It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss shares people’s sick leave info with the whole office

I have a question regarding letting people in the office know when someone has called out sick. In my office, we just have to email our boss and he will respond with “ok,ay feel better,” but he wants to know the full extent of the illness. (One time I said I wasn’t feeling well and he asked me to elaborate before giving me the okay.)

My boss then forwards the employee’s email to the entire office to let them know the person is out. I was sick the other day and told my boss I had a fever and was unable to come in, and later in the day had emails from coworkers telling me to feel better and hoped my fever broke.

Is my boss’s forwarding of these types of emails against some code? I felt uncomfortable having the entire office know my issue, but you can’t just say “you’re sick” to him.

It’s not against any kind of legal regulation, but it violates people’s privacy and is utterly unnecessary — and the same applies to your boss’s belief that he’s entitled to the personal details of why you’re taking sick time.

If you ever wanted to tackle this and you have decent rapport with your boss, you could say something like, “I’ve noticed you ask for details of exactly what’s wrong when I take a sick day. There are lots of reasons people might prefer not to discuss medical conditions at work, and I’d like to simply be able to say I’m sick without being asked for what could be private details.”

Or if you just want to take on the emails to the whole office, you could say, “Would you mind not forwarding details about specifically why someone is using a sick day? Sometimes that could be really personal and not something I would want shared with everyone.” If he pushes back, spell it out for him: “I don’t think anyone should need to share details of, for example, gynecological issues or legally protected disabilities with the entire office.”

2. Inviting an hourly employee to a holiday party outside of work hours

I am a young VP who works in finance and a first-time/young manager. As part of my general responsibilities, I manage a team of salaried employees and one hourly worker. We are a small but close-knit office. This year I am hosting our annual holiday party at my home. I plan on providing a festive buffet and some drinks for the office and their spouses.

My question — we have one hourly employee on our team. I have of course invited her and her husband, but I don’t want her to feel obligated to come or feel as if she is providing free labor. I also cannot get my boss to sign off on allowing her to “clock in” for the party. Am I wrong to invite her? I do not want her to feel obligated to participate but I do hope she comes and has a good time!

You definitely need to invite her! It would be far worse for her to feel she hadn’t been invited when everyone else was.

The best thing to do is to let everyone know that attendance is optional and that you hope people will attend but that you also understand that it’s a busy time of year and people have a lot going on. That way, if she’d prefer not to attend, you’ve given her an out — but without singling her out or making her feel unwelcome.

3. I work remotely — do I need to share my pregnancy until I’m much further along?

My entire company works from home and not locally, and in all the years I’ve worked here, I’ve never even met my boss. I’m wondering if it’s appropriate to keep my pregnancy secret from my entire workplace. I will not see my boss or any of my coworkers during the time I’m pregnant. We don’t offer maternity leave or short-term disability even, and I have not decided if I will continue to work or become a stay-at-home mom. There are a lot of factors to consider, and I won’t be able to have a firm decision on if I’m staying or going until much closer to the end of my pregnancy.

The issue is I do a lot for the company as a middle manager, and replacing and training a replacement is not going to be a two-week gig if that’s the way this goes. I know as soon as I mention I’m pregnant, my boss will want to know my plans and intentions, and I don’t want the pressure of needing an answer that I really don’t have. I understand why my boss would want as much time as possible to plan, and I respect that and plan to give as much time as I can, but I just won’t know until much further along due to some possible promotions at my husband’s job and us possibly moving. My job and boss have been good to me through these years, and I want to be good to them, too, no matter what I decide to do. Additionally, my annual review and raise will be smack in the middle of these nine months which further adds to the confusion.

If you wait until you’re eight months pregnant to announce both the pregnancy and that you’re leaving, it’s likely to come across oddly to your boss that you didn’t say something earlier.

I’d share no later than six months, but that doesn’t mean that you need to reach a decision sooner than you’re comfortable with. Until and unless you decide that you’re definitely not going to return after giving birth, you can simply stick with saying, “My plans are to continue working, but I’ll let you know if that changes for some reason.” That does mean that at some point you’ll need to do some talking about what your leave might look like and what the plans should be for your position while you’re out — and that may be planning that ends up being unnecessary if you decide not to return to work, but sometimes that’s how it goes. Sometimes people’s plans change later in their pregnancy or after they have the baby, and that’s okay.

4. My boss wants to give people a day off, but legally I can’t

I work as an administrative manager for a team of about 25 at a large state university. Our faculty, including department head, are completely unaware of staffing rules and HR policy. Things get tricky around the holidays because our department head will tell me to “give everyone the day off” as an act of generosity. The trouble is that I legally cannot do this. As a state agency, and only the state can modify of working schedule. A unplanned closure tends to happen only due to inclement weather, natural disasters, or something very major (sudden death of a state official). While I doubt anyone would complain about me to the university, I don’t feel comfortable breaking the rules to make my department head happy. His request puts me in a very difficult position, especially since historically the unapproved time off was given before I joined the team. How do I explain to him, and my staff, that I’m not trying to ruin the goodwill but rather trying to be compliant to rules beyond my control?

Talk to your department head and explain what you explained here. He may have no idea that this violates a rule (especially if it’s been done for years), so I’d assume the you simply need to fill him in.

Say something like, “Since the holidays are approaching, I wanted to check with you about how in the past you’ve sometimes suggested giving everyone the day off right before Christmas. I’d love to do it, but I’ve learned that we actually can’t — legally only the state can modify our working schedule. I wanted to flag it for you in case there’s something else we want to do for people this year instead.”

5. My coworker is trying to drag me into her conflict with my boss

I started a new job at a mid-size nonprofit a few months ago. Yesterday my coworker came into my office fuming and crying, saying she had just tried to file a complaint against our manager but had been told by our president that there was no evidence of misconduct. She then told me she wanted to hear “her side of the story” and ranted about our boss for several minutes, telling me he was disrespectful and had driven other people out of the organization. I was dumbstruck and just said “that sounds like a tough situation” until she left.

I have no idea why she felt the need to share all this with me—she clearly wanted to get me on her side, but as I said, I’m new to the company, and we’re not friends. I’ve gotten sucked into workplace drama at other jobs and seen the toxic environment it can create, and I have no interest in that anymore. Additionally, my relationship with my manager has been positive and respectful thus far, and I’m not interested in hearing other people trash talk him.

I guess now I’m wondering if I should tell my manager about what happened and how uncomfortable it made me. I want to nip this in the bud so that my coworker doesn’t try to pull me into this situation again, and I may need my manager’s support with that. But since main goal is to avoid being part of this conflict, I’m worried that talking to my boss would entrench me further in it. Should I just plan to rebut her more firmly if she approaches me again and tell her I’m uncomfortable with the conversation, or should I talk to my manager before she has the chance to bring it up again?

I don’t think this warrants talking to your boss about it. Your coworker tried to pull you into a conversation you didn’t want to have, you stayed neutral, and it hasn’t happened again. You may have been a sufficiently dissatisfying audience that she won’t attempt it again, but if she does, you can try shutting it down with something like, “I’m sorry you’re having a difficult time, but I don’t think I’m the right sounding board for this; I’ve always had good experiences with Bob.” If her attempts to discuss it with you become disruptive, at that point you might need to pull in your manager — but right now this is just one coworker venting to another, without realizing it wasn’t welcome, and that’s not boss territory.

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