tiny answer Tuesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s tiny answer Tuesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Required to use vacation days for hurricane

I’ve got another Hurricane Sandy-related work question. My husband works at a post-production facility in Manhattan, though he’s actively looking for a different job. During the Monday and Tuesday of Hurricane Sandy, the facility was technically open, but as we live in Queens and all subways were shut down and bridges and tunnels were closed, he was unable to go to work. He was one of the few people to go in on Wednesday after the storm, and it took him 3 hours to drive the 4.5 miles into work. Now he’s been told that he is being docked for Monday and Tuesday, and that he needs to decide if he wants to take these as personal or vacation days.

I’m assuming that this is technically legal, but seems so completely unfair. His vacation and personal time is very limited to begin with, and losing 2 days will impact our ability to spend Christmas with our families. Is there any legal recourse? Or does he simply have to argue with his (completely unmoved) boss? This attitude is the exact reason they have trouble holding onto talented workers.

It’s legal. No law requires employers to give vacation time at all, so they can place whatever policies they want on it as long as they’re not docking exempt workers’ pay. However, he could certainly try talking with his boss about how other employers have handled the storm and suggest that they take care of their employees by doing the same. (Here’s a commenter describing a much more compassionate way of handling this.)

2. Left a job after one month because of bullying

I’ve been reading through your blog and have noticed a number of the write-ins were about workplace bullying, but they all seemed to be people with full-time jobs. I’m a college student who just recently quit her waitress job after only working there a month. I felt that the work environment was not professional, the girls all talked about each other behind their backs, they were very fake to each other, it was all based on seniority, but the main thing that made me quit was I saw some of the girls talking bad about me on Twitter. I didn’t report names, I just told my boss I was leaving because I didn’t feel comfortable and I saw things about me on the internet. My question is what should I write in the “reason for leaving” section on future job applications?

I actually wouldn’t include it on future job applications at all, since you were only there for a month. In general, short-term stays on your resume do more harm than good. More here.

3. Asking contacts to recommend you for a job

I’m writing on behalf of my husband, who is a grad student. He recently applied for a job in his university’s administration. He also reached out to several different contacts within the administration to see if they would recommend him to the hiring manager. Two have emailed her directly, but the other two (who work together) sent him the hiring manager’s email address and asked him to write an email to her mentioning that they recommend him for the position. This seems like a really odd approach to us, and he can’t decide whether to email her or not. Do you think he should email her, or suggest to his contacts that they email her directly?

Neither. He already asked, and they didn’t take him up on it. Asking again risks being pushy, and it also risks them sending the hiring manager a lukewarm recommendation (since their enthusiasm wasn’t sufficient to do it the first time). What’s more, being suddenly inundated with multiple people recommending a person for a job (proactively without being asked) often looks like a campaign orchestrated by the candidate, which takes a lot of the power out of it. Four people reaching out before he’s been interviewed probably passes that threshold. One or two is better.

If he hadn’t already applied, it would make sense to mention these two people’s names in his cover letter, but since he already has, at this point I wouldn’t do anything more.

4. Can’t get promoted because I’m not 21

I am just curious if this is some kind of age discrimination. Two of my immediate supervisors have tried to promote me on two separate occasions for two separate manager positions, taking it up to the district level, where it was refused because I am 20 years old and not 21. I understand having an age requirement, but obviously I’m qualified for the job (except my age) so you’d think they’d make an exception. There’s nothing about the job related to the drinking age, ability to rent a car, or other obvious age qualification. I have thought about going directly to the company’s president and “pleading my case” so to speak. What do you suggest I do?

In most jurisdictions in the U.S., age discrimination laws only prohibit discrimination against people 40 and older, so this is legal. I don’t know why they have an age requirement, but they apparently they do so I’d ask your manager for advice on whether talking to someone higher up would make sense, and if so, who would be the right person to talk to. But if she doesn’t think it’s a good idea, there’s not much you can do other than waiting until you turn 21 and trying again.

5. Manager won’t let me fire a problem employee

I an fairly new to a very small business with national exposure. I inherited a problem employee from two previous managers, who are still in their roles. This employees has been on probation twice in a one-year period for numerous issues relating to attendance, job performance, and insubordination. I even found out she shredded documents to cover her tracks on some issues (for which I thought she should have been terminated), much to the knowledge of my bosses.

We agreed to start fresh noting her past issues, but now she is exhibiting the same behavior. We have addressed this in discussions with the HR rep present, but she continues. My manager insists we should keep her so they do not have to train another person. This has become frustrating to me as they do not have to manage her. I have seriously thought about moving on due to this issue. I feel they are moving her from one manager to another and not dealing with the fact that the is the common denominator and carries the same issues from one manager to another.

She should have already been fired, long ago, and this “fresh start” thing makes no sense. You don’t start fresh with someone who shreds documents to cover her tracks, to say nothing of all the other issues. If your managers won’t let you fire her, they’re sending you a powerful signal about how they operate — as well as how they expect you to operate. And believe me, this isn’t going to be the only problem; if they’re handling this so badly, they’re going to turn out to be terrible managers in plenty of areas too and will prevent you from managing well yourself too. The decision you have to make is whether you want to work someplace like that.

6. I don’t want to get my doctorate

I love my current job — they trust me with my responsibilities, I do what I love, I get great constructive feedback — but I know I won’t be in this position forever. I am in position for another who is back at school for a couple of years. While they might have the funds to keep me when he returns, this is a program where they encourage their employees to get their doctorate. When I was hired, I had all the energy/optimism to pursue this, but now I don’t think it’s right for me. I want to keep my boss informed of my goals/wants and make sure I’m not hindering the needs of the program, but I don’t want to give the impression that I will stop researching my field or that I don’t want to be there. How should I handle this?

Be straightforward! Say what you said here — that you love your job and why, that you’re no longer sure pursuing a doctorate is right for you, that you don’t want to give the impression that you don’t want to be there, and that you’re wondering if that’s going to be a problem. It sounds like you have a good boss who will be able to give you useful guidance.

7. Explaining why I left a past job

I interned and then volunteered at one organization for over two years. Without going into details, all the board members were horrible people, and they made being there incredibly frustrating and stressful. I ended up leaving because it got a point where the stress was affecting my health. Several other people have left because of the board too, so I know the problem wasn’t me.

A year later, I’m trying to find another organization in my field to intern or volunteer, and I’m worried that someone might ask why I left the first organization since I was there for so long. Should I just tell the truth (the board made being there too stressful and I had to leave) and say I’d rather not talk about it if they probe for details, or is there a better way to handle it? I considered saying that I didn’t have time for the volunteering anymore because I started grad school, but then they might want to know why I’m not returning to that organization now that I apparently have time to volunteer again.

Don’t say the board made it too stressful or that you’d rather not talk about it — both responses will raise more questions than they answer. I’d say that you wanted to focus on grad school, but that you’re now ready to take on an outside commitment again. It’s unlikely that they’ll ask why you’re not going back to the previous organization, but if they do, just say that you’re interested in broadening your experience. That’s completely normal; it’s actually more common to go somewhere new than to go back to a previous job.

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