should I ask to be paid to attend the holiday party, how do people call in sick, and more — Ask a Manager


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

1. Should I skip the holiday party unless I’m paid to attend?

I work at an great (so far) organization where I am for the most part thrilled with my job and boss. I am acquainted with my coworkers and we have very professional relationships. I’ve been there about six months and received rave reviews regarding my work.

Recently, HR sent around an invitation to this year’s holiday party. It is after hours and I found out from the HR manager that we are all expected to attend. I am part-time and hourly; the “after hours” part of this is four hours after my day usually ends, and I would not be paid for the time spent.

Should I just suck it up and go, show that I’m friendly and a team player, demonstrate that I appreciate the job and the organization? Or skip and explain to my boss that if they want me to participate in things like this, I need to be paid (or salaried!) and have my time respected? Where is an appropriate boundary?

I hate parties and social gatherings and making small talk with people, and would prefer to keep professional relationships collegial but not friendly, so I’m definitely biased and will not be great at finding the appropriate boundary.

Technically, if the party is truly mandatory and you’re hourly, they need to pay you for your time there. In reality, refusing to go unless you’re paid isn’t a great career move; it’ll come across as not engaged with your work or teammates, nickeling and diming the company, not appreciative of the company’s hospitality, etc. That’s BS — wanting to follow the law shouldn’t get you marked as any of those things — but managers often think of holiday parties as the company doing something nice for you and will see “pay me to go” as similar to “thanks for this gift of chocolate, but I’ll need to be paid for my time eating it.”

What’s more likely, though, is that they’re not going to call the party “mandatory” but will still frown on you not attending. Frankly, in either case you can probably get out of it by explaining you have a conflict with the time that you can’t move (a family obligation, travel, etc.). Before you do that, though, it’s worth considering that there are political benefits to attending and a political cost to declining … but if you don’t want those benefits / are okay with that cost, then you can probably come up with a conflict.

Generally, though, if it’s a company you’d like to build your career at (and it sounds like you’ve been happy there so far), it’s smart to suck it up and go (and just stay for an hour or two).

2. How do people call in sick these days?

I’m curious about how people call in sick one-fifth of the way through the 21st century. Do people still dial their boss, pray to get their voicemail, and fake a sick voice? Or is it more common that people just send an email that basically says “Sick. Not coming in. Not checking anything. Just wallowing in my own misery and bodily fluids.”

I’m old enough to remember that my first employers didn’t even have email, or if they did not everyone had them. Even in my first “grown-up” job where we did have email, if I was going to be sick I was expected to call, but things are different these days. I’m not even sure I’d know what number to call if I did decide to tell my boss I’m sick, and I gave up talking to managers on the phone years ago.

I’m certain that it depends on the job to some extent. You would expect a dishwasher at a restaurant to call … or would you? What’s the norm these days? Do people still call or has a sick day been relegated to email/chat/text/carrier pigeon?

It varies wildly. There are still jobs where you’re required or expected to call, despite everyone having work email. In theory, that’s because they want you to actually speak with someone (to ensure the message doesn’t sit unnoticed in someone’s voicemail and/or so that person can ask for relevant details like when you’ll be back in), but in reality I suspect some of it is that they think it’ll discourage you from faking. But there are lots of other jobs where emailing is fine, and others where texting is fine. It just depends on your office norms. (And of course, the more senior you are, the more freedom you typically have to choose your own method of notification.)

3. My son’s employer hired a felon

My son’s employer hired a newly released felon to work in his department. I am fit to be tied. The employee was a druggie arrested for distribution 20 years ago. Does my son have to work with this person? Can my son asked to be moved to a different department?

What about someone who sold drugs 20 years ago is causing this level of alarm for you? You don’t mention anything about him being violent or dangerous or posing a risk to coworkers. (And I can pretty much guarantee you that you yourself have interacted with people who sell drugs and you just didn’t realize it.) People get released from prison and go back to work; that’s how our system is designed to function. And your son’s employer presumably screened him and decided he doesn’t pose a risk to the company or its employees.

As for your question: “I don’t want to work with the stranger you just hired” isn’t typically something people change departments over. More importantly, though, does your son care? This is his to handle however he decides to; it’s not something you as a parent need to get involved with (even behind the scenes).

4. I was removed from a Slack channel from a client who’s become antagonistic to me

I work as a consultant in academia on a project that uses Slack. My job is to give feedback on the project, from an outside perspective. I don’t have a boss or manager, but there is a hierarchy with people in charge. There are four people in charge, and they are fairly close. We had all gotten along well until recently.

One of the people in charge, Paul, and I have had some personal issues. He and I were close friends, and he no longer wishes to be friends with me (long story). That’s fine but he has been antagonistic towards me. He snaps at questions I ask, which have been as benign as asking when the group is meeting. Any critique I offer is met with defensiveness.

Most recently, Paul removed me from a Slack channel that involves one aspect of the project. The channel is somewhat infrequently used but was picking up steam again. I don’t know how important it is for me be a part of this channel. I don’t know why he removed me without warning. It feels petty but I don’t know what to do and whether this is a sign of more issues.

What should I do in this situation? In the past when I’ve asked Paul about whether there are any issues with me, he denies there are issues between us. I’m not sure how much the others involved notice. I don’t know how to talk to any of them about this, because I’m the newest person on the project and Paul has been credited, rightfully so, for the success of the project.

It’s fine if Paul no longer wants to be friends, but it’s reasonable to still expect him to interact professionally with you — and often the best way to signal that is to just go ahead and act normally yourself. In this case, that would mean contacting him and saying, “It looks like I was removed from the XYZ Slack channel. Since we’d been starting to use it for things like ABC, which was helpful to me, could I be added back on to that?”

That might easily solve it. But if it doesn’t, and if you start noticing additional issues with Paul blocking you from tools you need to do your work, you might need to talk to the others about what’s going on and whether there’s a way for you to move forward with your work. If Paul is determined to obstruct you, there might not be; he has a lot more power here than you do, especially since you’re an outside consultant on a project where he’s in charge— but that’s a conversation you’d want to have if you start noticing more signs of problems.

And really, it might be a conversation worth having with Paul now. He’s being antagonistic and defensive. Does he want you to continue to work on the project? With this particular power structure — outside contractor vs. insider who’s running the project — sometimes it’s better to just call the question.

5. Explaining my references are many hours ahead of us

I currently work for an American company in an overseas location. I’ve made the decision not to renew my contract when the option comes up next summer — no job issues or anything, I’m just ready to move back to the same continent as the rest of my family.

My question has to do with references as I begin a new job search. I’ve been here for five years and have colleagues and managers who would be happy to give me good references, but how do I indicate to prospective employers that there will be a significant time difference? Email is the easiest option in this scenario, but I don’t want to put anyone off by not offering phone numbers. The coworkers they would be contacting have U.S.-based phone numbers via the internet, so extra costs would not be an issue, but what is the best way to inform reference-checkers that the people they will be calling will be at least eight hours ahead of them, and so they should time their calls accordingly? I’m also not sure what to do with this information as far as online applications go — some of them have very rigid form layouts that don’t offer room for explanations.

When you’re offering a written reference list, you’d just note it like this:

Jane Smith, director of client relations and my manager at LlamaWorld from 2015-2018
* phone number (note she is located in Kenya, eight hours ahead of us, so email may be easier)
* email address

I wouldn’t worry too much about online applications with no place to include that note. Typically they’re not contacting references before they interview you (generally reference checking is a finalist stage thing), so you’ll have time to explain it to them if you move forward in their process. There are some exceptions to this, but they’re weird and rare.



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