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 old boss is trash-talking my new boss.

Until three months ago, I had major problems with my manager, who in my opinion bullied me. After taking the issue to her manager and to HR, I was assigned the same manager  she has, which was communicated as a reorganization. This has also meant that she has had product responsibility removed, although she is still managing a smaller team. Two more co-workers have been removed from her and now report to a different person. She did not like these changes and no longer speaks to me or makes eye contact.

Since then, she has started undermining her (and now my) manager behind his back, but very openly in an open-plan office. She gossips about his apparent lack of competence, etc., to one of her direct reports, another peer, and people from other teams. (I see our manager as a strong leader.) She is creating a divide in the office between her followers, mainly recent graduates who listen and engage in the gossip, and those who do not. Due to the bad experience I had with her, I can see where this will go and worry that she may take her gossip to a higher level, tell lies, and somehow convince senior management that my new manager lacks skills. It happened to me, and it took me a long time to realize this has been going on. Luckily, my complaints were taken seriously and changes were made.

How should I handle this? Is there anything I can do to make someone else aware of this behavior and get it to stop? I am not friends with everyone in this office but strongly believe it should be possible to work together in a safe environment.

Green responds:

Give your mutual manager a discreet heads-up: "I feel awkward raising this, but I feel like this has the potential to be harmful to you and I thought you'd want to know. I regularly hear Lucinda complaining about you and your work to Jane, Fergus, and other teams. My sense is that she's trying to stir up animosity toward you. I think you're a great manager and her assessment is way off-base, and I've heard it enough from her now that I felt like I need to mention it to you before it goes further."

2. My tattoos will violate my job's new tattoo policy.

For four years, I have worked as a phlebotomist for a large health care organization with 10-plus locations and under 30 staff working at a time in a rural area. The main dress code says nothing about tattoos but recently an amendment has been added for nursing staff, allowing no visible tattoos. I'm not technically nursing staff and was not included in the email with the change. We have a staff meeting Monday and I think our boss is going to tell us that we're included but ... I have multiple smallish girly tattoos in various visible spots.

I will happily wear long sleeves everyday to cover my arm tattoos, along with sneakers rather than cute flats to cover my foot tattoos, but the tattoo on the back of my neck not covered by my pixie hair cut, and my finger tattoo can't be covered. (A bandage or other covering is not hygienic and is impossible to accommodate.) A turtleneck is out of the question due to non-work-related PTSD effects and I just can't wear one.

I'm not trying to be difficult. I understand that rule are rules, and they get to pick the rules, but how do I go about talking to my boss about being grandfathered in for my two uncoverable tattoos, and what do I say to my co-workers who ask about them?

Green responds:

Try saying this: "I'm trying to figure out how to comply with this new rule. I have a tattoo on my finger and one on the back of my neck that will be visible. Given that I had these before the new policy, would it be possible to grandfather me in, with the understanding that I won't get any additional tattoos that would be visible while I'm working here?"

If they say no, you could look into other ways to cover the neck one (makeup or even a bandage?) but it sounds like the finger one might be impossible to cover. If they truly won't budge on that, it really might mean you'd need to look for other work, but I think you have a good chance of getting them to OK it, given the situation.

3. My manager wants to advertise for "rock stars."

I'm a few weeks into a job where we're recruiting developers. I'm super junior. My boss wants to "jazz up" our job descriptions--we're a casual environment, so I softened the language to sound less formal. Cool. But I saw she's changed the title on one ad to include "rock star." For a senior role.

I've spent some time in startups (we're not one) and until recently I was applying to a gazillion jobs. I think that phrase is very cliche and would probably turn off someone with the level of experience we're looking for. Then I googled to see what actual developers think of it and it seemed BAD, up there with "ninja." We're a fantastic, professional 
company, not one run by kids, and I think we should reflect that in our post. How do I gently tell her this is a bad idea without sounding arrogant?

Green responds:

Keep the focus not on your opinion of the term, but on what you know of others' opinions of it. For example: "I've read a lot online about people hating terms like 'rock star' in job postings; my sense is that a lot of good candidates are turned off by it. Would you be OK with me replacing it with ___ instead?"

If she asks you what people don't like about it, you can explain that people believe it's a red flag that the company is trying too hard to be cool or edgy (with a term that's past its prime), or that it hasn't fully thought through its job requirements.

4. Bringing kids to a job interview.

I am the general manager of a maid service, and I interview job candidates frequently. Most are in their 20s and have varying education levels, family situations, work history, etc. I have found it alarmingly common for this age group to bring their young children to interviews with them! Am I being overly critical for thinking that is unacceptable? Whenever an applicant comes in with their child, I immediately cross them off my list. Should I say something to them about this being poor etiquette? Just today, a candidate emailed, saying that she is available for an interview tomorrow and will probably bring her child. Is it rude of me to tell her never mind? I feel I should educate these people, but at the same time maybe it isn't my place? What do you think of this and how should I handle it?

Green responds:

I agree that in the vast majority of industries, it's unprofessional and not something candidates should do. However, this can be part of the deal when you're hiring for low-wage jobs that tend to be heavily staffed by women of childbearing age and who -- until they get work -- literally may not have any other options and may need to choose between interviewing with kids in tow or not interviewing at all. You've got to adapt for the realities of your candidate pool (and might even consider setting up a small area with toys and crayons for the kids).

5. My husband is applying for a job in my sister's department.

My husband is applying for a job in a very small department of a university. My sister works under the same boss who is hiring (in a very different role, but under the same person).

She thinks my husband should tell her boss that he is related to her upfront -- like, right away if he gets called/emailed for an interview. She is worried that her boss would see it as a conflict to have two people in the same family working there, and that her boss would be annoyed if one of the candidates she's spent time interviewing was undesirable because of this conflict.

She says if my husband doesn't tell her boss upfront, she'll go in and tell him her herself. Added to the mix is that my sister is on a contract there and doesn't want to annoy her boss, which I totally get.

My husband would prefer waiting until he is actually in the interview -- to give him a chance to sell himself before telling her something that might cause a conflict of interest. I can see both sides and don't know what to tell my husband to do -- help!

Green responds:

Your sister is the one who has more at stake -- this is her job and her boss, so she gets to call the shots. It doesn't even matter what I think; it's her prerogative to manage this the way she wants.

That said, I agree with her. I'd be annoyed if I weren't told about this upfront, because I might not want to have two related people on my team. (The potential for problems or weirdness is high with that setup.) That doesn't mean I definitely wouldn't interview your husband, but it does mean that I'd want to be able to decide that for myself before 
investing time in interviewing him. And if I were open to hiring him, I'd be a lot more inclined to do it if the two people involved had already demonstrated that they understood how to navigate that situation professionally by giving me a heads-up about it early on.

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

Published on: Sep 23, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.