Transcript: Tuesday, November 20 at 11 a.m. ET

How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 20, 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: Thank you for joining our conversation today. I look forward to answering your questions regarding career and workplace issues. Let's get started.

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Philly: I've got a management question. I supervise union members in a white collar environment. I am not union. Union members have their contract, stewards, officers and finally the National Labor Relations Board to protect them.

Who protects me, the supervisor? If the answer is Human Resources, then I'm screwed, because they are only interested in appeasing the union. Is my only recourse for protection of my interests a lawyer?

Lily Garcia: Your supervisor should be there for you, as well as your supervisor's supervisor. If your company has an ethics or compliance officer other than HR, that person (or department) protects your rights as well. If you are really and truly disenfranchised and you have no other recourse to address legal issues, then you should seek a lawyer.

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Boston, Mass.: Help. I sit in an open area, and the people who sit around me are driving me nuts. From the person who wears so much perfume you can smell her DOWN THE HALL to the person who ANNOTATES EVERYTHING SHE DOES OUT LOUD, I am about to go postal. I have noise canceling headphones, but they cannot drown out smells or voices... I'm not a full-time employee here, either, so I don't really have much standing with HR. Any tips for achieving a more zen-like state?

Lily Garcia: Even though you are not full-time, you should still let your supervisor (and HR) know about the issues with your work environment. You are probably not alone. By the way, listening to soft music on your headphones will probably work better than noise canceling head phones.

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Beltsville, Md.: I started working for my company a month before the new receptionist did. Thigns were going really well between the two of us at first, but then out of nowhere, she started being rude, and is speaking to me with attitude, or ignoring me all together. This is a professional environment, and I do not care for our personal relationship. How do I get her to act like a human being in the work place towards me, especially since I am not sure what I did wrong?

Lily Garcia: Ask her out for coffee, tell her what you have noticed, and ask her what is wrong. You may find that it is not personal at all. But if her behavior is affecting your work, then it is best for you to make an attempt to clear the air. You cannot control what she does, but reaching out will make a difference.

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Capitol Hill: I am in a situation where I had to file a complaint against my supervisor last year for misconduct on his part against me (he was forced to issue an apology). Needless to say, since then, I have not been in good standing at work. I am thinking of leaving for this reason and other reasons, but I know I cannot expect a good recommendation/reference, even though my performance was always praised. What can be done in these situations? I have the talent, degrees, etc., but there will always be the resentment from my supervisor.

Lily Garcia: Depending on what type of complaint you filed, you may enjoy protection under the anti-retaliation laws. In any event, tell your supervisor's supervisor and your HR department (or the department with which you filed your complaint) what is going on. When the time comes for you to leave, it can't hurt to ask your supervisor whether he can put aside his personal feelings about you to provide a fair recommendation. If you find that this is impossible, reach out to others in your organization who have had occasion to review your work.

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Richmond, Va.: Too much perfume in the air? Can you put a small water fountain on your desk? The ozone in the air from the cycling water will help cancel out the perfume smell. And the sound of the water will relax you.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your suggestion.

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Virginia: Is this typical ... my husband's company just announced their Christmas gift to employees. They are going to pay employee health care premiums for December. But my husband doesn't use their insurance. Is this fair? One year they put in more employer match funds for employees' 401(k)s. You guessed it -- if an employee didn't have their 401(k), that employee got nothing. What do you think?

Lily Garcia: It doesn't sound very fair to me. Your husband should point this out to the HR department, which may very well take his suggestion to heart for next year. There may be some accounting reason why his organization does this, however, so don't expect instantaneous results.

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Richmond, Va.: As my father always said, the best protection is doing right. As cynical as I can be, the reality is, you don't need prtection if you do right. The actually occurance of false accusations against supervisors is very low. Be a good, fair boss and you'll get cookies, not accusations.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comments.

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Alexandria, Va.: Is a long commute a legitimate reason to leave a job where telecommuting is not an option? I mean, I know if I want to leave I can, but I am nervous about telling my employer because I knew how long the commute was when I took the job. But now that I've been driving an hour and a half each way for a few months, I'm over it. My concern is that this will make me look flaky to my present and future employer. What do you think?

Lily Garcia: Only you can answer this question. Do the cost-benefit analysis. On the benefit side, consider the professional opprtunities that your job provides (including pay, benefits, growth, etc.). On the cost side, consider how the commute is impacting your personal life. Still, I would encourage you to give it a few more months. You might find yourself settling into a more pleasant commuting routine, and job factors may emerge that compel you to stay.

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Washington, D.C.: Lily: When do most women inform their employers they are pregnant?

I'm feeling a little awkward, since I'm supposed to be starting graduate school in the spring. My boss is very excited that I'm going back to school, and she keeps bringing it up. But, with this pregnancy I'm not sure I'm going to get started in spring. Or at all. I feel a little funny pretending, but I'm only 1 month into the pregnancy and am not ready for work to know.

Lily Garcia: That is a very personal decision. Anecdotally, I can tell you that most women wait until after their first trimester (when the greatest danger of miscarriage has passed) or until they start to show (when they can no longer conceal the fact that they are pregnant).

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Richmond, Va.: I hate to say this, but even today, there are still secretaries/receptionists who resent working for women. They're OK working for men, but get resentful of professional women. They can get quite snippy. Is the new worker in a field still mostly populated by men? It could be the secretary has a subconscious jealously of women who've 'risen above' the secretary level.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your input.

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RE: Beltsville: Asking the receptionist out for coffee and the asker is male and the receptionist is female may not be the way to go. Maybe talk to HR to set up a conference for the two of you with a mediator might be the way to go. If for some reason the receptionist is mad at the person, setting up a one to one may escalate the problem unless there is non-partisan bystander.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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Alexandria, Va.: Lily -- Tomorrow is my last day with the office, and I would like to leave on a good note. I have already done the whole two weeks notice, official letter of resignation gig, but do you know of any resources that outline what you should do on your last day? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Please read our "Quitting the Right Way" feature on washingtonpost.com. Best of luck.

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Anonymous: I just interviewed for a management position at my current company. Do I send thank you notes to the interviewers when one of them is my current boss (the position would equal hers)?

Lily Garcia: Yes. Absolutely.

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Awkward Town: My boss recently announced that his wife left him. Obviously, he is very broken up about it and everyone was pretty shocked. I work in a small office and everything my co-workers and I do passes through him. Needless to say, his work productivity is falling off...and so is ours. How do we deal with this issue in both a work-appropriate and sensitive way?

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your question. The short answer is that you must continue to hold your supervisor accountable while maintaining sensitivity to his life circumstances. With your permission, I will publish a more complete answer to your question in our weekly "How to Deal" column next Tursday.

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Arlington, Va.: Lily: I am having problems knowing how to act in my new(ish) workplace. Other companies I've worked for encouraged people to act professional and address problems/issues with each other instead of immediately running to HR. However, my new job is a growing company in a more rural setting and many of my coworkers have never worked in an office. Rampant rude emails, gossip, and impolite people roam the halls. I know it's because they've never been instructed but I'm having a hard time dealing. I received a nasty email from a coworker so I went to talk to her politely about it and asked what was wrong and told her that in the future she can talk to me openly and she agreed, only later did I get in trouble from my manager for confronting the coworker. I had no idea these kinds of workplaces existed; is this just not a good fit for me?

Lily Garcia: It certainly sounds like it is not a good fit. I commend you for the manner in which you addressed your coworker. How unfortunate that your manager reacted in this way.

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Gossip central: I'm pretty sure my manager talks about me behind my back because she's talked about others to me. She seems to use work as a gossip session and it's really affecting the team morale, where every week one person seems to be the whipping boy and everyone else avoids them as not to be on the outs with the manager. So since it's not against the law to be a jerk, what recourse does anyone have, if any?

Lily Garcia: It would be best if your team could bond around this issue rather than turning against the designated "whipping boy." Has there been any open acknowledgement by others on your team regarding what your manager is doing? If you could all make the decision not to let her gossip affect your behavior, you would be much better off.

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D.C.: Thanks for the advice. I work for a D.C. nonprofit with offices around the U.S. My office is the biggest. We don't have an HR department, if I have a problem like the ones that you advise people to speak to HR typically, who should I speak to? The person who takes care of benefits or my supervisor?

Lily Garcia: You could speak to either, depending on who makes you feel most comfortable.

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Alexandria, Va.: I can see it now -- someone will write in next time asking what to do about the annoying guy with teh water fountain. Water fountains are distracting and often unclean. Why fight irritating with being more irritating? Why not address the real issue - which is the person wearing too much perfume.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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London, U.K.: I'm graduating from college in May with a degree in English. After spending four months abroad in London and traveling throughout my time at college, I've realized I want to pursue a career that allows me to travel. The problem is that I have no idea what that career would be.

When I try to search for travel jobs, all that comes up are travel agents and cruise ship jobs. Do you have any advice on where I could look or what job would actually pay me to travel? (and write, hopefully)

Thank you!

Lily Garcia: How far do you want to travel? Many sales jobs require travel, but it does not necessarily mean internatonal jet-setting.

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RE: You don't need prtection if you do right: That's pretty naive and will only work if everyone does right. Sometimes things happen that are not fair, and it takes time and help to get it straightened out. Just because a supervisor always does the right thing, doesn't mena his supervisor will. Employees can get mistreated, used, discriminated against no matter how much they "do right."

Unfair accusations DO happen, sometimes because a person has ulterior motives or anger, or whatever.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.

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Reston, Va.: Lily -- We are entering a very stressful time at work and everyone is on edge. I went into my colleague's office today to ask a question. The answer wasn't clear so I continued to ask questions about what I was supposed to do. She said, "If you're going to be a b**** about it, get out of my office. Just go away." I have a feeling that if I go to my supervisor he will say, "well, everyone's stressed out right now" and dismiss her behavior. Obviously I can't do my job if A. my questions are not answered, and B. I am called names. What course of action do you suggest? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: It is absolutely inappropriate to refer to anyone in such terms at work. You must immediately address the behavior with your colleague. If she is not apologetic, raise it with your supervisor. This is outrageous.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Hi, Lily. I work for a government contractor. I've sensed over the last six months that something was "off" when interacting with my manager.

Turns out, manager has given director information that has made them angry. After confronting them, director says that "this is not the time" to discuss whatever it is they say I've done wrong, because there's "a big project" that they want me working on. Further, he said they were "getting their paperwork together" and plan on talking to me later.

My question is, don't I have a right to know if I've done something they do not approve of, in order to fix it and make it better? Wasn't this communication intended to nothing more than intimidate me?

Thanks.

Lily Garcia: It is unfair of them to leave you in a position to wonder what you may have done wrong. If they say that they will talk to you later, you should insist upon putting a meeting on the calendar to revisit the issue. If they want to wait a little while, fine. But make sure that you get a firm commitment regarding when they will talk to you.

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Water fountains are distracting and often unclean. : Wow, glad I don't work with Mr. Crankypants.

People, let these things roll past. We don't have to complain about every little thing.

Lily Garcia: Some more advice.

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Thank you notes: Interviewing tomorrow. I have always handwritten and mailed thank you in the past, but is e-mail the preferred way to go today? It could take a few days for note to reach the recipient,so would that look bad?

Lily Garcia: Either way is fine. If the culture of the organization with which you interviewed is more formal, I would probably opt for snail mail.

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NoVa: Hi Lily:

My dream job turned in to a nightmare within a few months after being hired. The promises of helping develop a team and gaining managerial skills never happened. I was honest during the interview and stated I was looking for something more mid-level and challenging and I think they lied to get me in the door because they were desperate. And to make matters worse, when I asked my manager for more responsibilities I was told that I am uncooperative and not a team player, which is definitely not true. How do I reconcile the fact that I was sold a false bill of goods? I thin 7 months on a resume without a good excuse as to why I am leaving will hurt my career although I guess I don't really have one here either. Thoughts?

Lily Garcia: It sounds to me like you should start looking. Be honest with prospective employers about the fact that you are looking for professional growth beyond what your current position offer. But do not disparage your current employer or job in any way.

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Washington, D.C.: Regarding salary negotiation, if you can't find salary information about comparable positions, how do you know how much you can ask for and still be reasonable? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Ask others in the industry what they think, and look for information on jobs in the industry requiring a similar level of education, experience, and training. Also consider what you need and your ambitions.

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Federal Employee: Hello -- thanks for taking my question. Until recently, I have worked directly for a political appointee at a federal agency and had a huge scope of responsibility and tasks, regularly working 12 hour days to get things done. My boss was recently fired and now the new political appointee is being allowed to hire several new people in my department, with at least two positions ranking above me. I was not allowed to apply for one of those positions, which I was told was "Administratively Determined." Now I am being allowed to interview for the second slot, but have already been discouraged by HR from doing so. I was told that it is my new boss' right to hire whom he likes for the positions and that he is looking for someone with much more experience than what I have. I know many of the other people who are competing for this position -- which is effectively the job I currently do but at a much higher pay level -- and most of them have my same relative years of experience. I feel that between my boss and HR the deck is stacked against me and I am very unlikely to get this job. What are my rights? Am I entitled to a panel interview so that others besides my boss have input into the discussion? Is there any impetus towards hiring someone who is already basically performing in the advertised position?

Lily Garcia: Your have the right not to be discriminated against in the hiring process for any illegal reason. But it doesn't sound like that is the case here. Rather, you have been caught in the unfortunate aftermath of a political transition. I would say, go ahead and apply for the job anyhow. Go into it with confidence and a positive attitude, but be prepared for disappointment. You never know what might come of this. When the process is done, you will have a better sense of where you stand and be able to make a more informed decision about your next career move.

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Richmond, Va.: RE: The outburst. Was it charastistic behavior? Does she do this a lot? Then yes, talk to HR and let her know it's unacceptable.

But, it sounds like it was a one-time occurance. Have some resilence and give her a pass. Maybe her cat just died. Seriously, if it was a one-time outburst due to bad situation, let it pass.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your perspective.

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Obviously I can't do my job if A. my questions are not answered, and B. I am called names. What course of action do you suggest?: I think you just said it perfectly.

Go back to your co-worker and say calmly, "I can't do my job if my questions are not answered, and I am called names." You can certainly also say you understand everyone is on edge, maybe that will help.

I think it's more important to try and maintain a decent relationship with this person and give them a chance to apologize. Rather than try to get them in trouble - UNLESS it's a recurring problem.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your input.

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Anonymous: I hope you can help me because I'm at my wits end. I'm a 30 year old woman (who could pass for a teenager), with two masters degrees, including a MBA, that was hired into a senior position doing marketing at a high tech company (basically I work with 45+ year old men). Since I, like my co-workers, don't have an admin, I learned to navigate administrative process so that I could do my job. In addition, I helped fellow co-workers who ran into the similar problems even going above and beyond what they ask me to do. To me this was being a good team player and frankly I see nothing wrong with helping someone a fellow co-worker.

My problem is people assume that these administrative things are my job, and that I'm at their beacon call to solve their problems. Actually, people demand that I do things, specifically the work they don't want to do -- versus what they cannot do, and get upset when I don't drop what I'm doing to comply. I recognize I'm to blame as I encouraged the behavior by doing the work before in the past and being so eager to help.

But it has got to stop. I've investing too much time and money in myself and they pay me way too much, not that there is anything wrong with being an admin, for this to continue.

So I'm wondering what, if any, experience you have with this situation, and what advice you can give. Also is this an issue that would scare a new employer if I were to explain why I left this current position.

Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Do you have anyone you could talk to about this at work? A supervisor? A mentor? The best answer will depend largely upon your corporate culture and its political nuances. Generally, I can tell you that you simply need to start setting boundaries to relieve people of their expectation that you are their administrative aide. When someone makes an admin request of you, politely tell them that you are unfortunately tied up with X or Y legitimate assignment and suggest that they check in with their (actual) admin for help.

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Warren, Mich.: Ms. Garcia: I'm a federal government employee at the end of my pay grade.

Frustrated over being passed over I asked my team leader why I didn't get a promotion on my team. I also asked why the two junior members of the panel didn't write much when I spoke in the interview. I mentioned this at the start of the interview. "Please tell me to talk slower if I am talking too fast." Or, when one of the members was staring off into the distance rather than writing, I asked him, "Am I talking to quickly for you?"]

My team leader stated I scored best on the key question and he led me to believe I did quite well and said more than enough.

I filed an EEO complaint. In the mediation it came out I scored in the lower third, did not give enough details and did not score well on the key question. When I looked at the panel forms hardly anything I said was noted. When I asked about this, the mediator and the defendant (Not my team leader.) both stated interview panel members do not have to write anything, just listen.

I'm having trust issues with the team leader. How do I deal with it? How do I deal with the other two panel members? I also really don't care about the job either. I can't see working hard for another 26 years on a job that gets me nowhere.

Lily Garcia: It sounds to me like you have made a mental break from your position. One way to deal with this situation is to focus on the future and start to map out what job you would like to do next. Another way to deal with your disappointment in your team lead (not exclusive of the first) is to talk to him about the conflicting information you received and share with him how undermining this was to your trust. I am not suggesting that you merely put him on the spot, but do give him a chance to explain further what happened. You may learn something that changes your mind about him, and you may obtain valuable feedback that will help you with interviews in the future.

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Richmond, Va.: Can you repeat here for all to see, that etiquette says employees do not give bosses Christmas gifts. If they want, bosses give their staff gifts, but really, the best thing to do is sponsor an angel tree as an office and give to a needy family. Let's stop the guilt giving at the office; no one has time or money for it.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts.

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Washington, D.C.: The perfume thing is a problem in my office as well. A couple of us had to go to HR to request everyone tone it down, but HR told us we had to go to the individual's supervisor. Luckily, all but one of the stinky people had the same supervisor. It's been a few months now and other than a couple of slight relapses, the agressive smells have died down.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for sharing your experience.

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RE: Person who wants to travel: Why not the State Dept. or US AID? The govt. hiring process is obviously tricky, but worth a shot if travel is what you want.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for offering your advice.

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RE: Gossip central: Our team used to band more together but the manager will say nasty things in front of others and the mob mentality kicks in where they don't necessarily join in but they don't disagree. I've actually told my manager one-on-one that I don't discuss my co-workers after one of her comments and she was appalled that I went against her to say the least. It's like she's reverting back to grade school.

Lily Garcia: How sad. Good for you for taking the high road. Now you just need to decide how much more you can tolerate, and for how much longer, before moving on.

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Lily Garcia: Thank you very much for your participation. I look forward to speaking with you again during my next live chat on Tuesday, December 4. Have a great afternoon.

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