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. Should you call in sick for a cold?

I've always read that you should call in sick if a) you're too sick to be productive or b) you're contagious. Does this mean you should call in sick for a cold? That seems extreme to me, but a cold is certainly contagious-especially the first few days, which I usually spend at work waiting to see if I get worse before pulling the trigger on calling in sick.

Green responds:

Ugh. There's no one blanket answer here, because it depends on how sick you feel, how bad the cold is (for example, sniffles versus awake all night coughing), how likely you are to be productive, how much time off you've taken lately and how much you have remaining to you, whether or not you have a Super Important Thing to do at work that day, and your workplace's general culture about sick days. There are some offices where people would be annoyed if you didn't stay home, and there are others where it would raise eyebrows if you did.

I would love to say that you should always stay home if you've got anything beyond mild sniffles, but the reality is that doesn't work in all work cultures, so you really have to know your own office. But working from home is a good option if it's available to you and you feel well enough for that (you may not, depending on the cold).

2. Receptionist plays right-wing talk radio

Our receptionist has been with us for over a decade. She's relatively good at her job but has one issue she pushes everyone's buttons on. She listens to right wing radio talk shows all day and keeps the radio just loud enough so others (clients, etc.) who come in can hear it.

We've asked her at least twice to keep the radio off, or so low that nobody coming in can hear it, but it keeps getting louder and louder. Now we're presented with the issue of either following up with some kind of reprimand or just pulling the radio out of the office all together (we really don't want to aggravate the situation, but she's decided to push this issue by continuing to ignore our requests).

What can we ask her to do or not do? What can we do to reprimand her without creating a problem for ourselves? By the way, the radio is not her personal property - it belongs to the office. And everyone else in the office is irritated at having to listen to people screaming on the radio when they walk into the reception area.

Green responds:

You absolutely can remove the radio altogether, or tell her clearly that she can't have talk radio on at all in reception, or insist that it be kept lower. It's completely reasonable to want to control what visitors to your office hear, and most companies would step in if they weren't happy with the aural reception visitors were getting. So you're on very solid ground with any of those courses of action. There's no free speech issue here or anything like that; you're allowed to set rules for your reception area, and even if she weren't in reception, you'd be allowed to ban radios or require that they be kept at low volume.

I'd recommend just asking her what's up, since she's ignoring clear instructions: "Jane, I've asked you in the past to keep the radio off or so low that others can't hear it, but it's getting louder. What's going on?"

From there, you can either remove the radio altogether, let her know that that will be the next step if the problem continues, limit it to music only, or anything else along those lines.

3. What to say when I hear someone has been laid off

My field is experiencing layoffs right now. How do I respond to folks when I get the email saying "I've been laid off, but let's stay in touch. Here's my personal address..." Of course I'm going to stay in touch, but it's the condolences part I'm having trouble with. What do I say? "My sincere condolences!" "I'm so sorry" "That really sucks and I'm so sorry that you're going through that." Or do you have an opening to suggest?

Green responds:

I'd go with "I'm so sorry to hear that -- I've really enjoyed working with you." (You could also add specifics about what was great about their work if it would be genuine.) I don't think you need to lean too heavily on the condolences beyond something like that; most people really aren't looking for much of that and want to focus on what comes next.

4. Can I write recommendation letters on work time?

I am a senior staff member at the small firm that I work at, and oversee several junior staff and interns. I have received requests from one current intern and one past intern to write letters of recommendations for their grad school applications. I am happy to do this, but is this something I should do in my own personal time or during my normal work hours as part of my responsibilities as a supervisor?

Green responds:

It's fine to write recommendations for current and past employees at work -- it's part of your job as a manager, and it's not a task you'd be doing if not for your work there. It gets a little more grey when you're asked to write them for employees from previous jobs, although even then it's something that you're doing in your professional capacity.

Moreover, as an exempt employee, you're expected to manage your own time and in general it's fine to do this kind of thing at work as long as it's not bumping back higher priorities.

5. Can I request a one-week notice period instead of two weeks?

Let's say you've just gotten a job offer and you need to give notice to your current employer. In any circumstance, would it ever be okay to give a one-week notice but tell your boss that, if needed, you can stay two weeks? Does it make any difference if your job is causing a lot of stress and you feel the need to get out ASAP? This may be my situation soon, but I'm not sure how it should be handled.

Green responds:

You really should always give two weeks notice; it's the professional convention and not doing it risks impacting your reputation. I get the stress thing, but you're leaving -- those two weeks will usually be significantly less stressful because you know you're getting out.

That said, you could try saying something like this, "I can give you a full two weeks notice if you need me to, but I wonder if it would cause any issues if we instead set my last day for one week from now, because (insert reasons).Would that work on your end, or would you really prefer I do the full two weeks?" I would only say this if you genuinely think there's a reasonable chance your boss will be fine with it; if you say it during a crunch time or when you have lots of key projects to finish/transition, it's going to come across as tone-deaf.

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