am I misrepresenting my commitment to a job, calling a coworker “daddy,” and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker is making hateful comments about a foreign country

An employee where I work has become very radical in his views concerning a foreign country which is going through a crisis. He has family in that region. His social media is littered with hateful thoughts concerning what he feels is their enemy — and how evil the enemy is, how non-human, etc. Often the comments are aimed at people of a specific religion, and he makes similar comments to coworkers.

I have mentioned to my boss that I am concerned, especially in today’s world in which people sometimes just “snap.” She shrugged it off. Should I put this in writing? If something should happen in the workplace, I think I would want evidence that a report had been made. Or is that jumping the gun (no pun intended) since there have not been threats made to his coworkers?

Your boss should at a minimum be concerned that your coworker might be creating a hostile workplace — in the legal sense — for people with roots in the region your coworker is ranting about. Just like federal law requires employers to maintain workplaces free of sexual harassment, they also require them to act on hostile statements that are grounded in ethnicity, race, national origin, religion, and other protected classes.

And aside from the law, your boss should also be concerned that your coworker is spewing this kind of vitriol into your work environment. Apparently she’s not, which is messed up, but I’d bet your HR department would be. I’m not a fan of going to HR for 85% of the things it’s suggested for, but this one is right up their alley (and they’re trained — or at least should be — to realize the legal issues this poses, which your boss apparently missed). Go pay them a visit.

2. Am I misrepresenting my commitment to a job?

I’m currently interviewing for jobs, and while I’m a hard worker and I strive for excellence in my work, I also prize my time out of the office. I don’t just want work-life balance, I need it. In my current job, that can mean that I will elect to leave work on time rather than staying late, or not check email at night unless it’s an emergency.

I’m currently interviewing for a new job I want very much. I plan to tell them that I will be an excellent, committed worker in their company, always striving for excellence. My concern is: is this false advertising? I want to sell myself, but if don’t want them to get the impression that I will be working late into the night, or that I’ll drop what I’m doing on a weekend to answer emails. This company is a nonprofit, so many employees stay late because of their commitment to the cause.

When I’m in the office, I have a strong and committed work ethic, but I can’t be that way 24/7. Will I be selling myself incorrectly on an interview if I don’t indicate that?

“Excellent and committed” doesn’t mean “committed 24-7 with no outside commitments” — at least not in reasonably functional workplaces. It does, however, often mean “willing to tolerate small amounts of inconvenience when the work requires it,” like staying late on occasion, working through lunch when you have a packed schedule, or checking email outside of work when something important is going on. It becomes unreasonable if it means working late into the night on a regular basis (although in some fields, like law, that is considered reasonable), but in most professional positions, you’re expected to work late on occasion if the work demands it. So you don’t want to draw a hard line — or rather, if you do want to draw a hard line, you’ll need to make sure you’re focusing on fields where that will be okay. (Nonprofit work could go either way, depending on the culture of the organization and the type of role you’re in.)

In any case, it’s in your best interest to find out what their expectations are of you. You don’t want to talk your way into a job and then find out that you’re required to work hours you’re not interested in. So you should ask your own questions too — about what hours people typically work, how often people work on weekends, and so forth.

3. Company says they don’t have to pay out my vacation days, but they do

I’m about to leave my current job, and after giving my notice, I talked to HR (which is really just one uninterested woman) about my unused vacation days. She informed me that they don’t pay out for unused vacation days, which was news to me. I checked Maryland state law and it says that the only way a company can not pay out unused vacation time is if they put it in writing and inform the employee at the time they start the position. I brought this up and she said the law doesn’t apply to them because that’s not their company policy — which isn’t written anywhere, not even in the employment agreement that I signed. Their compromise was to allow me to take off 3 of the 7 days I am owed during my last 2 weeks. Is this legal at all, or so I just have to let it go?

Maryland’s law does indeed state that if an employer doesn’t have a written policy to the contrary that was communicated to you at the time of your hiring, then they must pay out your unused vacation days upon your exit. It’s all well and good for your HR person to say that they do have such a written policy, but if she’s wrong about that, then they owe you the money. I’d go back to her and say, “I’ve looked everywhere for some record of this policy and can’t find it. The law says that the policy would need to be in writing and communicated at the time of hire. Is there something I’m overlooking? If not, we really need to follow the law on this.”

4. Coworker is calling an older coworker “daddy”

Am I wrong to think it’s creepy for a young woman in our office to be calling an older coworker “daddy”? To me, it sounds sexual and just creepy. The man on the receiving end of this is a nice guy and he just laughs. I don’t think my female coworker understands how it sounds because she is from Vietnam and not a native English speaker. I tried to explain it to her, but I only hurt her feelings, which i apologized for — but it just sounds sexual and inappropriate.

Whoa. Yes, inappropriate indeed. I’m sure it is a language issue, but someone should help her realize that she should stop. Ideally, that someone would be the guy on the receiving end of it — he should stop laughing and tell her that he’d like her to call him Percival or whatever his name is.

5. My company wants me to buy new clothes for work

I have been working for my current employer for about four months. I have fallen into the role of manager/cleaner/chef/bartender at a country pub/restaurant bed and breakfast. Yesterday they decided I have to buy black and white clothes to wear to work. I feel this is unfair as I have been buying work-specific clothes since I started work there. I also feel that as they didn’t mention this when I started, it is unreasonable for them to change their minds four months later. My job is poorly paid and I have no desire to spend what little money I have on clothes that someone else has decided I must wear. Do I have any rights? I have no contract and nothing in writing.

They can legally require this. But before resigning yourself to it, try talking to them. Explain your situation and see if anything can be done. For instance: “I want to be respectful of this change, but it’s going to create a hardship for me. I don’t have many black and white clothes so would need to buy new ones, and I’ve already been putting money into buying ___ under the old dress code. Are there any alternatives that would work?”

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