my coworker booked all the best vacation days for the year and no one else can have them

A reader writes:

I’m relatively new in my position with a small company in the construction industry. Because we’re a small family business with a particular specialty, we don’t have a lot of depth in some key positions. For this reason, a new vacation policy was been put in place shortly before I got here last year. Employees are required to give three weeks notice for vacations, and only one employee in a given group (sales/administration/CSRs/field techs) can be on vacation at a time. This initially caused some grumbling, but everybody seems to have adjusted to it. The process is that a calendar goes up every January, and people write in their names on the dates they want to take off in that calendar year. You can put your name down throughout the year as long as you complete your request three weeks in advance. If somebody else in your group writes her name in on a day you want off before you do, you have to choose another day.

So here’s the issue: at the first of the year, the calendar went up. A week or so later, one employee, who we’ll call Jane, wrote her name down on the Friday and Monday before and after each holiday, in addition to other days through the year. Jane also has been here longer than anyone else and therefore has more vacation days than anyone else. Another employee in the same group, Lucinda, became very angry about that as soon as it happened, though she never brought it up to her manager. (She has since left the company.)

I can understand Lucinda’s ire at discovering that all those coveted days were taken, but there was no policy against it, so Jane didn’t break any written rules. Lucinda also had the same access to the calendar and the same amount of time to write her name on it as Jane did. On the other hand, I think Jane should have realized that this move might be unwelcome to her coworkers.

I have always worked in much larger companies, so this is my first time dealing with this situation. My question is: have we as a company erred in not preventing one employee from claiming all the “good” days? How do other companies handle this?

That is a terrible, terrible set-up!

A system that allows one person to block everyone else from the most choice vacation days in order to take them all for herself is a broken system.

There are lots of other ways your company could handle this. For instance, they could:

* Require that vacation requests be submitted for approval (rather than just claimed by calling dibs), give everyone a date to get their requests in by, and then parcel them out in some reasonably balanced way. (People could still book vacation time after that, but this would parcel out the most desirable days in a more fair way.)
* Explain that time off around the holidays is going to be much coveted and ask people to submit several options for the days they’d like off and rank their preferences, so that people will at least get some of what they want. (They could let people with seniority have first dibs at those preferences, but limit them to one choice, not unlimited choices.)
* Offer incentives for people willing to volunteer to work the days that other people most want (such as a bonus or extra vacation day next year). This will sometimes dramatically shrink the competition for the most prime days.

Frankly, your manager could also just talk to Jane and say, “Hey, you’ve effectively blocked anyone else in the department from taking off during nearly all the most desired vacation periods. Tell me which of these are most important to you to keep, but I need to let others have a shot at the rest.”

But the policy itself is a terrible one and is destined to lead to quite reasonable resentment.

open thread – April 29-30, 2016

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue :)

employees complained about the reward I gave them, getting my job back after being fired for pushing a coworker, and more

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

1. My employees complained about the reward I gave them

I work as a manager of a division that recently underwent a huge system change. As a result, all of our employees had to work two hours of overtime per day for three weeks. They were all paid triple their hourly rate for their overtime hours and were given two weeks extra PTO for their efforts. In addition, all meals were catered during that time, and every imaginable beverage was served to them (think baristas, fresh smoothies, etc).

I decided that in addition I would give them all gift certificates (paid for by our company) as a thank-you for their hard work. These were all in different amounts, based on their respective levels of responsibility, but they ranged from $100-200. In order to give them these gift certificates, I had to spent a lot of time getting permission for the funds and ordering them for the employees, all on top of my already demanding work load. I was hurt when it got back to me that employees were grumbling that the gift cards weren’t enough.

My visceral reaction was to just say that they are being ungrateful for something extra that I did for them and that I will not be giving out gift cards next time they are required to work overtime for a special project. But do you think they were treated unfairly? How should I handle these sorts of things going forward?

It sounds like you really went out of your way to ameliorate the inconvenience of the overtime — two weeks of extra PTO is huge, to say nothing of tripling their rate and bringing in all that food and drink. That was more than most people would expect, and then to do gift cards on top of it was extra thoughtful. So yeah, they’re being unreasonable and unrealistic in their expectations. I almost wonder if they saw all the other stuff as par for the course (which it’s not) and the gift cards as their only thank-you; that’s the only thing I can think of to explain the reaction.

But I’d skip the gift cards next time — no point in doing them if that’s the response.

2. Should I try to get my old job back after being fired for pushing a coworker?

Back in 2013, I was fired from my first job after an episode of physical violence with a coworker who had been bullying me for a while. (We threw shoes at one another and pushed each other. He’d been calling me names and bullying long before the incident though.)

Afterwards, I moved on and worked other jobs. But now, after having my son, it seems like no matter how many jobs I apply to, I always get rejected. A couple days ago, I ran into another coworker from my first job and she suggested that I try to re-apply and come back. She knows what happened to me and agrees that I should be given another chance. I tried to re-apply and actually got an interview and I was doing great, until they discovered I used to work there and the circumstances under which I left, or was terminated as they say, thanks to a jealous coworker who is still there. They pretty much trashed my interview and stopped looking at my application afterwards. It’s really been bothering me and I really wanted to go back and work there. Should I try again by calling corporate and explaining what happened or should I just leave it be? And the jealous coworker, what should I do about her?

Nope, this one isn’t going to work out. Being fired for pushing a coworker is a really big deal. It sounds like you might have been pushed to the brink by his behavior — but when you resort to physicality with someone, no matter what the provocation was, that’s going to be a permanent deal-breaker for most employers. They’re not going to want to take the risk that it will happen again. Write this one off, and focus on other employers.

As for the jealous former coworker, there’s nothing to do there. Move on mentally from this company and start fresh somewhere else.

3. I’m worried that moving into my own office will hurt my coworker’s feelings

I started at a job I love two years ago. I came into a department with one other person who was there two years before I started and our boss. My boss got a promotion and now wants to promote me instead of my coworker. I love my coworker to death, and don’t want to hurt her feelings. At the same time, though, I can’t hold myself back just for the sake of my coworker’s feelings.

We sit in a cubicle separated by a wall. Two offices opened up and ideally we should both get into them. My boss asked us if we want to move over. My coworker said she doesn’t, and I want to. Should I go ahead and do it? My coworker doesn’t know about my promotion yet. I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to be above her (although my title will be). I just don’t want to create a hostile environment.

Good lord, take the office! It’s very, very normal to take an office when it’s offered to you, totally aside from the promotion. It’s not even like you’re being offered something your coworker isn’t; she’s been offered one too, even though she’s not taking it. (But even if she hadn’t been offered one, there’s no reason for that to stand in the way of you accepting yours.)

There’s absolutely nothing hostile about that. If she’s sad that you won’t be sitting with each other anymore say, “Yes, I will miss it too — but I’m really excited to have an office.” If she thinks about your feelings half as much as you seem to be thinking about hers, she’ll understand and be pleased for you, even if she’s a little wistful about losing the camaraderie of your cubes.

4. My office keeps emailing me at my personal email address rather than my work address

I recently started a new job at a university. I had used my personal gmail account while interviewing and had lots of correspondence through that account during the process. When I was hired I was given an @teapots.edu email. (Coincidentally we use a Gmail system for that account.)

Since I started, my boss always emails me work requests to my personal email. At first I just responded and then added my work email to the cc line. It continued happing a lot into week two. I kindly mentioned to my supervisor that I would prefer she use my university email for work correspondence. She explained it was an accident and that when she types my name into our work Gmail, it populates my personal email first. She said she would try to be more careful. Well, it keeps getting worse now. Many coworkers (who I never interviewed with) now are being cc’d (and replying) on emails to my personal email.

I started forwarding emails to my work email and responding to work requests with “I will respond from my work email; please try to sue that for future requests.” Everyone is very apologetic and realizes they are just typing my name in and it is the first item because of how frequently it is used.

Now my personal email is being sent around by accident to students and they are emailing me directly, thinking that is my email. I don’t know how to quell this madness – I just need people to take a second before typing my name into Gmail and look to see that it populates two options and choose my work one. Any suggestions? I don’t want to ignore people but it seems being polite and pointing the error out, isn’t enough.

I have to admit to doing this to a people a few times — for the exact same reason (that I’d been corresponding with them at their personal email address from the hiring process). But I always took action to fix it when they pointed it out! Maybe your coworkers don’t realize that they can fix this in their email, and it would help to send them specific instructions about how to fix it.

I’d say this: “Your emails keep going to my personal email address instead of my work address. To stop it from happening, can you delete it from your Gmail contacts altogether so it doesn’t keep auto-populating that one in messages? To do that, go to contacts.google.com, view all contacts, and delete my personal email. That should fix the problem!”

Since everyone sounds apologetic, they’re likely to be grateful to know how to stop this.

5. Can nonprofit employees volunteer for their own organization?

I’m on the board of a small nonprofit. I was just informed that one of our full-time salaried employees is actually volunteering his time on one of his scheduled work days. Apparently this was an arrangement he made with the former board president, for reasons unknown to me (the former president took many employee issues into her own hands). I believe this employee is non-exempt, but the extra day does not put him over 40 hours a week. And the former president instructed him to do “different” work from his paid work on the extra day, but the truth is, it’s not very different at all (for example, if your regular job was cooking hamburgers, and your volunteer position was cooking french fries at the same restaurant). I haven’t spoken to the board or the employee yet – this information was passed on by a volunteer who is a friend of the employee. So, what do I do about this situation? Is it completely above-board, too hinky for words, or somewhere in between? What if I’m mistaken about the hours involved, and the employee actually *is* spending more than 40 hours a week on site? How does that impact the situation?

While nonprofits are generally allowed to use volunteers (unlike for-profit businesses, which must pay at least minimum wage), the law is different when it comes to the employees of nonprofits, because otherwise employees could feel coerced to do unpaid work. Employees of your organization are allowed to volunteer for you in some limited situations, but the law is clear that the volunteer work can’t be the same type of work the person does in their regular job for you. So for example, your I.T. person could volunteer to run a community outreach booth over the weekend, but she couldn’t volunteer her time to upgrade your server.

However, the case you described, what exactly does it mean that he’s volunteering on one of his scheduled work days? If he’s salaried and being paid for a full week of work, the law doesn’t care if he’s doing task X instead of task Y during that week (and so you don’t need to and shouldn’t call it “volunteering”). However, if you mean that he’s taken a cut in his pay for that day (like he now earns 80% of what he used to earn and the remaining 20% is considered “volunteer work”), you’d be on shaky ground.

Also, if he goes over 40 hours for the week, he’d need to be paid overtime, and the organization can’t avoid that by calling it “volunteering.”

It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on here, but as a board member you have a legal and fiduciary responsibility to check into it, and act if the organization isn’t complying with the law.

you are reading way too much into things employers say to you

Most job seekers have a terrible habit of reading way more into things employers say than what’s actually meant. That’s understandable — job seeking can be anxiety-producing, and it’s natural to try to find clues about your candidacy.

But this tendency to try to read between the lines or take things far too literally can make job searching much more frustrating and disappointing.

A few years ago, I did a round-up of ways that people commonly misinterpret things their interview might say. Here are some additions.

What the employer says: You’re a really great fit for this job.
What you hear: We are highly likely to hire you, and possibly even entirely certain.
What they mean: You’re a good candidate. There will probably be other good candidates too, maybe some who are stronger, but you’re in that general group.

What the employer says: I’m looking forward with talking with you more.
What you hear: We will definitely be talking more, either when you advance to another interview or when we call to make you a job offer.
What they mean: We might talk more, if you move forward in the hiring process.

What the employer says: You’re a finalist for this job.
What you hear: You’re about to get an offer.
What they mean: We’ve narrowed down our candidate pool, and you’re still in it — but so are several other people, and we have not made a decision yet.

What the employer says: This is where your office would be.
What you hear: Here’s your new office! You’ll get a job offer soon.
What they mean: If you get the job, this would be your office. We show it to most/all candidates as a routine part of the interviews.

What the employer says: We’re talking with other candidates but should have a decision in a couple of weeks.
What you hear: I’m trying to let you down easy here.
What they mean: We’re talking with other candidates but should have a decision in a couple of weeks. I’m not trying to indicate anything about your candidacy; I’m giving you process information.

What the employer says: You’re not the right fit.
What you hear: We don’t like you, or you wouldn’t fit in with our culture because you are too old/too young/too quiet/too loud/too something/not enough something. Ugh, you’re awful or maybe we’re awful.
What they mean: We are rejecting you for reasons that could range anywhere from not liking you, to thinking you’d be unhappy here, to someone else having better qualifications, to deciding to hire the CEO’s niece. We’re just not hiring you, and there’s no clue here about the reason why.

What the employer says: Your credentials are impressive. (said in a rejection note)
What you hear: They were really impressed by me. (This often leads to bitterness, because if all these employers are so impressed by you, why aren’t they hiring you?)
What they mean: We are rejecting you, and your credentials may or may not be impressive. This is the normal boilerplate rejection language that we use with all candidates.

update: recovering professionally after an internet hate campaign

Remember the letter-writer a few weeks ago who was the target of an internet hate campaign after she spoke publicly about sexism in her industry and about her company’s work to be more inclusive? Here’s the update.

The good news is my company has continued to support me and the worst of it seems to be over. Crash Override (mentioned in the comments on the original post) has been a great resource and I managed to lock down most of my personal information before I could be doxed or really ugly things could happen.

I’ve passed through terror and despair and come through to anger and I’m feeling a lot stronger about myself and my position. I think Alison’s advice is fantastic and definitely something I needed to hear.

I stopped reading my Twitter/FB notifications after this whole thing broke, and instead of trying to tackle them all myself I’m having some good friends come over to help sort through them. We’re documenting all the really nasty ones just in case and making a “positivity book” from all the great and supportive comments. I think that’s going to help me if this incident flares up again or something similar happens in the future.

Thank you all again!

will it hurt my career to work for a slimy company?

A reader writes:

I’ve recently progressed pretty far into the hiring process for a job — good compensation and environment and in my field. However, this job is for a professional role in the corporate headquarters of a company that sells their product through multi-level marketing (think Herbalife, etc. — individuals are branded as “consultants” who buy the product on their own dime, resell it to their contacts, and get bonuses for enrolling more consultants into the company).

I know that listing multi-level marketing work on your resume is generally frowned upon if you’re a consultant. But what impression would it give if you work on the corporate side in a professional role (think doing something like operations, business development, accounting, and the like)? I know there are ethical concerns with companies that operate this way, so would having this company on my resume or LinkedIn cause colleagues or hiring managers in the future concern or raise eyebrows? Would it give a vibe of unprofessionalism, a disregard for ethics, or anything else that might not come if the company sold their product in a traditional retail role? The job is intriguing and seems great, but I’m employed right now in a good job and relatively early in my career — I don’t want to make a move that could jeopardize my future.

Don’t do it.

Those companies prey on people who aren’t savvy enough to know that they’re very unlikely to ever make the kind of money the company promises them, and their business model often means that the people who sell for them spend huge amounts of their own money buying products and never recoup that investment.

They have a shady reputation for a reason.

So yes, it will reflect poorly on you to work for their corporate operations. At best, it’ll make you appear naive; at worst, you’ll appear unethical.

And appearances aside, do you really want to work for a company where the whole business model is to take advantage of people? Hopefully you do not.

Updated to add: There’s been some debate in the comments about whether working in the corporate headquarters of Avon would be seen in the same way as, say, Herbalife or Shakeology. I don’t think that Avon, and maybe also Mary Kay, would be seen in the same way as I describe above. I don’t know if that’s a legitimate way for people to feel or not; it might be just because they’re more established institutions. But I do think most people won’t have the same negative associations with those companies.

new employee keeps trying to go over my head, getting people’s attention when they’re wearing headphones, and more

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

1. New employee keeps trying to go over my head

My team has a new employee, and as part of my responsibilities (I am a team lead) I have to tell her about regulations and policies that impact what she is allowed to do at work. We’ve also discussed things like what type of schedule flexibility will be possible with our work schedules. Everything I tell her is either clearly spelled out in written policy or something I’ve discussed with our manager beforehand, but she reacts as though I’m on a power trip and “appeals” things to our manager.

How do I say “Tywin and I are in agreement on this and I need you to discuss your concerns with me rather than wasting his time” without sounding like I’m saying “you need to respect my authority and I don’t want you to talk to our manager”? I feel like this is undermining my ability to effectively manage my team’s workload, as well as making me look bad to our manager.

You need your manager involved in this one. When she goes to him to appeal your decisions, he needs to say to her, “I’ve asked Lucinda to manage these sorts of things, so you should speak to her rather than to me.” That should shut the behavior down pretty quickly.

If he doesn’t seem to see the need to say that to her, say this to him: “Jane has established a pattern of going to you when she doesn’t want to accept guidance or decisions from me. Can you start redirecting her back to me when she does that, and explain to her that you’ve asked me to handle these things? I’ll explain that to her too, but I think she needs to hear it from you as well, or we’re just training her that she can routinely go around me to you.”

And then as for talking with Jane yourself — once you’re positive that Tywin’s got your back on this — say this: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been talking issues like X and Y to Tywin. He’s asked me to handle those things on his behalf, and I need you to bring those things to me, not him. Can you do that going forward?”

2. Getting employees’ attention when they’re wearing headphones

What’s a good way to get someone’s attention when they are listening to music with headphones or earbuds?

I have a staff of three in a fairly small office and don’t mind at all that they listen to music on headphones while they work, but sometimes I need to get everyone’s attention for an announcement or just one person’s attention regarding a question or comment. I feel uncomfortable tapping them on the shoulder, and if I just start talking they don’t hear me. Usually I just hover until they notice me, but that feels weird and like an invasion of personal space. My employees have missed important information in the past because I thought they were listening to me but they had earbuds in. Any advice?

Usually, standing directly in their line of vision (and I mean directly — not off to the side) and making eye contact should work — but when someone is absorbed in work, it may not. I’d actually explain the problem to them and ask how they want you to handle it: “I sometimes have trouble getting your attention when you’re listening to music on headphones, and I don’t want to tap you. What’s the best way for me to quickly get your attention?”

It’s also reasonable to ask them to be alert to someone approaching them when they have headphones in — most people will be happy to try to do that in exchange for not losing your okay to have the headphones in at all.

(Depending on the dynamics and workflow in your office, I.M. can also be a solution to this — as in, I.M. them “got a minute to talk?” rather than walking over to them.)

3. Getting a manager a gift when she fires someone

About a year ago, my team added a new member. Since then, a lot of things have gone poorly, and it’s pretty clear he’s not working out. I am about to talk to my manager about a few more areas of his lackluster performance, and I have a feeling it could be one of the final nails in the coffin.

If and when this team member goes, it will be a huge relief for me. This is something that has been stressing me out almost ever since he was hired. At the same time, I think my manager is amazing, but I know that terminating an employee will be difficult for her. Would it be inappropriate to get her a small, slightly impersonal gift? I was thinking wine or whiskey – and my workplace culture wouldn’t make alcohol an odd gift.

Yes, inappropriate — don’t do it. It’s too close to celebrating something that is really crappy for another person (the fired coworker). Firing can be unquestionably the right decision and a huge relief, but it’s never really the occasion for a gift for anyone involved.

4. Can I use my network to help my boyfriend find a job?

I work in a field that is very much about networking and who you know. I am currently in grad school and doing pretty well. I left a major city to come back and get my masters, and have established many professional connections there who I regularly keep in contact with and hope to work with again, once I’ve earned my degree.

My boyfriend also works in the same field and will be moving to that same city this summer. We have worked together professionally for over a year, in multiple capacities, and I would highly recommend his work (though I might be a bit biased.) He is looking for a job in this city, and I want to use my network to help him – but I’m not sure how to go about it. It would be easy if I still lived there, and could give a casual recommendation over dinner or drinks, but it feels strange to cold email from many states away on someone else’s behalf. I don’t want to annoy anyone. How can I best approach an old boss or colleague to recommend him?

Because he’s your boyfriend, you can’t recommend him (as in vouching for his work), but you can refer him. The reason that you can’t vouch for his work is that people will assume that your relationship biases you and so aren’t likely to see your recommendation as credible, no matter how objective you actually are.

However, you can certainly introduce your boyfriend to people in your network — for example, saying something like, “My boyfriend, who’s an experienced teapot maker, is moving to Chicago this summer — would it be okay if I suggested he reach out to you to talk about what the field’s like locally?” or “My boyfriend, who makes award-winning rice sculptures, is moving to Chicago this summer — any chance he could connect with you about your company’s rice sculpting apprenticeship?”

5. Listing on your resume a task that you were trained in but never did

I was trained to do a task, but I never got the chance to do it. I include on my resume and cover letter that I was “trained to administer xyz tests.” I feel like most people would assume that I had actually done it, and I’m worried that a hiring manager might think I tried to trick them if it comes up in an interview. However, I don’t want to write that I was trained to do xyz but never did it, because writing what I didn’t do in a cover letter sounds really odd, but I also can’t leave it off, because the training is relevant. How can I phrase it so as to not mislead hiring managers?

Hmmm, are you sure that it rises to the level of being worth including if you didn’t actually do it? In general, I’d lean toward just leaving it off — but if you’re sure that it really does strengthen your candidacy, then I think the wording you have here — “trained to administer xyz tests” — is the way to go.

my interviewer warned me that I’m too good for the job

A reader writes:

I have been looking for a new job for more than a year now. While part of me is frustrated, my industry is very competitive in my geographic area and most people I know with my skill set end up taking two or three years to find new jobs.

At a recent job interview, I was left a bit speechless.

I interviewed with an agency about a year ago for a position and didn’t get the job. A new position opened up and I was emailed by everyone I had interviewed with to apply, so I did. The second interview was going extremely well until the portion where I would have been allowed to ask questions.

As preface to me doing so, the person who would be my boss gave me a 10-minute lecture about how I was “too smart” to work there, how she had concerns about how I would be intellectually frustrated by the things I would see, how she feared I would be unhappy, and how I’m doing such amazing work in my current position that she was afraid of taking me away from my current agency and leaving them to accept the fact that they would never find someone good enough to really replace me so the agency would suffer forever (that’s all her language, not my ego). She said I reminded her of a young version of herself and she wanted me to really think about whether I would want to be there or not. She also stated that these concerns were why they didn’t offer me the first job a year ago. I feel like she was waving a big flag that said, “This place sucks. I hate it here. Don’t kill your soul like I did.”

After this speech, I was given a writing test. Even though I was given an hour to do it, it only took me about 15 minutes. I stared out the window for another 15 to avoid seeming “too smart” and like the assignment was beneath me. When I was done, my potential future boss called me into her office and told me that she wasn’t trying to discourage me, but wanted me to really think about what I was doing. I told her that I wasn’t just looking for a new job, I was looking for the right new job and I know what that means for me.

That was four weeks ago. Today I got a call from an investigator giving me instructions for a background check and fingerprinting for the agency. I haven’t heard anything about whether I got the job or not or what the status of everything is. This phone call was the first I’ve heard anything since the interview and it caught me completely off-guard. So part of me is a little miffed about a clear lack of communication here.

I know I will pass any background check easily and the salary should be an increase over my current situation (assuming they offer me the job, but again, I have no idea what’s going on). Plus I know how hard it is to find a job in my industry in this market. How should I be figuring this weird conversation into my assessment of the job?

Well, when an interviewer tells you “don’t take this job,” I’d lean toward believing her.

But it’s reasonable to try to get more information here.

I’d email the hiring manager and ask for a status update — say something like this: “I was just contacted by an investigator about a background check and fingerprinting, but she didn’t give me any information about where you are in the hiring process. Any chance you have an update you can share with me?” Assuming that you hear that you’re a finalist or about to get an offer (which sounds likely), I’d then say, “I was hoping to talk with you a bit more about some of the concerns you raised in our interview about whether I’d be happy there. Could we set up a call to talk more?”

And then on that call, I’d say something like this: “I take what you said seriously, and I was hoping you could tell me more about your concerns. You had mentioned that you thought I’d be frustrated and unhappy. Can you tell me more about what sorts of things you think would frustrate me?” And then depending on what she says, feel free to continue asking follow-up questions. You definitely don’t want to take this job without really delving into what’s going on here, so I wouldn’t worry about being too blunt or too inquisitive — if you’re going to seriously consider the job, you’re going to need that information. (And if she doesn’t want to elaborate, at that point you won’t really have any choice but to turn down an offer.)

It’s possible that through this conversation, you’ll realize that the stuff that she thinks will frustrate you won’t actually frustrate you. It’s also possible that she’s the frustrated one, and she’s projecting that on to you.

But I’d stay pretty wary, because this is the person who will be your boss and you now have a pretty weird data point on her. (To be clear, it’s not inherently weird that she might have these concerns; it’s the way she’s handling them that’s a little alarming — especially the “your current agency will have to accept the fact that they’ll never find anyone good enough to replace you and then they will suffer forever” thing.)

Also, pay lots of attention to other data points you have. For example, do you have enough of a sense of the work you’d be doing to know whether you agree with your interviewer that you might be bored by it? What do you know about how the agency operates? Do you see any of what she might be referring to? What about the would-be coworkers who you met during the interview process — did they seem smart, driven, and engaged? Or … not so much? In fact, if you haven’t yet had a chance to talk to other people there, this would be a good time to do it and get other perspectives in the mix.

But through all of this, maintain a pretty high degree of health skepticism. You’ve got someone who knows the job intimately warning you off of it.

coworkers want money from me for a lottery

A reader writes:

I just started a new job a few weeks ago. I recently learned that my coworkers gather an office lottery pool about two or three times per week. Since everyone contributes to it, my coworkers added money in my absence and asked me to pay them back.

Is it wrong to feel a little insulted by this, especially since they didn’t even ask me if I wanted to contribute in the first place? I am helping take care of a sick relative, which I don’t plan on telling my coworkers, so I prefer to keep all of my discretionary income for myself or my family. How can I politely say that I’m not interested? (I am already aware that it will look bad that “the new girl” is the only staffer not contributing.)

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

our boss will fire us if we don’t sign up to be a liver donor for his brother

A reader writes:

I have a situation that is so out there I almost wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t happening to me. The company I work at has three branches and around 100 employees. The owner of the company has a brother who needs a liver transplant. Two weeks ago, a company-wide memo went out that all employees would be required to undergo testing to see if they were a suitable liver donor for the owners brother. No exceptions.

Last week at the branch the owner works out of most of the time, his assistant went around to schedule days off for everyone so they could go get tested. People who declined were let go. One of these people was born with liver disease and therefore ineligible to donate. She had a doctor’s note. Other people also had medical reasons as well and some were just uncomfortable with the request and didn’t want to do it. One was pregnant. They were still terminated. My employer’s assistant has said that because our employment is at will, he can legally fire us.

I’m in remission from cancer. I’m ineligible to donate and any kind of surgery would put a major strain on my system. Even if I was healthy, I would still object to possibly being forced into donating an organ just to keep my job. Soon they will be scheduling people’s days off for testing at my branch.

I know this situation is nuts, but I don’t know what to do. I know I could just go for the testing and then be declined, but I don’t think I should have to do that. I’ve had enough with hospitals. Other coworkers who don’t have medical conditions are afraid they won’t be declined because they will be a match. I’m looking for another job but in the meantime I don’t know what to do and I and many of my coworkers are really stressed out.

What the actual F.

He’s firing people who don’t want to sign up to donate part of their liver?

Your boss is both an absolute loon and an incredible jerk.

He’s also not very smart, since doctors won’t accept organ donations from people who aren’t willingly and happily volunteering, so all of this ridiculousness will be for nothing.

But let’s talk legality. I showed your letter to employment attorney Bryan Cavanaugh and asked him to weigh in. He says:

This employer is violating the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The ADA’s purpose is broader than just protecting individuals with disabilities from unlawful discrimination and requiring employers to offer individuals with disabilities reasonable accommodations to perform the essential functions of their jobs. The ADA also prohibits employers from requiring employees to submit to medical examinations and medical inquiries, unless those medical examinations and medical inquiries are job-related and consistent with business necessity.

In this case, the employer’s requirement to undergo a medical examination (and presumably to undergo further medical procedures if the employee is a good match) has nothing to do with the business. It has nothing to do with the operations of the company and the employees’ ability to perform their jobs. Therefore, the employer is violating the federal ADA (and probably other state and local laws) by requiring employees to undergo this testing (which is not job-related and not consistent with business necessity) and by terminating the employment of those who refuse.

So to our ongoing list of your boss’s characteristics, which currently includes loon, jerk, and not smart, you can add law-breaker.

As for what to do, you could have a lawyer explain this to your employer on your behalf, and/or file a complaint with the EEOC, the federal agency that enforces the ADA. (Note that you have to file it within 180 days from the violation.)

But I’d also start job searching. Even if this gets quickly settled, you’re working with someone who has such a skewed idea of the employment relationship that he thinks he has say over your internal organs. Get out get out get out.

Note: This situation is so outrageous that it occurred to me to wonder whether the letter is real or not. At this point, I’ve received so many credible stories of outrageous behavior by employers that I’m willing to believe it and I’m treating it as genuine (and the letter-writer included a note to me outside the letter here that makes me think it’s real), but the reality is that I have no way of knowing. Letter-writer, assuming you are real, take this as a measure of how messed up the situation is. Commenters, I’m requesting that we not get derailed by debates about veracity. Thanks!