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 four questions from readers.

1. When an employee is too sick to call in sick.

My employee, Matt, is in poor health. Over the years, he's taken time off for many serious medical issues, and recently took a few months off for cancer treatment. He had medical clearance to return to work, but his health seems to be worse than ever and declining.

Matt lives with his daughter, Jane, who drives him to and from work. Sometimes he is too sick or tired to even be roused by Jane. Sometimes on these days, Jane calls me to let me know that Matt won't be in ... but sometimes she doesn't. It's the "sometimes she doesn't" days that I don't know how to deal with. Matt knows he can take basically unlimited sick days as long as he notifies me, but some of these days, there isn't much he can do. Sometimes he wakes up after Jane has left, but his pain or meds make it impossible for him to operate a phone. (I don't know why Jane doesn't always call, but she isn't my employee so I don't think it would be appropriate to make her part of my solution.)

I am filled with compassion for Matt and my heart breaks to witness his suffering. If I won the lottery, I would give him a million dollars and throw him the best retirement party of all time. Yet I still need to know where my staff are at their scheduled start times. Sometimes Matt has meetings with customers and it's hard to cover for him or reschedule without knowing if he's running late, not coming in at all, out for the rest of the week, etc.

What we're doing now isn't working for me or the company. What is my best move here? 

Green responds:

Have you talked to Matt about it yet? If not, that's your first move. Explain that you want to accommodate him as much as possible, but that the one thing you need is to be alerted if he won't be in because you need to arrange cover for him or reschedule meetings. Tell him that sometimes Jane calls to say he won't be in, but not always, and ask him what he thinks will work so that you're consistently notified. It sounds like you're being really accommodating with him, and this is a reasonable thing to ask for to allow you to continue doing that.

If this doesn't solve the problem, your other options would be restructuring his work so that an unannounced absence doesn't cause problems (if that's possible; it might not be) or talking to him about going on disability leave. But I'd start with the conversation. He might just not realize it's causing issues, or might not know that Jane isn't contacting you every time.

2. Asking a new hire to go by her last name.

My name is ... let's say Kara. And I recently hired someone who is also named Kara. During the interview process, we discussed the potential issues with us being mixed up due to the nature of our positions and the fact that she is reporting to me.

She agreed it would be confusing, and said she'd be happy to go by her last name, Miller. I have been introducing her as Miller to everyone, but she has been introducing herself to people as Kara. I don't want to be a jerk, but she had agreed during the interview process to go by Miller, and I feel embarrassed at how this makes me look to the other folks who report to me, as if I forced her to go by another name, when really it was mutually agreed upon ... or so I thought.

We have other folks in our organization who go by their last names and it has never been an issue before, so there is a precedent for this. How do I broach this with her without being a jerk? I can't imagine what a nightmare it will be to have two Karas reporting to each other in our line of work.

Green responds:

Is it really going to be such a nightmare? It's incredibly common for offices to have two people with the same first name working closely together. Usually people solve it by using last initials and referring to Kara M. and Kara W. or something similar to that.

If she doesn't want to go by her last name (and I realize she said she'd be OK with it, but it sounds like she might not really want to), you shouldn't force her to do it; it's not fair for her not to be able to use her name just because you were there first.

I'd talk to her and say something like this: "Hey, I know we'd talked earlier about you going by Miller to avoid confusion. I've noticed you're using Kara -- do you prefer that? If so, let's start using Kara S. and Kara W. so that it's clear who's who." And then if you're talking to someone who doesn't know the importance of including the initial, say something like, "When you follow up, make sure to ask for Kara Williams since there are two Karas here." Really, this is what people do every day in loads of offices and it's not a problem.

3. Job applications through social media.

We are hiring for an entry-level position. It's pretty much intended for someone's first job -- the pay is low, but the benefits are good, and it's a foot in the door -- so we're working with applicants who aren't very experienced at job-hunting.

We posted an ad for the job on a social networking site and didn't realize that the site makes it look as though you can apply directly through it. There is a button says "Apply Now," and it takes people to a form that they can fill out. The site says it is sending on the application. We didn't know that (the receptionist who left wasn't checking there in the last week), so I just found out today that there are people who submitted applications that way.

The job has closed, and we were about to start interviewing. I think we owe it to people who applied via the social media site to consider their applications. It might mean we would have to open the job again though. Other people on our hiring team think that the applicants were "boneheads" for not applying for a job through the proper channels.

Green responds:

If you posted an ad on a specific site, people were not boneheads for thinking that the "apply now" button was in fact a place where they could apply now. The people on your hiring team who think otherwise are being really unfair with that assumption; they're bringing their own internal knowledge to it ("We only accept applications through our official job portal") and assuming outside candidates will know that, which they can't.

That said, you're not obligated to consider the applicants who came to you that way; you're never obligated to consider any particular group of candidates (as long as you're not discriminating based on race, sex, religion, disability, etc.). It would be a courtesy to do that since they spent time applying, but you don't have to. If you're very happy with the candidates you already have, you could decide to stick with them. But I think you'd be doing yourselves a disservice by not at least looking through those candidates to see if there's anyone you want to talk with. The difference between an OK person in the job and a great person in the job is a significant one, and it doesn't make sense to overlook a potentially great candidate on principle.

4. Should I warn a candidate that one of her references was bad?

I'm hiring for a job on my team, selected a candidate, and asked for references. Two references were fine, but the candidate's most recent supervisor had many negative comments about their ability to follow directions or work independently.

That candidate was very young and relatively new to job hunting. Do I have any responsibility to that candidate to recommend not using that particular reference in the future? The veteran teacher/adviser in me is dying to use this teachable moment, but the manager in me is unsure whether I'm allowed to reveal something a reference said to me, presumably in confidence. This candidate just reached out to me, looking for an update on our search.

Green responds:

Don't do it. You're asking references to talk to you in confidence; it's implicit in your request, since you presumably want honest feedback. They talked to you in good faith because they figured it would be helpful to you. You'll be betraying that confidence if you pass along details of what the person said. And if people have to worry that their comments won't be handled with discretion, you're much less likely to get useful references in the future.

At most, you could say something like "I had some concerns about some input that came up when I talked with your references" without identifying the specific reference. Even that is skirting the line a bit, and I'd do it only if you want to have a conversation with her about the specifics that concerned you -- not to warn her not to use the reference, since that's not your place.

For the record, if the manager felt she couldn't give the candidate a good reference, she should have warned the candidate about that -- but not everyone even asks references for permission before listing them. And sometimes the problems with someone's performance have been so thoroughly discussed between reference and candidate that reasonable people would assume the reference would reflect that.

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