I can’t carry coffee at work, employee refuses to do a critical duty, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. An employee forced an unwanted kiss on my employee — and now they want to do mediation

I run a nonprofit. Six months ago, a male employee of another nonprofit began kissing my female employee on the lips at the end of a series of remote events when they were closing down the day’s activities. Both are married. My employee was deeply upset because she thought the guy was her friend and was afraid she had encouraged him in some way. She finally told me what was going on, and I contacted his boss and told her that my employee will no longer work with her employee, and why. This keeps him away from my employee, but also forces my employee to give up projects she has invested a lot of time and effort in.

Most of my employees are women, and I’m not comfortable asking them to risk similar behavior from the man, but the two organizations have several joint projects that we have equal responsibility for.

My wife believes that the unwanted and non-consented kissing is assault, and that the person who should be removed from the projects is the male from the other organization. The manager at the other organization has suggested mediation between the two employees, but that seems to imply there is some middle ground to achieve, and I can’t see what that is. Our workplace policy is clear that any non-consensual touching is out of bounds and grounds for termination, but that has no power over the employee of another organization. What do you suggest?

Listen to your wife. Your employee shouldn’t be removed from projects she’s invested in because of this man’s behavior; he’s the one who should bear the consequences, not her. It’s true that you don’t have power over another organization’s employees, but you have control over what situations you send your own employees into. You should tell the other organization that you won’t send any of your team members to work on projects where their problem employee is present, so they’ll need to staff your future joint projects differently. (Be clear about this: It’s not just “Jane won’t work with him again.” It’s “I won’t subject any of our employees to that.”)

And mediation? Mediation?! Absolutely not. Their employee harassed and assaulted someone. They need to deal with him on their own, not expect your employee to somehow work through this with him.

2. How to handle an employee refusing to do a critical duty

Our team is required to work on-call after hours to handle client emergencies. It’s an eight-week rotation, so one week out of every eight. Everyone hates it, but we do it. It is unpaid; we are salaried.

Our newest team member claims that he had no idea this was expected, despite the fact that we talk about it all the time. He has stated that this does not suit his lifestyle and he will not work on call.

Whether he was informed about this before he was hired is a point of contention. He says no, but it is in the job description. The way he was brought on was odd in that he never met with our manager; HR interviewed and hired him and then assigned him to our team.

Our manager asked for his resignation. He essentially refused, sending an email that equated to “I won’t resign; fire me.” Outside of regular layoffs, no one ever gets fired. He has called in sick every day for the last two weeks, since this happened.

How would you handle such a situation, especially knowing that the rest of the members of the team would surely also refuse to work on call, if that’s allowed for one person?

I’d be willing to believe HR never discussed it with him during the hiring process, given how strongly opposed he was once he found out. Sure, it’s in the job description, but it’s pretty common for people not to scrutinize those (or to assume there’s more to it, like that they’d only be on-call rarely, like once a year versus every eight weeks, or that the time would be paid). Either way, with something like that, an employer should make sure anyone they’re considering hiring is fully aware of the requirement and on board with it … because otherwise you end up with the situation you’re in now.

As for what to do now, your manager really only has two choices: hold firm on the requirement and fire the guy if he won’t comply (which doesn’t need to be punitive; it can be a civil discussion where she explains she’s really sorry if he wasn’t informed but she can’t bend on the requirement), or exempt him from it and figure out a way to keep it fair to everyone else who’s still doing the on-call shifts (which presumably means adding some kind of incentive, like extra pay or extra vacation). There aren’t really other options at this point.

3. I’m not allowed to keep coffee with me at my job

My work has a coffee machine that we’re allowed to use. I’ve been making my coffees on break, and then leaving it in the staff room to take sips of throughout the day. I’ve been told I can’t do this, and I’m not allowed a coffee in a flask, but I can have water or juice in a bottle/flask I can carry with me throughout the day. Can my work forbid me from drinking coffee?

Legally? Yes. But it would be interesting to ask why they object, if you’re allowed to carry other beverages with you throughout the day.

4. We have to cover for another team’s weaknesses

At the beginning of last year, I was hired into a brand-new team to work on a new project. A month later, a new team was also hired to do the same work, as there was quite a lot to do.

I’ve met people from the new team, and they’re all incredibly friendly, nice and seem like generally good people but their manager is a lot more laid-back than ours. I get the impression that they’re struggling with a number of the tasks that we do on a regular basis, to the point where my team often has to redo their work alongside our own. When we’ve approached our manager about this situation, separately in our one-to-ones, she first explains that the team is new, which is true, but only by a month, and that she doesn’t have any say over that team since they have their own manager. I also get the sense that she doesn’t like talking about the other team with us, which is understandable, but it leaves us feeling a bit demotivated because it seems like they could really do with some additional coaching, and it feels as though our concerns are not being taken into account. Is there anything we can do as a team to approach our manager, or is she right in her view that she can’t discuss another team’s performance with us.

Her view that she can’t discuss another team’s performance with you is a bit of a cop-out, because you need to be able to discuss things that have an impact on your team’s ability to do its work. Sure, she shouldn’t say, “Yeah, Gene is really a crap manager” — but she does need to hear you out about problems you’re encountering and figure out how to manage those things (which should include her speaking to the other team’s manager if necessary, or to her own manager).

On your and your coworkers’ side of things: Focus on the impact on your work. Bring her the specific problems the other team’s work deficiencies are causing for you (like that you’re having to spend time redoing their work) and ask for her help in solving that.

5. An organization for helping job-searchers sucks at responding to job-searchers

Over the last decade plus, I’ve been a full-time student and a stay-home parent. I haven’t had a full-time job in over decade. Now, pushing 50, I have my degrees, my kids are at an age where demands on my time are fewer, and I’ve begun looking for casual or part-time work as I try to transition back into the workforce.

In my town, there’s government-funded nonprofit that help folks find work. They offer resume services, interview training, career counseling, all that stuff. I wandered in last autumn and they were very helpful. My early attempts at plugging back in to the workforce had been met almost exclusively with radio silence from employers. Working with them, for the first time I felt encouraged, supported, and optimistic. In November, my caseworker let me know a part-time position in their organization was opening up and encouraged me to apply. I didn’t even get to the interview stage — it went to an unexpected internal candidate. Disappointing, but the hiring manager let me know a casual position was opening up and would I like to apply? Yes, I would!

I was told in December to expect an interview the first week of January then … silence. I sent a follow-up in early January, then again in mid-January. I received an apology and an interview for late January. The interview went well. I was nervous, a bit rusty, but prepared. There was much smiling and nodding on the part of the hiring team throughout. I left feeling positive. A few days later, the hiring manager emailed me that another candidate’s interview had been delayed but I would hear from her the following week. Then, again, complete silence. Fair, perhaps. People are busy! Still, in my insecure little heart, I am annoyed and discouraged. I sent a follow-up yesterday and discovered the hiring manager is on vacation. My caseworker reached out this week for a general update so I mentioned I was still waiting to hear about this job but was optimistic. She, also, hasn’t responded.

I’m a faithful reader of this site and I appreciate employers can be notorious for delays. I’m trying to keep my frustration at bay and have an open mind but this is an organization that specializes in helping people get jobs. What I see is that they’re behaving like every other place that has ignored, ghosted, or put me off me since I started looking for work. I am I the problem? Are my expectations unreasonable? I’ve held this organization to a higher standard because of the work they do and because they encouraged me to interview but maybe I’m wrong to do that? If I’m not wrong and they’re being legitimately flaky, is their lack of reliable communication and follow-up a red flag? I know I’m not entitled to this job; maybe I’m not a good fit for them and that’s okay! But I’d like to know one way or another where I stand.

You’re not wrong, but yeah, your expectations probably aren’t realistic. Hiring gets delayed. Higher priorities get in the way. People go on vacation. They’re not deliberately ignoring you, but it’s really common to wait to respond to candidates until there’s something concrete to say. And they don’t have that yet because they’re waiting to hear back from a decision-maker, or waiting for another candidate’s interview to get rescheduled, or there’s some snag with the budget, and on and on. Should they know better, since they deal with anxious job-seekers as part of their mission? Sure. Are they still subject to all the pressures and conflicting priorities that other hiring orgs deal with? Also yes. Is this so common in hiring at organizations of all sorts that you can’t conclude anything from it about what it would be like to work there? Also yes.

The best thing to do is the same thing as when you’re waiting to hear back from any other job: assume you didn’t get it, put it out of your mind, and let it be a pleasant surprise if/when they do contact you.

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