Sunday, October 25, 2015

Getting rid of embezzlers shouldn't require pulling teeth

After an experienced dental hygienist, D.H., moved to a new state, she accepted a position to work at a medium-sized dental practice. After being on the job for a few months, D.H. noticed several red flags that suggested the dental practice's business manager was embezzling money.

D.H. had seen similar behavior in the office where she used to work.

The business manager was considered "honest and trustworthy," treated almost like a family member by the dentist. The relationship between her and the dentist was close - like mother and son.

D.H. noticed that the business manager was "overly protective" of her workstation, keeping others out and locking the business office door whenever she was away. She also regularly complained or bad-mouthed co-workers, drawing attention away from her own behavior, figures D.H.

D.H.'s experience at her prior job was that the embezzler got caught after being gone for a while on vacation and someone else went through the office mail. But the office manager at D.H.'s new job arranged for a niece to fill in for her while she vacationed overseas.

Bringing in her own replacement struck D.H. as suspicious. And there were those other tell-tale signs of embezzlement -- carefully guarding the office computer from other employees, diverting attention from herself by criticizing other employees and office conditions, living in a way that "seemed well beyond her means."

In spite of the tell-tale signs, D.H. believes it often seems safer to just look the other way and keep quiet. "An old rule says keep your eyes on your own plate."

But D.H. also figures that while the suspected embezzler may think she's just stealing from the dentist, she's also taking money that won't be available for raises or bonuses to the staff. Innocent workers also get robbed in the process.

"What are the options?" asks D.H. "What's the right thing to do?"

While some readers might think D.H. should mind her own business if she doesn't have definitive proof that the business manager is doing something wrong, I don't agree.

D.H. could approach the business manager and let her know that at her previous place of work they had instituted practices to ward off the chances of foul play. The risk, of course, is that if the business manager is stealing that she will suspect that D.H. is on to her and make her the new target of her complaints.

If D.H. truly suspects that the business manager is up to no good and that no good could come from directly confronting the business manager, she should let the dentist know. The risk, of course, is that the dentist would become defensive, arguing that the business manager would never do something like that to him, after all, he and the business manager are like family.

But letting the dentist know that his practice may be the victim of theft is the right thing to do. If the dentist refuses to listen, or if he refuses to take some action to protect himself against embezzlement, then D.H. must decide if this is the practice where she really wants to work. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

What to do when someone sees you on a job interview

A couple of decades ago, I was interviewing for a job at Microsoft. I was relatively happy at my job in Boston, but when a recruiter called, described the job, and asked if I'd be interested in flying out to Redmond, Wash., to talk to the team starting up a new project, I thought it would be interesting to learn more.

As I was leaving the initial interview with human resources, I heard someone in the parking lot shout out "Jeff." Given that I didn't know anyone who worked at Microsoft at the time, the shout caught me off guard. I turned and saw it was an old professional friend from New York, who happened to be in Redmond to interview for a different job.

The old friend knew many of my co-workers at the time and I his. It was early in the interview process for me, so I hadn't let my employer know I was being recruited. What if the old friend tipped my boss or colleagues off about seeing me before I told anyone?

I was reminded of the encounter when a reader told me that while he was being interviewed for a job over lunch recently, he was surprised to see a couple his firm's clients eating at a few tables over. He continued to talk with his interviewers. By the time they were ready to leave, the clients were long gone.

He was concerned that the clients might say something to his current employer, so he wrestled with what he should do to stave off a potentially awkward situation. Should he, he wondered, tell his employer that he had been to lunch with a competitor who had been wooing him for a new job? Or perhaps he should call the clients, mention that he had seen them and that he was sorry he didn't have a chance to acknowledge them, but then ask them to be discrete about having seen him?

What if he said nothing and his boss confronted him? Should he concoct some story about why he was lunching with competitors?

It is perfectly reasonable and not an act of betrayal for employees to explore other job possibilities. As long as they do so on their own time and don't lie to their current bosses, going on job interviews is nothing to be embarrassed by.

Concocting a story -- a lie -- would be wrong could end up backfiring.

But broadcasting that you're off on a job interview is simply dumb.

Calling the clients you saw who may have had no idea who you were with and asking them to essentially cover for you hardly seems above board.

The right thing for the reader is to go about his business and do his job. If he's offered the new position and decides to take it, then he should give his current boss a reasonable amount of notice. If he doesn't get offered the job, no harm, no foul. Employees are allowed to seek out other opportunities from time to time.

My old friend and I were each offered jobs at Microsoft. He took it. I didn't, but somewhere in my files, I still have my visitor's name badge from that day to remind me not to overreact when unexpected encounters occur. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Homeowner floored by refinisher's manner

Just how responsible are you for letting others know about your experiences with businesses they recommended or may use themselves?

N.L., a reader from the New England area, recently decided to have the wooden floors in her house refinished. Because she wanted to have some sense that the floor refinisher might do a good job, she asked the owner of the company that painted her house several years earlier for a reference.

After receiving the reference from the painter, N.L. met with the floor refinisher. He measured the rooms and gave her a price for the job. She alerted him to the fact that the floors in one of the rooms had been particularly troublesome since they had wooden pegs covering screws. Over the years, many of the pegs had come loose and she had had to replace them.

"No problem," the refinisher said.

The refinisher told N.L. that he had had a cancellation and could fit the job in the following week. He calculated that it would take no more than a week to get the floors done. N.L. gave the refinisher a check for half the quoted price.

A week passed and the job was not completed. The floor refinisher told N.L. that his regular crew was sick and he had to make do with one assistant. After another week, the refinisher called N.L. to tell her he was done. She was at work when he finished, so she thanked him and said she'd check out the floors when she got home. When she got home and checked, she saw that six pegs were missing from the troublesome floor.

She called the refinisher to tell him about the missing pegs.

"If I'd known these pegs were going to be such a problem, I never would have taken the job," he responded. But he said he'd come back and install the pegs and do the sanding and finishing that needed doing the following week.

After three weeks, the floors were finally done and N.L. reports that they are beautiful. But she wants to know if she should let the painter who recommended the floor refinisher and the neighbor who asked for the refinisher's contact information so he could have his own floors redone about the one week turning into three and the refinisher's complaint about how difficult the job turned out to be.

The right thing for N.L. to do is to let her neighbor come over and examine the floors for himself. If he likes the quality of work, he can decide whether to use the refinisher. N.L. would be right to let her neighbor know about the challenges of working with the refinisher, but still the choice should be his.

It would also be good to let the painter know both that she liked the end product, but that she found the refinisher more challenging to work with than anticipated. It's up to the painter to decide if he wants to continue to recommend the refinisher for other jobs.

N.L. doesn't have to say anything to her neighbor or to the painter. But if she wants to do right by each of them, the right thing is to give each enough information to decide for himself how to proceed. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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