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 five questions from readers.

1. How to announce a firing to the rest of your staff

Can you please provide me with an email script to inform my employees that someone has been dismissed?

Green responds:

"Unfortunately, Jane's last day with us was today. We wish her the best of luck, and we'll be moving quickly to hire a replacement. Until her replacement is hired, please see Fergus with questions about teapot research and Lucinda for any other questions."

Your staff will generally understand that you're not going to share every detail with them in cases like this. The real key, though, is to ensure that your staff understands how performance problems are handled. After all, you may know that you had multiple conversations with Jane before letting her go, and gave her warnings and opportunities to improve, but since her coworkers probably weren't privy to that, you don't want them worrying that people get fired out of the blue. That means that it's important to be transparent with people about how you handle performance problems in general, so that they understand there's a fair process in place and know that they'd be warned if they were in danger of losing their job.

2. My job wants me to take a laptop on vacation

I work part-time in a small office and take care of all paperwork--A/P, A/R, HR, customer service, payroll, business filings, etc. I have been here over five years and last year was the first time I took a week off for vacation. I am taking a week off this year--it is unpaid as I do not receive sick time or vacation benefits. I notified my boss about six months ahead of time. They are now asking me to bring a laptop and be available to them while I am away. Frankly, I feel it is my time, which they aren't paying me for, and I should be able to take a week away. They can absolutely function for a week without me; it just requires them to be in the office a little more than usual. How should I handle this request?

Green responds:

By saying no. Say this: "I'm taking a real vacation and won't be reachable or able to do any work while I'm there. Let's go over what you might need from me while I'm away, and we can get everything set up before I go--but I am going to be totally disconnected while I'm gone."

If it gives you mental permission to say this, you can try blaming it on a promise to whoever you're traveling with ("I promised my family the week would be totally work-free") or that there won't be reliable internet or phone access where you're going.

3. Freelancer who turned in subpar work won't give me info to pay her

I'm fairly new to my organization and I had to pay a freelancer to translate a report. When I received the report (five minutes before the deadline) and it was full of grammar mistakes and mistranslations, I was quite annoyed and decided not to hire her again. I was planning not to tell her, but she specifically asked for feedback, so I told her that we really appreciated it but the work wasn't up to standard.

She replied with a really sad email saying that she's sorry, thanked me for the opportunity, and then refused to accept payment for the work because it was subpar. I replied immediately saying that of course we want to pay her and asked again for her bank details, but she hasn't replied. She hasn't given us any details that would allow me to send a check--no address, no bank details, nothing.

Do I chase her up on this, or let it go? I work for a charity, so I'm not exactly keen on shelling out a lot of money for bad work, but we had an agreement and I think we should honor it.

Green responds:

Yes, make one more attempt. Say this to her: "We feel strongly about paying you for the work we contracted with you for. Not paying you isn't an option, so can you please provide me with (whatever info you need)?" If she doesn't respond to that, you've done all you reasonably can.

4. Limiting emotional venting from coaching clients during initial intake sessions

I'm a coach, and my clients often have stressful lives. I would like to know how to keep conversations, mainly during the first call that we use to ascertain whether an appointment with me would benefit them, from becoming a "dump session" with them laying out all of their problems. On one hand, I do get information that enables me to help them better. On the other hand, my goal is to get them in for a one-on-one session, so we can actually work to get their lives more manageable and joyful. I don't have time to listen to all of their problems at this stage, and the techniques I use do not require that I hear all of this information.

What is a professional way to say "please stop dumping (emotionally) on me"? I understand a bit of venting is allowable, but I can truthfully only handle so much, and the idea is that we use effective processes together so that their subconscious thoughts change. Still, this can take more than one session.

Green responds:

Well, it may be that some of this is part and parcel of the line of work you're in.

But you can probably cut down on some of it if you lay out clear guidelines for that initial call ahead of time (probably via email before the call takes place): how long you've allotted for the call, what topics you'll cover, and what is and isn't most useful to cover. You could even say something like, "Because this is an initial intake call, I ask that we focus on X and Y rather than Z, in order to most effectively figure out if we're the right match for each other."

You should also be prepared to redirect the conversation if you see it start going down a venting road. For example, you might say, "That does sound frustrating. For this call, it would be most helpful for me to understand (topic you want them to focus on)."

But again, with this line of work, I think some of this is probably unavoidable.

5. Have I been demoted?

I think I got demoted yesterday. I'm not sure exactly if that's it, because nobody told me directly. Instead, there was a group meeting with me and the two temps I hired a few months ago. Our office manager extended their contracts in one breath and said, "You all report to me; it's a flat hierarchy from now on." They've been assigned new tasks and a lot of the work that was solely on my shoulders is now parceled out. That would be great, in theory, if the manager had asked me first. I would've told her that they are probably not going to be great at the tasks she's assigned, and that delegation would've worked better in a different way.

Also, you know, it hurts, finding out someone has ripped the rug out from under you without so much as a by-your-leave. Am I being elbowed out gracelessly? Insultingly? Is she just incompetent? Am I part of an office war? What's the proactive thing to do--should I suggest new projects for myself to take on? Complain to my other "bosses"? Enjoy my new free time?

Green responds:

Go talk to your boss and ask. I'd say this: "Can you tell me what made you decide to switch Jane and Fergus over to reporting to you and assign them X, Y, and Z rather than have me continue to do that work?"

Pause there and listen. It might be that there's an explanation that has nothing to do with you (like that she's gearing up to have you focus on some other big project)--who knows? But if you feel like you're still left unsure, say this: "I have to admit, it makes me worry that you had concerns about how I was managing them or how well I was doing with XYZ. If that's the case, I'd be grateful to know so that I can improve."

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