asking a reference to withhold information, how long can you skip work without getting fired, and more

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

1. Can I ask my reference not to mention my likely timeline for a new job?

I was an assistant for almost two years, working hand in hand with my boss in her home. Having spent so much time together over the course of my employment, we have a fairly close relationship where we discuss personal lives and goals for the future. A couple months ago, I put in my notice because I decided to switch career paths. My new one requires further education, but I’m in a weird limbo state of the application process for going back to school. I could be accepted in August 2014 or it may be January 2015. I will be applying for new jobs to start January 2014.

Is it acceptable for me to mention to my former boss that I would like her to stay mum about these goals and going back to school if contacted for a reference? I’m aware that most jobs would prefer to not hire someone for potentially only 7 or 12 months, but I have to work somewhere! I don’t want her to feel like she is compromising her integrity by not disclosing what she knows, but I’m not sure if that’s standard information to provide when giving references, anyway.

I wouldn’t. I can see why you want to ask her that, but you’d be putting her in an awkward position where she might feel you’re asking her to lie (which then might also affect her view of your integrity, which could also come up in reference checks). Your boss may decide on her own that it’s in your best interest not to mention your longer-term goals, but I don’t think you can really ask her to do that.

2. The title I was offered isn’t the job I applied for

I recently had an interview for an HR Manager position. On Monday, I was delighted to be offered the job but I received the offer letter today and the job title was HR Officer.

I don’t want to sound pompous by questioning such a petty thing, but the role was always referred to / advertised as HR Manager in various correspondence, and the responsibilities that go with the position would most definitely be synonymous with a managerial role. How can I go about contacting the recruitment manager regarding this, and do I have any legal rights?

There’s no legal obligation for them to offer you the title that they advertised, but I’d start out by assuming that this was a mistake. Contact whoever sent you the offer and say, “I noticed the offer letter says HR officer, but I think it was meant to say HR manager.” It’s likely that they’ll tell you it was an error and simply correct it. If not, and they tell you that this is the title they’re offering you, it’s reasonable to ask what the difference is between the two positions and why it changed from what you applied for.

3. How long can you skip work before it’s considered job abandonment?

You have stated that employers can require an employee to take vacation time for any time taken off even though they have worked over 40 hours recently. You have also stated that employers cannot dock an exempt employee’s pay if they do not work 40 hours in a week.

Let’s say that a person uses all of their vacation time and does not have any left. How long (hours, days, weeks, etc.) can a person skip work and still have a job and have it not be considered job abandonment?

I realize that it is probably up to the employer. I realize that in most states and places that an employer can fire an employee for almost any reason (except based on the protected statuses). Theoretically, a person could use up all of their vacation time, take an hour off, and then get fired for doing so, correct? Though, I think we all agree that would be a bit extreme.

What about a public institution, let’s say a university, which has a policy which requires years or months of documentation, a performance improvement plan, and similar items before firing someone? In such a case, I would assume that it would be difficult to fire an exempt employee for taking an hour off when they don’t have vacation time. In such cases, are there any regulations which define job abandonment in which the person could be terminated immediately?

It varies by employer, but usually even employers that have lengthy documentation requirements before firing typically have exceptions to those policies that allow for immediate firing in certain egregious cases — and not showing up to work for multiple days could certainly be considered one of those. (But it’s very unlikely that such a policy would be invoked in the case of merely missing an hour or two.)

4. Can I keep my old employer’s insurance when I start a new job?

I have an 8-month severance package and I am on my second month of it at full base pay. It also includes my health insurance, which I do contribute to. I just took a new position which offers health insurance. For a couple of reasons, I would like to stay with the insurance at the old employer until they pull it away and decide to offer my COBRA (which may happen in 60 days or so). Is it wrong/unethical to stay with the former employer’s insurance offering? I have not informed the past employer that I have a new position.

It depends on the terms of whatever agreement you signed with your old company, and any terms governing your COBRA. If neither of those prohibit it, I don’t don’t see any ethical problem with doing it. However, keep in mind that once your COBRA runs out, you probably won’t be able to sign up with the new insurance until their annual open enrollment period, which could leave you with a period of not being insured at all. So you’d want to find out when their open enrollment is, and make sure that you time everything accordingly.

5. How can I make this hiring process move faster?

I responded to an ad on Craigslist and was able to interview the following day with HR. Two weeks later, I interviewed with the VP of stores. Now nine weeks in, the VP states says there are many internal issues and delays in reaching the final interview. He keeps in contact, but this seems quite outrageous. I’m unemployed and really need this gig. What can I do/suggest to expedite the process without coming across aggressive?

Nothing, really. They’re hiring on a timeline that’s convenient for them, not you, and you’ll look out of touch if you try to force them to move forward because you’re getting impatient and need a job. Keep in mind that it could be months more, they could cancel the position entirely, or they could hire someone else.

I know that’s frustrating, but the best thing you can do is to assume that this job won’t pan out (because it may or may not) and continue searching for other jobs just as actively as you would be if this job didn’t exist.

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