It’s short answer Saturday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…
1. Employer won’t let me tack vacation time on to a work-related trip
I work for a national lab. I pay my salary out of my grants. I pay for conferences I go to out of my grants. I pay overhead to the national lab for the lab/office, administrative and security support for working here out of my grants. The national lab pays my vacation and sick time and I have 5 weeks vacation.
I am required to go to a European conference this year by contract signed on a collaborative grant. The lab has told us we can not tack on vacation to our business travel or it may not be more than half the time of the conference. Of course, I want to take an additional week vacation after the conference and have offered to pay the return flight out of pocket. But they still say no. The conference is 3 days so I’m allowed to take only 1-1/2 days vacation after.
These new rules are to protect the taxpayer from researchers taking unnecessary trips and charging their grant. But if I pay the return flight I’m saving the taxpayer money. (I can list a million ways in which unnecessary overhead costs at this lab cost the tax payers excess money.) Is this really legal? And do other private companies do this?
I can’t think why it wouldn’t be legal. Companies can make whatever rules they want around work-related travel and how you use your vacation time. In fact, because no federal law requires employers to give vacation time at all, companies can structure it as weirdly as they want — they can say you can only use it on Tuesdays, or only on odd-numbered days of the month, or only after 18 days have elapsed since your coworker took time off, or whatever else they want. You can certainly advocate for changing their policy, though.
2. I want to be non-exempt
I am a salaried exempt employee (I get paid the same amount every pay period, regardless of hours worked). Office hours are 9-6 with an hour for lunch, but about 30-40% of the office stays until 6:30 or 7 every day. I don’t mind staying late on occasion, but recently I’ve been staying about 3 hours late every day and coming in for one weekend afternoon. (like I said, I’m not alone when I stay late – this seems to be a company wide and possibly field (architecture) wide issue). If I’m going to be working 10 or more extra hours a week, I’d like some form of compensation. Is there anything I can do to change my status from exempt to non-exempt? Is it even worth asking?
I think what you actually want is compensation for working overtime, and you’ll muddy the issue if you ask to be treated as non-exempt. If you’re treated as non-exempt, your employer will need you to track every minute worked, will need to pay you overtime for all hours over 40 in a week, and will have the option of lowering your paycheck on weeks where you work less than 40 hours. You might find that you’re prohibited from working overtime at all, or even from answering work emails from home at night or on the weekends (which may not even be feasible for your position). That’s overcomplicating a situation where you really just want more pay for working longer hours.
These sorts of hours may simply be part of the deal with your position, in which case you’re unlikely to be successful in asking to be compensated for them. (There are many exempt positions where hours much longer than you’re talking about are normal, and there’s no additional compensation for them.) But you could certainly ask about something like comp time for weeks when you work, say, 50 hours or more … but again, make sure that that’s reasonable in your industry, because in lots of industries where putting in the time it takes to get the job done is just part of the expectations — law, nonprofits, and others — that would just come across naively.
3. Should you handwrite writing samples?
When an employer asks for a writing sample, do they want it to be written longhand or typed?
Typed. Or more specifically, they’re expecting it will be typed on a computer and printed out, in most cases. Unless they specifically say that they want to evaluate your handwriting, which would be unusual (but does occasionally happen).
4. Employee doesn’t want to work alone at night
We hired a part-time employee to cover 3 shifts a week, all of which are closing shifts. The last hour of the closing shift is covered solely by the closing person; they are in the store alone. The person we have working this shift now, six months into her position, is saying that she does not feel comfortable working in the store alone because she is afraid of being robbed. We haven’t had any incidents or previous problems and we’ve been open 21 years. There hasn’t been any indication that she has been threatened in any way, other than there are customers who “creep her out.” She wants to switch shifts with other employees and work earlier in the day (these are of course the more desirable shifts to be had). My question is this: am I obligated to keep her on the schedule? I don’t really want to take an employee who has worked their way up into the more desirable shift and put them on closing because someone feels uncomfortable doing the job they were hired to do.
No, you’re not obligated. You can certainly tell her that the job you’ve hired her for is the night-shift position, and that moving to other shifts isn’t currently an available option. If she declines to work those shifts, you can replace her. (Make sure whoever you replace her with is comfortable with working night shifts alone, of course.)
Before you do that, though, I’d talk to her a little more to find out if there are real security concerns that you could be addressing. That’s something you’d want to know, if so.
5. Is this legal?
Before Christmas, my employer gave me a note to say that my employment after Christmas would be reduced to a 3-day week. I did not agree to this change to my contract and have recently found out that others within the firm have been doing my job. I am a delivery driver and management has been using their own cars to deliver goods. Is this allowed? Not all members of the work force have had their working week reduced. Is this fair?
Unless the decision was based on your race, religion, gender, national origin, or other protected class, your employer can absolutely change your schedule, decrease your hours, or take you off their schedule altogether.
If they’re decreasing your hours and managers are doing work you used to do, it sounds like they’re trying to conserve costs.
6. How far back should references go?
How far back in my job history should I provide references? I’m still on very good terms and in contact with coworkers and managers from previous organizations from as far back as 5 years ago, but I’m not sure if I should provide them as references anymore and focus on references from more current coworkers and managers.
Leave the coworkers out of it altogether; most reference-checkers want to talk to managers, not peers. Five years back isn’t too long, although I wouldn’t leave the more recent managers off either, or that will raise questions about why you’re not as eager to have them spoken with.
7. Will this look like job-hopping?
Last May, I relocated to another city for a job. After 4 months, our entire department was laid off. I ended up finding another job, where I have been for a little over 3 months but I am unhappy with the culture, amongst other things. I’d really like to look for another job but I don’t want this to affect how potential employers might perceive me since I’ve only been here for such a short time. Should I just suck it up for a while longer so I don’t look like a “job hopper”?
Two short-term jobs in a row isn’t great — it’s likely to raise red flags for future employers. So unless you’re really miserable, I’d stick it out for at least a year if you can.