Life at Work Live

Amy Joyce
Washington Post columnist
Tuesday, October 31, 2006; 11:00 AM

Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce writes Life at Work on Sundays in the Business section and appears online every Tuesday. In her weekly chat she gives advice on how to handle social and professional situations.

An archive of Amy's Life at Work columns is available online.

Find more career-related news and advice in our Jobs section.

The transcript follows below.


Amy Joyce: Good morning, all. It's Tuesday, which means it's time to talk about your life at work. Lots of questions await, so let's do it. As always, join in with your own advice and stories to help your fellow readers along. We're listening.

_______________________ Beyond Cognitive Disability Barriers (Post, Oct. 29)

Amy Joyce: This was Sunday's column....


Sunday's Column: Thank you so much for an EXCELLENT column. You raised awareness about an often overlooked pool of employees. Your treatment of the topic was sensitive but not patronizing. Like the people profiled in your article, my brother has benefited from employment with Fairfax County schools. Holding down a job is critical to his self-worth, and he has done so for over 20 years. He is often cited as a model employee. Disabled people have much to contribute to the workplace, if employers would only give them the chance. Thank you for profiling these employees and showing how they can succeed.

Amy Joyce: And a nice comment to get started. Thanks. It was a fun column to do, and I was happy to see what some organizations are realizing.


Silver Spring, Md.: Amy, Thanks for the great chats. I have gotten a lot of valuable career advice here. This weekend I was talking with someone who is adopting a child internationally. He has a lot of vacation time saved up at his job. When he was scheduling time to go pick up his child, he was told he had to use Family and Medical Leave Act time (which is of course unpaid) instead of his accrued vacation because of the nature of his trip. He told his HR department that they could not dictate what he did on vacation. They are insisting. Last year I had minor surgery and needed 3 days off. Despite the fact that I had more than enough sick leave, my company insisted that I would have to take FMLA for the third day. All this seems contrary to the spirit of FMLA, which is supposed to protect workers' jobs while they attend to family or medical issues. Both these companies are taking advantage of the law to deny workers the use of their accrued company benefits and save some money. How common is this? Is it even legal?

Amy Joyce: I could say something pretty nasty about your company right now. Why offer vacation time if someone can't take it for something as important as this? Or sick leave? Grrr. Do you all have to tell your boss WHY you're going on vacation? Was HR upset because it was a last minute thing? I'm not sure about the legality of this, but I'm guessing it's totally legal for the company to tell you to use FMLA. I just think it's stingy. Particularly because FMLA is unpaid.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Amy, Love your columns and chats. What do you think about giving a follow-up call after submitting your resume? My boyfriend says this is how networking is done and I have nothing to lose, but I worry about coming off like a stalker. It's been a week since I sent of my resume and I heard about the position through a friend. Any assistance you could offer is much appreciated. Thanks!

Amy Joyce: If you have a contact, definitely follow up. Your boyfriend is right. And a week after sending a resume in is far from stalking. It's just following up to make sure they have everything they need from you.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Amy -- how does one handle a supervisor who often bad-mouths colleagues?

Amy Joyce: Don't feed the fire. Get back to work so you don't give a reason to be badmouthed yourself. It may seem like you should join in the bashing to be accepted by the supervisor, but that will backfire. And will only give the supervisor more reason to turn around and badmouth you. So do you work, do it well and hope that the supervisor grows up and gets smart.


Vienna, Va.: I'd just like to note that Baker Botts received the 2006 Fairfax Area Disability Services Board 'Employer of the Year' Award for their proactive program to employ students with cognitive disabilities and to spread the word across the Washington legal community. Thanks.

Amy Joyce: Yes, it did.


Help!: Sorry in advance for the long question -- how much harder is it to find a job if you've quit yours? I will be leaving on a long vacation (4 weeks) shortly. When I get back, I will, within a few months, quit my job. I've been miserable for awhile -- the work is okay, but it's been repeatedly demonstrated that I cannot trust my coworkers, the management is ineffective, and people care more about finger-pointing than doing their jobs. I've been looking to leave for several months, but the job does not leave me with enough time or energy to do a full-time job search. I feel trapped -- because of the pettiness, I don't think I have good references to walk away with. I want to take my vacation and maintain my benefits, but I feel guilty doing so if I may resign within a couple months of returning. Any thoughts? Thank you.

Amy Joyce: Take your vacation. You have no idea what might happen during those next few months. And not only that, you still plan to work for a few months after this vacation, so you have earned those pay and benefits. No need to punish yourself.


Virginia: I quit a job three months ago and have continued to receive paychecks. Am I at fault? Should I call someone or let them figure it out? I've been told it is their problem. What do you think?

Amy Joyce: You quit. You're not working for them, therefore, you should not be paid for work you, uh, don't do. What's confusing here?

(To hit you over the head: YES, you should call someone and tell them what's happening. You are going to be asked to give that money back. Do it now before you have to give them an entire year's salary back. And yes, you can and probably will be held liable for that money if you refuse to give it back.)


Fairfax, Va.: I have an interview on Thursday, and have already had a phone interview with this organization, so it's not unreasonable to think that we may discuss salary. They asked for my salary requirements in my application/cover letter (which I hate), but I feel like I may have shot low. All of my previous experience has been in non-profits and educations, and this is the first for-profit business I will have worked with as a programmer. Obviously, they may choose not to offer me the job, but if they do, is there anyway to correct my original salary estimate, or have I already shot myself in the foot?

Amy Joyce: Obviously, you worked for lower-paying industries. When they mention salary, tell them you expect a salary along the lines of $X (do you homework to make sure you're throwing out a decent number) since you are moving into a for-profit sector, have years of experience, etc. etc.

Good luck.


To the FMLA person: From the Department of Labor's Web site: Q: Does the law guarantee paid time off? A. No. The FMLA only requires unpaid leave. However, the law permits an employee to elect, or the employer to require the employee, to use accrued paid leave, such as vacation or sick leave, for some or all of the FMLA leave period. When paid leave is substituted for unpaid FMLA leave, it may be counted against the 12-week FMLA leave entitlement if the employee is properly notified of the designation when the leave begins. The link to the FAQ on FMLA:

Amy Joyce: Good old DOL Web site. Thanks.


Delran, N.J.: Amy, A few colleagues have suggested I go on informational interviews. I am looking for an adjunct faculty position in a Visual Arts/Graphic Design program on the collegiate level. I have years of career experience, have been hired as an online instructor and have an MFA, but am lacking the in-class experience, so this would be a first traditional teaching experience. Any suggestions on how to find out who is on the hiring committee and general questions I should ask? I'm concerned about support for first year adjuncts. Thanks.

Amy Joyce: Call the department for which you want to work and ask if you could talk to the department head or someone else in the department about interest in working as a professor in the field. Make it clear you're just hoping to have and informational interview--they may be more apt to meet with you then. You also should ask colleagues if they have any contacts in the field in schools that you're interested in. If they do, call that person through your friend and ask for some advice. Your friends are right: Find people to ask questions of and then you'll have a good idea of what to go after and how to do it.


Reston, Va: If you resign on good terms, is your employer required to pay you for vacation time that you've earned but haven't used?

Amy Joyce: Nope.


NYC: Amy, thanks for the chats -- they're always helpful and informative. My one-year review is coming up in 2 weeks and I am six months pregnant. Based on, I think I could be making about 10% more for this job, which would be a substantial raise. I also feel that I have proven myself as a good worker, role model, etc., and have some ground to negotiate for a larger raise. But I also know that I will want to go part time after I come back from maternity leave. I'm concerned that if I negotiate hard for a raise now, then start negotiating again in a month for the part-time post-baby set-up, I'll look like a jerk. Of course I'd like to make more money, but the post-baby flexibility is more important to me right now. What's your take?

Amy Joyce: If you get a raise now, it's for work you've done and are doing. If you go part-time, your salary will reflect that. So no, I don't think you're a jerk for asking for a raise now. You have good reasons to do so. Ask for it.


Follow-up to Help: Thanks for your response -- but I'm also worried about the impact of some of my external colleagues. I work very closely with people outside my own agency, and I don't want to make their lives harder for a month only to come back and leave them hanging during a busy time of year. Does that change your response?

Amy Joyce: Take your vacation. Make a plan for yourself. You may or may not leave. You may decide it would be best for everyone if you stayed through the busy season. You may decide to wait out the job until you've found another one you want. Many things can change. If you want and can get that vacation, and you've earned that time off, take it.


Career shift: Hi Amy, I have decided that I want to go to Culinary school. I am working on getting the finances worked out, but I am sure I'm going to do it. The class starts April 1. Lots of time to get things together. What I'm not sure of is when to tell my boss. I work at a small firm (3 partners, 3 staff members) and will be missed (in terms of workload). Also, I want to be able to help my boss find a replacement. I want to wait until at least the holidays, when I will have been here a year (I should get a bonus). Clearly this deserves more than the 2 week notice. What would you do?

Amy Joyce: It sounds like you've answered your own question. More than two weeks, but not right now. I'd wait until after the holidays. Little hiring goes on then anyway. Congrats!


Texas: Hi Amy -- What are your thoughts on using a professional career counselor? I feel like I am at a cross roads where I want to do something new but I don't know what. Rather than just start blindly seeking either jobs or degrees, I feel like I need a little guidance. Do you think this would be a good step for getting that? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: If you're willing to shell out some bucks, yes, a career counselor can be a good guide and help. Just make sure you shop around. Call several either recommended to you by colleagues or friends or that you find online or in the good old yellow pages. Make sure to call several, ask if they offer a free first session (or half session) so you can try each other out. Then make your decision. A lot of times, the counselors will help you figure out stuff you already know but haven't been able to comb through. They may not throw a lightening rod of ideas, but they can provide valuable guidance.


Downtown: Amy, can you help with this situation? A new employee (used to be part-time intern) has suddenly decided to take over a certain responsibility at our office. This upsets me because I feel I have just as much right to be in charge of this responsibility. I never tried to because it didn't seem necessary as we already have an intern doing the job, and I can spend my time doing billable work. I don't want to get left in the dust because this new employee has taken on more 'work'. Help!

Amy Joyce: Stop looking at this as something that was taken away from you. If you want to do something else, ask. Just like this employee did. You have no more right to it than this new employee does, particularly if the other employee asked for it.


Washed Out: Hi Amy. I've been in the same job with the same boss for over five years. My boss is a micro manager and holds a grudge. I've put up with it for a long time because of the old "I need to pay the rent" excuse, but I'm getting really tired of the pettiness. She also plays favorites. The boss' pet makes a mistake and all is forgiven. I make the same mistake and I'm called into a two hour meeting to suss out why I made the mistake and taken to task to be sure I never make the same mistake ever again. My evaluation is coming up and my boss is currently mad at me which I feel will impact my evaluation. I also know that there may be a few new opportunities in my organization that I would be interested in, but am concerned that my boss will totally shut me down. I have a meeting with my HR person tomorrow. What should I say?

Amy Joyce: First of all, listen to the evaluation. It is important that you pay attention to what --exactly--your boss thinks of you. What she thinks you need to change and how.

If you talk to HR tomorrow, I'd suggest you tell them about the other opportunities you're hoping for. Explain why without slamming your boss. (i.e.: Real reasons that pertain to the jobs themselves.) That way, you're achieving what you really want to achieve, right? Trying to move into a better opportunity.

Then if it seems right, tell them it would probably do you some good to be placed under a new supervisor. If you really think it would. Be prepared, if you tell them about your boss, to be pulled into a meeting with HR and your boss to discuss your difficulties.


Frederick, Md.: I just want to thank you for your article in this Sunday's Washington Post. I work for an agency that supports people with developmental disabilities to live and work in their communities. Recently we established a partnership with a program in Frederick County which provides additional schooling for students with disabilities who have left high school and want to continue with their education. Over the summer I met with the students and asked them what their dreams were for the future, specifically relating to employment. One young lady expressed an interest in fashion design and is now working at a fabric store learning how to cut and sew material. The manager recently shared with me that the student "has just been a blessing" to the store and her coworkers. There was also a young man in the program interested in working with computers but expressed he had no prior experience in this type of work. I spoke to the manager of a local Best Buy who expressed an interest in meeting the student and giving him a chance to learn how to install software in newly purchased computers. Last week I learned from the manager that the student is making less mistakes installing the software on these newly purchased computers than any of their other employees. I really believe that employers are starting to realize that individuals with disabilities can be a real asset in the workplace.

Amy Joyce: Thank you. This sounds great. As one mother put it yesterday in an email to me, it's about time these young adults have opportunities in things other than the four F's: flowers, folding, food and filth.

It just makes so much sense for everyone involved. Keep up the good work.


Washington, D.C.: I work for a federal agency. We have individual offices with doors (a rarity!). Anyway, if you're out of the office, you're supposed to put a Post-it on your door saying where you are (e.g. another building or on vacation, or sick). My co-worker and friend was taking sick leave since last Friday to help care for his young child in the hospital for an infection. (She'll be okay.) Anyway, the receptionist left an "out sick" note on his door. I noticed yesterday that some wise guy wrote on the note, "Yeah, right". Now, I'm a parent, too, and this made my blood boil. I just took down the offending note and replaced it with a new, clean one. I also probably won't bring it up with co-worker (he doesn't need to know about this). I don't know who the wise guy was. It was just so unprofessional. The office is generally good about kids and accommodating people, but there are elements like this who just have no common sense. What was the right thing to do?

Amy Joyce: Ignore it. This came from a petty co-worker who needs no extra attention. Every office has 'em.


Philadelphia, Pa.: I'm deaf and enjoyed your article. As a volunteer firefighter, I often stress this when talking to other departments that have a person with a disability wanting to join up: Look beyond the disability and be selfish. By this, I mean don't approach the person as a charity case, don't look at it as being some kind of "good deed". Rather, ask selfishly: what needed skills or talents does this person bring to my organization? What interests does this person have that I can shape into a needed skill/talent? I often find taking this view eliminates many of the patronizing attitudes ("pat them on the head") that are found in many quarters toward people with disabilities today.

Amy Joyce: Exactly! Thank you. This was also something Baker Botts and the Cincinnati Hospital brought up. These aren't charity jobs, these are real jobs that need to be filled, and they are filling them with people who want to do them.


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Amy -- I have 2 years of solid administrative experience and have decided it is time to move into a field of more interest to me -- law. Is it possible to work at a law firm part time and go to law school full time, while still paying the mortgage on time? Also, is it a good idea to pay for law school from my savings or to get student loans and pay them off when I am making money as a practicing lawyer? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: I think it's incredibly smart to work at a law firm first. In fact, do that before you even sign up for law school. It may change your mind, or it may underscore this is what you really want to do. Either way, it's a smart way to figure out what you want to do, how you will make it work and what you should do as far as paying for it. (Ask Michelle Singletary about whether to go the loan or savings route!)


North Bethesda, Md.: Hi, I've been working for a fairly large company for 3+ months. I accepted the job because I needed it but I gave up supervising and basically being in control to have it. I'm learning some new things but I don't see this company having the vertical structure to support my career goal (eventually department director). I'd like to put in a solid year because I only lasted 16 months at my last job. (I have more than seven years total experience). Am I wrong to think I have a shelf life here and start looking around already? Thanks.

Amy Joyce: It never hurts to start looking. In fact, we all should always be looking and thinking about that next move just so we can be prepared and move our career in the direction we want it to go. So yes, start looking now. But remember that you can and should take your time to find the right job. Since you're not unhappy where you are, and since you want to put in more time there, that will make the search easier and smarter: You won't just jump at the first opportunity that comes your way. (Right??)


Springfield, Va.: My part-time job is great and I am sad to leave it. I'm on very friendly terms with my boss, and the workplace is laid-back. I will be telling my boss I am resigning, but is it necessary to write a resignation letter? When are such letters usually expected?

Amy Joyce: You can write a letter of thanks. Nothing wrong with that and probably a nice touch. It's not expected, but your boss may appreciate it.


Silver Spring, Md.: Amy -- I know people from across the region and country read your chats, so I wanted to point out that in some states, you are legally entitled to "cash out" earned vacation leave. In DC and MD, employers are required to pay it unless there is an express company policy to the contrary. Virginia has no provision, so employers there are not required to pay it. But in 21 states, employers are required to pay unused vacation time upon termination, and there are several others that allow it to be paid under certain circumstances. (This is from Nolo's Your Rights in the Workplace, an excellent resource for non lawyers on basic employment rights).

Amy Joyce: Okay, okay, so I was a little short with that one. Thanks for the clarification. It's important people figure this stuff out before they go. I've seen too many people counting on that extra time or money, not realizing it isn't a given.


Washington, D.C.: My one year review is approaching and apparently I am supposed to name my raise. This is my first job in the private sector -- what is an appropriate percentage to ask for?

Amy Joyce: There is no blanket appropriate percentage. It depends on your field, your experience, your position, your market. Check out for good stats. Other web sites, including ours and are helpful to determine general pay as well. Then consider what you've done in the last year and how much you think you've earned. Put all those factors together and name your price. The more educated you are, the better off you'll be.


Career counselors: Often, being an alum of a college grants you access to their career counselors, free of charge. If you live near your alma mater, it might be worth it to check out.

Amy Joyce: That's true. Not unlimited usually, but you can probably get a few visits in. Thanks.


Va.: Amy, Curious about something. I got married over 4 years ago and my social security card has my last name hyphenated (post marriage), i.e., "Jane Doe-Smith" (assume "Smith" is my husband's name). I'm looking for a job and was wondering when I get hired, can I just give them my name as "Jane Smith"? Because of the last names, the hyphenation is cumbersome and most people call me by "Smith" anyway. In my personal life, I refer to myself as "Jane Smith". Would I have to go through the SSA to get my card changed or could I leave it as "Jane Doe-Smith"? Thanks!

Amy Joyce: Potential future employers may call former employers for a reference, and your former employer won't know your married name. But that's easily fixable by just adding a line to your resume (born: Jane Doe.) Or just put your name on the resume as hyphenated, but go by Jane Smith once you're hired. Changing your SS card is up to you. That shouldn't impact your job search. The reference issue is my only hesitation.


Work/Law school: One of my best friends is doing this. She works as a paralegal -- full time -- and is going to law school. This semester she's in class four evenings a week. She takes vacation time for reading period/exams. It works for her. She has more energy than anyone I know but it certainly can be done. I guess the question is -- is it for you?

Amy Joyce: Good question to consider.


Bethesda, Md.: Hi Amy. I recently found out that my group lost funding and that my job will be eliminated 01/07. After all the hard work and extra hours I've put in, I am having a hard time getting over the idea that my boss thinks my job is dispensable. I've decided that after this I will stay home with my kids. Should I wait out until the end of the year (when my job will end) or just quit now? The work is minimal now and I am basically cruising. However, I know I have a big chip on my shoulder that I just can't hide.

Amy Joyce: You need to decide this one for yourself. Can you survive without these several months of pay? If you decide to stay, can you help yourself realize that it's not all about you? Because it's not. It's about funding and business. The more you can accept that, the easier it will likely be for you to transition out of work, and eventually if you want, back in. Your boss will be a reference you need in the future. If you handle these last few months with grace, that could bode really well for you in the future.


Boston, Ma.: My annual review is coming up tomorrow and I'm pretty sure I won't get what I ask for, in terms of the work I want and the money I want. Assuming that to be the case, I need to leave. Do I give notice right then and there? How long do I wait? If it changes anything, this is my first job out of college, and I have been there two years.

Amy Joyce: Please wait until you get your review and it settles in to the spontaneous crevices of your brain. Give it some time. If you don't get the money or opportunity you were looking for, consider whether you really deserve it and whether you'd be able to get it elsewhere. Or maybe--just maybe--what you get is what you deserve at your level and experience.

Once you've absorbed what the evaluation says and what opportunities you have or don't have, then you can consider what your next move should be. If you quit right then (and you're saying this as if you know what will be in your review) you have lots of room for regret. We don't like regret.


Amy Joyce: Alrighty gang, it's that time. Check out Sunday's Business section for Life at Work, the column. The topic this week will be what so many of you wrote in about: Annual evaluations.

Chat with me again next week, same time, same place. You can email me at

Have a good week, all.


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