How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, June 16, 2009 11:00 AM
Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, June 16 at 11 a.m. ET.
The transcript follows.
Lily Garcia: Good morning, and thank you for joining today's chat. I look forward to answering your career and workplace-related questions. Let's begin.
Washington, D.C.: My boss works on my projects behind my back, gets me kicked off email lists for calls and generally bad mouths me. As he seems to want to be confronted, do I?
Lily Garcia: It sounds to me like you are long overdue for a chat. Even though your boss is being unfair to you, try to approach him with as much openness as possible. Describe what you have seen and heard and ask him why he is engaging in those behaviors. That is the only way that you will have a chance at a productive dialogue. If you get nowhere with your boss, discuss the issue with his boss or human resources.
Washington, D.C.: My company sent out a memo that we can no longer have LWOP -Leave without pay. I like to take a day off without using my leave - just to keep my vacation time intact. Can a company actually make you use your leave?
Lily Garcia: Yes, they can.
Washington, D.C.-- "Over head":
I joined a small company several years ago and the owner and I really clicked. Over the years I have worn many hats and was seen as a very valuable asset to the organization. As each year's review passed, I saw generous pay increases and along the way my family's life style improved as well. Sounds great so far... what has happened, however, is that along the way I got moved into a position that we all thought I would do well in and the pay scale to match. Unfortunately, the owner doesn't feel that I'm doing a very good job, but to move me anywhere else in the company would mean a dramatic pay cut - one which I can't afford. I'd be over my head with mortgage and bills if I leave the post, but no one is happy with me remaining in this position. Is it time to leave the company? I'm worried I won't be able to find a job that matches this income, and I no longer trust the owner to put in a good word for me as a reference. Any suggestions?
Lily Garcia: Before you make the decision to leave, make sure that you have truly exhausted all of your options with your current employer. See whether you and the owner of the company can come up with a performance improvement plan to get you to where he or she thinks that you should be. Agree upon a timeline with measurable objectives and agree upon what will happen if you do not meet his or her expectations in the end. Specifically, negotiate a transition plan that will allow you the time that you need to find another more suitable position that pays you what you need to be making. If you are both honest about the situation, what is needed to fix it, and what will happen if it does not get better, then you will be able to either keep your job or make an orderly transition to another one.
Washington, D.C.: Hello, how does a person with a 10-yr-old felony charge (grand larceny) acquire employment? My fiance recently lost his job and has been actively looking for employment, however when he interviews the company turns him down once he discusses his felony. Is there any help for convicted felons when it comes to finding a decent job?
Lily Garcia: In a moment, I will send you a link to an article I wrote that may be helpful.
washingtonpost.com: Job Hunting With a Felony Conviction (Post, June 29, 2006.)
Lily Garcia: Here is a link to an article I wrote about job hunting with a felony conviction on your record. Best of luck to you.
Alexandria, Va.: Hello Mrs. Garcia, I am an international student looking for a paid internship for the fall, and my status only allows me to work 20 hours per week for an international organization.
Do you think my goal is realistic regarding the job market? Do you know some international organization's interest in my position? Thank you.
Lily Garcia: In this economy, what you are seeking is a tall order. If you can afford to do so, I recommend that you remain open to unpaid internship opportunities
Unfortunately, I do not have special knowledge of international organizations that hire paid (or unpaid interns). Does anyone else have specific advice for this reader?
Washington, D.C.: What can be done in order for me to get my position and job back because I was falsely terminated and the termination letter is made up of untrue statements. Management really wanted me gone for personal reasons. The clinical manger played a big role in the things that she said to her boss to get me terminated because she wanted to replace me with someone who worked on the job for less than a year.(Someone whom I helped to orientate), and she wasn't 20 years old at the time of my termination. Whenever, I'm asked why was I terminated? I tell them the reason according to the termination letter; and the response is almost, always, "what kind of lie is that" because they know me, and that this is just preposterous. I was terminated Sept.2008. The union is representing me, but at this point I don't trust them, because every time I am given an arbitration date it is changed. It's now 3 months less of a year, and I'm still waiting to be heard. Lily, can you please tell me what I can do or who can I tell my story to in order to take actions against this employer.
Lily Garcia: If you feel that you have been wrongfully terminated and you suspect that the real reason is illegal, then you should consult an employment lawyer.
Denver, Colo.: My male boss and my male co-worker golf every Friday morning in the summer together. They have not invited other co-workers (mostly females) on these outings citing that we don't golf. I know the male co-worker is not taking paid time off claiming that he works long hours other days. We all do. Should I report this to HR? Unfortunately, my boss is the boss of HR.
Lily Garcia: You owe it to yourself to report the situation. Precisely because your boss supervises HR, he ought to know better than to allow this practice. In fact, he should be striving to model the positive behaviors that he expects of all employees. Or is he prepared to allow other non-golfing employees to take bonus time off for activities of their choosing? I am sure you all work long hours from time to time.
Columbia: Hi Lily, how can an employee politely decline to apply for a promotion for personal reasons you don't want to discus with your boss/employer without sending the wrong message.
Lily Garcia: Say it like it is: "For personal reasons that I am not comfortable discussing, I must unfortunately decline to apply for the XX job at the time. Please understand that this is no reflection on my commitment to the organization and my desire to advance professionally."
Fairfax Station, Va.: I currently work for the Federal Government. I'm eligible to retire, but can't afford to unless I get another job. Since it takes 60 - 90 days to get your retirement paperwork approved, what is the best way to time things if all jobs I have seen want you to be immediately available?
Lily Garcia: At the moment, it is taking many people far in excess of 60-90 days to find employment. I don't see the harm in starting your job search now. If you get lucky and find a job before your retirement benefits have come through, you can always try to negotiate for a deferral.
Washington, D.C: I finished school in May 2008 with a associate degree in Network Management and Security but I haven't been able to find a job. I have no experience in the IT field. What should I do?
Lily Garcia: Volunteer your services to nonprofit organizations. This is a great way to get substantive experience on your resume while you search for a paying job.
Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Lily, I often go to conferences, seminars, and other events where I exchange business cards with people. In general, I don't contact them and they never contact me... is this the way it's supposed to work? Are you supposed to just email and say "It was good meeting you." even if you don't have a business opportunity in the wings? What would be the best thing to do career wise/network wise? I feel odd sending emails or calling to chit chat when I don't have a purpose in mind.
Lily Garcia: There is nothing wrong with following up, as long as it is soon after the networking event. Tell the person that it was nice talking to him or her and recall, if you can, a specific detail about your conversation. If you can offer an article or link of interest, all the better. Remember that you do have a purpose in mind, which is to build your professional network. The person receiving your email knows this, and they probably think it's just good business etiquette for you to write. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Washington, D.C.: About a year ago, I burned out at my high-stress, high-salary job and switched to a low-key public sector position in the same field. I perform well at the new job, but am not sure how to advance my career or grow professionally. Most of my co-workers want to advance into supervisory positions, but I am not interested in that because it would just be a return to the people management, budget woes, and extra hours that I intentionally left behind. On the other hand, it's important to me that I be -- recognized as -- a sophisticated and valuable contributor. Can you recommend any strategies for raising my profile at work without choosing the management track?
Lily Garcia: This is a great question. With your permission, I would like to publish an answer in my How to Deal column.
Stafford, Va.: How can I get back in the workforce on some entry level position after several years of non-employment? Tried Real Estate -- market bottomed out soon after license received--trained as medical biller -- can't get hired without "experience." Not looking for huge salary -- just trying to get my foot back in the "door." Meanwhile -- I am a marine vet, female, Spanish bilingual and experienced in A/P-A/R;payroll;CustSvc;office;banking.
Lily Garcia: Based on your experience, it sounds like you would be a fit for an entry level human resources or customer service position (including call centers). It is a great advantage to you that you are bilingual, especially for customer service jobs. Try narrowing your job search to positions that are specifically seeking people who can speak Spanish. The applicant pool for those jobs will be smaller and your odds of being selected will be greater.
Gauteng, South Africa: I worked for the company for years but couldn't take the screaming and name-calling anymore and quit. My boss knows he's the reason I quit and I cannot use him as a reference. So, if you quit your job because of a toxic boss is there anyway to explain that in your CV without it sounding like you're a bad employee? I heard that HR people skip over CVs that mention - in any way - problems with management. Is this true?
Lily Garcia: It is never a good idea to be speak negatively about your former employer in your application materials or interview. Try to find another management employee of your former company who can provide a positive reference. If you are asked specifically why you left the job, explain that you were seeking a different type of work environment and describe how the prospective employer fits. Again, you must be careful in your answer not to disparage your former employer or supervisor. You can get the point across that you were legitimately unhappy while remaining dignified and diplomatic.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Lily, there is a manager in my department who's administrative staff are responsible for doing one particular remedial task, which takes a long time but is more or less, making copies. We have tasked this with temps in the past. After laying off one of the admins last week, this manager has started to demand that I take care of this task for projects I have worked on.
I am a salaried employee and this manager is no where near my chain of command. The manager has told customers to follow up with me regarding the status of these tasks and they are otherwise not getting done. I am fielding hourly phone calls regarding the completion of the task, and I do not know what to say.
I have tried to appeal to my boss, who has said that he thinks this is ridiculous, but has otherwise not squashed the issue with the other manager. I am wondering what my best course of action is. I am extremely stressed out by this, and even though it is remedial work, it is far below my pay scale and I have my own work to do. Advice?
Lily Garcia: Your boss needs to step in to put a stop to this. If he will not, then ask him if you can write an email to the other manager, with a copy to him, letting the other manager know that you have discussed the issue with your boss and that you are not available for this administrative work.
Somewhere in Virginia: Ms. Garcia, I'm about to start job-hunting and I've recently been diagnosed with a condition that qualifies as an ADA disability. There isn't a need for physical accommodation, it's more that I need schedule flexibility to avoid missed hours for 2-3 sick days per month for related illnesses and treatments. In other words, I have no problem working 9 9-hour days in a pay period or 4 10-hour days a week to make up hours ahead of an appointment, but I can't work 20 8-hour days per month, every month.
Part of the reason I'm job-hunting is my current employer finds accommodating this flexibility impossible. If it's relevant, I'm a professional with a graduate degree and 8 years of work experience in my field as an individual contributor.
When do I mention this? At the interview, the offer, or after I start? In this economy, do I have a chance at finding a job or should I just apply for Social Security Disability? Thanks!
Lily Garcia: Your disability does not sound like a difficult one to accommodate. During the job search, ask yourself whether you are able to meet the requirements of the job as the employer has described it. Ask questions about their schedule expectations and gauge for yourself whether this is the type of job in which the flexibility you seek is feasible. If you have your doubts, bring up your need for an accommodation during the interview process. If you are confident that it will be a simple matter for the prospective employer to accommodate you, then you can wait to raise the issue until you have an offer.
Washington, D.C. Hi Lily! I am pregnant and do not plan on coming back to work once I have the baby. How far in advance should I inform my employer? I want to be fair in order to give them time to hire a replacement, but I don't want to tell them too soon either. I'm due at the end of September, if that helps. Thanks!
Lily Garcia: If you tell them about a month before you are scheduled to come back from leave, that should give them enough time to conduct their search. However, keep in mind that they will be under no obligation at that point to keep you on the payroll.
Workaholic Over-demaning Manager: I am a senior manager with 14 direct reports. The VP for my division is your classic workaholic -- in at 6 a.m., out late, has no interest in spending time with family or doing anything other than work -- and he expects everyone else to do the same. The nature of our job is demanding in and of itself, yet this guy creates all kinds of additional projects and time-consuming busy work that he expects us to carry out. We are expected to be "on call" during vacations. It takes its toll on people and as a result, we have a high turnover rate -- which only means even more work for me, but that aside, it's not fair to anyone (nor is it right). We are not compensated to work those kinds of hours, nor do we want to. It makes managing people difficult since I don't feel like I can effectively or honestly address their complaints in this regard since it would be unprofessional of me to contradict the VP's MO. I have only been in this job for about a year. When I raise these issues with him, his response is "everyone must deal with it, lots of people would kill to have any job." I don't feel like I can go to HR with this because this person is so well-respected by senior management and the board (who benefit from his hard-driving ways,) and for sure, it would not be handled in a confidential manner. I really don't know how to handle this. If I set reasonable boundaries ("in at 8, out at 6"), I feel I will not only get myself fired, but my reports as well. What makes this situation even more frustrating is that we are all fairly ambitious people and are willing to put in 50 hour weeks and longer during quarterly crunch times -- we already go "above and beyond" -- but we are not willing to put in 12-14 hour days every day, and frequent weekends, for months on end. Given the state of the economy, this VP is right -- a lot of people would be willing to fill the jobs, especially since the never-ending aspect of the job is not brought up during interviews. Any advice? Should I just set the boundaries in my group and deal with the fallout -- whatever that may ultimately mean? Thanks for any advice you can provide.
Lily Garcia: Aside from doing nothing, your choices are: (1) leave; (2) complain; (3) interpose yourself between your boss and your reports, or (4) some combination of these options. The noble path is to do your job to the best of your ability, which includes keeping your workforce motivated and productive, and may include managing people a little differently than your boss would like. If you are getting the results that your boss wants, I don't see why he should demand that everyone keep a schedule as unreasonable as his own. However, he might continue to insist upon this and, should you keep refusing to do things his way, it could cost you your job. If it comes down to this, remember that finding another job might be hard, but it is not necessarily impossible. If I were you, I would do my best to manage people the right way and, if I get nowhere with that approach, I would see my own way out of the position before my boss decides to do it for me.
Washington, D.C.: If you are interviewing for a position when you are pregnant (early), is it acceptable to not tell them until the job is offered? If you get hired, they could be upset that you have to take maternity leave so soon thereafter, but if you tell them, I can see you not getting hired in the first place.
Lily Garcia: If you are new to a job, I would be surprised if you have any maternity leave available to you at all. Most employers do not grant such a benefit until after a year of employment. It would also be some time before you are eligible for FMLA leave, assuming your employer qualifies for FMLA coverage or under a similar state law. Short-term disability leave could be an option for you, but there is a usually a waiting period of six months to one year for this benefit, assuming your employer offers it. In most cases, all the leave that you will have coming to you when you have your baby is whatever vacation or sick leave you have accrued. You would be able to use these days even if you did not give birth, so the detriment to your new employer of not having known during the application process that you were pregnant will be minimal. I don't see anything wrong with waiting until after you are hired to tell a prospective employer that you are pregnant, especially if you are in the early part of your pregnancy when the risk of miscarriage is still very real.
Fairfax, Va.: "However, keep in mind that they will be under no obligation at that point to keep you on the payroll."
This point basically sets up working mothers who want to quit to stay home with their children to put their employers in a bad situation. What woman is going to put herself in a position to lose out on the last month or so of any paid maternity leave? So... what ends up happening is that the women wait until the very end to tell their employers, which puts their employers in a bad position. Why is there no regulation on this? And why, for goodness sake, isn't maternity leave fully paid, as a cost to society for nurturing our children?
Lily Garcia: Unfortunately, this is the dilemma of working mothers in our country. There is no regulation on this because our lawmakers have not seen fit to pass an appropriate law.
"For personal reasons that I am not comfortable discussing, I must unfortunately decline to apply for the XX job at the time. Please understand that this is no reflection on my commitment to the organization and my desire to advance professionally." : YEAH, but you've got to give them something. It may not be required, but will affect your reputation, vis-à-vis future raises, work assignments. Just a brief "I'm taxed caring for my sick mom right now, or something." Otherwise, they think either you're looking for another job or have a problem that could affect your work. You need to give them something to let them know nothings going on that affects your work.
Lily Garcia: It would be good if you can "give them something," as you say. But I believe the reader who asked this question did not feel comfortable disclosing any information.
Re Stafford: Check your local government offices, i.e. health or social services. They are usually looking for bilingual entry positions especially someone with computer skills.
Lily Garcia: Thank you for the tip.
I was falsely terminated and the termination letter is made up of untrue statements: Unfortunately, all other things being equal, if you're working in an at-will job you can be fired for any reason, no reason at all, or even a false reason -- PROVIDED there's no violation of the law (perhaps age discrimination, since your replacement was so much younger), and if your union contract wasn't violated. Besides consulting an attorney specializing in employment law, you might also want to explore filing a complaint with the EEOC, if you believe a law was violated in your termination: after an investigation, they'll either take up your case or give you a letter allowing you to sue on your own. Best of luck!
Lily Garcia: Thank you for your comment.
Re Silver Spring: Immediately after the event, write on the back of the business cards that you have received, what you talked about and any interests that you share. That way when you do get around to emailing them in a day or two you will not forget what you had talked about and it sounds that you are really interested in what they had to say. It makes for a great impression.
Lily Garcia: Great idea.
Want to be Seen - but Not Management Track: I just want to say that person has asked a great question about wanting to be known as a contributor, but not on the management track. I've heard several friends say the same thing and I would love to read an article about that topic.
Lily Garcia: Thanks. Please check back on Thursday for the answer.
Alexandria, Va.: Lily, longtime reader here. I'm in a sticky wicket. I have the suspicion that my boss is slowly building a case to have me fired. I'm actively job-searching now but my question is, how bad would it be if I was fired? In terms of getting a job afterwards, would this put be way at the end of the pile?
Just as background, we have different writing styles and conflicting personalities. Putting it shortly, we rub each other the wrong way. Everyone in the office notices it (its a running joke in my dept.) so I feel somewhat at a disadvantage.
Lily Garcia: It can certainly make your job search tougher if you have been fired and you cannot find a way to keep your former employer from saying so. Oftentimes, organizations either have a policy of not providing substantive references (for liability reasons), or they agree to hold back regarding employee who have been fired. If your worst fears come to pass, try to negotiate for your former employer to provide only name, last title, and dates of service when someone calls.
Lily Garcia: As a parting thought, I received the email message below from a reader who participated in my last live chat:
Dear Ms. Garcia,
Thank you so much for your informative columns and chats. I've found very valuable advice in both.
I'm sorry I wasn't able to join in the last part of today's chat. I've worked with children with disabilities and children and adults from abusive backgrounds. The chatter who is having a problem with sitting with their back to the room reminded me of some issues I've come across in my work. Adults and children from abusive backgrounds can have some strong aversions to others approaching them from behind, especially if the approach is relatively quiet.
While I am not trying to attempt to make any kind of a diagnosis, I do have a practical solution. Some of the children I have worked with find that a mirror attached to their computer monitor allows them to see behind them, and relieves their anxiety. The chatter may find the mirror on the link below a help.
Lily Garcia: Thank you for your thoughtful participation. If I was unable to get to your question today, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great afternoon,
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