Transcript: Tuesday, March 11 at 11 a.m. ET

How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, March 11, 2008; 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 thank you for joining our conversation. I look froward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions. Let's get started.

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Washington, D.C.: My colleague pumped breast milk in my office because she could close the door and her double-office was occupied by a colleague. Should I ask my boss to ask her not to do this, as it is at least unprofessional and at worst highly inconsiderate and disrespectful and possibly not hygienic, not to mention apalling for an adult to behave this way? Not to mention she was clearly using my computer at the same time. I really am beside myself in deciding how to deal with this. We are civil servants all in professional research. It's just unbelieveable. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: It was inconsiderate of your colleague to do this without asking you if it was okay. Does your organization provide a private room for women to express breast milk? If so, you can just politely ask her to use that space instead. In any event, you or your boss should counsel her that her behavior is not appropriate.

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Washington, D.C.: Lily, in the office I work in one of the key program managers just accepted a new job and will be leaving our organization and the director is now asking every employee if they knew about this and if we planned on leaving and is it so bad to work here -- 3 questions that are not appropriate, but never the less are being asked. What's the best way to handle this situation? Especially if the answer to the three questions is yes, yes and yes? Thank you.

Lily Garcia: This may be a golden opportunity to have a positive influence on your office culture. You should be honest in your answers if you think that your director is receptive to feedback and will not make you pay for your candor. If you do not think that honesty will be productive, tell your director what s/he wants to hear and keep working on your exit strategy.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the recourse for workers who are made sick by co-workers' scented products -- heavy perfume, cologne, etc.? And what is the recourse when Admin fails to act on complaints of abusive fragrance use by co-workers, or the co-worker refuses to stop wearing the highly scented products? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: If you have gotten nowhere by telling your management and making a direct request of your coworker, there is not much else that you can do. If you have medical condition that causes sensitivity to fragrances, or if you simply have a doctor's note indicating that you have been seen because if illness due to these products, you may have more leverage.

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Hyattsville, Md.: Hi Mrs. Garcia, I have a friend that is a studying to be a mechanical engineer, but he is not a citizen of the United States. He has a work permit through the school but is having a hard time finding a job. What can he do?

Lily Garcia: I assume he is looking for an H-1B sponsor. My best advice is that he be persistent. The job search will be more challenging for someone who needs immigration help. But it only takes one employer sufficiently impressed with his technical skills to get him over this technical hurdle.

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for taking this question. For the past year I have been trying to move from the private sector to the federal government. I get many invitations to interview... but I rarely get a second interview and have never received an offer. Is there any graceful way to ask my former interviewers for tips? I don't think I do anything terrible in the interview, but I suspect I interview very differently from the current government employees with whom I'm competing.

Lily Garcia: The best approach is to be direct. Tell the interviewer that you enjoyed meeting them, that you were excited about the opportunity, and that you were disappointed that you were not considered further. Then ask them if thay have any suggestions for how you might present yourself better in future interviews.

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Maryland: I am an attorney who has been home for 10 years with her children. I want to reenter the work force but not to go back to my last job at the EPA. I am currently in a masters program for clinical counseling. I want to combine the law with counseling but I don't know how. I don't want to give up on the law but I need more human contact and to help people. All of this I want with a flexiable schedule. Please help. Thank you for any suggestion you might have.

Lily Garcia: Human resources is a great field for those who want to combine law with human contact. Although your background is in environmental law, you could easily get up to speed on key employment law concepts, and your training as a lawyer would serve you well in analyzing workplace issues. Your training as a counselor, on the other hand, will afford you the emotional intelligence to maneuver workplace change and conflict.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Geez -- I agree the co-worker was inconsiderate to use the person's office (and using the computer is obnoxious) but the poster's complete freakout is a little unnecessary. It's just milk. It's not going to hurt you. Ask her nicely not to do it again and everything should be fine.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts. I agree that a little milk doesn't hurt anyone, but I can also empathize with this reader's sense that their personal space was violated. Anyhow, as you said, asking the coworker not to do it again should do the trick.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Lily, I have a B.S. degree in civil engineering in the country of Venezuela which means squat here. I am a single mother of three in desperate need of a job. I have posted my resume on every Web site that I can but still no takers. Now I am willing go do any job that I can find including driving or housekeeping... help.

Lily Garcia: Have you tried applying for entry level positions in your field? You may have to work harder to earn your stripes, but I have a hard time believing that driving carbs and housekeeping are your only options. I would also suggest that you reach out to placement agencies that specialize in your area as they will be able to provide you with more specific feedback on your resume and the job climate.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Lily, I've been working for my company for 5 years but decided last fall that I wanted to change careers and applied to full-time graduate programs. I was accepted and will start school in September. How far in advance would you recommend telling my employer? I obviously know now that I will be quitting in August and I want to make sure that I leave my position with no loose ends and I would be willing to train the person who will replace me if asked. But at the same time I'm worried there will be resentment at my leaving and that it could affect the assignments I am given for my last 5+ months here. Also, if I told them sooner rather than later, could they legally fire me or lay me off? Thanks in advance for your advice.

Lily Garcia: Yes, they could legally fire you or lay you off as long as it is not based on any protected category (race, age, sex, religion, disability, etc.) or in retaliation for exercising a legally protected right (going to graduate school does not qualify). If you don't want to burn bridges, but you do not exactly trust your employer not to let you go prematurely, then give them four or five weeks notice. It is unlikely that they will be able to replace you in such a short amount if time. And, at the same time, you will look good for giving such a generous amount of notice.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Ms. Garcia, should you really say what you feel in an exit interview?

Lily Garcia: It all depends on whether you think that it will make any difference in the organization and whether you think it might hurt your chances for a positive reference. I actually published an article on this subject a few months ago, and I will ask my editor to send you the link.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm relatively new to my job (I started about 3 weeks ago). I'm also the youngest (23, just out of college) and the only male in my immediate section (out of 9). So obviously there's a huge disconnect here. My co-workers are in their 40s and have kids, and they treat me as an additional son of theirs, which I'm not sure how to react to. Anyway, I've been trying to socialize with them more and more, but I can't seem to find anything that we can relate to. I mean, there's a 20+ years difference here, maybe more, so I'm not really sure where I go with this. I love my job, it pays very well, the benefits are excellent, and the hours are very nice but it just seems like I stick out in a way. It's turned me into a shy person, when I'm not.

Lily Garcia: I commend you for reaching out to socialize instead of just assuming that you have nothing to talk about. Being the odd person out in a social situation presents a valuable opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and challenge stereotypes about other people. In your case, I would try to look past your sense that your colleagues view you as a son. Treat them as you would any coworker who looks and acts more like yourself. That means inroducing topics of conversation that are interesting to you, without assuming that they will not relate or care, and getting to know them as individuals rather than as stereotypical 40-somethings with kids. I know this is easier said that done, but I promise that you will enjoy yourself more and form better workplace relationships if you try as much as possible to be yourself and look for ways to transcend your preconceived notions of what your colleagues might be like.

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Re: Maryland attorney: Another option is joining a practice that specializes in divorce law. She would be in an excellent position to be able to spend more time with clients who need legal issues explained as well as deal with the emotional impact of divorce.

Lily Garcia: Great suggestion. Thanks.

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Breast Milk: I think Washington, D.C. is overreacting a little. Yes, it was inconsiderate for the woman to use his/her office without asking, but it is certainly neither unprofessional nor unhygienic to pump milk. I would assume that there is no dedicated space for this to occur, so where is the new mother supposed to go? I'm curious as to why D.C. objects so strongly to a natural bodily function and necessity for a new mother.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughts.

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washingtonpost.com: If Leaving the Company, Do So in Good Standing

Lily Garcia: Here is a link to the article I mentioned regarding what to say in exit interviews.

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Pumping at Work: Aren't employers required by law to provide an area for breastfeeding mothers? It has to be clean with an electrical outlet and privacy? The poster (who's extremely childish by the way -- it's just milk, chill out) should suggest to their co-worker that they talk to HR about this.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your input. There is no federal law that I am aware of, but some states and localities do mandate that employers make arrangements for lactating women to express breast milk.

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Re: Breast-pumping incident: "not to mention apalling for an adult to behave this way?" Um, was the poster referring to himself/herself? Because while the co-worker may have been inconsiderate in not asking to use the other person's private office, I would have to say that she was indeed acting like an adult who needs to feed her child. The poster, on the other hand, sounds like a sixth-grader. Which may be an insult to sixth-graders. Be an adult, ask her politely not to do it again and get over it.

Lily Garcia: Thanks.

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Midwest: Hi Lily, I have a second interview tomorrow meeting with the director of a non-profit I really want to work for. I'm spending this evening perusing their Web site again for great questions or comments to make. I'm trying to keep my perspective and not get too geared up so I look interested but not freakishly overeager... but I've had 17 (yes, seventeen) job interviews in the past 2 years, only 3 of which yielded an offer. So I'm not exactly sure of my ability to "close the deal." Any thoughts?

Lily Garcia: Without knowing you and watching you interview, I cannot offer very specific advice. Generally, I can say that you are wise to strike a balance between enthusiasm and desperation. Don't give up. The search for a nonprofit job can be extremely tough.

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Iraq death: Just learned a co-worker's son was killed yesterday in Iraq. How do we deal with this?

Lily Garcia: Offer your condolences and emotional support. Let your management know and suggest that the organization do something to help the family.

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Maryland: I'm not weighing in on the breast milk pumping appropriateness, but just FYI to the original poster -- why in the world would you ever walk away from your computer without locking the screen -- this is a basic security protocol almost everywhere and it stops people from using your computer.

Lily Garcia: Thanks.

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Pumping Milk: It was totally inappropriate for the co-worker to pump milk in the office. A good rule for various body functions, if it requires disrobing a body part that is normally covered up, it is inappropriate to be done outside of a restroom or a designated area such as a mother's room. Once when I was recovering from surgery, I had to clean out the wound a few times a day. I found a private place to do this.

Lily Garcia: Thanks for your thoughts.

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Bummed in Va.: Hi: I was asked to work on a high-profile project 2 weeks ago -- and last Friday, I was called in and taken off the team and was told they wanted someone else on it (the project won't be starting for another month). They tried to make me sound worthwhile else where, but I've heard someone else repeating those exact words in a different situation so I know they are only words and yes, somewhat sincere but not really. When I was told, I handled it well at the moment but now I feel slapped and others who knew I was on the project will now know I've been removed. Humiliating to say the least. This type of project is a big deal and they don't come along often and its rewarding in many aspects. I don't know how to handle it and I know if I confront the manager, I won't be told the real truth as the particular individual avoids it. I'm thinking of talking to my immediate supervisor but I don't want to put up too many red flags for myself as review time is nearing. I'm not sure what to do. Opinions?

Lily Garcia: If you were taken off the project because of client dissatisfaction, your immediate supervisor will likely hear about it anyway. I think that the best thing would be to mention it to your supervisor and ask if s/he can help to secure constructive feedback for you. You need to know what happened here so that you can improve if you need to.

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Re: Breast Milk: If the new mother needs a place to pump milk the proper thing for her to do is ask whomever is in charge to find her a place. Barging into someone else's office is rude and inconsiderate. The fact that it's a natural bodily function means squat. There are several natural bodily functions that I wouldn't want in my office, either. You don't get a pass on manners because you're a parent.

Lily Garcia: Thanks for your thoughts.

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Breast Milk: Frankly, I don't like to be touched and I don't like public restrooms and I don't like to eat out and you get the drift. It's an anxiety, livable, but it's there. If I found someone expressing breast milk at my desk, I would freak, too. So I throw my hat in the highly inconsiderate ring. My first thought (and I am a woman) was eeewwww.

Lily Garcia: Thanks for your perspective.

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D.C.: Re: Breast milk. Breast milk is a bodily fluid. Can you think of another bodily fluid you would want someone specifically going into your office to express? I didn't think so.

Lily Garcia: No, not really.

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Warren, Mich.: I'm a middle-aged, 25+ year Department of Defense employee. The trend since the war started is to hire from outside. These people are scooting up the career ladder past me. I can never get a straight answer on why I'm being passed. Asking around other workers of my age or with my years are being denied opportunities and performance awards too. Yesterday I had to attend a three-hour seminar on why we have to make way for the millennial generation. I'm stuck: too much time in and a future pension in seven years. I hate to think I'm going to spend the next seven years doing nothing but watch the clock. Any suggestions?

Lily Garcia: This is a tough question that I cannot fully and adequately answer within the constraints of this forum. One thought that comes to mind, however, is for you and other DOD workers who are having a similar experience to start gathering informally to talk about your experiences and what resources might be at your disposal within DOD for overcoming your frustrations. You should not have to spend the next seven years just watching the clock ticking by. There must be interesting and challenging opportunities -- and corresponding rewards -- somehwere within DOD for workers of your generation.

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Lily Garcia: This concludes today's chat. Thank you very much for your participation. I look forward to speaking with you again in two weeks. Have a great afternoon.

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