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. My employee came in with blue hair

I have a sweet, younger employee who came into work having dyed her hair from brown to black with blue/purple/green highlights that change with how the light hits it--think peacock feathers. I don't want to hurt her feelings, but it just doesn't fit here. Our policy is specific about nails, attire, tattoos, and piercings, but not hair. She is a medical assistant and is in patient care all day. How do I tell her that it is unprofessional for the workplace?

Green responds:

I'm going to take your word for it that your stance is necessary for your particular business rather than debating that here--but I'd also encourage you to think through that question first, because the world is changing in this regard and hair like this is now OK in many places where it didn't used to be. (Health care professionals, in particular, are finding that non-mainstream looks can help them connect with patients who themselves have untraditional looks or identities.)

But if it is indeed a business necessity for you, just be straightforward: "Jane, your new hair color looks great on you, but unfortunately we need you to have a more conservative appearance while you're working here. I realize that the dress code didn't spell this out so it's not your fault for not knowing it, but I do need you to revert back to a more natural color."

2. The person I helped hire confessed that she lied about her skills

I received a full capital sponsorship to start my own business. When I resigned from my job, my boss was very upset, as it is hard to find people with my skill set. I suggested to my former boss that they could outsource to me, which they are now doing.

One day, my former boss called me and asked me to help interview a potential replacement for my position. I told him it would be a conflict of interest as I would lose them as a client. He promised me that they would never break their contract with me, but I was not convinced.

We interviewed the person and, in order to give her a fair chance, I said nothing bad about her and was supportive of their decision to give her a three-month contract. Today, she confessed to me she lied in the interview about having skills she doesn't actually have. She told me that she has never built a website from scratch before in her life. If I run to the client and tell him, it would look like I am being spiteful, not to mention that I would put a single mom out of a job. If I don't and it comes out that I did not, they might lose trust in me and it may come back to kick me in the bum. How do I deal with this situation?

Green responds:

I think you're being overly zealous about possible conflicts of interest and as a result are anticipating weirdness in your relationship with your client/former employer that just isn't likely to be there. It's OK to help them with interviews, and it's OK--in fact, necessary--to speak up about concerns that you develop about candidates during those interviews. Assuming you have a track record of integrity and can explain where your opinions are coming from, no reasonable client is going to think you're being jealous or spiteful. And the same is true now if you relay what their new hire said to you, especially if you've continued to do work for them, which it sounds like you have.

You don't have to go on a witch hunt against her; you can simply say to your client, "Jane mentioned to me yesterday that she exaggerated her skills in the interview in order to get the job and she's never actual built a website before. You should probably talk to her yourself, but assuming that's right, I think the ramifications of this for the work are ___."

You won't be putting a single mom out of a job. You'll be doing your own job, which is to be a fair dealer and share information that will affect your client. If she loses her job because she misrepresented her skills, that's an outcome she created for herself; it won't be your doing.

3. My colleague isn't pulling her weight

I've been in my position longer than my new co-worker who has the same title, and therefore I typically delegate the tasks between the two of us. Because I am more senior, our manager recently assigned some other tasks to me and suggested that I delegate more of the job-typical tasks to my co-worker.

My co-worker has started pushing back and asking if I can take on some of the newer projects instead of giving them to her. However, her door is right next to mine, and I can't help but notice that every day she's only in the building between 6-7.5 hours, which includes one-hour lunches with other co-workers, so 5-6.5 hours working. It's not my job to police other people's work schedules, so I've said nothing to our manager. I'm OK with my co-worker saying she's too busy to take on extra tasks, because in that case I'd just stay later and take them on myself, but she's not even working 40 hours per week. Is it possible for me to fix this without bringing to my manager and sounding whiny? If so, how should I approach it?

Green responds:

Well, you can try being firmer with your co-worker: "Jane, I need to divvy this up, so I'm going to take X and you should take Y." And then if she tells you that she doesn't have time, you could say, "Hmmm, I won't have time to do this either, so if you don't either, I should go talk to [manager]."

And yes, you will probably end up needing to talk to your manager--but that's not going to sound whiny. Part of your job is to flag it for your manager when things are impacting your work, and you especially have standing to do that here because your manager has asked you to delegate to your co-worker. I'd say this to your manager: "You've suggested that I delegate more to Jane, but when I've tried to, she's told me that she doesn't have time to take the tasks on. Has she by chance worked out an abbreviated schedule with you? I've noticed she often doesn't work full days, but I wasn't sure if that was something official she'd worked out with you, and I don't want to put her in an awkward position by pushing if she has." On the off chance that your co-worker has worked out a shortened schedule, that'll be helpful to know--but if she hasn't, you'll be flagging what's happening for your manager, who will probably ask you for more information about what's going on or start paying more attention to it herself.

"It's so unfair that Jane takes long lunches" is whiny. "I'm not able to delegate work to Jane because she says she doesn't have time to do it, but she's also not working full hours" isn't whiny; it's factual information that your manager needs to have in order to oversee the workflow in her department.

4. My severance package is smaller than co-workers laid off six months ago

I am working for a large company that did mass layoffs about six months ago. They offered severance packages to those employees who were laid off.

I am now being laid off for the same reason (position elimination), but have been told I will not be getting a severance package because I have a longer time to find a new position within the company. It seems unfair that I am not being offered severance, but six months ago they were giving severance to employees in the same situation as I am in now. Do I have any grounds to get a severance package because of this situation?

Green responds:

It's not uncommon for people in earlier rounds of layoffs to get larger severance packages than people in later rounds, often because there's simply less money to put toward severance later in the process. It's also true that employers will sometimes give severance in lieu of notice ("Today will be your last day but we're giving you four weeks' pay to cushion the blow since you've had no notice of this") whereas if you get some notice, that calculation may change.

It's not necessarily fair, but it's not really grounds to push back. I mean, you can always try negotiating for more, but you might not have a lot of bargaining power. Bargaining power for severance typically comes in if your employer is concerned about you suing for something (like if you had cause to believe you'd been discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, or another protected characteristic--because to get severance, you a sign a general release of claims so you can't sue in the future) or if they agree that they've somehow done you wrong (like if you moved to their state for the job and were laid off a month later).

5. Should I agree to a long-term work project when I'm job searching?

I am actively applying to new jobs, but I have no idea how long that will take. There is also a possibility that things may improve at my current job and I may decide to stay.

In the meantime, I was asked whether I could speak at a major conference in two months. It wasn't an order, it was just an ask, but I also don't think it would look good to say no when I can't provide a good reason. I don't want to leave them hanging if I change jobs in the meantime--I don't think anyone else could easily fill in on this event--but I also don't want them to know I'm looking for other jobs. What do you recommend I do?

Green responds:

Proceed as if you're staying at your job until you have definite plans to leave it. You said yourself that there's a real possibility that you may decide to stay. Even if you don't, there's no guarantee that you'll be at a new job in two months. In fact, that would be a pretty fast job search--it would mean you'd need to get an offer sometimes in the next six weeks, which could certainly happen, but many searches take a lot longer than that. So assume you'll still be there in two months, until and unless something happens that makes it more certain that you won't be.

If it does turn out that you'll be gone by the time the conference comes around, your employer will deal with that. People leave jobs, it's often at inopportune times, and employers make do.

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