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 fire a well-liked employee who is trying hard

An employee of our small company of 100 people has been moved around from department to department, manager to manager, and give a chance in various jobs that he wanted to try or that managers thought he might be successful in. Sadly, he has been unsuccessful, and at this point there is no manager willing to take him in their department.

This employee is very well liked and considered a really nice person by all the managers and fellow employees. We've really tried to find him a spot, but there just isn't anything. He has acknowledged to management he was failing and just didn't have what it takes to do his most recent job and did not like that type of work. He wants to do a more creative job, but we just don't have that sort of position available.

We thought about working with him by being up front and giving him eight weeks to find something else, as well as time off for interviews.

But we care about our employees and want them to know that we will try to work with people who are struggling and not put a target on their backs. We don't want to tank morale if they perceive the company as heartless. At the same time, this can't go on forever. What would you suggest?

Green responds:

You've moved this person from job to job and department to department, even though he kept failing in each. It's unlikely that other employees watching the situation will think he's being unfairly pushed out. People are more likely to think you gave someone many chances (maybe too many). Some may even be relieved that the situation is being resolved. 

When you need to let an employee go, you're right to think about how it will play with other staff members who see how it's handled; in some ways they're your most important audience. But that doesn't mean you can never let anyone go; it just means that you need to treat people fairly in the process. It sounds like you've made every effort to do that here.

2. My boss has been joking that I don't work after 5

My manager has made several comments to me in the past couple of weeks about how I don't "work after 5." These comments are always made in the form of a joke, and he laughs after he says it. I really do tend to work only 8:30 to 5, but I'm meeting all of my monthly goals, so these comments are throwing me for a loop.

The only explanation I can think of was that about six months ago, one of our teammates quit and my boss took on all of her work, so his workload is significantly higher than mine and I think he's been struggling with keeping up with it. However, I was never consulted about how the former colleague's work would be divided and he's never asked me for help. I know I need to address this with him, but I'm at a loss for how to bring this up.

Green responds:

I'd say it this way: "You've made a few jokes recently about how I leave right at 5. I'm really vigilant about making sure that I'm hitting all of my goals, and my impression has been that you're happy with my work. But your comments have made me wonder -- do you have any concerns about my hours? If so, can we talk about them so we're on the same page about expectations?"

3. Did my employee abuse his access to confidential information?

I am an HR manager and I recently reviewed one of my HR staff members. He does his work well, although there is room for improvement. I gave him a raise, well above the average, and he countered with an even higher number, one I can't agree to.

He admitted that the way he came to that number was because he wanted to be closer in pay to another person in the company, who is at his same level but in another department. I feel this is an abuse of the access to confidential salary information that he has. I'm curious to know what your thoughts are.

Green responds:

On the one hand, it's true that when someone is entrusted with confidential salary information, you need to be able to trust them not to abuse that access to use that info to their own advantage. On the other hand, it's not realistic to expect that knowledge not to enter into their thinking at all. Plus, if someone were to use that information to point out legitimate inequities, you don't want to discourage that.

Assuming there's a legitimate reason for why his pay is different from his co-worker's (like different market rates for their type of work, or different responsibilities or qualifications), just explain that to him. You might as well see it as an opportunity to educate him about something he's clearly wondering about, which is ultimately better than having the disparity gnawing away at him without his having any context for it.

4. How can I avoid a boorish co-worker on my bus route?

I share the same bus route with a co-worker for roughly an hourlong journey in. We used to work in the same department, though I now work in a different area of the company. I don't like this person, though he is entirely unaware of this. I find him extremely boorish: He mansplains, constantly turns the conversation onto himself, and feels compelled to offer unsolicited career advice that is either dubious or incredibly obvious. Conversation with him is a chore, and I like my commutes to be spent alone, listening to music and either reading or playing a handheld video game. When I'm not able to do this, it starts my day off with on a sour note.

This is complicated, though, by the fact that we share a circle of friends who like him, so I'm not able to freeze him out without making things very awkward elsewhere. I've tried shifting my commute times around, sometimes significantly, but like a bad penny, he always reappears. Is there any reasonably polite way to rebuff him and take back my alone time? Or should I just grin and bear it?

Green responds:

No, don't grin and bear it! It's perfectly reasonable to explain that you prefer to use your commute time for other things. You just need to be willing to be assertive about saying, "I'm going to read this" or "I've started listening to podcasts on my way in so can't chat" or "I like to zone out/decompress on my commute, so I'll see you at work!"

5. Our difficult boss wants to sit in on team interviews

My small department is hiring for an open position. Typically our boss interviews candidates one-on-one and then the rest of us do a team interview without the boss. My co-workers and I expected that we'd be able to give candidates a heads-up about the difficult boss/environment during those team interviews.

My co-workers and I brainstormed to find neutral wording and answers to questions the candidates may ask us in order to be honest but professional. We all felt confident about what we were going to say.

Yet today we were told that our boss is going to be in the team interviews in addition to doing the solo interviews. We do not know what to do. It feels dangerous to stick to the plan, and irresponsible if nothing is said. It also means that we may once again find someone who is going to leave soon because they are not able to deal with a difficult environment and management style. Is it typical for bosses to sit in on team interviews as well as have individual interviews? 

Green responds:

Practices vary, but in general it's better for a manager not to sit in on this type of team interview. Having the boss not there means candidates may feel more comfortable asking questions they don't want to ask in front of the boss -- and sometimes will reveal things about themselves that they wouldn't reveal in front of the main interviewer, so it's beneficial for a few different reasons.

You could try saying this to your boss: "Would you be open to having us do these interviews on our own? Having you sitting in might mean that candidates are still on their best behavior, whereas if it's just us, we might see different sides of candidates that would be useful input to have in the selection process."

If that doesn't work, you could also give candidates your card and tell them they're welcome to contact you directly "if you want to talk further with a team member."

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