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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, August 11, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, August 11 at 11 a.m. ET.

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The transcript follows.

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

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Springfield, Va.: Is it considered tacky to post your picture on your resume? I'm 53 years old and haven't worked in an office environment for 21 years, yet I have been working from home. I'm very professional looking and don't want the person who reviews my resume to think I'm an old lady. I'm a very young looking 53-year-old. I feel like I'm being judged before I'm even given a chance to be seen. So, what do you think?

Lily Garcia: Unless you are applying for a position in entertainment, it is not appropriate to include a photo with your resume. You can, however, post a photo on your LinkedIn or other online resume, which your employer is sure to find when they inevitably Google your name.

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Rockville, Md.: I know that background checks are common practice in many application processes, such as the Registry for tenancy or the services provided by companies like Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian for credit checks or NACLC and SSBI for checking for security clearances. My question is: Is it something that HR professionals consult in the course of screening potential employees? Does NHRA or some other association or organization provide or sponsor and/or condone the use of such a service?

Lily Garcia: I don't know whether the NHRA or other human resources organizations support the practice, but I can confidently tell you that many employers rely upon background checks in making hiring decisions.

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Eligibility for Rehire: Hello Lilly,

After five years with my previous employer, I am between jobs. For one thing, I am wondering how I would handle a prospective employer's question of whether I am eligible for rehire by my previous employer. Without going into too much detail, I believe the answer is no. I resigned from the company at the end of a probationary assignment - I gave a week's notice beforehand. The probationary assignment was a good learning experience, but not really a good match for my background. Overall, I think that the company had some legitimate concerns - which I tried to address - but that I also ran afoul of some politics.

I don't think my previous employer would answer the question about eligibility for rehire if asked by another employer, but it would be a red flag if they say no, I am not eligible. Whether or not my previous employer is asked, a prospective employer may ask me. I feel I can honestly say that there was no good match for further work with the company, but that does not directly answer the question.

My resume clearly outlines my accomplishments during my five years with the company, and I can talk about their significance. My previous employer also strictly prohibits references - and all of my direct working relationships were inside the company - so I am on my own in talking about my work there. I want to be fair to both myself and my previous employer. Do you have any suggestions about how to handle a question about eligibility for rehire in a simple and constructive way?

Lily Garcia: If you know that your past employer has a no-references policy, I am going to suggest that you be somewhat coy in answering this question. The truth is that, although you assume that you are ineligible for rehire, you don't really know for sure. So, in response to a question about whether you are eligible for rehire, you can honestly say, "I don't know." If you are asked probing questions about your experience with that employer, you can explain the reasons why you think that the job was not the best fit, but be sure to end your explanation on a positive note. Describe the valuable insights that you gained in the process, then segue into a discussion of why you think that the job for which you have applied is an ideal match for you.

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Virginia: Hi Lilly - I have applied for several position, all either county or state jobs. There is a very good chance that the hiring managers might know my current supervisor, or higher ups. Two questions: Is there anything to stop hiring managers from telling your supervisor you are job searching (it's at home on my own time)? Can my current employer fire me if they find out I'm searching? They've done it before to another employee, calling it disloyalty. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: There is nothing to stop a hiring manager from telling your current employer that you are looking, which is why you need to make it perfectly clear that your job search is confidential. Request that your current employer not be contacted unless and until your prospective employer is ready to make an offer. As you know from personal experience, you could, in fact, be fired if your job search is discovered.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, thanks in advance for your help. I work in a small office where I am the 2nd most senior (2nd only to the owner.) We work hard to get things done and generally enjoy what we do. I've noticed an increasing problem with one of my colleagues.

We have a very seasonal business and during our busy time I began to notice this particular individual was nearly constantly on some form of social networking or chatting site. This has continued for months. It seems this has been replaced/supplemented with a game playing site that also has chat functions. Our work is mostly computer based and we don't have anything in place to restrict access to certain sites & I believe we'd like to keep it that way. I mentioned the chatting to my boss in passing some time ago and I think he believes it has subsided. I can see directly into this person's office from mine (and see the computer screen often times), and I can attest that most of this person's day is spent doing non-work related tasks.

Not only do I find this incredibly rude and inappropriate, it has severely altered my opinion of this individual. It's causing me great frustration, particularly because it is clearly affecting the quality of the individual's work - which I am responsible for reviewing. Considering our small office environment & that we spend long hours together for parts of the year, this really is a shame as it's important we function well together as a group.

I'm hoping you can offer some advice. How do you suggest I handle the situation? Bring it to my boss' attention? Discuss with the individual directly? Do nothing? I'm really unsure what to do, I've never dealt with anything similar.

Thanks again for your time.

Lily Garcia: When you say that you are responsible for reviewing this individual's work, do you mean that you are his or her supervisor, or merely that you have input into his or her evaluation? If you are the supervisor, which I assume you are if you are second in command, the you should directly address the person's non-work use of office equipment and time and its effect on this person's performance. If you are not supervising, but merely evaluating this persons work, then you should limit your feedback to the quality of the work product while at the same time following up with your boss about the problems that this person's behavior is creating.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: There is an attorney in our law firm who is running another business out of our offices. To make up for lost time and to keep up appearances, he frequently plagiarizes work by other attorneys in different law firms around the country by submitting it as his own. I worked for him for several years and one day went sobbing to another attorney that I couldn't take it any more, couldn't continue being a part of his deception and underhandedness. No one from HR talked to me but I was immediately assigned to another attorney. However, the snake in the grass gave me a poor performance review due to my letting the cat out of the bag. It was all hush-hush but I understand he was caught long before I joined this firm but only given a hand slap. But he has never stopped. At any given time I see published papers from other law firms he has printed out from the Internet which will soon bear his name as well as materials from his other business. Should I contact the other firms about the plagiarism, tell the higher-ups here (and gain what I don't know), contact the American Bar Association or do nothing? The Rules of Professional Conduct apparently do not mean squat to him.

Lily Garcia: I cannot opine on whether this attorney is violating the rules of professional conduct, but I think it is worth contacting the ABA to ask. Meanwhile, you could take it upon yourself to notify the people whose work this attorney has plagiarized. I imagine that this would go a long way toward getting the attention of your firm's leadership. However, you should carefully gauge whether you are willing to take the risk that you will be retaliated against for your actions.

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Arlington, Va.: Can you give me some advice about deflecting a boss (of the same gender) who wants me to share a hotel room with her on business trips to save money? I don't have the best relationship with her and I don't want to see her naked (or vice-versa.)

She's accused me of being "sensitive" when I tell her I won't share a room with her (I will with coworkers because the relationship is different).

So far I've managed to deflect her, but we have a trip coming up that's just the two of us and she may cancel the trip if I make the demand for my own room. Is the law on my side? Is there any tips for handling this with tact other than making myself sound like a "princess?"

Lily Garcia: I think that it is too early for you to be evaluating whether there is a legal basis for you to refuse to share a hotel room with your same-sex boss. If you were repeatedly forced to share a room and your boss displayed immodesty that made you uncomfortable, the time might be right for you to think about your internal and external complaint options. At this point, however, I think that it is most important for you to stand your ground and explain politely, yet firmly, why the thought of seeing your boss or being seen by your boss partially or completely undressed makes you uncomfortable. I don't think that you are being overly sensitive.

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Frederick, Md.: I found out that my employer (10 employees) has not been regularly depositing my contributions into my 401K account (they do no matching). There are gaps as much as five months between deposits. They admitted the errors and said they'd "get better". What recourse do I have short of quitting if this continues? Is there any way to be compensated for the gaps in the past?

Lily Garcia: You should review the summary plan description of your 401(k) plan to see what it says about how to remedy your situation. Your employer is legally obligated to follow the SPD.

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Washington, D.C.: Lily, I work with a close-knit group of 12. One of my colleagues, a single mother, spends an inordinate amount of time bragging about her daughter, with good reason: summa cum laude from Harvard, Fulbright Fellowship, national writing and music awards. It does get a bit tiring at times. We all love our children and are proud of their accomplishments, whatever these might be; but we also have other topics of conversation.

Last week another colleague got fed up. After listening at length to yet another paean to X's accomplishments, he said, "I know you're very proud of X, but enough is enough. Unless she cures cancer or wins the Nobel Peace Prize, we'd appreciate a break." A couple other colleagues actually applauded!

Needless to say, the mother became very defensive and irate. She said that if our children were anywhere near as brilliant and accomplished as X, we, too, would be continually singing their praises.

She later approached me in private and asked for my views. I said my views didn't matter; what was important was that we all get over this and continue to work well as a team. When pressed, I said I thought she did overdo it a bit. So now she's angry with me as well, but I think I'm right: we have to try to work together despite this major disruption. Any thoughts on how we could best accomplish this?

Thanks.

Lily Garcia: I think that the person who spoke up against your colleague should apologize for having embarrassed her as he did. It is true that she was embarrassing herself by alluding constantly to her daughter's accomplishments, but this was not the right way to address the issue. If anything, someone trusted by this employee should have spoken with her confidentially about the need for her to tone it down, especially if the excessive chatter is disruptive to the work of others.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Lily, in the interest of saving costs, my office has taken to getting rid of our water cooler and has put locks on our thermostats. We must now drink lukewarm tap water and hunt someone down every time the air conditioning is on the fritz (several times a day). This has been extremely demoralizing to me and my co-workers. Is there a valid HR complaint we can make to regain fresh drinking water in the office?

Lily Garcia: You can and should complain to HR about the effect that these changes have had on morale. However, that is the extent of your remedies in the situation. Unless the tap water is unsafe, your employer is not required to provide you with another source of drinking water.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: I recently asked the HR folks in my law firm to buy me an electric 2-hole punch as the motion has hurt my wrists for over a year. They said it would be too expensive (their $400-$600 figure was way off the mark) so I informed them I had looked into prices on the Internet and most everything was under $80. The least expensive, $43, would suit my needs just fine. Like most companies they have had cutbacks and announced no staff raises for a year, but the attorneys' compensation and perks and the marketing budget are still in full swing. I have 3 years until retirement. Should I just grin and bear it or are they obligated to spend the equivalent of a lunch tab for two attorneys on a worker bee like me?

Lily Garcia: If you can produce a doctor's note describing your condition and what is needed to accommodate it, my guess is that you will have little difficulty convincing your HR department to invest in the $43 model. Even in light of your employer's cutbacks, they could not seriously maintain that this expense would break the bank.

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Rockville, Md.: Any thoughts about how to deal with favoritism in the office when the boss is doing it? It's an older man favoring a young woman, who has received promotions she isn't qualified for. There doesn't seem to be any inappropriate relationship (although it looks very bad) -- just an older guy trying to "help out" a younger woman. It's really affecting morale, especially when others are told their promotions will be delayed because of money issues (while hers is always on time). This is a federal office, BTW.

Lily Garcia: If an employee of any age or sex is receiving undeserved promotions from your boss, you should bring your concerns to human resources.

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ABA: It wouldn't be the ABA but state bar to which the attorney is licensed that would review his conduct. The ABA issues disciplinary (Model Rules of Professional Conduct) guidelines for state bars to adopt or discard at their discretion.

Lily Garcia: I think that going to the state bar is another good option. However, I do believe that the ABA also provides guidance on these issues.

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Re: sharing room with boss: Just to clarify, I wasn't thinking about bringing an external complaint against her. I just wanted to know if there was some legal reasoning I could use when telling her she can't make me share a room. Obviously I can't tell her "and really I don't enjoy spending that much time with you" as a reason. Seeing each other in a state of undress is all I've got as a "neutral" reason.

Lily Garcia: Thanks for the clarification.

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Washington, D.C.: Is sharing rooms with coworkers common? That seems to be crossing major boundaries.

Lily Garcia: In my experience, asking coworkers to volunteer to share rooms to save costs is common practice. I do not know how commonplace it is for employers to force people to bunk up.

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Re: Frederick, Md.: If your employee does not deposit your contribution in a timely manner (I believe regulations require a deposit within 5 days) they are obligated to pay you interest on the time they held your funds. Definitely look into this further.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your insights.

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401K contributions: The employer of the person who is not depositing 401K contributions is not operating the 401K plan in compliance with the law. When companies do this, they have to file with the IRS explaining the errors and what they will do to correct the errors, otherwise the 401K plan loses its qualified plan status. The employee could contact either the IRS (someone who is in the EPCRS (employee plan compliance resolution system)division) or contact the Department of Labor and see what could be done. The employee does not have to give his/her name or the employer's name.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for offering your guidance on this issue.

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Washington DC: Regarding the water cooler, my employer does not provide a water cooler but a group of us (about 20) started a water club.

We rent a cooler and have bi-weekly deliveries by a local company. Every month, I total up the water drank and "bill" each member. We spend $4-$6 per month per person on water, cooler rental, etc.

Lily Garcia: That's a great idea. Thanks.

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She said that if our children were anywhere near as brilliant and accomplished as X, we, too, would be continually singing their praises: Are you kidding? There are so many things wrong with that, I don't know where to begin.

Lily Garcia: Especially in a small office environment, we need to learn to tolerate each other's idiosyncrasies and deal with interpersonal conflict in a way that does not destroy all possibility of working together productively. I do not agree with this employee's retort, but I do think that it was inappropriate to publicly humiliate her for talking too much about her daughter.

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Re: Sharing the room w/boss: Sorry this is late, could you maybe give the excuse that you snore and don't want to keep her up?

Lily Garcia: I'm all for creative solutions.

Unfortunately out of time. If I did not get to your question today, please feel free to email me at hradvice@washingtonpost.com.

Please join me for the next "How to Deal Live," which will take place on Tuesday, August 25th, at 11:00 a.m. EST.

Best wishes,

Lily

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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