should my employer to cover vet bills caused by my job, my terrible coworker listed me as a reference, and more — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

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

1. Can I ask my employer to cover the costs of vet bills caused by my job?

I work as a home care provider and a few months ago when I went in to visit a client, their pet had a pretty bad flea infestation. I followed the correct health and safety protocols and went straight home after this client to get changed and immediately put everything I had been wearing in the wash.

Apparently it wasn’t enough because a few hours later I discovered insect bites on my arms and face, and found a few insect bites on my own pet. Over the next few days, my pet quickly became unwell and started displaying the exact same symptoms as the client’s had. It’s been a few months and several trips to the vet and my pet is still having ongoing issues that the vet has said are most likely caused by an allergy to fleas.

I mentioned this to my boss at the time, but I didn’t say anything about the money as I didn’t realize the issue would be ongoing and cost so much. However, while I can technically cover the costs of the vet bills, it’s starting to add up and is eating into savings I was putting aside with the hope of buying my first home.

Can I explain to my boss how much this has cost and ask if the company will cover even some of the vet bills, or will I need to just write this off as an occupational hazard of working with other people? My pet stays completely indoors and very rarely has health issues so, while possible, I think it’s unlikely they could have caught fleas elsewhere and I find it too much of a coincidence that it happened the next day. I guess I’m feeling resentful that, working in such a low-paid industry to start with, I’m now having to carry the cost of issues that were absolutely no fault of my own. My boss is very reasonable and pragmatic and has been very supportive towards me on other issues.

Well … you can ask. If the fleas had caused your own medical bills, you might have a stronger case. A pet might be one level too removed for them to act on, but you can still raise it. They may or may not agree, but it’s not an inherently unreasonable thing to ask about.

Frame it as, “My work brought me into contact with a client with fleas, which then came home with me, and I’ve had $X in vet bills over the last few months because of the issues it caused. Is that a cost the company would consider helping me cover, since it directly resulted from that client visit?”

There’s a good chance they’ll say no because you could come into contact with fleas in so many places, just going about daily life … but it’s not an outrageous thing to raise, as long as you’re prepared for that.

2. Coworkers want to ask about my weight loss

In the past year, I’ve lost a pretty significant amount of weight. Fortunately it’s been intentional and healthy, and I’m quite proud of finally taking better care of myself.

My coworkers have been extremely complimentary, especially as the weather has gotten warmer and the changes more visible. However, I am struggling with how to (1) take the compliments gracefully and (2) end the discussion quickly. Several have asked what I’ve done to lose the weight, and a simple “diet and exercise” response is often followed up with more pressing questions about my specific program. I would rather not answer that for several reasons — mostly I think it veers into pretty personal territory, and I don’t want to seem preachy. I also am keenly aware that weight is a sensitive subject for a lot of people, and I think open office discussions about weight loss/fitness/diet could create a really unwelcoming atmosphere that I do not want to contribute to.

Some coworkers also follow up with comments denigrating themselves, which I also hate, and am not quite sure how to respond to.

Any scripts/tips? Everyone has been very kind and no one means any harm, so while I want to be clear in my boundary, I don’t want to seem cold.

Some options:

“Oh, I hate talking about bodies and diet. But I wanted to ask you about (subject change).”
“I’d actually be so grateful not to have to think about it at work! But I wanted to tell you about (subject change).”
“Oh, I’m trying to keep a resolution to avoid diet talk, but I wanted to ask you about (subject change).”

If you follow it up with a warm (subject change), you’re not going to seem cold.

3. Can I ask management if they have plans to improve?

I’ve been working part-time at a small business for about a year and a half. I noticed issues right away — the facility was disorganized, internal communication was inconsistent, equipment was dirty or broken — but our industry was hit hard by the pandemic, and the manager gave me the impression that certain aspects of the business had been scaled back accordingly, so I assumed the chaos was temporary. Plus, it was still a big improvement from my previous situation.

Fast forward a year, and it’s exactly as chaotic as it was when I started. I’ve come to suspect that the standards and procedures which I assumed fell by the wayside during the height of Covid likely never existed at all. Basic elements of the work are simply not being done, and what is being done is not being done well. There is a pervasive attitude of “eh, someone else will fix it.”

Well, that someone is usually me, and it’s starting to wear me down. I do what I can in the time I have, but it feels like trying to move a mountain one pebble at a time. Most of my coworkers spend their shifts watching TV or browsing social media while doing as little work as they can. The manager knows, but I can’t tell if he’s given up, doesn’t care, or just doesn’t view assigning work and overseeing its quality as within the scope of his responsibilities.

I’m about to take six weeks of unpaid medical leave and they’ve agreed to hold my job (not a legal obligation, as we’re too small for FMLA), but I’m trying to figure out if I want to come back, or if my time might be better spent looking for other opportunities.

I enjoy the work, I like the hours and the commute, and I get along with my coworkers and manager, despite their slacker tendencies. Both the manager and the owner have been very complimentary about my performance, including acknowledging my above average effort with a 5% raise. I could see this place as a solid starting point for the career I want to build … but not without some changes to the way things are being run. Is there a courteous and professional way to ask the manager if he and the owner are genuinely content with the state of things? Should I be clear with them that if the answer is yes, I’ll be moving on? Is it even a conversation worth having?

It’s not a conversation you should put much stock in. They are content with the state of things — or at least they’re content enough not to do anything about it. That’s not going to change because an employee complains. The changes you want to see are major, fundamental ones that would take real buy-in from the top (like an entirely different philosophy about managing and a completely different bar for performance). They’re satisfied with how things are and/or aren’t capable of/likely to change things. Assume what you see is what you will continue to get, and make your own decisions accordingly.

In fact, I’d argue it’s a bad idea to even try to have the conversation because the best case scenario is that they sound interested in changing things, which then strings you along and you stay longer even though nothing meaningful will actually change.

can bad employees and bad managers change?

4. My terrible coworker listed me as a reference

I have received a phone call from a woman in my office. She “forgot” that she put me down as a reference on her resume, and now she is applying to jobs. She wanted to give me a heads-up that she had already told the places she had applied to (and had first round interviews with) that I would be expecting their phone calls.

I agreed in the moment, because I didn’t know how to tell her no and was a little blindsided. Obviously this is poor manners on her part, but that’s not the reason I am writing.

She is a terrible employee. She has been on a PIP for a long time. She has been with us for nearly two years and doesn’t manage any of her own projects while everyone else had their own project caseload within three months of being hired. She regularly misses work without notice, and recently took over a month of leave without telling anyone she would be doing so. This resulted in a welfare check by the police, which is how we discovered she had left the country. She is scheduled for 8 am – 2 pm, and today she showed up at 9 and left at 1:30. Frankly, if I had it my way, she would have been fired eight months ago when these issues started to appear.

Because we are in a small office, the owner of the business is the only “senior” who could provide a reliable reference but I can understand why she doesn’t want to use the owner! I am a little conflicted on how I can proceed. My gut instinct is to tell any reference calls, “I am not her manager so I can’t tell you about the quality of her work. However I can tell you that she has worked for this company since [X date] and was a friendly coworker.” Is this the best course of action? We don’t have an HR department to refer back to because of the size of the company. My partner told me to tell the owner but I am reluctant to do that.

Don’t say that! That’s a mildly good reference — not a very useful one because it’s so mild and contains almost no information — but it’s certainly closer to “good” than “bad” so it would be misleading. There’s no point in relying on references if people are going to omit major problems like that. Just be honest, like you’d have wanted her references to do for your organization before they hired her: “If she had told me she was offering me as a reference, I would have suggested that she not list me. I’m not her manager, but what I’ve seen of her work hasn’t been good. I don’t feel well positioned to say more, but I’d suggest you talk with her manager if you want a reference for her work here.” If you don’t feel comfortable being that direct, the next best thing would be to just say, “I’m not her manager, and I don’t feel equipped to comment.”

Ideally you’d also go back to your coworker and say, “Now that I’ve had a chance to think about this, I don’t feel comfortable being a reference; please don’t offer my name. I’d suggest using (owner).”

5. How do I network with former clients?

I was recently laid off from my role within an agency where I was a well-regarded and high performing member of a creative team. The layoffs (mine and the rest of the small creative team I was a part of) were sudden and very surprising. Because of some savings and being able to collect unemployment, I was able to take a little time off to recoup and reset, but I’m now to the point of needing to find my next role. From my work at the agency I had very good relationships with some of our clients. These are people who know my work and who I collaborated with closely. As I started my job search, I wasn’t exactly sure if or how I could use this network of former clients.

For example, I don’t think the layoffs and restructuring of the agency are common knowledge and I think will be fairly shocking to these former clients and I’m not sure how appropriate it is to reveal that information in a networking request. Outside of the layoff issue, I don’t even know what the specific email/request could be — “hello, I am now unemployed — do you or anyone you know have a job for me?” I’ve never leveraged my network to find a job before and for some reason I just can’t quite figure out the best way to start those conversations.

You don’t ned to open with the layoff, but you also don’t need to hide it if asked. You can open with some short pleasantries and then say something like, “I wanted to let you know that I’ve left Agency and I’m figuring out my next move. I’m looking for (describe what you’re looking for). If anything like that comes to mind, I’d love to hear about it.”

If they ask why you left, it’s fine to say they laid off your team; don’t get into lots of big emotions about it, but factually relaying it is fine. It’s what happened, and you’re not obligated to your former company to hide that on their behalf.

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