I overheard leadership criticizing me, can I ban an employee from my home bathroom, and more

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

1. I overheard senior leadership talking negatively about me

I work for a small company (less than 20 people). I’ve been with them for two years and my work has consistently received wide acclaim from our largest client. However, last week I overheard leadership talking negatively about me. As a result, I’m thinking about leaving the company.

This happened at our annual company meeting. After a presentation, I stayed in the room to chat with a director about an upcoming project. Two key leaders also remained in the room. With the way our chairs were positioned, they must not have noticed I was in there, because the next thing I heard was that I’m “certainly not leadership material.” This was shocking to hear and frustrating. Now that I’ve heard it, I can’t unhear it. (And I’m 100% certain of what I heard and that it was about me.) I did make it clear to the two leaders who were talking about me that I was in the room before I left (I politely said goodbye as I left), so they at least knew after the fact.

Our company struggles with maintaining a good feedback culture. There are limited opportunities for advancement and I’ve been told consistently by my boss that “there just aren’t any positions at the moment for me to be promoted, but when the time comes they’ll let me know.” I’ve been told that it’s not a performance issue, but an issue of a position being available. Do I confront my boss about the conversation I mistakenly overheard? Am I justified in looking for other opportunities outside of the company?

“Confront” is too strong, but it’s certainly reasonable to talk with your boss about what you heard. You could explain what you heard and say, “If our leadership has concerns about my leadership potential, that’s something I need to be in the loop on so that I can work on improving in whatever the weaknesses are, or at least have accurate information about the likelihood of me advancing here. I’m dismayed that I haven’t been given this feedback before, even when I’ve directed asked about how I can advance here.” From there, see if you can get any more details about what the concerns are. If your boss claims not to have any idea, point out that it’s important to your career that you know and ask her to find out.

Totally aside from that though, yes, looking outside your company makes sense. You don’t need any justification to do that, but this seems like a signal that it would be smart to.

2. Can I ban my employee from using the bathroom in my house?

My husband and I run a company out of our home. Most operations take place in an outbuilding on our property next to our house. Our techs frequently have to stop by and pick up parts or vans before they leave for jobs. Sometimes they have to leave for jobs very early in the morning (5-6 am). One employee in particular stops by several mornings a week to pick up a van. All he has to do it go into the office, grab the keys, and leave.

The problem is that he constantly comes into the house to use the bathroom. He’s not quiet about it (despite being asked several times to not stomp/slam the door/etc.) and it wakes my husband and I up. This is happening multiple times per week, every time he picks up the van.

Technically the bathroom he’s using is the “employee bathroom” during the day, but it’s inside the house. There’s no problem with employees using it during business hours, but I don’t know if I can legally bar him from entering the house to use the bathroom during the early hours of the morning.

This has been brought up at meetings a few times but he doesn’t seem to get the message. At this point, I just want to lock the doors and not let him in. Am I allowed to bar an employee from using the “company bathroom” at 5 am?

You’d need to consult with a lawyer for the answer to whether or not you’re allowed to do that — it’s going to depend on OSHA interpretations and whether your house is really considered a work site at 5 am while your family is asleep and other things that are outside my area of expertise.

But on an ethical level, I’d say you should talk to the guy and find out if there’s a medical reason that using the bathroom before he leaves for work won’t solve the issue. If there’s not, I’d tell him the house is off-limits before 8 am (or whatever time is reasonable for your context). If a lawyer tells you that’s not possible, then I’d seriously consider installing a porta-potty by the outbuilding. I know that’s not ideal to have next to your house, but I’d take that over being woken up that early every morning.

Also, I just saw that for mobile crews, OSHA only requires “nearby” toilets and considers toilets to be “nearby” if it would take less than 10 minutes to get to them. So, are there are public restrooms near you that are open at that hour? If so, that might be another alternative (again, check with your attorney).

3. My friend wants to email our whole department two weeks after she was fired

Recently a friend of mine was fired from our department, “the X department.” She and I reported to different managers and worked on slightly different things and with small internal teams.

It’s been a couple weeks now and it’s started to settle with her a bit more, and I honestly think that she’s happier not being here anymore. But this morning she messaged me and another colleague that she plans on emailing the entire X department, most of whom she has never worked with. She has already reached out to the Y team which she worked with directly and the Z team, so I’m not sure why she wants to reach out to the entire department since she’s barely worked with them (and many of them may not even know who she is) but she said it’s since she never had a chance to say goodbye.

My colleague and I both think that this is a weird, bad idea. I don’t think that she should send this communication, but I don’t know how to tell her not to do it, especially since she’s in a kind of fragile state right now. I’m wondering if I even should tell her not too. She’s already been fired, she’s never going to attempt to work for this company again, is there any real harm in letting her send it?

Eh, if she’s really just going to say something like “it was great working with you, here’s my contact info,” that’s not a big deal. It might look a little strange, depending on the backstory of why she was fired, but not “destroy her reputation” levels of strangeness. At most, it might look like she’s having trouble moving on.

You could certainly say, “You know, I think that would look a little strange since you don’t know most of them. If there are specific people you want to say goodbye to, you could send individual emails to them, but I think emailing entire teams you didn’t work with after being fired is going to seem off.” But I wouldn’t worry too much if she doesn’t listen to that.

Of course, if the message is anything more than “it was great working you, here’s my contact info if you’d like to stay in touch” — like if it has any hint of “I was wronged” — that’s different. That would get her talked about and probably impact her reputation, and you should try to talk her out of that if you can.

4. Can I add a note to my personnel file?

I had a colleague make a formal complaint against me and now I have a document in my file for bullying/harassment. I feel like this is an overreaction to a single conversation where I was frustrated and spoke in admittedly harsh and dismissive tones, but that is not really the point. I would like for the file to also reflect that I have apologized of my own free will and because I recognized the error, I have listened to a few webinars on emotional intelligence and conflict resolution, and I am working with a therapist to react more appropriately when frustrated. Is there any way to provide an addendum that demonstrates that this is not an ongoing problem or that I have made strides to address the issue so it does not become one? That is a pretty harsh claim and I would like my side represented somehow, I just don’t know how best to go about it.

Probably! Try writing it up (keep it as short and simple as possible) and sending it to HR with a note that says, “I understand Jane’s complaint has been added to my file. I’d like to make sure it’s on record that I took the complaint seriously, apologized, and am actively pursuing multiple avenues to ensure I don’t repeat the mistake. Would it be possible to add the attached addendum to my file as well?”

5. How can I get better at using my coworker’s correct pronouns?

I just learned that a contractor in my office has asked to be referred to using they/their/them rather than she/hers/her. Although it is 2019, this is the first person I personally know who is using they/their/them and because they previously used she/hers/her, I find myself unconsciously using the wrong pronouns. Every time I use the wrong pronoun, I feel I’m being disrespectful and I would like to correct this. Any suggestions from you or the AAM commentariat on how to train myself to use their preferred pronouns?

Readers, what’s your advice?

I overheard leadership criticizing me, can I ban an employee from my home bathroom, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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