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my coworker reeks of weed, I asked for help and got put on a PIP, and more — Ask a Manager

May 2, 2022

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

1. My coworker reeks of weed

I work at a very large company and have been here about a year. Due to Covid, I haven’t had to come into the office much, but now that I am, I have learned that my cube neighbor (who I’ve maybe seen in person a total of 10 times) enjoys smoking marijuana. I have a sensitive nose on normal days, but I’m currently five months pregnant and the smell is KILLING me. I don’t know if she smokes during the day, but the smell is definitely coming from her clothes and bag. I can smell it when she’s not at her desk and it’s especially strong when she puts on her jacket.

I truly don’t care if she wants to wake and bake and I have no desire to be a narc, but I just got past the nausea stage of pregnancy and now I feel physically ill any time we’re both in the office. I will also add that the application process for this job requires a drug test and weed is illegal in the state where we work, so telling my manager what’s up could get her in serious trouble and would make me feel like an utter jerk. I don’t think we’ll be going remote again anytime soon, so what do I do?

Assuming she’s not smoking at work but the smell is clinging to her from home, your coworker needs an old-timey smoking jacket.

Are you willing to talk to her about it? You could say something like, “This is awkward to bring up, but your clothes and bag smell really strongly of marijuana — not just today, but whenever we’re both in the office. I’m especially sensitive to smells right now and it’s making me feel sick when we’re in the office together. Normally with a smell sensitivity, I’d ask to move to a different work space, but I don’t think I can do that without explaining why. Is there something you can do on your side that would take care of it so that we can both avoid that?”

2. I asked for help building my skills and got put on a PIP

During a quarterly performance review, my boss expressed that I was managing a project to her standards. I still took responsibility for my mistakes and expressed a need for more structure. I also spoke about my desire to improve and grow in this role because it is somewhat rare to find my specific role in CSR teams. I saw this role as a great opportunity when I got hired right before the pandemic, and still do, even though it has been challenging working through certain large scale projects virtually.

In expressing my desire to grow in this company, I asked if we can create some kind of professional development plan. She agreed, and a month later, sent me a formal performance improvement plan outlining areas of improvement. The plan sounded punitive and like a warning, and included what I’m guessing is standard HR language stating that failure to improve within three months will result in action or ending employment. Did I set myself up for this plan and what sounds like a three-month probation? Should I not have not suggested the plan, or would it have happened inevitably?

Since the plan was shared, my boss has questioned my reasoning about many of my decisions around projects, and at times, I’ve felt like she was talking down to me when I asked for clarification. She doesn’t consider herself a micromanager, but maybe this is a result of asking for more structure. I’m also the first person she ever hired. I’m working on moving forward and seeing this major project through, which coincides with the end of the PIP review period (three months). I have also started looking for jobs, but have every intention of meeting what is outlined in the PIP.

To make sure I’m understanding correctly, your boss told you that your performance was fine and you asked for guidance that would help you do even better, and in response to that she came back with a formal improvement plan? Unless you misunderstood the performance evaluation and she was actually expressing concerns about your work (which doesn’t sound like the case), this is seriously messed up.

It’s possible that because she’s a new manager, she doesn’t understand what she sent you. She might think that if someone asks for help improving, this is the structure you use (and maybe she didn’t read the boilerplate that’s in there about consequences for failing to improve?). Could she have asked HR for a “development plan” (your language) and they sent her an improvement plan and she didn’t spot the difference? If so, she’s wildly incompetent, but it’s the only thing I can come up with to explain it.

You need to talk with her right away. Say this: “I’m worried we miscommunicated. My understanding from my quarterly review was that you were happy with my work. When I asked for a professional development plan, I was hoping for support in building on that work and making it even better. So I was blindsided by this improvement plan that talks about serious problems that could end with my firing in three months. Did I misunderstand your assessment in my quarterly review, or am I misunderstanding this written plan?”

If she tells you that the PIP is just a way to structure the support you asked for … no. Do not let her use a PIP for that. You shouldn’t have a PIP on file with HR if you’re not supposed to be on one. (And what if she were hit by a bus tomorrow and a new manager came in? All they’d know was that you were on a PIP and possibly on the road to being fired.) If this conversation doesn’t resolve it, you should talk to HR and ask for them to intervene in what sounds very much like a new manager misunderstanding.

Caveat: It’s possible that the PIP is totally separate from the conversation in your review meeting and she does have concerns about your work that she didn’t communicate well or that emerged later. If that’s the case, this conversation should bring that out.

3. Ending an interview when the salary is too low

My husband has been interviewing for new opportunities and one interview he had recently left both of us scratching our heads. He said that everything in the interview went swimmingly until his interviewer asked him about salary expectations. My husband offered a rate that is about 25% below the market salary, which is well documented due to our industry. His interviewer was astounded and told him that their range tops out at what would be an entry-level salary for our industry and that my husband was way over that. There isn’t an issue of overqualification and their range is not advertised anywhere on the listing.

When this happens, which obviously puts a huge damper on whole exchange, is there any saving grace to kind of gently end the process? Or will my husband just have to live with the fact that he may have offended his interviewer with his answer?

Interesting framing —your husband asked for a salary 25% below market and you’re worried that he offended the interviewer! In fact, the the interviewer should worry about offending him by offering an outrageously low salary, not the other way around. (Also, why is your husband offering to work for 25% below market?)

You can absolutely end an interview when it becomes clear that you’re too far apart on salary (or anything else, for that matter). I’d say it this way: “Ah, it sounds like we’re too far apart on salary and I shouldn’t take up any more of your time. I wish you the best in filling the position.”

4. I paid for transit benefits I never received

Before the pandemic, my organization offered pre-tax transit benefits on a quarterly basis in the form of credit cards or fare cards from our local transit authority. When the office shut down in March 2020, the benefits for the next three months were in the hands of HR, but were not distributed. In the rush of figuring things out as the pandemic was happening, staff was told on an all staff call that because it was easier from a payroll perspective, they’d be taking the elected amount out of our paychecks for the month of April 2020 and would figure something out when things were back to normal.

Well, it’s now May 2022! We never received our transit benefits OR got the funds that were taken in April 2020. Each time I ask, I’m given a new excuse/stall (“We’ll deal with it when we’re back in the office, but we can’t control when the building reopens.” “For tax reasons we can’t provide commuter benefits if we’re working from home but we have to make a decision if working from home is what we’re doing.”). Someone else thinks that the benefits expired and the org doesn’t want to be out the money, but I’m not sure that justification passes muster.

Is it a lot of money? No. But am I wrong for thinking this is wage theft because they took my earnings to pay for a promised/agreed upon benefit and never provided it? And is it not bizarre that no one is taking this seriously?

You’re not wrong, and it is bizarre. They took money from your check for benefits they didn’t provide. They owe you that money and they need to return it. Giving them a month or two of grace to figure it out during the chaos of the start of the pandemic was reasonable, but it’s been two years. They need to fix it. (And what happened with anyone who left their job in the last two years — were they just out that money because it hadn’t been paid back yet?)

Say this: “It’s now been two years since $X was deducted from my paycheck for transit benefits that we didn’t receive and I need to get it repaid. Can it be included with my next check?” Try to get your coworkers to join you in this — a bunch of voices will be louder than one. (And if they don’t take care of it quickly, try contacting your state department of labor for help.)

5. Hiring manager keeps me updated but the job was reposted

I know I’m overthinking it and I know there are a number of reasons for a job to be reposted. I know I shouldn’t let these things consume me as I will be miserable over it.

However, the hiring manager has been in touch with me (sometimes without me reaching out first) and letting me know that the hiring process is taking longer due to other factors.

I noticed my resume was downloaded again off LinkedIn despite me already interviewing for the company twice already. The same day it was downloaded, the company reposted the job I’m interviewing for (it had been down for over a month so I don’t think it was an automatic repost). This time around, they have not been posting on LinkedIn highlighting the job like they would for other jobs, but today they highlighted a different job they are hiring for but also briefly mention other roles including the role I am in the running for in the post of the other job.

I know this might just be the hiring manager unsure to pull the trigger on me or if they want to keep looking just to see what is out there. The hiring manager probably doesn’t want me to let go of the company just yet and that is why they keep me updated weekly.

But I need advice on what to do. Do I still email them weekly and ask for an update? Do I wait for them to reach out to me as they said they will keep me updated again when things change on their end? Do I reach out and inquire about the job being reposted? What can I do to help them pull the trigger on me?

You’re reading into things that don’t mean anything! Your resume might have been re-downloaded because an assistant needed a new copy for a file, or someone spilled coffee on the first one, or all sorts of other reasons. The job could have been reposted because they keep all their posts live until jobs are filled and someone just noticed this one expired. The hiring manager could be unsure about you, waiting to interview other candidates, reconfiguring the role, dealing with higher priorities, waiting for a decision-maker to be back from vacation, or a million other things. You just can’t read into any of this, and you’ll just make yourself more angsty if you keep trying to.

The best thing you can do is to mentally move on, assume you didn’t get the job, and let it be a pleasant surprise if you do. Don’t email weekly for updates — not because of anything in your letter but because that’s excessive in general. If they’re interested in hiring you, they’re not going to forget about you. If you really want to, you can mark your calendar to do one final check-in one month from now … but otherwise you’ve got to accept that you can’t make them move any faster, you don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, and they’ll get in touch if they want to. Let it go and distract yourself with other jobs. Good luck!

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