Tuesday, April 1 at 11 a.m. ET

How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 1, 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 follow below:

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Lily Garcia: Thank you for joining our chat today. I look forward to answering your career- and workplace-related questions. Let's get started.

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Thank you for bonus? What is the protocol for responding to special awards? I received an extra bonus this year, one of a very limited number distributed to employees in our global company at the sole discretion of the CEO. It is beyond the performance bonus. I was notified of this through a form letter electronically signed by the CEO, given to our department VP, who gave it to my boss, who gave it to me. The bonus is said to be a thank you for extra work "above and beyond." So, do I send the CEO a thank you note? Is that tantamount to (a) sucking up, (b) a thank you for a thank you, or (c) appropriate business etiquette?

Lily Garcia: It is appropriate for you to thank those who may have had an influence on the decision. It is not "sucking up" -- just good manners. I would send a handwritten note card to your boss and an email to the VP and CEO.

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Toronto, Canada: Hi Lily -- I've been at the same company for 10 years as a professional -- and been doing a job that has added very little to my resume for the past 5 or so. I'm a little paralyzed as to how to approach the market as when I see what the market would pay for my skills its much less than I make now (say 20 percent). However, I'm miserable in my current job and need a change. Any advice as to how to approach this with potential employers and/or how to maintain a positive outlook in this situation? It is a little depressing.

Lily Garcia: To be sure, you should be negotiating for the highest possible salary, but job satisfaction is not about the money. In fact, money is very low on the list of reasons why people leave jobs. You should examine your budget and determine what sort of a pay cut you might be willing and able to live with. Then go out there and start looking with the understanding that your ideal job might not offer your ideal salary.

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Maryland: I am currently working in a job that I enjoy but that has little possibility for advancement. I am considering applying for some other positions in order to get the promotion I think I deserve. However, I am conflicted about applying for new jobs because I would like to start having children in the next year or two and would likely take a few years off of work. What should I do? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Cross the family obligations bridge when you get there. In the meantime, keep your career on track.

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Washington, D.C.: I haven't been promoted as quickly in my office as a normal government office because my supervisor has decided to make promotions subjective to his opinion of how you are performing in the office. At the same time he's not willing to work with you or provide guidance on what he has identified as your issues to work on. How do I address this in an interview when asked why I'm not higher on the GS scale?

Lily Garcia: You need to figure out a way to diplomatically convey exactly what you just told me. Without disparaging your boss, explain to the interviewer that promotions in your department are based upon subjective factors that your supervisor, unfortunately, has not been assessing very favorably in your case. Explain why your potential, in your opinion, exceeds your GS level.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Lily: I have a situation with my manager where everything she says and does is very polarizing. She asks for suggestions, but when my group gives them to her we are told we are wrong. She makes a decision one moment only to tell you that you did it wrong later, and when you remind her of the decision we already made about it, we get a very unprofessional "well, I'm the boss and this is what I want so change it." Then hours are spent making the changes. How do I deal with this?

Lily Garcia: Take a deep breath and start polishing your resume. In the meantime, do convey your concerns to your boss's boss and/or HR. But I have to tell you honestly that this type of manager is unlikely to change. Either she goes or you go.

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Mclean, Va.: Hi Lily, I recently received a medical diagnosis that is going to change my life. I'm going blind. It could be tomorrow, in 40 years, but more likely somewhere in between. There are already some things that I need -- better computer screen, lighting and online accessiblity stuff. Am I responsible for that or my employer? Also, since for the next few weeks, I will be going to a myriad of doctors, what should I disclose to my employer? This is not a time of year that I can be taking a lot of personal time off without a good reason, so I will need to tell them something.

Lily Garcia: Tell your employer what is happening and what you will be needing. You have a responsibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act to let your employer know what accommodations they need to make. That, in turn, will trigger their responsibility to engage in a dialogue with you about what they can reasonably do. As far as your time off for medical appointments, the Family and Medical Leave Act may protect that time off. Meet with your HR department to go over the organization's leave policies (including FMLA) to determine what is available to you.

My heart goes out to you. Best of luck.

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Virginia: Regarding your column on the person who felt they may be bullied by the other two workers at the non-profit, would it be out of line for that person to bring in a recorder for the meeting? If they pull in the co-worker for another "come to Jesus" meeting could he suggest something along the lines of "It seems we're having a few of these meetings and since it appears I'm having difficulty complying to your requests, would you mind if I record our meeting for my own reference?" The recorder could be kept on the person or in their desk in preperation for another meeting. It may also tone down the rhetoric of the other two workers knowing that they are on record officially. Also, having been in difficult office situations, I would recommend that each time an incident occurs that feels off, to email yourself the date and description of what occured so you have a time stamped record. I would send e-mails from my work account to my personal account, made a specific folder to keep those e-mails in and that seemed to work.

Lily Garcia: I think that bringing in a tape recorder would be an overly combative move. Emailing yourself notes of the conversation, on the other hand, is not a bad idea. Here's a link to the column:

washingtonpost.com: Co-Worker Conflict: Try Talking it Through First

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Washington, D.C.: Can you address non-competes? My company made me sign a non-compete three years ago and since then they have made my job increasingly more difficult to perform. I have consistently exceeded the goals set by my VP and this year they have now given me an unattainable goal by our industry standards. When I brought this to their attention the response was "guess you won't win any awards this year." In addition, our policies and procedures are very discretionary and seem to change everytime a circumstance is presented. There is a long list of why it is no longer a healthy career enhancing place to work that I will spare you here but I would really like to look elsewhere. I have done this for 12 years and would like to continue. Any thoughts? My company has sued former employees, even employees that have been let go. Is working in an unhealthy, unfair environment reason enough to fight a non-compete?

Lily Garcia: Yes! If you are unhappy, get out. But prepare yourself for a fight. Noncompetes can be challenged on a number of bases, including overly broad temporal, geographic, or subject matter scope. Analyze the noncompete you signed with that in mind. And have an attorney look at it if you can. Here's a helpful link:

washingtonpost.com: Can a Non-Compete Clause Be Too Competitive?

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Virginia: Dear Lily, how honest should one be in an exit interview? My husband recently had one and said he didn't want to burn any bridges and tell them what he REALLY thought... that the organization was mismanaged, procedures and the org chart could be streamlined, etc. He thought this would be construed as too harsh. What do you think?

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your question. I recommend that you read our I Quit! feature, where I addressed this issue at length. In short, it depends on how likely he thinks it is that his feedback will lead to change and how likely he thinks it is that his feedback will come back to haunt him. It's not worth saying anything if no good will come of it.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi. I work in a small (20-person) creative firm and the owner has declared herself creative director even though her background is business, not design. She is exhibiting classic micromanagement tendencies, telling myself and other designers how to solve the problems -- including what colors to choose, etc. -- instead of letting us do our jobs. (As a result, we're experiencing dictation instead of direction.) Since she owns the place, what possible means can we employ to reverse this trend?

Lily Garcia: If you all agree that her approach is unsound, you can elect a representative among you to talk to the owner about these issues. Who knows? She might change. And, if she does not, you then need to make a decision about whether these are work conditions that are worth enduring.

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RE: Washington, D.C.: For the government worker who hasn't gotten promoted. I don't think I'd say I wasn't assessed favorably. That seems so negative. Can they just say generally that promotions are not happening in that office?

Lily Garcia: Sure, if that is true (that promotions just aren't happening), then that is another way to approach it.

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Undisclosed Office: I am thinking about moving to a new city with my girlfriend as she starts grad school. I do not want to burn bridges at my current office. How much notice should I provide my office and when should I start looking for jobs in the new city? We are planning an August move.

Lily Garcia: Start browsing in June, and get serious in July. Let your employer know your plans as they get more concrete (firm move date, etc.).

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For the worker with the eye condition: The American Foundation for the Blind (www.afb.org) has wonderful resources to help people who are visually impaired and/or are dealing with a new diagnosis of vision loss. They have a lot of info related to accessibility, assistive technology, workplace issues, etc. Their online resources are good, but you should also give them a call and see if they have any other materials to help. They are based in NYC.

Lily Garcia: Thank you so much for this information.

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Downtown D.C.: Why do employers ask for a salary history straight off the bat? I understand salary requirements, it saves everyone's time if the prospective employee wants significantly more than the company had in mind. But unless an offer is on the table, my income is nobody's business but mine.

Lily Garcia: It's annoying, isn't it? The reason employers ask is that they want to get an early sense for whether they can afford you and what you might be willing to accept.

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Ashton, Md.: As the accountant for our firm, I recently discovered a partner temporarily "borrowing" a fairly significant amount of cash, which eventually made its way back to the account it belonged in. The individual made the situation look like a careless error on my part; however, with some sleuthing I was able to figure out what was really going on. I reported it to my superior who told me she passed it on to hers, the big boss. I've heard nothing since. I still feel really mad about being made to look like the scapegoat for someone's else's dishonesty. I certainly don't expect an apology from the "thief," but would've thought I'd hear a "we know it wasn't your mistake... thanks for blowing the whistle," that sort of thing. Am I right to expect some closure on this or do I just need to let it go?

Lily Garcia: It sounds like outright stealing to me and certainly not something that you should let go. Follow up, by all means, especially since the potential exists for this to end up damaging your reputation.

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Younger Worker Dilemma: I work with a woman who is in her first position out of college. She has some very unprofessional habits, such as sitting with her feet in her chair so that her knee is up around her face (even while wearing a skirt) and picking at/biting her nails when in a gathering of two or three people. These habits drive me bazoo, and I've hesitated about saying anything for fear it will come out too harshly. Is there a polite way to point out that she shouldn't do these things, or to say they're driving me bazoo without sounding too bazoo?

Lily Garcia: It is your manager's job to coach this out of her. Play hot potato and let your boss know about these issues. If your boss does not follow up and the behaviors continue, you can still have an influence in the situation. Become friendly with your young coworker and establish a mentoring relationship. In the context of such a relationship, it might be okay for you to gently let her know when she is being unprofessional.

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Downtown, DC: Lily, I'm in the process of updating my resume and have a quick question -- I've been promoted several times in my current (and first) job. The responsibilities haven't changed per se, just grown. Do I include all positions separately or just mention that I previously held other positions? Thank you.

Lily Garcia: If your title has changed, it's approriate to indicate that on your resume. If not, just mention the evolution of your job in your cover letter.

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Manchester, N.H.: I got fired two weeks ago by my new supervisor for events that happened long before she started working there. But before I got fired I was put in probabion for 30 days and in her letter she was making things up, I asked to take the letter home to reply to it since she gave it to me at the end of the day. Next day I gave her my response and at the end of that day I got fired for things I do know I didn't do. I would like to sue the company for slander, I have copies of the letters and stuff this people were making up about me and other co-workers who also got fired. What do I need to do to go forward with this and make sure I get a fair trial? I have few people who will back me up 100 percent, but at this moment I don't have any money and I dont know how long I have to make the move. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: You should consult a lawyer regarding whether you might have a case. Keep in mind that you will have to show that the statements made about you were untrue and that you have suffered some sort of quantifiable damage.

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Capitol Hill: A coworker of mine has several chronic but manageable illnesses. She is a pre-diabetic, she survived cancer two years ago and she is being treated for a blood clot in her leg from last year, although her doctor gave her a hard time for not going to PT as she was supposed to. Above all, she also has a chronic throat clearing problem that makes my workday unbearable. She claims it is allergies but I am almost certain it is caused by acid reflux. I know for a fact that she doesn't take her Zantac because she says she doesn't want to get an ulcer, which makes absolutely no sense. A friend of mine pursuing clinical psychology told me that this woman is purposely taking on a psychoanalytical "sick role" in the office. How do I deal with this? I'm going crazy!

Lily Garcia: Can you request to move your seat? Otherwise, I would recommend ear plugs, headphones, or a white noise machine (if that is appropriate in your work environment).

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Re: Follow-up, by all means, especially since the potential exists for this to end up damaging your reputation: Yes, accountant needs to protect herself. Meet privately with boss and say "I understand you may not want to take any action on the event with Fred, but I need some formal assurance that you realize I was not involved, a letter in my personell file thanking me for uncovering the problem, etc."

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comments.

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Bad Habits Don't Always Belong to the Young: I had a supervisor who would curl up in a ball in her seat and chew on her hair. She looked like a frightened kitten.

Lily Garcia: That is true.

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Working mom question: Inspired by yesterday's chat... I am a working mom of 2 kids. My boss is a single working mom of two kids. I work full-time, she works a 75 percent schedule, with 1-2 days remote. She had the 75 percent time schedule before I started here three years ago, but just started the remote work about 1 year ago. Since then, her work output has dropped a lot, and I get many projects that have languished on her desk, and am expected to complete them in short order. How should I handle this? She takes any criticism (not from me, I've not given any) very personally.

Lily Garcia: You have to address this with your boss, even at the risk that she may become offended. Share with her the impact that her bahvior is having on you and ask her to problem-solve with you regarding how to make the situation better.

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Frustrated: I have a co-worker who is unprofessional (talking on her cell loudly during the work day about personal issues, engaging coworkers in long, one-sided discussions about her dating life, etc.). It's mostly a product of her young age, but its still distracting and irritating. My supervisor isn't engaging her directly (this is his first supervisory position) and is resulting to passive-aggressive tactics (when she gets on the phone, he turns the volume waaay up on his computer). I'm not sure what to do: Do I have authority to give this younger coworker advice on office etiquette, do I ask my supervisor to "man up" and do something?

Lily Garcia: You have the right to a work environment free of unnecessary distractions. You should feel at liberty to request of your coworker that she, "Please keep it down." But you should foremost insist that your supervisor do his job.

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Re: I think that bringing in a tape recorder would be an overly combative move. Emailing yourself notes of the conversation, on the other hand, is not a bad idea: Agreed. I'm recommend emailing notes of the meeting to everyone who was at the meeting, asking for additions to the notes. This is very common professional method to make sure everyone has a record and agrees on important issues resolved in a meeting. Standard procedure.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comments.

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Baltimore, Md.: What's the best way to change a scheduled leave date without seeming flaky? I am pregnant and had intended to work until the last minute. But I'm two weeks from my scheduled departure date and the thought of commuting makes me want to cry. I'm huge and having trouble focusing on work since my feet are killing me and my fingers look like sausages.

Lily Garcia: You are not flaky. You have just had a change in your medical condition that has made it necessary for you to change your anticipated leave date.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the best way to answer the question of whether you get along with your boss, when asked during an interview? I technically get along with my boss, but I don't respect him, he has on occasion has indicated that he doesn't like my work, and my last review did not go well. It feels disingenuous to say yes, but we do technically get along.

Lily Garcia: I hear you. But it's better to stay positive in interviews.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Yes, do thank the CEO and your various bosses for the extra bonus. It's simple courtesy, and in my experience it is fairly rare.

Lily Garcia: Agreed. On that note, I unfortunately need to conclude today's chat. Thank you very much for your participation, and please join me again in two weeks. -Lily

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