forced to come to work sick, distracted manager, and more

It’s mini answer Monday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Forced to come to work with strep throat

I’ve been sick with strep throat for 4 days. My doctor has sent a note and talked to my boss, but they still are making me work even though I don’t even have a voice. They’ve said if I don’t work at least half a day, I won’t have a job. What can I do?

I work with food so I didn’t think it would be legal to let me work while sick let alone force me to.

It’s  common in food service jobs for workers to be pressured to come to work even when sick (and it’s an industry that often doesn’t provide sick leave), but your employer is being especially bad by ignoring a call with your doctor. As for what you can do, though, well … ultimately, if they’re going to be jackasses, there’s not much you can do — you can go to work sick and keep your job but potentially infect people, or you can stay home and risk losing your job. Personally, if I were in your shoes, I’d say, “I would come in if at all possible, but I’m sick and contagious and not comfortable working with food when I may infect others,” and then let the chips fall where they may — but whether that’s feasible for you depends on your own situation. (And frankly, no matter how you handle this, I’d start looking for another job, because your employer is horrible.)

One other thing: Many local food code regulations require ill food handlers to stay home (although that’s frequently ignored), and you could think about tipping off your local board of health or other relevant body if your jurisdiction prohibits it.

2. Can my employer make me cover my tattoo when we don’t have a policy against them?

I have had a visible tattoo for three years. Previously, the company I work for had a no-visible-tattoo policy, which was clearly stated in our company handbook. I always made sure the tattoo was hidden by my hair when at work.

Two years ago, we got bought out by a multinational corporation and had to reapply, as well as sign off on a new handbook. The new appearance policy doesn’t include anything at all about tattoos. The corporate handbook does not as well. At this time, I started occasionally wearing my hair up, with the permission of my manager, who has since left the company. The corporate handbook does state that the individual locations can set their own rules.

Two days ago, I was strongly warned that if my tattoo was visible again (it’s on my neck behind my ear and my hair was in a ponytail), I would be disciplined. This is the first time I’ve ever been spoken to about it. There are also other people at this location with visible tattoos who don’t have them covered and have not been told that they need to.

Can my employer enforce a rule that isn’t really documented as a policy, and only on me? As a side note, if they can’t, how do I show them that without angering a couple department heads, and risking my job? I have worked here 20 years and while I feel this is not legal or fair, I don’t want to lose my job over it.

They can enforce any rule they want, even if it’s not in a handbook and even if the rule didn’t exist yesterday or is only enforced for people with blue shirts or loud voices — as long as the rules themselves don’t violate employment law (so, for instance, as long as they don’t discriminate based on race, religion, sex, or other protected classes). So yes, they can absolutely tell you that you can’t have a visible tattoo, even if there’s no written policy about it, and even if they’re not enforcing it evenly (as long as they’ve not only enforcing it for people of some races and not others, or otherwise singling out protected classes).

3. Which jobs should I include on my resume?

My resume looks bad enough as it is. Only my short unpaid internships are related to my Bachelor’s degree, and none of my previous, current, or currently-searching-for jobs have anything to do with it. What’s making me feel more awkward about submitting my pathetic resume is determining what jobs are important or worth noting.

In January I became established with a temp agency and was offered a position at a factory. I took the job and loved it, then was laid off almost six weeks later due to lack of business. Within two weeks I was offered a warehouse position, which I kept for three months rapidly going back and forth between loving and loathing the job, with the job culminating one stressful morning when I told the temp agent I couldn’t handle it anymore.

Neither these nor my four years in two retail settings match my BA in Linguistics or my desire to become a receptionist. Most importantly, owning my own jewelry business has nothing to do with linguistics or reception either. Which of these positions would be detrimental to my resume? I’m keeping the retail positions since I had/have held them for a decent amount of time, but will an office manager really care about my temp work or that I own a budding unsuccessful business? It doesn’t help that I’m usually pretty down on myself, so I don’t expect employers to want me as their representative in the first place. It feels as though my all-over-the-place resume will be unimpressive no matter what I put on it.

It’s hard to say without knowing more details, but you’ve got to figure out what jobs you’re applying for and then figure out what experience in your past strengthens your candidacy for those roles. That might be only a few of the positions you’ve held or it might be all of them; it really depends on what type of work you did in each, what you achieved there, etc. Basically, ask yourself what in your past would make an employer excited to hire you for the types of jobs you’re applying for … and then write a resume that highlights those things.

4. Can I ignore my former employer’s calls and emails for help?

I work in a large organisation. Due to organisational change, I was at risk of redundancy and I had to pick up the slack as other (more senior) people left the organisation. I was constantly being told “I worked at my pay grade” despite performing tasks which are linked to a senior manager’s job description. As my manager was new, she didn’t understand the requirements of the team and I frequently had to explain various tasks and make decisions on how to resolve any problems. She also constantly undermined me.

I had enough and took a promotion at a larger organisation. My manager dragged her feet about recruiting a replacement and I had 3 days to teach her my job. I left her notes etc. On my last day, my manager called me in to discuss a project she needed to do in 9 months time and asked for my input. This took 2 hours and I did ask her why I was there, as I didn’t see the point of me being there. I basically worked late on my last day and was nearly late to my own leaving do, to which she didn’t turn up.

I am now getting emails asking me for basic information, which anybody in my industry should know and also being told by peers of my old manager that “she doesn’t have a flipping clue.” I also went to my old work on a day off to hand in my ID card and I was then asked various questions and was expected to interrogate their systems to find out some basic level information. I politely told them no. I now feel I should ignore the emails, ignore the phone calls and never step foot in that place again, despite the “stay in touch” mentality. Am I being unreasonable?

Nope. They’re being unreasonable by expecting you to be on call to answer their questions after you no longer work there. It’s reasonable to answer a question or two like where a file might be located or what the password is to X, but not beyond that.

I wouldn’t simply ignore the calls and emails though, not if you want to preserve the bridge. Instead, politely say, “I’m sorry but I need to focus on my new job and am not able to answer these questions.”

5. Asking about a small organization’s maternity leave policies

I work at a small nonprofit, a job I love that I landed thanks to your advice. We’re small enough that I’m the only person who covers what I do, and it’s busy and demanding. I’m at the point in my life where I’m considering starting a family in the near future (2-4 years). We don’t have any kind of employee handbook that I could use to discreetly look into maternity leave, and I’m the youngest person on staff by more than a decade, so I have no examples to seek out. I’ll probably be the first person to even ask about maternity leave in 20 years!

How would you suggest I learn more about maternity leave at my organization? Should I wait until things come more into focus? I’m very career-driven and as my work is very cyclical have already thought about times of the year when I could more easily be out and how my work could be structured while I’m gone. I’m a planner so I’d really like to know what my options are before I even think about starting a family, but bringing it up too far in advance might be weird. Do you have any advice about when and how to have this conversation?

If the organization is that small and hasn’t dealt with maternity leave in many years, it’s possible that they don’t have a policy at all and that they’ll need to negotiate a plan directly with you when the time comes. If that’s the case, it might not do you much good to bring it up now — and could potentially hurt you, even though it shouldn’t — so it might make sense to wait until you’re closer to the time when you actually need to know, especially since you’re new.

When the time gets closer though — or if you’re at a point where you need to know in order to be able to plan — you could certainly say, “This is a few years off, but since I’m hoping to be here when it happens, I wanted to talk about how a future maternity leave might work.” But be prepared for the fact that once you bring it up, your boss is probably going to assume that it’s happening sooner than you intend to convey.

6. Dealing with a distracted manager

How do you deal with a distracted manager who always seems to have 10,000 things at once?

For example, it took me 4 or 5 attempts before I was successfully able to organize a meeting with him. Then, during that meeting, when I asked him directly what projects I need to work on, what bits of those projects I need to work on, and when I need to have them done by, he couldn’t give me any straight answers, and his whole manner was very flighty and distracted and frankly, quite a short attention span. How can I get him to focus?

You probably can’t. He’s flighty and distracted. You can, however, propose your own plans for what you should be working on and when you’ll have them done by, and ask him to approve or modify those plans. But ultimately, you’re going to have to accept that you’re working for a flighty, distracted boss who doesn’t focus and won’t give you the kind of guidance you want.

7. How do I bill consulting clients for out-of-town work?

I do side work as a business writing consultant. I charge an hourly fee, and bill for the length of each training session plus some additional prep time. I have been asked to travel out of state by an area business to run three 4-hour training sessions. The company will fly me out, I’ll run a session after we land. I’ll spend the night and on day 2 run two more sessions before flying home late in the evening.

How much do I bill? I’ll be doing 12 hours of instruction, but they are two marathon days, and I’m tied up during all that travel time. I am no sure what the normal etiquette is here, so I have no idea how much to propose for compensation for this trip.

Ideally you’d include an agreement about this in your contract; you don’t want it to be a surprise to the client. How much you bill for it depends on a bunch of factors, but some consultants will bill travel time at half their rate, others will fold it into a fixed fee for the project, and others will simply have a higher per-day fee for days away from home. In general, people who bill for travel time will bill for the time actually spent traveling, but not for time spent sleeping at your hotel. Personally, I’m more of a fan of fixed rate fees for projects in general, and when you do that, it’s easier to fold the travel premium into that overall cost.

Whatever method you choose, you want to factor in how whether you can do work for other clients while you’re traveling and how much of an inconvenience it is to you.

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