It’s fast answer Friday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. When a “sick” employee is spotted around town

Should an employee who has called in sick to work and is seen out shopping lose that day’s pay? I am the employer.

No. First of all, it’s perfectly possible to go shopping when you’re sick. You might not feel well enough to function at work but still be able to drag yourself out to buy the gift you have to mail to your niece by tomorrow in order for it to arrive for her birthday. Or you might feel sick in the morning but feel better enough by the afternoon that you’re able to run errands. Of course, it’s also just as possible that the employee wasn’t sick at all, and was legitimately caught faking it. But you can’t know for sure, and you shouldn’t be in the business of policing this kind of thing (even if you could, which you can’t).

Either you trust your employee or not, and she does good work or not. If you don’t trust her, or her work isn’t good, then those are the problems you’re facing and need to address — not whether or not she was really sick that day.

2. Telling a candidate we can’t meet her salary expectations

I have a great candidate whose stated salary expectations are about $10,000 higher than what we can pay. Is it appropriate to go back to her to say, “Our salary range is $X. Given that knowledge, would you like to continue with the interview process?” And if so, any best practices on how to say that?

You can say it exactly like that! The only thing I might add to your first sentence is “and we’re not able to increase that range.” Otherwise, you risk the candidate thinking that she can negotiate for more at the end of the interview process. (Of course, she might anyway, but it’s worth being clear so that you minimize that risk.)

Most candidates will appreciate you being direct and giving them enough information that they can make an informed decisions.

3. Proposing going part-time after maternity leave

I’ve worked full-time for a small business for 6 years. I will be returning from maternity leave next month, at which time I would prefer to work part-time (25 hours a week instead of 40). How should I address this with my employer?

Just be straightforward! “When I return at the end of this month, would you be open to me working part-time? Here are my ideas for how we could structure the position to make it work.” It can also be helpful to propose trying it for X months and then revisiting at the end of that period to see how well it’s working.

4. How long should salary negotiation take?

I received a job offer for a software developer position. I told them I was excited to consider the offer and asked to have the details in writing so I could go over it. I decided to negotiate on salary because considering the entire offer, including the base salary and benefits, the offer seemed a little weak based on my experience and skills, not to mention it was a worse overall offer than my existing job. (At my existing job, I make a lower base salary, but they add 10% of my base to my retirement account monthly without any contribution on my part.)

After explaining to the recruiter that I felt the offer could be better given my skills and experience, she said things like, “We are a small company and don’t usually negotiate salaries” and “I guess we could see what our VP of Technology thinks…what are you thinking?” I gave them a figure that made sense to me, and was still within the salary range we initially discussed over a month before. She told me that she would discuss this with the hiring manager and the VP and see what she could do for me.

For the last two weeks, they have been touching base every few days with another excuse of why they don’t yet have a counteroffer. Examples: “We need to run some numbers and analysis and get back to you by the end of the week,” “The VP of Technology is out on vacation now,” “The hiring manager is out on vacation now,” and “The recruiter is out on vacation now.” I personally am beginning to question whether I even want to work there now. I feel at this point like if they can’t get a reasonable offer together, what will it be like to work there? Why is it so hard for them to make decisions? I’m also becoming suspicious about what is taking so long. My question is, do you think this is a reasonable and professional amount of time to take to put together a counteroffer? What do you think I should do at this point?

It’s certainly possible that all those people are out on vacation one after another — it’s summer, after all — and two weeks isn’t actually that long for this. Four weeks would be unreasonably long, but at two, you’re still in the realm of what’s reasonable.

To me, the bigger red flag is “We are a small company and don’t usually negotiate salaries.” I’d wonder if there are other perfectly normal things they think they can skip doing because they’re a small company — raises? Professional development? Feedback? Vacation time? It’s possibly that salary negotiation is their own blind spot, but I’d make sure that you’re clear about their culture before accepting an offer.

5. Using color on resumes

Is it time to incorporate some tasteful color and design elements into resumes? Would using a color that matches a company color (red for Target, orange for Lowes) work well?

No. Hiring managers aren’t looking for creativity in a resume (unless you’re applying for a design position). I promise you, all they want is a concise, easy-to-scan list of what you’ve accomplished, organized chronologically by position, plus any particularly notable skills, all presented in a format that they can quickly scan to get the highlights. That’s it. They don’t care about color.

Since I notice from your signature that you’re a professor in a business department of a university, I also want to thank you for asking before suggesting this to students, since so often people advising students give them job search advice that isn’t grounded in a knowledge of what employers actually want and which encourages students to spend energy on things that won’t help them (and sometimes hurts).

6. My boss told me it wasn’t my place to question him

I work at a large Fortune 500 company, where I have been here for 15 years. I have a brand new boss who is new to the department yet seems to be walking the halls like John Wayne with his imaginary gold badge. He REALLY enjoys his title. His need to be always right is wearing on our team. HR is even involved since I went to his boss to complain and requested I be moved someone/anywhere else.

Issue: During our last meeting we had a tiff and I mentioned he had too much time and was too involved in my day to day activities. His reply was, “It’s not your place to question your boss.” I can’t seem to shake this comment off. He told the same thing to the other female employee. Is this sexist or am I looking too much into this? He has 3 employees and seems to harass only the 2 females but this could be coincidence.

I don’t know if it was rooted in sexism or not — there would need to be a larger pattern of treating male and female employees differently to say for sure, because the comment itself isn’t inherently sexist. If you’re seeing such a pattern, the pattern is certainly something it would be appropriate to raise with your HR department.

That said, it really isn’t your place to tell your boss that he has too much time on his hands. You can certainly talk to him about your concern that he’s overly involved in your work, but you need to do that in a professional manner — not be getting into “tiffs” with him or telling him that he has too much time on his hands. You were out of line there, which means that you’re giving this guy legitimate complaints about you, which isn’t going to help your case.

7. Applying for a lower position after earlier applying for a higher one

I’ve seen your posts about applying for two jobs at one organization, but this situation is a little bit different/more awkward. Last night, I applied for a director position at a museum I’d love to work for. I have the minimum qualifications but it’s a bit of a stretch. After submitting my application, I noticed they are looking for a manager position in the same office (to be supervised by the new director). I’d be better suited for the manager job, and I’d probably enjoy it more, but I don’t think I should contact them and let them know I’d rather be considered for a lower-level position. How would you handle something like this? Eep!

Apply for the manager job with a cover letter that says, “I applied for the director position earlier, but after seeing the manager position, I believe it may be a better match for me.”

If you were a strong candidate for the director position, this would be stickier, because you wouldn’t want to undermine that application or generally come across as not confident in your own qualifications, but since the director position was a stretch anyway, this is a reasonable way to go.