wee answer Wednesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s wee answer Wednesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Do I have to provide my employer with a copy of the reference I gave a former coworker?

My ex-coworker is in the process of looking for a new job, and she put my name as a reference without asking me. However, unaware that she told the hiring company that I was her supervisor, which I am not, I decided to help her and provide a reference. The company sent me a form in an email to fill out, which I did and emailed it back to them. I did not lie; I stated that I was her coworker, which was an option on the form.

The hiring company then called my company and spoke with her supervisor. My supervisor is now questioning me and asking me for a copy of the reference that I gave to the ex-coworker. Am I obligated to provide the reference I give for my ex-coworker to my supervisor? I don’t have an issue sharing the reference with my manager, but because I think it was a personal reference, I feel I am not obligated to share this information.

It wasn’t a personal reference, even if you look at it that way; it was a professional reference because you were a coworker, or at least I can pretty much guarantee you that the reference-checker sees it that way.

Your employer is entitled to want to see a copy of what you provided, since as long as you’re employed by your company, you’re representing them to some extent when you give references for their former employees. But even if that weren’t the case, taking a stand on this is unlikely to go well for you. At best, it will negatively impact your standing with your manager long-term, and at worst it could be insubordination. Do you really want to take on that battle for a former coworker who tried to get you to lie on her behalf?

2. Cutting hours for chronically absent employees

I have a manager who wants to make it a policy that if an employee is chronically absent, their hours will be reduced. Is this legal? Wouldn’t you have to give them warnings first?

There’s no law in the U.S. that requires that employees be warned about disciplinary action before it occurs — whether it’s cutting their hours or firing them. As long as the manager is talking about non-exempt employees (rather than exempt employees, who must be paid the same amount each week in which they do any work, regardless of how many hours they work), there’s no legal issue here. And it’s understandable that she might want to schedule them less often, if they’re not reliably at work.

3. Withdrew from a hiring process but now I want to get back in

I had an interview and was told I would hear from them by week’s end or beginning of the new week. I had a change of heart (or so I thought) over the weekend and considered staying with what I have been doing. I emailed the interviewer and told him this. He emailed me back and was very nice and wished me luck and thanked me for letting him know.

Now, I have had another change of heart and regret my emailing him. Is it acceptable to call him or email him to let him know I would still like to be considered?

No. You’ll look really flaky, and they won’t be able to trust that you won’t change your mind again. You really want to be sure before you withdraw from a hiring process, because it’s hard to reverse.

4. Listing multiple temp assignments on a resume

Since I was laid off back in 2009, I’ve worked many temp assignments. Now I’m having a hard time finding permanent work because it looks like I’ve bounced around a lot. How can I make my resume look more appealing so I can finally land a permanent position?

Rather than listing them all as separate jobs, list them all under one heading — Contract Work, Temp Work, or whatever is appropriate.

5. Changing fields when my resume doesn’t show my qualifications

I am looking to change the field I currently work in. I have the education in the field I want to pursue and extensive experience in the field I currently work in. I currently work as a paramedic and I want to move into health/preventive education and wellness programs. I have an MPH in this field. The problem is my resume doesn’t speak for my true qualifications for the new career move. I obviously don’t want to falsify my resume, but how do I make changes that won’t have a recruiter or HR department just toss it in the trash?

Why doesn’t your resume speak to your true qualifications? That’s the problem. It needs to.

If it can’t because these qualifications aren’t anything you can objectively demonstrate, well, you can’t really expect an hiring manager to pick you over someone who IS demonstrably qualified. You can try to write a really compelling cover letter, but it’s hard to change fields in this economy because employers don’t have incentive to pick less qualified candidates when they’re flooded with qualified ones.

That said, having an MPH and experience working with a paramedic sounds like a pretty good background for moving into health and wellness education. You might find it useful to talk to people in the field you want to move into about how you could play up the qualifications that you do bring.

6. What should you include on a reference list?

A library application is asking for my references up front. When I send the names, what else do I include besides name and contact information? I was going to separate them according to type, manager and professional colleague. Do I include job titles? All of the references are managers, but only one is my manager.

Names, contact info, job title when you worked together, and a short explanation of your relationship to them (one sentence or less). Unless the employer has specified otherwise, they’re going to be more interested in people who have managed you than people who haven’t.

7. Not allowed to keep employee handbook after leaving company

My company just rolled out a fancy employee policy book that looks like it cost some money to produce. Of course it has that section that requires you to sign and return a page that confirms you received it, read it, and will comply. But here’s the kicker. It states that when I leave the job, whether I quit or they fire me, I have to return all company property, “including this Staff Member Handbook. Otherwise the company may take action to recoup any replacement costs and/or seek the return of company property through appropriate legal recourse.” It’s got a lot of pages so photocopying would be kind of a pain.

In my opinion, I think that anything I sign my name to, I am entitled to a copy of. But my manager doesn’t see it that way. Is this legal? I’ve seen employers try to dissuade workers from copying employee personnel reviews as well.

Yes, it’s legal. While you should have a copy of any contract you sign, employee handbooks generally aren’t considered contracts (and most contain a disclaimer to that effect). Documents where you sign to acknowledge some fact (like the receipt of a handbook) aren’t obligational or contractual; they’re more akin to signing a sign-in sheet at a meeting, which you wouldn’t be entitled to a copy of either. And companies often do consider their handbooks to contain proprietary information about their operations.

But if you think there are particular policies that you might want to reference once you’re no longer employed there, photocopy those and keep them at home. Otherwise, this is not a battle worth waging.

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