forced to come to work sick, distracted manager, and more

by Ask a Manager on July 8, 2013

It’s mini answer Monday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Forced to come to work with strep throat

I’ve been sick with strep throat for 4 days. My doctor has sent a note and talked to my boss, but they still are making me work even though I don’t even have a voice. They’ve said if I don’t work at least half a day, I won’t have a job. What can I do?

I work with food so I didn’t think it would be legal to let me work while sick let alone force me to.

It’s  common in food service jobs for workers to be pressured to come to work even when sick (and it’s an industry that often doesn’t provide sick leave), but your employer is being especially bad by ignoring a call with your doctor. As for what you can do, though, well … ultimately, if they’re going to be jackasses, there’s not much you can do — you can go to work sick and keep your job but potentially infect people, or you can stay home and risk losing your job. Personally, if I were in your shoes, I’d say, “I would come in if at all possible, but I’m sick and contagious and not comfortable working with food when I may infect others,” and then let the chips fall where they may — but whether that’s feasible for you depends on your own situation. (And frankly, no matter how you handle this, I’d start looking for another job, because your employer is horrible.)

One other thing: Many local food code regulations require ill food handlers to stay home (although that’s frequently ignored), and you could think about tipping off your local board of health or other relevant body if your jurisdiction prohibits it.

2. Can my employer make me cover my tattoo when we don’t have a policy against them?

I have had a visible tattoo for three years. Previously, the company I work for had a no-visible-tattoo policy, which was clearly stated in our company handbook. I always made sure the tattoo was hidden by my hair when at work.

Two years ago, we got bought out by a multinational corporation and had to reapply, as well as sign off on a new handbook. The new appearance policy doesn’t include anything at all about tattoos. The corporate handbook does not as well. At this time, I started occasionally wearing my hair up, with the permission of my manager, who has since left the company. The corporate handbook does state that the individual locations can set their own rules.

Two days ago, I was strongly warned that if my tattoo was visible again (it’s on my neck behind my ear and my hair was in a ponytail), I would be disciplined. This is the first time I’ve ever been spoken to about it. There are also other people at this location with visible tattoos who don’t have them covered and have not been told that they need to.

Can my employer enforce a rule that isn’t really documented as a policy, and only on me? As a side note, if they can’t, how do I show them that without angering a couple department heads, and risking my job? I have worked here 20 years and while I feel this is not legal or fair, I don’t want to lose my job over it.

They can enforce any rule they want, even if it’s not in a handbook and even if the rule didn’t exist yesterday or is only enforced for people with blue shirts or loud voices — as long as the rules themselves don’t violate employment law (so, for instance, as long as they don’t discriminate based on race, religion, sex, or other protected classes). So yes, they can absolutely tell you that you can’t have a visible tattoo, even if there’s no written policy about it, and even if they’re not enforcing it evenly (as long as they’ve not only enforcing it for people of some races and not others, or otherwise singling out protected classes).

3. Which jobs should I include on my resume?

My resume looks bad enough as it is. Only my short unpaid internships are related to my Bachelor’s degree, and none of my previous, current, or currently-searching-for jobs have anything to do with it. What’s making me feel more awkward about submitting my pathetic resume is determining what jobs are important or worth noting.

In January I became established with a temp agency and was offered a position at a factory. I took the job and loved it, then was laid off almost six weeks later due to lack of business. Within two weeks I was offered a warehouse position, which I kept for three months rapidly going back and forth between loving and loathing the job, with the job culminating one stressful morning when I told the temp agent I couldn’t handle it anymore.

Neither these nor my four years in two retail settings match my BA in Linguistics or my desire to become a receptionist. Most importantly, owning my own jewelry business has nothing to do with linguistics or reception either. Which of these positions would be detrimental to my resume? I’m keeping the retail positions since I had/have held them for a decent amount of time, but will an office manager really care about my temp work or that I own a budding unsuccessful business? It doesn’t help that I’m usually pretty down on myself, so I don’t expect employers to want me as their representative in the first place. It feels as though my all-over-the-place resume will be unimpressive no matter what I put on it.

It’s hard to say without knowing more details, but you’ve got to figure out what jobs you’re applying for and then figure out what experience in your past strengthens your candidacy for those roles. That might be only a few of the positions you’ve held or it might be all of them; it really depends on what type of work you did in each, what you achieved there, etc. Basically, ask yourself what in your past would make an employer excited to hire you for the types of jobs you’re applying for … and then write a resume that highlights those things.

4. Can I ignore my former employer’s calls and emails for help?

I work in a large organisation. Due to organisational change, I was at risk of redundancy and I had to pick up the slack as other (more senior) people left the organisation. I was constantly being told “I worked at my pay grade” despite performing tasks which are linked to a senior manager’s job description. As my manager was new, she didn’t understand the requirements of the team and I frequently had to explain various tasks and make decisions on how to resolve any problems. She also constantly undermined me.

I had enough and took a promotion at a larger organisation. My manager dragged her feet about recruiting a replacement and I had 3 days to teach her my job. I left her notes etc. On my last day, my manager called me in to discuss a project she needed to do in 9 months time and asked for my input. This took 2 hours and I did ask her why I was there, as I didn’t see the point of me being there. I basically worked late on my last day and was nearly late to my own leaving do, to which she didn’t turn up.

I am now getting emails asking me for basic information, which anybody in my industry should know and also being told by peers of my old manager that “she doesn’t have a flipping clue.” I also went to my old work on a day off to hand in my ID card and I was then asked various questions and was expected to interrogate their systems to find out some basic level information. I politely told them no. I now feel I should ignore the emails, ignore the phone calls and never step foot in that place again, despite the “stay in touch” mentality. Am I being unreasonable?

Nope. They’re being unreasonable by expecting you to be on call to answer their questions after you no longer work there. It’s reasonable to answer a question or two like where a file might be located or what the password is to X, but not beyond that.

I wouldn’t simply ignore the calls and emails though, not if you want to preserve the bridge. Instead, politely say, “I’m sorry but I need to focus on my new job and am not able to answer these questions.”

5. Asking about a small organization’s maternity leave policies

I work at a small nonprofit, a job I love that I landed thanks to your advice. We’re small enough that I’m the only person who covers what I do, and it’s busy and demanding. I’m at the point in my life where I’m considering starting a family in the near future (2-4 years). We don’t have any kind of employee handbook that I could use to discreetly look into maternity leave, and I’m the youngest person on staff by more than a decade, so I have no examples to seek out. I’ll probably be the first person to even ask about maternity leave in 20 years!

How would you suggest I learn more about maternity leave at my organization? Should I wait until things come more into focus? I’m very career-driven and as my work is very cyclical have already thought about times of the year when I could more easily be out and how my work could be structured while I’m gone. I’m a planner so I’d really like to know what my options are before I even think about starting a family, but bringing it up too far in advance might be weird. Do you have any advice about when and how to have this conversation?

If the organization is that small and hasn’t dealt with maternity leave in many years, it’s possible that they don’t have a policy at all and that they’ll need to negotiate a plan directly with you when the time comes. If that’s the case, it might not do you much good to bring it up now — and could potentially hurt you, even though it shouldn’t — so it might make sense to wait until you’re closer to the time when you actually need to know, especially since you’re new.

When the time gets closer though — or if you’re at a point where you need to know in order to be able to plan — you could certainly say, “This is a few years off, but since I’m hoping to be here when it happens, I wanted to talk about how a future maternity leave might work.” But be prepared for the fact that once you bring it up, your boss is probably going to assume that it’s happening sooner than you intend to convey.

6. Dealing with a distracted manager

How do you deal with a distracted manager who always seems to have 10,000 things at once?

For example, it took me 4 or 5 attempts before I was successfully able to organize a meeting with him. Then, during that meeting, when I asked him directly what projects I need to work on, what bits of those projects I need to work on, and when I need to have them done by, he couldn’t give me any straight answers, and his whole manner was very flighty and distracted and frankly, quite a short attention span. How can I get him to focus?

You probably can’t. He’s flighty and distracted. You can, however, propose your own plans for what you should be working on and when you’ll have them done by, and ask him to approve or modify those plans. But ultimately, you’re going to have to accept that you’re working for a flighty, distracted boss who doesn’t focus and won’t give you the kind of guidance you want.

7. How do I bill consulting clients for out-of-town work?

I do side work as a business writing consultant. I charge an hourly fee, and bill for the length of each training session plus some additional prep time. I have been asked to travel out of state by an area business to run three 4-hour training sessions. The company will fly me out, I’ll run a session after we land. I’ll spend the night and on day 2 run two more sessions before flying home late in the evening.

How much do I bill? I’ll be doing 12 hours of instruction, but they are two marathon days, and I’m tied up during all that travel time. I am no sure what the normal etiquette is here, so I have no idea how much to propose for compensation for this trip.

Ideally you’d include an agreement about this in your contract; you don’t want it to be a surprise to the client. How much you bill for it depends on a bunch of factors, but some consultants will bill travel time at half their rate, others will fold it into a fixed fee for the project, and others will simply have a higher per-day fee for days away from home. In general, people who bill for travel time will bill for the time actually spent traveling, but not for time spent sleeping at your hotel. Personally, I’m more of a fan of fixed rate fees for projects in general, and when you do that, it’s easier to fold the travel premium into that overall cost.

Whatever method you choose, you want to factor in how whether you can do work for other clients while you’re traveling and how much of an inconvenience it is to you.

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{ 121 comments… read them below or add one }

Canadian mom July 8, 2013 at 12:11 am

#1 – I feel for you.

One of my DSs had a job at a major burger chain and was scheduled to start at 7 am. He called the manager ASAP – basically, he’d caught a 24-hour bug that was making him lose everything at both ends, so to speak. He’d been a very conscientious employee for several months but of course there are limits.

Reaction – “are you sure you can’t come in”? She really lit-in to him, big time. Right, every restaurant would love to have vomiting-employees preparing the food…

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LisaLyn July 8, 2013 at 7:34 am

The fact that most food industry jobs do not have paid sick leave and harass people who are sick into coming in makes me not want to ever eat out again.

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Meg July 8, 2013 at 10:52 am

It wasn’t until I started working in food service that I really became aware of this sort of thing. I’ve worked in multiple restaurants and they all pulled this nonsense with their employees. It’s awful.

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VintageLydia July 8, 2013 at 10:57 am

My husband’s aunt is a health inspector. She never eats out.

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Lisa July 8, 2013 at 11:09 am

+1million

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 5:45 pm

+1, I also feel for you. I worked in food too, and I once became ill towards the end of my shift. I couldn’t stop throwing up in the staff toilets and had to get a friend to pick me up from work and take me home. Before I left, my manager asked me what shift I was doing the next day – when I said it was an evening shift, he expressed that I should be fine to come in by then, but I should call up if I was still being sick the next day.

When I phoned in the next day to say I was still sick, I had it suggested to me that if I was willing to come in, they’d let me use the toilet whenever I needed, and would not give me a job at the front counter. . .

So my management was stupid, but at least when I insisted I really wasn’t well enough to come in, they were decent enough to accept it at that point. In my favour, I had only called in sick once before (and always on time for work etc), and had worked there for 2 years, so when I did insist I couldn’t come in, they accepted it.

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Elaine July 9, 2013 at 5:06 pm

In Portland, OR, the city council just mandated paid sick leave for all businesses (or something to that effect). The restaurant associations were definitely against it.

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nyxalinth July 8, 2013 at 12:31 am

#1 OP, make an anonymous call to the local Board of Health, and express concern that on such and such date and time, there was an employee at work who was very obviously ill. They really ought to know about this for health reasons.

I admit that for myself, I would also be feeling a wee bit of ‘Take that!’ as well, but really, a restaurant should not be run in such a manner.

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WWWONKA July 8, 2013 at 12:37 am

I second the motion.

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rw July 8, 2013 at 1:26 am

I agree.

In college, a friend was in the same situation. He made it very obvious to the customers he was ill by coughing and sneezing on their food in front of them. He then tossed their food and apologized with a refund (after sanitizing hands, of course); restaurant policy forbade knowingly serving contaminated food.

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Pussyfooter July 8, 2013 at 2:25 am

Hi Op #1,
Several years ago I got a whopping case of Strep Throat and had nothing better to do for a week but research the topic. I found out some things that might give you peace of mind:

If you’ve seen the doctor and started antibiotics, the bacteria go into retreat and stop being infectious in 17 hrs-sometimes a little sooner. So, even though your throat hurts and it makes you tired, don’t think that you are still making innocent people ill if you started the medicine today and go to work tomorrow. (yes I am science-nerdy.)

btw, if I decided to make an anonymous call to the board of health, I’d be specific. I’d say that a worker complained of having strep throat and had her job threatened when she tried to excuse herself from work. The BoH should know that this was not just “feeling bad” or a common cold. It was an illness that many people can’t fight off without seeking medical help.

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Erica B July 8, 2013 at 9:36 am

I was going to comment about the this, so I just wanted to add that if the OP here has been on antibiotics for 3 or 4 days, they are ‘technically’ safe to go back to work without being contagious. The general rule is 24 hours on meds. Yes you may still feel like crap.
I am not sure how critical having your voice is for your job, but if there are other positions you could perform instead of front end, that don’t really require your voice see if you can do those. Good Luck.

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KayDay July 8, 2013 at 11:02 am

While I generally agree with this (in fact, every time I had strep throat I was cleared to go back to school in 1-2 days), it is possible that the OP is allergic to the antibiotics and therefore isn’t on any.

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Mike C. July 8, 2013 at 8:51 am

There’s nothing wrong with taking a bit of personal pleasure in an action that could very well save someone’s life. You never know who has a compromised immune system or might be pregnant.

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Y July 8, 2013 at 9:13 am

“You never know who has a compromised immune system or might be pregnant.”

I think this is something people should really take to heart – you might think “ah, but my coworkers are all healthy, young people who can deal with this”. You’d never know from looking at me or working with me (because i don’t tell people) that I take immunosuppressants. Similarly, you don’t know who takes care for, for example, an elderly parent or cancer pattient etc., just by looking at them.

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Lora July 8, 2013 at 10:58 am

“You never know who has a compromised immune system or might be pregnant.”

+1. I’ve had cancer twice. My employers for the past 10 years have all offered on-site flu shots free. I get absolutely livid when people don’t get their flu shots, get the flu, insist it’s only a bad cold, then spread their germs around to those of us who will be down with pneumonia for a month because they just gotta prove their dedication.

OP#1, I actually did not go to restaurants until I had finished radiation. My chemo is pretty mild at this point (SERMs) so now I can eat at restaurants, but for months I was dragging a lunch pail everywhere. Which was kinda…most food and restaurant smells made me sick to my stomach anyway, I felt better packing something homemade that wouldn’t upset my tummy, but the added “Salmonella will kill you” part was just an extra dimension of risk I didn’t want to deal with.

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anon July 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm

+1000. Those of us caring for people with compromised immune systems have enough to worry about. I wish businesses would get smarter about sick leave. It is sometimes genuinely necessary.

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Yeah. In my case it’s not that serious – I need to avoid anything that causes vomiting, but that’s it – but you just never know who can or can’t “afford” to catch whatever illness you might spread.

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Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Not to mention teeny tiny babies, for whom the flu can be very bad.

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Rana July 8, 2013 at 4:44 pm

+1

Even a cold is pretty awful when you’re pregnant, as most medications aren’t considered safe. I can’t imagine trying to cope with a more serious illness.

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mel July 8, 2013 at 10:39 am

I agree that it would be a good idea to report these things, though I don’t think it would help the OP specifically. I mean, our favourite restaurants fail health inspections on a regular basis and we never hear about it. It’s really easy to get around a fail.

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WWWONKA July 8, 2013 at 12:40 am

# 4 tell the politely that you will provide all the assistance they need as a paid consultant

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Jessa July 8, 2013 at 1:02 am

Absolutely this. If you really give a darn and have any desire to help (or if it might look good on a future resume,) offer to help them part time on contract. And make sure you absolutely price it at a fair rate for YOU.

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Rana July 8, 2013 at 1:34 am

Yup, at minimum, it should be at least twice what they were paying you before (you’ll have to pay taxes on it, after all). Charge enough that either (a) they’ll be discouraged from bothering you futher, or (b) you won’t mind doing the extra work.

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 11:28 am

Forget about asking your former employer for a fair rate for the contract work – ask for an outrageous amount that means either a)they would never pay you that much for the work so they stop calling you or b) you get paid an outrageously large chucnk of money to compensate for the inconvinience and frustration. The 2x your hourly wage is fair, so think 4 to 5 times. And, since they are a new customer, you could even ask for a contingency fee up front to ensure payment.

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LisaLyn July 8, 2013 at 7:29 am

I did this at one job I left. It worked out really well because I made some money and they actually (finally) realized that there was value to the work I did, specifically, and also the job in general.

But yeah, OP, don’t answer the questions anymore. You’re done there and it sounds as though enough people know the manager is sort of out of it that you won’t look bad for pulling away.

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Erica B July 8, 2013 at 9:40 am

I was going to say this too (assuming that would be willing to help if you were paid). I would politely decline stating that you don’t work for free but would be willing to help as a paid consultant and that you will require X amount per hour.

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Yikes! July 8, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Get a retainer fee up front for the consultation work. I could just see this company not paying you for the work. Tell them you’ll give them X amount of hours for X dollars as a package and they must purchase it upfront.

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Hannah July 8, 2013 at 2:17 am

#3 you may want to work on “so I don’t expect employers to want me as their representative in the first place” if you want to become a receptionist/find a new job… If you’re not convinced you and your qualities can add something to an organisation, why would they be? So maybe you should start by believing you can achieve something and from that point write your resumés/cover letters. Your enthousiasm makes a huge difference, even in writing!

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TheSnarkyB July 8, 2013 at 6:18 am

Exactly. And maybe talk to others who know you about what an employer might love about you. You sound like you may not be the best judge of your (undoubtedly) great characteristics. If it is your desire to be a receptionist, you probably shouldn’t be taking a huge chunk of those jobs off the list. Receptionist is a pretty eclectic job sometimes and it requires lots of different skills. If you find yourself taking half of your job history off, reexamine whether you’re right or just being down on yourself.
Good luck out there :)

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Phyllis Barlow July 8, 2013 at 8:57 am

This is where the targeted resume comes into play. I spent over 20 years as a telephone operator for the phone company, and now I work as a reset merchandiser. I have also temped as a receptionist and office manager. I have one resume that highlights the office work and one that highlights my merchandising\reset skills.

As far as the temp work, you can either pull it out and highlight it for whatever job you are applying for with the note that it WAS temporary work (so you don’t look like a job-hopper!!) or just put that you were employed by Teapot Temps from April 2011-July 2013. Most employers understand that temps do a variety of work. In your cover letter you could mention that you have experience in whatever looks relevant to the position you are applying for.

Also you mention having a college degree. If you are fairly young and don’t have a long work history you could play up the educational side, list GPA, awards won, internships in your field, community work, that sort of thing.

Most definitely try to be more positive in your outlook!! Job hunting is hard enough, and if you come off like Eyore in an interview, it’s going to be even harder!! Sounds like you have a good set of skills, you’ve just got to sell yourself better!! Good luck to you!!

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Erica B July 8, 2013 at 9:43 am

I was going to suggest putting your temp jobs under one title as well. Then add in all the skills you have gained that way so it doesn’t look like you’ve been job hopping. You could discuss the skills and how they could transfer to the jobs you’d be applying for in your cover letter.

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 11:32 am

I would also suggest putting the temp jobs under one title because you technically did work for one company just at different sites. As well, being a good temp highlights an ability to learn fast and think on your feet, somethings that a good receptionist needs to do. Also, do not hide an eclectic skill set because it shows that you are willing to try different things, which receptionists sometimes need to do. One fellow receptionist got her first job after being a SAHM by including in her list of volunteer work being a Latin teacher at her sons’ private school (long story). My office manager said she wanted to interview her just to to here how on earth that ever happenned.

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Chanel No.3 July 8, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Thank you for that “eclectic skill set” comment. I’ve been racking my brain wondering if variety is good or bad. I’ll admit I’m successful when it comes to customer service one-on-one, such as cashiering or helping someone find a product when I’m putting things away. The factory job gave me repetition, occasionally working by myself, while the warehouse gave me planning & new organization skills while working by myself, & it allowed me to prove how accurate I can be. (I not only picked orders, but checked other people’s orders & forms for accuracy.) I originally contacted the temp agency by responding to a clerical job posting, but my assignments came down to what was available & possible.

What fried my pan the most was that during the three months I was at the warehouse, the secretary got promoted to 2nd shift supervisor, and two of her secretaries came & went, with a third to start about a week before I left. That and being explicitly told by that new supervisor, “I’d love to have you up here [as my secretary] because I know you’re great with numbers & accuracy, but you’re one of our best pickers & [the shipping dept] wouldn’t want to give you up.”

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TheSnarkyB July 8, 2013 at 6:22 am

Alison, it sounds like #4 is also asking about whether to ignore the emails from old coworkers about the manager. Would you say that she should sever all ties and ignore emails about the old environment even if they aren’t asking any questions? (I think I picked up on that from the letter, especially the “keep in touch mentality” part but I could be wrong.)

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Lily July 8, 2013 at 7:07 am

#6 Make it easy for him by putting together some sort of plan yourself, so all he has to do is say “yes”. Then you have official approval, if anything should go wrong. The advantage of the situation is that you can use your own judgement when putting together the plan and he will probably just agree to it.

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ac July 8, 2013 at 8:49 am

+1. I’m in the same boat and a key skill is figuring out when he needs to weigh in and what you can proceed with without input from him. I also use emails laying out plans and add “… I think we need to do X by Y date, so if you would like to discuss, please let me know by (Y – 1 day).”

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LisaLyn July 8, 2013 at 7:37 am

OP2, are the other people who aren’t told to cover up their tattoos working for a different manager? I agree that it’s not worth risking your job over and if they work for someone else, i would just assume that their manager doesn’t mind them as much as yours does and forget about it. However, I don’t know if I’d be able to let it go if, say, the young women are not spoken to about it, but only the older women or something like that. Or just the women in general.

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FiveNine July 8, 2013 at 7:56 am

There’s one caveat: OP gives no hint as to what kind of tattoo she has, and workplaces do sometimes make distinctions based on what a manager or a customer might perceive as offensive (borderline impossible as that might be to spell out). OP might have a butterfly, or she might have a devil face with a Gene Simmons-like obscenely long tongue, or a labrys that is perceived as more overtly political than tattoos similarly situated women in the office might have, etc.

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LisaLyn July 8, 2013 at 8:13 am

Hee, Gene Simmons. :) But yes, you make a good point. I was picturing a butterfly or something simple.

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Rana July 8, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I was wondering about that, too.

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op2 July 8, 2013 at 10:41 pm

The tattoo is a seahorse. It is pretty small. Maybe the size of a quarter. I happen to have fairly long hair, and when the policy was in place, figured, hey, no worries, my hair covers it. Lack of foresight on my part, I wore my hair up more than I realized, and I missed it. So when the policy was removed from the handbook, I thought, well hey!

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Rana July 9, 2013 at 1:43 am

Sounds pretty innocuous to me! (But then, I don’t tend to care what people do to their public bodies, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their work or is obscene.)

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 9:23 am

I’m not a lawyer, but according to last month’s University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v Nasser, even if her employer is in fact illegally targeting a protected class, the employer can legally retaliate against her for reporting the illegal action. Since OP2′s priority is having a job, it seems she has no choice but to shut up and take it.

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Jessa July 8, 2013 at 9:38 am

Not quite. It just made the standard different. Basically what Nassar says is that the reason for the action has to BE either the discriminatory thing or the thing that was retaliated against. If there’s ANY justification for the firing (IE cause, or other issues,) you pretty much are going to lose. Also the discrimination/behaviour has to happen from or be pretty well condoned by someone who can actually FIRE you. So it’s a bit harder to sue if it’s a coworker than if it’s the boss that can actually DO something to you.

quoted from Cornell Law
“The question presented is:
Whether Title VII’s retaliation provision and similarly worded statutes require a plaintiff to prove but-for causation (i.e., that an employer would not have taken an adverse employment action but for an improper motive), or instead require only proof that the employer had a mixed motive (i.e., that an improper motive was one of multiple reasons for the employment action). ”

The point is UTSW won. Which overturns the earlier decisions in other cases that held for the worker that if discrimination is a strong motivating factor, it’s an issue. Now they’re basically saying “Look, we opened that door too far. There’s no way to get rid of a truly lousy employee, or one who after something happens that they could sue for decides to just coast and say “you can’t fire me, I’m in a protected class.”"

I think it’s a lousy ruling, but the fact is they made mixed motivation cases HARDER to prove by the worker.

They didn’t make it legal to discriminate.

Cornell article here in case someone parses it different than I do.

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-484

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AnotherAlison July 8, 2013 at 9:32 am

“but only the older women or something like that.”
Yes, I was also thinking there was a good chance the OP is over 40, since she’s worked at the company 20 years. (Not that 40 is old, but it is the protected class.)

However, I think it’s a little ridiculous for the OP to make a big deal out of this, when she only got the tattoo 3 years ago, at a time when the no visible tattoo policy was in place. And, not to be ageist myself, but if I had an employee of the OP’s age complaining to me about not being able to show her behind-the-ear tattoo, it would not come off as very professional to me. I might think she should be worrying about her work, not her tattoo.

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Meg July 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I think it’s ridiculous for a company to make a big deal about a such a small thing. To me, the OP’s complaint is coming off as more “Why do I have to worry about this tattoo when I should be focused on my work?” As a tattooed person myself (and one of them is in a place that’s difficult to hide), it can be frustrating to worry about whether a tattoo is showing, when quite frankly, I have better things (such as my job) to focus my attention on. People who have tattoos can still come to work clean, well-dressed, and professional-looking, and to do all that yet have a manager harp on about a butterfly tattoo feels a little micromanage-y.

That being said, it IS the company’s prerogative to decide whether they want visible tattoos in the workplace. They should, however, enforce it across the board, rather than with just one employee.

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AnotherAlison July 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Would you say the same about a professional skirt that the manager deemed too short? (I have bought some that are clearly styled to wear to work, but are actually mini skirts.) To me, this has nothing to do with tattoos. It’s about complying with the dress code direction that you’ve been given by management.

All I’m saying is that as a woman on the back side of 35, if someone said not to wear a particular skirt again, even if I thought it was fine (with tights), I wouldn’t wear it. . .I would not go around pointing out the plethora of other dress code violations that aren’t being enforced and complaining that it’s not fair to single me out. From a management perspective, it might be fine for other women to wear certain things that I can’t because I work with executives and occassionally get pulled in with high level people with no notice, while someone in a different building in a different role wouldn’t have to worry about that. I would want it to be a non-issue for my manager.

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Meg July 9, 2013 at 8:35 am

I do view short skirts differently than tattoos, although to be honest I don’t have a concrete reason why. I just don’t think tattoos are unprofessional (barring something lewd or obscene, obviously). But as for whether it should be enforced across the board? Yes, absolutely. I don’t care if you’re entry level or executive level, you should be held to your company’s dress code. Although as I mentioned, it is the employer’s prerogative to allow tattoos or not, so if they say “no tattoos”, them’s the rules.

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op2 July 8, 2013 at 10:44 pm

I am extremely conscientious about my work. And yes, I am over 40. 44 to be exact. I have to wonder if its tattoos that perhaps you don’t approve of, rather than the age of the person displaying it.

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op2 July 8, 2013 at 11:21 pm

I am not so much worried about who sees the tattoo. My concern is really, that I wanted to be able to wear my hair up, as it is fairly long, and my job gets a little warm sometimes. I was also concerned with the fact that I felt it unfair, to only enforce a policy on one person, out of 600 employees.

I can cover the tattoo with a bandage. That is allowed. But which do you honestly think looks worse? I have been wearing my hair up for just under 2 years, and now all of a sudden it is an issue. My work is very important to me, and it shows in my performance. The day I wore my hair up, with the bandage, I answered more questions in one day about what was going on behind my ear, than I ever answered questions about the seahorse tattoo.

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LCL July 8, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Unfortunately, neck tattoos (in this area of the US) are associated with the criminal lifestyle-thugs of all persuasions, including white supremacist types, have been shown in the press with the neck ink prominently visible. I wonder if the issue isn’t with the art itself, it’s the placement of her artwork.

She should talk to her boss and try to educate her that neck tatt doesn’t equal thug. But if she is in a position where she has contact with the public, she will lose this one.

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Cathy July 8, 2013 at 1:48 pm

IIRC, the OP said it’s behind her ear. A tattoo in that area shouldn’t be (a) that visible or (b) that distracting. If it can only be seen when her hair is up, it must be fairly small. With all that being said, I agree it’s not appropriate to tell one person a tattoo is verboten, when others with tattoos aren’t asked to cover them up.

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op2 July 8, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Since the tattoo is a seahorse, I joke that I belong to the “seahorse gang”. I think part of the issue is that the day before I was told I had to cover the tattoo, I had a five minute conversation with the Human Resources director, and my hair was up at the time.
I do have contact with the public. My issue was mostly with the unfairness of the policy being only directed at me, because I came to her notice at apparently the wrong time.
I am of course resigned to sucking it up, and wearing my hair down =)

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Vicki July 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm

By any chance is everyone else male?
(The OP _may_ be a member of a protected class if only women are told to cover up)

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op2 July 8, 2013 at 11:08 pm

We have around 600 employees, with a series of tiered departments. As far as policies go, the appearance standard is enforced across the board, with most departments required to wear a dept specific uniform. The enforcement of the appearance standards, at least in my case came directly from the director of human resources. With that many people employed, it does fall prey to a matter of who thinks its important enough to pursue. As far as I can tell, so far, I am the only person covering my tattoo, as I saw two people, one man, my age, and one woman, younger, with their tattoos still very visible.

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Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 12:39 am

Can you figure out a hairstyle that allows you to wear your hair up, but still covers the tattoo? Side ponytail, low bun, etc.?

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Anonymous July 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm

I’ve been working on that but so far nothing that covers it completly .

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Ruby July 8, 2013 at 8:40 am

Hi Alison. There’s a naughty apostrophe out of place in the last line… :)

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FD July 8, 2013 at 9:09 am

OP #1:

Not that this entirely makes it any better, but are you sure you’re still contagious? Every time I’ve had strep throat (a lot, since I have five younger siblings to bring stuff home), they’ve said we’re only contagious for the first 24 hours after we start the course of antibiotics.

Your employer’s still a jerk for making you come in when you’ve got no voice though.

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 9:35 am

#5 – I disagree in waiting til the time comes, what if that time comes and they are under the number of employees required to give any leave? What if its unpaid? OP could move on now and get to a job that has 12 weeks off paid, but needs to be an employee for at least a year. She has every right to know now, to prepare BEFORE she is pregnant, not scramble when there is a real possibility that no benefits are offered. She may want to stay in that job, but need to save for the unpaid part of maternity leave. What if the biz is horrible and finds reasons to fire her before the baby. Might as well get it on the table now, and asking now when she can say this is going to happen 2-4 years from now is better than ‘surprising’ the boss with her sudden pregnancy. Yes I know that sounds stupid, but small biz owners with less than 20 people want more notice and the OP is entitled to know what the policy is before she gets so big that finding another job is next to impossible because this one might disappear. Yes, I know i am the voice of doom, but you have to be in America. Not everything works out just cause its ‘illegal’ to use pregnancy as a reason for firing. You could make one other mistake, and that can be the reason you are gone. Learn how the employer feels about maternity now while you have options to look for other work.

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SB July 8, 2013 at 10:22 am

I think I would have to disagree with your disagreement. Pregnancy is a protected class. Thinking about getting pregnant isn’t. If she brings it up beforehand, they can fire her. If she waits until she is pregnant, and then brings it up she has a little more leverage.

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Colette July 8, 2013 at 10:23 am

… or maybe she asks now, and they hit a cash crunch and decide to let her go because she’s already indicated she’ll be out in the future (even though she’s not currently pregnant).

If she asks now and they have enough employees that they have to offer leave, that doesn’t mean they can’t downsize their company before she needs the leave.

She can plan now, based on the assumption that she will not be paid, and then anything she gets offered is a bonus.

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 10:31 am

Even at a large business, maternity leaves are often unpaid; no federal law requires paid parental leave in the US, regardless of the size of the company. Among that do provide paid parental leave, few of them offer it for twelve weeks.*

*As usual, Not in California.

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Lisa July 8, 2013 at 10:39 am

Universities and hospitals tend to offer 12 weeks paid maternity leave due to the number of employees and just being awesome with benefits. I seriously need to work at one before I get pregnant.

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 11:10 am

I work at a major university. It does not offer 12 weeks paid.

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Lauren July 8, 2013 at 11:25 am

That’s too bad. My bf works at Harvard and birth moms get 12 or 13 weeks with short term dis for 8 weeks, using 1 week of vacation time, and 4 weeks of parental leave. Dads can get the parental leave too. All paid.

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Well, Harvard has more money than most :-). Also key there is the short term disability, which is usually an insurance policy and a widely variable one at that–a few states actually offer it statewide, but in most places it’s a private option and may be something employees can choose nor not to participate in. I don’t actually think of that as parental leave (especially since it doesn’t apply to fathers or adoptive parents), but functionally speaking, of course it works that way.

We do actually have disability leave pay that can apply, but it’s incredibly intricate (we have several classes of employee) and dependent on a years served formula and depleted based on previous time taken, plus some way-high-up discretion can be involved. So that probably usually means a couple of weeks on top of PTO.

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I do have an issue with equating maternity leave with short term disability because, after the recovery (which in a healthy birth is about 1-2 weeks???), the mother is not disabled. Now, if you have had a complicated birth, then a longer disability leave is of course required. But (as my mother has ounded into my head since birth as the only feminist training I have ever had) motherhood should never be seen as a disability. Paternity leaves, after the medical recovery time, are for the benefit of the child, society and the parents and need to be seen as that. To consider it an illness is to short change it. Plus, what would the organizatino do if, heaven forbid, an employee’s wife dies in childbirth? Does the father go on short term disability even though there is nothing medically wrong with him? Bereavement leave I believe is no where near long enough to deal with this type of thing.

Sorry to my American colleagues who are trying to work around their lack of maternity/paternity benefits, but this just seems even more short-sighted.

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Felicia July 8, 2013 at 4:19 pm

+1. I’d love to have kids some day, and our maternity leave policies in Canada are another reason I’m grateful for my country. 12 weeks seems so short when we get a year, and sorry to all the Americans who have to deal with this. It does seem strange to me that maternity leave is short term disability because it’s really not.

Rana July 8, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Actually, it’s six weeks that is considered a standard recovery, and that’s just for a vaginal birth. If you’re talking c-section, it could be eight weeks or more.

Don’t forget that it’s not just about the mother’s body healing up; taking care of a newborn is physically demanding for both mother and other parents for the first month or so, even if the infant is formula fed.

Judy July 8, 2013 at 5:13 pm

The short term disability of 6 weeks sounds fairly right to me. My husband had hernia surgery (1″ long abdominal incision in outpatient setting) and he had 6 weeks before he was cleared to work.

They told me not to drive for 4 weeks (or until you stop pain medication, whichever came last) for each of my kids. Of course, I had multi layer stitches from the tearing both times, and made sure I only made one trip up and down the stairs each day for the first few weeks.

Editor July 8, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Let’s hear it for Rhode Island, which has come up with a family-friendly policy that will provide paid leave through a state-run insurance program:

http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/07/why-paid-family-leave-is-good-for-everyone-even-people-who-dont-use-it/277577/

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 11:30 am

That’s crazy. I worked at a small call center (aka hell) and got 8 weeks paid.

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Same here July 8, 2013 at 11:58 am

I’m at a top 20 private university. Maternity leave is through short-term disability insurance (which you only have if you choose to pay into it). It covers up to six weeks of leave at 60% pay. You have to use all of your sick leave before short-term disability insurance can be used.

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anonz July 8, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Same here, at a state university. If you don’t buy the short-term disability, you don’t get any paid leave at all apart from sick leave (and you have to exhaust that first). We do get, depending on seniority, 15-20 sick days per year, so it helps some, as long as you don’t burn all of those with prenatal appointments or morning sickness.

I worked for a for-profit when I had my kids and got 2 weeks paid each time — all the vacation I could save up. The other time I took off was completely unpaid.

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Erica B July 8, 2013 at 4:51 pm

It must depend on your position. I got no paid time off for maternity leave either and I work at a state school. At the time my position was not benefited (which may have been a factor) and I had been working there for 3 years.

If you have a benefited position and you have PTO saved you can use that towards getting paid, or some people I know in other jobs have used long term disability. I didn’t have either of that luxury so needless to say with my second son I only took off 7 weeks. Couldn’t afford any more than that.

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Rana July 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm

It’s also important to learn what the insurance coverage is. Many plans do not include maternity care (beyond a very bare minimum mandated by ACA) and if the OP has to self-insure to get that coverage, she should know that most plans require additional premium payments on a “maternity rider” – payments that must be paid for a year before anything is covered.

(Basically, if you’re trying to self-insure while already pregnant, and not poor enough to qualify for state aid, you’re pretty much out of luck in most states.)

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fposte July 8, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Just to be clear–you’re using “self-insure” to mean “buy your own insurance,” not “create a self-funded insurance pool,” right?

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Rana July 8, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Yes. I mean arranging your own policy directly from the insurance company, rather than getting it through your employer.

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OP#5 July 9, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Thank you, that’s something to consider! Luckily I have options – if my health insurance won’t cut it I can switch to my partner’s, and I also live in a state that’s setting up an insurance exchange for next fall with the eventual goal of a single payer system, so one of those ought to work.

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OP#5 July 9, 2013 at 1:51 pm

OP for #5 here, and thank you for your POV – it’s something to consider. I would not change jobs based on maternity leave, though we are definitely too small to require FMLA. I have every reason to believe that they will be reasonable and even generous in negotiating maternity leave, it’s just that there is no policy on the books right now. But I will keep in mind that it could be risky on general principle.

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Lisa July 8, 2013 at 9:46 am

#5) I hate that Americans are praised / made to feel guilty / fear for your jobs and make to go into work no matter what even when it could kill you (snowstorms, floods, twisters, hurricanes), or harm others (car accident due to going thru bad weather, infecting coworkers and subsequently their infants / elderly relatives).

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 9:58 am

But isn’t that part of the reason why the US is an economic powerhouse? Its production over pretty much everything else except for some minimal worker protections.

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VintageLydia July 8, 2013 at 10:18 am

I don’t have the studies in front of me or anything but I’ve read that America isn’t really more productive than countries with more worker protections, even though we work more/longer hours. Eventually you get to the point of diminishing returns. I mean, truly how productive is an employee who is barely moving at half speed and can’t even properly communicate with their coworkers?

I’m really not criticizing the work ethic. There are some who absolutely thrive under it (like commenter Jamie.) It’s engrained in American culture. Though I do wish people who were sick weren’t forced to come in just to keep their jobs (if you want to and you know you’re not contagious, do what you want.) I think most reasonable people would agree with that.

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Lisa July 8, 2013 at 10:48 am

Its not just to keep your job though, its to being perceived as more ‘committed’ than coworkers too. Jamie may email clients / coworkers at 11 pm at night cause that is how she works. Paul doesn’t but produces the same amount as Jamie, who gets the promotion? Who gets the raise? Jamie came in on Sunday cause she is Type A and wanted to get something done knowing she would be in meetings all the coming week. Paul knows that his tasks are not emergencies and waits until Monday or he completed his similar task by friday and didn’t need to work the weekend. Jamie saw an amusing industry article and sent it around on xmas day. Its perception and how you are viewed vs. output 1/2 the time. Jamie and Paul are both valuable, hard workers, but Jamie has an edge because of these little things she does that her coworker might not.

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Lora July 8, 2013 at 11:45 am

We’re an economic powerhouse? I was under the impression we’d been in a recession since 2008-2009 or thereabouts. I mean, our U6 unemployment is 14.3% (includes people employed part-time who are looking for full-time, discouraged workers, people who want to work but only look infrequently). Also that our median wages had stagnated relative to cost of living for the past 30 years or so.

What’s that horrible tee shirt that used to be on T-Shirt Hell? “Slavery – gets s*** done” with a picture of the pyramids.

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Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 2:30 pm

It’s not. Not anymore.

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Rana July 8, 2013 at 4:55 pm

+1

Plus, honestly, unless that “powerhouse” is contributing to improving the average person’s living standards, I’m not all that interested in how well a bunch of companies and CEOs are doing.

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Ruffingit July 8, 2013 at 7:10 pm

+1 million. Right on Rana!

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Julie July 9, 2013 at 12:16 am

+1 million from me, too.

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TL July 8, 2013 at 10:05 am

That really varies strongly by employer. All of mine have had a “you don’t need to come in if you’re sick ever” policy.

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Chanel No.3 July 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Heh, my jobs have all had small employee sets, so the unwritten policy was “you’d better be physically unable to come to work,” since calling off meant someone (possibly yourself) had to scramble to call for a fill-in. I’ve gone to work with abysmal sinus problems and had customers tell me, “um, I’ll just go to the other lane, sorry.” (Luckily I’ve never worked in food.)

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Katie the Fed July 8, 2013 at 10:00 am

#6 – I don’t know that I’d characterize the manager as flighty. He may legit be overwhelmed and overtasked.

Some tips (I’m a VERY busy manager too):

- Don’t just ask for a meeting. Ask for a meeting to discuss A, B and C and be as specific as possible. That gives him time to think and prepare. One of my direct reports asked me for a meeting to discuss a training plan for him, and it gave me time to do some research and come prepared. If he had just asked for a meeting and then sprung on me what he wanted to discuss, I wouldn’t have had good answers.

- Ask your manager if he’s prefer to communicate by a different medium. Some people work best with a list of questions emailed to them. Be brief and specific in your questions. If you don’t get an answer in a day or two, you can remind him.

- Come prepared with ideas and suggestions. Instead of asking what projects he wants you to work on, try “I think I should work on A, B and C and I’m particularly interested in covering this aspect of them.”

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 11:40 am

I agree that asking for clarification from your supervisor on how to communicate is a good idea. I had one very busy VP that I supported that was impossible to tie down a meeting with even if I had urgent stuff for him to sign (luckily, he made an exception for cheques and would sign those even as he was running out the door). But daily emails with lists of phone calls, questions, and subject lines of emails waiting for his reply that he could reply to with one or two word answers made both our lives easier. I even learned to title each email with that day’s date so that we both could go back through our inbox to find old answers. I would never had thoguht of doing that if he hadn’t brought it up himeself.

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Lora July 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm

“Ask your manager if he’s prefer to communicate by a different medium. Some people work best with a list of questions emailed to them. ”
+1. I do not do meetings when I can possibly avoid them. Mostly because people are typically asking for information I have not memorized and will take some time to look up for them, or for a decision made by someone not present in the meeting. After I’ve said, “let me get back to you on that” about 20 times, what do you want to talk about? But if you email me what you want, I have half a day to look everything up and have hallway conversations with the relevant deciderers and get you some reasonable answers.

If all you’re looking for is my opinion, whether you should join Professional Society X or Trade Association Y, where’s a good place for lunch, or if I’d prefer a potentiometric monitor to an optical probe, I’m happy to tell you in a meeting. If you want to know projects and deadlines, I need to extract that information from my database which tracks about a million other projects–and it won’t be super-detailed because I expect you to handle details with your brain, although we can certainly walk through it.

I fully admit to being flighty, over-tired and under-caffeinated most days, but I can get you the right answer in half a day or I can give you my best guess and then have to revise it. And have to remember to revise it, too. Which does not always happen…

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AF July 10, 2013 at 1:21 pm

#6 – I am in the same boat – mine is overwhelmed and flighty (he creates his own problems, is quite immature, and I honestly believe it’s hurting the business), so I can’t offer you advice, other than to say I understand how you feel. I think there’s a fine line between legit overwhelmed, and just crazy or flighty. Mine wouldn’t know how to be organized if I taught him, because he deals with everything on a totally superficial level, has attention problems, doesn’t follow-up, and worse, doesn’t seem to think there’s a problem with any of it, or see how it’s affecting other people. It’s not even worth bringing up how it affects me, because, as Alison said, he doesn’t know how to change.

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Jazzy Red July 8, 2013 at 10:18 am

OP # 3, if the temp agency you worked for places office workers, go back and tell them you want a job as a receptionist. If they offer any kind of training, take it (most receptionists need to have Microsoft Office training). In fact, check out all of the temp agencies who place office workers in your area, and register with all them. Make sure they know that you especially want receptionist assignments.

This is one kind of job where you can come in as a temp and be hired on permanently. Smart employers know that a good receptionist is worth her/his weight in gold.

Take it from one who’s been there.

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 11:43 am

I am actually surprised that the OP’s temp agency didn’t have her going out to be a receptionist as that is often the most requested office temp position (if only because it is hard to cover internally). Definitely hit up all the local agencies and find one that will support you. Also, if there are companies that you would like to work at, it might be worth it to find out which agencies they use or would recommend (this is easier to do if you already know someone at the company). The fact thatyou want to be a receptionist is a bonus and will make you invaluable when combined with a good work ethic.

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Chanel No.3 July 8, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Several weeks of calling to say “I’m still looking for a receptionist/secretary position” ended with “Well we still don’t have any receptionist or secretary positions available, but the factory that’s 2 miles from your house has an assembly opening & it’s full time.” After the factory laid me off, I continued letting the agent know I still wanted to be a receptionist until she told me the warehouse had a full time order-picker position.

I know not to get -too- excited over a random job posting, but the one for which I will have my fingers crossed (upon sending my documents) is at one of the local colleges. I miss academia.

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Editor July 8, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Does your temp agency specialize in factory jobs? Around here, I think Manpower does a lot of warehouse work, but Kelly does more office work in addition to laborer-type jobs. There’s another agency that handles a lot of accounting-related and office work. Your agency may not be telling you that it doesn’t offer much of the kind of work you want.

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PPK July 8, 2013 at 10:58 am

OP #4. If your previous employer was a big company, I would think they would be nervous about getting information from a previous employee (Not that it wouldn’t make a small company nervous, but it might be more likely that everyone knows everyone). For all the higher ups know, you could be feeding bad information on purpose (or on accident, simply because you no longer know the context for questions) or a corporate spy for you new company.

If shutting down the emails politely doesn’t work as suggested (Sorry, can’t help), do you remember the email addresses of anyone higher up the chain that you could copy on a reply? I know that sounds a bit passive aggressive, but if you start to feel harassed by the former company, it might be one way to go.

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Emily, admin extraordinaire July 8, 2013 at 11:57 am

#3: I also have a humanities degree (BA and MA in English) and successfully moved from retail/customer service into receptionist positions, and from there into admin positions. The big thing is a) having the skills for the receptionist position (so stellar typing, excellent office skills) and b) highlighting related skills in your previous positions and your degree. In your retail positions, you have tons of experience in customer service, both in person and over the phone, which are key for receptionists, especially dealing with difficult customers.

So for a), if you don’t type at least 70 words per minute, get yourself a copy of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing (or something similar) and practice until you do. If you’re not great on Excel or PowerPoint or any other program, sign up for a subscription to Lynda.com and go through as many of their courses as you can. Quickbooks is another one that is really good to know (especially if you’re applying at small businesses, where the receptionist can wear many hats), and knowing basic HTML can be super helpful as well. If your temp agency has Office tests, take them so you can list your awesome scores on your resume.

For b) think of a few key situations you’ve faced in the past where you either successfully resolved a customer complaint, or, even better, where you were unable to do what the customer wanted but still managed to get them to leave happy. Interviewers love to know that you can abide by company policy without making people mad. Your Linguistics degree can help as well! Receptionists need great communication skills, so highlight your knowledge of language (and make sure your resume and cover letter demonstrate your excellent verbal skills). And even though linguistics is descriptive rather than prescriptive, if you have any experience at all in doing editing and proofreading (even if it’s just your roommates term papers), list that as well. Or get a copy of The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn and go through the exercises. I’m positive I got most of my jobs because I can edit and proofread company documents.

Jazzy Red’s advice is awesome as well. If your current temp agency doesn’t place for office jobs, join one that will. I had good success with OfficeTeam and Ajilon, if either of those are in your area. That will give you some good on-the-job experience, and might even lead to a permanent job if they do temp-to-hire.

You can do this! You have great skills already, you just need to frame them correctly.

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Anonymous July 8, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Great list, Emily! I’d add that you have experience with “multi-tasking,” too. Receptionists (& other positions) rarely have uninterrupted time to work on projects. Being comfortable with those interruptions (phone calls, receiving guests, receiving deliveries, requests to do/help with X, etc, etc), returning to & completing your other duties is essential. Not everyone can do that well.
Good luck!

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Del July 8, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Years after leaving customer service, one of my best “tell me about a time when…” interview stories comes from my days working a fabric store cutting counter. Even if you don’t have applicable technical skills, you can very easily have transferrable soft skills that can be a huge help!

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 4:16 pm

I also recommend learnign Quickbooks and basic accounting (i.e. the difference between a debit and credit type of stuff, not how to do taxes). Being able to understand an expense report or track office supply costs are little skills that go along way in wanting them to keep you. I am still shocked by the one AA who bragged about not understanding what the accounting department did or understanding why she had to write all these numbers (i.e. account codes) on stuff just to have an invoice paid.

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Anonymous July 9, 2013 at 12:54 am

How about the difference between revenue and cash? My company once hired an Ivy League MBA with a stated interest in finance who just could not, despite repeated efforts to explain, given by multiple people in the office, understand that REVENUE is NOT the same thing as CASH!!!

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anon-2 July 8, 2013 at 1:24 pm

#1 – one of my “Dinner Table Stories” — I was a shift supervisor in a computer room. I had a guy working under my supervision. He had a tremendous continuous cough. The company had their own doctor – who said “oh it’s just a little cold, take this cough medicine.”

On Saturday we were working together. I ordered him home – and suggested that he see a doctor outside the company. I told him “drop my name” (I knew a lot of doctors in our community, he knew none).

Monday comes. The manager calls me in and begins chewing me out, for sending him home – he accused him of goofing, etc. Just then the phone rings.

It’s my charge’s wife. He DID go to a doctor. The fellow had walking pneumonia and blood clots in his lungs, and was immediately hospitalized. A blood clot could have broken loose and killed him. He was out several weeks.

I look at my manager, asked him “what was that about?” He fumed and told me to go.

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Adam V July 8, 2013 at 1:54 pm

That’s incredibly scary to hear. I would like to think that your employee could have taken the company doctor to court for some of the hospital bills – I would think that things wouldn’t have been as bad if he’d seen a regular doctor before it progressed to that point, and thus a lot of the cost could thus reasonably be attributed to the company’s self-serving attitude towards health care.

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Ask a Manager July 8, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Wow. My best friend’s coworker died a few months ago from a blood clot — early 40s, no previous signs of problems, had been weak all weekend and just thought she had a bad cold, then collapsed and died. She’d just been on a car trip where she hadn’t moved around much, which may have contributed to it. Really scary.

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Elizabeth West July 8, 2013 at 2:36 pm

0_0

I had a coworker who had pulmonary blood clots and we had to FORCE him to leave–he was so worried about taking care of his customers (he knew the manager would not do a good job). He ended up being out on medical leave for several months (had another condition that required extensive surgery). Neither one of us is at that job anymore, and I’m glad–I worried about him all the time because of the stress.

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anon-2 July 8, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I had forced the guy to leave, too. He had been threatened by the operations manager. I advised I’d cover – let ME worry about that.

I gave him a list of doctors I knew. He called and got an appointment. Straight to the hospital, straight to the x-ray, straight into ICU for a couple of weeks and on anti-coagulaents.

I may have gotten a chewing out. I don’t have a bad conscience. And no one was going to die on my shift.

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Chinook July 8, 2013 at 4:19 pm

“no one was going to die on my shift.”

That is a line you never expect to have to say in an office environment!

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Ruffingit July 8, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Thank God for people like you who really care about the welfare of others. Seriously, thank you!! It is really horrible to think about what could have happened to that guy if you hadn’t forced him to leave and find a new doctor.

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AnotherAlison July 8, 2013 at 1:35 pm

#5. Asking about a small organization’s maternity leave policies

I’m wondering what real advantage is gained by asking about leave. You can already plan for the worst case – work around your busy time as much as possible when you are trying to conceive, save up for several weeks unpaid leave, have a childcare plan for a very short leave. Stuff happens. You might not be able to have kids while you’re working there (I have a 7 year gap between mine, and we tried for 4 of those years). You might leave before having kids for other reasons. Life plans and goals might change to not involve kids. If you truly love it, would you leave based on what happens for 6-12 weeks of a possible 5-10 year employment stretch anyway?

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Ruffingit July 8, 2013 at 7:31 pm

I agree, these were my exact same thoughts. Being a planner is fine, but one of the many things children will teach you is that plans change in an instant. The best you can do here is plan for what you will do if your company offers no maternity leave (save your sick/vacation time, sign up for short-term disability if offered, save money for the “baby” fund, etc) and if they do offer maternity leave or paid leave or whatever, then that’s just a bonus so to speak.

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NonProfiteer July 8, 2013 at 4:23 pm

#5 – Just wanted to add that she could also ask her boss in general about an employee manual. I was in a similar situation a year ago and did not even know when/if I could take off for work, funerals, etc.

I approached my manager about setting one up so that I would have a clearer idea of what the expectations were for me. It’s also worth noting that when we did a governance audit of our organization (we’re a start-up), our attorneys noted that having an employee manual was a key part of good non-profit governance, including provisions for whistleblowers, etc.

If OP#5 approaches it as something that should be done for the organization and to improve her performance, I think it’s an easy ask and just an added bonus that maternity, as well as other leave policies, will be addressed.

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NonProfiteer July 8, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Should say – take “OFF” of work! gah

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OP#5 July 9, 2013 at 2:35 pm

There are rumors that an employee handbook is in the works. Because we work closely with state agencies we often follow their policies – but I don’t want to assume that is the case for everything! I like the idea of posing it as a way to help me do my job better as well as a governance question. (My org is well over 100 years old so even though you’d think things are well-established it’s more like many things are still holdovers from pre-audit days!)

I’ll inquire about the status of the employee handbook and suggest that maternity leave be addressed along with other things. I also don’t know what leave policies are for funerals – for the only one I’ve been to since starting here I used comp time.

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Ann Onymous July 9, 2013 at 10:56 am

#1. I work in a library that is open 7 days a week. On the weekends, there is only one (yes, one!) staff person on duty (and sometimes a page or two). I was told by my manager last year, after I started, that not only could I *never* have one of those weekend days off, but if I got sick, I would have to come in. And that I could “sit around the corner at one of the desks out of sight” and “put my head down.” Or even “go lie down in the staff lunch room if I had to and leave the pages in charge.”
It hasn’t come to that yet (fortunately I don’t get sick too often) but my partner is outraged that 1) I am left alone in charge of a four-story building with no security guards etc. 2) That my manager would insist I have to come in when I’m sick.
I posted about this problem in a library employee message board, and one of the other librarians said, “Next time you’re sick, try calling in. See what happens.”
I seriously doubt they would fire me but who knows?

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Richard Montano February 6, 2014 at 1:40 am

Hey I had a question I work in a lumber yard I recently got strucj from behind with a pallet jack to the back of the foot I went to PIH they gave me a prescription whwn I got to wirk to inform them yes I got a drs note stated I need some time off I bring the note to work an totally disregard it sends me to their clinic
he says im fine an im good to work tells me ignore the other prescription s im on my feet all day just got home foots killing mewhat do I do

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