should an employee pay for damage to a work vehicle they caused, who answers the phone, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Should an employee pay for damage to a work vehicle when it was his fault?

My husband is the office manager at a small, family-owned lawn service company. They have a lawn care employee, Jake, who my husband describes as a good employee (on time, good attitude, competent at daily tasks), but who has also made several significant mistakes in recent months. Jake’s made three customer-impacting mistakes, like leaving a customer’s sprinklers running all day. He’s also been in two accidents in his work truck, most recently where he admits he side-swiped a tree because he was texting while driving. This caused $4,500 in damage, which Jake has volunteered to pay for, and the business owner has accepted by reducing his pay about $200 per month (out of $4,000 salary/month).

Based on reading your advice, I say that car repairs are a business expense when you give employees work trucks to use, and that this is not a good employee they should retain. My husband says that they would not require Jake to pay for the damage (and did not do so for Jake’s other accident) but Jake offered, and this is mutually beneficial as Jake gets to keep his job and they don’t have to fire a good employee, be out the $4,500, or have to find a new hire in a tough market. What do you think?

I think there are bigger issues to solve first: namely, what’s going on with Jake and can the company safely keep him as an employee? How is Jake talking about the accident — is he mortified and shaken up by what happened? Is he (credibly and of his own volition) vowing to swear off texting while driving? Is he willing to, I don’t know, keep his phone in the glove box while driving in the future? Or he is cavalier about what happened? And what happened with the other accident? Leaving a customer’s sprinkler’s running all day seems like the type of thing that could happen to a good employee once, but the accidents are giving me serious pause about whether you could safely keep him. (Also, how far apart were the accidents? Are we talking months or years?) What if the next accident is a lot more serious and he injures or kills someone, and the business knew he was a risky driver and kept him anyway?

I think the question about the money pales in comparison to those. But if you made me answer it, I’d say … I don’t love the arrangement, but I can understand how they got there. I just think they’re looking at the wrong thing.

our new admin crashed the company car and lied about it

2. Eating disorder accommodations at a work retreat

I’ve recently been diagnosed with Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, a lesser known and in my case non-life-threatening eating disorder. Basically, for me, it means I have an extremely limited diet; there are probably 20 or so safe foods that I sustain myself on. This is something I’ve struggled with my entire life but have only recently sought out treatment for, and it’s something I still have a lot of shame around. I’ve been seen as the “picky eater” and the butt of many jokes in social and family situations.

My company is mostly remote, but we have an all-staff week-long retreat once a year, where every dinner and lunch are pre-fixed company-wide meals. Last year, this meant I would fill up my plate and push food around with my fork until I could sneak off and go buy a meal I could eat (on my own dime), gorge myself on snacks I packed, or not eat.

Planning for this year’s retreat is already underway. I understand that feeding 75 people for a week isn’t easy and that you aren’t always going to love what’s ordered by your company. But 6 days straight of not being around any of my safe foods is hard on me. I don’t want them to pick restaurants or the catering for the entire org solely on whether or not there is something I can eat on the menu. But is there a way I can explain my situation without getting to specific and ask for a stipend to cover the cost of separate meals I’ll actually eat?

Say this: “I have an extremely restricted diet for medical reasons and I can’t eat most catered meals. Last year I wasn’t able to eat anything that was served at the retreat. This year, would it be possible for me to get reimbursed for buying my own lunches and dinners?”

If they suggest that they’ll try to accommodate you if you give them a list of restrictions, you can either (a) do that and see if they turn out to find something that will work or (b) if you’d rather not get into it, say, “It’s restrictive enough that I don’t feel safe relying on someone else ordering for me; I’ve found I really need to manage it on my own.”

3. Who answers the phone?

If there are two people working at a reception desk, and one of them is in a face-to-face conversation with someone and the phone rings and the other receptionist is available and in view, who should answer the phone?

The one who’s free, obviously. At least, assuming they’re really free and not in the middle of a concentration-heavy task. It’s the kind of question that tends not to come up if the two people are working cooperatively and both have a decent work ethic.

I take it you are the one in the middle of a conversation with someone and you’re annoyed your coworker isn’t pitching in when the ring rings? If it’s a pattern with their work ethic in general, that’s a conversation to have with your boss. If it was a one-time thing and not part of a pattern, let it go.

4. How do I use my network?

I am unhappy in my current position and looking to move on, but so far I haven’t had much luck finding anything that’s the right fit for my pretty niche skillset. I’m relatively well-known in my field as a high performer and have developed a pretty extensive network of contacts, many at organizations I think I could be a good fit for and vice versa. I’m wondering if there are ways that I could use that network to help me in my job hunt.

I hadn’t really thought about this until I was having lunch with a friend in my field recently and I mentioned in passing a position I had applied for. She said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were looking — you should tell Dan (a mutual colleague of ours). He would hire you in a heartbeat.” But I’m not really sure how to bring that up with Dan, or anyone else for that matter. I work remotely, my network is pretty spread out across the country, and I’m unlikely to be traveling for work as much as I once did for budget reasons, so I’m not going to just run into people organically in a setting where I could casually mention it. I feel like it would be weird to send an email like “hey, want to hire me?” but I don’t know, is that a thing people do? I also want to be discreet so word doesn’t get back to my current employer that I’m going around advertising that I want to leave. I have a feeling some of my contacts might even be willing to create a position for me if they knew I was interested so I do think this could be to my advantage if I could figure out how to do it the right way.

Yes, this is a very normal thing people do! Usually the way to do it isn’t by saying, “Want to hire me”? Instead you say something like, “Please keep this between us for now, but I’m beginning to think about my next move and am looking for ____. If you hear of anything that you think could be a good match, I’d really appreciate a heads-up.” That opens the door for them to say, “Actually, we could use you here — let’s talk.”

This is how lots of people get many of their jobs after a certain point. (Not everyone! No one should feel deficient if it hasn’t worked that way for them. But it’s really common.)

5. Helping laid-off coworkers

I know in the past you’ve encouraged people to get over the awkwardness and reach out to laid-off coworkers because it can hurt to not hear from your coworkers when you’ve been let go.

I’ve come across another excellent idea: if someone feels awkward reaching out in a personal way, leaving a recommendation on their LinkedIn page could be a professional way to offer support both emotionally and in the job search. I thought it might be something worth passing along to those who reach out about these situations!

Consider it passed along!

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