columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here's a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.

1. An employee wants to bring a toxic, fired co-worker to the holiday party.

We recently fired an employee, Doug, after a series of serious errors. We gave him extensive training and retraining, verbal and written feedback, and multiple warnings. We even simplified his work and left him with only the most basic work assignments possible but, in the end, his mistakes angered multiple clients and he simply did not possess the skills to perform his job.

We have another employee, Andy, who is friends with Doug. Andy invited Doug to be his guest at our company office party. We know this only because Doug emailed us to ask if it would be OK, and how he was looking forward to seeing everyone's stunned reactions when he shows up at the party.

My gut response to this is no way. Doug has been lying to his former co-workers about the circumstances of his departure, and saying that we fired him without any notice or giving him any opportunity to correct his errors. This has caused panic among some staff members, whom I've had to reassure that we have a process for addressing job performance issues and that people generally aren't fired without warning. Moreover, when we posted Doug's job, we got "applications" from fake people whose resumes contained only profanity, such as, "F--- you!" I suspect these emails are from Doug or Doug's friends lashing out at us. I don't want to expose 100-plus people at our holiday shindig to this toxicity. Am I being reasonable to say no?

Green responds:

Yes indeed. You're under no obligation to entertain Doug at your holiday party. It would be perfectly reasonable to tell Andy, "Sorry, but there have been some issues with Doug that mean that we can't allow him to attend the party."

2. Can I advertise jobs I might not ultimately hire for?

I'm a manager of a small team. Two of my four employees recently put in notice within two weeks of each other. The first was an experienced position, and we were thinking of replacing her with more of a junior position and delegating her more senior tasks to some others on the team. But then our most junior person, one of those we were going to give more responsibility, accepted a job out of state. So that changes our hiring plans, and I haven't quite figured out what to do. I haven't yet put up the original job posting, and I'm not sure yet of my budget -- if we're going to be able to replace both positions or just one, or if we would want to hire two junior positions.

So my question is more of an ethical one: Is it acceptable to post ads for both positions, one that requires more experience and one that could be taken by someone straight out of college, even if we may hire only one person? I kind of just want to put it out there and see if we get any great candidates who could fill either of the positions, or maybe create a whole new position entirely. I'd like to see the resumes and do interviews and base our staffing on the type of candidates we get. However, I'm not sure if it will look bad if we hire only one person -- both from an outside perspective and internally within our company. Is that something that people would consider unprofessional or misleading, or am I totally overthinking this?

Green responds:

Nah, this is a pretty common way to handle it. You're open to hiring either position and potentially both. Just make sure that you're transparent with candidates if the other position comes up; it's not something you need to play close to the vest, and trying to do that could end up making it look shady when it actually isn't.

But the other way to do this is to do one job posting and to say within it that you're open to two different variations of the role. That doesn't always make sense, but it's something you could consider.

3. What can we do about Christmas conduct that alienates colleagues?

We're planning our annual holiday party and, while discussing dates, I suggested we hold it in January, as people tend to have more free time then, plus "it's less alienating for people who don't celebrate Christmas." That suggestion was quickly shot down.

The rest of the meeting was full of snarky and pointed comments like "Let's go traditional with the food, since I like a traditional Christmas--I mean a traditional holiday" and "Oh, we can't do that because Christmas offends some people."

I celebrate Christmas! I like Christmas! But I feel weird about celebrating Christmas at work. Not everyone celebrates it and it seems to me we should acknowledge that.

It really rubs me the wrong way that an event ostensibly organized as something fun for all employees can become a source of unhappiness and exclusion for people outside a particular religious tradition. Is there anything I can do to promote a spirit of inclusion or is this just something we're stuck with in modern-day America?

Green responds:

Yes, your colleagues seem to have missed the memo that that not everyone celebrates Christmas. Acting as if it's a universal celebration can alienate people of other faiths or of no faith and make them feel erased.

One way to frame it to your colleagues is this: "If we truly value a diverse staff and an include workplace, this is the kind of thing that matters. No one here has said that Christmas offends people. The issue is that acting as if everyone celebrates Christmas can alienate people and make them feel invisible, and that's at odds with our commitment to diversity and inclusivity. That's it. Let's please not set up straw men that aren't actually in play here."

4. My employees went above and beyond while I was away.

I went in for what was supposed to be a routine surgical procedure that went terribly wrong. What was supposed to be overnight in the hospital and three days off of work turned into a near death experience, two weeks in the hospital, and over a month off of work. This all follows on the heels of my having taken significant time off following the death of my mother a couple of months ago.

My plan, when I return to work, is to bring in some kind of communal treat, but there are a couple of employees who stepped up significantly in my absence and I'd like to give them something individual to express my thanks.

Both of them will see their work reflected in their annual reviews, which will impact next year's pay increase, and have been recognized publicly, but what's your opinion on providing a gift certificate of some type as an additional thank-you? Or should I just stick to a heart-felt thank-you note?

Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to offer a company-paid bonus, and because of a vacation policy change, we all have more vacation days than we know what to do with and I would never deny these folks a requested day off.

Green responds:

A bonus would be great, but since you're not in a position to do that, go for a heartfelt conversation. Talk in specifics about the ways they stepped up (specifics are nearly always more gratifying to hear than a blanket thank-you because it tells them that you really see all they did), and tell them what their help meant to you.

At least, that's what I'd want, and I'd find it a lot more meaningful than a gift certificate. That said, some people really like getting gifts, so if you happen to know that either of these people respond well to that kind of thing, there's no reason you can't do that too. But don't skip the heartfelt conversation with specifics.

You should also let them know that you'll be making sure their work is reflected in their upcoming reviews. That might not be obvious to them, and it'll be good to hear it.

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