we have to write letters to our boss while she decides whether to re-hire us, fired for refusing to answer manager’s questions on the weekend, and more

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

1. We have to write letters to our boss while she decides whether to invite us back

The school I work for had a leadership transition this year. It’s a mess. The mission is confused, the leadership transition was accompanied by a number of mid-year layoffs (highly unusual for a school), and new boss has introduced a number of initiatives and new procedures over the last few months that have made the year even more chaotic and stressful. It might just be the timing — new boss has a lot of good ideas, and there’s definitely room for improvement here.

However, in a recent email the new head of school informed us that leadership was asking each of us to write her a letter (one page or less) explaining what we’ve contributed to the school personally and professionally, whether we plan to stay next year, our personal and professional goals for next year, and where we would like to see the school as a whole go. New boss will then distribute letters to all of us on the same day, either extending an invitation to stay or “thank you” letters for our service.

I don’t plan to stay, but don’t want to burn my bridges in case nothing else comes along. So — is this normal? How does one write a letter like this?

Well, there’s nothing wrong her request for the write-ups in and of itself — wanting to hear your assessment of your performance, your goals for your work, and your thoughts for the school is reasonable. What’s weird about this is that she’s apparently planning to make decisions about whether to invite you back before she reads what you have to say — which raises the question of why she’s asking for this from the people who she’s not even considering working with again. It’s weird, and it comes across as some of game-playing with a whiff of a power trip. (But if she was going to get the letters earlier in the process and consider them as part of her decision-making, that would make a lot more sense.)

2. Company wants to try me in a temporary role before they commit — can I keep interviewing?

After 6 months of contact, including hours of interviews, Company A has offered me a full-time exempt role. The catch is that is is temporary for up to 90 days without benefits. The recruiter said that this wasn’t unusual and was a trial period to see if the fit was right for both sides. Is this a common practice? She said the team was enthusiastic, but this does seem odd to me for a director level role (20+ years experience on my end). After being unemployed for over 6 months, I need to take it, and would love to land it full-time. My concern is, without more of a commitment from them, I feel like it is only fair to continue interviewing until things are settled. It’s a bit awkward because I have two other companies that I am also in process with. If one of them offers me something attractive, is it okay to take it since the role with company A is temporary at this point? I understand with the job market things are changing, but I just wish things were a bit more clear.

No, it’s not common practice, particularly for senior roles. But as long as they’re not committing to you, you don’t need to commit to them — which means you’d be smart to keep interviewing and well within your rights to take a different role if it’s offered to you during that time. (That assumes that you’re truly a “temporary” employee during this 90-day period — as opposed to it just being a three-month probationary period, which is indeed common for new employees.)

3. My boss won’t let me serve on boards or committees in our field

I have a poor relationship with my boss. The latest repercussion/realization I am confronted with is that my boss believes that they have the power to dictate my participation in professional development opportunities like board membership, committee service, and likely anything done in relation to our field, regardless of whether it is done on work time or my time. This was communicated by email and ended with a closing statement that forbid any further discussion. Right before this email, I received an invitation to serve on a small state-wide focus group to discuss the future of our field (run by a granting institution that we closely and often work with). There is no point in asking to attend, but I feel that the offer requires a reply.

Is it legal for my boss to forbid me from serving in my field on my own time? How should I decline the opportunity to serve in the focus group or any other offers that come my way? Should I cite a previous commitment? Is there anyway to decline without putting the blame on myself or my institution? How do I avoid precluding future participation, should I change jobs in the near future?

Yes, your boss can prohibit you from doing this type of thing in your off time. I’d be curious to know her reasoning, though. There are crappy reasons (like if she just doesn’t like you) and there are more legitimate reasons (like if her sense is that you’ll be seen as representing your company even if you say you’re there only in a personal capacity). In any case, I think you could decline by saying something like, “I’d love to, but my current position precludes me taking on outside professional work. But I’d love to stay in touch and perhaps get involved in the future.”

4. Fired for refusing to answer manager’s questions on the weekend

We live in the “at will” state of Washington so I know that an employee can get fired for no reason (barring a few discriminatory scenarios). However, I know someone who is an hourly employee who was repeatedly texted and emailed off the clock to work and get answers to his manager. He responded a day later and said he would get back to the manager on Monday and that he was off the clock and spending time with his family. He got fired the next Monday. Is this legal, even in an at-will state? Apparently, this happens all the time and the company has no policy or way to track this and pay employees for work they are expected to do off the clock. And to get fired for that reason! Is it legal?

Yes, a company can require employees to do work outside of their normal hours, including on the weekend. However, if the employee is non-exempt, they must be paid for that time. So based on what’s here, it was perfectly legal for the company to fire your friend, but illegal for them not to pay him for any work done off the clock (assuming he’s non-exempt).

5. Disclosing that my company is owned by my father

I currently work at a small company owned and operated by my father. There are fewer than 20 employees and I’m related in some capacity to about one-third of them. It is a science-based company while my interest is in the humanities. I took the job mainly because I couldn’t find anything in my field. I graduated college about 5 years ago and have worked here on and off probably for 3 years total, the last year and half being spent solely working here while my other, early jobs were non-professional. My time here has been a mixed bag, and I am thinking of moving on and applying to other jobs in fields more relevant to my interests.

When applying for jobs, should I disclose that I work for my father? If so, how much do I disclose and at what stage? My direct supervisors are not related to me, but obviously they ultimately work for my father, and I worry that a potential employer finding that out would make them question whether I am there only because I am the owner’s kid, not to mention make them wonder how much stock they can put in my references. A quick Google search would reveal the company website with my father’s name as the president, so I believe if called for an interview, any HR rep worth their weight would either know going in or soon after that I work for my father, or at least my family. Is it something I should mention early in the interview or on my resume in some capacity to head this off, or am I over-thinking this? It could help explain why I work in a field unrelated to my degree or past experience, but I also worry I might be shooting myself in the foot.

You don’t need to proactively disclose it at the application or interview stage, although you also shouldn’t hide it if it comes up. So for instance, if you’re asked about why you chose to work there, you’d explain what you explained here. If it doesn’t come up before the reference-checking stage, you should definitely mention it then — as in, “My company is owned by my father. My manager is someone different, but I felt I should be up-front about that fact.” It’s better for them to hear it from you than to hear it during a reference call.

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