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How to Deal Live

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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, November 17, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, November 17, at 11 a.m. ET.

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The transcript follows.

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

Lily

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Washington, DC: My evaluation was two weeks ago. Twice I have asked my evaluator for copies and I have still received nothing. Is it time to go to HR, or am I just being unreasonable to expect copies within two weeks? I honestly think that if I took that long to provide copies to my boss or a client, I would be rightfully fired.

Lily Garcia: There is no harm in asking HR if you may have a copy of your evaluation, assuming they already have it on file. However, I don't think that you should go to HR (yet) just to tell on your boss.

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Arlington, Va.: Lily, I'm looking for advice for my mother. She's 55 and an experienced grants coordinator who spent the past 20 years at a community college. She was laid off almost two years ago, has gone through her savings and now has no job and is about to be homeless. She's applied to over 400 jobs, has taken civil servant exams and passed, but in the end is always told you are over qualified. She's used every job Web site you could imagine, as well as temping agencies, and job fairs.

I feel she has given up. Is there some kind of motivational group she could go to or talk to someone? Is there some other way she could get herself in front of HR people other than the standard here's-my-resume (to which they just ask please submit online). Unfortunately, she didn't realize the importance of networking and therefore has no one to reach out to. She's bilingual, a fast learner and losing hope. I'm desperate and the thought of my mother living in a homeless shelter is gut wrenching. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: It is not too late for your mother to start networking, which is what every experienced professional looking for work should do. The Internet can be a powerful tool in this regard. I have no doubt that online support groups abound for people in her situation. She should also start to aggressively reach out to her community of friends, family and former business associates to let them know if her situation and ask for their help and support. Your mother should take advantage of social services and, considering what dire straits she finds herself in, she should consider taking any job -- even if it is far beneath her skills and experience -- in order to not lose her home.

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DC: I have warned a junior employee about his/her excessive Facebook, Gmail, G-Chat, Youtube and text messaging twice already and explained how it is negatively affecting their performance. This behavior continues and a third warning is now due. Do you have any advice for the third warning to make it work this time? At what point should I recommend to my superiors that termination is in order?

Lily Garcia: Put it in writing and make it explicit that the next conversation will be goodbye.

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Offer Rescinded!: Hi, Lily. Today is my last day at my current job. I had accepted a new job to start Nov. 30 and got a call last night rescinding my offer because the funding fell through. Do I have any recourse? What are my best options, aside from sending my resume out all over again? Or is that my best option? Help! Paycheckless in DC!

Lily Garcia: Have you tried asking your current employer if they will keep you? Especially if they have not found a replacement for you, they may be willing to keep you on the payroll for some period of time to ease their transition. If you are on good terms, they may even be willing to extend your employment indefinitely.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi. My husband has been working for a nationally known delivery company for about six years. He's salaried and he works roughly between 50-60 hours a week. I could be wrong, but doesn't the law require companies to pay their employees over time, if they work more than 40 hours a week? Or does it depend on the state they live in? By the way I'm talking about Maryland. Thanks.

Lily Garcia: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law that governs when an employee must be paid overtime. Under FLSA, employees may be classified as exempt or non-exempt. If you are non-exempt, then you must be paid overtime for hours worked over 40 per week. If you are exempt, you can be paid the same wage no matter how many hours you work. What determines whether you are exempt or non-exempt is the job duties you perform. You can learn more about the FLSA on the US Department of Labor Web site at http://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/index.htm.

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Northern Virginia: Is it illegal to use your organization's e-mail to conduct union business? I am a teacher, and one of the teacher union's rep's in my school. At my building, we used to communicate to our union members by e-mail. As the building rep, I passed on letters and e-mails that informed members about local, state and national legislation that affects education, and upcoming meetings and events. The e-mail system is provided by the school system.

Recently our principal was told that our teacher union could not use the school's e-mail. I was careful not to use instructional time to send these emails, and did them during lunch of after school. I now have to print and deliver all the communication that is intended for the members to receive -- imposing huge amounts of time and paper -- but what is upsetting, more than the inconvenience, is the feeling that we cannot conduct union business at work for lack of an effective manner of communication. Are they undermining us? Or do they have a point?

Lily Garcia: What you are doing is not illegal, but it may legitimately be considered a violaion of your employer's policies. Your employer may legally forbid you from using their equipment to disseminate union communications.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hello Lily. I work for a large government contractor and commute each day from Baltimore to downtown DC. The problem is there is very little work -- sometimes for weeks at a time. My employer does not allow telecommuting (no reason given)so I must spend the three hours each day in transit regardless. I am also "salaried-exempt" yet must sign in and out and take accrued leave for any time under 40 hours a week spent in the office. (Leave is also an issue, since I must use leave for holidays we are not given off (like Columbus Day) when I cannot get into the office because there is no MARC service). Any suggestions, other than finding a new job?

Lily Garcia: As long as your employer is requiring that you use vacation/sick for partial day absences and not docking your pay, there is nothing illegal about their practice regarding your work hours. It sounds like this situation is simply a bad fit for you. If your employer will not allow you to telecommute, then your only viable option may be to look for other employment.

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Fairfax: Concerning layoffs, do you think it's better to not say anything about them to your employees until the layoffs actually happen or to give your employees some advance notice? What if some employees are figuring out that layoffs are coming? Should you still say nothing or should you admit what's going to happen?

Lily Garcia: It is always best to give as much notice of and information regarding layoffs as possible, as long as this is not somehow in conflict with the needs of the business.

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Dress Code and Workplace: I am a 30 something woman in a large company with both male and female employees but a male supervisor. I am constantly being critiqued for my choice of clothing. I dress smartly. I am average weight and tall and dress age appropriate. I wear pants/capris mostly (a casual southern office) and sometimes a skirt but nothing above the knee. I wear colors that match from head to toe. I coordinate in style and in all stuff in style and modest: no cleavage, jackets, no tight fit and definitely no open shoes. So what's the beef? I have a boss who constantly tells me, in front of everyone, that I am too bright or hates the color or even so much as said I looked like a bum on the street or a bag lady waiting on a bus (I was wearing Anne Klein at the time!). I have been told not to wear a specific color because the boss hates it (black!) so that shot a lot of my winter wardrobe. I dress smart and am well liked but this boss is driving me crazy with snide remarks and the like. I have seen his wife: Dowdy is an understatement. She makes all her own sack dresses and looks more like she stepped off the farm. I am not like that and never will be. I dress classy, not tarty but I am starting to see this could affect my performance evaluation. My question: Can comments like this constitute harassment, and should I go ahead and contact my attorney? HR is of no use . They want it to stay in house. Help! I have nothing to lose. I won't stay in a job that isn't productive but I won't stand by and see my career.

Lily Garcia: Your question raises many provocative issues that I cannot fully address in the time and space of this discussion. With your permission, I will publish an answer to your question in the How to Deal column.

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Arlington, Va.: I am perplexed by a situation that has develop in my department. I, along with my co-workers, have been under the impression our boss is happy with our work. He tells us all the time that we are doing a great job and keep up with the good work we do -- until yesterday. The office, minus our boss, was called into our chief of staff's office and informed that our boss had put in a package eliminating our office and reestablishing a "new" office filled with contractors that will do exactly the same tasks that we will already do. The chief of staff did not tell us if he agreed with our boss' proposal, just told us he wanted us to know what is going on.

I am completely floored. I, for one, had no idea my boss wanted to fire me or why he wants to. What really confuses me and my co-workers is that for the past few years we have worked with this guy, he has given us very good written evaluations that are in our personnel files. We are under NSPS and I don't know how easy it will be for my boss to fire us and what is is basing his reasoning on. None of us feels we are in a position to confront him. So what do we do now? Are we already out the door? I am particularly stressed since I just bought a new home five months ago. By the way, I am off today so that is why I am writing in.

Lily Garcia: I am very sorry to hear about yor situation. I cannot comment upon the legality of laying off or otherwise displacing NSPS personnel. I can tell you, however, that your boss' decision to eliminate the department may have little to do with your performance. It may just be a drastic cost-cutting measure or it may stem from other business pressures of which you are unaware. I don't understand why you and your co-workers feel like you cannot ask your boss direct questions about his decision. He owes you an explanation.

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Loveland, Colo.: My question is on references. A job I was offered recently was rescinded, I believe, due to an unsolicited work reference. The written references I provided were positive in my favor. However, another applicant for the same type of job,(who was a former co-worker) I believe gave me negative reference. Is this legal or an unethical business practice? Do I have recourse?

Lily Garcia: If your job offer was rescinded based on false information provided by a competitor for a job, then you may have a cause of action for defamation. You should consult an attorney if you think that you may be able to prove that this is what happened. Keep in mind that truth is an absolute defense to defamation. If you bring such a lawsuit, you will be putting your professional credentials and competency at issue.

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Rockville, Md.: re: job beneath -- I, too, am faced with taking "anything" to have a little income. But having worked as an independent contractor for 15 years I don't know how to fill out a retail application. I can't say I worked for X company from 5/11/00 - 7/23/-05. I've done some short and long term contracts in areas that have nothing to do with retail. Sure, skills transfer, but on a standard application -- and many are done online without opportunity to speak with a human -- how does one convey this?

Lily Garcia: Try to convey your transferable skills in any free text box provided in the online application. Many online application systems employ computer programs that screen for certain key words, so make sure that you use such terminology as "customer service," "retail" and "sales" in what you write.

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Atlanta: Increasingly, meetings at my company have become the place for colleagues to scan their BlackBerrys instead of concentrating on the speaker. In some annoying cases, coworkers are e-mailing/texting other who are right there in the room. Because people aren't paying attention, some departmental reports must be rehashed, or more time is wasted with extra meetings with people who "didn't know about" a report. Do you have any advice for instituting a policy where workers must check their BlackBerry at the door?

Lily Garcia: Point out the behavior and its effect on efficiency and morale. Insist that people turn off their mobile devices during meetings unless absolutely necessary. You could also instruct attendees who fear they may need to respond to an "emergency" during the meeting to simply establish an out-of-office responder providing the conference room phone number. (This is how we did it in the old days before BlackBerries)

It is sometimes necessary for meeting attendees to respond to messages on their PDAs. More frequently, as you well know, the behavior stems from boredom and lack of consideration for the speaker.

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Washington, DC: When sending an e-mail and a cover letter via e-mail, should the body of the email serve as the cover letter (same content, formality, etc.)? Or should the body of the email be a brief introduction to the attached cover letter and resume? Thanks!

Lily Garcia: I would include the full cover letter in the body of the e-mail. However, reasonable minds in this forum have differed.

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Baltimore, Md.: Any thoughts about what to do when the big boss is giving the cute young thing in the office promotions that her work clearly doesn't merit? HR is not only aware, but complicit, so we can't go there for advice. It's very demoralizing for the rest of the office because it's clear the boss is favoring her, although we don't think there is any funny business going on. This is a federal workplace, and we're all very frustrated that she's getting ahead at every opportunity when the rest of us have been told that our promotions are on hold because of budgetary reasons. The EEO office has been no help either. Thoughts?

Lily Garcia: When you say that the EEO office hs been no help, do you mean that you have filed a formal complaint that has been disregarded?

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Olney, Md.: Good morning. I am one of those people who is terrible at networking. To me, whenever I have attended a networking function, everyone comes across as kissing you-know-what, going way over the top when they talk about themselves or just plain smug and fake. I absolutely dread these functions and avoid them at all costs. I just cannot act the way these people act. I was wondering if there is a way I can improve my lack of networking skills without coming across as fake and full of it?

Lily Garcia: The special feature on networking featured here a few weeks ago may be helpful to you. Here is a link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/jobs/how-to/network/

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Washington D.C.: Thank you for taking this question. Early this year, after I finished a five-month project, my boss's boss asked my boss to present the result in a meeting, instead of me (who actually work so hard on it). Now it is time for another important project. What do I need to do to make sure the same thing won't happen again?

Lily Garcia: Ask your boss whether s/he would allow you to present or co-present the results this time around.

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Richmond, Va.: My question relates to office bullies -- not supervisor bullies but co-worker bullying. I have been physically pushed by an older women. I reported this to my supervisor and she was "talked to;" I have been cursed out by a man along with two other co-workers, a man and a woman. Literally he cursed us out and screamed at us. He was reprimanded on a "temporary" two-year basis and ordered to take anger management. (I have not been advised if he has done this) Also, I have had photographs (four) stolen from my desk; the person in charge said this was a big deal but not being able to determine who did this, nothing could be done. My personal chair that my husband purchased for me apparently caused such a stir that two co-workers climbed all over my chair and took pictures of themselves with their camera phone while I was not here. This is the tip of the iceberg. I now work part time. I feel as if I worked with a bunch of hateful, spiteful, childish women -- many of whom are extremly overweight (as an FYI). I work for the federal government (FYI). If it were not for a couple of other "new" ladies who have joined the office, I would have gone mad. They have been subjected to similar problems. Also, a grown man took a demotion in order to get away from the bully we call "Stompy". She so harassed him that he almost had a nervous breakdown. Thank you.

Lily Garcia: Regarding the pushing and the theft, you are within your rights to call the police and file reports. In general, it sounds like it is time for you to escalate your concerns to a higher level of management or human resources.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: Any tips or recommended books to read about managing a committee of six professional volunteers -- all who work full time, too. Can you comment on any current trends regarding volunteering in today's economic climate, whether or not you have a job? How much can you expect from volunteers or how hard can you push for more help? Just looking for perspective and guidance.

Lily Garcia: I unfortunately cannot serve as a resource on this subject, but I invite any knowledgeable readers to provide their advice and guidance.

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Rockville, Md.: My workplace publishes everyone's scheduled work days in a binder. Every employee's work schedule is visible for all of the other staff to see. Most of us simply make a photocopy of our schedule to take home versus writing down work days in a personal book. This week as I was making a copy, one of my colleagues became very upset and said that individual schedules are private information and that I should not be making copies of it that leave the unit. The sheet does have first and last names but there is no other identifying information (i.e. SS number, employee ID). I was taken aback because this has been common practice among our unit for quite awhile and I had not considered the issue before. Is making a copy with other employees names and working days a violation of work place privacy?

Lily Garcia: I don't see any obvious problem with this practice as long as no confidential information (such as Social Security number) is disclosed. I would imagine that it helps people to be able to work collaboratively if they know when others in the office will be available.

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Arlington Post. We don't feel we can confront our boss because: one, he obviously lied to us about how he views us as his staff; two, he did not let us know himself what he was planning -- he had his superior do his dirty work; and three, we are now afraid to rock the boat because if there is a chance in heck we can keep our jobs, we are going to do everything we can to make that happen. I think our next step is to either request to speak to our chief of staff, talk to human resources, and/or talk to our legal office.

Regarding bringing in contractors, these contracting companies end up costing a lot more than civil service. Plus the fact you are relying on the contracting company to send you qualified workers which is not the case a lot of the time. Long ago when I worked at another agency, we had a couple of contractors. One was really good and the other I spent a lot of time training.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for this additional information. It sounds like you have good reasons for not going straight to your boss for answers.

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Washington, DC: I have a PHd in economics and strategic planning from Italy (University of Bologna), an MSc in finance and economics from the UK (University of Manchester) and a BA in law from Italy (University of Bologna). I graduated in June 2008 and since then worked as a research assistant from home for an Australian research center. Question: What to do when you have plenty of academic titles (even though they're from foreign universities), too little experience and it's too late to apply for training program positions as one year has passed since you graduated? The majority of jobs require work experience. Thanks for your time and consideration.

Lily Garcia: I assume that you are looking for jobs in the US. Two good ways to gain experience when you cannot break into a field are: (1) volunteering your time and (2) working for a staffing agency.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm wondering if I'm going about my job search correctly? I've found that when I apply to large companies, they typically have job portal Web sites that you are required to build a profile on. So you log in and build a quick profile and apply to the opportunity you found. You submit your resume, get an e-mail back confirming delivery and then you wait. There is no contact information, no HR person listed to follow up with, nothing!

So, it seems that this process is not working too well for me. What would you suggest? How can I make these faceless job submissions work better for me? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: You can do your homework, find out the name and contact of the corporate recruiter, and separately reach out to this person to highlight your special skills. Companies that have online application systems typically deal in a large volume of applicants. So, it is best if you follow protocol. But it also cannot hurt to take additional steps to set yourself apart from others. I participated in a National Public Radio program on this subject a few months ago. Here is a link to the archive, in case it helps: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103613245

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Baltimore, Md.: EEO is no help. No, we've made no formal complaint because there's no EEO basis. Others do get promotions but it seems like the golden girl gets it right away while the rest of us (both over and under 40, male and female) have to wait until the budget allows. When we're told it's because of the budget, how can he show favoritism?

Lily Garcia: The basis would be reverse sex discrimination -- i.e., you are being deprived of job opportunities because your boss favors a particular person for sexual reasons (even if they are not involved romantically). You should talk to EEO.

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Lily Garcia: We are unfortunately out of time. Please join me for the next edition of How to Deal Live on Tuesday, December 1st, at 11:00 a.m. EST.

All the best,

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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