Transcript: Tuesday, November 6 at 11 a.m. ET

How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 6, 2007; 11:00 AM

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. She takes reader questions and answers a selection weekly in her weekly How to Deal column for washingtonpost.com.

She comes online twice a month to answer your questions about human resources issues, workplace laws or just everyday workplace survival.

If you've got a workplace question and would like it to be featured in an upcoming How to Deal column, e-mail Lily at lilymgarcia@gmail.com.

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

The transcript follows below.

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Lily Garcia: Good morning, and welcome to our discussion. I look forward to answering your questions regarding workplace issues. Let's begin.

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Awkward Job Situation: I worked for a Fortune 100 company and did some great work. They would not promote me. I moved out of state for a job with another company. My husband and I also wanted to be in an area with a cheaper cost of living and wanted to get away from some toxic relatives. Mission accomplished but I hate my job and am looking. I go to interviews and hiring managers tell me the things on my resume for Fortune 100 company are very impressive. Naturally, they want to know why I left. I can tell that they think it is just weird to leave a big company you are doing great work at but I was underpaid and passed over. I had good reasons for moving on but how do I convey that?

Lily Garcia: Tell them that you and your family left in search of more affordable living and better family circumstances. They do not need to know more. Leave out the stuff about being passed over for promotion and fleeing toxic relatives. It is best not to remain positive in an interview when discussing your reasons for leaving other jobs.

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Laurel, Maryland: As a woman, how do I deal with an manager at work who's behavior is just rude, crude and socially unacceptable?

Lily Garcia: If you can, avoid dealing with this person as much as possible. If you cannot, try being direct with him or her regarding the effect of their behavior on you. Report the issue to the manager's supervisor and then, if that does not produce results, anyone else (HR, a more senior supervisor) who has authority to address the situation. If you believe that this is sexually harassing conduct, follow the procedure outlined in your organization's sexual harassment policy.

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Washington, D.C.: A co-worker is going around the office saying that I stole something out of her desk and now keeps saying nasty little things to me in front of other co-workers like she is trying to provoke me to come at her. I have spoken with HR and nothing has been done. Now I don't even want to come in to work. And I did not take anything from her desk or anyone else's. How should I handle this?

Lily Garcia: First tell your coworker to stop. If that does not work, ask your supervisor to intervene. Also, hold HR accountable. Follow up with them to let them know that nothing has changed.

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Clinton, Md.: If I decided to quit a job due to getting paid under the table with no benefits and I felt that my boss was unprofessional and we ended up on bad terms. I want to know will that stop me from getting other jobs especially getting a secret clearance for an security job?

Lily Garcia: Getting paid "under the table" at a previous job might very well affect your ability to obtain a security clearance, but I am not sure. Can anyone else out there provide guidance to this reader?

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: If you know that your director has written incriminating comments on your resume to send to the CEO b/c you have challenged her decision not to promote you to a position you are more than qualified for, what do you do especially since she did it with no intention of you seeing it?

Lily Garcia: Are these comments aboutyour abilities or something defamatory about your ethics or integrity? If it is the latter, you need to address the issue forthrightly with your supervisor, and it may even be appropriate for you to report the matter to your organization's HR or compliance officer. If, however, your supervisor was merely expressing an opinion about your professional abilities, then the most you can do is develop your own relationship with the CEO and allow your work to speak for itself. If you obtained access to these comments through questionable means, then you need to think twice about making it known that you are aware of them.

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Reston, Va.: How should job applicants identify and deal with age descrimination? Is there serious enforcement of age descrimination cases?

Lily Garcia: If you believe that a hiring decision adverse to you was made based upon your age rather than your professional qualifications, report the matter to your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission field office or to your state's equal employment agency. They do take such matters very seriously. If you are concerned about a promotion from within your organzation, make sure that you report your issues internally first.

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Silver Spring, Md.: How do we deal with a controlling manager? I have one who is from a different country and sometime I fell like that is the way they operate in his country.

Lily Garcia: The reasons for the behavior do not matter as much as their effect on you. Deal with your manager's behavior just as you would the controlling behavior of any other manager. Tell him, for example, that the manner in which he follows up on your projects leaves you feeling as if he lacks confidence in you and propose an alternative way of keeping him informed. The idea is to find a win-win solution to the manner in which you interact, taking into account your need for autonomy and his need to feel that he is in control.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm not sure if you've encountered this before ... I've been with the same company for ten years now. For the most part, I like the company, but I would like to do more or something different than my current position. Lately, when I'm at home I think about leaving especially on the weekends, I agonize about having to go to work on Monday. However, while I'm at work, everything seems to be OK until I get home and I think about going in a different direction in my career. How do I deal with this dilemna? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: It sounds like you need to do a bit more soul-searching about what you really want out of your career. The fact that you are content at work and miserable at home may just indicate that your job is a welcome distraction from the dilemma that you are facing. Set some time aside while at home to explore your aspirations, what makes you happy about your job, and where something important may be lacking.

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Speaking from experience...: As long as you are honest about getting paid "under the table," that shouldn't be a problem. You can bring it up in your interview - especially since that's a reason you left, it wouldn't be the end of the world. If on the other hand you were actively colluding with your boss to avoid taxes etc then it would be a bigger issue but not necessarily a deal-breaker. Since we don't know how much money or how long of an employment period you are talking about, it's harder to say, but I would advise NOT shying away from clearance jobs because of this.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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Washington D.C.: I worked in a big organization where many internal jobs are posted. My question is should I tell my current boss before applying for a new internal job? Some people said you should not, but I am afraid that he would find it out anyway, since he has been here for a long long time. If he found out before I told him, would that be even worse? Thank you.

Lily Garcia: You and your boss should be talking on a regular basis about your hopes for promotion within the company. He should be allied with you and supportive. Unless you have some reason to believe that he would sabotage your efforts, you should let him know.

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Re: Lily's answer to Awkward Job Situation: I think you meant it is best TO remain positive, not best TO NOT remain positive.

Lily Garcia: Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband earns about three times my salary. We own our home and could afford to pay our modest mortgage with my salary alone -- although eating and paying other bills would be difficult.

He hates his boring, high paying job and wants to do something more creative and has a plan for a new business.

Do you have any tips for supporting his ideas and ambition (I want him to be happy) without freaking out about losing all that money?

Lily Garcia: Oh, boy. I am afraid that this is more of a marriage issue than an employment issue. But I can tell you this: As long as you and your husband view and operate as a team, and as long as you both agree that this decision is best for the team in the long run, you will be just fine.

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Silver Spring, Md.: A friend of mine mentioned just in passing that her company had interviewed a former co-worker of mine, and they were strongly leaning toward hiring him. After working with this person for about a year, I know that he is a human train wreck. One of my professional contacts knew him in a different context, and reached the same conclusion. Should I say anything to my friend about this?

Lily Garcia: Beware. Do you really want to be responsible for costing this guy a job opportunity? There IS such a thing as a defamation claim. The chances may be slim, but your former co-worker could conceivably sue you for damages if he suffered a financial loss because you disseminated false information about him.

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Washington, D.C.: My boss is flying abroad with his family in two weeks. On one leg of the flight, his children have "unassigned" seats in first class, rather than seat numbers. He is furious, so I've done everything I can with the airline to try and get what he wants. They now have his account flagged and probably won't do anything for me out of spite.

To be clear, these reservations were made a year ago - before I even worked here. Nevertheless, I might lose my job if I can't get this.

How do I go back to him and tell him I can't do it with the resources I have? He's already angrily turned me away five times after I offered to find him a different flight/different day/different airline. He doesn't want alternatives -- he wants this. What do I do?

Lily Garcia: Document, document, document. Send your boss an email explaining clearly and in detail everything that you have done and his remaining options. I do hope that you do not lose your job over this, in which case I would suggest looking for a new boss who is not a tyrant.

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Chicago: Hi, Lily I'm in tough spot at work that I hope you can help me with. During my recent review my manager told me how great I am performing, hitting all of my deadlines, etc. Then she pulled out a list of "quotes" from myself that she had apparently been keeping for months. These quotes were her proof that I am angry and not a team player, and they consisted of responses I made to direct questions asked by my manager. Most of them were normal things you would tell your boss when you need help but my manager said they were negative. She also claimed that I often have looks on face that she knows I am thinking she is doing the wrong thing. I asked why she would wait to talk to me about this as I am going to keep making these "errors" and she had no response. I also asked how I can improve and she had no suggestions. Needless to say, I am 40 years old and having never had this problem at other jobs before, I now think my manager is a little screwy and was digging for something negative to say about me for my review record. Others have told me that I intimidate her because I have more experience. It feels wrong to me that a manager can tell me I look angry or make things up and present it in a review as though I am 100% guilty without even being able to contest these remarks. Should I just hit the bricks as I know I won't have problems finding another job?

Lily Garcia: It was wrong of your manager not to bring up the issue earlier. And it is wrong of her not to offer concrete suggestions for change. Whether you should make a change depends upon how much you value this position otherwise. If you are not attached to your job and you are highly marketable, there is no harm in looking around. But I also would counsel you to ask people close to you whether they think that there is any validity in your manager's comments. You might be one of those people who wears his emotions on his sleeve, for example, and it might benefit you professionally to work on controlling your nonverbals. Whether you stay or go, try to get what you can out of this review.

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Georgia: Many of the people I work with (and whom don't know very well) will often say compliments to me that are disparaging toward themselves. Just about an hour ago someone made a comment about my outfit and said "Oh so THAT'S how the style is supposed to look -- if I wore that my stomach would be sticking out."

It makes me so uncomfortable and I am not very quick on my feet to come back with a compliment that doesn't sound awkward or fake. I am one of the youngest people in our office and have a body that hasn't been ravaged by childbearing yet, so maybe I could say something about how that is why I look the way I do? Just throwing around ideas ...

Why do people do this? And can you give me some good lines to say back instead of getting flustered and awkwardly laughing like I always do? I hate people complimenting me at their own expense and I would like to say something to refute their self-depreciating remarks that doesn't sound contrived.

Lily Garcia: If this is making you uncomfortable, you should say so. No need for a snappy comeback. Just tell the person that you appreciate their compliment but that it makes you uncomfortable when people make comments about your appearance. After a couple of these interactions, your coworkers will hopefully start to get a clue.

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RE: Clearances: There is nothing on the security forms below a TS that will cause this person to not get a clearance based on this situation. However, you do have to account for EVERY job you have had and have an associating person that knew you or worked with you at this job verify your employment, salary, etc.

Lily Garcia: Thank you very much for your input.

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Job changer: I'm currently in a job I'm not real crazy about, and I'd like to start looking around. I've only been here a year, and I was only at my previous three jobs for one or two years each. One reason for the jumping around is that I was never really certain what I wanted to do, and have tried a few different areas in my field. I have finally decided the direction I want to take based on giving a lot of thought to parts of each job that I did enjoy. My plan was to stay in my current job another few years, but the company isn't doing well. I think it's going to look bad to potential employers that I've left several jobs in a row after one or two years. Is it okay to mention in interviews if asked why I'm leaving this particular job, that the company may be having layoffs? Or is that a no-no? Should I just stick to the fact that I would like to switch gears. If it helps, I will be applying for graduate school programs in the sector of my field that I've finally decided upon.

Lily Garcia: It's OK to say that layoffs are coming as long as you don't disparage the company in the process. Ask a friend or relative to practice with you how you are going to say this. You need to make sure that you are speaking comfortably about the subject and not leaving the interviewer with the impression that there is more to your story.

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NYC: I work in a department where the manager rules by gossip and fear that she is gossiping about you. After being a homemaker for 20 years, she reentered the workforce and uses it as her social hour. She gets upset if everyone isn't vying for her attention and even if you do your job well but don't gossip about others, she gives you bad reviews. HR has been told and turned a blind eye. The rest of the company is great but I don't know what else to do but leave. I've spoken to my manager about this and it made it worse, now my coworkers avoid me because I am on the outs. Any advice?

Lily Garcia: As I sated in an earlier answer, you need to hold HR accountable. Follow up and tell them that nothing has changed. Also speak to your supervisor's supervisor. But do not expect immediate or dramatic changes, especially since it sounds like your coworkers may be comfortable with -- even supportive of -- your manager's style. In the end, it will probably be healthiest for you to move on.

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RE: Silver Spring and human train wreck: I had a friend once who over the winter months was both looking for a job and having a bad reaction to her meds for bipolar (she's never really gotten stable since well before her diagnosis). She landed her dream job, and both her brother and I discussed whether or not we should make her tell her new employer or tell her employer on our own. We ended up deciding not to get involved, and she lost the job within three weeks because she couldn't keep it together. I don't know if she told them before hand, and I still don't know if we did the right thing.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comments.

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Arlington, Va.: To piggyback on what Chicago said ... I have a similar situation except my manager actually solicited comments about me from my coworkers for my review, not in the professional sense, but saying things like: Why is she angry all the time? My coworker told me this was happening because she felt it was wrong to talk about me and that my manager was out to "get me." I am a good employee but my manager needs to constantly be stroked and somehow sitting quietly at my desk working has turned in to I am stewing over a bad managerial decision.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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I would suggest looking for a new boss who is not a tyrant: Exactly, because this is not the last time this person will place unreasonable demands on you.

My first job was working for several people who would not take "we can't do it that way" for answer. I was completely miserable time after time when I was told to do the impossible or else. They even asked me to lie on several occasions so that they could get their way on things. One person told me to make phone calls pretending to be someone else. So glad I left that place.

Lily Garcia: Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: I wonder how to deal with a supervisor who suggests you look at something, agrees you're unlikely to find it, but then goes and looks for it himself and criticizes you for not finding it. Seems like a "gotcha."

Lily Garcia: It does sound like a game. Ask your boss why s/he is doing that. Then you might have a chance at a productive dialogue about what s/he really wants. If your boss would like you to develop your research skills, for example, s/he needs to tell you so and help you to achieve your goals.

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San Francisco, Calif.: I interviewed with a company last week for an in-house

public relations management job. The interview went well

and I'm going back this week to take a writing test. But

during the interview, the hiring manager mentioned in

passing that the salary is $45,000. He went on to talk

about something else and then had to leave suddenly. I

have been out of work for several months and need to

take what I'm offered, but I've never worked for less than

$65,000. My last public relations job paid $85,000.

When I spoke with the company's recruiter, she said that

they would be able to match my $85,000 salary. What's

the best way to bring up that this salary is much under

industry averages and what I've made in the past, keeping

in mind that I do need this job?

Lily Garcia: First wait to get the offer. Then determine who your contact will be on the salary negotiation. With a clear idea in your mind of how low you are willing to go, start by telling that person that you were hoping that they could match your last salary. The may counteroffer something lower, in which case you need to decide whether to tell them that your figure is firm or offer some other sum that you can live with. I would not necessarily assume from the hiring manager's off-hand comment that $45,000 is the budgeted salary for this job. Even if it is, they may be willing to go higher for a superstar.

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Small Town USA: What do you do when the company you want to work for has a job you would die to have that won't call you in to interview? I have 20 years experience and this job has come up twice this year. I submit my resume and no calls, just a letter stating the job has been filled. It's a small town -- not many with my qualifications in this field so I have no idea why. What would you do differently? I have a great resume, great refs, everything to give but no one wants me.

Lily Garcia: Try establishing contact with a person within the company so that you can get the inside scoop. You can also call the HR department and ask for feedback.

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Ohio: RE: Manager who interprets the look on ones face as angry.

I was married for a long time who would use the excuse almost daily "you have a sneaky look on your face, so you have been doing something wrong" to knock me around. Thankfully, he is now gone. This manager seems like the same type: beware.

Lily Garcia: Thank you.

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D.C.: Any tips on how to tell my boss that I'd like to go part-time to care for my infant child and if that is not permissable I intend to quit? I don't want the quitting part to be viewed as a threat. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Don't lead with the threat. Just ask for what you need and explain how you and the organization can make it work. If you are not given the opportunity, then quit if you must.

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Arlington, Va.: I works for the Feds -- in a military organization. The agency will move in two years outside the commuting area. I was just offered a promotion for a position that would be good for me. But there is a three year commitment agreement. I'm not sure what to do here, for I don't want to leave the area. I would be OK with finding work in two years, but would the three year committment mean I lose my retirement benefits?

Lily Garcia: I don't know what the repercussions would be if you left a military position early. Can any of our other readers help?

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Rockville, Md.: I'm a consultant who works on a project basis. I write straightforward contracts which spell out exactly what the client will supply, what I will deliver and when. Naturally life happens and sometimes the timeline gets altered (by the client -- usually their review process).

Nearly all clients expect me to begin work before the contract is signed. When I explain that we need to get the contract signed before I can begin, they say it's a formality; it's in process; they'll get it to me, etc. Sometimes I stand my ground (like yesterday, although they later told me that payment terms are different from the contract we signed). Sometimes I don't because it's clear that it's their way or the highway. What can I do to help them understand this protects both of us?

Lily Garcia: Your question was answered several weeks ago in my weekly "How to Deal" feature. Please email me at lilymgarcia@gmail.com if you are unable to locate it. Thanks.

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Lily Garcia: This concludes today's live chat. Thank you very much for your participation. Please join me again on Tuesday, November 20.

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washingtonpost.com: Here's an archive of past How to Deal columns.

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