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This post, contractor deleted shared files I paid for, it is OK to discuss a firing with others, and more , was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.
It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. Contractor deleted shared files that I still need
In January last year, I commissioned a writer to write three scripts for a project I am working on, which was awarded funding. I did not specify the format that the work had to be delivered in, only that they would do the work and later I would revisit the documents to edit more.
In Jan/Feb last year, they sent me draft versions of the documents via Google Docs, along with an email which effectively said “they’re yours now, do what you want with them.” We had put a few comments on the documents, but the implied agreement was that I would come back and edit them more, and maybe they’d revisit them as well later in the project. I paid the writer for the work as soon as it was done.
Like many projects, this one was put on hold in March 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis, and I have only just been able to start work on it again. However, when I came to look at the files the writer had worked on, they had been deleted from the writer’s Google Drive. I hadn’t made a backup, since these were working documents in an ongoing project, which would likely require the original writer to come back for final edits some time in the future.
I emailed the writer, and they told me that since the project was “so long ago,” they “might have accidentally deleted the files” from their Google Drive. I realize that there has been a lot of confusion in the past year, particularly for people working in precarious fields, but the project was definitely ongoing (which I’d explained to the writer several times in the intervening period).
I am upset because the work — and therefore the money I’d spent on it — appears lost, but also frustrated that something I paid for has been deleted with no backup whatsoever. The writer doesn’t really seem to care, and the project has been significantly set back after an already huge setback. One third of our relatively small budget was spent on these scripts, which were in progress, but now have disappeared completely. I can’t afford to pay anyone to do the work again, which means that I will likely end up doing it myself.
What is reasonable behaviour in this instance? I would assume at bare minimum the writer should apologize, and perhaps offer an hour of their time to explain what they’d done so I could make a start on redoing their work.
Oh no. The thing is, though, the writer assumed their part was done (and paid for), and if you’d wanted them to do more work later, it sounds like that would have been negotiated separately / wasn’t a done deal. I can see how the writer wouldn’t think they needed to store the work indefinitely — when so much time had gone by (over a year!), it would be easy to assume they could stop storing the files in their own Google Drive. You were basically expecting them to store something for you rather than storing it yourself. That’s not to blame you! It’s easy to see how this happened on both sides. But I don’t think the writer is really to blame either.
If it’s been less than 30 days since the files were deleted and the writer hasn’t emptied their Google Drive trash, they should be retrievable, so you should ask about that. But if they’re not there … you can’t really hold the writer accountable for not storing files indefinitely; they undoubtedly (and reasonably) believed you’d taken possession of them in whatever way suited you. If I were the writer, I’d certainly apologize, but I don’t think you can demand that of them. You could probably ask for an hour of their time to walk you through what they’d done; most people would agree to that out of good will and to preserve the relationship, and because this is such an unfortunate thing. I’m sorry!
2. Can I ask to be included in the raises my office is doing from before I started?
I started a new job in February and it’s been great! They’d had a raise freeze because of Covid (same as my last workplace) and just announced they were lifting that and paying back pay to September when the raise would have originally gone through! Except I’m not part of that since I started after September. Is there any point in asking if I can be included in the raise after only four months?
If it makes a difference, the job’s 100% public facing so I’ve been dealing with wearing a mask and asking people to wear theirs almost this whole time, which has been as exhausting as it sounds. My job hasn’t changed since I started so I wouldn’t want much of a raise, just cost of living since I’m already in a low paying field (nonprofit).
You definitely can’t! They’re doing raises for people who earned them in September, which isn’t you — you weren’t even working there then. Asking for a raise after only four months on the job just because they’re now able to go back and pay out the raises people earned last year would look really out-of-touch and doesn’t make much sense. This isn’t a perk that everyone should be able to share in; it’s compensation adjustments for people who earned them via their work and their tenure.
Typically you shouldn’t expect a raise until you’ve been in a job for at least a year (unless the job changes significantly from what it was expected to be when you were hired).
3. Is it okay for a boss to discuss the details of a firing with others?
I was fired from a job nine months ago. I recently found out that my ex-boss disclosed the nitty gritty of my firing to a person who he was collaborating with on a project. This collaborator is in my field and, as it turns out, is a friend of a friend, which is how I found out that the ex-boss was talking about me. The collaborator was not working for the company at the time of my firing, so they are definitely not the one who brought my firing up.
(Not sure if this matters, but before I was fired, this boss also apparently met with several of my then-coworkers to ask them if the situation for which I was fired would have offended them them. It’s not clear to me if he mentioned that I was the person involved in the situation, but when I was fired, I’m pretty sure it would have then been clear who it was.)
This was a very traumatic experience for me so I’m having a hard time gauging if this is inappropriate or if I’m blowing it out of proportion. I’m not super interested in legalities, but is it okay for ex-employers to discuss the details of firings with other people, especially those that are working for them?
Firing someone is a big deal, and anyone who has to do it should try to give the person being fired as much respect and privacy as they reasonably can.
Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to discuss a firing with others, like if the something about the situation will affect their work. And it’s not across-the-board wrong to seek input from colleagues if that input is directly relevant (like if your boss was trying to determine how the situation that eventually led to your firing had affected others in the office, as part of deciding what to do). But it’s not okay to discuss it in a way that’s more like gossip — just as a point of interest, or to vent, or to hash over the details for the hell of it, or to smear someone’s name. It’s not clear whether that was the case with your then-coworkers, but it does sound like it might have been the case with the person your boss was collaborating with.
4. If the VPN goes out, does a company still have to pay remote employees?
If a company’s VPN goes out for three days, can the company reserve the right not to pay remote employees or force them to use vacation time?
If the employees are exempt, they can be required to use vacation time but they still have to be paid. The law requires that exempt employees be paid their full salary for any week in which they do any work (with a few narrow exceptions, like if they’re working a partial week because it’s their first or last week of work).
If the employees are non-exempt, the company doesn’t have to pay them for any time when they weren’t working. It’s pretty crappy to dock their pay if they’re ready and willing to work and can’t because the company’s technology isn’t working, but it’s legal.
However … were people truly free to do whatever they liked with those days or were they waiting around by their computers/phones to see when the VPN might be fixed? If it was the latter, then they were what’s called “engaged to wait” and do need to be paid (very much so if that was at the employer’s request).
5. Can I ask how my interviewer has changed since I worked for them 15 years ago?
I work in higher education and have worked at the same institution but in several departments over the past 15 years. I was hired into my first admin assistant type position right out of undergrad (that same institution for which I work) into my first full-time position. Timelapse to now, I have an interview next week where the manager for the department will be my first supervisor who hired me way back when. At that time, they were new to supervising staff and although we had no major issues, I’ve now come to recognize they were definitely learning how to supervise staff and if I came across that today, I would be likely to job hunt.
For this position, there would be an intermediary supervisor between myself and the manager, and it’s been so long since we’ve connected at all and, well, it’s been 15 years. I believe a lot of growth can happen over that period of time but I didn’t know this person would be the manager when I applied so I have not been able to consider it until now. I don’t want to withdraw from the opportunity and I’m not in desperate straits to change jobs (and I’ve watched your how to prepare for an interview guide) so this is practice at the very least for continuing to look for opportunities for the future, but how do I handle this? I’ve been told that the panel will be five people, of which no doubt, the manager will be one. Do I acknowledge the connection if they don’t do it at the beginning? How do I ask about what they’ve learned about supervision over the past 15 years and if they will be a good fit for me if we don’t acknowledge it?
It would be fine to say this: “I of course know a little bit from working together 15 years ago, but I’m sure we’ve both changed a lot in that time! Can you tell me about your management style now?” I wouldn’t specifically call out “what you’ve learned in 15 years” since that pretty strongly implies you think they had a lot to learn. (They did! Everyone does. But it still feels like an awkward thing to say in an interview.)
That said, I wouldn’t put a ton of stock in the answer, unless you get a really nuanced, insightful response that seems to indicate an understanding of their specific weaknesses when you last worked together. People are generally terrible judges of their own management styles, and their self-assessments often bear no resemblance whatsoever to what it’s actually like to be managed by them. It’s fine to ask the question — you might hear something interesting — but I’d put the most weight on what you hear from talking to people who have been managed by her more recently. (Which hopefully should be pretty easy to do since you work there already.)