stealth interviews, being paid for being stuck at work during snow, and more

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

1. Interviewing for the job of someone who doesn’t know they’re about to be fired

I have been on a interview that was kept confidential because the current employee in the position has not been fired yet. I’ve been told (by my recruiter) that this is the first time this company has done confidential interviews. He also noted that efforts were made to help improve this employee’s performance, but to no avail. During my interview with the department manager, he did acknowledge that this was not the preferred scenario, but that he would do whatever he could to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Regardless, I’m leery about accepting the position. Yet, when I compare it with other job opportunities, there are some pros that make it worth considering. This would be my first management level position (more money, more responsibility, etc.), and it’s close to home. My other job prospects are lateral moves and would require me to relocate. Do you know of anyone who has been in a similar position? If so, did they accept the position and how did they handle the transition? Any thoughts or suggestions you can share would be greatly appreciated.

I can see why you feel a little leery about it, but if they’ve been candid with the employee about the performance problems and explicitly told her that her job is in jeopardy if she doesn’t make specific improvements, then I wouldn’t be too worried. The question, really, is whether they have — and how explicitly. If they’ve tried to help her improve but haven’t actually told her that she’s on the path to being fired — while they themselves are miles ahead down that path because they’re interviewing for her replacement — that’s shady and doesn’t say anything good about how they operate. But if they’ve been clear with her, such as putting her on a performance improvement plan with a specific timeline and clear consequences attached, then it’s not crazy that they’re starting to talk with other candidates. I’d try to get more information about which of these it is, and how they handle stuff like this in general.

2. I got stuck at work during a snowstorm — do I have to be paid for the time I spent stranded there?

I got snowed in at work. Does my employer have to pay me for time that I wasn’t actually working, like at 2 a.m. when I was asleep, if I’m an hourly associate?

No. If you performed work while you were stranded, you must be paid for the time you spent doing that work. But your employer isn’t required to pay you for time that you weren’t working — such as when you were sleeping — even though you were stranded there. In other words, the law treats this the same way as if you were stranded anywhere else during the storm; in your case, it just happened to be at work.

3. Should I discourage my team from including personal details about why they’ll be away from work?

I’m the manager of half of a 15-person technical development team within a Fortune 100 company. I’ve had this role 3 years and love it.

The team is made up of experienced salaried people, and our time management policy is very liberal – if your work is on track and you are reachable and responsive you can set your own hours and work remotely. I’ve noticed many people on the team communicate their scheduling plans with a lot of personal detail, e.g. “My little Johnny has to go to the orthodontist so I’m leaving at 3 today” or “My lunch did not agree with me, my stomach is really upset so I’m heading home.” I am generally a more private person than most and never detail out my life this way; I just say I have a personal appointment and note when and how I will be reachable.

Should I advise my reports that they can but don’t need to offer justification/explanation in this way? We are a pretty close-knit team and have good rapport, which is great. However, in a different or future work environment, I think this might be disadvantageous to them in the hands of a controlling boss or nasty coworker. Am I being overly cynical, or correct in trying to raise their awareness of less warm work environments?

I would tell them that they can cool it on the details, but not out of worry that they’ll be in less accepting environments in the future — I’d do it because all those details imply that justifications for managing their own time are required, and might make future team members assume that they’re obligated to provide a similar level of detail.

I’d say something like, “I trust you all to manage your own work and hours, and I don’t want anyone to ever feel they have to disclose personal information to justify why they’re out. So, as interesting as some of these emails are, please don’t feel obligated to include details.”

4. My husband and I work for the same hotel and can’t take vacation at the same time

My husband and I work at a small hotel, in a big city. We got married last year, and since then we have not been on holiday together or even on a honeymoon. The company keep refusing our holiday request together, saying “you are both full-time workers, we cannot replace you” and “this is the price you have to pay if you work together.”

We understand that in a small working environment it is hard to replace someone. But there are another 3 members of staff who are on the same duties as us. And I find it unbelievable that for the rest of our life (or long as we stay in the same place), we are not going to be able to go on a holiday together. In the hotel industry, we have just 2 days a month to spend together, and I find it really difficult to maintain a good relationship when I can not even see my husband. Can you give some advice regards to the law for couples working in the same environment?

There aren’t any laws addressing how couples must be treated when working for the same employer, or that would require your company to let you vacation at the same time. I would believe them when they tell you that this is indeed the cost of being married to a coworker, and it sounds like one of you will need to look for a job somewhere else if you want to be able to take vacation at the same time.

(It’s worth noting that there are many other reasons not to work for the same employer as your spouse. Others include the risk of both losing your jobs at the same time if the company has layoffs, the cost of feeling you have to fight each other’s battles if one of you has conflict with a manager or coworker, and the risk of a manager feeling tension with both of you when conflict arises with one of you.)

5. Capitalizing job titles in a cover letter

In a cover letter, should the title of the job you are applying for, like, say, Senior Teapot Manager, be capitalized? Aka, “I was interested in the position as a Senior Teapot Manager” or “I was interested in the position as a senior teapot manager”? And what if it’s a really common job title like administrative assistant? I don’t like random capitalization, but I’m not sure if this counts.

Jobs are only capitalized if they are part of a person’s title — e.g., President Obama, Dr. Warbucks, etc. You wouldn’t call someone Senior Teapot Manager Smith (unless you worked in a very weird place), and thus you can tell that the role is not capitalized. While some companies do it anyway, they’re doing it out of self-importance rather than correctness.

I have Strong Feelings on this, as does the Chicago Manual of Style, which is the arbiter of all that is holy and good in this world.

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