weekend open thread — May 25-26, 2024

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: Very Bad Company, by Emma Rosenblum. An executive disappears at a dysfunctional start-up’s annual retreat. If you like company gossip, even if not your own, this is very fun.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

open thread – May 24-25, 2024

It’s the Friday open thread!

The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on any work-related questions that you want to talk about (that includes school). If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to take your questions to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

I got rid of my office’s furniture by mistake, is combined PTO better than separate sick and vacation time, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. I got rid of my office’s furniture by mistake

We downsized our office recently, and I was in charge of getting rid of all the excess furniture. I’ll admit, I probably could have paid better attention in the one (one!!!) meeting we had that showed the new floor plan, but the thing that was really emphasized to me was which offices and rooms we were getting rid of. It was a lot and I was able to put it off because the start date kept getting delayed to “TBD,” until we got a week’s notice that construction would begin and I had to call a company to remove everything.

It was a pain getting a company on such short notice, especially since the removal had to be after hours per our building’s policy. I was also still sorting what tech could stay and go and juggling my usual job duties at the same time. All this to say, I was very stressed and distant from our initial meeting discussing everything and (since I had zero oversight on me) I marked way too much stuff to be taken because I thought there would be absolutely no room for it post-downsizing.

I’ve just come into the office now and I see that we have a new conference room to replace our two that were lost (so now we have one large and one medium conference room) as well as a long blank hall leading to our CEO and CFO’s offices. We had furniture that would have fit there in excess, but I got rid of it all (and paid for the privilege!) so now those areas are completely empty and we have no extra furniture to put there.

I have no idea what to do. Clearly my boss hasn’t been into the office in a while or I’m sure he’d have said something. Do I own up to it? Try to find replacement furniture so I have a solution when I do? Or just wait until he says something about it?

Right now I’m freaking out and wondering how many part-time jobs I’ll have to take on to make rent once I’m fired for making such an expensive mistake, so I’d really appreciate any advice you can give.

You need to own up to it right away, not wait for your manager to notice on his own! Not saying anything would make the original mistake worse.

For example, you could say: “I’m not sure what happened! I didn’t realize we’d have two conference rooms and that long hall to furnish, and was more focused on making sure we didn’t have too much furniture still with us post-move. Now those areas are empty; we need conference tables and chairs at least.” If you can’t credibly say you didn’t realize those areas would exist because you were shown them and just forgot, then the framing is more: “I’m not sure what happened, but somehow my calculations didn’t include enough furniture for XYZ. The conference rooms and hallway are currently empty. I realize this was my mistake, and I’m mortified. What’s the best way for me to fix this?”

But own up to it, and take responsibility. The fact that there was no oversight may have been a mistake on their side, but on your side it sounds like you were pretty haphazard about it (for example, normally with a task like that you’d ensure you had your own copy of the new floor plan and were mapping everything out). It’s unlikely to be a firing offense if you take responsibility for it, but it’s more likely to become one if you (a) don’t speak up right away so a solution can be found and/or (b) don’t take ownership for what happened and for getting it fixed.

2. Is combined PTO better than separate sick and vacation time?

My company “LittleCorp” is going through a merger into “MediumBiz.” The question has been raised whether to continue MediumBiz’s practice of five weeks Paid Time Off (PTO) to cover both vacation and sick time, or to move more to what LittleCorp has done: unlimited sick time, but only two or three weeks of paid vacation (depending on seniority).

Several folks see the five weeks of PTO and want that extra vacation time, and I can understand that. Especially since Covid, people have gotten sick a lot *less* because of distancing and we’re mostly WFH now.

However, prior to Covid, LittleCorp had cramped office quarters and a terrible culture of coming to work while sick. All of us got sick multiple times a year as some new disease ripped through the office. Technically this is a “management” problem of not enforcing “stay home if you’re sick,” but combining vacation and sick time into PTO would seem to set up a perverse incentive to come to work while sick to “save” those vacation days.

What say you? Which is better? Less vacation time, but more sick time? Or just combine ’em?

There’s no one correct answer to this. Different people have different (strongly held) opinions, and no matter what you do, some people are going to think you made the wrong decision and will be upset about it.

That said, I hate policies that combine sick and vacation leave into one overall PTO bucket. It’s great for people who never get sick; they get the maximum amount of vacation. It’s bad for people to do get sick more often (or who have kids); they feel pressure not to plan out time for vacation because they know they’ll need to hold on to those days for sickness. On the other hand, two weeks of vacation is bare-bones level stingy, and it won’t make you competitive or seen as having good benefits. Three weeks, at any level, is the absolute minimum I’d consider. Can you do a minimum of three weeks for everyone (more with seniority) plus unlimited sick time? That’s where I’d land if forced to pick.

Another complication: If this means people who used to get five weeks of vacation under MediumBiz’s policy (because they rarely got sick) are suddenly only getting three, those people are going to feel they got a paycut. The more generous you can be in plotting out vacation minimums, the better this will go.

3. Break room HVAC system aggravation

I’ve been employed by a small business for many years, and the president also owns the building. Unfortunately, routine maintenance isn’t a priority (outdated and inefficient equipment is not replaced unless it is forced, and there is no hot water in our office, for example). A few years back, an HVAC system was installed in the break room, which doubles as a file storage area. Before this, the room was intolerable during summer and winter, especially for spending an extended length of time in, such as my lunch hour. I once measured the temperature at the break room table to be 95 degrees in July. It’s important to note that it’s just the president and me working in this part of the building, and he never uses the break room. Our service technicians come in about twice a year to work from here, and at that time the boss orders lunch for everyone. In short, I’m practically the only person utilizing the space.

The HVAC system had issues since the start, and ultimately my boss stopped placing service calls on it, so it failed to heat or cool from the summer of 2022 to December 2023. I can have my lunch there during spring and fall when temperatures are pleasant, but in the extreme heat or cold, I would have to sit at my desk or go elsewhere for my lunch hour. During lunch, I work on other interests and make phone calls, and prefer not to do that at my desk so I can have some privacy. So in December, when it was extremely cold, I asked if he would consider having a technician check the system. Right after that, I fell ill with Covid and missed a week of work. During my absence, it was decided that the unit needed replacing, and my boss proceeded with it.

A couple of months later, I decided to visit a nearby Free Little Library during my lunch break. After eating in the break room, I left to exchange some books. When I returned to the office, it was about 5-10 minutes before my lunch hour ended, so I sat in my car and replied to a few texts. Upon re-entering the office, my boss confronted me, asking flippantly, “Is there something wrong with the heater in the back?” Confused, I assured him it was functioning well. He responded, “How come I just spent $4000 on it if you are just going to keep sitting in your car during lunch?” I was taken aback, because that day was the first time I had left the premises during my lunch in several weeks. I explained that I had taken about 20 minutes to eat lunch in the break room, then went to exchange some library books, and when I returned spent the remaining time in my car to return some texts to my family. His response was that he had paid for that system for me.

It’s spring now, and the lovely weather is enticing me to spend my lunch hour outdoors at a nearby park. The thought of spending nine hours confined to the office without the freedom to eat elsewhere or attend to personal tasks, all for fear of arousing my boss’s anger or seeming ungrateful, leaves me with regrets about raising the HVAC issue back in December. Should I have stayed silent? Or is it reasonable for me to choose where I spend my lunch hour, despite the fact that my boss says he invested in the HVAC system primarily for my comfort? Notably, there is no policy in our handbook that forbids leaving during lunch.

It was reasonable for you to raise the issue originally, and he’s just being a grump now. Part of operating an office space is having a working HVAC system. Or, if for some reason he’d decided to abandon heating and cooling the break room, he could have simply told you that — as in, “Sorry, we can’t prioritize the break room’s HVAC right now so it might not be usable during extreme temperatures for a while.” Or he could have said, “How often do you use it? It’s expensive to fix and I’d rather hold off if you’re only in there sporadically, but I’ll do it if it’s a space you want to use regularly.” Any of those would have been better than grousing at you because you didn’t use it once in three weeks.

All that said, I wonder if you’re putting more weight on his comment than you should. He’s probably not tracking exactly where you spend your lunch hour every day, just happened to notice the one day you weren’t in there, doesn’t realize that’s not your normal M.O., and is now wondering why he paid to make it habitable if you don’t use it regularly, given his overall cheapness. But he also might never bring it up again after his one cranky outburst.

As for how you should handle it, if it comes up again, say this: “I don’t spend my entire lunch break in the break room every day of the year. Often I do, though, especially when the weather is bad, so it really helps that it’s usable again.”

4. Employers ghost me after requesting lengthy tests and projects

I work in media. It is standard to be asked to complete an “edit test” after the first interview. These range from three-hour timed tests to three-day projects.

I am consistently ghosted after these tests. Obviously, I understand that this means they’re not moving forward with me, but after preparing (usually for a day) for a test or project or memo and completing it, I expect a polite rejection email. Most recently, I’ve been following up via email a week or two after these tests and homework and I STILL GET NO RESPONSE.

Is there a way to force a “sorry, we didn’t pick you” from these people or do I just have to accept this rudeness over and over? I should add that I have 15 years of experience in my field and am surprised to be rejected after an edit test. I’ve written for some of the largest, widest-read publications in the country and I know I do a very good job on said tests.

There is no way to force a response from them. What they’re doing is rude and unprofessional (although very common) but you don’t have any power or leverage to make them respond to you. You’re better off figuring that their silence is their response (which it is — it’s a rejection — just a particularly rude one).

That said, a three-day unpaid project is ridiculous. If that’s the norm of your field and all the most desirable employers are in your field are doing that, you probably can’t do anything about it unless your skills are especially in demand … but in general, it’s very reasonable to decline to do three days of unpaid work.

my friend is in trouble for attendance issues caused by her dad being sick

A reader writes:

I’m wondering if you have any advice on encouraging a coworker (or former coworker) to stand up for themselves. I have a feeling there’s not a lot I can do, but I feel so helpless watching this situation.

My former coworker and friend, Jane, is still at the job where we met. It’s not the worst employment situation I’ve ever heard of, but they keep salaries low, are extremely cliquey, and encourage in-fighting among staff. HR is primarily concerned with pressuring employees to give up federally protected rights, spreading confidential information, and micromanaging people’s clock in/out times.

Jane’s father is in hospice. He is unfortunately terminal and is unlikely to be around for very much longer. She is in her late 20s, so still quite young to be losing a parent. Due to the distressing nature of this, she had some issues with attendance as she tried to balance her ill father and multiple jobs. HR’s response to this was to place her on a PIP for attendance. Am I crazy to think this is totally bananapants and unbelievably unsympathetic? (I only left this job a few months ago, and I’m unsure how much it warped my idea of what is normal.) I get that it is technically allowed, but I can’t imagine my new team or company doing this — I’m hard pressed to think it’s now the professional standard.

I’ve encouraged her to look into FMLA and various forms of paid (or unpaid) time off to be with her father, but she’s extremely averse to conflict. Additionally, I’m fairly new to the corporate world and I’m unsure whether I’m giving the right advice or if I need to be more specific. I’ve tried to encourage her to look for new jobs but with so much going on obviously now is not a great time for that.

Because of her nature and now being placed on a PIP, she’s concerned about bringing it up or pushing back on these circumstances at all. For various reasons, she can’t afford to be without a full-time job for long and she’s also relatively inexperienced in the professional world. I think while she values my support she’s unsure if she can take my advice seriously (I’m a bit younger but a little more world weary, having been on my own since I was 17 years old). I’m wondering if someone with more experience than either of us confirming this is indeed insane would help give her a push.

(To be clear, she is in no way integral to the functioning of the company. The team could absolutely handle her taking a week or two off. They are griping about being short staffed but they just walked out an employee on the team who put in their two weeks, for no reason other than to make some kind of point? None of us under the manager that runs that team had or have access to confidential information/trade secrets.)

Is the answer simply “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”? Or is there something I’m missing beyond general advice-giving?

Do you know exactly what the attendance issues have been? If it’s just that she’s missed some work because her dad is terminally ill, then yes, her company is being horrible. They instead should be talking to her about options for time off (including things like FMLA).

On the other hand, if it’s something like she’s missed work without alerting anyone she’d be out, or that her presence at work has been unreliable without talking to anyone about the reason why … well, she still shouldn’t be on a PIP if they now understand what’s happening; they should be explaining what they need on her end (like an alert when she’ll be out, to the extent that’s realistic) and what her options are for time off.

You mentioned some of the attendance issues may have stemmed from working multiple jobs; if that’s been part of it, that’s going to draw a less sympathetic response. Either way, her dad is still dying and they should assume she’s devastated and not working at optimal capacity, and they should be trying to work with her on getting everyone’s needs met, not being punitive. But some of this depends on how much has been “my dad is sick” versus “I’m working multiple jobs” (as well as on how much of the situation with her dad has been communicated to them).

As for what she should do from here, you’re absolutely right that she should be inquiring about FMLA. Some things to know about FMLA: to be eligible for it, her company needs to have 50+ employees and she needs to have worked there for at least a year and have worked at least 1,250 hours during that year. But if she meets those requirements, FMLA should be her next step since it will protect her job while she’s out for dad-related reasons. It’s not adversarial to use FMLA! It’s there for exactly situations like this. And that PIP is her company telling her that she risks getting fired if something doesn’t change; one thing it would be smart to change is the legal framework they’re using for that leave, and FMLA will do that.

where are you now? (a call for updates)

It’s mid-year updates season!

If you’ve had your question answered here in the past, please email me an update and let us know how your situation turned out. Did you take the advice? Did you not take the advice? What happened? How’s your situation now?  (Don’t post your updates here though; email them to me.)

Your update doesn’t have to be positive or big to be worth submitting. We want to hear them all, even if you don’t think yours is that interesting.

And if there’s anyone you especially want to hear an update from, mention it here and I’ll reach out to those people directly.

what are the strangest things you’ve seen in resumes and cover letters?

Let’s discuss the weirdest things you’ve seen on resumes and in cover letters.

To kick us off, some highlights from past commenters:

  • One of my coworkers once received a super long cover letter that included the fact that the candidate had been proudly celibate for several years.
  • A college student applied for a summer internship by sending us copies of love letters he wrote to his high school crush as a proof of his writing skills.
  • A very light resume in the work history section, but a very detailed Karate section.
  • Listed in the “interests” section of a managerial candidate’s resume: “shitting.” Candidate called us shortly after applying, apologizing up one side and down the other because he’d just realized that his teenage son had made an unauthorized edit to his resume.
  • I once received a resume that contained a photo of the applicant. It was a formally posed shot of him standing in front of a bookshelf holding a book and looking thoughtfully into the distance. The same resume include a series of quotes about him from people he knew (think the kind of blurbs you find on book jackets). Unfortunately for him, I knew some of them as well and they confirmed they hadn’t either said those things or given him permission to use their names in his resume.
  • I will never forget the time we were hiring for a research assistant and indicated a preference for bilingual English/Spanish speakers. One applicant’s cover letter included: “I’m not bilingual or bisexual (that I know of).”
  • The candidate who listed “Birthed four children vaginally with no anesthetic” under “Other Experience.”

Please share the comments the oddest things you’ve seen on resumes and in cover letters!

my project was moved to another team, employer wants everyone back in the office, and more

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

1. I feel like a failure because a project was moved to another team

I received an unexpected meeting invite today and was surprised our manager would take time away for a meeting when we were in a dire time crunch on a major project for probably the third week in a row. Stupidly, I had some vague thought that I might be praised for stepping up while our department head was out of office and that I might use the opportunity to set boundaries about time off after working like a crazy person through company holidays and the weekend.

Well, I was wrong. They gave the project I was managing to another team. No warning, no pause to say thank you for my efforts or that it wasn’t my fault. Just barreled through like they were listing out standard assignments. I didn’t know what to do so I just held myself still, thinking no reaction was better than embarrassing myself. They eventually stopped and asked the question I absolutely dread — any questions or things I can explain to you? I figured a basic “no, I don’t have any questions” was about all I could get out without showing emotion. Apparently that clued them in to my distress because then I got a spiel about how it’s not about me or my work and they know I worked so hard. But how else would anyone interpret it? It’s not like they are going to advertise a disagreement between members of leadership to save my reputation. I pushed myself to share a plan for transitioning, hoping that it might make up for my stone-faced silence, and they seemed relieved that I was talking.

I still have to lead our group to finish a time-sensitive piece of work before handing it over, and none of my coworkers are saying anything about the change, which makes it feel worse. Like they are politely pretending not to see a stain on my shirt. I don’t know how to be. Do I pretend it’s not worth mentioning? Do I try to find some way of laughing it off? I feel like my brain is broken, I’ve got Macbeth quotes running repeatedly in my head, I’m sobbing on and off (WFH thank god), and I’m so embarrassed even though I’m not sure I had any chance at a different outcome. How do professional, no-drama, team players handle pretty public failure? I’m not feeling like that kind of person right now, but maybe I can fake it tomorrow.

You’re defining this as a public failure … but is it? Projects get moved around for reasons other than “the person currently doing it is failing.” One very obvious reason they might move it is that your department head is out and you’ve been having to cover for them, including “working like a crazy person through holidays and the weekend.” They might have thought it was obvious that this wasn’t a good permanent arrangement — since you presumably have your own regular workload to attend to, as well as covering for your missing manager — and that you’d be relieved to have someone else take it on.

Now, maybe that’s very clearly not the case. And maybe they did move it because they thought the other team would do a better job with it. But that’s still not public failure, and the reaction you’re having is so disproportionately strong (the sobbing, the certainty that others see you as a failure, the Macbeth quotes) without sharing any indication that this was actually tied to your work that I suspect there’s a good chance you’re not assessing it correctly. If there’s some key detail missing from your letter that confirms the move really was because you were failing … well, I would figure that you’ve been working yourself to exhaustion for weeks while a key member of your team is gone, and those circumstances don’t generally set people up for success. So it’s still not really public failure. It’s public overwork, perhaps, and people don’t normally find that an embarrassing stain on your record.

2. People leave personal items at desks even though we hot-desk

My company went hybrid (50/50 in-office vs. WFH) last year and downsized to a smaller office where we don’t have assigned desks. There are about 1.5 desks for every 2 employees. Lots of people have a favorite desk that they try to reserve regularly, and they tend to leave their stuff on it rather than carry it from their locker (everyone has one) to their desk daily. Some stuff is mostly harmless, just taking up space (water bottle, personal hand sanitizer) but some is downright gross (food, empty used coffee mugs, crumbs, etc.). We technically have a policy that you need to leave your desk empty and clean at the end of the day but about half the team ignores it, driving the other half batty. We have also had new hires start and end up sitting at what very much feels like someone else’s personal desk on their first day, which isn’t particularly welcoming.

How do we enforce cultural norms like this without just becoming nags? Is this just the new office sink full of dirty dishes — always a problem, no real solution?

The only way you’re going to change it is to actually enforce the policy … and the only practical way to enforce the policy is probably to charge someone with cleaning off anything left on desks at the end of the day, at least for a month or so until people’s habits change. You could put all the abandoned items on a designated table for people to collect if they want them back the next time they’re in the office, or you could start tossing them if that doesn’t solve the problem after a while. (Either way, make sure you give people advance notice that this is going to start happening.) In doing this, point out to people that by staking out a desk as their own, they’re claiming more than their fair share of limited resources; there aren’t enough desks for everyone to do it, and they’re forcing other people to deal with their stuff.

A big caveat: Do any of your staff choose to come in most days, despite the company as a whole being hybrid? If someone comes in 95% of the time, this will be a particularly annoying policy for them, and you might consider whether there’s a way to have two categories of desks (unreserved desks for people who are truly hybrid and reserved ones for people who aren’t). That can get messy to track but can be worth the payoff in morale.

3. Employer wants everyone back in the office — no exceptions

My wife has been working at a nonprofit for close to three years. She started during the pandemic and when she was hired, she was told that eventually she would have to go to the office part-time, but because she is at higher risk for bad outcomes from Covid, our doctor agreed that she should only go to the office one day a week. Until now, that has been the case for the most part, with her going in twice a week only rarely.

But last week her department head and HR team told her that she needed to start coming in twice a week. Apparently there will be no exceptions made to the two-day-a-week policy, even though she is still at higher risk for bad outcomes from Covid. Even though the doctor gave her a new note. Even though there is a new variant. And even though the pandemic is in fact still not over. (She masks any time she goes to the office, and we are in general masking as much as possible.)

She is pissed. She feels that they are reneging on an arrangement they made when she started to go to the office two years ago, and that they are being unfair and a bit irresponsible. If she quits, she won’t get unemployment, which means she won’t quit. But she will be miserable if she doesn’t. She is filing a grievance through her union, but once you file a grievance, they don’t want you, do they?

Do you have any suggestions for how to handle this? She sees nothing about her job that requires she be there two days a week, and we both feel like the world is playing pretendy games by not taking our worries about Covid seriously. Surely an employer could offer reasonable accommodations. Doesn’t this violate the ADA?

It violates the ADA if she has a covered disability under the law (defined as “physical or mental impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities,​ such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking or breathing”) and if she could stay at one day a week without causing “undue hardship” to the employer.

That said … more employers are taking hard-line “no exceptions” stances on bringing people back to the office and putting up serious opposition to anyone who tries to get an exception, especially if the exception is being sought based on Covid risk. (For what it’s worth, the fact that she’s been going once a week may undercut her argument that it’s unsafe for her to be there. It also sounds like she agreed when she was hired that she’d eventually go to the office part-time; if that wasn’t explicitly defined as only one day a week, her employer might rightly feel like they’re not reneging on that at all. Even if it was defined as one day a week, though, employers are allowed to change those policies as their business needs, or what they define as their business needs, change.) You could certainly work with a lawyer and see what happens, but it may be an uphill battle. I’m not saying that should be the case — just that we’re seeing more employers really commit to these policies.

if you have a disability, do employers have to let you keep working from home after they re-open?

4. Friends who subscribe to my Substack

I have a Substack blog (side hustle, trying to make it a main hustle) with paid subscribers. Sometimes my friends sign up for paid subscriptions, and in this situation I feel extremely awkward. Should I end these friendships because I now technically work for these folks, or is it different with subscription services? And, does it come across as “asking for money” when I share public blog posts with friends, without an expectation that they’ll pay for subscriptions?

You don’t work for your subscribers. You’re creating something that people pay to access, but they’re not your employers (just like I don’t work for you because you read this site, nor do I work for the companies that advertise here). Your friends are presumably subscribing because they enjoy your content, or because they want to support you as a friend. I imagine they’d be pretty taken aback if you ended the friendship because they were supporting your work!

And no, it doesn’t come across as asking for money when you share public blog posts. It might come off as self-promotional at some point, depending on how often you’re sharing and what you’re saying when you do — but it doesn’t come across as a request for money unless you actually ask for money.

5. My boss thinks comp time is illegal

I’m one of five directors in a 30-person group. All but three of the team are exempt employees. I was talking with my boss, our executive director, today about a program we might have to run on the weekend during a very busy time of year. I mentioned that I know she doesn’t generally like considering this as an option, but it might make sense to offer up some comp time in exchange for doing some work on the weekend.

She informed me that we can’t even consider that as an option because “it’s illegal,” declaring, “You get paid to do a job, and you work the hours you need to work to get that job done!” I responded that I know (which I do! and I agree!), but that if someone put in a certain number of hours on a weekend, I thought it made sense, if their workload allowed, to invite them to take some similar amount of time off later in the week (while acknowledging, of course, that the three non-exempt employees would be paid for whatever hours they worked on a weekend, and earn overtime as appropriate).

She got pretty worked up, so I let it go for now, but have you ever heard of this assessment that offering comp time to exempt employees is somehow illegal? (We’re in California, if it’s relevant.) The way I figure it, if you’re going to put in somewhere around 40 hours, it doesn’t matter if some of those hours are on a Saturday or on a Tuesday. It was very odd to me.

Comp time is not illegal for exempt employees. It is generally illegal for non-exempt employees, as you know; they must be paid in money for any hours over 40 worked in a week, not in extra time off. (Although interestingly, California is one of the few states that has some provisions for even non-exempt employees to receive comp time in certain limited circumstances.)

The U.S. Department of Labor has explicitly affirmed that comp time is permissible for exempt employees as long as they receive a guaranteed salary with no reductions on the basis of quality or quantity of time worked.

Your boss is stuck on “exempt employees are paid for a job, not for the number of hours they work” — but she’s wrong on the legalities around comp time. If you really wanted to get into it with her, you could point out that if an exempt employee were getting all their work done in 10 hours a week, she’d probably expect them to put in more hours — the whole exempt “paid for a job” thing tends to be applied more in one direction than the other.

our boss is being a jerk about bereavement leave for miscarriages

A reader writes:

My company recently updated our bereavement policy. While reviewing it in our company-wide staff meeting, a staff member asked if a miscarriage would qualify and the immediate answer was “no.” No room for discussion. The temperature of the room immediately dropped; it was so uncomfortable.

I am not a mother, have ever been pregnant, or plan to be, but I cannot imagine the heart ache of going through a miscarriage. I would not even give a second thought to granting bereavement leave to one of my staff if they came to me saying they had/are having a miscarriage. Not only is this such a traumatic physical experience, but it’s also an emotionally traumatic experience. Technically speaking, there was a loss of life. As a manager, I’m of the mindset that bereavement really isn’t an area where I want to get nitpicky with my staff and instead want to be as supportive as possible. Granted, I’m very aware that there are staff who will take advantage of the system, but I’m not talking about this.

To add to that, we are nonprofit specifically focusing on the well-being of families with a big emphasis on mothers and children. I don’t see how we as an organization can advocate for women but not even support the staff who work here when it comes to this.

We’ve had multiple staff come to upper management very upset and we agreed with them. We forwarded on the concerns to our executive director, and these are the questions she came back with:

Things to keep in mind:
• How do we define this?
• From the moment it starts? Or is it at this point a medical condition?
• Do we consider for all the time it last? Once is over, then bereavement starts?
• Do we require medical statements? How do we manage this time?
• Do people need to report they are pregnant? By when? Is this a HIPPA problem?
• It is the same to miscarriage at one month of pregnancy as at three or six months?
• People have asked for bereavement for pets, they say they are family to them. Do we include this as well? We already made bereavement more flexible.
We already give everyone 11 paid holiday days, plus a minimum of 12 days PTO (this is annual and sick combined) for those starting in the agency. When we upped the PTO, it was for employees to have enough time to take care of their lives when needed. That is not how people look at it.

Our company is 99% female and about 80% are of child-rearing age and are planning on having children in the future. We had an employee come to us today who is going through a miscarriage and she does not have enough PTO available so she is working through it because she doesn’t want to go on leave without pay. It breaks my heart. I don’t want to create an environment where staff are scared to tell their supervisor about this because they’re scared they won’t be supported or will be asked intrusive questions or for documentation.

I’ve done some research and see that a lot of companies/states are starting to implement bereavement leave for miscarriages. (Our governor even signed a bill putting this into law for all state employees.) Is this something companies should be offering? Are we being delusional?

Your executive director sucks.

There’s so much to rip apart here that it’s hard to know where to start, but let’s start with the 12 days of sick and vacation time combined. So people get the two weeks of vacation that’s considered the absolute bare minimum, stingiest level acceptable in the U.S., plus two sick days? And this is an increase from a lower amount before that? And she thinks that’s enough for vacation, sick time, and “taking care of their lives when needed”?

She’s delusional if she really believes that. She’s also delusional if she thinks this is competitive with other employers. It’s not.

As for her other questions: You don’t need to define “miscarriage”; it already has a medical definition. You trust employees to decide for themselves when they’re experiencing a miscarriage that bereavement leave would be appropriate for. You say “three days” or “up to five days” or whatever you land on. You don’t require people to report that they’re pregnant ahead of time; that’s unnecessary. You don’t require medical statements because that’s an unnecessarily layer of intrusive bureaucracy when you can simply trust your employees not to abuse this. If someone is abusing any kind of sick or bereavement leave, you ensure you have competent managers and HR who will address it; you provide them with support and training so they can do that. It’s not a HIPAA problem because HIPAA has nothing to do with someone choosing to self-disclose to an employer (HIPAA covers what health care providers can disclose). It has nothing to do with pets; that can be considered as a separate issue if you want to, but by raising that she’s clearly just trying to yell “slippery slope” when in fact it’s not.

Your executive director is trying to manipulate you with her long list of questions into thinking this is unworkable. It’s not. Other organizations offer miscarriage leave. Your own state offers it to government employees. This is not an impossible thing to work through. She just wants you to think it is.

That’s before we even get into how unaligned this is with the organization’s mission.

She just doesn’t want to give people more leave. That’s already clear from the obscenely paltry amount she’s been willing to grant, which she’s trying to somehow sell as generous; her resistance is simply in line with that.

It sounds like a lot of the organization’s leadership disagrees with her, so you’re well positioned to push back as a group. But I’d bet a significant amount of money that this is symptomatic of larger issues with your executive director and how she views employees.

should I hire an ex?

A reader writes:

My company is starting a massive and complex two-year project. We advertised but after interviews we haven’t found a suitable candidate for the position that’s probably most critical. Rather than advertise again given the urgency, we’ve tapping our networks for candidates to interview.

One of my exes has the qualifications to be considered, and last I spoke to him (a year ago), he was unemployed. We had a three-year relationship. I thought we were heading for marriage (he didn’t, which was the precipitating factor and one of the reasons we broke up). There was screaming, and we’ve been mostly no-contact since, except a few times we’ve run into each other randomly. Those conversations have been … not “friendly” exactly, but cordial. That was four years ago, I’m over it, and he also seemed over it when we ran into each other a year ago.

This is a position I will have direct management over, and will have to rely quite heavily on as it will be on-site for the project while I will be mostly off-site. Should I reach out to my ex to submit an application for this position, or is this a bad idea?

I answer this question — and two others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  •  My new colleague once quit a job with me after only a few months
  • Is it okay to give references for two people applying for the same job?

employee treats coworkers as if they stink

A reader writes:

I work with a group of people who are public-facing in a building (retail/public service type environment) and we rotate people on different desks on a set schedule throughout the day. I have a few coworkers who are sensitive to fragrances, and our policy was recently updated to be a “fragrance-reasonable” workplace. Our policy says that because employees and visitors may have sensitivity or allergic reactions to various fragrant products, employees should refrain from using heavily scented products.

For a couple of our coworkers who had been in the habit of using scented lotions, etc., this was a change, but overall people have been trying to be responsive to sensitivities, and we have addressed issues directly as required.

My issue is the reaction of one employee to the smells of others. I do believe they are still smelling odors from others, even though no other coworkers are able to smell anything. But their reactions to these smells are unprofessional and I want to address it directly with them. (I supervise their supervisor, so it would be appropriate for me.) This person will physically cover their mouth and nose in the elevator with other people, or fan the air vigorously with a folder when transitioning to a desk that a “smelly” person has been sitting at (that other coworkers can’t smell anything from). I had thought that the policy clarification on personal scents and our direct discussions had solved this, but just received a verbal report that these behaviors continue. This is understandably hurtful to these coworkers.

I’m trying to determine a good way to ensure I address this person’s sensitivity concerns, while also making it clear how these behaviors are unacceptable, and to set reasonable behavior expectations. (It feels weird to think of saying, “Don’t cover your nose and mouth like a child when your coworkers step into the elevator,” but do I need to be on that level? Can I “police” someone’s reactions on that level?) I believe we have done the work of ensuring reasonable compliance with the policy. Any specific language and approach you can give would be appreciated!

Yeah, they can’t be rude to coworkers.

If they’re continuing to have issues with fragrances beyond what your policy covers, there needs to be a bigger conversation about how to solve that. Would it help if they wore a mask? Do they need a dedicated workspace that no one else uses? A fan set up at any space they’re going to work in? Is the problem severe enough that they should be working remotely, if that’s possible for their job?

Those are all reasonable solutions they (and you) should consider. Visibly communicating “you stink” to coworkers is not.

That’s the conversation I’d suggest having with them. Take them at face value that fragrances continue to be an issue for them, and tell them that their current method of addressing it isn’t an option so let’s figure out what you and they can do.

If they’re not open to trying any of those solutions — or if they try them but the behavior continues — then the conversation is, “This is what our policy is. If there are specific accommodations you can propose that will help you work more comfortably, I need you to raise them with me so we can try to resolve this. But you cannot continue behaviors like X and Y.”

(But also, since you work in a public-facing environment, I’m curious whether this employee is doing this around patrons too, or only around coworkers. It sounds like it’s only happening around coworkers, which would be pretty pointed … and, presumably, controllable on the employee’s end.)