Editor's note: 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. My nosy co-worker keeps joining my conversations

My nosy co-worker ("Nancy") and I joined the company at the same time and sit in neighboring cubicles at the office. There are walls to our cubicles, but the walls are short.

Whenever another co-worker comes up to my cube to chat about anything at all (work-related or not), Nancy pops up from her chair, turns around, and joins the conversation! Sometimes, when she presumably can't hear all the words of a certain conversation, she will get up from her desk, turn around, and ask, "What are you guys talking about?" and then joins in that way. And there have been times when I am having a conversation with a co-worker away from my desk, and she will approach us and then just stand there, listening and joining in on the conversation! I want to tell her to mind her own business, but of course I can't. Besides, the people who are speaking with me at the time of her interruption don't appear to think she's rude or appear to have a problem with this -- so perhaps I am being too sensitive and uptight? I know that one can interpret her behavior as "friendly," but I think it is downright nosy and rude to interrupt others and to join conversations uninvited.

Green responds:

Well, I don't actually think you can keep her out of social conversations; if you're having a social conversation in a reasonably public area (as opposed to an obviously private powwow in, say, an otherwise unused conference room), it would be rude to insist on excluding her if she wants to join in.

But certainly when it's something work-related, it would be reasonable to signal that you hadn't intended to involve her -- such as by saying, "Oh, I'm talking to Jose about a work project -- did you need one of us? I'll be about five minutes."

2. My office is only assigning women to cover the phones

I work in a small office of about 12 people, with a fairly balanced mix of men and women. There's no dedicated receptionist, so any incoming calls are answered and handled by the customer service department, which was made up of two women. Well, this week one of the women quit, so the other has been left to handle all incoming calls on her own. Today, the customer service manager, a man, sent an email to every woman in the office. He copied my manager and the CEO, both men, as well as the HR rep, a woman. He opened with, "Ladies," and proceeded to explain that we all needed to help assist with the phones.

I think we were picked because we're women, not because of our particular jobs. There are men in non-managerial roles who weren't included, and the women who were span seniority levels, including two managers.

Legally, can my employer make this request of only the women in the office? In theory, I don't mind helping out, assuming it's temporary until a new customer service rep is hired, but I do mind being singled out simply for being a woman. Regardless of whether it is legal, is there a way to voice my displeasure? If it's relevant, there is a strong boys' club mentality among the senior male staff, and I have no love for the company (I'm desperately trying to leave).

Green responds:

It is indeed illegal for an employer to make decisions about job assignments based on sex.

Whom you raise this to and how you say it will depend on the dynamics and relationships in your office, but you should absolutely push back on this. In some offices, the best response would be a direct reply or even a "reply all" saying, "This shouldn't be assigned to all the women. Can you please add the men into the rotation here?" In other offices, you'd need to go talk to the sender in person, or speak to your manager, or enlist a female senior manager to handle it (and in some offices, the "reply all" might be wildly inappropriate). So you need to know your own office, but, yes, raise it and raise it ASAP.

3. An interviewer contacted mutual Facebook connections before interviewing me

I applied for a part-time administrative job at a small business. Social media is a component for the position, so I assumed before applying that I would be Googled. What I didn't expect was that prior to contacting me, one of the people who would be interviewing me called our mutual friends that we had on Facebook. She told me this during the interview. Is that not totally weird? I had no chance to give our mutual friends any warning, and the ones she did call were acquaintances, at best.

Green responds:

If a hiring manager knows people who know you, it's pretty common to reach out to them for an informal reference before bringing a candidate in for an interview. They're looking for "OMG, she's great. You need to hire her" or "She was a disaster when we worked together" or "Hmmm, she could be good; worth your talking to, at least" or whatever else, from someone whose opinion they trust. That's just a normal part of hiring, and hiring managers aren't going to stop doing that, since it can save them (and candidates) time and give them loads more information than generally comes with a typical job application.

The part that I could see feeling a little weird about here is that she used Facebook connections to do it. Because Facebook is a social network, not a professional one, it's easy to feel it should be off-limits for this kind of thing. But mutual connections are mutual connections, no matter how they're spotted.

4. What does it mean when an application period is extended?

I recently applied for a position and a week later received an email stating that the application period had been extended. Does this mean the company is not interested in my candidacy?

Green responds:

Nope, it means the company has extended the application period. It might have done that because it didn't think it had enough strong applications, or because the person doing the screening is away and so the company might as well build in more time, or because it has other priorities to deal with first, or because it mistakenly made the period too short to begin with, or all sorts of other things. There's no way for you to know from the outside -- and it also doesn't matter, since you should be mentally moving on anyway (as the odds of being interviewed, let alone hired, for any one job you apply to are pretty low).

5. What do I say when referring a friend for a job?

I would like to refer a friend of mine to an opening within a different department at my company. Is there a general way to handle this sort of thing, i.e., do I send an email to our HR person and let her know and attach his résumé​? I checked in with my friend and he has already applied to the position and mentioned that I let him know about the opening.

Green responds:

Yes, email the HR person and the hiring manager (the person who will be the manager of the person being hired), attach the résumé, let them know that he's already applied, and explain why you think he's worth taking a look at.

And of course, make sure that you really feel comfortable vouching for your friend -- you don't want to recommend someone whose work or work habits end up reflecting badly on you. If you're not really sure about your friend's work, state that explicitly -- as in, "We've never worked together so I can't vouch for his work, but I can tell you that he's ___." (Fill that in with whatever good things you can say about him, like that he's smart, passionate about education, thoughtful, or whatever it is that makes you think he'd be a good fit.)
 

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

Published on: Jul 31, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.