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. Company gave new employees invasive “personality test”

Recently we hired some new employees at my office. Some of these employees were placed under my supervision, and while I was talking to them, they told me that our HR manager had them take a personality test. I do work with a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists, so we all like to observe people, but I do not feel this personality quiz was okay. None of the questions that were asked pertained to our jobs. For example, “do you prefer sex with a man or a woman?” “Do you support same sex marriage?” “Are you sexually active?” “Do you support abortion?” And many, many more.

I am currently studying law, and from my understanding, these questions are not allowed in the workplace. Are these allowed? The way I see it is, if someone gets fired after this, then they can claim that based on those questions, we discriminated and therefore, that person was let go. But, again, I think a little differently then the rest.

It’s not illegal to ask questions like that in the workplace, although it would be illegal to discriminate based on any answers that related to people’s race, religion, sex, national origin, or other protected class. However, despite being legal, it’s incredibly stupid and irrelevant to the work, and I can’t imagine why your workplace — and HR, no less — thinks it was in any way appropriate. Why don’t you go talk to HR, express your strong opposition to employees being asked such invasive and irrelevant questions, and find out why the hell they’re doing it?

2. Do I have to tell my upcoming new job that my old job just laid me off?

I just accepted a new job. Before I could give my notice to my old job, I got restructured along with half of my department. So not only do I get severance, but I get a vacation before I start my new job.

Do you think I should tell my new employer? I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks off to relax before I start, so I don’t really want to move my start date up and I don’t want them to misread the layoff and use it as an excuse to back out of my hire. Is it okay to just not mention it?

Sure, it’s fine not to mention it. You were employed when you interviewed and didn’t know you were going to be laid off, so you didn’t misrepresent anything, and it’s not especially relevant to them now. Congratulations on the good timing!

3. Can I decline to serve as a reference for my coworker?

I’ve held my current job for 12 years. An acquaintance is applying to a position at my workplace and has asked if he can use me as an employee referral.

The first issue is that I have no way of knowing whether he’s in any way qualified or experienced in the position for which he’s applying, but I realize that that’s our hiring manager’s problem. The second issue is that he has a very offputting mannerism. Specifically, he holds a very intense eye contact with whoever he’s speaking to, whether he’s speaking or listening to the other person speak. It’s well beyond the social norms of ordinary conversational eye-contact timing.

Based on almost 20 years of acquaintance with him, I know it’s not a cultural difference and I’m pretty sure it’s not indicative of any kind of vision problem. And he’s not noticeably socially inept or inappropriate in any other way. He’s a little formal and reserved, but certainly completely functional in social and professional situations. However, this one mannerism has caused many people of our mutual acquaintance to visibly and obviously avoid him. The job for which he’s applying is as a college admissions recruiter, in which his primary role would be to meet with potential students and their parents and attract them to our college.

Given that I have no way to comment on his qualification for the job on a professional basis, and that the only personal recommendation I could give him could not be given in good faith if I didn’t mention this problem, am I justified in telling him politely that I’m not able to serve as an employee referral? I genuinely think he’d be disastrous in this job.

Sure. You can always decline to serve as a reference for anyone if you don’t think you can recommend them in good faith, and it’s kinder to tell them so that they can find someone else, rather than to let them offer your name and them doom them with a lukewarm or worse reference. In this case, you have an easy out — you can tell him that you don’t feel you know his work well enough to provide a useful reference.

But it would be a huge service to him if someone would give him some feedback about the eye contact thing. Maybe you could use this as impetus to speak to his manager and suggest she coach him on it if you don’t feel it’s your place to do it (which sounds likely)?

4. Sleeveless tops in the workplace

I work in a fairly casual office. I recently bought a slew of cap-sleeve and sleeveless dresses for the summer, but realized I might not be able to wear them to my office. My colleagues who are my peers (early 20-ish women) occasionally wear sleeveless tops with dress pants to the office. What are the rules for sleeveless tops and dresses for women in the workforce? I’m not asking about tank tops, but arms showing. Any tips?

It varies by office, of course, but generally speaking, avoid visible armpits in the office — which means no sleeveless tops without something over them. Some cap sleeves are fine, but I’d still invoke the no visible armpit rule — so check what happens when you raise your arms over your head while wearing those shirts; if your armpit stays covered, you’re probably fine. If it doesn’t, you are In Violation and must wear something on top of it.

5. Should my company send my sick coworker home?

If my coworker comes in sick and is contagious with what she claims is strep throat, does the HR department have an obligation to the rest of the employees to send her home until she has a doctor’s note to return? My coworker is coughing and wheezing and clearing her throat and blowing her nose and sneezing all over the place. She then tells the story of how she got sick from her niece who went to the emergency room with strep throat the day before. She has told the story more than once in the last two days and goes on to tell everyone that she just can’t miss work.

I asked my HR manager, and he said there is nothing he can do to make her go home. I was under the impression that if a person is contagious, they most certainly can be asked to go home until they are cleared by a doctor. They did that to me when they thought my cough sounded like whooping cough 2 years ago. If he can’t force her to get a doctor’s clearance, what are my rights because they did force me to stay out 3 days waiting for lab work and there was absolutely nothing wrong with me except a severe cold. I lost 3 days pay.

Your company doesn’t have a legal obligation to send contagious workers home, but smart companies will — because it’s not fair or good business to have other people infected. Still, though, most companies leave it to employees’ discretion whether they come in or not, which it sounds like yours is doing. Why not ask her yourself not to come in when she’s likely contagious? Social pressure can sometimes do a lot in these situations.

As for why they treated you differently when you had suspected whooping cough two years ago, I have no idea. Maybe it was a different HR person, maybe there was a different manager involved, or maybe you seemed significantly sicker than she did. You’re not going to get anywhere by arguing about that though; you’re better off approaching it from a standpoint of being concerned for people’s health now.

6. Asking to interview by phone for a job overseas

I recently applied for my dream job. They are getting back to us in a day or two about who will be selected for interviews, and the interview dates will be scheduled for a week from today. The problem is that the job is in the UK, and a plane ticket this close to the interview date is close to $2200. I can’t afford this right now. Do I have any options? Can I ask for a phone interview? I don’t want to let this job go.

If you’re asked to interview, you can certainly explain the situation and ask if they’d consider a phone or Skype interview for this stage, but be aware that a lot of companies choose not to deal with non-local applicants (let alone foreign applicants) in part because they don’t want to deal with this type of inconvenience. So while it’s entirely reasonable to ask, be prepared for them not to offer you many options — or to talk with you by phone now but require you to fly out if you advance further in their process.

7. Are meal breaks included in my total time worked?

I am a salaried exempt employee in New York state. I am required to work 45 hours a week. Can my employer subtract the time I take for a meal period from my total, or since I am salaried, is the meal period time included in the total? So for example, I work a 9-hour day with a half hour lunch. Is this considered a nine-hour day or an eight and a half hour day?

It’s up to your employer how they want to calculate that. As an exempt employee, you’re not required to be paid overtime, and so how your company handles your hours is based solely on their internal policies, not any law. (Caveat: I’m answering generally for most states; I haven’t looked into whether New York has some unusual law on this.)

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