Tuesday, December 18 at 11 a.m. ET

How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, December 18, 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 workplace- and career-related questions. Let's get started.

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Anonymous: Hi Lily, my husband is in a similar situation with an abusive boss. He has been on many interviews but has been told outright that they are nervous to hire him because of his boss. They are concerned with his, and their, reputation being smeared by his current boss. The industry is small so they all know and work together in associations/coalitions. He has not gotten an offer and we think its largely because of her. Besides starting in a new industry, what are his options? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: I feel for you and your husband. His first option, of course, is to keep looking and to promote himself so well that eventually someone will be willing to take a chance. The other option, unfortunately, is to move into a different professional circle. If you have proof that his old boss is actively interfering with your husband's ability to earn a livelihood, there could be a basis for legal action against her. But I am assuming that you do not with to escalate matters.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Lily: I have been given responsibility for a report at work. There are others responsible for certain parts of the report but I am the one that edits the entire document to confirm accurate information in one voice. One of the coworkers contributing to this report constantly questions every decision I make from incessant emails to blatant confrontations in meetings. My manager allows this employee to constantly make an issue out of this and has sided with her arbitrarily on a few occasions. I have voiced my concern over this inability to do my work when I am constantly having to justify my professional actions but my manager sees this as me not being good at teamwork, even though this is my project. I'm at my wits end and am seconds from telling them where they can put their report.

Lily Garcia: Your most viable option at this point is to try to grin and bear it as much as you can. When the report is done and the dust has cleared, you should have a longer discussion with your boss regarding how you experienced the feedback process around this project. It sounds like your boss needs to take a more active leadership role and forming his/her own opinions.

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Northern, Virginia: My manager does not respect me professionally and allows other employees to undermine my decisions on projects which I am in charge of. When I have talked to my manager about this I am told that I think I know everything. So I took her advice and have performed my work based on others' decisions, which then turned out sub-par and behind schedule. My manager fails to see the connection between me being allowed to develop my skills and submit good work or me acting as a secretary for everyone else's ideas. Is this just a bad fit for me? This is my career and I have a master's but I am treated as though I do not know anything.

Lily Garcia: It may just be a bad fit. Then again, there may be some validity to what your manager is saying (perhaps inartfully) about taking others' perspectives into account. Do you think that you could try striking a balance between going it alone and allowing others to completely determine how you work? Like I said, however, it may just be a bad fit. But I encourage you to pause for some self-analysis before calling it quits.

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Anonymous: I am looking for a new job. I like to take vacation days for my interviews instead of sick days since I feel wrong doing that. Recently, my boss approached me since she thought it was "peculiar" that I was taking a Tuesday off. She badgered me about it. I think this is not right at all. What if I was doing something that most people don't want employers knowing about like going through a bankruptcy or getting divorced or struggling with a mental disorder and I needed the day off? The way I spend a vacation day is simply not my company's business. What should I do?

Lily Garcia: Tell your boss that you have to take care of some personal business that you don't feel comfortable discussing with her, and thank her for her discretion.

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Washington, D.C.: I was hired as my boss' second choice. As in, he hired someone else first, and then when another position opened, he offered the job to me, and I took it because the opportunity really was too good to pass up. Unfortunately, I notice that he treats my co-worker and I differently -- I can't quite put my finger on it, but she has noticed it too (she and I have become quite close). I don't know what made me a lesser candidate the first time around, or why he continues to show less confidence in my work. Do I talk to him (I work in a seven-person office) or do I just continue to bust my butt and hope that he notices?

Lily Garcia: It all depends on how long ago you were hired. Give yourself 6-9 months to prove your value. If, after that time, you still feel like a second-class citizen in his eyes, then you should address the issue. And the issue would be that you feel undervalued. Make sure that you have specific examples of differential treatment to back up your feelings and approach the conversation with a positive and open attitude. There might be something that you can do to improve. Who knows!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Lily -- I have been interviewing for a position at a large company for the past month. I went through two rounds of interviews (with multiple people in each round) and haven't heard anything for a week. Do you think it would be appropriate to call and inquire about the status? Any recommendations on how best to do this? Let me know if you think it would be better to be patient and wait, because it seems like they're in no rush. Thanks!

Lily Garcia: What did they tell you about next steps and their timeline for making a decision? If they told you that you should be hearing back in a week, for example, then you should give it a few more days. Generally, I would say that it is appropriate to follow up with your main contact at a prospective employer within ten days. Reiterate your enthusiasm for the job and inquire about their progress in choosing an incumbent. In the meantime, make sure that you have sent appropriate thank-you notes to everyone you met.

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Washington, D.C.: A co-worker has confided to me that he is applying for new jobs and hopes to be leaving within the next few months. I've been feeling uncomfortable about knowing this information, especially since replacing him will be difficult for my supervisor. Our company is going through layoffs so anytime someone quits the job must be justified and approved in writing -- resulting in a much longer hiring process. Add to that fact that another person in our department left recently. Every time I talk to my boss about future plans for our department I feel like I'm being dishonest by not mentioning that I know someone else will be leaving. Do I have an obligation to tell the boss? If the co-worker quits and mentions that I knew he was leaving, I think it would damage my relationship with my supervisor. I've asked him not to let on that he told me, but who knows if he will honor that request.

Lily Garcia: You are torn between your loyalty to your boss and your coworker. What you choose to do should depends upon how likely your coworker is to leave and how much you value your relationship with him. Is he actively interviewing or just looking around to see what is out there? If you know that he is interviewing and has offers in hand, that's an entirely different story. Unless your coworker is a close friend, you should tell your boss. Hopefully, your boss will handle the situation delicately and not betray the source of his/her information.

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Olney, Md.: Hi Lily, if a criminal record has been expunged does it need to be revealed on an application form? If asked about an arrest during the interview process should you reveal prior criminal history if the record has been expunged? Thank you for your help.

Lily Garcia: Please refer to this past How to Deal feature: Job Hunting With a Felony Conviction

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washingtonpost.com: Here's the link: Job Hunting With a Felony Conviction

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Lily. I am leaving a position because it is the worst, most unprofessional working environment I have ever been in. You would think I was making stories up if I told you some of what goes on here. It is, in fact, so bad that I am leaving without having another job lined up. Which leads me to my question: What should I tell prospective employers when they ask me why I left? The true reason is because I just could not stand working there any longer but I feel this is not the proper response. Any advice?

Lily Garcia: It's time to get creative. Otherwise, The risk is that prospective employers will think that you were fired. I would start temping if I were you. That way you present yourself as someone who is eager to work and just exploring other options. Tell prospective employers that you were seeking greater professional growth and that you decided it would be best to make a transition from your job to temporary work that might allow you greater flexibility to job hunt. If you can credibly say that you are exploring other career options and wanted to try out different things, say that, too. If you can help it, do not look for a job without having something -- anything -- going on professionally.

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Anonymous: Re: Northern Virginia: A friend of mine was in a similar situation, where her fellow workers felt she was a know-it-all. Be careful about how you word things. She would often talk about her MBA, and about how she knew better because she learned X in business school. It really put people off, because they felt she valued her education over their experience. Eventually they didn't want to use her ideas even if they were good. And the answer to people thinking you don't use their input, isn't to go to the other extreme to ONLY use their input. Neither strategy makes sense. I think it's most important to show that you are willing to honestly consider the view points of others in getting your work done. Make compromises. It's not all or nothing.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comments.

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Anonymous: I received a ($15,000) signing bonus when I started my job two months ago. I was taxed on the full amount but it was issued based upon the fact that I "earned" 1/12th of the bonus each month for a year and would have to repay the unearned portion if I left before a year was up. Well, I have another opportunity that I think is better for me, so I think I may take it. Do I have to pay back 10/12th of total or 10/12th of the amount I received? Shouldn't my current employer modify the tax amount to recoup the monies that went to the IRS?

Lily Garcia: How the money is taxed depends upon how your employer characterized it on their books -- bonus or salary. It sounds like they characterized it as a bonus and that you will just need to pay back 10/12 of what you actually received. I am no tax expert, however, so I would like to know whether any readers out there have further insights or advice.

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Virginia: Hi Lily! My husband went for an interview recently -- he started a job several months ago but the person who hired him quit soon after my husband started and the job is nothing like what was promised. He now has a clearance and is asking for $10K more than his current job pays. A recruiter told him he shouldn't expect that since he has only been working at his current pay for a couple of months -- but he did not have the clearance when he started his job. What do you think?

Lily Garcia: Your husband should be asking for a salary that reflects the value of a clearance. It should make no difference that he only recently got it. This is not a question of job experience. It is more like an on-off switch.

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Anonymous: I am going to being to look for a new job and it is absolutely critical that my boss not know this. My concern is that many of the places I will be applying will know my boss either personally or know of him. I am worried that they will pick up the phone and call him to ask about me, even before I get to a stage where they ask for references. How can I communicate in my resume and/or cover letter to please not contact my boss? I know legally they are not supposed to, but I work in the fairly small world of political consulting and things are not always done so formally. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: All you can do is make the request. There are no guarantees. In your cover letter, indicate that references will be provided upon request. The chances are slim to none that someone will call your boss without having first met you. When you do have an interview, request in person that your current boss not be contacted for the moment. If your professional circle is so small, it may be inevitable that a prospective employer will want to speak with your boss. But you can at least ask for the opportunity to lay the groundwork for that conversation. Hopefully, the prospective employer will respect your wishes. But you can never be 100% sure.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi, our department is in the process of hiring a new person into the position over our unit. We will have an opportunity to meet with the top candidates that come to interview and provide feedback to the hiring manager. What suggestions do you have for questions that will quickly give us a fairly accurate sense of what this person would be like to work for? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Here are some ideas:
(1) What is your management style? (This can be broken down into an infinite number of follow-up questions as exemplified below.)
(2) How do you manage under stressful circumstances?
(3) How do you address performance deficiencies?
(4) How do you reward a job well done?
(5) How do you approach departmental goal-setting?
(6) How do you ensure that the performance objectives of individual contributors have relevance to the departmental goals?
(7) Do you see yourself as an advocate for your department within the larger organization?
(8) Do you keep an "open door" for employee concerns? How do you balance this with the demands of a busy schedule?

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Anonymous: Hi Lily, my closest friend at work has recently been named my supervisor. Any tips for handling the changes in dynamics? Though I suppose most of the advice would be for her.

Lily Garcia: Mainly, I would counsel you not to expect her to be able to share information about her job as freely as before. She is now going to be privy to information (e.g., salaries, performance appraisals, employee complaints) that she unfortunately cannot share with you.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband is 50 and his position was recently eliminated after more than 15 years. He had never received a negative evaluation and the reasons given for his termination were vague -- a contract that had not been increased. No one else was let go, but due to his seniority, he was definitely the most highly paid of 10-12 employees other than his immediate supervisor. He has been advised to explore the issue of age discrimination -- is it worth his while to do so? And, if so, what are the remedies?

Lily Garcia: If your husband truly believes that this decision was driven by his age, then he should contact his local Equal Employment Opportunity field office of the DC or state department of fair employment practices. He must exhaust these administrative remedies before going to court. He also may wish to seek preliminary advice from an employment lawyer. Your local bar association should be able to provide a referral.

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Anonymous: For the clearance person: Absolutely, he should negotiate for a salary that reflects the added value of having a clearance, if the job requires one. It can make a huge difference in salary.

Lily Garcia: Thanks very much for your insights.

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Anonymous: Yesterday I gave my two weeks notice. I had a poor excuse of a manager and tried my best to work through issues such as no staff meeting, not responding to vacation requests (even after I reminded him I needed management approval or disapproval before I can take my time off), lack of clarity on my role and responsibility, request to look for another job with the same organization is met with indecision (he needed to come up with a way to sell it to his manager), etc. with my manager and his manager since early October. When I gave my notice, I just said I decided to pursue opportunities outside of the company and gave my last day. That's it. Well now, for some reason people believe I'm leaving for another job, which is not the case. Since my manager was the only person I've told, my guess is he telling people this as it releases him of any responsibility for his poor management skills playing a part in my decision. Question: Should I provide his manager and HR with the real reason I'm leaving -- my manager's lack of leadership? To me this is just another example of poor management skills that I can't seem to duck, even as I try to take the high road and just leave without all the drama. Thoughts?

Lily Garcia: Am I understanding that you left without having another job lined up? If that is the case, then I wouldn't burn any bridges. You may need this manager, such as he is, to provide you with a positive reference.

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Anonymous: Re: Taxes: If you have to pay back 10/12 of the total bonus, you are more than likely entitled to claim a tax refund on your 2007 taxes for the part you returned but paid taxes on.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your guidance.

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Anonymous: Re: the bonus situation. Whether it's a bonus or salary, it's taxed. The question is whether or not (kinda confusing the way it's written) the employee got $15,000 all at once, or 1/12 of $15,000 or $1,250 each month. If it's $1,250 each month, then they should only have that (1250 x # of months) on their W-2 -- what was actually paid to them. If they received $15,000, and had to repay a portion of that back, that net amount is what should be added to a W-2. Sounds like HR and Payroll need to be talking here -- your W-2 is for amounts actually received.

Lily Garcia: Thanks very much for this helpful information.

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Lily Garcia: This concludes today's live chat. Thank you very much for your participation. Lily


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