who should attend an exit interview, Toastmasters on a resume, and more

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

1. Who should attend an exit interview?

I handle internal HR for a small organization (less than 20 employees.) I have two exit interviews coming up for exiting employees in two different departments. For one, my manager (COO) wants to be present, and for the other (a finance employee), he wants my CFO to “observe.” The CFO is relatively new to leading the vertical and has not worked directly with that exiting employee.

Who is it appropriate to include in an exit interview? I have concerns about my COO being at the first one because I’d expect feedback from that employee to specifically touch on aggressive communications from the COO. For the other, I have no problem with the CFO participating as I don’t expect any of the feedback to be personal, but is it weird to have him “observe” versus participate (or not be present?)

What are your general recommendations for including extra individuals in exit interviews?

The goal of an exit interview is to get candid information from the exiting employee. The more people you have present, the less likely the person is to be candid. I can’t think of any compelling reason to let someone “observe” exit interviews or otherwise include additional people; the atmosphere you want is one that’s a safe place to talk, not one with “observers” — let alone intimidating observers.

2. Managing an employee who is regularly in the bathroom

I have a team member who I supervise who uses the bathroom a lot. Like, at least once an hour, she is away from her desk for 5 minutes or more, with one or two bathroom breaks lasting 10+ minutes. Unfortunately, I know that she is actually using the bathroom during this time, because if I ever go to the bathroom, she’s clearly in one of the stalls having some intestinal distress. This has been the case as long as I’ve been here, about a year.

If she has a real medical issue, I think she’s probably covered by the ADA. But she has never disclosed a medical issue to me, and I am not sure if it is appropriate for me to ask. But to that end, I’m just not sure how it would be possible for me to accommodate someone whose medical issue causes them to need to go to the bathroom for 45+ minutes total each day, sporadically taken. I want to help her and be kind, but this issue is frequently disruptive to my team’s work, as she is our administrative assistant and she is not always at her desk and cannot dedicate a full hour to any one project without interruption. It’s becoming more of a problem lately because our work has picked up; I was more or less able to ignore it before but that seems unfair to my other team members who rely on her (and me).

If being at her desk without regular interruptions is an essential component of the job, you need to mention it. Say something like, “Jane, I’ve noticed you’re away from your desk at least once an hour for bathroom breaks, which is causing workflow disruptions like XYZ. How can we solve this problem?” This is an opening for her to bring up any medical issue, but if she doesn’t, you can say something like, “When employees have medical conditions covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, we’re required to make reasonable accommodations for them, starting with a conversation exploring what accommodation is needed.”

From there, you’d want to talk with a lawyer about how to safely proceed under the law and figure out what reasonable accommodations you can offer, or whether it would meet the legal standard for undue hardship on your business. (Do not decide something would be an undue hardship without talking to a lawyer; you might be surprised by what the law can require.) However, you want to begin with process of talking with the employee about what accommodation she needs and making a good-faith effort to negotiate something that will work on both sides.

3. Can my employer make me return my relocation bonus if I leave after three months?

A little over three months ago, I relocated to a new city for a new job and negotiated a relocation bonus. The situation has been a nightmare and I am preparing to turn in my resignation, but wanted to know what recourse my current employer might have in trying to recover the relocation bonus they paid me. A few things to consider.
– They only paid me two-thirds of the agreed upon relocation bonus.
– I did not sign any contract or agreement of any kind regarding the relocation bonus or my employment in general.

From my standpoint, since there was no agreement in place regarding the sign-on/relocation bonus and it was used to cover expenses I incurred moving, they really have no recourse. I am curious about the outstanding relocation bonus I am owed, but imagine since there is no agreement in place neither party has a legitimate claim.

Yeah, if there’s no record of an agreement to repay it under certain circumstances (such as if you don’t remain in the job for a year, a common restriction with relocation bonuses), then there’s no reason to assume that they’d ask or expect you to repay it. And if they did ask or expect it, you never agreed to do that, so they’d have no legal recourse in trying to get you to return the money.

4. How does Toastmasters look on a resume?

What do you think of Toastmasters International? If you see Toastmaster credentials on an applicant’s resume, are you impressed? For example, the first levels are Competent Communicator (CC) and Competent Leader (CL).

The greatest benefit Toastmasters has achieved for me is getting over my fear (i.e. terror) of public speaking. Although I will never be a polished and professional public speaker, I no longer wilt when called upon to get up and speak, for example, introducing myself. So, there are definitely benefits to investing in Toastmasters; I am more curious from the standpoint of an employer if the credentials are recognized.

Sure, Toastmasters is a good thing to have done, and it’s worth putting on your resume. “Impressed” probably isn’t the reaction of most hiring managers — something more low-key than that. More like taking note of a positive, like, “Ah, good, she has some confidence in and practice at speaking in front of groups.” Not blown away, just a good thing to tick off. It’s not likely to get you a job on its own, but it’s worth noting there.

5. When the pay offered isn’t the pay advertised

Can an employer change the rate of pay once the position has been advertised for and fulfilled? Wouldn’t do so be false advertising?

It’s perfectly legal for an employer to decide to offer a different salary than was advertised or even a different position than was advertised. The candidate can then decide whether or not to accept it. (And there are legitimate reasons for an employer to do this — such as if the candidate has less experienced than was originally envisioned, or the job needs change, etc.)

What they can’t do is to change your rate of pay retroactively after you’ve accepted and started a position. They can lower your rate of pay going forward, but not for hours you already worked under a different agreement.

{ 175 comments… read them below }

  1. Liz*

    I have some sympathy for #2’s employee, because I was in a similar position myself last year. Luckily, I’m not required to be at my desk constantly, and my productivity was high enough that my boss didn’t mind the time I spent in the bathroom.

    For me, it turned around when I realised I was gluten and lactose-intolerant. Your employee may not even know she has a specific problem! I can’t offer any advice, but I hope the matter is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

    1. Anon because I'm shy about this*

      I have a bit of sympathy too. I have some bladder issues and often need to use the rest room every hour, or two at the most. Fortunately, it usually doesn’t take long, but it’s still embarrassing, especially when I was at the stage in my career where I had to ask a fellow associate to cover for me for a minute (again)!

      However, I’m wondering if maybe you should address the performance issues instead of the bathroom breaks? I’ve had flare-ups where I had to take a five to seven minute break every hour, or sometimes more, but I’ve generally gotten good feedback as being a high performer. If she’s not getting work done, I doubt it’s just the bathroom breaks.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Really good point. I have had problems in the past that made me run to the ladies’ room way too often. I realized that this could work into a problem so I doubled up my efforts to stay on top of my work. Management never said anything, fortunately.

        Like Liz is saying, I cut back on gluten, dropped dairy and started drinking more water and my problems went away. I will never forget how much that problem stressed me out. I think my worry about how this would impact my job actually made the problem worse.(I have come to understand how any stress can really exasperate this problem.) I know my concern occupied a lot of space in my brain.

        I applaud OP for realizing this could be a health issue and not a “lazy worker” issue. I echo what Shy Anon is saying if her work is not getting done then this is more than a bathroom break issue. I, also, worked very hard at making sure the extra bathroom time did not impact my work results.

      2. Chinook*

        I agree that frequent bathroom breaks aren’t the problem but how it affects the job. Unfortunately, being at your desk for more than an hour at a time is sometimes part of the job (says a former receptionist) and not being available can affect the actual job. I rarely see Allison mention consulting a lawyer but I can see why it would be necessary in this instance.

        1. Joey*

          Eh. Id only consult a lawyer if i didn’t think an accommodation was reasonable to do. With ADA and ADAA nearly any condition is going to qualify so the default should be to accommodate. And I’m not sure why you need a lawyer if you can accommodate. There are plenty of free resources (askjan.org) that give good ideas if you’re having a hard time finding a solution.

          1. fposte*

            I think the problem is that it sounds like the position can’t accommodate the current pattern, and there really isn’t any way to change it. askjan basically suggests additional bathroom break permission, a closer desk, and the ability to work at home as solutions, none of which solves the OP’s problem of needing this person to be more reliably present at her desk.

            Obviously the OP can consider if there’s a way to adjust her team’s support expectations that’s fair to them as well as to work with the employee, but it sounds to me like she’s already thought this through. I get the issue–I have a version of Crohn’s–but there are some jobs that just couldn’t reasonably accommodate me.

            1. Joey*

              That’s the general advice on the website, but they also have live help that can help you work through problems exactly like these

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Exactly. The OP is concerned that she may not be able to accommodate the problem, and I’d absolutely talk to a lawyer if she’s feeling that may be the case.

      3. Trish*

        As a person who suffers from Chrohn’s Disease, I sympathize. My problem is under control now, so frequent bathroom visits are a thing of the past (thankfully!)

        1. KC*

          I have Ulcerative Colitis and when I’m having a flare… what’s being described wouldn’t be uncommon. Mine’s under control too (fortunately).

          Talking to your boss about IBD (or any health issue, really) isn’t necessarily easy, but if it’s impacting your performance, you have to do it. I’ve had to have “the talk” with 3 different managers in my professional career so far–and no one has reacted negatively. They’ve been willing to make accommodations when I’m having issues.

          That said, I think Alison’s advise is spot on for the manager: approach it in a compassionate way and try to find a way to accommodate, if possible.

          1. Lamington*

            I have IBS and it comes and goes even following treatment. Perhaps the person is stressed? and possibly having gi issues is stressing her more.

          2. Leigh*

            My daughter has UC and I’m curious to know when you talked to your managers about it–did you wait until it was a problem, or did you mention it right after getting a job offer or after starting the job?

            And I’m glad to hear yours is under control now.

            1. KC*

              Leigh —

              At my first job out of college, I mentioned it out of the gate. That was mostly because I had dealt with a flare recently, and knew it might come up early in my tenure there. I wanted to make sure they were aware, so we’d both know how to react if/when it became an issue.

              At subsequent jobs, I’ve used how I’ve been doing recently as a rule (basically–do I anticipate I’ll be dealing with it in the near future).

              For my current position, I hadn’t had a flare in over a year when I started, so I didn’t bring it up. When one DID pop up, I explained to my manager that I had a chronic condition and what I may need to do to handle that on REALLY bad days. Fortunately for me, even my flares are mild, but it sometimes means that I work from home via VPN, so I’m close to my own bathroom.

    2. MiaE97042*

      I’ve done a lot of admin work and I truly cannot fathom how this could be a serious issue. She’s away from her desk sporadically for AN HOUR out of the day? Maybe I don’t have a clear enough understanding of the work this interferes with but that seems like a minimal and reasonable interruption to me, especially given you know it’s medical and it’s not just because she’s away from her desk chatting.

      1. Adam V*

        You don’t know it’s medical, though. You have an idea, but the admin hasn’t said anything themselves.

        1. KellyK*

          You do know it’s legitimate, though. The OP has seen (and heard) her in the bathroom. Whether there’s a medical diagnosis to go along with it or not, you do know that it’s not a case of her wasting time.

          1. Adam V*

            Still, there’s a difference between “I have a medical condition” and (for example) “I eat horrible food / drink so often / some other non-medical reason that I’m in the bathroom for an hour a day”. At this point, you still need the admin to come out and say “I have an ADA-covered condition”.

            1. Anonso*

              That’s not really true. You can have weird ongoing problems, especially one as hard to pin down as this, without any diagnosis– let alone one that would be covered by the ADA. Odds are much better that the average person with a benign but annoying problem like this will not ever have the kind of explanation for it that everyone is going to want to prove it’s a “real medical problem.” Even if you can chalk it up to a really clear cut diagnosis, figuring that out can take many months or years since it’s so nonspecific.

              People always want to jump to the assumption that someone who has a problem but no clear cut diagnosis is doing it to themselves with poor behavior somehow, or lying about it. It’s a really big misconception that anyone with a symptom can just get a diagnosis to sum it all up and a treatment to make it go away if only they tried hard enough.

              1. Jady*

                Seconding this so much….

                I had an illness that made me seriously sick for 6 months straight before I finally got a diagnosis, and not for lack of trying. Repeated doctor visits and one ER visit and multiple medications. Ended up out of work for weeks for surgery at the end of it to get it resolved.

                Even if it’s a result of “I eat horrible food” etc (which is ridiculous imo because I eat horrible food too frequently and I’m not in the bathroom every hour+. Yet that was something my doctors told me and avoiding it DIDN’T HELP at all) then that’s still a medical problem. You’ve got no right as an employer to tell this woman to change any lifestyle habits. That’s between her and her doctor.

                I’d argue for the manager to deal with it. It doesn’t matter why, she has bathroom problems and that’s all you need to know. It’s medical, she’s not wasting her time, and it sounds like he clearly knows it’s not being faked and she’s not sitting in there playing games on her phone or something. It’s an inconvenience to you, but one that you can deal with.

  2. Sydney*

    I would give bonus points to entry level candidates with Toastmasters credentials. Double bonus points if the position has *anything* to do with public speaking, leading and/or participating in meetings, or verbal communication.

    Outside of entry level, it becomes less impressive because your work should showcase these skills if they are important to your career.

  3. Zelos*

    I was a Toastmaster for two years. I’d honestly give the side-eye to anything more than a brief mention in your resume (as in, at the very end, or as some sort of quick extracurricular tagline). Although public speaking skills are great, Toastmasters isn’t the only place to get them and putting them in there as if it’s a degree or some sort inflates its importance, in my opion. And after a certain point in your career, even if you didn’t have the letters, you would be expected to have those skills.

    Now, if you were in a leadership role (governor, president of a club, whatever) it might be more worthy of mention. But that would go for any significant amount of volunteering work that displays leadership skills, and has nothing to do with Toastmasters in particular.

    1. Zelos*

      I’ll add that part of the reason I don’t put much weight into Toastmaster letters is because you can’t fail. I have literally seen people rush through their ten speeches to get their CC designation while incorporating very little of the previous suggestions to improve. Although it’s frowned upon to rush through in such a manner, the club can’t bar you from doing so–it’s not like a class where the instructor can actually fail you if you don’t perform up to a certain standard. So while having the CC designation implies a certain amount of persistence to get through the manual, it doesn’t automatically confer a standard of public speaking expertise.

      1. Kacie*

        I have never been a Toastmasters member, but I have seen some bad presentations by Toastmaster speakers. I would agree that the certification only means so much. I would put more stock in someone who has presented at professional meetings and conferences.

    2. Anon1*

      The leadership parts of Toastmasters are probably more resume worthy. Have you been club president, area governor, etc… Put these down on a resume.

    3. Felicia*

      The only person I know who ever went to Toastmasters puts it at the bottom of her resume under interests, and uses it in interviews when asked about her weaknesses. Her weakness is public speaking, so she talks about joining Toastmasters and a few other t things she’s done to work to improve it, saying it will never be a strength but she’s learning to improve

    4. Kat M*

      *Any* significant volunteer leadership positions?

      I ask because I have taken on some seriously hefty leadership positions as a volunteer over the last few years, but I never put them on my resume because they’re for a religious organization. My leadership in Toastmasters (currently club VP of PR) is a speck compared with the volunteer work I’m actually most passionate about, but I don’t want people thinking I’m some kind of a religious freak because I organize community development programs that happen to have a religious inspiration, or on the other extreme, freaking out because I’m a religious minority.

      1. Zelos*

        Volunteering is about donating your time to causes you’re passionate about or otherwise important to you, because you aren’t getting paid for your time. Unless you’re volunteering for the KKK, then yes, put it on there. From the way you’re describing it, you’re far more passionate about your religion-driven group and what you do there than your Toastmasters activities, so if Toastmasters warrants a mention, why not the other? Experience is experience, and being passionate about your faith doesn’t mean you’ll start proselytizing at work (which is obnoxious whatever faith you believe in).

        And I’m speaking as a vehement atheist, by the way. That said, I’m also an entry-level worker and not management level, so take the above with a grain of salt.

        1. Zelos*

          …unless you’re volunteering for the KKK, otherwise yes, put it on there.

          I don’t thinking volunteering for the KKK is something to advertise. :P

          But yeah, if you’ve done great leadership work as part of your volunteer role within your religious group or community, by all means mention it–minority religion really shouldn’t factor into this. (There will be biases against such things–that’s a sad fact of life–but I doubt that’s something you could predict ahead of time.)

  4. Jack the Brit*

    I scrolled straight down to find out what a Toastmaster is… I thought it might be a culinary title or something.

    I’m picturing notes pinned up in the office kitchen, signed by the “Toastmaster General”!

    1. Sue*

      One of the most annoying things for those of us trying to promote Toastmasters in the UK is that we’re stuck with this silly American name that nobody understands, and so much of our publicity has to start with ‘no, we’re not the people in red coats at weddings, nor are we anything to do with toast’.

      I always have Toastmasters on my CV, in the ‘interests’ section at the end. Verbal communication and presentation skills aren’t something people in my profession are known for, so it won’t hurt and might give me a slight edge.

      1. CAA*

        Interesting … in the U.S. we don’t have people in red coats at weddings. I googled, and learned that in the UK there’s an actual job called “Toastmaster” and you can hire one to be a Master of Ceremonies at almost any kind of event. They even have toastmaster schools that provide formal training for the role. I can see how it would be confusing to be a member of the organization with that name that does something else.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          Yes, “Toastmaster” suggests a person who specialises in the grilling of bread and crumpets. I always imagine them to have a gilded toasting fork as a staff of office too.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Until this moment, I never knew that was a thing. You learn something every day.

          I always thought of toast when I thought of Toastmasters, and that just makes me want toast. :)

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          As CAA explains above, Toastmaster in a UK context is the Master of Ceremonies at an event, often a wedding, but it can be things such as the Lord Mayor’s Banquet or a Guild Dinner. The red coat is a kind of uniform.

    2. BrittaBot*

      Anyone else think of the Community Pilot where Pierce introduces everyone b/c he is a toastmaster and gets it wrong?

    3. thenoiseinspace*

      Same! I’ve never heard of it, and the name implied (to me) people who are really good at getting just the right level of crunchiness on the breakfast toast without making it too dark.

  5. Adrian*

    For #2, you might prefer to leave some words out from the phrase “Jane, I’ve noticed you’re away from your desk at least once an hour for bathroom breaks, which is causing workflow disruptions like XYZ. How can we solve this problem?”

    How about leaving out ‘bathroom breaks’? It makes the point about being away from the desk and sounds more elegant.

    Otherwise, you could enter all information you have available, but that’d be just wrong: “Jane, I’ve noticed you’re away from your desk at least once an hour for bathroom breaks, which is causing workflow disruptions like XYZ. I know you’re in there because I have followed you and heard sounds confirming that. How can we solve this problem?”

    1. BCW*

      Well thing with that, she could just say “I’m at the bathroom” which seems to lead to the same awkward conversation.

    2. fposte*

      I think the challenge is that the OP wants to open the door for an ADA conversation without crossing the line into initiating one. So I’m with BCW, and I think it actually is making it a little harder for the employee if she’s the one who has to bring up the bathroom.

    3. Jennifer*

      (Disclaimer: don’t have it myself, have had loved ones who had similar problems.) If someone said this to me and I had IBS or some other “constantly in the toilet” condition, I’d be thinking, “WE solve this problem? The only way I can think of to solve this is to sit in diarrhea at my desk all day.”

      I mean, seriously, short of Jane going to the doctor a lot in hopes of working on solving the problem, that’s really all she can do to “solve” it. A manager cannot help this in any way, and I doubt Jane likes having to take time out hourly for a supercrap herself. Giving her shit (hah) about it, well….this is pretty much out of her control to fix, at least for awhile.

      But I’m a firm believer in “for the love of god, don’t ever say anything about anyone’s bathroom time.”

  6. Wilton Businessman*

    1. Depends on what your exit interview really is. If it is one of those “Here is how you apply for COBRA, this is how you get money out of your 401(k), etc.” types, then sure have them sit in. However, if you really want to know about your business (and a lot of firms don’t), then it will be a one-on-one.

    2. I think the big question, as stated, is it a job requirement that she be at her desk for an extended period. If not, it’s just like a bunch of little smoke breaks.

    3. Legally, no. Ethically is a little more gray.

    4. I thought Toastmaster was a kitchen appliance. If you make that a prominent skill, I am going to think you are weird.

    5. Sure they can do that. Positions change depending on the person being hired.

    1. edj3*

      Re #1, completely agree with Wilton. I recently left my job and if anyone had sat in other than my HR person, I probably would have answered even fewer questions than I did. My HR person was very understanding and knew more about why I was leaving.

      She & I worked together, she was familiar with my work group’s dynamics and she was the one who pointed that in fact, I didn’t have to answer any question at all but that if I could answer some, that would probably be helpful for others.

      All the other exit information (COBRA, what to do with my 401K, etc) was handled separately.

      1. Sydney Bristow*

        It sounds like the COO may even be part of the reason that the employee is leaving, so I think that makes it even more important to exclude that person. If the goal is to gain any information from the employee it will be impossible to do in front of the person who is even part of the reason for leaving.

        1. pgh_adventurer*

          I wonder how the OP is going to handle that with the COO though? She can certainly say “so that we get the most open responses, I’d prefer to keep the exit interviews one-on-one” but the COO could insist on attending.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m curious about why the COO wants to attend. What are her goals in doing that? The OP probably needs to address those head-on, while also explaining that as the number of people in the room increases, candor decreases.

            1. Jake*

              In my experience with a 60,000 employee company, a lot of corporate level executives don’t want candor, they want to be able to show things like, “68% of our former employees would strongly consider re-employment with the company” or “34% of former employees left due to family issues.”

              What a good manager wants is to know how to retain good folks as long as possible. That isn’t what all managers want though.

      2. NorCal Ga*

        Thanks – these are helpful comments in helping me gear up for this conversation. We are a start-up, so my main focus of the exit interviews is to help us learn from our mistakes NOW, or to get more perspective on issues I’m already aware of company-wide and need to better communicate to our management. I think my mentality is one where I’m very comfortable hearing about areas where we can improve, whereas the COO is much more likely to feel defensive.

  7. Cat*

    #2 – I’m surprised you’re so pessimistic about accommodating the admin’s time, and I’m wondering if you can explain more about this. Is it that she’s not working efficiently when she’s at her desk? What if she stayed 45 minutes later? Is she required to cover your main phone line? Because other than people covering phones, most admins I know are likely to be away from their desk regularly for work reasons. Either they’re making copies or they’re in the file room looking for a particular item or they’ve been sent down to accounting to talk to X about Y.

    Is it really that your group needs everything immediately and the 5-7 minute wait is a big deal? Or is there something else going on here? (Like you don’t think the person is working hard enough regardless; or you don’t think you can ask her to make up the 45 minutes elsewhere?)

    1. Brittany*

      This was my thought as well. As a person who was previously an admin, my responsibilities included covering the main phone line. If I was away from my desk beyond 1-2 mins, I had to let the admin from the other side of the building know so she wouldn’t also leave and the phones would go unanswered (the typical ‘I-refuse-to-answer-the-phone’ attitude was rampant across the rest of the company)

      So maybe it would be helpful to actually have a second person be a back-up? Especially for the reasons Cat listed – depending on the size of the company, if you’re distributing faxes, mail, taking meeting minutes, etc…those are all work reasons to be away from your desk for extended periods. It’s unclear what the real issue is – the work quality or just the absence at the desk.

    2. some1*

      This is a really important point. I’ve been an admin over a decade and it seems to be one of those roles (like IT) where people need things from you immediately so they tend to notice more if you aren’t where they can find you, even though you often have to be away from your desk for legitimate business reasons.

      1. Cat*

        Yeah, and I think there’s a real tendency to start to assume that your admin should be available the instant you want them because, after all, their job is to support you. So you see them not at your desk and you have this moment of “But I wanted to tell them this NOW. Why do I have to wait? Their job is to support me!” In reality, it doesn’t actually hurt your business to send them an e-mail instead and have them address whatever it is when they get back ten minutes later, but in your mind, it builds up more importance because you wanted to tell them RIGHT THEN; you didn’t want to go back to your desk and write an e-mail or leave them a note to stop by when they get back.

        I get it; I definitely feel that sometimes when I just wanted to hand my admin my receipts and I didn’t want to have to remember to adjust it later. But it is worth thinking about whether this is really about a business need that can’t be accommodated vs. feelings of irritation that can be if you adjust your processes slightly.

        1. some1*

          Totally. I have had to train people to send me emails when something can wait vs. calling me when I’m on tight, time-sensitive deadlines.

          And I’ve had to train myself to put post-its on my monitor when I go on a break for more than a couple minutes or to lunch or the night before I will be in late for, say, a dentist appt, because inevitably one of my coworkers will freak out and think I’m not in at all.

        2. Anonymous*

          At one place I worked the AA was given a cell phone so that if she went to the restroom she could still field questions!
          As you might imagine, she found herself a new job.

          1. Kerr*

            Oh, wow. Are there two of these places out there?! I saw a job ad once that basically stated “and the receptionist must be ready to answer the phones AT ALL TIMES, including taking a cell with them on break”. I don’t think it explicitly mentioned bathroom breaks, but I remember wondering about it.

        3. teclatwig*

          +1 from a former admin. Unless desk coverage is truly important (answering phones, front door, etc), this is more likely a problem of perception. Admin isn’t at her desk, so I can’t get my answer Right Now. Admin isn’t at her desk, so she isn’t working more than 45 minutes in a row on my project. But really, good ergonomics suggests people should all get up and move around for a few minutes once an hour. Sure, some people are at their most productive over long stretches, but that doesn’t necessarily hold true for your admin. If it *is* true, then that is what you should help her trouble-shoot. How is she going to meet job duties if she can only work in 45-minute bursts?

          1. LondonI*

            Yes, agreed. At my workplace we are encouraged to leave our desks and move around for a couple of minutes every hour (for health reasons and eye strain) and, after someone had to leave employment after contracting RSI, we each had to install something on our computers which monitors the intensity of our work and periodically freezes the computer temporarily so we *have* to get up and stretch or whatever.

            I don’t actually think that the employee is being unreasonable here, particularly as she genuinely is using the bathroom. If someone needs to be at their desk CONSTANTLY, then you probably need two people at the desk. I say this as someone who has had many, many receptionist and admin positions.

        4. Anonsie*

          Absolutely. I just sit near some admins and it seems like the second they go to make a copy or go to a meeting, someone is sticking their head in my office asking desperately where their admin is, when she’ll be back, where is she now, etc. It’s actually urgent probably .05% of the time, it’s usually just that they had it on their mind at that moment.
          So I’ll tell the admin soandso was looking for them, but they’ve left no note and don’t send an email or a voicemail because it wasn’t *that* urgent.

          1. Cassie*

            I think there’s a secret bat signal that gets sent out each time we leave our desk, and that’s when our boss or coworkers come looking for us. Seems like this happens at least 75% of the time.

    3. MiaE97042*

      My same thought! Admins are often called away from the desk, never had it be a problem like this seems to be.

      1. EAC*

        Agreed. As a former admin, I was often running around my office on multiple projects, or out on an errand. So much work was heaped on me that I had to set boundaries with my team, and superiors were not always supportive or understanding.

        My immediate response to the OP’s inquiry was to question the validity of her inquiry. Honestly, other than receptionist duties (such as answering phones, greeting), there is no reason to be so exasperated by a five minute delay in a request. We all have projects and time-sensitive tasks at hand.

    4. Jennifer*

      About the only “accommodation” I can think of to reasonably deal with this problem since you can’t tell her to hold it or crap at her desk is to assign someone to have to cover her for 10 minutes every hour. That might just have to happen.

    5. Anonsie*

      I wonder, though, since LW says she’s usually only gone for a few minutes at a time– just frequently, so it adds up. Employee is an admin, they want her at her desk if someone needs her, ok, but that setup seems like it could easily be patched so if someone misses her it won’t be a big deal. That’s how plenty of offices already function, unless theirs is really really unique I’m sure it could be done simply.

      Which would probably still require a conversation, but I guess I just fail to see how this can be so much of an issue that anyone needs to start probing the employee’s medical history and all that.

  8. Bryan*

    #3 Check also if there is a company policy on this. This past year I moved with a relocation package and I can’t remember if I signed anything but I know there is a company policy (in the employee handbook) that I cannot leave the position for a certain duration without having to pay it back.

    1. NylaW*

      I think Alison (or maybe Evil HR Lady?) has said something in the past about employee handbooks and not really being any sort of legally binding agreement. But I’m interested to hear if they could be, if this is a state to state thing, etc.

      1. some1*

        This doesn’t relate to relocation expenses, but my former company’s handbook (they had offices around the US and in Europe) had a policy that was illegal in the state we were in.

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          Yeah, this. I wonder if small businesses are more prone to this–where the owner writes the handbook, as a scaled-up version of “I don’t know the applicable laws, but this sounds good.”

          1. Alsothis*

            Yes, some small businesses are absolutely prone to this. I worked somewhere once where the employee handbook had been downloaded from the internet and was full of stuff that was not legal at all for the state we were in. I was doing some general editing on the handbook (just grammar clean-up) and I told the owner of the small business I was at that they needed to have it reviewed by a lawyer. She assured me they were planning to do that. They were not. They asked me to have the clean-up work completed by Friday so they could distribute it at a staff meeting on Monday. So I knew they weren’t planning to have it reviewed. After I mentioned on the Thursday prior to my needing to have it done that it should be reviewed by a lawyer, I was told they were planning on that and yet, the handbook never made another appearance in the year that I was at that business so I know they just thought they could download it from the Internet and pass it out without a thought.

            Of course, these were also the same people who wanted to do things on a “case by case” basis with employees until I told them they could easily fall into discrimination problems with giving some people certain things that others didn’t get and they really should get an HR person who was experienced at handling those things to manage those issues. They never bothered with that either since the owner of the business thought she could do it all despite having no experience with any of that sort of thing. So glad to not be working there anymore.

            1. Grace*

              I tell business owners all of the time to join their state’s Chamber of Commerce. Mine (California) has employee handbook templates that you can buy (all legally up-to-date), legally required posters and pamphlets for sale, and access to the Chamber’s employment legal counsel hot line. It’s a great value for $600 a year.

            2. Grace*

              I recommend that businesses join their state’s Chamber of Commerce. Mine (California) has:
              a legally compliant employee manual that can be
              tailored to the company; legally required posters
              and pamphlets for purchase; other services for
              purchase (sexual harassment training and discrimination training); and access to the Chamber’s
              employment attorneys’ hotline. The cost is $600 a year for membership here, a good value.

      2. Anonymous*

        Actually, whether an employee handbook is a contract is a case-by-case analysis. You would have to look at the words it uses and the state law to figure it out. In some cases, the language is unclear so you would need a judge to decide.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Some statements in handbooks can be legally binding, depending on the state and exactly how it’s worded. (There’s a big difference between “the company may” and the “the company shall,” for example.) But those statements are more likely to be legally binding regarding what the company must do, rather than what the employee must do. Plus, did the OP even have a copy of the handbook and sign to agree to its contents before accepting the relocation bonus? I’m betting not, since most people don’t get handbooks before they start work.

  9. Graciosa*

    Regarding #4, this is a good example for a question about challenges you have had to overcome or something similar. It shows that you recognized an area for improvement and took concrete steps to address it. Putting it on your resume may prompt an opportunity to discuss it or jog someone’s memory post interview.

    That being said, that’s just about the only reason I can see for adding it. It would not particularly impress me in a resume – it’s some color to flesh out the picture of who you are professionally, but it’s not exactly the equivalent of identifying as a Nobel Laureate when applying for an academic position in the field of your Nobel.

    I would think about this as creating some opportunities to talk about your actual achievement rather than as a stand-alone credential.

    Good luck in your job search –

    1. PEBCAK*

      I think my question would be “what do you have to leave off to fit that on there?” If you are early in your career and have room for it, cool, but if you are mid-career or later, and struggling to get down to one page, that would be one of the first things to go.

      1. Zillah*

        If you’re mid-career or later, I’m not really sure why you’d be struggling to get down to one page. Once you have that much work experience, I’d think it would be fine to have a two page resume.

        That’s not to say that Toastmaster should necessarily be on the resume for someone mid-career or later, but not because they need to get their resume down to a page.

    2. John*

      I wouldn’t bring it up until after they met you, if at all.

      If I saw it on a resume my takeaway would be that the candidate is not a natural public speaker and, while I’d respect that they addressed the issue, suspect that they’d only be a bit north of comfortable now…not someone I’d want to put out there.

      I suffered from fear of public speaking myself. I think once the hiring manager met me and saw how outgoing I am, I would feel comfortable addressing that I didn’t always feel this way in certain situations and explain how I got over it. Until then, I’d stay silent.

  10. Joey*

    I have a different opinion on toastmasters. To me it signals potential issues with public speaking/presenting and making efforts to address them. I don’t really know anyone whose ever joined for any other reason.

    1. Cat*

      People aren’t born knowing how to give good speeches and make presentations, though. It should hardly count against someone that they made an effort to learn how to do it (or how to do it confidently). (Though I have met many people who are convinced they can just stand up and give a speech without putting any effort into it, and they’re usually wrong.)

      1. Joey*

        If I had that view I wouldn’t count anything against anyone. Effort is really irrelevant in the business world if it doesn’t produce the desired result. Although I don’t fault you for that view, I think its more the result of the education system coddling students.

        1. Cat*

          That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t assume someone is bad at something now because they haven’t always been perfect at it. Someone who has actively worked on giving speeches is, in my experience, more likely to be good at it (and to recognize the difficulties) than someone who just assumes they can do it.

          As with most things, though, if it’s a critical skill for the job, you should probably test it as part of the interview process.

          1. Joey*

            But toastmasters doesn’t really teach you how to be good (at least from what I’ve seen). In my experience it just teaches you how to combat your fear through practice.

            1. Cat*

              Nobody is saying it should be an automatic “hey, you get the job,” but looking negatively on someone who may have had a fear (or may not – see the stories below) and worked to deal with it is ridiculous.

              1. Joey*

                I never said I made a conclusion. I just said it signals it MIGHT be an issue. There’s a difference. Just as if someone stated he took a generic excel class it might signal he’s not an excel wizard.

                1. Cat*

                  Eh, if someone just took a class aimed at a specific level, you can assume they’re at that level (if they passed the class). Toastmasters isn’t really aimed at a specific level. I agree you shouldn’t assume anyone who’s done it is a master speaker, and if that’s a requirement of the job, then you really need to see them in action. I also don’t think you should discount their speaking abilities just from that line on the resume.

                2. Joey*

                  Toastmasters is no pressure with no instructor to get through 10 self paced speaking assignments that focuses on basic public speaking skills. If that’s not aimed at entry level I don’t know what is.

                3. Cat*

                  But it’s also an informal club that can accommodate people of all skill levels; the fact that it has no instructor and no set curriculum actually means it doesn’t tell you anything about the level someone is at. And unlike computer software training, people of all different levels can productively practice public speaking together.

                  Again, nobody is saying you should see Toastmasters and be like “OMG this candidate is an AMAZING public speaker. Hired!” But I think if you’re going to look at that and assume the person is actually a bad public speaker, or at best a mediocre one, you’ll also be doing yourself a disservice.

            2. Kat M*

              Actually, as someone who was already good at public speaking before joining Toastmasters, a lot of us view it the same way we do our amateur sports teams. It keeps you in practice, provides helpful points for improvement, and allows you to engage in friendly competition with other folks who also like to think about what makes a good speaker, at all levels.

              But maybe that’s just my club. We’ve had people who’ve been members for over 40 years. And people do improve tremendously, even those who are already quite competent. While everybody gets nerves, I’d say 75% of our new members want to improve, rather than overcome fear.

    2. LouG*

      I would use my experience in Toastmasters as a good response to the “what are your weaknesses” question. You could mention it used to be public speaking, but here is what I am actively doing to address it.

    3. Judy*

      During my first job, a mentor of mine was always so well spoken. I was close enough to him to ask him about it, because I always felt awkward. He mentioned that he had done Toastmasters.

      When I moved to a new job and new city, I was analyzing what I liked and didn’t like about my first job and first city. I noted that I really didn’t know anyone but a few people from church that were not from work. So I decided to seek out Toastmasters in my new city. I was a member of that club for 7 years and for the first 3 years I was at my third job.

      For me it was a social thing that would also help make me a better communicator. I feel that the table topics and running the meetings were more helpful than the prepared speeches.

      1. Lindsay*

        +1 to being a great social thing in a new city. Joining Toastmasters in my new city is one of the best things I’ve done here! Everyone’s so friendly and I’ve gotten a lot of speaking practice. And I also fell into a leadership role – I’m VP of Membership for my club, which means I have to do lots of talking to strangers, which is something else this introvert doesn’t take to naturally, lol.

    4. AB*

      I joined Toastmasters to help improve my speech-writing skills and to network with other speakers and speech-writers. I did speech and debate throughout highschool and college and have no issues standing up in front of an audience. My career didn’t require me to make speeches but did require me to write them and to also find speaking engagements for my boss. I found Toastmaster to be a useful tool to keep my speech-writing fresh and to network with others to find new speaking opportunities for my boss.

    5. Leslie Yep*

      I’d draw the same conclusion but with a different focus — that the candidate took learning and continuously improving seriously. Obviously I’d still want to assess their public speaking skills if it were an important part of the job, but having once wanted to improve public speaking skills doesn’t necessarily indicate to me that the candidate is STILL a poor public speaker, or that I need to be concerned about this skill. I’d mostly assume that this is likely a person with enough humility and interest in improving on key skills that they would commit time to that improvement.

  11. NylaW*

    #1 – We have a 3rd party group, associated with our careers site and recruiting, conduct exit interviews on all staff who leave the company voluntarily – for another job, to go back to school, whatever. It’s more like a survey but it is done over the phone by a live person. It’s interesting how much former staff will tell a total stranger on the phone vs. an HR person. That said if key individuals leave, someone in a leadership or executive position, we definitely conduct exit interviews in house as well.

    #2 – I can sympathize with your employee. When I was pregnant I had a lot of – digestive, shall we say – issues in addition to the let’s constantly feel like we have to pee every time we stand up. I felt like I was sucking up so much time during the day that I worried someone would say something about me not getting things done. I am glad you recognize there is probably a medical issue underlying this, and I think it will work out better if you are the one to start the conversation and be honest about what you’re seeing and the impacts it’s having. Though if your employee is a good, conscientious worker, she may already know it’s affecting her work.

  12. Allison*

    I can sympathize with #2, I don’t have a significant medical issue, but I drink a lot of water at work and I feel the need to get up a lot, so that has me getting up at least once an hour to either get water or use the bathroom. Sometimes both. And my energy drinks often cause me to need a . . . shall we say extended bathroom break mid-morning. I think as long as an employee is performing up to par, it shouldn’t matter if they take periodic bathroom breaks, smoke breaks, Facebook “breaks,” whatever. Focus more on overall performance and less on how someone’s spending every second of the day.

  13. BCW*

    #2 Is hard because it depends on so much. The role, the company culture, the appearance to others. My last job, no one would have cared. Other jobs I’ve had, it wouldn’t fly. I mean, I do sympathize, but if someone were leaving their desk that many times an hour for anything but work (coffee/water cooler breaks, cigarettes, socializing) I think most people would have an issue with it. As people have said, sometimes the appearance of what you are or aren’t doing is just as important as the work getting done. To me though, for this to be an ongoing thing, as opposed to just a week or so, does make it something that you should address. Bringing up medical issues is never fun, but if it does impact your work, then it needs to be done.

    1. AVP*

      Agreed – unfortunately this is one of those situations that completely hinges on the size of the company and the situation. I was an admin years ago at a smaller place, and covering the phone lines were part of the job. Often I was the only person there, or alone with the CEO, so if I had been taking so many bathroom breaks it would have been an issue. Once or twice a day was fine, but asking the CEO to cover the phones more than that would have been mortifying (and super annoying for him).

      Since the OP mentions the ADA, her organization is likely bigger than mine was but if there’s only one admin, there’s only one admin.

  14. Anon*

    #1 Perhaps you could suggest to the COO/CFO that they request a separate meeting with the departing employee instead? I work for a company with a strong culture of evaluation/feedback and it’s not uncommon for a departing employee to do an exit interview with HR, but also for a manager/leader to request a meeting for answers to specific questions they might have or to request feedback related to the handling of a specific project or department.

    1. Yup*

      At my most recent former job, I had a formal exit interview with HR to go over COBRA, turn my badge, and similar (plus any “confidential things you’d like share”), plus separate exit interviews with my boss and the CEO. The exit with boss was more of a final handover meeting than anything else — where are the files, do you have everything you need, etc. The exit with the CEO was totally him taking my emotional temperature: what did I love about working here, what I did hate, what did I think was the organization’s biggest challenge, did I have any observations to share, etc.

      1. NorCal HR Gal*

        YES! I love this idea, and it would definitely fit with how these opportunities have played out in the past. Thank you all!!

  15. HR lady*

    #1 – Instead of having people sit in on the exit interview, how about telling them you’ll give them a report afterwards? It accomplishes the same thing yet makes it much less awkward for the person leaving the company. I think having an “observer” in the room would be really weird.

    If you decide to give them a report later (the report could be informal or formally typed up – your choice), give some thought to whether you’ll tell the person leaving the company. You might not feel comfortable if the person doesn’t realize that you’ll tell others what they’ve said, so consider telling them something like “by the way, I’ll be sharing a summary of what we discuss with one or two members of management.”

    In my company, we report on exit interview trends, not individual responses, but it doesn’t sound like your COO/CFO are interested in just general trends.

    1. Joey*

      I don’t like executives or managers being able to identify who said what. I know I wouldn’t say anything critical if I knew I needed my manager to give me a reference in the future.

      Now a report that aggregates the feedback is much more useful. Because really you aren’t going to make a whole lot of changes based on one persons feedback anyway.

      1. HR lady*

        Yes, Joey, you’ve identified why exit interviews are pretty tricky. Many people do not want to share negative information and do not want to leave on a bad note (perhaps burning bridges). That makes sense to me, but it means that HR people can’t expect to get a lot of information out of exit interviews. And if we do, we have to consider the source (is this just a disgruntled person, or do they have valid concerns?).

        Every now and then there are people who complain or share negative feedback at exit interviews.

  16. Anonymous Today*

    I definitely vote for one on one for exit interviews, however I would like to point out that it is possible to have more than one. I have had exiting employees meet individually with three layers of management above me (including two VPs – and that level of detail is why I went anonymous for this post).

    It may seem excessive, but it is consistent with the way the senior-most person runs our function. All of these individuals met and interviewed the departing individual pre-hire and really care about good hiring decisions and finding the right people for our team. Every person in my chain of command worries about what we should do differently to retain good employees, and wants to get that information directly and unfiltered so that problems cannot be overlooked or swept under the rug.

    If my management was the problem here (fortunately for me, it wasn’t) they would find out about it and address it, which is a real strength of the company and our group.

    Now, I do admit that three exit interviews (even spaced out over the notice period) may seem like a lot, but it is consistent with our culture and not a surprise to anyone we hire. In other companies, it might be a worrying sign of a possible serious issue rather than a standard practice.

    If there is a legitimate reason for exit interviews with the other individuals (the COO and CFO) these could be done separately. However, all the other comments about exit interviews apply – you’re not likely to get real, useful information if the person feels intimidated rather than comfortable, and I would not force someone to attend an exit interview if it was not likely to be helpful. In this example, an interview with the COO might be an issue and should not be required.

    If the COO has created an environment where even his departing subordinates don’t want to give him honest feedback (Bad COO!), then HR may need to settle for taking good notes to pass on later. A good manager wants the honest feedback, even if secondhand from a trusted source (HR in this case).

    A bad manager – even one who promised to be silent – may claim to want to hear it directly but doesn’t really want to hear it at all. A glowering presence in the corner can do a lot to silence dissent. If that seems to be the case, HR owes it to the company to insist that at least some portion of the interview be held privately.

    I realize that this can be difficult (especially dealing with executives), but I believe it is part of HR’s job.

    1. Joey*

      I’m curious. What’s the purpose of three layers? It seems redundant. And frankly, if they’re worried about problems being overlooked or swept under the rug that’s a sign of bad management in and of itself and/or a performance problem.

  17. Brett*

    #5 is another one of those “different in the public sector” questions too. Based on phrasing, I am pretty certain the OP was asking about private sector, but in the public sector the job hired must be the job advertised. If a different position is going to be hired instead, then the position must be re-advertised with a whole new interview process.
    The range advertised, though, is meaningless. The offer will be in that range, but rarely will it be anywhere close to the top end and often it will be exactly the bottom of the range.

  18. another anon*

    I completely agree with the advice on who should attend an exit interview. When I left my last job for reasons related to my boss’s boss, an exit interview with both my boss and her boss was sprung on me with no notice during the last hours of my last day. Needless to say, I didn’t feel comfortable giving anything but the vaguest of feedback, so from an information gathering standpoint the interview was useless (maybe that was the intent?). This was at a huge company, so I would have felt most comfortable bringing up the issues that led to my resignation with an HR contact, instead I had an exit interview with the only two people I felt uncomfortable with (my bullying senior manager and my own boss, who knew of the bullying due to me bringing it up, acknowledged it was a problem, and didn’t do anything to mitigate it).

    Contrast that with a previous exit interview when I left a small company. The owner/CEO with whom I’d had a great relationship took me out for coffee during my last week and wanted to know if any factors with the people/job had influenced my decision to seek other employment. We had a candid chat about what was working and wasn’t working, and it sat well with me because he was genuinely concerned about what went on in his shop.

    I think that behind the scenes, exit interviews mean different things to different companies. Either they are tools used to improve workplaces, or they are formalities done to close a loop. I always used my judgment to decide which type of interview it was. The former you can be a little more candid; the latter I tend to treat it as a formality too, and not get into details since at that point, it only tends to make you look disgruntled, with no real benefit.

    1. NorCal HR Gal*

      I am at a pretty idealistic point with my company, given I’ve been here less than a year and I came here to do HR the “right” way, so I feel pretty strongly about the usefulness of exit interviews. I’ll keep you all updated as to what I’m able to manage to pull off…

  19. Kelsey*

    #5- Be very wary of this. When I interviewed at my company(part-time), they told me they could only pay 60% of the advertised rate. I asked for 85% and he actually laughed in my face and told me there was no way I was getting that because it wasn’t in the budget. So right then I should have known what was going on. A few months later they offered me a full-time position, paying about 30% under market value. Once again, tried to negotiate and was given nothing. Now I’m in this job and as you can imagine, the company is extremely cheap, everyone hates working here and I’m still job searching. Not saying every place is like this but make sure you find out why the pay was cut and that the reason makes sense to you. It could be a bait and switch

    1. Joey*

      Just an FYI for future- for most part time jobs it’s extremely difficult to negotiate pay. Only when you really hard to find qualifications or skills do you have leverage to negotiate.

      1. Zillah*

        That’s true, but what she’s talking about is 60% of the advertised rate. Asking the company to come closer to what was actually advertised isn’t quite the same as negotiating, IMO.

  20. Nonprofit Office Manager*

    “Jane, I’ve noticed you’re away from your desk at least once an hour for bathroom breaks, which is causing workflow disruptions like XYZ. How can we solve this problem?”

    The “How can we solve this problem?” part sounds overly curt for a delicate situation. OP said that the employee is clearly having intestinal distress when she’s away from her desk. People generally don’t have control over the timing or duration of such matters. Replacing “How can we solve this problem?” with something gentler (“Can we talk about this?) would be a less accusatory way to get the ball rolling.

    1. Jen in RO*

      I agree. The employee probably feels bad about this already. If I were the receptionist, I’d be very tempted to answer with “if you know of any treatment to prevent my having to use the toilet every hour, I’d love to hear about it!”.

    2. S*

      “People generally don’t have control over the timing or duration of such matters.”
      This is very accurate and important to remember in this situation. I have IBS and depending on my nutritional intake for the day/week and the kind of day I’m having (good/bad or ugly)…I have no control over my intestinal distress!

    3. Anonymous*

      I don’t agree. “How can we solve this problem?” may sound curt (though I don’t think so myself), but it does make it clear to the employee that there is a problem here that affects her job. “Can we talk about this?” could be a polite enquiry from a concerned boss. In the long run downplaying the issue is not kind or fair.

      1. Adam V*

        Exactly. This has gotten to the point where the OP is seeking advice for a problem with an employee. Being direct and stating “this is a problem” is completely justified.

        1. Nonprofit Office Manager*

          The problems will obviously be discussed at length during the meeting. Using softer language to initiate a sensitive conversation (and demonstrating compassion in general) does not negate one’s ability to communicate that there is, indeed, a problem that needs to be addressed.

      2. Jennifer*

        “Can we talk about this” is fine, but “How can “we” solve this problem” is a total joke, because the manager cannot stop her body from misbehaving. Like I said above, I’d be seeing red if someone said that to me about this.

        1. fposte*

          The problem isn’t the bowel activity, though; the problem is the job coverage. Remember, the ADA (even assuming it’ll be invoked) doesn’t simply confer an automatic right to have these breaks as an accommodation–it’s the obligation of the employee, as well as the employer, to engage in a process to find if there’s a way to accommodate the problem that works for both sides.

          In other words, it is indeed possible and legal for somebody to have to leave a job because of this. An employee who’s unwilling to engage in the interactive process is increasing that chance.

      3. Anonymous*

        It’s not downplaying it, it’s acknowledging that the LW knows the employee isn’t just screwing around on those breaks– that she really needs them for one reason or another and they need to talk about it. “How can we solve this problem” has a somewhat inappropriate air of blame for the circumstances, since this isn’t exactly a behavioral issue.

    4. KellyK*

      Maybe “How can we solve the workflow issues?” would be a better way to phrase it. Not soft-pedaling that it actually is a problem, but also not implying that the employee is “at fault” for having health issues.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s a good point — it could be softened as an intro. I might change that to:

      “Jane, I’ve noticed you’re away from your desk at least once an hour for bathroom breaks, and I’m concerned it’s leaving phones unanswered and __ (fill in with other issues it’s causing). Because we’re a small staff, we don’t have people who can cover that work. I want to talk about how we might be able to work around this.”

  21. Z*

    Sounds like #2’s admin has IBS or Crohn’s. My wife has IBS flare-ups occasionally (whenever she eats badly or gets stressed), and it can take a big toll on her physical and emotional health.

  22. B*

    #2 – I have much sympathy for the admin. It’s not a pleasant thing to have, much less, tell others about. I kept mine to where nobody would know because it can be quite embarrassing. Besides the breaks is her job performance and work bad? Or is this just an annoyance that you don’t like?

    Lets face it, any time you are basically timing someone in the bathroom it can come across as being petty. Now that may not be the case at all here but I would also suggest looking at the other admins and seeing if they take as many breaks. If they are going out for a smoke break each hour, and that is not a problem, then this shouldn’t be either. If you still feel it is then I would look at this as an internal what is my real issue here.

    If this is truly just about the bathroom breaks then perhaps say “I notice you need to take a 5-10 minute break each other. This can sometimes disrupt our workflow, perhaps we can talk about ways to resolve the work issues.” Then I would have some ideas, if that includes asking someone to cover the phone, greeting people, etc. And then make sure everyone is on board and all have to do the same responsibilities.

    1. Adam V*

      > any time you are basically timing someone in the bathroom it can come across as being petty

      On the other hand, if an employee’s problem has gotten so noticeable that you’ve decided to time their breaks so you know exactly how long they’re away from their desk, it could come across as “building a case to fire someone”. OP’s admin is fortunate that the OP is instead offering them a chance to explain before making a decision based on (potentially) insufficient evidence.

  23. Ruffingit*

    #1: If you include extra people, particularly the COO who is likely a major factor in the exiting of those you’re meeting with, you might as well not hold the exit interview at all. I think you have to ask yourself what you’re looking for from the exit interviews. If it’s candid feedback, you aren’t going to get that with extra people present. Perhaps you can explain it to your COO that way – “we’re looking for candid feedback here and I know that with you present, the employee may not feel they can be as open since you’re an executive here.” You don’t have to specifically say the COO is likely to be mentioned, just that you want the exiting employee to feel she can be open with you.

  24. Collarbone High*

    I have aggressive Crohn’s disease, so I have a lot of sympathy for the admin in question 2. The level of intestinal distress the writer describes causes unrelenting pain, so please appreciate that she’s probably struggling just to get through the day. She’s likely making a huge effort to conceal the true extent of her pain. For example, an intestinal stricture will cause you to feel every contraction of your intestines as you digest your food — it’s like end-stage labor every time you eat.

    GI conditions are also notoriously difficult to diagnose properly, and usually require multiple doctor visits, which the admin may be unable to accommodate due to the nature of her job.

    On top of all that … trust me, your admin does not want to be taking these bathroom breaks. Suffering intestinal distress in a public restroom is humiliating; it’s doubly so when you know the people in the other stalls. Some commenters are comparing her breaks to socializing or Facebook breaks, but those are things people want and choose to do. No one wants to have diarrhea two feet from her boss. She’s got to be cringing every time she realizes she has no choice but to go.

    I’m not sure how the admin would possibly respond if the LW asks how she can resolve the problem. Even aggressive and expensive medical intervention can’t necessarily eliminate all IBD symptoms (my two surgeries have fixed some symptoms and created others), and there’s no alternative to using the toilet when she needs to.

    1. Jennifer*

      Right. I honestly don’t think there is a way to solve this problem, other than to regularly arrange that someone cover her for 10 minutes every hour. If she goes to get a lot of medical treatment, she’ll STILL be out of the office even more than she is now, and there’s no guarantee that will fix her. It’s really humiliating and embarrassing to have that going on at work, much less be pulled aside to be told you have A Problem and “how can we fix this?” Because you CAN’T.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Right, and that’s what the OP is worried about. If that’s the only solution, it might not be feasible in their context. If that’s the case, there might not be a way to accommodate the employee’s needs in this particular role, not without undue hardship to the employer. While she absolutely should try to work out a reasonable accommodation, if there isn’t one, they’ll need to face that fact.

        1. Joey*

          I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that’s the only solution. If there is a medical issue frequently medications can be adjusted. And I would really question whether taking a 5 minute break every hour is undo able. Of course I don’t know the job as well as the op, but unless this person has to man a counter and no one can cover this seems like a minor inconvenience, not a hardship. What’s making me think that is the op mentioned being fair to other employees. That’s really not a consideration that should come into play. It’s strictly about whether providing an accommodation to perform her essential tasks is a true hardship for the company, not merely an inconvenience or a different expectation. That might mean doing away with a non core task or having others cover. There aren’t a lot of jobs where a 5 minute break every hour is going to be a hardship. Besides if its been condoned its hard to argue all of a sudden its a hardship.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yep, I’m not assuming it’s the only solution. They need to have the discussion and figure it out (and I agree the OP needs to make sure that it’s really a problem). But there are cases where this wouldn’t be able to be accommodated; we just don’t know yet if this is one of them or not. The OP should go into the discussion with an open mind and not assume it can’t be worked out — but it could ultimately end up that way.

            1. Joey*

              Agreed, but if she ends up deciding it cannot be accommodated it will be really difficult to justify how its a hardship now when it hasn’t been a hardship for the last year.

              I go in with a slightly different mindset- that it can be accommodated, but let’s make sure.

      2. Anon for this*

        Plus, the problem with this kind of disorder is that it’s often not something that can be set to any kind of regular schedule – when you have to go, you have to go RIGHT NOW – so how would you arrange coverage? Have someone at the next desk permanently ready to leap in with no warning ?

        (I have a (thankfully usually much less severe) version of the same issue, but luckily I don’t have the type of job or manager where it matters).

    2. Ashley*

      I have a different take on equating these things to Facebook breaks and the like. I agree with you that this potentially a very distressing and horrible problem, and that it may be totally beyond the control of the employee. However, my view as a manager is that you almost always let this stuff go – if it’s 5 minutes on Facebook, a personal phone call, or a lot of bathroom time, you recognize that none of your employees are 100% working 100% of the time. It might be that their kid really needs to talk on the phone, that they are dealing with medical problems, or just that they are reading their favorite blog because it relaxes them. As a manager, I think that if you stay out of the small stuff and focus on whether quality work gets done, you can save yourself a lot of trouble and allow your employees to feel like they are treated like mature adults who can make decisions about who to best get their work done within all the constraints of their lives. Managers frequently ignore Facebook breaks, so why not let this go too?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        45 minutes of not working a day is a lot, in my opinion, and it’s beyond what I’d normally expect to see from a non-exempt employee whose job is assisting the rest of the team (assuming there’s a high workload, which it sounds like there is).

  25. Parfait*

    Can’t believe I got to the bottom of the comments without anybody making a #2 joke about #2. Surely Alison assigned that number on purpose?

    1. De Minimis*

      I wanted to say it but didn’t!

      The thread title also gave me an image of the manager trying to assign work and pass documents under the stall…

  26. Anonymous*

    Do any companies actually take exit interviews seriously? After I left OldJob they sent me one in the mail to fill out but I decided to not do it. I had a lot of issues with the company (I left ostensibly for a cross-country move, but I’d been miserable for a long time) but nothing I would have written would have been surprising or made any changes.

    1. Joey*

      Sometimes. In smaller numbers I may use them to justify higher salary offers or to look for potential problems that haven’t been raised yet. In larger numbers I may look at larger issues like whether our salary range needs to be updated or our benefits lag behind the market, etc.
      Although I will say sometimes they’re given zero credibility if the employee for example had performance issues and says the supervisor is a micromanager (well duh).

      And of course there are companies that just go through the motions and don’t take any of them seriously.

      1. Jen in RO*

        My ex-company did not do exit interviews, but a lot of people left in the last year, most of them for financial reasons. Their managers were aware of this, so they are pressuring upper management to increase salaries… I doubt it’s going to happen, but at least they’re trying.

    2. Kelsey*

      I wonder if corporate requires some companies to have exit interviews and its the managers or particular offices that don’t take them seriously. Also depends on the company/people they employ. My sister’s company has exit interviews but 90% of the employees follow the same job path and those that want to go in a different direction leave. It’s not a weakness, it’s just an expected part of the system. So their exit interviews aren’t really worth much. And i think most of the companies that could use the exit interview feedback are too stubborn to take it anyway

      1. Joey*

        Sounds like that’s a weakness they’re willing to live with or one they can’t live without.

  27. Lanya*

    #2 is very interesting to me. We also have an employee who “goes to the bathroom” for about five minutes at least twice an hour…but based on unofficial observations, it doesn’t seem to be related to intestinal or bladder issues. We think he may have severe OCD and feels the need to count the tiles in the bathroom or hallway a few times a day. It’s slightly awkward, because we all know he does this – and he may or may not know that we realize it – but he never brings it up on his own. It has not gotten to the point that it’s interfering with his work, but this post has been a helpful resource in case it ever does start to interfere.

  28. PoohBear McGriddles*

    If the admin with intestinal issues is paid by the hour, 45 minutes a day (assuming it’s outside of normal breaks) every day adds up to almost 5 weeks a year of time she’s being paid but not working!

    1. Ellie H.*

      We don’t know how she spends the rest of her time but I think that a lot of people who work probably spend at least 5 minutes out of the hour not “working” but instead looking at news headlines, reading a vaguely work related article, talking with coworkers longer than is strictly necessary, etc. Unless you are clocking in and clocking out in some really specific way like you work at a call center or something or bill per 15 minutes, 45 minutes of non-measurably productive minutes a day is probably not incredibly unusual.

      1. fposte*

        Actually, that seems unusually high to me. More to the point, though, you’re setting the notion up as if an employee who goes to the bathroom more often doesn’t surf or chat and therefore it evens out, and I don’t think we can say that.

        1. Ashley*

          Totally with you here. My theory is that EVERYBODY TAKES BREAKS. Some people smoke. Some people check their phone. Some people pee. Some people just zone out. Some people surf the web. sometimes it’s to meet a need, medical or otherwise, and sometimes it’s just to do something fun for a minute. When managers have break pet peeves, they notice when one person isn’t working for 5 minutes, and don’t notice that everybody else isn’t totally focused on work every single minute. I see Alison’ point about whether this is truly and essential part of the job, but frankly, this would have to be pretty extreme for me to buy that a 5 minute break per hour is totally a no-go. Also, you can’t calculate ALL the time she spends in the bathroom as excessive – everybody has to go to the bathroom sometime. For example, if average bathroom-goers take 5 minutes three times a day, that’s 15 minutes to subtract from the “lost work” time for this employee. You should take that into account when considering the true impact on the company.

        2. Ellie H.*

          I don’t think it’s a great thing but I do find it hard to believe that that many people spend barely any of their “work time” doing nonwork things a day. I think the average person tends to mess around, make coffee, watch their stuff in the microwave, stare out the window, reply to an email from their mom, print out directions, make a doctor’s appointment, post online comments, book a plane reservation, etc. etc. when they are supposed to be working and that most people aren’t conscientious enough to keep this to a bare minimum of, say, 15 or fewer minutes per day (apart from allotted breaks). Maybe my expectations are too low though?

          I do totally agree that time spent in the bathroom likely doesn’t have much relationship to time taken away from non-bathroom-related nonwork activities. I just wanted to point out that it’s not like everyone in the world keeps nonwork activities to a zero level to begin with.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think there’s wide variation here, but in my last job, I spent maybe five minutes a day on that stuff, most days. Seriously.

            And I had colleagues who did the same. I also had colleagues who spent more time on that stuff, but to this day (3-1/2 years later), I can still tell you who was in the first group and who was in the second, because the difference in their work style was noticeable to me.

    2. De*

      That also adds up to about 5 weeks a year she is spending in a public bathroom, probably humiliated, possibly in pain. Sounds great…

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No one is saying it’s great for her. It sucks for her, obviously. But if being at her desk more regularly is a true requirement of the job, then the employer needs someone who can do that. (I don’t know if that’s the case here or not, but it’s certainly possible.)

        I’m getting the sense that some people feel that if it’s caused by a medical reason, then the employer absolutely has to accommodate it (legally and/or ethically), and that’s just not the case. They should try to, yes, but both the law and ethics allow for concluding that it’s not the right fit in some cases.

        1. De*

          The comment by PoohBear McGriddles read very “wow, she gets out of working for a lot of time and still gets paid” to me. Because I am chronically ill myself that upset me. I didn’t want to imply anyone here thinks the employer is having fun during that time.

          Do we even know whether the employee is exempt/non-exempt and how many hours she’s at the office each day?

  29. Cassie*

    #2: I’d consider if it was truly impacting the workflow, and not (as some people mentioned) just an annoyance that the assistant is not there RIGHT THIS SECOND. As an assistant, there are times when I have to step away from my desk and if my boss shows up, he’ll unfortunately just have to wait or come back later. And it’s not because I’m goofing off somewhere: I might be clearing a paper jam in the copier, re-sending a fax for the millionth time, or got stuck in an elevator.

    Believe me, I get it – I get a little irritated when I show up at people’s offices and there is no indication of when they might be back. This is why I would love it if people had set office hours. I just had this conversation with a coworker who is considering changing her work hours. I don’t care what your hours are, as long as you make them known. There’s really no difference (I say this as a “customer”, not as the person’s boss) if you are “available” for 8 hours a day but actually spend most of the time wandering around the halls chatting with people, or if you are available for only 1 hour a day but you are actually in your office, ready to help people.

    That said, I’m not the best at leaving post-its on my computer when I step away from my desk. If I have to go to another building, I’ll tell my cubicle neighbor in case someone looks for me, but there are other times where I get held up by another coworker’s question and I don’t get back to my desk as quickly as I had planned.

  30. Ashley*

    So, I pee a LOT and it’s not for any medical reason. It’s because I gulp tons of water. In my office, nobody would say a word, ever, about people’s bathroom habits because nobody cares. At. All. I wonder if this could be a culture issue. There are plenty of offices where nobody gives a s*** (pun intended) what you do in the bathroom, and this person might not realize that there’s an expectation that she make an effort to go less often. Sometimes I get up to go to the bathroom just to have a reason to move around and wash my hands. That might be the place to start – just pointing out that it’s kind of a lot, if that’s the case in this office, and see where it goes from there.

  31. Jen in RO*

    Adding this even though it’s not related, but it might help people who see employees suddenly going to the toilet a lot more: drinking tons of water helps with UTIs. If I have an UTI or I feel one coming on, I drink a liter of water an hour… and that water’s gotta come out. Not drinking this water makes it extremely uncomfortable to the point of not being able to focus on work at all.

    Of course, this doesn’t explain a situation that goes on for months and months (unless the person has chronic UTIs, I guess?), but it’s something I didn’t know a few years ago.

  32. Collarbone High*

    I realized last night that I ranted about letter #2 but didn’t offer any solutions, so I thought about what my employers have done (or not) that has helped me deal with chronic illness.

    The thing that has meant the most to me is managers who encouraged me to take the time I needed to get diagnosed and treated, and reassured me that my health was more important than work. This sounds like it may be difficult due to her position, LW, but think of it this way — if the admin DOES have a serious medical condition, she might be avoiding treatment because she can’t take time off work. If her being away from her desk for 5 minutes is affecting work flow, she likely doesn’t feel able to take two hours for a CT. Maybe two doctor visits could resolve the entire situation.

    It might help to start with the worst-case scenario and work backward from there. If she had to have emergency surgery, you would find a way to get by without her for a few days, no? Can you extrapolate those workarounds to accommodate her absence for a few hours? A few minutes?

    It also might help if she’s willing to let some co-workers know she is having medical problems (if indeed she is ill, and not just eating bean burritos for every meal) and how they can help. My experience is that before I was diagnosed, colleagues were much more likely to get annoyed by my frequent disappearances. Once I knew what the problem was, I was able to say “I have Crohn’s disease, and I’m dealing with some unpleasant symptoms this afternoon — would you mind taking over X for an hour?” People are a lot more willing to help out when they understand why they’re being asked.

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