HR won’t let me see job descriptions for my staff, standing my ground on social distancing, and more

It’s five answers to five questions, plus a sixth thing. Here we go…

1. HR won’t let me see job descriptions for the people I manage

I am a new manager and am about to get a current employee reassigned to work under me. I just had a conversation with our CEO and learned that both he and my new direct report were envisioning the role very differently than I was — and I do not believe the role that they are envisioning will address the concerns that are leading to the need for this role. When I asked to see a job description, they both looked at me like I was asking something offensive. I checked in with our HR manager and she apparently has an ironclad policy that job descriptions, as part of personnel files, are totally confidential — possibly to be shared with direct supervisors on a need-to-know basis, but absolutely not to be shared more broadly than that. That’s … ridiculous, right? If we were hiring externally, this job description would be publicly accessible to candidates! Or am I actually running afoul of some legal requirement? How am I supposed to manage my team if I’m not allowed to know what their jobs are?

That is incredibly bizarre and utterly contrary to the entire point of job descriptions. (And no, there’s nothing legal that would require them to do this.) You have a job description so it’s clear what the role is all about, what the person is responsible for, and what performing the job successfully looks like. If you as the manager aren’t allowed access to that information, how you supposed to manage anyone? Do you just guess at what their role is supposed to entail? How do you ensure you and the employee are on the same page?

It’s incredibly weird. I’d ask the HR person to explain the rationale for keeping you in the dark about the role you’re supposed to be managing. And since she said it’s on a need-to-know basis for managers, say that you have a strong need to know, since you need to ensure the role is being constructed correctly to align with your needs, know how the job is being communicated to the person who will fill it, and assign work and measure performance once it’s filled.

But something is very, very, weird here, and I suspect it’s some strain of HR incompetence.

2. My company offered me a remote position months ago and now they’re pulling the offer

I work out of a specific office for a large international company. In January, my partner accepted a job (that will start in July) in a different state. I let my manager know the situation right away so we could discuss and prepare for me to leave. I was a bit nervous, but felt reasonably certain it would be fine telling them so far in advance. And my manager actually offered me a new remote position with the company! Awesome! I accepted it and we planned for me to transition roles starting June 1st (but then we all ended up working from home due to COVID-19, so I started pieces of the new role early).

This week my manager suddenly lets me know that they just talked to HR about my move and apparently the company is not set up in the state I am moving to, so I cannot legally work for them from that state right now. HR is going to “look into what it would take and get back to me.”

So now what? Can I get unemployment if they retract the offer for the remote position? Is it likely to all work out and I can keep my job (but honestly I’m not inclined to trust them anymore even if it does!)? I am job hunting now, but I’m so mad about the whole thing! I could have spent the past four months job hunting! I took on personal risk by telling them about the move *months* in advance, and they are just telling me this now … when the move is practically here … and half the country is shut down due to COVID-19.

Your manager never should have made that offer without clearing it with HR. I’m guessing she, like may people, didn’t realize it can be complicated to let an employee work from a state where the company isn’t already set up to do business. But it can! In particular, it can create “nexus” for the company in that state, which can require them to charge sales tax to customers there, as well as pay taxes to that state. They’d also need to get set up to pay workers comp insurance in the new state, plus figure out and comply with a whole new state’s employment laws, which could be much more restrictive than the ones they’re subject to currently.

But you weren’t wrong to rely on your manager’s offer, and you’re now in a crappy situation because of her. I would explain to her and HR that you’re now in a bind because you relied on their offer in January, and ask that they help you mitigate the effects of that — at a minimum by getting you a final decision quickly (although don’t push for it so quickly that it’s easiest for them to just say no), but frankly I’d also like to see some severance if this doesn’t work out, given the circumstances. (That might not be realistic, though, depending on how your company is doing right now.)

If they don’t ultimately come through, you should go ahead and file for unemployment once your work ends; whether you’ll get it isn’t certain (and may depend your state), but there’s enough of a chance that it’s worth a shot.

3. Standing my ground on social distancing

I intern over the summer in a very rural area, working in agriculture. I already catch some flack for being a woman (almost everyone I work with is a man, and every single farmer or rancher I’ve ever met is a man), for going to school in New York City (“you’re a long way from home, city girl!”), and for being allergic to half the plants in the state (my sneezes can be heard across a field if I forget to take my allergy meds). I’m pretty good at deflecting these comments or sometimes just giving people a look that conveys “I didn’t care about your opinion before, and I care about it even less now”. In a professional way, of course, and only for the most extreme cases.

But the state I’ll be working in is in the news right now for refusing to adopt stay-at-home orders or mandate face masks in public. I’ll be working from home for the most part, but there will be times when I’m out on a site visit. My fear is that I’ll be wearing a mask and no one else will be, and that my supervisor or my clients will see this as a “crazy city folk” thing and make comments about it. Or that I’ll be expected to shake hands like there isn’t a pandemic going on.

I’m just an intern and I try really hard to adapt to the practices of my workplace and surroundings instead of assuming my way is right, but Alison. My way is DEFINITELY right this time. I start in a couple weeks and maybe I’m worrying about this for nothing, but do you have any scripts I can use to defend my choice to keep myself and others safe?

P.S. I brought this worry up to my dad, who is similar to the people I work with, and he said I should suck it up and shake hands, soooooo I’m not totally making this up.

If you don’t care about making a broader point and just want a quick, practical route to the outcome you need, one option is to say, “I live with someone who’s high-risk so I’m being very careful.” Giving you grief for being cautious about a loved one is such a dick move that a lot of people will leave it there.

Otherwise, I’d just cheerfully and matter-of-factly say, “I have a lot of reasons to be careful. But I’m glad to see you — I wanted to ask you about (subject change).”

4. Can I ask that an underperforming coworker not be placed on important work?

We rely on a support team for handling customer issues. One long-time support team member has serious performance issues: ignoring high priority cases, downplaying priority to make her numbers look better, lots of work time spent online shopping (1-2 hours a day), ignoring any communication from coworkers she has a grudge against for years (literally), and outright lying about impediments from other teams to customers (e.g., stating “waiting on team X” when team X responded hours earlier with next steps). Beyond all that, she is simply not skilled at resolving cases in a timely, professional manner.

If one of her cases is escalated, the support manager will reassign it to a different team member (usually one with a fraction of her experience, which is telling). If it is very high profile, he reassigns it to himself and resolves the issue quickly and professionally. He is aware that she is a problematic employee, but our company as a whole rarely fires employees — especially not long-timers. The rest of this department is acceptable to exceptional.

Can I ask that she not be assigned/allowed work from high profile customers or in high impact areas? If so — how? If not, what else can I do? These issues make her team, my team, and the company look bad. It’s hard to have productive conversations about long-term goals with customers that are (very rightly) frustrated with poor support for critical issues.

If you’re in charge of a team that relies on her work, you can indeed request that she not be allowed to work on particular cases and you can explain why. If her manager is declining to actually manage her (including firing her if warranted, which it sounds like it is), you should do as much as you can to make that his problem, not yours — which includes refusing to allow her to work on important cases, reporting every problem she causes to him and asking him to resolve it, and eventually escalating above his head if the issues continue.

If you’re not a manager yourself, you probably lack the standing to do this, but you can nudge your manager to take these actions.

5. Should I include an interim director job on my resume if I didn’t get the director job?

I’m the associate director of a university office, and served as interim director for about six months when my previous boss left. I interviewed for the director position but didn’t get it. I genuinely have no hard feelings about it. The person they hired had more experience than me and is an awesome boss. (Plus, while serving as interim director I realized I really disliked a lot of the director functions — meetings with other higher ups, internal politics, etc. My current position is very project-based and my schedule is pretty open, which I greatly prefer to back-to-back meetings.)

Should include the interim director stint on my resume, given that I didn’t get the job? I don’t think it looks noteworthy or impressive to have served as interim director and then not been hired for the job. I suppose it does show that I was trusted to keep things running, and I did get positive feedback from my grandboss throughout, but it just doesn’t seem like it should go on my resume since I wasn’t hired. Am I right in my thinking?

Nope, you should include it on your resume. It shows you earned additional responsibility, and lots of people who serve in interim roles don’t go on to the permanent role — not because they suck but because they didn’t want it, or the employer was always going to look for a different profile of candidate, or so forth. It’s still impressive that you were selected for it and handled the job for six months (presuming you kept things running reasonably well — if things went to hell during that stint, I’d leave it off).

6. New guidance about employees who decline to come back to work for employers with Cares Act loans

Last week, I printed a letter from someone whose employees didn’t want to return to work because they were earning more on unemployment. She was concerned because the terms of her Cares Act loan required her to maintain her previous headcount in order to have the loan forgiven.

This week, the federal government issued new guidance on exactly this issue, saying it will issue an interim final rule “excluding laid-off employees whom the borrower offered to rehire (for the same salary/wages and same number of hours) from the CARES Act’s loan forgiveness reduction calculation. … To qualify for this exception, the borrower must have made a good faith, written offer of rehire, and the employee’s rejection of that offer must be documented by the borrower. Employees and employers should be aware that employees who reject offers of re-employment may forfeit eligibility for continued unemployment compensation.”

HR won’t let me see job descriptions for my staff, standing my ground on social distancing, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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