Reader 1: My supervisor is involved in a side hustle for a multilevel marketing program. I have bought things from this person in the past, partly because of our work connection. I'm not in love with the product, and I find it kind of expensive, but I keep getting asked to buy things. This is my first job after graduate school, and I do not make as much as the rest of my office, plus I am trying to pay off my student loans. What are some of the rules about such marketing programs in the workplace?
Karla: Assuming your manager's multilevel marketing program isn't actually part of an illegal pyramid scheme, rules about these programs depend on your employer. Public-sector employers generally prohibit workers from using government positions or resources for private gain or "for the endorsement of any product, service, or enterprise." Private-sector employers generally set their own policies about pursuing sales on work property. But having a supervisor trying to coerce you into spending money "could potentially be framed as a wage issue if you are forced to do so or retaliated against for protesting" such coercion, says employment lawyer Carla Murphy of Duane Morris.
But whatever the rules, and no matter how much you earn, you owe no one an explanation of how you spend your after-tax dollars. I understand that it's hard to say "no" to someone you've previously said "yes" to, especially someone in a position of authority. But any good sales professional — or anyone with an ounce of shame about trying to shake down subordinates — can take it. So find a way to firmly, cheerfully bunt your manager's pitches: "Oh, thanks, but I'm good with what I've already bought." And familiarize yourself with your employer's policies on workplace solicitation so that if your manager treats you less favorably because you said "no, thanks," you'll be prepared to escalate the matter.
Reader 2: I am a white male in my 40s. A young African American woman in my office says "aks" instead of "ask." Is there any way to let her know that I think people in the workplace will judge her for this harmless dialectal tendency?
Karla: There may be, provided you meet at least one of these conditions:
1. You have been invited by this colleague to coach her on perfecting her diction.
2. You have been assigned to coach all colleagues on perfecting their diction.
3. You have been or will be equally solicitous or critical of any white male colleagues engaging in such nonstandard dialectal tendencies as "Febyouary," "nuke-ular" and "like" as a filler.
Failing those, I can't think of any appropriate way for you to say, "I think people in the workplace will judge you for this harmless dialectal tendency" without her hearing, "I judge you."
Ask Karla Miller about your work dramas and traumas by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more Work Advice columns. For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit The Washington Post Magazine. Follow the Magazine on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Email us at email@example.com.
PRO TIP: Whether for charities, school fundraisers or personal gigs, employers should have a written policy outlining what kinds of solicitation are and are not permitted in the workplace.