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 gave notice and now is slacking off

An employee of mine put in his two weeks' notice a week ago. During that conversation, I outlined the tasks for his remaining time, and checked in with him again on the Monday after that conversation. However, for the past week, he has been coming in late, leaving early, and from what I can tell, not completing the tasks we discussed.

I had a conversation at the end of the week with him about my concerns (that he wasn't completing the tasks and putting in a full 40 hours) and he responded that it was his prerogative to adjust his own hours and that he still had a week to complete the tasks. While the company is flexible with work hours, it's still expected that people regularly come in for a full eight hours. As for the tasks, a few of them are ongoing and would easily fill his remaining two weeks. After our conversation, I'm feeling very powerless in this situation, and would prefer at this point that he simply not return to work.

While it may be too late to salvage his last week, how do I handle this now, or with future employees who put in two weeks' notice?

Green responds:

I'd say this to him: "While you're still working here, we need you to meet the same standards as before you gave notice. If you're not up for that, would you prefer to simply make today your last day?" (Say this in a collaborative tone, not a threatening one.) If he says yes but doesn't change what he's been doing, it's your prerogative to intervene and say, "Hey, it seems like we have really different expectations of what these last two weeks should look like, so I think it would be best to wrap things up now."

Keep in mind that if you do that, he might leave angry (which you might be fine with -- he's clearly not too invested in making a great impression on you). Depending on details I don't have, it might make more sense to just roll your eyes, know that he's blown his reference, and just get through the remaining time in his notice period without getting into it with him and be glad when he's gone.

2. Is it OK to drink at lunch?

A few weeks ago, two coworkers and I went to lunch on a sunny Friday. We sat on a patio of a Mexican restaurant, ordered a round of relatively weak margaritas, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch before returning to the office. Honestly, it was nice.

But one coworker now always wants to indulge on Friday drinks. I have no problem turning down lunch, turning down drinks at lunch, or going on occasion. But, I worry that it's become an expected occurrence and this coworker is slightly peer-pressure-y towards me. It's not a huge issue, just a mild annoyance. What are your thoughts on drinking at lunch? Should I worry that it might grow into a bigger situation than it currently is?

Green responds:

Drinking so much that you're in any way impaired when you need to return to work is obviously not okay to do. For most people, a single drink won't trigger that limit, but it's really about knowing yourself and when you'll cross over from pleasantly relaxed to tipsy (or worse).

But it's also about knowing your office. There are plenty of offices where having a beer or glass of wine or a margarita at lunch wouldn't raise any eyebrows. There are others where it would be An Issue. So you really want to know your own workplace's culture on this, as well as your manager.

You didn't say specifically what your coworker is doing that feels peer-pressure-y to you. If she's just urging everyone to order margaritas with her again and takes "nah, not today" for an answer, I wouldn't worry too much. But if she continues to push, you could say, "I don't feel right having a drink when I have to go back to work" or "I need to be as sharp as possible for the work I have scheduled when we get back to the office" or, if she's particularly insistent, "No. I don't want to drink today. Please don't keep asking. Does someone want to split fajitas?"

If you want to address the larger pattern, you could say: "I love coming here and it's fun to get margaritas on occasion. But I don't want to get into a drinks-every-Friday thing; I'd feel weird about that, and like it might reflect badly on us if people heard we did it every week. Can we keep it special-occasion-only?"

3. My employee deserves a higher performance evaluation rating than I can give him

Yearly appraisal time. About a month ago, I was told to turn in any requests to rate employees at the highest performance level of "significantly exceeds standards." These appraisals were to be reviewed at the highest levels, including our president.

Now that I've actually put all the details in writing, I'm regretting that I didn't recommend one of my team members for the highest rating. The rating just below is "fully achieves standards" and that's what I thought was appropriate for him before I actually put it all in writing. 

My manager says it's too late to request a change. Assuming I really can't get the rating up one notch, what is a good way to conduct the appraisal without deflating my employee - especially if I'm asked why he didn't get the higher rating?

Green responds:

I'd tell him the truth. It risks demoralizing him, but the alternative -- trying to defend a lower rating -- risks demoralizing him even more. The key will be to talk about what other actions you plan to take to try to address the situation. For example: "After reviewing your performance in detail, I think you deserve the highest rating. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that until I sat down and put my reflections in writing, which was after our internal deadline for getting rankings approved. I've tried very hard to get an exception made but haven't been able to because (explain process). So what I'm going to do instead is ___." You could fill in that blank with things like: add a formal note to your file explaining the situation / ensure that you're first in line for raises, promotions, recognition in the coming year / see what I can do about a mid-year raise in a few months that reflects your excellent level of work / whatever else you can figure out to ameliorate it.

But first, go to bat as hard as you can for a process exception. An organization that makes managers jump through hoops to award the highest rating should pair that with some flexibility for managers who find themselves in your situation.

4. Employer requires women to be escorted to their cars

My employer requires that female, and only female, employees have a male employee escort them to their car after their shift is over. I am a 40-year-old woman and have been threatened with being terminated for leaving without an escort who is younger than my own children. I am often times required to wait up to 45 minutes after my shift ends (and off the clock) before I'm allowed to go home. I would think it should be my choice when I could leave work after I am off duty. Please advise?

Green responds: 

Whoa, no, that's not legal. Your employer can't discriminate by sex, which it's doing in subjecting you to different rules than men, especially a rule that's causing you to have to stay at work long (unpaid, no less!). Say this to your employer: "I don't need an escort to my car, and I need to leave on time. Federal law prohibits us from treating women differently than men, and I know we don't want to violate the law, so I'm leaving now." If they push back, the EEOC might like to hear from you.

5. Why should managers conduct reference calls rather than HR?

What is a good argument for future managers to conduct reference checks, rather than having HR do it?

Green responds:

Well, if reference checks are just being used as employment verification or rubber-stamping a hiring decision that's basically already been made, then sure, let HR do them. But if you're a manager who's using them the way I'd argue they should be used -- to gather information that will truly aid in your decision-making -- then you want to do them yourself, because you want to be able to really probe into the areas that matter to you, hear tone of voice, and ask follow-up questions.

In fact, it's similar to the reasons that you wouldn't delegate interviews to HR -- in both cases, those conversations are a crucial part of your ability to make the right hiring decision.

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