employee wants to take high-risk vacation, my job is about to be outsourced, and more

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

1. My employee wants to vacation outside the state in the midst of coronavirus

My direct report has requested vacation time late next month and followed up on his request because he found a great deal on a flight. When I pressed him about it, he said that he was traveling to visit family in a state that doesn’t have the same coronavirus restrictions that we do here in New Jersey.

First and foremost, I worry about his health, and second our relatively small team would be very overburdened if he contracted coronavirus and had to miss at least two weeks time in addition to the time he took off for the vacation. We are working remotely for the time being so we don’t risk exposure to other team members, but our policy prevents anyone who contracted the virus from returning to any work duties until they have a negative test and a doctor note.

I have not yet approved the request. He has accrued the time and we don’t have any scheduling reasons that would lead me to deny the request that week. Am I being too nosy? Is it my place to question his judgement?

I question his judgment too, but you have to tread really carefully if you’re contemplating telling employees what they can and can’t do in their off time. Yes, it would be hard on your team if someone needed time off for virus recovery right after vacationing, but that’s the same as anyone who gets sick or injured on a vacation and you presumably don’t tell people they can’t cliff dive or sample pufferfish when they take time off. (And frankly, he could be taking all sorts of unnecessary risks without traveling outside the state too.)

You can certainly tell your employee that you’d need him to quarantine at home for two weeks after returning from any travel — which it sounds like he’d be doing anyway since he’s currently working remotely — but I don’t think you should get into the business of telling employees what they can and can’t do with their vacation time (and I say that as someone who does think the plane flight would be reckless).

2. I think my job is about to be outsourced

I’ve recently noticed on my manager’s calendar that they are meeting about outsourcing my job. I work in IT and am the only IT person on staff. A few weeks back, while looking for an open time on my manager’s calendar, I noticed he had a meeting with the CFO and the CTO about an “IT quote review” and upon further inspection saw they are comparing costs and services between three different IT companies. I tried to ignore it and went on about my life, trying to tell myself that it’s probably for something more specific than outsourcing my job. Fast forward today, almost the same situation, looking ahead at the calendar to plan a meeting with my manager and the CTO about going over a product we’d like to implement, and this time the meeting with the same people reads “IT check-in” and says “Review plan for IT outsourcing and timeline.”

What do I do? I think if they are going to outsource my job, it’s only fair I know in advance so I can work on securing another role somewhere else first. My first instinct is to confront my manager and ask him directly, “Hey, is the company going to outsource my job?” I don’t know what I’ll do at that point. Do I hold any leverage at all if they say “yes” as opposed to no?

You absolutely can ask about it. The info you saw was available on your manager’s calendar; you didn’t go snooping to find it. I’d say this: “I was looking at your calendar to find a time for us to meet, and I saw a meeting about quotes for outsourcing IT and another about a timeline for outsourcing IT. Obviously that concerned me! Are we preparing to outsource IT, and what will that mean for my position?”

If they tell you no, I wouldn’t believe it; assume you need to actively job search unless you hear a compelling and credible explanation. But if they tell you yes, ask about the planned timeline and what they want your role to be in the transition. The leverage you have here is your willingness to remain available to help with that transition, and at some point it might make sense to say something like, “I obviously need to be actively seeking another job, so if you need me to commit to staying through the transition or assist with it once it starts, could we talk about what payment for that might look like?”

3. Manager wants to be bcc’d on emails

I am a senior member of staff in a UK school. My manager has let slip a few times that she instructs the people who report to her to bcc her on emails that they send to others.

Is this an acceptable use of bcc? It seems to me unethical, and I would only use bcc to protect people’s details from other people when emailing a group.

I wouldn’t say it’s inherently unethical (although it would depend on the details of what’s being emailed and how private the recipient might want the topic to be), but as a regular practice it’s certainly micromanagey. I’d want to know more about her reasoning — is it “bcc me on this one specific thing so it lands in my inbox and nudges me to follow up if needed?” If so, that’s not necessarily a big deal. Is it “bcc me on everything you send because I don’t trust you to send emails with my constant oversight”? If so, she needs to loosen the reigns and trust her people (or, if there’s a reason she can’t, she needs to address that).

4. Letting managers sign off on internal transfers

I am the HR business partner for a small managed care company, and we are are discussing how to promote from within. For example, if a leader identifies a high potential employee from another department, can that leader approach the employee about a possible opportunity on their team? My group is saying no, that that leader must speak to the employee’s leader first before they can approach that employee. Also, the employee’s leader would not have the right to say, “No, you can’t have my person.” Basically, the team says it is all about doing what’s best for the business.

My concern is for not only the employee in question, but other employees and the stigma of favoritism, potential discrimination and the general feeling that this feels like the employee is being traded without their consent/knowledge/input.

Am I overreacting? I truly believe in succession planning, but we have yet to build this out and develop a structure around it we all can embrace. However, the above approach without some structure seems ripe for all kinds of issues.

It’s not uncommon for employers to have policies requiring a person’s current manager to sign off on their promotion/transfer to another team. The thinking is that that’s best for the business, so a manager won’t be blindsided by colleagues poaching their best employees, won’t have a key person lured away right in the middle of a project where they’re essential, etc.

But it’s a bad policy. It’s bad for employees for obvious reasons (they don’t always want their manager to know they’re thinking of moving on, can have a promotion thwarted by a manager not wanting to hire right now, etc.), but it’s also bad for employers — because you can’t stop employees from changing jobs if they want to, and this policy will just drive them to seek their next role outside the company instead of inside it.

It’s reasonable to make sure managers aren’t blindsided by internal transfers — and you also want the hiring manager to be aware of any performance or other issues the current manager might be able to share — but there’s no reason you have to require their consent. Notification, yes (at later stages). Input, yes. Sign-off, no.

5. Can my employer switch me from salaried to hourly?

I work for a small design firm as an exempt, salaried, employee. When talk started of state shutdowns my boss told me that his plan was, should we have to close doors, to have us work from home as much as possible and he would switch us to hourly payment, since he thinks we won’t have enough work to keep us busy for eight hours each day. Is this allowed/legal? In my offer letter, it states that I will be paid as full-time, $X/year, paid as $Y on a weekly basis.

Do I have any recourse or will I just have to bite the bullet if the time comes?

Yes, this is legal. Your employer can change your rate of pay at any time as long as you’re given notice and it’s not done retroactively. You can also be changed from salaried to hourly — but if you become hourly (meaning you’e paid less in weeks where you work less), then you’re being treated as non-exempt, even if your position was previously exempt, and must be paid overtime for any weeks where you work more than 40 hours (and in some states any days where you work more than eight hours).

employee wants to take high-risk vacation, my job is about to be outsourced, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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