Each week, Inc. staff writer Nadine Heintz (Miss Management) will help you tackle office etiquette problems both big and small.
Dear Miss Management,
I started work in an office recently and provided full information to HR, including an authority for a police check. A month later the manager provided a police check form for all staff at a meeting. Knowing that I had already given consent, I asked whether or not HR had already started the process and did not get a clear answer. I spoke to HR on the phone and they said that the check had not been started. I filled in the form and put it in an envelope and sealed it and left it in my office. I went to get a stamp and five minutes later, on my return, found the envelope opened on the manager's desk. I thought that he might be trying to snoop, but I just took it out, put it in another envelope and posted it. It was not mentioned again.
A day or two later, a co-worker asked me if I had had "any police trouble". This did not surprise me because I had already sensed that I was the subject of gossip. I assured him that I have had not so much as a parking ticket and made it clear that I was just trying to follow proper procedures regarding confidentiality. Last Friday, the manager, in the presence of the receptionist, asked for my date of birth, saying that an outside authority demanded it. I really didn't want to tell him and am not happy about being put on the spot like this. The same man had earlier come and asked me about my years in Australia, having perused my CV. How can I handle this?
Secret Agent UK
Dear Secret Agent,
Your boss sounds a bit like David Brent, the inappropriate branch manager in the British TV show The Office. He should know better than to badger you for your birth date, especially in front of another employee. That said, his actions aren't necessarily illegal. In the U.S., law prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on age. But, once employees are hired, there inevitably comes a time when birthdates are required on forms, such as the police check performed at your company.
The main problem is that, due to your manager's mysterious behavior, your coworkers now seem to think that you're Jack the Ripper. Juicy rumors spread like wildfire, so you must nip the problem in the bud immediately. First, request a meeting with your manager. In the meeting, calmly ask if there's a problem with your police check. Perhaps he fancies himself some kind of detective, and is dramatizing the whole police check process. Request that, in the future, he refrain from asking you personal questions that could be misconstrued in front of other coworkers. Add that one coworker has inquired about "police trouble." Hopefully he'll realize the error of his ways. If his bad behavior continues, speak to his supervisor.
Next, you need to repair your reputation with the rest of the staff. Posting a sign in the breakroom may seem a bit desperate. Instead, after talking to your boss, casually mention to the receptionist and your other curious coworker that you cleared up the whole police check mess. Say something like, "I'm glad that's cleared up! I've never even gotten one parking ticket, after all!" The news will probably spread to the rest of the staff by the end of the day, and you can finally focus on your new job.
Have a dilemma for Miss Management? Send her an e-mail and check back here Tuesdays for the answer.