worked as an exempt engineering employee allow within the week or maybe 2 week comp times. So I can’t bank a year’s worth of comp time and take 3 weeks off, but if I know I need a half day to go on a field trip, I can manage my time within that week or maybe two weeks before and hang out at the zoo during work hours one day.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Where I work, most of the employees don’t get formal comp time, but managers are very understanding that if someone works over the weekend or very late hours, they need some time to recover, and they’ll allow comp time as long as it’s taken quickly. Meaning, they’ll let them take off and just not file for PTO. It’s a culture thing, though.

          If the situation is that your friend is working an extra day or two a week, I’d start off trying to negotiate flex scheduling or work with the manager so that if I had to work an extra day one week to hit a customer delivery date, I could take a day off without PTO the next week to balance it. Just asking won’t hurt.

    2. fposte*

      The short version is that none of us can say how your employer will handle your co-worker’s absence, because it’s up to your employer. However, what you’re saying doesn’t make a lot of sense–if she does contact her supervisor and her supervisor approves her taking the day off there’s no issue; if the supervisor doesn’t approve the leave, then she’s insubordinate for taking the day off anyway. (How much vacation is she allotted, and how much has she been taking, anyway?)

      On your extended illness question: FMLA isn’t paid leave in the first place. If she’s exhausted her paid leave, the employer isn’t required to pay her for FMLA, just hold her job.

      Your co-worker needs to talk to her supervisor before this happens and not just roll the dice, unless she really doesn’t care about the job or getting unemployment.

      1. Jaimie*

        I think the OP feels that because the employee works more than 40 hours a week, she should be entitled to extra PTO. Unfortunately, I don’t think that it works that way. Managers who want to keep employees who work extra hard will allow extra PTO. Managers who are short-sighted will not. She still has to ask for the time off, and if they don’t agree to it, well, then she will be abandoning her job if she doesn’t show up. And losing a reference too, I would guess.

        1. doreen*

          Except that if it’s a public university as stated in the OP, the manager may have no choice. My supervisor might love to give me extra PTO – but I don’t think he’s going to risk his job to do so ( by approving false timesheets ) . My guess is that the person in question is exempt- because non-exempt public employees often do get comp time.

          1. fposte*

            The original post even states that she’s exempt. Which means that there should be no 40 hour a week expectation in the first place.

            What hasn’t been mentioned yet, OP, is whether there’s a union element here. If she’s in a union, that’s going to make a big difference to termination practices. However, from an ethical standpoint, I’d say that blowing off a job is termination-worthy, and that your co-worker really should decide if this is the job for her.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        What fposte said. If she takes the day off with permission, she’s fine. If the manager says she can’t allow the day off, and your coworker takes it anyway, that’s a big deal.

        This just isn’t the way to handle this kind of thing. She has a specific arrangement with her employer regarding vacation time. If she doesn’t like it, she can try to renegotiate it or she can look elsewhere. But the plan you’re proposing could potentially get her fired and if it doesn’t would certainly impact her relationship with her manager and how she’s perceived (which will affect things like raises, projects, promotions, references, and general standing).

    3. The IT Manager*

      Person runs out of leave time. They want to take a day, week, etc. off. They do let their employer know. Again, I know that the employer can terminate them for any reason but for how long would the person likely have to be off before the employer says, “No, you have to come in today or your are fired.”

      The reality is is they can be fired for anything including being including not showing for 1 day.

      Frankly this sounds like a losing battle for your friend. Sounds like she’s already in battle with her manager for time off. Not showing up after you asked for comp time and were denied, really marks you as ignoring your manager’s authority.

      Like Jamie points out many exempt employees do not earn comp time. It’s jerky to refuse exempt employees permissions to leave a few hours early when their work is done, but I can’t think of anywhere where exempt employees directly earn comp time on a per hour basis.

      Not showing up for work when you were denied a day off is a bad idea and a really good way to get on the wrong side of your manager.

      1. Jaimie*

        +1 yes, this. It is part of being exempt. I have employers mistreat me before in this respect, where I worked so hard that they came to expect it, and I was basically doing two jobs without any extra return. I have gotten much better at managing my work/life in this respect as I have progressed in my career.

        I know for some people it just isn’t possible, but being able to work reasonable hours without rocking the boat at work is a trick that is very valuable.

        That said, I worked four hours over the weeknd. But at least it was at my own pace.

    4. k*

      I work for a public university and am non-exempt. It’s both positive and negative. The positive is that if I stay an hour late to help a coworker out, I get to leave an hour earlier a different day to make up for staying later. I will say it is really nice being able to take advantage of that when I want to leave early before a holiday or to get home early to enjoy some daylight. The negative is that on days when the workload is slow, I have to make an extra effort to appear to be doing something, whether it’s prep work or more busywork in nature.

      If the person is exempt and working 60 hours a week (8 am to 6pm), that would be an odd schedule in an academic environment. Most of the offices close at the campus I work at at 5 pm or earlier and open around 8/8:30 when class is in session and at 9 during breaks. Maybe the person should evaluate how productive they are during that time and cut back on the distractions so they are working fewer hours. Also, because they are exempt, they can leave and come in when they want at a reasonable time. Maybe come in at 9 instead of 8:30 and leave earlier around 4 somedays. I would say that the person needs to evaluate their time management skills and re-examine if they really are doing 60 hours of work during that time. If they really think they are, then go to the department to ask about comp time as an option.

      1. fposte*

        Actually, long hours are pretty common in my unit–there’s a lot of grant work, publishing, and other non-teaching stuff that keeps academic staff pretty busy. But I second the notion of examining the work management. Also, the public university positions I know have pretty good vacation packages for staff, and we’d be pretty dubious about somebody who used up all their vacation and still claimed to need more (plus the fact that how she takes her days off could be contributing to the problem if it leaves her needing to catch up a lot).

        1. A cita*

          Yep. As a research scientist, 60 hrs a week is a slow week. When you’re entirely grant funded and all your grants have been slashed recently, you typically have to do the job of 3 people. Office is open as long as you’re in the office and your home is office as well. It’s non-stop.

          Now if you’re in an admin role, yes it’s different.

          1. fposte*

            And within my department it’s not even that different for the admins or the hard-funded. The single likeliest person to be here at 3 a.m and holidays is a high-ranking admin, and the others aren’t far behind. Maybe overall university admin is cushier :-).

            1. A cita*

              Hah! Not the case for our admins, thankfully. But everyone else? Definitely. I was also curious about the OP’s colleague running out of vacation and sick leave. My university PTO is extremely generous and I came in after they cut it way back. It’s not possible for me to use it up. Maybe OP’s university is different, but I thought generous PTO (and great benefits in general) were pretty standard at universities.

              1. fposte*

                I looked at a couple that I thought might be less generous but even there I’m finding at least 12 days per year for each kind of leave, earned monthly. I was wondering if the co-worker was a newish employee and hadn’t earned time proportionately, but it sounds like that’s not a problem most systems would present her with.

        2. k*

          The benefits package including very generous PTO and sick time do make up for low levels of pay in the public sector. In the unit I work in, most people use the bare minimum of PTO and little or no sick time, because we bank it to help pay for our retirement. The PTO more than covers vacation, mental health, and sick days for most people.

          I’m getting emails from department HR about how we need to use up as much PTO as possible before the end of the year. My boss was also informing me that I needed to use some time off, as well. She was somewhat surprised that my coworker who rarely takes time off actually wasn’t going to lose PTO this year.

          I think situations like this are more common than the OP’s friend in academia. Budgets have been cut in most institutions and that includes delaying replacing people who retire or move on to other positions. Also, these people may not be immediately replaced by permanent full time people. The units have have temporary part time people in for an indefinite amount of time. Three people may be doing the same amount of work that five or more people did a decade ago. Although you have this generous time off package, there is the sense that if you take a day off, you are going to be paying for it when you come back and have your normal workload plus what accumulated while you were gone.

      2. DEJ*

        And we don’t know if this person is in academics. I work in major college athletics and depending on what’s going on can easily work 60 hours a week. But it’s also understood that those people that work the nights and weekends also have more flexible schedules.

        I also agree with fposte that it’s been my experience that public university benefits packages are pretty good, so I wonder how she is using that time.

    5. OP (aka Cajun2core)*

      I can see the answer is “it depends.”

      To clarify:
      We do not have official “comp time” that is recorded. I was just using it as a term to indicate that she had worked days worth of over 40 hours per week.

      However, as AAM has said before, if you are exempt, your employer can not dock your pay if you work less than 40 hours in a week.

      So theoretically, (though hopefully not practically) instead of letting you take an hour off (she ran out of vacation and sick leave) the employer could fire the person for leaving an hour early.

      It has been my experience that being exempt does not really have its advantages (as it claims to have). Most places (as indicated by a poster above) still make you work the 40 hours even if you aren’t busy. Anyway, that is about it.

      I can see that my coworker will have to talk to her supervisor about this.

      1. fposte*

        If it’s a public university, they may well have explicit policy for how much personal time has to be taken before you’re required to count it as time off, so it’s not necessarily an extra hour.

        Look, I don’t know your co-worker’s situation, but you’re making it sound like she’s being treated badly merely by having to work for more than 40 hours and she’s therefore owed something beyond her usual benefits. But there is no 40-hour assumption in an exempt position. She’s not being asked to work extra–she’s being asked to do the job. Has she only recently started and therefore hasn’t earned much vacation and sick leave? Does she have an ongoing health problem that means ordinary sick leave isn’t going to cover her? What is the special situation that’s applying here that makes this more of a problem for her than you, and me, and the other academic employees posting here?

        1. OP (Cajun2core)*

          She is just being treated badly. Her office had 3 people (they could have actually used 4) in it and one person quit and was not replaced. Therefore she is doing the job of 2 people.

          She does not have a health issue but I am concerned that she might one day with all of the stress.

          If the extra hours were now and then, that would be one thing but it is on a very regular basis. Sorry but the kind of managers I have had in the past, if you work extra hours, you could take off without using vacation time or sick leave.

          No one else in the college (even exempt) puts in nearly as much work as she does as far as I can see.

          Anyway, there isn’t much that she can do. I would think that she is keeping her eyes open for other jobs (I don’t know for sure).

          Thanks to everyone who responded.

      2. LF*

        If she has an on-going health problem, she should speak to her supervisor or HR about going on FMLA leave. FMLA leave can be taken in small increments – you don’t have to plan to be out for, say, 6 weeks to take the leave.

      3. HR lady*

        Yes, the key is talking to the supervisor. I don’t understand why someone would get fired for leaving an hour early IF they’d already talked to their supervisor and gotten approval ahead of time. And on the other side of the coin, I don’t know why a professional person would simply get up and leave an hour early without telling anyone just because they had run out of sick/vacation time.

        (OK, I take that back. In some workplaces, leaving an hour early would not be a big deal at all for an exempt employee. So let’s think of it as a whole day. I can’t imagine a professional adult simply not showing up one day, without asking their manager ahead of time, for the sole reason that they have run out of sick/vacation time.)

        1. HR lady*

          OP, I do not mean to pile onto you. But I also wanted to mention that someone running out of vacation AND sick time — assuming they’ve been in the job for say a year or more — means they have been taking a lot of time off. So I’m guessing it’s not like your friend is so overwhelmed with work that she’s never able to take time off. To the contrary – there are some managers who frown upon someone who has used so much vacation time that they’ve used it all up (again, this assumes someone who isn’t new on the job, and that your company gives you a reasonable amount of vacation days, and that you didn’t have an unusual situation causing you to take off tons of time, etc.).

          I know of employees who use every hour of vacation and sick time as soon as they accrue it. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that, but it doesn’t make me excited about granting them any time off without pay, and it doesn’t really show a good work ethic (again, unless there’s a special situation or they’re new). I can tell you that most employees plan out their vacation time so that they always have a little in reserve, which means someone who doesn’t do that stands out.

          1. HR Comicsans*

            Good point HR Lady- I’d like to add that workers who do use time off as it comes available are often taking it unscheduled or with little notice.

    6. Vicki*

      First of all, she stops putting in 60 hours a week _now_. Today. Not tomorrow. Not next week.

      Once she’s working a realistic schedule, she may not feel that she _needs_ to miss work.

      Working 40 hours instead of 60 isn’t “not showing up” or “job abandonment”.

  9. some1*

    #2: My first thought was that they have an Offer Letter template in Word and “Officer” is indeed just a mistake.

      1. Jamie*

        Me too. Outside of law enforcement I’ve never seen officer as a title without a c word in front of it – but it may well just be their term for manager…and used the more common “manager” in the ad and hiring process.

        1. Tabitha*

          The normal hierarchy in the UK is:
          HR Administrator/Assistant
          HR Officer
          HR Advisor
          HR Manager
          HR Business Partner
          HR Director

          But it depends on the organisation!

      1. Anonymous*

        If they made exceptions for people being kidnapped, it wouldn’t be fair for the people who risk their lives to escape so they can inform HR, would it? Duh.

  10. Elkay*

    Is anyone else confused by #1? Taking school offer to be synonymous with job offer, why leave a stable position without a written offer in hand and put yourself in a situation where you’re looking for short term work?

    1. Sourire*

      Was wondering the same thing. Unless perhaps OP’s manager can’t/won’t hold the position until August/December.

      1. Daisy*

        All I can think is that in one of these chats about ‘goals for the future’ OP said she wanted to go back to school next year, and then felt obliged to give notice now rather than when she is imminently going to leave (either out of some misplaced sense of what she owes her employer, or because the boss turned out to be a jerk about it).

        1. pghadventurer*

          Especially since she may not even start till Jan 2015. She could be out of work and not start school or not even get into school for a full year.

          1. OP #1*

            There are reasons for quitting, of course, which I’d prefer not to get into. One reason was needing more flexibility in scheduling to take pre-req courses, which kind of concerns me. I wonder if that makes it more likely that the boss lady will mention it?

            1. fposte*

              Does this mean you’ll be wanting the new job to provide you with additional flexibility? Or are you looking for part time?

  11. Nonprof*

    #1 – This is a good lesson as to why it’s not a good idea to talk about that kind of stuff with your manager, no matter how informal the setting is. Some things are really better left out of the workplace. I learned that the hard way too.

    1. OP #1*

      Ugh, I know. But trust me when I say that this was not a situation where I could say, “I’d prefer not to talk about it.” Or even evade questions, really. But you bet I’ll be keeping this situation in mind for the future.

  12. EC*

    #3. In our state (AL) the definition of job abandonment is set by statute, at least for unemployment purposes. Meaning if you terminated someone for what you call job abandonment, and that doesn’t match the state’s definition, they would likely categorize the termination as being an ‘attendance policy violation’ instead.

    In AL, job abandonment is defined as “3 consecutive work days of no call no show”. ( that means if you tell your employer you aren’t able to come in, that’s not a no call no show.) and if the no call no show is due to incarceration it’s 4 days.

    I think the reason the state probably defines this is because ‘abandonment’ is considered a resignation of the job, not a firing. So if someone quits by abandoning their job, it’s a resignation disqualification rather than a ‘misconduct’ termination for policy violation. Which is why with a 2 day no call no show, the state consider it a firing and will look for a prior warning for attendance violations, but with a 3 day, they consider it a quit.

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