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 keeps missing emails

What's a good response to an employee who said they "missed" an email you sent? I've already stressed the importance of reviewing all incoming mail and provided resources on organizing and managing your inbox. This has happened a few times now with negative business consequences (late payments) and I don't want to jump right to write-ups.

Green responds:

Say this: "This has happened several times now, and it's causing problems like X and Y. What can you do differently to ensure that it doesn't continue to happen?"

If you've already had that conversation, then this instead: "We've talked in the past about how important it is to manage your email so that you don't miss messages, but it's continuing to happen and it's causing real problems. I'm concerned that whatever system you're using isn't working, and we need it to. What can you do differently so that it doesn't continue to happen?"

But late payments are a big deal, and if this conversation doesn't solve it, be willing to move to more serious consequences.

2. Employee keeps getting loans from coworkers and won't pay them back

I am the HR manager at a trucking company. We have over 100 drivers on the road. I have one dispatcher who has borrowed money from several drivers and never pays them back. Recently it has gotten so bad that one of the drivers refused to continue hauling the load because the dispatcher had texted him that she was unable to pay him back. At that point, to keep business flowing, the company had to repay her loan!

Now that it is affecting business and continues to happen, can we fire this employee? It is really giving our company a bad name and making my life hell, as these drivers keep calling me wanting me to do something. I have seen the text messages she sends them.

Green responds:

You can absolutely tell your employee that she's not allowed to continue asking coworkers for money, and fire her if she doesn't comply. For that matter, you could fire her right now without that warning if you want to (no law requires warning people before firing them), but you might want to do her the courtesy of letting her know that she's jeopardizing her job first, since she may not have understood that this was something she could ever lose her job over. You're not obligated to do that, certainly, and it might be that her relations with colleagues are now so bad that there's no way to justify keeping her on, but it's an option to consider. (It also might increase the chances that she'll actually pay people back, since it will be much harder to do that without a job.)

But in answer to your direct question of whether you can fire her: Yes, you legally can.

3. Explaining urgent bathroom runs post-cancer

I had advanced colon cancer a few years ago with aggressive treatment-surgery, radiation, chemo. I'm lucky to be alive and I've been pretty upfront about my experience.

My problem is that all this treatment resulted in some problems which are embarrassing in the workplace. I now have occasional bouts of IBS-like diarrhea, which comes on with little warning. I also have problems with -- how can I say this? -- pretty awful flatulence. It doesn't happen often and I try to get away and stay away from people when it does, but I can't always and I am sure people notice.

I am now at a new job and wondering if I should explain my occasional swift departures in the middle of a conversation. It does not happen often but it does happen enough that it's noticeable. Folks here know about my cancer.

Green responds:

This is totally up to you and what you're comfortable with. But you might find peace of mind in filling people in a bit so that you're not wondering about what they might be thinking. You don't need to be super explicit about it, but could just say to a couple of people you have particular rapport with, "A side effect of my surgery is that I occasionally may have to quickly dash to the bathroom. If I run off while we're talking, it's not you." I'd figure/hope that would be enough information for them to also put two and two together about the flatulence too.

Congratulations on beating cancer!

4. The person I referred for a job keeps bugging me for updates

A colleague of mine from my old job was recently laid off. We did not work closely together but had collaborated a few times over the years. Since my company had some openings that this colleague was qualified for, and they have a referral program, I submitted a referral for them.

Fast forward about a month and a half, and I am getting weekly questions from this person about where things are at in hiring for these positions, or where their application stands. The company is very large and this isn't something I can answer. I want to help this person out, but I just don't have that kind of time on a weekly basis to chase down questions I can't answer. Is this something that should be expected of me as the referer? If not, how can I politely back out of this? 

Green responds:

Nope, you're not expected to provide those kinds of updates. I'd say this the next time she requests one: "I'm really completely out of the process from this point forward and won't have any more information than you do. Sorry I can't help!" If she continues sending requests for updates after that, I'd feel fine about ignoring them, or reminding her one more time. Continuing it at that point would also cause me to make a mental note never to refer her again.

5. Should we put windows in our office doors?

We're designing a new office area for our small business, and trying to decide if we need to put windows in each office door. We're trying to balance privacy with accountability. Are there any guidelines to follow?

Green responds:

That's really up to you; there's no one best practice. But I'd recommend not using "we can see you at all times" as the way to have accountability. Accountability should come from managing people well, paying attention to their productivity and their results, and hiring professional adults who aren't going to abuse the privacy of an office.

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Published on: Dec 17, 2019
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