Transcript: Tuesday, December 4 at 11 a.m. ET

How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, December 4, 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, email 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 thank you for joining our conversation. I look forward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions. Let's get started.

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Arlington, Va.: I recently had my annual review and my performance was listed as good, then my manager proceeded to say I have a problem with teamwork because I don't smile enough and because she feels I have a problem with her decisions. I've always been upbeat and have told her on numerous occasions how much I like my job, so what gives? I now feel set up and am unsure how to act. I've been in the workforce for 15 years and my teamwork skills have always been praised by other superiors. My manager uses work time as a social hour so I guess that's what she wants me to do, however my actual work is great enough that I barely have enough time for lunch. Should I just keep my head down and forget about this review?

Lily Garcia: You should ask her for more specifics about what she means. Saying that you do not smile enough or that she feels that you disagree with her decisions simply is not helpful. Perhaps she has a particular incident or incidents in mind, in which case opening a dialogue about her impressions will give you an opportunity to clear the air and establish better mutual understanding. You should also share your disappointment with your boss. Let her know that this review comes as a surprise and how hard you feel that you have been working. Again, the goal is for her to better appreciate your perspective.

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Middle America: Lily, I have successfully gotten through two interviews as the secretary to the president of a great local company. This job would be a terrific step upward in my career, and I am eager to get an offer of employment. But now they have called me and asked if I would come to a luncheon to "meet and greet" the staff! I've never heard of such before -- have you? Does it probably mean they are just taking one more look at me? I'm really a bit confused.

Lily Garcia: It's a great sign. It means that they are on the verge of selecting you but that it is important to them that you fit in well with the rest of the team.

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Washington, D.C.: I applied for a job within my company that will require me to relocate. Well, I didn't get the job that I had originally applied for, but they did say that they wanted me for the same position somewhere else. Great. However, they weren't able to tell me what location that they wanted me for. Moving is obviously a huge deal and I am pretty interested as to where they are going to put me. My question is how often should I contact them and ask them where they are going to start me without being too overbearing. Thank you so much for your advice!

Lily Garcia: I would say that you are entitled to know where in the world they are sending you at least four weeks in advance. Are they ignoring your inquiries? If so, it is worth gently reminding them that you must make extensive arrangements on your end before you can accomplish a move. You are not just a chess piece to be placed elsewhere on a board, after all. They need to appreciate the real-life impact that this will have on you.

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for taking my question! I really need some advice. I am a young professional (mid twenties) and recently started a job here on Capitol Hill. I left a medium-sized nonprofit to come here, thinking the challenge and pace would be more stimulating for me. I was completely mislead about my actual job responsibilities; instead of being an assistant, I am tasked as the office chauffeur, and the hours and commute are completely miserable. My entire life right now revolves around how unhappy this job makes me (not to mention my poor husband). My question is, I was at my last job for two years but I can't wait to get out of this one. Do companies hire someone who's only been in their current job two months? I know I'd be burning a bridge by leaving, but I am so unhappy.

Lily Garcia: Hey, sometimes it becomes clear early in an employment relationship that things simply will not work out. If you are absolutely convinced that it is not going to work out, it is best to cut your losses. Your short tenure at your current employer will not disqualify you from consideration for other jobs. However, prospective employers will want to know why you are leaving so soon, so you need to make sure that you get your story straight. Try to be as positive as you can under the circumstances. For example, do not simply say that you were misled about the position. Say, instead, that organizational priorities shifted such that you find yourself without access to all of the opportunities you were hoping for. You get the idea.

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Dulles, Va.: I have a co-worker who is very annoying when it comes to her cell phone. I've asked her several times to turn her phone down, but every day the volume is back up at a high level. It wouldn't be so bad if it didn't ring constantly, but it does, all day, every day, with friends and family members calling. What can I do?

Lily Garcia: Tell your boss. Chances are, it is annoying others, too. Would it really kill her to keep her phone on vibrate?

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Arlington, Va.: I'm currently job hunting, but I'm also applying for a PhD. Should I tell potential employers that I may be starting school (in a different part of the state) in August?

Lily Garcia: Is this a sure thing? If so, you have an ethical obligation to let them know. If not, then keep that to yourself.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you tell someone you supervise that their communication style is rude and causes frustration? I supervise an employee who interrupts constantly and will cut me off when I'm in the middle of explaining a task or answering a question. I have a review meeting with him this afternoon and am trying to state this fairly and clearly (without being cut off!).

Lily Garcia: You need to tell him what you are experiencing without attaching a value judgment. In other words, explain that you perceive him to be interjecting without allowing you to complete your thoughts. You can tell him that you find this to be frustrating, but telling him that it is rude will just put him on the defensive. If you are anxious about having to have this conversation with him because you fear hurting his feelings or demoralizing him, tell him that, too. Humanizing the discussion will make it far more likely that he will internalize your message. Even if he does accept what you are saying as a legitimate issue, this is the type of behavior pattern that takes significant effort and time to correct. Do not expect perfection overnight, and offer resources (coaching from you, communications classes, etc.) to help him.

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New York, N.Y.: I was offered a non-compete agreement for 10 months. Shouldn't they offer me some incentive for that non-compete agreement? Shouldn't there be a clause in there that says that if they fire me it doesn't apply? I've never had to sign one before.

Lily Garcia: You should ask for that if you think it is fair, but it is not standard practice for non-competes to contain such a clause. What they are offering you in return for your signature on the non-compete is the job itself.

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Sterling, Va.: Is right now a bad time to completely change careers? In fact, is there ever a good time to switch careers?

Lily Garcia: You can take the economy and the job market into account, but there is no definite general answer to this question. The factors that most matter are the circumstances of YOUR life. Do you have the financial resources and emotional support to weather the change? How unhappy are you in your current field?

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Greenbelt, Md.: I work in a company that offers flex benefits, but one of my co-workers seems to be taking advantage of it and her manager doesn't seem to notice the effect it is having on the team. The agreement was supposed to be temporary, but it's two years later, and my co-worker is largely unavailable during her "work from home" hours. When you're a coworker, not a manager, what can you do to get things to change?

Lily Garcia: If this is affecting your work, you need to let your supervisor know. Also encourage others to do the same.

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Washington, D.C.: How does one handle a diagnosis of severe depression in relations to their job which is in trouble as a result of the disease? Is it to be discussed with HR or supervisor? I can't imagine how that would be handled. The fear is tremendous. Also, when depression has resulted in termination, how is it explained as the reason for termination from a previous job? Anyone out there with this actual experience? How was it handled? Ms. Garcia, thanks very much if you could provide guidance.

Lily Garcia: If your depression is affecting your ability to meet the performance standards of your job, then you need to speak to HR. Before you do so, however, think about what accommodation from your employer might help you to close the performance gap. Do you have trouble getting up in the morning and getting to work on time? It might be possible for your employer to shift your schedule so that a timely arrival is possible. Does your medication make you drowsy? It might be possible for your employer to arrange for a longer lunch break so that you can rest. Do not just tell HR about your condition; tell them what you need.

I would not tell a prospective employer that you were terminated from a job because you have major depression. As I have explained in our weekly "How to Deal" column, it is best, if at all possible, to explain the departure as a mutual decision. Please refer to our archives for further information.

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Alexandria, Va.: I had a similar experience like Arlington with my manager, except my manager said that during meetings I look like I am thinking that my manager's decisions are bad. Where's the line here? Can I really be criticized for how I look? I mean, not to be funny, but maybe I'm just ugly to her.

Lily Garcia: Like the other reader's manager, you manager needs to work on formulating her feedback in a constructive way. You need to ask her for specifics about what she means. I agree that criticizing you for how you look is a bit ridiculous.

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Anonymous: How does a boss get employees to speak up and be open about things that are bothering them?

Lily Garcia: Build trust, which takes time. If you listen and take into consideration the feedback that people give you, they will, over time, start to feel more comfortable raising more significant issues.

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Manassas, Va.: I recently learned that Virginia is a "right to work" state. What does that mean for employees? Thank you.

Lily Garcia: It basically means that you are entitled to hold a job in a unionized workplace without having to join the union.

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Rockville, Md.: My wife works for DoD and is about to go into a "pay band" system. While she has received top marks, she is concerned that the new plan is more strict and that one bad grade in all the grades wil be grounds to give her severe penalties or fire her. Her concern is serious enough to cause her to give serious consideration to an early retirement. What do others say about this question?

Lily Garcia: Does anyone have thoughts for this reader?

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McLean, Va.: I am a gay man working for a small private firm. I would like to take my partner to company-sponsored functions (holiday parties, etc.), but am nervous to do so without a company non-discrimination policy. Not that I assume I would be unfairly treated, but you never know. Am I being too worrisome, or is this a good opportunity to broach the subject with HR?

Lily Garcia: If you have reason to believe that you would suffer discrimination as a result of being openly gay, you should seriously reconsider your choice of employer. Otherwise, I see no reason why you should exclude your partner from work functions. Out of an abudance of caution, you could go to HR for reassurance on the company's policies. But it saddens me to think that this precaution might be necessary for you. In the end, you need to do what makes you most comfortable.

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Manassas, Va.: Re: Right to Work -- does that mean I can be fired at will?

Lily Garcia: Probably so, but I am not 100% sure. Does anyone out there know the answer to this reader's question.

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Miami, Fla.: Wow, it's nice to know I'm not alone. During my review, my supervisor told me my work is great but that I'm not appreciative enough and don't respect her authority. She couldn't give me specifics when I asked for them, so I have just tried to speak with her as little as possible since then.

Lily Garcia: How unfortunate. I really wish that managers would take the time to formulate their feedback so that it is helpful and not so demoralizing.

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Anonymous: My company requires six weeks notice, and prohibits use of vacation or paid sick leave during the notice period. I am anticipating a job offer this week but had already been approved for a week vacation at Christmas, which I will have to forgo if I give my notice. My husband is suggesting that I wait until after I take the week's vacation and give only two weeks notice -- nothing to lose then except their goodwill and ability to rehire. What's your thinking?

Lily Garcia: I would not burn that bridge if I were you. But the important question is what impact it will have on your life if you forego the vacation. It may be worth it to you to sacrifice your current employer's good will (and to some extent your reputation) if the impact on your personal life will be significant. By the way, requiring six weeks notice seems excessive.

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Alexandria, Va.: Yes, you can be fired at will in a right-to-work state without reason. Conversely, you can also quit without notice in a right-to-work state, but most still give the two week's notice.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your input.

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Arlington, Va.: Rockville's wife should pursue early retirement if she is overly concerned about a process that is standard practice in the private sector and that eliminates "social promotions" from those who lost any urgency to serve the public long ago.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comments.

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Anonymous: Hi. I've accepted in writing a new job to start in January. Some health issues resurfaced, which my current employer-sponsored health insurance covers, that MAY require a three- to four-month recuperation period. What are my rights as a new employee? Can the employer withdraw the offer if I disclose my health issue? I'm in the process of gathering facts. What legal issues should I be aware of? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Your new employer cannot retract your offer as long as your medical condition does not make it impossible for your to fulfill the essential requirements of your job with or without a reasonable accommodation. Take a closer look at the Americans with Disabilities Act, discussed in great length at www.eeoc.gov.

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Washington, D.C.: Does the FLSA allow employers to put strict limits on an exempt employee's lunch hour? As in, "You will go from 12:00 to 12:45. If you are late you will take an hour of leave. No exceptions."

Lily Garcia: Your employer can place restrictions on your lunch hour even if you are exempt as long as they are consistent and non-discriminatory in the application of this work rule. I do not know whether the fact that they are turning around and requiring you to take an hour of leave if you are late has any significance. For example, I can imagine that such a practice could contribute to erroding your exempt status. Please refer to the Department of Labor and their web site, www.dol.gov, for further guidance.

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Lily Garcia: Thank you very much for joining today's chat. I look forward to speaking with you again on Tuesday, Dec. 18. Have a great afternoon.


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