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 four questions from readers.

1. Employee keeps fake quitting

I hired an employee less than 90 days ago. The team had not been fully staffed for several months and was happy to have him. A month after starting, he came into my office and started a meeting by saying, straight-faced, "I've been here a month, and I've decided to offer my resignation." After a few seconds, he smiled and said he was kidding. He is not known for having a sense of humor. A couple of weeks ago, he walked into my office and handed me a single sheet of bonded stationery and again said, "I've decided to tender my resignation." After I took the sheet of paper, he explained instead that it was a thank-you note for being allowed to attend a trading program.

I have a very good sense of humor. I didn't find either of these incidents funny. His work product is very good. His soft skills (beyond these incidents) are lacking. If he does something like this again, can I accept his resignation -- whether he was joking or not?

Green responds:

What on earth! This isn't a particularly funny joke when done once, but it's extra bizarre that he keeps doing it repeatedly.

In any case, if you want him off your team, deal with that head-on. Don't wait for him to make a joke about quitting and try to turn it into a real resignation. Instead, if his soft skills are problematic, you can either give him feedback about those and tell him you need to see improvement there in X weeks, or -- if the issues are serious enough -- you can let him go right away.

Meanwhile, though, if he does another joke resignation, say this: "That's a very odd thing to say if you don't mean it. Please don't do it again."

2. Employee is returning after a sensitive leave of absence

A few months ago, an employee who my team attempted suicide at work. She was found by another employee, rushed to the hospital, and has been on leave. This week she returned to work.

I want to find the balance of integrating her after an absence without triggering negative emotions/responses for her. How would you recommend we professionally interact with her without seeming callous? I don't want to treat her with kid gloves for the next five years as if she's too frail to be a valued team member, but also don't want to cheerfully say, "We missed you so much! Glad you're back!" and dredge up terrible memories for her. She was not an easy person to deal with prior to this, so I'm additionally worried that she'll continue to be difficult without us feeling like we can push back.

Part of me feels that we should simply ignore it -- not ask her about how she's doing now, but just update her on changes to our team/workflow as we would if someone had been on maternity leave but just be more vague in phrasing -- something like "While you were out, we've updated the X system and the Y program." And then push back if she's out of line or difficult, just like we would with anyone else.

Green responds:

I don't think a quick "Glad you're back!" or "It's good to see you!" with a warm smile would be amiss the first time you talk to her. Just keep it brisk and breezy and don't leave a long pause where she feels like she's expected to say something about her absence.

And yes, I think "while you were out, we've updated X, Y, and Z" is just fine. Be matter-of-fact about it, and don't try to characterize her leave as anything other than "leave." And yes, treat her normally, including pushing back if you need to -- although at the same time, if you can cut her some extra slack there without it impacting your work, that would be a kind thing to do.

3. How can I ward off co-workers who will want to touch my pregnant belly?

I'm pregnant. I'm planning to announce it to my company soon via email. 

With my last pregnancy (different company), I found it surprisingly difficult to say no in the moment when well-meaning colleagues patted my belly without asking. This time, I'd like to ward that off before it starts, if possible. A couple of my colleagues are huggers and arm patters. Belly pats seem inevitable.

Is there something I could say, maybe in my email announcement or when people respond to congratulate me? I'd like to sound lighthearted and not negative. I don't mind leaning toward the "ha ha, funny quirk of mine" side of things.

Green responds:

Aggggh, this is so rude. And yet so common! People are weird.

It will come across strangely if people congratulate you and you respond with "but please don't touch me" (as warranted as that would be). But if you're willing to say something about it in your email announcement, you could say something like, "No belly touches please -- that freaks me out! But I will gladly accept your congratulations from a reasonable foot or so away." Or at least that's the wording I'd use personally, but what feels right will depend on your own personality, so adapt accordingly. I think anything you write will be fine as long as it's reasonably straightforward.

And if people ignore the message and try to caress your belly anyway (shudder), visibly flinching and backing away (as you might if someone tried to pet your non-pregnant stomach) will usually get the point across.

4. Should I alert rejected candidates that we have another opening they'd be good for?

About three months ago, we were hiring for a full-time curriculum development specialist position and we had three candidates we absolutely loved and believed would be a huge benefit to our organization (lucky problem to have!). Of course, it was with much regret we had to let two candidates know we selected someone else.

We now have the opportunity to open up a second full-time curriculum development specialist position. Would it be OK, and appropriate, to reach out to the two candidates we liked to inform them of this opportunity? And would it be OK to encourage them to apply if they're interested? We of course would still post the job ad, interview, and select candidates as we normally would.

Green responds:

Yes, absolutely! It's very normal to do, and candidates generally appreciate it. They may not still be available, but if they were strong enough that you would have happily hired them, it makes a lot of sense to alert them to the new opening now.

The one caution I'd give you is to lower the bar to entry for them. You already have their application materials from last time, so there's no need to ask them to submit new cover letters and resumes. Just ask them if they'd like to be considered again, and if so, put them into your candidate pool. And if your process includes multiple in-person interviews, you should consider letting them skip the first stages since they've already gone through your process recently.

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