short answer Sunday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s once again short answer Sunday — seven short answers to seven short questions. We’ve got a manager feeling crabby about his employees’ flextime, renegotiating a job offer, and more. Here we go…

1. Is this discrimination?

Recently I heard about a job within my current department that was going to be posted. I am very interested in applying for this new position. The posting has not gone up yet, but the hiring manager has already had an interview with a candidate. Is this a case of discrimination? I am a woman and over 40.

Based on what you’ve written here, nothing sounds discriminatory about this. Jobs aren’t required to be posted, after all, and employers aren’t required to interview everyone who’s interested or even qualified.

Be careful not to be too quick to assume discrimination. In this case, the hiring manager doesn’t even know you’re interested in the position; tell her! You should also be clear about what illegal discrimination is: It’s when an employer makes decisions based on a person’s race, age, sex, religion, etc. It’s not just when someone who happens to be in a legally protected class (say, being over 40) isn’t interviewed for a job — to be illegal, the employer’s action needs to have occurred because of your membership in that protected class. If you know that you’re well-qualified and the employer didn’t interview you specifically because of your sex and/or age, then you’ve got discrimination — but there’s none of that in your letter.

2. Which reference is better to use?

Do you think it’s better to use a reference from a direct supervisor or from her manager, who has a fancier title? I was recently laid off and both my supervisor, who has the title Manager of X Facility, and the head of our department, who has the title Director of X, offered to be references. My supervisor will be better able to give details of my performance, but the director has a more impressive title (and also a somewhat well known husband/last name).

In most cases, it’s more important that the reference be able to speak with detail and nuance about how great you are, and to give examples of what made you great. The exception to this is with bad hiring managers who are easily influenced by irrelevant things that have no bearing on your ability to do the job, like someone having a well-known husband, but that’s not someone you want to be working for.

3. Can my spouse and I bid for vacation time together?

Do you know of any state or federal law that would allow 2 employees (spouses) working for the same employer, with different seniority, the ability to bid for their vacation time slots together? The higher seniority person would forego their time slot for bidding and bid with the lower seniority person. I’m trying to find any kind of documentation for reasonable accommodation for married couples or partners.

There’s no such law. That kind of thing is entirely governed by the employer’s own polices. Why not just ask your employer if you can do it?

4. Starting a new job when surgery looms

I am about to start a job that I really wanted to get. Just today I went to the doctor and found out I am going to need to have a minor procedure done within the next few months. I will have to take one day off work but will be ready to work the next day. I may also have to go to a few doctor’s appointments, which I will try to schedule when I am off, but it’s not guaranteed. Should I mention this to my manager before I even start? I don’t want to lose the job or sound like a problem before I even begin. I will be happy to work overtime on other days if I have to. Or do I just wait till I have a specific date for the surgery?

This doesn’t sound like a big deal at all. It would be polite to give your new manager a heads-up now, as a courtesy — but really, you’re talking about missing one day plus a couple of days where you’ll need to come in late or leave early for appointments. It shouldn’t be a big deal.

5. Am I being crabby about my employees’ use of flextime?

I’m a mid-level manager in a small division of a larger firm. I’ve agreed to grant some employees flextime. Some of these schedules were in place before the employees were transferred to my department. The original schedules were too generous in my view, so over the years I’ve cut them back to one flextime day per month. I am finding that I’m getting tired of approving these requests, especially to those employees who have lots of vacation time. The requests tend to extend a holiday weekend by one day and that seems to be the only way those days are used, and it’s really annoying me. Am I being too crabby about this?

There’s really only one relevant question here, and it’s this: What’s the impact on your team’s work? If you can’t point to an actual impact, and it’s just annoying you on principle, then yes, you’re being too crabby and should let it drop. If you’re able to offer flextime without negatively impacting anyone’s work, that’s a huge benefit to your employees and one that can help you retain great people. If it is impacting the work, then you’d address it from that angle.

6. Should I mention my serious car accident in my cover letter?

I’m currently applying to jobs and I was wondering if I should include an event in my history that has driven me to achieve a whole lot, work impeccably hard, and contribute a whole lot to life, but also has some negative aspects to it. The event would be a car accident that I was in 9 months ago (not my fault, mind you) that affected my memory, specifically my verbal memory. Presently, I am currently, oh, 99% normal again, so I’m not affected by it now too much, but I’m sure it doesn’t look that great to an interviewer. Of course I would not include the loss of memory in the cover letter, but I’m sure it would spark their curiosity, leading to them asking me questions about it. The positive effects of it would have come from the realization that life could end at any moment, and to make the most of it, and contribute to it as much as possible, while still alive. Would this be something that would be worth putting in to my cover letter?

Hmmm. This is something that would depend 100% on exactly how it was done. Done very skillfully by a skillful writer, it could indeed send the message you intend — but otherwise, it risks coming off as inappropriate for a professional letter. I’m also not convinced that hiring managers will care that much about your realization that life could end at any moment (valuable as that realization is), unless you can demonstrate how that impacts the work you’d be doing for them. If you can’t make that connection immediately clear, then it doesn’t belong in the letter.

Ultimately, if you’re going to do it, I’d first run it by someone who (a) has done a fair amount of hiring themselves and (b) you trust to be honest with you.

7. Can I reopen negotiations on a job offer I already accepted?

I accepted a job offer recently but have since learned that I will not be paid or compensated for overtime. The job is 45k plus 4k in bonus annually (if earned). This is the first BIG job I’ve had and feel like I missed an opportunity to negotiate the salary because I didn’t want to seem greedy. I feel like I could have negotiated the salary up to at least 53k (they really wanted me for the position and contacted me out of the blue without me even knowing about the position being open). I have signed the work agreement two days ago but am still wondering can I safely ask if the salary is open for renegotiation since I am just learning that I am exempt from overtime. I was told that I would not be paid overtime even if i do end up having to work more than 40hrs a week (the job requires 75% travel and the travel is not included in the 40hrs of work). I was considering asking, “After further reviewing the position and now being informed that I cannot be paid for overtime, would you be open to negotiating my salary to 50K to compensate the possible overtime that I will likely be working in weeks to come? If that is not a possibility, I understand but I just wanted to take this opportunity and ask you to consider.” (I was told to call if I have any more questions or concerns).

It’s considered bad form / bad faith to try to reopen salary negotiations after an offer has already been accepted. (After all, would you want them to contact you in a week and try to negotiate to pay you less?) I’m not going to tell you that there’s no chance of getting what you want here, but there’s a big risk of coming across poorly and harming the relationship with them before you’ve even started. I’d be inclined to chalk this up to a lesson to confirm every detail of a job offer before accepting in the future.

But if you do it anyway, do not attribute it to “further reviewing the position,” which would come across as crazy (since you shouldn’t accept an offer until you’re done “reviewing the position”); you should attribute it to getting new information that wasn’t available before. Keep in mind, too, that exempt positions (positions exempt from overtime laws) by definition don’t provide additional compensation for overtime, so you don’t want to phrase this as asking them to “compensate the possible overtime.” Instead, you’d want to say something like, “I’m so sorry, but we miscommunicated earlier. I was under the impression that the position was non-exempt and paid overtime and was evaluating the offer with that in mind.” But again, it’s risky — you already accepted the offer.

{ 20 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Re: Flextime. I work in an office that does not offer this. You can switch a day in the same week, but that rarely is available during certain times of year – there is just too much to do, and too little time. I wish we had a flex account. There are other times a year that employees could take a day off or two without impacting the office. It’s one of those things that has slowly affected my engagement with my employer – why go the extra mile to do a superb job, when a great one will do, considering that the hard work goes unrewarded.

  2. Michael*

    RE Salary Negotiations: Don’t try to restart salary negotiations b/c of everything said above. But in a year, after you’ve worked the job and demonstrated your worth, ask for the salary you want. You’ll have a much stronger case, and hopefully be on better terms with the management.

    1. Josh S*

      Really? I’ve just seen a handful of posts by AAM and EvilHRManager that have indicated that it’s much much more difficult to get a significant raise than it is to switch companies and get a salary boost that way.

      If you start out at 90% of the average, you’re not going to get bumped to 105% after a year, no matter how spectacular you are. Simply because of how budgets and raises are allocated. But if the same department were to hire someone new to your position, they could almost certainly get authority to hire at 100% of the average, and possibly even 105% of the average.

      It seems like the best time and the best way to put yourself at (or over) the average is when you’re negotiating your salary/benefits for the first time upon moving into a new company.

      AAM, am I wrong in this?

      1. A Nony Mous*

        The best time to negotiate would have been before accepting the given salary package. But the poster has already accepted the salary/benefits package, so in this case (IMHO) I would agree with Michael to wait another year, as opposed to RE-negotiating. I think re-negotiating would send a bad signal. They offer bonuses, so that is certainly a plus for the poster.

        Also, while it’s definitely unusual, I did once get a 15% raise (this was my entry level job, so it was about $5,000) due to “salary adjustment.” I worked at a non-profit which had grown rapidly, and management realized that their salaries were completely out of line with what the average was for orgs of their new size, so there were across the board raises for the older employees. If the poster can prove that they are being underpaid, and does a stellar job in their fist year, the poster would have a good shot at a good raise.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Josh, I think you’re exactly right. While there are exceptions to every rule, it tends to be much easier to get a large salary bump when you’re changing jobs; when you’re talking about a raise in your current job, they’re usually not huge (unless you’re a super star and have an employer who recognizes that).

        I think this particular ship has sailed, because the OP already accepted the offer, but in general I’d say that if you’re looking for a sizable increase, negotiate it before you accept; don’t assume you’ll get it in a year.

  3. fposte*

    #6–It sounds like you think your story might have some human-interest draw in a cover letter; honestly, I don’t think that’s likely to be much of an edge for most jobs, and there’s the risk that if you go into detail about its significance that you’ll worry a prospective employer (unfair and probably illegal, but worth considering). I would mention it 1) if you were applying in a field where it might be relevant (social services, health care), so that you can demonstrate your additional insight into the problems they’re trying to solve or 2) if there’s a need to explain an employment gap, but I’d probably keep it to one sentence in that case. At cover letter stage, I don’t think you want this to be the dominant element in their picture of you, even if it’s been dominant in your life.

    It will, however, make a fabulous topic in an interview. Your interviewers can see just how much you’re not impaired by this event while you’re talking, so you can make your points about your new understanding of hard work and what it’ll do for their organization then. (If you’re deciding whether or not to tell them in advance of the interview if you don’t in the cover letter, there’s a good AAM post on that very thing:

  4. Anonymous*

    Could someone perhaps explain what “bidding for vacation time” means? I’m not familiar with the concept.

    1. GeekChic*

      Bidding for vacation time typically means that the staff members put in requests (“bids”) for certain days off and they are awarded based on seniority. Example:

      Worker 1 (10 years seniority) asks for either 1) 2 weeks off around U.S. Thanksgiving or 2) 2 weeks off at the end of April.

      Worker 2 (20 years seniority) asks for either 1) 2 weeks off around U.S. Thanksgiving or 2) 2 weeks off at the end of December.

      Worker 3 (5 years seniority) asks for either 1) 2 weeks off at the end of April or 2) 2 weeks off at the beginning of May.

      The supervisor would grant time as follows:

      Worker 1: End of April.

      Worker 2: U.S. Thanksgiving.

      Worker 3: Beginning of May.

      At places that work like this, the employees usually have to have their vacation bids in by a certain day so the requests can be assigned. How the bidding process works is typically governed by either the workplace policy manual or the union contract (whichever is appropriate).

  5. Wilton Businessman*

    1. No. I had to let somebody go a couple years ago and their first response was “Well, I’m over forty and in a protected class.” And my response was “So? You’re not being let go because you’re over 40, you’re being let go because you come in at 10:30 and leave at 3:30 and don’t get your work done.” People think that being in a “protected class” means they can never get fired. That’s not what it means at all.
    2. The better reference is the person who you worked most closely with.
    3. Good reason (out of about 90) not to work at the same place your spouse does.
    4. I’d tell them on the way in that you will be out for a day and a couple appointments. I’d say something like “Hey, I don’t want to dump this in your lap on the first day, but between the time I accepted and now a little medical issue was discovered that I need to take a day off and a couple hours here and there. I fully expect it to be resolved by X, but I just wanted to make you aware.”
    5. probably crabby, yes.
    6. probably not in the private sector, non-profits might eat that stuff up, though.
    7. you already ate the hamburger. Life Lesson #168: understand what you are agreeing to before you agree to it.

    1. Meredith*

      I agree with you on every point, except the second half of #6. No non-profit worth their 501c3 should ‘eat up’ something that is just emotional and not related to their work or mission. Maybe you’re not implying that non-profits are soft, but it struck me as such and I don’t think that’s always the case. In any regard, I don’t think the story belongs in a cover letter, period.

  6. Dan Ruiz*

    #5 – Flex Time:

    I agree with AAM. If the work’s getting done and your team isn’t affected by absences, the problem is in your head.

    Of course, you’re the boss and if you want to cancel flex time, it’s your call. But, please consider that flex time is a perk that people really appreciate and will miss dearly when it’s gone. Your team’s morale may take a hit if they feel like they’re losing their perks for no good reason.

  7. Harry*

    (7) The salary is written in black and white including the terms and conditions of the job such as exempt vs non exempt. I would think most hiring managers / HR would expect a qualified candidate to counter on the salary. Take a step back and read several times through. It’s not only the pay, how are the benefits? How much do you pay out of pocket for insurance? How about retirement, do they match? It is the overall package, not just the pay.

  8. jersey knit*

    Re Flex Time, just the phrasing of the question makes me think that this boss doesn’t care about his staff’s well-being. If you’re considering clamping down on flex time, they probably sense the tension and feel unduly anxious about taking time off that, as far as they have been told, they have earned.

    Passive-aggressive, tacitly disapproving approval of time off kills morale. There’s nothing worse than a boss who doesn’t value the importance of your real obligations outside the office, or one who treats each day off as another hash mark against you. Vacation days, a small sacrifice for an employer, make a huge difference in the lives of employees. Think of your management decisions in terms of how much it will inconvenience you compared with how much it will affect the actual lives of your employees.

    Think of errands that are only possible during the work day that *no one* wants to use hard-earned vacation time for, like standing in line at the DMV, or functions you really want to attend but don’t necessarily want to use your limited vacation time for, like seeing your child perform a solo in their school assembly. Employees aren’t just harvesters to bring in the revenue — they’re also all real people who, regardless of work ethic, have obligations and pressures to meet both in the office and outside of it.

    Perhaps more to the point: if you want them to hate you and start looking for another job, take away their paid time off.

  9. Anonymous*

    Ay, I just have to make a comment about crying discrimination when you don’t get what you want at a job. It is so belittling to those who are actually facing such situations at work, when every grumpy employee who doesn’t get what they want says ‘ it’s because I’m 40!’ as if that is the magic number. The question is so irrational – it’s the equivalent of looking at a job on Craigslist and telepathically sending my application over to the hiring manager…and then suing because they didn’t get my message. Ridiculous!

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