men with bare chests at work, charging late fees when freelancing, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Bare chests at work

I have an “is this weird or is this COVID?” question.

My employer held a vaccine and booster clinic recently, by appointment only. The setup was like most ones I think we’re all used to in this pandemic era: booths that have partitions but are not private and a large observation area for post-shot folks. In order to receive his shot, one fellow untucked and entirely unbuttoned his oxford shirt. He did not have an undershirt on. Just his nips to the wind. And then he sat there chatting for several minutes before getting his shot. I didn’t think I was going to get Chippendales with my morning mRNA, so I was admittedly a little startled. Is… this weird? Should he have worn an undershirt? Or am I being overly prude and this is this just what we should grow to expect when we get vaccines at work?

(P.S. It’s entirely possible he forgot he had an appointment and was just leaning into it by pretending it wasn’t weird to sit in the middle of a conference room dressed like Magic Mike.)

Nah, it’s weird! (Can I do a whole week where I just issue verdicts of weird/not weird? That sounds very relaxing.)

The only thing I can think of was that his shirt was so tight that it was hard to roll up the sleeve enough to expose his upper arm … but it was an oxford so I doubt that was the case (and why not just take the one arm out?) (unless he had a mobility issue that precluded that?) (I don’t know.) Although … some men feel VERY FREE about taking their shirts off and don’t think it’s a big deal, even in normally buttoned-up environments like work. He may be one of them.

I like to think he went home and told his partner, “I did this weird thing at work today and I don’t know what I was thinking.”

2. How do I charge late fees when freelancing?

I’m freelancing while I’m in between jobs and as anyone who has freelanced knows, getting people to pay you on time can be a challenge. I have a term right on my invoices indicating my pay period and late fee terms so my timelines aren’t secret or easily missed by my clients. You’ve spoken about late fees matter-of-factly in the past so I’m assuming they’re not wrong to have, but how do I ask for them or warn clients about their impeding addition? Do I have to give a bunch of reminders or do I just send a notice with a form letter style of “this invoice is past due and a fee of X is applied”? I need some language and process tips!
Also, I usually give a bit of a grace period for new clients since I know it can take longer to get a new vendor set up, but is this undermining myself?

Ideally you want to have the late fees in your contract so that the client is legally bound to pay them. It’s much easier to collect them if you can point to a contract.

But if the fees aren’t listed in a contract (and they may not be, especially if your clients are the ones writing the contract and you’re just signing — which is sometimes the case for freelancers*), then the deal with late fees is … you can try. Include them on the invoice as you’ve been doing. The first time someone misses a payment deadline, let that be their one grace period — email them and say, “I can waive the late fee this time, but I want to make sure you see it for the future.” But it’s also the case that some clients in some industries just don’t pay late fees if they’re not bound to them via a contract, and if they have more power than you in the relationship (like if they’re a huge corporation with a ton of freelancers and you’re one person without a ton of sway), there isn’t always anything you can do about that. You can try! But getting it into your initial contract is the safest way.

Another way to do it is to have an “early payment discount” that you apply if payment is received X days early (and which is the real fee and deadline you want).

* About freelance contracts: If a client insists on providing the contract rather than using yours (which is common in some industries, especially if they use a bunch of freelancers and have their own system set up), know that you can push back on clauses you don’t like. I routinely mark up contracts and send them back to clients saying “can we change X and Y?” and most of the time they agree.

3. Was I too positive or was my friend too negative?

A while back, I was unemployed and I had an interview that went pretty well, although I didn’t end up getting the job. Even though I was desperate for a job, I didn’t mind that much, because it was a temporary position with a long commute. The interviewer rang me and told me that it was down to me and another person and the other person was chosen as they had much more experience than me. After having sent out numerous applications and never hearing back, I was actually feeling quite positive about the outcome. Obviously, I would have been happier if I got the job but it made sense that they would hire someone with more experience.

A few days later, I had coffee with a friend and mentioned what happened. I said that despite the rejection, I felt pretty good about myself, because I gave my best and did pretty well. I was definitely not saying this in a tone that could be interpreted as resentful. To this, my friend said something along the lines of: “You know, they just use not having enough experience as an excuse.” I do tend to be over-sensitive, so I think she was just trying to encourage me and not realizing that I ended up feeling the opposite way.

Was I too positive or was she too negative? I feel that if they didn’t want to hire me due to whatever reason they didn’t want to say, they could just send me a brief email. There is no need to personally call me with an excuse. In addition, if it is not about the experience, they could simply say that I am not what they are looking for. I feel that what the interviewer said is what happened: they considered hiring me, but choose to hire the person with more experience. I don’t believe that it is an excuse that they made up to cover some other reason for them not wanting to hire me.

It’s impossible to know for sure — some employers do use “we went with a candidate with more experience” as a sort of catch-all explanation for why they’re not hiring you — but your friend is definitely off-base in assuming it’s always an excuse. It’s true a ton of the time! Maybe in this case there was more to it, but there’s absolutely no reason to assume that — and if she thinks it’s always BS, then her understanding of how hiring works is wrong. She’s also approaching it in a strangely adversarial way; employers don’t need “excuses” to not hire you and they’re very comfortable just rejecting people with vague language or not bothering to send a rejection at all (let alone call you).

I also can’t figure out why she thought “they use that as an excuse” would be comforting to you! Implying that there must have been some secret reason they found you unsuitable for the job aside from this very straightforward explanation is … kind of a crappy thing to put in your head?

Anyway, your take on the interview and its outcome sounds good to me. Hers sounds off.

4. Checking back with a candidate who rejected an offer a few months ago

I work for a small construction company and we have had an opening for a more technical office position for the past year or so. Despite my best efforts, we have only had one candidate make it to the final round.

This person was out of state and flew in several months ago to take a tour of our facility and interview with managers. We ended up making them an offer and after some consideration they turned it down without giving a reason.

Now it’s been several months and we wanted to reach back out in case something has changed. I’ve never done that before, and wanted to get your perspective. How impolite is it to reach out to candidates who have already rejected a job offer? And if I did, what kind of script would you suggest?

It’s not rude to do! They might have already taken a different job or still be uninterested, but there’s nothing wrong with checking in. I’d say something like, “I hope you’re doing well! I know when we last talked, you had decided the position wasn’t for you but I wanted to check in and reiterate our interest in case anything has changed on your side. We haven’t found a candidate who we like for the role as well as you, and if there’s something we can change about our offer to make it more appealing, we’re very open to talking. Either way, I hope things are going great for you.” (Ideally you’d personalize that last bit — like “hope things are going well with the iguana project you told me about/the new baby/fill-in-the-blank.”)

Also, if you’ve adjusted the salary for the job, definitely mention that. (And if you haven’t, consider whether you need to, and then mention it if you do!)

5. Changing my religious observances at work

When I started my current job, I was in the first stages of exploring conversion to a new religion. Recently I finished that conversion, and now I’m thinking about asking for accomodations like maybe leaving early one day or refusing overtime in certain occasions.

I wasn’t observant when I started the job, and it’s been almost two years. How do I bring up these requests to a manager given that I didn’t ask about them when hired? For context, in my opinion, my leaving early or not working overtime would not affect the overall operation of the business. It may require moving schedules around.

Be straightforward! “My religious practice has changed, and I am now observing the Sabbath and will need to leave a little before sundown on Fridays and won’t be able to work Saturdays” (or whatever accommodation you need).” Depending on the type of job, you might add, “Can we plan for me to make up that time earlier in the week?” or whatever makes sense for your situation.

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