Inc.com 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. Our employee quit, but now wants to stay

I have an employee who resigned by email two weeks ago. He sent his resignation by email to the head of HR, one of the VPs, and the president of the company. Fast-forward to last week, when the employee told us that he wants to stay. (Evidently he had a job lined up but it "fell through." In this business, that usually means a failed drug test.) We've discussed it all week, and decided we don't want to take him back. So, how do you terminate in this situation?

Green responds:

It's not a termination -- it's simply telling him that you're choosing to let the original resignation to stand and are declining to take him back. It doesn't make sense to do that if he was a good employee whom you were originally sorry to lose. But if you were relieved he was leaving and want the chance to hire someone stronger, or if you've already promised the role to someone else and don't think he's strong enough that you want to find another slot for him, then you have grounds to decide to let the original resignation stand.

Assuming that's the case, you could say something like, "At this point, we've already begun taking action on your resignation and don't think that it makes sense to change course. We'd like to keep your last date as [date], as you originally suggested."

If at all possible, you should also explain your reasoning, that you're already in final stages of talks with other candidates, or that you are changing course with the position, or that you had performance concerns that make you hesitant to renew the employment agreement, or whatever the reason is. You don't have to give a reason, but it will come across as awfully callous if you don't -- not only to him, but to your other employees who hear about it.

2. My interviewer wants a doctor's note before rescheduling my interview

I was scheduled for an interview last Friday and missed it due to a miscarriage, which I ended up going to the hospital for. Later that evening, I sent an apology email and explained it was due to a minor surgical emergency. Today I received an email to reschedule the interview, but the manager is requesting that I bring the hospital discharge papers for the new interview. I refuse to have them see the reason I missed the interview. Is this legal? Can they ask me to bring that when I don't even work there?

Green responds:

They're on really shaky legal ground if they ask you to bring paperwork that explains the nature of your medical care, because if they don't hire you, it could look like they were discriminating against you for disability or pregnancy, both of which are illegal. So it's a really unwise move for them from that standpoint, although not inherently illegal. It's also just an incredibly adversarial way to treat a job candidate; they should either reschedule the interview or choose not to, but saying "prove to us with personal medical paperwork that you weren't lying" is a terrible foot to start off on.

If you want to pursue the job anyway, you could ask the hospital to give you a note saying that you were there on Friday but not saying why (which is typically how doctor's notes are handled anyway). But I'd also think seriously about what this company is telling you about itself and what it might be like to work for.

3. My manager copied and pasted someone else's performance review into mine

My manager recently sent me a copy of my performance review to look over in advance before we met in-person to discuss it. I noticed that he listed accomplishments that I had nothing to do with and which in fact were done by another colleague. He also included a comment that, while overwhelmingly positive, had nothing to do with me.

All of this seems very out of character, as my manager has never given me reason to doubt his attention to detail or his competence. Any time we need anything from him, he gets it done right away and gets it done right. I know review season came at an unusually busy time this year, so there might have been a time crunch. It looks like he might have tried to copy and paste comments from different reviews to save time, but he got it wrong with mine. I feel like my accomplishments are far more significant then the ones that he thinks I achieved and could very well impact the type of raise I get. How do I address this without sounding confrontational?

Green responds:

Approach it as if he just sent you the wrong document, not as if he deliberately copied and pasted from someone else's review to save time. Say something like: "Oh, Bob, I think I might have accidentally gotten Jane's review instead of mine. It talks about projects I didn't work on but she did, and it doesn't address my big goals for the year. Do you want to take a look and see if I just have the wrong one?" (It's even possible that it was an inadvertent error on his part, but if it wasn't, this lets him save face while alerting him that he needs to fix it.)

If he insists it's correct, then you have a bigger problem -- but from what you say, he sounds otherwise conscientious, so I'd go this route and see what happens.

4. Manager is delegating management work to one of my co-workers

Is it common or normal for a manager to delegate managerial duties to a person on their team? My manager used to meet individually with every member of our team twice a month for 30-minute meetings. It appears that it became too much for her, so she has picked one member of the team, Lucy, to do half of those meetings for her. I don't know why Lucy was chosen (she does not have the most experience and has not been with the company the longest), but she takes it very seriously. She has been treating me (a recent hire) as a subordinate, even though we have the same titles.

How do I manage a co-worker who is not my boss, but acts as if she is and expects me to treat her as if she is?

Green responds:

Ask your boss to clarify Lucy's role in relation to you. If your boss is having her conduct one-on-one meetings with team members -- which is very much a managerial function -- she may be grooming Lucy to move into a management role. In fact, she may already see Lucy as being in a management role (as having her hold those meetings suggests). But either way, it's odd that she hasn't explained to your team what this means.

Try saying this to her: "Can you tell me a bit about how I should see Lucy's role when she's conducting one-on-ones with me? Is she acting as your deputy or otherwise in a management capacity, or should I still think of her as a peer?"

If she says Lucy is still a peer, then say, "Is she clear on that as well? At times she seems to be treating me as a subordinate (for example, doing X and saying Y), and it might be useful for everyone to get more clarity from you about roles and how you want this to work."

5. My office is moving, and my commute will quadruple

I've been working for a nonprofit for about six months. The pay is not great, but my commute is fantastic. It takes me 15 minutes to bike to work and I get to bike around a beautiful lake. I'm happy every morning when I get to work because of this. This was in fact the main reason why I took this job. I figured the pay wasn't great, but I would save a lot on time and money with this commute.

Now we are moving, and I will have to either bike for an hour or take public transportation, also about an hour each way. I am not thrilled about this and would like a raise to at least cover the cost of my commute, and ideally some of my time as well. Is this reasonable? Is there a way to bring this up with the CEO?

Green responds:

That's a huge quality of life change, and I can see why you're upset. Your commute is quadrupling, and two hours a day is a significant chunk of time.

That said ... offices move, and they don't generally give people raises to adjust for the difference in commuting expenses. However, if you're a very valued employee whom they particularly want to retain, you might be able to negotiate a flexible schedule that could decrease the commute time or the ability to work from home a few days a week.

But you'd need to be prepared to hear no and, if that happens, to decide if you still want the job under these new conditions. 

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: Oct 21, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.