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Lily Garcia
How to Deal columnist, The Washington Post
Thursday, March 25, 2010; 10:00 AM

Washington Post job expert Lily Garcia discussed workplace issues on Thursday, March 25, 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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Vienna: Hi Ms. garcia and thanks for taking my question.

I have been outside of the fulltime paid workforce raising my baby daughter for the past several years. However, during that time I have taken on various paid short-term projects for my husband (he is self-employed and hired me to do things for his business such as to research seminar locations and bookkeeping assistance, just to name a few.)

I would like to return to outside employment and am polishing up my resume. How do I go about presenting my work experience? On one hand I really did do a variety of work/tasks-- on the other hand my "boss" was my husband? (I also did volunteer/community work during this time, with references.)

Lily Garcia: Include all of this on your resume, including the work for your husband's business. Your goal should be to demonstrate that, although you have not been in a traditional job for some time, that does not mean that your skills are rusty.

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Bowie, Md.: How do you deal with an HR department that does not value the employees within HR and discourages providing feedback to HR Management when there are employee concerns?

Lily Garcia: If HR is the problem, you could address your concerns to any trusted member of the senior management team. If there is no such person in the leadership of your organization and you work in HR, you should evaluate whether it makes most sense to stay or go.

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Washington, D.C.: I recently applied for a job at a non-profit organization. About six months ago while at a conference I met someone who works there and we exchanged business cards. I don't know if he would remember me or not. Do you think I should send him my cover letter and resume and ask if he would forward it to the hiring manager? If so, what should I say in the email, "you may not remember me but..."

Lily Garcia: It cannot hurt to ask. However, unless you connected with this person in some memorable way, I do not see a reason why he would agree to recommend you to the hiring manager. Having your application passed along without an endorsement is unlikely to make a difference. It may go without saying, but this underscores the importance of following up promptly with business contacts!

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San Francisco, Calif.: I have an excellent working relationship with my boss, who I consider a mentor. Next week I will be travelling with my family to another state to visit a seriously ill relative, which my boss knows. While there, my husband has an interview for a job that there is a high probability he will be offered and accept, which my boss doesn't know about. I feel uncomfortable with the thought of coming back from my trip saying "thanks for letting me visit my dying aunt, and by the way I'm quitting." Should I let her know that the interview is part of the itinerary? I have no reason to think she will react negatively, but in general I prefer not to talk about such things until they are solid.

Lily Garcia: Don't let guilt over your husband's job interview drive you to spill the beans too early. If and when he gets and accepts the job, then you can let your boss know. If you think that the timing will make you look disingenuous, you can always tell your boss at that time that it was all a coincidence. Since you have a good relationship, I predict that she will take you at your word.

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Fairfa, Va.: Unfortunately, I cannot participate in this discussion. Can I view the discussion at another time?

Also, can an employer with hold payment for vacation earned and accrued after an employee resigns and leaves the workplace? An employee handbook was never provided?

Lily Garcia: Yes, the transcript will be published after the discussion is over.

The answer to your question depends upon the state in which you work. In some states, accrued vacation must be paid as wages. In other states, employers are not required to pay out vacation. Check with your state's wage and hour agency.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I work for a contractor which was not re-awarded the contract. Another contractor will take over the contract, and everyone must apply for a job with the new company to be considered for continued employment. Any tips on how to re apply/interview for your current job with a new employer? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Emphasize (1) your intimacy with the job you do and and the client(s) you serve and (2) your enthusiasm for the new company. The new company will value not having to train someone to do what you do and not having to rebuild client relationships. They will also be interested in knowing that you will have a positive attitude about the change of guard.

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi Lily,

Two questions: 1. I was interviewed over the phone for a job. The interviewer said that, based on my resume, she assumed I graduated in 19XX. I told her she could assume what she wanted, in polite terms, but she kept pushing. I finally had to tell her it was against the law ask an applicant's age and, by trying to get me to answer she was doing just that. She didn't quit and kept on phishing. I finally told her what year I graduated. Do I have any recourse here? I didn't hear back, which was no surprise. Once I told her I felt what she was doing was illegal I assumed my chances of a follow up were gone. 2. I have a face to face interview in a week. In preparation the company has sent me their HR Employment form which asks for, among many other things, my social security number. I do not want to fill in my SSN but would like a graceful way to explain why not. Any suggestions?

Lily Garcia: The company is probably just gathering new hire data prematurely. I would suggest just leaving your SSN off the form without explanation. If they follow up, tell them in a friendly tone that you will be happy to provide this information once they extend an offer, which you hope will be soon!

Regarding your phone interview, it is actually not illegal to ask questions that might reveal an applicant's age. It is only illegal to make hiring decisions based upon age rather than the legitimate requirements of the job.

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Somewhere: One of my co-workers has had a bad cough for months. This person has an office and shuts the door but it can be heard despite that. I am worried about this person and also annoyed (as are others). Not sure what, if anything, to do or say.

Lily Garcia: Without prying about the reason for the cough, why don't you just tell him or her that you are worried? If you are concerned about catching something from your coworker, tell your manager or HR. They may exercise the prerogative to ask your coworker for a doctor's note indicating that they may safely work.

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Keeping perspective: I know I should be greatful I have a job but. . . again this year we are getting no raises and in fact they are talking about shutting for 2 weeks (and not paying us). We have no money for improved training or resources, and yet we are basically being told that we need to be doing a better job. I was always taught there are 3 legs to everything: time, money/resources, and quality; and that you could really only have 2 at a time. I'm being told there is no more time, there is no more money, but somehow improve your quality. Not sure how to do that so I am totally frustrated.

Lily Garcia: I do not have a satisfying answer for you. Our economic situation is what it is. Some employers are handling it gracefully and others are taking full advantage of the power imbalance this creates. Personally, I find it motivating to focus on the positive consequences of doing my job well. I am able to help others and that means something to me. Perhaps you could find a similar objective to keep you engaged.

Thoughts from other readers are most welcome.

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Sterling, Va.: Hi, I work for a supermarket chain in this area and I have noticed Management hiring work release convicts to work in our stores.This seems to be company policy. I think they are setting up layoffs. I realize they are cheap labor and really only want a few hours free. I'm not sure if I'm comfortable having them around children or young ladies. How can I voice my concerns?

Lily Garcia: Your question raises a number of contentious workplace issues which I do not have the ability to address fully in this forum. With your permission, I will answer your question in an upcoming How to Deal column.

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Washington, D.C.: For every tyrannical, aloof, terrible boss in town and you know who you are, do what ours did this week, take some time out from looking out the window to meet with your staff, learn their last names, and sit down with them for an hour or so and just ask what needs fixing? what are you working on? Works wonders after 5 years of nothing.

Lily Garcia: So glad to hear that your boss has awoken to the wisdom of connecting with you and your coworkers. I hope this signals the start of a positive trend.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Lily-

Could you clarify the point about age-discrimination in hiring? My understanding was that it was only illegal to discriminate based on age for those over 40. For those of us under 40, discriminating based on youth happens everyday.

Thanks!

Lily Garcia: Correct: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects only those age 40 and older. However, DC and a few other jurisdictions have extended the anti-discrimination protections to younger workers as well.

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Anonymous: So are you moving to Thursdays or is this just a one time thing. Love your chats and just don't want to miss out.

Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Just a one-time thing. Thanks for asking.

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Md.: My organization doesn't have an HR department. In the past months I have had issues with my supervisor. I feel like I can't go and talk to my boss about this because she has preference over this person. How can I find someone to talk to about my problems without lossing my job? Is it required by law to have an HR department?

Lily Garcia: I am not aware of any law that requires the establishment of a human resources department. Have you considered going in confidence to your boss' boss?

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RE: Coughing Somewhere: I had a coworker like that once. After 2 months of coming in sick, she gave her untreated bronchitis to me. Three years later, I still wish I had said something to the boss or HR to convince her that the world wouldn't stop if she took an hour off to go to the doctor and get some antibiotics.

Lily Garcia: This highlights the importance if raising the issue. But please do so with great sensitivity to your coworker.

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Overwhelmed: Hi Lily, I currently have a job where I am underutilized and bored. I know that it is time to move on but I am not even sure where to start. I'd actually like to leave this field altogether and go into something more people oriented, such as HR or sales, but how do I translate a writing and editing career into one that is completely different?

Lily Garcia: In a moment, I will publish a link to an article I wrote that may help you.

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washingtonpost.com: Changing Fields in a Rocky Job Market (Post, Dec. 25, 2008)

Lily Garcia: Best of luck.

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Lancaster, Mass.: Please advise how to deal with adult children - when you share an office with someone who burps all the time - and laughs incessantly at it; farts; talks in baby language. It's a female, 35 yo. I'm a female, 35 yo, and she thinks that when I stare at my computer and do not acknowledge how "funny" her behavior is, I must be a prude. Please tell me how to deal? Thanks.

Lily Garcia: Your options are: (1) tell your office mate that her behavior is unwelcome and ask her to stop or (2) report the problem to your manager or human resources.

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Alexandria, Va.: My company is having renovations done on the office building. The construction is extremely loud and debris is actually falling on our desks. Our building is at least 60 years old and I'm concerned about safety. I spoke to HR and she didn't seem concerned. Where do my rights begin and my company's end? I'm concerned about my health and definitely am unable to work with the noise.

Lily Garcia: You may raise concerns about workplace safety with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, http://www.osha.gov/, or your state's department of labor.

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Re: Keeping perspective: My advice would be to apply for jobs and see how many interviews and offers you get that put you in the environment you want to be in (raises, training, development, no furlough). My guess is not a lot -- but I readily admit I could be wrong.

Your reference point is to compare to times when things were great. Think of it this way, when things pick up and are great again, your reference point will not be no raises, training, etc (i.e. the not so good times). So stop setting yourself up for disappointment in expecting things to resemble the good times, when we clearly aren't in good times at the moment.

Lily Garcia: Thanks. It may be worth a try.

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Re: Keeping Perspective: I was once told that you only need 2 of the following to stay happy in a job: Work you enjoy/believe in, coworkers you love, or pay you're happy with. If you find you only have 1 (or 0), it's time to move on.

Lily Garcia: Interesting. Thank you for that.

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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, April 6th, at 11:00 a.m. EST. You may also email me at hradvice@washingtonpost.com. I may not be able to respond immediately, but I will answer every question.

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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