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. New hire went AWOL

I recently offered a job to someone who accepted and set up a start date. When the person was due to come in for her first day, about a half hour before her shift, I got an apologetic email about a medical emergency (an ankle sprain), but she did not specify if she still wanted to work with us. I followed up with a phone call and left a voicemail wishing her well and discussing the position, and also sent an email with the same information. I have given her a couple of days to get back to me (and the weekend) but have not heard back yet. How much time am I allowed to let pass before I put out a new job posting and look for another candidate?

Green responds:

You can do that right now. Giving her a couple of days to get back to you is reasonable; depending on how bad the injury was, it's possible that she was on painkillers and had her hands full dealing with her injury. But someone who really wanted their new job wouldn't let it go longer than a couple of days without getting back to you (since we're talking about a sprained ankle, not something more serious). Her silence is telling you what you need to know here.

You could contact her once more and say something like, "Since I haven't heard back from you, I'm assuming that you're no longer interested in starting the job. I'm going to reopen the hiring process, but please let me know if I've misinterpreted." And then, yes, start talking to other candidates right away. If she does end up getting back to you after that, it's reasonable to probe a bit about what happened, since if what happened is just that she has a really cavalier attitude about the job, you probably want to keep looking at new candidates.

2. Employee wants halal lunch options

I work as part of a small HR team in a medium-size startup -- around 50 employees. We offer employees subsidized lunch, where a small amount is deducted from your paycheck but it's cheaper than bringing in your own lunch. The options are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free -- but not halal. Currently, 100 percent of our employees participate.

One employee recently wrote to me about a problem: The place we order our lunch from does not offer a halal option. She is not happy about the vegetarian option, since she is not a vegetarian.

What should we do? We have invested a lot of time and energy in finding a healthy and tasty lunch option, and people are very satisfied with it. I could suggest she take herself off the office lunch list, and she could bring her own lunch. This would, however, make her stand out of the crowd and not be inclusive. I also want to be part of a company that welcomes diversity and where there is space for everyone. But is it too much to make a special arrangement for one employee? Do you have a good suggestion of what to do?

Green responds:

You should try to find halal options.

If you really want your workplace to be inclusive, you shouldn't run a workplace-wide program that excludes some people because of their religious practices, especially when there's a pretty straightforward fix.

Making special arrangements for one employee isn't inherently a bad thing. You'd presumably make special arrangements for someone in a wheelchair or with a life-threatening allergy or for a Jewish employee who needed to leave before sundown on Fridays. It's not about "is it really worth doing for just one person?" It's about "we recognize that we have a bunch of different people here, we value that, and we want to show them they're welcome and make it easy and appealing for them to stay." 

There may be limits to that, of course, depending on how people's needs intersect with your business needs. But offering halal food is pretty straightforward and reasonable, and you shouldn't marginalize an employee with different religious requirements.

3. The job I'm discussing with an employer just got advertised

I recently was able to secure an interview after finding that a company had a very recent opening. It was so recent that they hadn't put the position up online yet.

Perhaps this was naive of me, but I was disappointed that in the interview, my interviewer said he had put the advertisement up that day. I would have thought they would have waited to to see if they liked me and, if they didn't, then put the ad up. Is this a usual practice and what does this mean for me as an applicant? (I haven't heard back yet.)

Green responds:

It's very, very normal for a company to want to advertise and get a wide pool of applicants rather than only interview one person who had happened to contact them. It's not personal and it's not a reflection on your candidacy; it would just be bad hiring to do otherwise. Employers want to hire the best person they can find and that means looking at more than one applicant, even if that one applicant is good. 

You actually should take this as a good sign about the employer! If the company didn't do it, it would be a red flag for you about how it operates.

4. Interviewer said the job's salary is $20,000 less than I'd earlier said I was looking for

I applied for a job at an organization I'd be very excited to work for. In the application, I had to indicate my preferred salary. I put my current salary. I was thrilled to be invited for an interview, which went great and I was told I'd move on to the second round. However, when rattling off information about the job, the hiring manager said, "The salary is $X," a figure nearly $20,000 less than what I'm currently making and what I put in my form application.

My question is what to do next. I see my options as (A) go to the second interview, do everything I can to become their top candidate, and then try to negotiate from there, or (B) raise the issue proactively in an email. I could let the hiring manager know I am excited about the position but was surprised to have been brought in when there's such a big gap between my salary requirement and their range, and ask if the figure she cited is hard and fast.

I would be open to taking a small pay cut (maybe $5,000), because this is an organization I really want to work for, but $20,000 would be a deal breaker.

Green responds:

Yeah, they shouldn't necessarily have screened you out over it (because some people don't hold firm to the salary requirements they list), but they should have raised it with you before moving forward.

Ideally, when the interviewer named the lower figure, you would have said something like, "Is there any flexibility on that number? I'd love to work for you, but that's nearly $20,000 less than what I'm currently making."

But, just because you didn't say it on the spot, it doesn't mean you can't raise it the next time you talk. In fact, make sure to do it then, because you don't want to go through their whole hiring process without raising it; by the time they make you an offer, they may be annoyed that you didn't speak up earlier if their range is a deal breaker. You can say, "When we last talked, you mentioned your range for the position is X. I'm actually making Y currently. Do you have any flexibility to come up on salary?" (I'm normally not a proponent of revealing your current salary to interviewers, but when it's higher than what they're offering, it can be an effective way to get them to come up a bit.)

5. My co-workers keep talking behind closed doors

I work in a satellite office about 20 minutes from headquarters. There are three of us, all young women 30 and under. One runs this location, another I work closely with and is above me slightly but I do not report to her, and then there's me. I have been here for about three months. The other two like to gossip throughout the day. Frequently, they will go into each other's offices and close the door, or I will hear the one I work closely with talking to another employee at the HQ location and she will close her door to talk to her.

I don't know why. but this irks me deep down. I am new and still getting acquainted with the culture, and everyone else is extremely close at both offices. Since they're shutting me out, I cannot help but think it is about me or something to do with me. We all share multiple files and I have open access to view the files anytime I want, so I do not think it is work-related. What could they possibly be talking about that I cannot hear? Am I being too sensitive?

Green responds:

It's not uncommon to feel excluded by this kind of thing -- it can sting to be on the outside of obviously close relationships when there are only three of you -- but unless you have reason to think they're talking about you, I'd assume that they're not. Lots of people close their doors when talking to avoid disturbing other people, and that's especially true if it's work-related. (In fact, if they didn't close their doors, your letter could easily be about how annoying it is that your co-workers are always socializing in front of you while you're trying to work!)

You're new, so it's normal that there are already established relationships in your office. Give it some time, and you'll probably develop deeper relationships with them too.

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

Published on: Oct 15, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.