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. I'm dealing with an intern who's chronically late.

I am currently managing an intern on my team. Interns at my organization are unpaid, which I do not agree with, but this does not seem to be changing any time soon. She has very poor timekeeping and is constantly late, often by a significant amount of time. The fact that the position is unpaid is influencing the way I am dealing with this, as I feel 
uncomfortable about being too stern. How can I broach the subject? Should I make it clear that I understand she is not being paid but that constant lateness is unprofessional and would not be acceptable in future roles she may have?

Green responds:

Even unpaid internships have requirements that you can and should hold people to. You presumably chose her over other candidates. You are investing time in training her, giving her feedback, and helping her get work experience. And you will potentially be a reference for her in the future. All of that means it's reasonable to be clear with her about your 
expectations and to hold her to them. In fact, addressing this with her would be in her best interests as well, since this is likely to affect the kind of reputation she establishes in your organization and the type of reference she gets.

In this case, the first thing to do is to figure out whether the work she's doing requires being there on time. If it does, be direct with her about that: "Jane, I'm counting on you to be here no later than 10 a.m. on the days you're scheduling because of XYZ. When you're late, it causes problems A and B. Can you commit to being on time going forward?"

If the work doesn't actually require her to be on time, you could instead say this: "Jane, I've noticed you're often late to work. This role actually does have some flexibility to it, but I need you to give me a heads-up when you're running late, so we're not counting on you being here before you will be. Since you're at the start of your career, I also want to make sure you understand that regular lateness would be a problem in most roles, especially early-career roles. I don't want our flexibility to give you the wrong idea about what might be OK in future jobs."

2. My new desk is right next to my manager.

My office is currently undergoing a rearrangement of the seating plan. I work in a team of 10, and my new assigned desk is right next to my manager. This is the second role where I have been moved to the seat directly next to the manager. Is this coincidental or is this something which managers do for a reason? If so, what does it mean?

Green responds:

Without knowing a lot more, I have no idea whether it's happening for a reason. It certainly could be entirely coincidental. But if it's for a reason, it could be any of the following:

  • Your manager wants you near her because the nature of your work requires you to talk to each other frequently.
  • You chitchat too much or otherwise waste time, and she thinks being right next to her will cut down on that.
  • She enjoys your company.
  • She's not yet confident in your work (because you're new or junior or still figuring things out), and being right next to you gives her the opportunity to observe your work habits and more easily give feedback.

Do any of those sound like the case? If not, I'd assume the move is coincidental (someone has to be at that desk, after all).

3. I thought I was a finalist for a job, but they've just reposted the job ad.

Just as it was becoming clear that it is time for me to leave my current company, I spotted an ad at a very reputable national company for a dream position in a very swanky office with much better pay. Hooray! I polished up my resume and immediately applied -- and got a call back within 30 minutes. I've since had two in-person interviews with the manager I would be working under and a phone interview with HR, all of which seemed to go really well. Afterward, the manager called me to schedule a final interview with the person above her (who will decide between the final candidates) and even gave me a few tips on how to impress this person.

I felt like my chances were good -- and then a fresh round of ads went up for the position on a few different job sites. I was told it was down to just a few people and that they were looking to choose between us fairly quickly, so seeing a blitz of new ads was kind of disconcerting (and heart-sinking). Does this mean the other candidates and I are already doomed?

Green responds:

No, not at all.

Many employers keep ads fresh until they've made a hire, just in case things don't work out with the current candidate pool. In fact, it might not even be the doing of the hiring manager at all; for all we know, it could be a junior HR person who's totally out of the loop on how the hiring process is progressing but knows that the position is still open and thus is freshening the ads for it. Or, sure, it's possible that it does mean they decided they wanted a new influx of candidates. But there's no way to know from the outside, and you shouldn't read anything into it.

4. A recruiter asked if I knew anyone who was interested -- in a job that I'd like.

I got an interesting message from a recruiter on LinkedIn today, and I was wondering if you could help me decipher it. I got a message from a small but growing company with an opening for a position with the same title as I have right now. The company is based in a city about 75 miles from where I am living and in a city I hope to relocate to, as my partner lives there. The email briefly introduced the position and then asked if I know anyone I could refer.

I am considering putting my name forward as a candidate. I'm confused, however, because the message asked if I knew anyone I could refer. Every other recruiter who's contacted me on LinkedIn has directly said, "We would like to talk to you about the position." Are they coyly asking if I'm interested without directly trying to poach me or are they really looking to see if I know anybody (but are not interested in me specifically)? It seems like a simple request... but is it?

Green responds:

It's actually not an uncommon way to word this kind of message -- both because they genuinely want to know if you know of anyone who might be good for the position and because they figure that you'll speak up if that person is you. I've used that wording myself when I'm hoping the person will say "I'm interested!" but I don't want to seem like I'm attempting to poach them for political reasons (like if I have a relationship with their current employer and don't want to cause tension by directly going after one of their employees).

5. Do I tell the HR director she's breaking the law?

Our HR director sent a message to everyone today saying that due to many people failing to take their required lunch breaks every day, they are instituting a policy by which your time will be deducted automatically if you do not take a lunch. Of course this is illegal, but I am struggling to find a way to relay this to the HR manager without it sounding like I'm telling her how to do her job -- I mean, this should be pretty elementary for an HR manager, right? Can you please help me with this?

Green responds:

Say this: "We're actually required by federal law to pay people for all the time they worked, even if they fail to take a required break. We could get in a lot of trouble for docking people's wages even if they didn't take lunch. We can of course require lunch breaks and discipline people if they don't take them, but federal law is really clear that we do have to pay people for all time worked."

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