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I Need Important Info From An Employee Who’s Out On Leave

Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.

1. I can’t get the info I need from an employee who’s on leave

I have an employee, Jane, who’s abruptly taking leave to deal with some health and personal issues. We don’t know when (or if) she’s coming back, so we’re planning on going at least several months without her, and I’m trying to implement stopgap solutions.

We’re small and Jane has a lot of knowledge that nobody else does (like key contact people with suppliers and clients, the location of our keyholders list, the password to our account with the alarm company, etc.). Jane agreed to come in to meet with me to hand off some of that knowledge, but keeps not doing it. I’ll get a text saying, “Sorry — something’s come up, but I’ll come in tomorrow for sure” and then get the same message the next day, and the next. Beyond that, she’s not answering my calls or emails at all. It’s now been almost a week, and I’m starting to despair.

I’ve found some of the info I need by poking around Jane’s office, but some of it I can’t find at all. Do you have any advice for what I can do to try and get Jane to do that information hand-off? Or do I just need to suck it up and assume it won’t happen, and try to work around it as best I can?

I’d do two things: One, proceed as if it’s not going to happen — whatever you’d do if Jane had fallen off the face of the earth, do that now. Two, in tandem with that, make one final attempt to connect with her, but ask if she’d be able to do the meeting by phone. It might be that coming in is too hard for her right now, but that she’d be able to set aside 30 minutes to talk by phone. You could send her an email saying, “I don’t want to bother you further while you’re on leave, so this will be my last message until you’re able to get in touch. But I wanted to propose that we do the hand-off meeting we’d planned over the phone instead of having you come in. I think that would be easier for you so if there’s a time we can plan on a call, let me know. I can also send you the list of questions I have for you ahead of time if that would help (and I’ll limit it to what’s essential to keep it short). I really appreciate you being willing to do this — but also, if you’ve realized that you can’t right now, I understand that too.”

Normally I would say not to even try that final attempt since she’s supposed to be on leave (and the fact that she hasn’t responded in a week may be a clear sign that she’s just not up to it), but since she did promise repeatedly that she was going to come in, I think it’s okay to try once more with a suggestion that would be easier on her. But if falls through again, assume you’re not getting anything from her right now and move forward without her.

Also! Take this as impetus to have everyone on your team document the essential info you’d need from them if they were captured by aliens tomorrow. People do sometimes disappear without warning, so the more you can do to ensure some continuity — or at least lack of total crisis — the better.

2. I want my employee to work on a day I said he could have off

One of my employees asked for a specific day off. I saw no problem with this and said yes. Now one of the other employees is injured and cannot make it to work that day. I have asked the first employee to come in, and he is committed to something else. I think that his job is his first commitment regardless. What are your thoughts on this?

You told him that he could have the day off, he made plans accordingly, and you need to honor that.

It’s fine to explain the situation and ask if he’d be able to change his plans, but if he can’t, then that should be the final word on it. Otherwise your employees won’t be able to count on your word when you okay time off, and you will quickly have a frustrated and resentful staff. There are very rare exceptions to this, like serious emergencies, but that’s the kind of thing that should happen at most once every few years (and generally not even that often, if ever) and when it does you need to apologize profusely and find a way to make it up to the person. It’s not something you can do cavalierly.

3. Applicants who don’t include cover letters

I’m not new to hiring or being a manager, but I am new to my current company and am hiring for the first time in this role.

I’ve been working with a recruiter and my team to get the word out about my need for applicants, and I have a few good resumes coming in. What’s strange is I’m getting almost no cover letters.

Would it be appropriate to ask them to add a cover letter after they’ve already submitted their resume? It would really help me to understand why they are applying and see a bit of their writing style.

You can do that! It’s fine to say something like, “We’re asking all applicants to include a cover letter. We’d be glad to consider your application if you can resubmit it with a cover letter included.”

One thing I can’t tell from your letter is whether the job is posted anywhere. You say you’re working with a recruiter and your team so I can’t tell if you’re doing this informally or not. If you are, I’d change that — formally post it, and in your application instructions, specifically ask for a cover letter. You’ll get a bigger pool and you won’t be relying as heavily on your team’s own networks (which is a good thing for lots of reasons, including that you’ll generally get more diverse candidates if you branch out beyond your existing networks). And you can also tell your recruiter to make sure people send cover letters when they apply.

4. Do we have to pay someone who walks off the job on their first day?

Is a new hire who walks off the job in the first hour or two (or less) of employment entitled to be paid for that time? It is happening more often. Department of Labor rules would suggest that the answer is yes, but there is no value or benefit from someone being trained to do a simple task and then abandoning the job.

Yes, you still have to pay them for any time they spent at work. If you’re seeing this happen more than extremely occasionally, though, it’s worth looking into why. Are you being rigorous enough in your hiring process? Are you making sure people understand what the job is that they’re signing up for? Are you prepared for them when they show up, and are they being treated well and getting a good impression of your organization when they arrive on the first day? Those are all things that could potentially explain why this is happening, and making changes there could help solve the problem.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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