laying off employee who’s having chemo, quitting your job when you win the lottery, and more — Ask a Manager


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

1. My company plans to lay off my employee who’s having chemo

I have recently learned my company will be doing layoffs, and one of my direct reports is on the list. This dedicated employee, beloved by our team, has been undergoing chemotherapy for many months and losing his job will of course result in losing his health insurance. He prides himself in never having missed a day of work throughout his ordeal, sometimes even spending the night in the hospital and still coming to work the next day. He says the routine and distraction of work has been an anchor.

I’m appalled by the decision to lay him off and am considering warning him and suggesting he apply for FMLA or long-term disability so that his job is protected. Of course if anyone found out about the warning I would lose my job, and if he’s removed from the list someone else may get laid off instead.

What is the appropriate way to navigate this moral dilemma? I fear I will lose the respect of the rest of the team (and quite a bit of self-respect) if I don’t take steps to prevent this from happening.

First and foremost, do you have any ability to influence the layoff list? Obviously sometimes budgets make layoffs necessary, but good companies want feedback from managers about who end up on that list, for a whole host of reasons (for example, to make sure they’re not laying off your best performer or a role whose absence would cripple your workflow, but also when there are serious ethical, PR, or morale considerations in play). So think about whose ear you have and could talk to about this.

Beyond that, though, I think you can warn him without explicitly divulging the layoffs. For example, you could say that some things are happening behind the scenes that make it important for him to apply for FMLA and/or long-term disability right away, and that while you can’t share more than that and need his discretion, it’s something he should move on immediately. That’s still crossing a line that your employer undoubtedly wouldn’t appreciate, but it gives you some plausible deniability (since it’s actually good advice for him even if this weren’t going on) and conveys the essential info he needs right now. Ideal? No. Right thing to do? Yes.

2. What to say when you’re quitting your job because you won the lottery

I often daydream about winning big on the lottery and quitting my job, but one of the things I think about is how I would explain my leaving. My partner is quite private and we wouldn’t want anyone to know we had loads of money, but I wouldn’t know how to field the inevitable questions from colleagues and friends about what new position or company I was moving to. Not a problem I have at the moment, but a problem I wish I had! What would you suggest in that situation?

There are lots of ways to leave a job without saying, “I won a huge windfall — see ya!” You could say you were leaving to deal with a family situation (true! your family yacht situation). You could say you were taking some time off to figure out what you wanted to do next (also true! Italy or the south of France?). You could say you were going into business for yourself. Or you could even say, “I’m not ready to talk about it publicly yet,” which is sometimes a thing people say if they’re starting their own venture or going to a firm that they have a reason not to announce yet.

Just make sure you are dreaming big enough for this lottery win and truly have enough for a lavish lifestyle for the remaining of your years. Here’s an interesting piece on how much you’d really need and another on how to manage the money.

Related:
do I have to tell my boss where I’m going when I quit?

3. Dealing with a boundary-stomping parent when interviewing from home

This is something I used to do many moons ago, and now wonder how good an idea it was. I was staying with my parents, searching for work, and my father constantly “forgot” to stay out of the room and not make noise when I was on a call. He would poke his head into the room and interrupt the conversation or bang around so loudly the interviewer could hear it. He was impossible to ignore.

Sign on the door didn’t work; reminding him beforehand wasn’t always possible and didn’t work when it was. The house was big: he could easily have avoided this one upstairs hallway and put off the lawn mowing, at least if my voice was audible. He was apologetic when called out, but not sorry enough to stop doing it.

Anyway, the solution I found was to tell the interviewer, “Sorry about that; my dad lives here and he sometimes gets a little confused.” Not technically a lie, but it framed me as a tolerant adult who knew business norms rather than a surly teenager. Admittedly I was applying for jobs that would have me moving away from him, and thus I clearly had no caregiving responsibilities. I might not have used that excuse for a local job. But what do you think? How should such a situation be handled?

I think you landed on a perfect solution. It allowed you to acknowledge the interruption and give a sympathetic explanation for it. “Tolerant adult who knew business norms rather than a surly teenager” is a perfect way to put it.

4. Another manager wants my employee to stop helping her team

I have a direct report with a lot of experience in another division, Jeff. Often, people will reach out to him with questions about that division. (He is answering questions about test setups as a project engineer.) This has irritated the manager of that other division so much that she directly emailed Jeff telling him to stop overstepping. I find this other manager to be extremely unprofessional. How can I resolve this management chain dispute?

The questions Jeff is getting asked are absolutely something the other division should be able to answer on their own, but they have had a high attrition rate the last few years and their average experience level is under five years. He assists only when asked by that division. But even though it’s her reports reaching out for assistance and input, the other manager she considers that an overstep. Jeff’s assistance has prevented quite a few schedule slips over the last year and helps PMs during around proposals very quickly.

There are two different questions here. First, should you respect it if another manager wants your employee to stop assisting her team? The answer to that is yes — that’s her call to make.

Second, is she right to make that request? I don’t know the answer to that. She could be wrong and letting her ego get in the way of guidance her team needs. Or she could be right; for all I know, she wants to train her team herself and Jeff is making that harder, or his help is preventing her from spotting where the training gaps are in her staff, or he’s not guiding them well because he doesn’t have all the context. It doesn’t really matter though; unless there’s more to the situation, it’s her call to make, and if she’s clearly said she thinks Jeff is overstepping, then he needs to stop. If you disagree with that and want to spend capital on it, you could escalate it to someone who might see it more like you do — but otherwise, yeah, you and Jeff should both respect the request.

5. Who owns materials I create as a volunteer?

I know that materials created while at work belong to the company, but what of materials created while working as a volunteer? I volunteer for my church, and have created lots of materials to help me do this job, all on my own time and on my own computer. So who owns those materials?

Interestingly, you do — unless you have an agreement to the contrary with the organization you’re volunteering for. When you’re an employee, copyright law says you’re engaging in “work for hire” and your employer owns the rights to your work product. But when you’re a volunteer, you own those rights. You can license your work to the organization you’re volunteering for indefinitely or for a specific period of time, but you retain the rights unless you agree otherwise.



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