my company won’t pay for bathroom breaks, nicknames when applying for jobs, and more

It’s seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Another department is pushing me to do work that I don’t do

I am being “loaned” to another department for some design work for a month. During the month, I will report to another person, but I’ll still have duties and meetings in my own department and that person is in no way my boss. The person I will be working with has indicated that they will want me to do things outside my skill set – tasks like data entry. I’ve been trying to politely shut them down, saying things like “that’s not really my area of expertise,” but it’s obviously not working as I’m still getting emails indicating they expect me to do tasks outside my skill set. Both my bosses are in agreement I should not do things like this. This person has also been hinting they want more of my time outside the month, but that’s easier to handle, because my time is already booked for several months for other projects.

How do I politely shut this person down about some tasks without sounding like an uncooperative whiner? I’ve tried hard to eradicate “that’s not my job” from my vocabulary, but I also feel I need to stand up for myself or he will continue to walk all over me and others in my department. I’m meeting with him early next week to start work, and I want to make it clear from the beginning what I will and won’t do but am just lost on how to be firm without being a jerk. If needed, I can kick this up to my bosses to shut him down, but I would like to avoid that.

Since your boss agrees that you shouldn’t be doing that work, cite her: “Jane has been clear that while I’m helping you, I shouldn’t be spending time on things like XYZ. I’m here to work on ABC.” If the person continues to push, say, “I think there’s been a miscommunication about what I’m here to help with. Let me go back to Jane and figure out how to proceed.” Then go back to your boss and bring her into it. There’s no shame in doing that once you’ve tried to handle it on your own and are still running into problems; she probably wants to know about it at that point.

2. I was an hour late to an interview

I went to an interview earlier this week, and because of a road accident was one hour late. It was in a different city about a two-hour drive away and the interview was scheduled at 9.30 a.m. I gave myself three hours to get there, so I did plan ahead, but because of the accident, I also hit rush hour in the city, which made me doubly late. I called HR (the only contact number i had) to let them know.

On arrival, I apologized and explained the situation to them, and they gave me the interview. But I have a feeling that HR did not pass on my message to the interviewers. I am really worried that this has cost me big time. Any tips on what I should do?

Did you explain the situation to your interviewers yourself, on the spot when you met them? That would have made sense, and if you didn’t do that, they likely took note of it — even if HR had already explained it to them. When you mess up someone’s schedule, you’ve got to explain and apologize yourself rather than leaving it to someone else to do. In any case, you can certainly email them a thank-you for the interview and and apologize in that note.

3. My company won’t pay for bathroom breaks

The company I work for recently sent out a site-wide email explaining that due to too much off-phone time (this is a call center), any unscheduled bathroom breaks will involve filling out a form detailing to the minute how much time was spent off the phone for the bathroom break; anything over 4 minutes will not be paid. At a team meeting today, we were informed that they’re skipping the form and any bathroom breaks at all will now be unpaid. Our supervisor gave us a speech about how we “already get scheduled breaks and [we're] not children so [we] should be capable of holding it until then.” I think the speech was mostly because in order for this policy to work, our supervisor has to manually remove the unapproved minutes from our timecards so that we won’t be paid for them (paying a supervisor to spend 10 minutes removing 5 minutes from a subordinate’s pay doesn’t work out for me in a cost/benefit sense but that is the sort of logic we’re dealing with at this place).

I’ve been through the archives of your site and everything I can find says breaks of less than 20 minutes have to be paid. Also my understanding of the Fair Labor Standards Act is that they shouldn’t be doing this. Anyone I’ve seen who pushes back/questions the policy is told some variation of “someone checked with a lawyer when they came up with this, so don’t even worry about it.” I don’t believe that. I think management (and specifically our site director) is exactly stupid enough to have skipped consulting with the corporate lawyer about the legalities of docking employees’ pay; this company has had compensation policies result in a class action lawsuit once before that I’m aware of. Any suggestions for how to approach this (keeping in mind that management is not interested in hearing any of it)? Other than RUN. Obviously. :)

Yes, it’s illegal. While no federal law requires paid breaks, the Department of Labor does say, “Breaks from 5 to 20 minutes must be counted as hours worked. Even though they are not required by the FLSA, if you permit your employees to take breaks, they must be counted as hours worked. This includes short periods the employees are allowed to spend away from the work site for any reason. For example: smoke breaks, restroom breaks, personal telephone calls or visits, or to get coffee or soft drinks, etc.”

It also says: “Note, however, that you need not count unauthorized extensions of authorized breaks as hours worked when you have expressly and unambiguously advised the employee that the break may only last for a specific length of time and that any extension of the break is contrary to your rules and will be punished.” My reading of that is that if they were sticking to their original policy of paying for bathroom breaks that don’t go over four minutes, that would be legal, because they’re clearly warning you of the time limit. But when they decided to throw out that policy and make all bathroom breaks unpaid, they ran afoul of the paragraph above.

I’d go back to them and say, “Federal labor law requires that short bathroom breaks be paid. I know we want to be careful to follow the law so I want to make sure we’re handling this correctly on our paychecks.” Do this by email so you have a record of it in case you’re later retaliated against, and include a link to the government factsheet on this. But yeah, your management sucks.

4. Is my boss taking credit for my work?

I have been on this job for many years, but there has been a re-org and now I report to a new person. My new manager has not been in this unit long, so there are times when she refers to me regarding questions on unit procedures and policies to respond to others in the company. She will then send out emails with the information I gave her, with some edits. I am always cc’d on the emails, but is that taking the credit for my work if I put together the initial document?

No, that’s pretty normal. It would be nice for her to acknowledge you and say something like, “Here’s some information that Jane put together on this,” but there are times when the work involved in pulling the info together wasn’t significant enough to make it a huge oversight that she isn’t doing it. And either way, it’s not really “taking credit for your work” if she’s just sending out info on policies and procedures — that’s more about passing along information than doing work that could be taken credit for, in the sense that people normally think about credit.

5. Asking for a job description before applying for a job

Is it appropriate before applying for a position in the nonprofit sector to request a job description? I have a disability and it is important to know that I am able to carry out the duties of the position before applying. In addition, I find it helpful to gear my cover letter to the skills and duties I have performed, which are often not stated in the job posting.

The job I am currently serious about applying for does not offer a job description to candidates applying for the position. Is it frowned upon to ask for one? If not, what is the best way to ask?

I wouldn’t. The info in the job posting is the info they’re comfortable giving candidates at this stage, and most employers don’t want to take the time to supply additional information until they’ve determined that you’re a candidate who they’re interested in talking further with. (Plus, the job posting may be identical to the formal job description; many are. And if that’s the case, your question will just cause confusion.) That doesn’t mean that you can never ask for more information — but you should wait until they’ve reached out to you after an initial screening to do that.

(And regarding wanting to be able to better tailor your cover letter, you definitely don’t want to ask them to give you special treatment just so you can write a better cover letter. Write the cover letter based on the info they have provided.)

6. Using a nickname when applying for jobs

Though my given name is Margaret, I have always gone by Maggie. So, everyone calls me Maggie but it says Margaret on all my official documentation and my email address. I am graduating from library school in May and I am in the process of building myself a personal website and getting ready to apply for jobs. Do you think I should “brand” myself as either one or the other to save on confusion? What is the simplest way to do that? I’m worried that future employers will call past employers and they won’t recognize my name, or my resume/website/etc. will look messy if I have tons of different names all over everything.

You should use the name that you go by and that you plan to go by at work — so it sounds like that would mean using Maggie on your website, cover letters, resume, etc.

Sometimes new grads think it’s unprofessional to use anything but their full first name, even if they go by a shortened version. But it’s disconcerting to go through a whole interview process with James, get to know him as James, and then discover on his second day of work that he’s really Jim (or even more disconcerting, that he uses his middle name, Paul). There’s nothing unprofessional about shortened names. Just tell people what you go by, and don’t worry about it at all.

7. Including a book club I run on my resume

For the past year, I have run a professional book club at my job via our women’s affinity group. We meet approximately once every two months over lunch to read and discuss a book related to our professional development — i.e books on leadership, business, creativity, productivity, etc. I select the books, promote the meetings, and facilitate the discussions. I’d like to include this experience on my resume and/or LinkedIn profile for two reasons: (1) My regular role at work offers few leadership opportunities, so founding and leading the professional book club is an opportunity to highlight a leadership role, and (2) I plan to use the knowledge I’ve gained to launch a professional book club website on the side as a personal project, and listing my leadership of the book club at work will help me establish a history in that field.

Would it be appropriate to include this experience on my resume and/or LinkedIn profile? If so, how would you list it?

Sure, either or both. You could include it as a bullet point under your current job, but it might make more sense to include it in a more miscellaneous section at the end.

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