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. Being required to take vacation days

A friend of mine asked me a question about companies that require employees to take mandatory vacation. His company is making everyone take five days of vacation. If someone doesn’t have five days in their vacation bucket, they have to take these days unpaid. I asked why and the response was that the company is trying to recapture lost profit. If they make employees take vacation, they can write down how much vacation time they need to account for, which flows through to profit. Have you heard of this approach before? Do you see any red flags?

Yeah, this isn’t unheard of. Some companies require a certain amount of vacation to be taken each year and even at particular times. For instance, some close for a week in the summer or between Christmas and New Year’s and require employees to use vacation time for that (or to take it unpaid if they don’t have the accrued time). And in some industries, it’s common to require a certain number of days to be taken consecutively — one week or two weeks at a time — in order to guard against fraud (so that another person steps in and takes over their work while they’re away, thus presenting an opportunity to spot fraudulent activities). And last, some employers do what your friend’s employer is doing: requiring the time off because they carry that vacation liability on their books until it’s taken (owed vacation time shows up on a company’s balance sheet as a debt or a loss).

2. Can I mail my resume instead of dealing with a frustrating online application system?

I’m in the process of applying for internships as an undergraduate student. However, many search engines for these internships/jobs are requiring me to sign up in order to send my information. When I transfer over my resume, it becomes mangled in what they try to substitute as a non-biased profile with your actual resume attached. I don’t feel comfortable with limiting and chopping up my resume to fit into the profiles. The mailing address is provided but no specific name. Is it acceptable to mail my cover letter and resume when the internship is linked through to a website?

No. If a company asks you to apply online and you ignore that direction and mail your materials in, you’ll look like you don’t follow directions. Plus, very few people mail applications these days, and most companies are no longer set up to easily process hard copy resumes. They want to receive them electronically, because it’s easier to get them into their electronic systems that way.

3. Job searching during a surrogate pregnancy

I am in the process of searching for a new position, though I am pregnant. There are some special circumstances involved, as I am a surrogate and this is not my child; hence, I will not be taking a maternity leave, just a few days for delivery. I have an interview coming up with a staff placement firm, I’m pretty far into my pregnancy where it is obvious. Do I bring it up and state my plan?

You’re certainly under no obligation to bring it up, and legally they can’t factor the pregnancy into their decision-making. But the reality is that people often do, and so it might be to your advantage to address the question of leave, which is surely going to be on their minds. You could say something like, “I’m sure it’s obvious that I’m pregnant, so I’d like to address my plans for leave. This is a surrogate pregnancy, and I’ll only be taking a few days off for delivery.” (You could leave out the surrogate part if you feel it will only invite personal questions, but not including it may invite skepticism about your plans for such a short leave.)

4. Can you be required to work when you’re sick?

Can my sister’s employer force her to work when she is ill? She doesn’t get sick often, but when she does, it hits her hard. The last time she was ill, she was constantly throwing up and could barely keep her eyes open or speak. She works at a day care center and her employer still made her come in despite her symptoms. So she was throwing up all day at work and they didn’t send her home. She stayed till her shift was over, and she got all the kids sick too. Any time my sister is ill, and tries to call in sick they make her work. But if other employees call in, they get the day off. I would like any advice you have to offer.

First, yes, they can require her to work even when she’s sick. This is really poor management — and has the potential to be horrible PR for the day care center if word gets out to their clients — but legally they can do it. (Unless she’s in one of the small number of U.S. jurisdictions that require paid sick leave.) However, it’s odd that they’re letting other people call in sick, just not her. If they’re singling her out because of her race, religion, or other protected class, that would be illegal.

5. Are diversity initiatives legal?

I work for an organization that has recently become very into its diversity initiative. For all open positions, these hiring mangers now want to hire diverse candidates to feel like they are contributing to the program. Is it legal for a hiring manager to respond to a batch of resumes and ask what the racial/ethnic background is of a specific candidate or candidates?

Federal law prohibits employers from making employment decisions based on a person’s race, including granting preferential treatment on account of race. It sounds like your organization has the wrong idea about what diversity initiatives are supposed to be about: They can make special efforts to build a diverse candidate pool, but they can’t take race into account in their actual hiring decisions, certainly not in the way it sounds like they’re doing.

6. Hiding your planned career shift from your employer

Do you have advice about being appropriate with your current employer while making yourself available for new opportunities, when it comes to making a career shift? For example, is it bad if your employer sees that you are publicly acknowledging that you are in grad school for an unrelated field of study? I hate the idea of being sneaky, but I also realize I work for a paranoid employer. Plus, I also feel that (within reason) I need to make sure I am doing what I need to do to get to a better place even if it makes my boss suspicious.

Yeah, if your boss sees that you’re in grad school for an unrelated field, she’s pretty likely to wonder if you’re planning on leaving when you’re done. That might be a big concern for her, or she might not care — it depends on the job and on the manager. (It also depends on your timing. Lots of managers won’t care that you’re leaving in two years, but many more will care that you’re leaving in six months.)

7. Resumes when you’re looking for part-time retail work

Do you have any suggestions for a resume and/or cover letter when I already have a full-time job and am looking for a part-time retail position to help pay down some debt a bit faster? I have some relevant experience, but it’s a little older, and I’m not sure how to represent my parallel full-time career path. Do I keep everything in separate sections? Only include my older relevant retail work and explain in my cover letter? Just do it chronologically with everything shuffled together? Help!

If you’re looking for retail work, they’re probably going to focus more on your application form than your resume, so I wouldn’t stress about the resume too much. Just use your typical resume and explain your situation on the application and in the interview.

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