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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Tuesday, December 1, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Tuesday, December 1, 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.

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Washington, DC: Hello, Lily. I have an opportunity to move to a different branch of my company and take a "step up" in my career. It's a more prestigious branch, and there would be a salary increase. However, I don't want to stay in my current line of work and would like to go back to school in the next three to five years for a completely different job. My current position offers me a lot of flexibility, based on the trust I have built with my boss over the last four years. I feel this flexibility would be very useful as I explore options for this new career. I like my boss, am good at my job and am very comfortable with my coworkers. I am considering declining the offer, but would it be stupid to not take a more prestigious and better paying job, even if it's not what I want to do with my life?

Lily Garcia: Three to five years is a long-time horizon. In the meantime, why not challenge yourself and maximize your income? Do make sure that you would be comfortable working with your new boss and team. If you need flexibility in your schedule for a particular reason, do not hesitate to discuss this with your new boss up front. In the end, you simply need to trust your instincts. If your feelings of unease about the move do not dissipate over time, then it may be best for you to decline the opportunity.

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Anonymous: Good morning, Lily. Thank you for taking my question. After much thought and deliberation, I've decided to leave my current position (without having a new job lined up) as its not worth the stress and toll it is taking on me. I would like to request a personal leave of absence and have that ultimately roll into not returning to work.

My question is for a personal leave of absence, that is at the discretion of management, am I required by law to provide the specific medical reason or can I be vague as I was above? I'm not looking to take the leave on FMLA or file claims for short term disability or anything like that, but I would rather not divulge to my current management chain the medical issues that I'm facing (I think I would be okay with providing this to HR, as they are an independent third party). Do you or the readers have any experience with requesting leaves of absences?

Lily Garcia: If you are just taking vacation and sick leave, you are not legally obligated to provide your company with information regarding your reasons. If your employer suspects, however, that your absence might qualify for FMLA protection, they are at liberty to request that you complete FMLA paperwork. Even if you fail to complete the paperwork, they could, under certain circumstances, nevertheless designate your leave time as FMLA leave. At no point will you be required to describe your condition. However, you may be asked to answer questions regarding the impact of your condition on your ability to report to work and perform the duties of your job.

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Washington, D.C.: Ms. Garcia, good column on ageism, both ways. Treating each other with respect and professionalism is the only way to go. I'm one of the 20-something bosses, and to be honest, most of my older workers have nowhere near my computer expertise, which is needed for the job. However, they bring other things to the table. We did have to let two (out of 18) go when, after extensive training and counseling, they could not get up to speed. One chose to retire and another moved to a different part of the company where such skills are not as important.

www.washingtonpost.com: Dealing with a Generation Gap at Work (Post, Sept. 10, 2009)

Lily Garcia: Thanks for your note. I am glad to hear that my answer resonated with you.

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Washington DC: My employer offers voluntary short-term disability insurance at a cost of about $25 per two week pay period. I have subscribed to the VSDI in the past. Currently I have 400 hours of disability sick leave which I can use for short term disability. Each year I get 80 more hours. Is there some point at which my accumulated disability sick leave reaches a point that I do not need to consider VSDI?

Lily Garcia: That is entirely up to you. If your sick leave accumulates indefinitely, then you could conceivably accrue sick leave in excess of the maximum short-term disability payments to which you may be entitled. However, you still may end up in a situation where you consume all of your sick leave and still need to take time off, in which case SDI would be very helpful. Only you can decide whether this risk is worth the $25 per pay period savings.

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Anonymous: If someone is dismissed during probation, what is prima facie proof of age discrimination? What is a reasonable employer expectation of software performance? What is a reasonable employee expectation regarding computer application documentation and availability of computer software and file layouts? If an application is changed in the middle of use, can an employee held to a result tie-in standard?

Lily Garcia: I am unfortunately not at liberty to offer legal advice in this forum. However, I can tell you that the case for age discrimination does not depend upon whether an employee is on probation. If you believe that you have been discriminated against because of your age, you should schedule a consultation with an employment lawyer.

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Maryland: I have been receiving Maryland unemployment since I was laid off in Nov. of 2008. I recently filed for an extension of those benefits. I was denied that extension under statute 8-910 because the number of weeks I worked during my filing year (Nov. 2008-Nov 2009) are too few to meet the requirements. Isn't that the whole point of unemployment? No work? I can file an appeal, but do I need an attorney? I can't reach anyone in the unemployment office to answer my questions.

Lily Garcia: I don't know what your specific rights are for an extension of unemployment in the State of Maryland. It would be helpful for you to have an attorney. However, I also think that you should be able to handle an appeal of this nature on your own.

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Fairfax, Va.: For many of us undergrads currently enrolled in a college, we have little to no experience in the career field we want to pursue. Many of my friends, including myself, hold jobs in retail -- retail jobs where the tasks and experience have little to do with the tasks of the desired career. What do you recommend for us students who have trouble trying to transfer the skills we learned in retail to the skills required in a wholly different industry?

Lily Garcia: I recommend that you work hard at getting an internship -- even an unpaid one -- within the field of your choice. Nonprofit organizations are more open to considering solicitations for unpaid internship opportunities. The job board Idealist.org includes a robust listing of internship opportunities that is worth checking out.

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Vienna, Va.: I have recently sought out an update on my work history from a major health-care employer in NOVA. The letter stated work "commenced" in year ____ and "terminated" in 1996. Could this use of terms be holding me back from rehire elsewhere?

Lily Garcia: No. Termination just means that your tenure ended. The word is not synonymous with being fired.

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Lanham, Md.: I am the last one hired, and maybe the first one fired. Layoffs are coming again. I hate my job, my manager did not request additional staff in her department. I was simply placed there by the director(via the completion of a fellowship program). I have noticed my change in attitude. I no longer dress up to work, and I don't put make-up on, etc. It is because I am so unhappy. I have no where else to go. I apply often to other jobs. I'm young with a Master's but lack significant work experience. I was placed in a department that is unrelated to my career goals and without the agreement of the department manager. The director just placed me there. Please help. Management and her staff is trying to sabotage my career by falsifying e-mail content, claiming I need more training for an incident they can not recall, etc. I do not mind getting laid off. At least I didn't quit. Yes, it is that bad. Please advise.

Lily Garcia: In the end, it will probably be best for you to move on -- either to another department in the organization or another organization altogether. Try appealing to the director for a transfer. At the same time, start polishing your resume and looking for other opportunities. I would also suggest seeking out the support of close friends and family. You will find that having a sympathetic ear for what you are experiencing can do wonders for your ability to cope. If you have not done so already, you should also consider seeing a counselor. It sounds like you are desperately unhappy in your situation and I am left to wonder whether you might not be exhibiting signs of depression.

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Chantilly, Va.: I worked for a large D.C. law firm until the end of October, when I along with several others agreed to be laid off. At the time we were all told that we would be allowed to file for unemployment. I haven't done so, as I now consider myself an ecstatic retiree (I'm 63 and the timing was perfect), but others have. After all the promises they've been refused benefits because, D.C. says, they volunteered to be laid off so essentially quit. The firm has been working with D.C. to resolve this, and says that they had assurances beforehand that benefits would be honored, but it doesn't look good. Any ideas on what can be done now?

Lily Garcia: If your former colleagues are ultimately denied unemployment benefits, they have the right to appeal the decision of the DC Department of Employment Services. It is good for them to know that they have their former employer -- and a law firm at that -- advocating on their behalf. Most unemployed people are not nearly as lucky.

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Retail Jobs...: I tend to be impressed with students who pay their way with retail jobs. The good ones can juggle tasks, work efficiently, handle money and deal effectively with the public -- all skills that I would look for in an entry-level employee. I wonder when the big push for fancy internships started (unpaid? not everyone has parents who can carry them financially!).

Lily Garcia: Those of us without wealthy parents often work retail (or restaurant or babysitting, etc.) jobs while juggling part-time unpaid internships. I am not suggesting that retail experience conveys no transferable skills, but it does pay to get a foothold in your field. I speak from experience.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a boss with whom I have a very difficult relationship. Not only is she a micro-manager, she is at times belittling, condescending, patronizing or downright insulting. I am desperate to leave and am considering quitting though I have nothing lined up and cannot afford to be unemployed. Any tips on how to cope?

www.washingtonpost.com: Maintain Your Integrity, Even When the Boss Doesn't (Post, Jan. 15, 2009)

Lily Garcia: Thank you for your question. Here are links to two articles that I hope will provide you with some of the guidance you seek:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/05/AR2007120502082.html

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Virginia: Good Morning! How can I find a good career coach to help in re-purposing skills into a new career path and resume? I have no idea where to start except to look at an association listing or phone book -- but, I'd rather have a personal referral to avoid having to try-out someone. Thank you!

www.washingtonpost.com: Don't Let a Recruiter Paint an Artificial Picture in Your Resume (Post, July 8, 2009)

Lily Garcia: Above is a link to an article I wrote that will help you in your search for a competent recruiter. As far as specific referrals, I have two to offer: Right Management (www.rightmanagement.com)is a reputable outplacement company that will help you to refine your application materials and focus your search. For a more personalized approach, try Ruth Schimel (www.ruthschimel.com).

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undergrads working retail: But don't forget even a clerk at CVS has to show up per assigned schedule and be responsible. You have to deal with the public, handle money, etc. You may have managed a shift or been responsible for opening/closing. Yes, get internships if possible, but remember that retail job still gave you life experiences!

Lily Garcia: I agree!

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older computer geek: I can't believe you keep writing about the "misunderstood" 20 year olds when it is the older people who lose jobs because of age discrimination. Even the person who wrote in today says "honest, most of my older workers have nowhere near my computer expertise, which is needed for the job." Does this person know any history of computing? Computer have been around since the 40s. Some of these "older people" have been working in computers since before he was born. Let's face it -- the interfaces have changed but the Von Neumann architecture of computer programming has not changed. These "older people" probably have a better understanding of computers than this person who listens to music all day on their Ipod and thinks he/she knows computers. When is the last time you heard of someone being laid off because they were young?

Lily Garcia: I think it is fair to say that technology workers old and young can bring important skills to the table. What I advocate for is an approach to management and workplace relationships that takes into consideration the demonstrable skills of the individual person without regard for age. Whether you "get it" or not depends upon your knowledge and aptitude, not your birth date.

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Upcoming Job Review: Lily, I have been recently invited by the owner of our company to discuss my performance and my future with the company. He wants me to discuss the goals I have for the project and for me personally over the next few years. The only thing is I am currently looking for another position abroad to move with my girlfriend who will be leaving in spring of next year. I will end up moving regardless of whether I have found a job by then. I like my boss and my job and my leaving has little to do with how I feel about the company. So how do I approach this review meeting? I feel uncomfortable lying or making him think I look forward to growing with the company when that obviously isn't the case, but on the other hand, I am not ready to announce I will be leaving? What is the best way to handle this?

Lily Garcia: I agree that it is not yet time for you to come forward with your plans. And the truth is that you really do not know for certain whether your girlfriend's plans will materialize (although they may seem pretty firm at the moment). I suggest that you participate as fully as possible in your performance discussion as if you were planning you remain with the company for the foreseeable future.

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retail: I worked early morning shifts in a supermarket bakery in order to complete an unpaid internship at an art museum in the afternoons. That internship helped me earn a paid internship in an art museum. I don't think the bakery would have done that for me. Internships matter.

Lily Garcia: Thank you for sharing your perspective.

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Odenton, Md.: Lily, I am currently working with a nightmare supervisor. I am desperate to leave. I have also found my dream job. I have applied through personal contacts and it looks like a good fit, but the job is not hiring until second quarter next year due to funding. My question is: Should I look for and change to another job in the short term? There is of course the chance that my dream job doesn't work out. But I also don't want my work history to look bad if I change jobs twice in a small amount of time.

Lily Garcia: If you are truly desperate to leave and the dream opportunity is not solid, then you should still look for another job. You may end up leaving after a short while, but you also may not. In the meantime, you will enjoy the immediate relief of terminating a destructive reporting relationship.

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Career Counselor Follow-Up : Thank you! I thought Right Management just worked with corporations for their "transitional" employees. Do they do individual counseling now?

Lily Garcia: I believe they also work with individuals, but I will find out for sure and get back to you. Please contact me offline at hradvice@washingtonpost.com.

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Lanham, Md.: Should I request a transfer if I am still on probation? The director placed me there to create a program that my manager is suppressing. I was placed in the department because they had no choice. I am grateful to have a job, but would I be ungrateful to ask for a transfer or make any requests considering the fiscal climate?

Lily Garcia: It all depends on the terms of your probation. Are you on probation due to performance or because you are a recent hire? If you are on performance-based probation, asking for a transfer would be bad form. Plus, your organization probably has a written policy of not transfering employees who are on probation. If your probation is due to your short tenure, you may have a better chance of obtaining a transfer. The challenge for you will be explaining to the director not just why you want to transfer, but why making such a move would benefit the organization.

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Appealing Unemployment decisions: In Va (Md must be similar) I went to the Web site, read previous appeals and used the exact same wording from similar appeals, which were successful. I prevailed. Cite code, cite code, cite code.

Lily Garcia: Great advice. Thanks for writing.

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Re: Lanham: My heart goes out to the poster from Lanham and others who write in to say they are in miserable work situations. What resonated with me was the part about no longer dressing up for work, no makeup, etc. Please listen to Lily and think about getting counseling.

I was in your position once and have the advantage of hindsight. I let the situation at work get to me more than it should, where it interfered with my feelings of self-worth, and ultimately my health. If you feel you don't need counseling, please make sure you are taking care of yourself in other ways (diet, exercise, rest) -- whatever it takes to gain some perspective and remind yourself that you are not your job.

Lily Garcia: Thank you very much for your thoughtful response to this reader.

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Washington, DC: Hi. I am a current federal employee and have been looking for a new position either in government or private sector. I have started receiving requests for interviews in response to the applications I have sent out previously, but I also found out that I am expecting some time ago. Even though I don't "show" at the moment, do I have to let the interviewer know that I am expecting? What if I got lucky and receive an offer, can I ask the new employer to wait until I come back from the maternity leave? Now, my new goal is to find a new position by the time my maternity leave ends. Is there a law to protect women in a similar situation? Thank you.

Lily Garcia: You are not obligated to let the interviewer know that you are expecting, but it would be best for you to disclose the fact of your pregnancy by the time that an offer is extended. Otherwise, you may leave the employer rigtfully feeling like you withheld information that was important to the organization's business plans.

It is illegal for a future employer to refuse to hire you because you are pregnant, just as it is illegal for your current employer to fire you because you are pregnant. If you ask a prospective employer to wait until you finish maternity leave, however, they might legitimately (and legally) rescind your offer on the basis that the immediate needs of their business are too great.

The following article may be helpful to you: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/22/AR2008102201867.html

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Lily Garcia: Thank you for participating in today's discussion. Please remember to join me for the next edition of How to Deal Live at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 15th. You may also reach me by email at hradvice@washingtonpost.com. Although I cannot guarantee an immediate reply, I will answer your question.

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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