thorny answer Thursday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s thorny answer Thursday!  Well, not all of them are that thorny, but it has alliteration. (A reader recently suggested thumbnail Thursday, but I think that’ll hit a nerve in light of the recent discussion of fingernail clipping at work.)

1. My boss wants my overtime hours to be “volunteer” work

I was asked by my boss to write a letter stating that I understood that any hours above and beyond my scheduled 40 hours would be unpaid and considered volunteer hours. I told her that I would not sign anything until I had my family lawyer and two friends that work in HR, give their input. I know that I set her back a bit! She wasn’t happy with the fact that I stated that I felt like I was being punished for having a good work ethic and that if I was asked to work beyond my 40 hours I expected to either be paid or given credit for that time; otherwise she should consider the extra time that I do – by staying late until I finish the task that I am on, or coming in to get a jump before everyone else arrives – my good work ethic. She said that she was watching out for the business and I told her that I was watching out for me. The topic has not come up since then. My question is… is a letter like this even legal?

It’s so, so illegal. Asking an employee to work some of their hours as a volunteer is illegal, even at nonprofts (where volunteering by other people is legal). Asking you to forego overtime that you’re entitled to under federal law is illegal. If she doesn’t back down when you nicely point this out, contact the labor department or your state wages and hours agency. (And if you’re penalized for pointing it out in the first place, we’ll have a second illegal act on our hands, because retaliating against an employee for legally protected conduct — which this is — is illegal.)

2. Boss’s girlfriend is doing my work

I work at a medium-sized law firm and I am a legal secretary to two attorneys. I have been there for about five months. One of my supervisors is dating his old legal secretary, who left to became an attorney (not the person I replaced, but the person before). I notice from time to time that on weekends my boss’ girlfriend is coming in with him and doing some of my work. All of the attorneys work at least part of one day out of the weekend. The other attorney I support is the senior partner, and he is the one that would make a decision on my termination, etc. if it were to occur. I know that the senior partner doesn’t think I am incompetent. He continously gives me difficult projects and trusts me with a lot. My other boss (the one with the girlfriend) is the same way. I am somewhat bothered about the girlfriend doing my work, and honestly it makes me feel as though I am inadequate in some way. I confronted him about there being a problem with my work, and he explained there is not. I am not sure if there is much more I can do, but ultimately I would like her to not do any of my work. She is an attorney anyway and I am sure she has bigger fish to fry.

You need to be straightforward here: “Bob, I’ve noticed Jane has been doing some of my work when she’s here over the weekend. I’d prefer she not do that, because it can lead to me duplicating what she’s already done or me being out of the loop on things I need to be in the loop on. Would you please ask her not to do tasks that have been assigned to me? Thank you.” Alternately, if you see the girlfriend yourself, you can say it to her directly.

3. Having the same name as a notorious reality star

I went to school with a girl who, almost two years later, has not been able to find a job while the rest of us in the program have been working pretty much since graduation. She’s a smart, capable girl, but she happens to have the exact same name as a certain reality star who is extremely famous for not very flattering reasons. Could the negative association be a reason that she is not getting interviews? Would you suggest that she go by her initials or something during the job hunt?

Could be, or it could be that her resume and/or cover letter aren’t that strong. But she could certainly try using her initials or a nickname and see if that changes anything.

Also, she’s not a girl if she’s graduated, unless she’s some sort of crazy child prodigy, so stop that.

4. How do HIPAA privacy laws apply in the workplace?

I understand the HIPAA Law as it relates to health care. However, I am being “challenged” by an employee for violating their HIPAA rights because I allegedly discussed an illness they had with other staff members. As a manager, I use discretion in discussing any employee issues in the workplace. However, the employee told me about a diagnosis (in front of a fellow worker), and I did mention the diagnosis in passing the next day to another staff member. How DOES HIPAA apply in a workplace setting as it relates to manager/employee discussions?

HIPAA restricts what info health care workers can share; it doesn’t apply to employers. That said, stop sharing employees’ medical info without permission, because it’s rude and a violation of their privacy. Unless we’re talking about something like “Ellen has a cold.”

5. When your references are in a foreign country

I graduated college and came straight to Korea to teach English, because I came straight from university and I’ve been here for two years, my most recent references are from my jobs here. I’m concerned about even getting potential employers to call abroad but also about the language barrier and time difference. My references all speak excellent English but because I work in the pubic school system any phone call will be picked up first Korean and need to be transferred. I have references from university but any real world experience has happened abroad. How should I handle this situation? If I don’t list references from my most recent jobs it will seem strange, and if I do potential employers might have a frustrating experience even trying to contact my references (at least through the phone).

I’d just tell them what to expect. If you provide a reference sheet, for instance, just include a note like this:

“(The phone will be answered by a Korean speaker, but you can ask for Saul Tigh in English and will be transferred. Saul speaks English fluently.”)

6. Explaining I’m leaving my job because they don’t pay me

I am presently a sales manager at a hotel. I love the job but the problem is that there is a problem with getting my salary every month! So I’m looking for another job. I want to know what do I say when the interviewer asks me why am I looking for another job? is it ok to tell the truth about why I’m leaving?

Hell yes. Not getting paid is a universally understood reason for leaving a job.

7. Is this vacation time system unfair?

I have a seniority position for vacation time at my place of work and am supposed to be first to pick my vacation. So they are telling me but… there is a twist to it. I get 3 weeks vacation and I get to pick my first week of vacation, no problem. Then I have to wait until the schedule goes to everyone else for them to pick their 1st week and then the schedule comes back to me for my second week. They call it to make it “fair.” To me this is nuts. Where is the seniority in that? I think that I should get to choose my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd week all at the same time. This has happened the last couple of years and I have held my peace and not rocked the boat.

I have had a few emails from management due to me saying that Feb 1st was too soon to book my second week. (The one that is looking after the scheduling is a drama queen.) But i said “ok, I will take a stab in the dark and schedule my second without knowing my dates that are needed,” trying to make everyone happy. Am I wrong in thinking that this is “unfair” or are they right and all is fair? How can I deal with this situation with management and a drama queen regarding this if this is not right?

Um, this is their system. It doesn’t seem horribly unfair to me. You get first dibs on your first week. Be glad.

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t finished watching Battlestar Galactica, do not read the comment section! It contains spoilers!

{ 117 comments… read them below }

  1. Amber*

    Not a commentary on any of the actual content of the responses, but your example name for #5 made me snort my coffee. A Cylon as your job reference…

      1. Pamela G*

        I’ve only seen half of the first season but I bought the whole set for my husband and he LOVES it with a passion! Our friends have nicknamed every computer in their house with Battlestar names, so his n hers laptops are Apollo and Starbuck, their main hard drive is Caprica etc.

          1. Anonymous*

            We have two cats and a dog. The cats are brother and sister and their names are Apollo and Starbuck. The dog’s name is Boomer. Yes we loved that show!

            1. Cruella*

              I like the 70’s version better. (Okay, showing my age, I know) I had a HUGE crush on Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict (the original Apollo and Starbuck). And of course, I wanted my own “dagget.”

      2. Andrea*

        I watched the whole series over a 6-week period last summer, and I was seriously disappointed in the end, which kind of took away the enjoyment for me. (See also: Lost. No one was more into that show than I was. Such bitter disappointment!)

    1. Z*

      GAAH! Please mark spoiler alerts, people! I just started the second season, and now the AAM comments section, of all places, has just outed two cylons for me.
      (I’ll live. Still.)

      1. Anonymous*

        I dont think you get to complain about spoilers years after the series is over. This from the girl currently watching Lost! At some point people get to discuss and make jokes in public, even if it spoils it for you. You are just too late in the assimilation!

    2. Anonymous*

      Me too.. I’ve just spent the weekend at an event with the actress who plays his on screen wife so I did a double take!

        1. Anonymous*

          So legal questions from here on our will be covered by Romo Lampkin. HR issues…Starbuck? She can punch rather well…

  2. Jennifer*

    Re #1: I feel like we might be missing part of the picture here. It sounds to me like the employee might be staying overtime completely of his/her own volition (“hard work ethic” as he/she puts it). If that is the case, couldn’t the company (very legally) tell him/her they simply can’t afford anyone coming in for overtime. I understand it’s not legal to ask for volunteer time, but I am just wondering if that is the basis?

    Also, and I’m not sure if this is the case here, if it seems like the work can’t be done without staying overtime, perhaps they also need to have a talk about downgrading some responsibilities.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think so, since the boss asked her to write a letter stating that hours over 40 would be considered volunteer work, and because she said, “if I was asked to work beyond my 40 hours I expected to either be paid…” If the boss doesn’t want her working overtime, she needs to ban it — she can’t accept the work and not pay her for it (per the law).

      1. Jamie*

        Is she hourly? I know that with hourly people if they are working you pay them, and if you don’t want to pay OT you don’t allow them to work a minute over 40.

        But the way the OP said she wanted to be paid or get credit for the time. Credit – by which I’m assuming she meant comp time – would be illegal if she was hourly (unless given in the same pay period, in which case the over 40 thing is a moot point.)

        Could it be that she’s a salaried employee who wants to be paid or comped for regular OT – which is very common – and this was her bosses clumsy way of letting her know that won’t happen?

        1. ThomasT*

          The distinction is actually FLSA exempt vs. non-exempt. Many, many businesses make all their non-exempt staff hourly and their exempt staff salaried, but it’s possible to be a non-exempt salaried employee. And VERY possible to be a salaried employee who has been misclassified as exempt.

          I had the same reaction as Jennifer – while the problem cannot be solved with the letter described, #1 OP’s boss absolutely has the right to ban her working overtime. If she’s pushing back against that, she should stop, or make the case differently.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            She absolutely has the right to ban her from working overtime, but that’s not what she’s doing; in fact, a letter saying any overtime will be volunteer is essentially okaying the overtime. She needs to clearly ban any overtime work … and if the OP works it anyway, she can be disciplined/fired, but she’ll still need to be paid for that time.

            Agreed that this comes down to whether the OP is exempt or non-exempt though. If she’s exempt, it’s a moot point because she’s not legally entitled to overtime pay anyway.

      2. Tami*

        My guess is that this may be a hybrid of both situations of them not wanting to pay overtime at all, and her possibly generating that they see as unnecessary or unapproved overtime. If they have a policy that states no one is to work overtime with out prior approval from management, they still need to pay her overtime if she works it, as that is the law. However, if she is generating overtime of her own volition, with out prior approval, then it becomes a disciplinary issue, IF it is indeed a policy or directive of which they can prove she was aware. If she violates this policy or directive, they may follow their normal disciplinary policy up to, and including termination.

        If they don’t want overtime, the management needs to evaluate OP#1’s workload and productivity. If she is being unproductive, then that is an issue they need to address, that may solve the overtime issue. If they find that she is being productive, but that her workload is of such a nature that she cannot complete it without overtime, then they have two choices: 1) pay her the overtime required to complete the work, or; 2) give her help with her workload by either redistributing responsibilities or bringing in additional parties to assist in completing the required work.

      3. Anonymous*

        I think this is what is clouding the issue: “otherwise she should consider the extra time that I do – by staying late until I finish the task that I am on, or coming in to get a jump before everyone else arrives – my good work ethic”

        I agree with the others – it seems that this is someone who was working unapproved overtime. Unfortunately this is not the way to handle that situation.

        1. A Bug!*

          The way I read it is this:
          OP#1 occasionally stays late, comes in early, or works through some lunch breaks in order to “finish tasks.” OP does this because of “strong work ethic” and doesn’t expect to be paid for it and doesn’t mark the time down for compensation.

          Management has become aware of this. From their perspective, OP is a bit of a ticking time bomb. How much time has been racked up? If they have to fire him/her, what’s to prevent a claim for back pay for all this extra time? Their solution was silly, of course, because they should have just asked OP to stop working unapproved hours. But the concern behind it is probably completely valid.

          Anyway, OP is naturally not comfortable with their request, because it applies not only to the hours OP chooses, but also to overtime requested by the employer.

          If it were me, I would apologize to the management for placing them in a potentially sticky situation, and promise not to work any more extra hours without prior management authorization. And then I’d stick to it.

          On a side note, if you’re not falling behind in your work there’s no real reason to be working late or coming in early on a regular basis, and if you are falling behind in your work then there are better ways to address it. Your employer is assuming you’re able to complete all work assigned within regular hours, and by working outside regular hours you’re inflating the standards to which your position is being held. If it doesn’t eventually bite you in the ass, it’ll certainly hurt those who come after you.

          1. Chris M.*

            Yes, that’s how I interpreted the OP’s story too. I think people got confused by the way she worded it, but what she meant was NOT that she wanted to be compensated for overtime, but rather that by asking her to sign the letter, MANAGEMENT thought she was expecting to either be paid or given credit for that time (when she was doing the overtime because of her ‘work ethics’ and not expecting retribution).

          2. Katie*

            I’d like some clarity from OP. I agree totally on her manager being completely incorrect (and in violation of the law) asking her to write a letter saying she would not ask for compensation over 40 hours. However, if she doesn’t want to be punished for her “good work ethic,” and she considers voluntarily coming in to work early or staying late her “good work ethic,” it sounds like she’s expecting to be compensated for her “good work ethic.” An employee working unapproved overtime–especially routinely–is an issue for any company. Management still didn’t handle the situation properly, but if you routinely have someone working extra hours when it’s not asked or approved, and then expecting to be compensated, the issue needs to be handled. I’m actually wondering if this is something that’s come up before, if they’re asking her–and not the entire office, apparently–to write this letter.

            1. Anonymous*

              I agree with the three posters right above. The way I understood the OP was that she stayed late or came in early on her own. I have worked with people who liked to come in early to get a “jump start”, which really meant “I want to get done early so I can play and socialize for most of the day”.

              I have also worked with people who stay late and for the majority of them they didn’t really need to stay late. If they had not ran their mouths or played on the computer half the day they would have been finished with their work and not needed to work overtime.

              In both of these cases these people didn’t care about getting paid for overtime, they just wanted special recognition for their “good work ethic”. And then the minute a boss had to reprimand them for anything they start hollering about how “dedicated” they are and “how dare they not value their hard work”.

              Yes I know it seems a bit extreme, but I have actually seen it happen, in both situations. The OP’s manager could have handled it better, but the point is still the same. Don’t stay late or come in early without approval and expect to be compensated for it.

              1. amy*

                this reminds me of when i worked at hospitals in college, I want to try and simplify this for myself. Or, make an example for others.

                There was a position or a shift, 330-9. It involved a lot of packaging foods to deliver to diabetic patients at 8. I could do the job during the assigned time. We even had a lunch hour basically in that shift before 8 and that made it TOTALLY fine and all would get done. 2 older women were like…not quick on making sandwiches or whatever and would “pop in at 2:45 to start their shift and work work work, then go punch in at 330. THey were working off the clock and i kept thinking, what if that lady falls? Who is she going to sue? No one, she’s not on the clock. Management started noticing and whatever the senerio or job, office or kitchen it’s the same, right? You can’t do your work in the amount of time you are given. You need to crack down, get faster or assign other duties to coworkers and stop being a kiss ass. you tell me. “I want to be recognized for my awesome work ethic!” is like saying “I look really awesome in these jeans, and I want someone to compliment me!” Give me a BREAAAAAAK :)

      4. David Gaspin*

        It doesn’t matter whose volition the extra time is on. If OP is a non-exempt (hourly) employee, she needs to be paid for all time worked. Period. The DOL is pretty specific about employees being compensated for all hours worked, whether the employer asks for them or not.

        Sounds like the root issue here is more about the manager needing to step up and say that she can’t work overtime. Period. That’s perfectly legal. If she continues to rack up extra hours, it becomes a performance/insubordination issue and they can deal with it accordingly.

        But the tactic of having her sign an agreement saying that her overtime hours are voluntary (which wouldn’t be anywhere close to enforceable anyway, seeing as it’s illegal) is the uneducated coward’s way out.

        1. Curious Newb*

          I am in a slightly similar situation and was thinking to ask…

          I’m a salaried employee and my company has an “unwritten” policy that managers are required to work 10 hours per day, but my paycheck only reflects 40 hours.

          Is this reportable to DOL? If so, how would I prove the requirement since it’s unwritten?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Depends on whether your job is exempt or non-exempt (which is determined by the government definitions, not by your employer’s preference). If you’re exempt (and as a manager you’re likely to be, depending on the specifics of what you do), then you’re not legally entitled to overtime pay.

            1. Curious Newb*

              It’s not that I’m looking for overtime pay, it’s that I’m “required” to work ‘X’ hours, but the company is stating on my paycheck that I work ‘Y’ hours.

              Sorry if I didn’t word that correctly. Thanks.

    2. Pamela G*

      The impression I got was that if the OP was asked to stay behind to do overtime, she wanted credit or payment for it, but if the OP stayed behind to get ahead (of her own volition), then it’s just lucky for the company (and she doesn’t expect to be paid). By taking a stand with her boss, I think she didn’t want her voluntary extra work to be lumped in with required extra work. Did anyone else read it like that?

        1. Still me, but with an update....*

          Thank you, Pamela G. and A Bug! you both saw what I was trying to say. Sorry if I didn’t come across clearly, but I have been pretty frustrated with this issue. A quick update, since reading everyone’s posts I have been keeping to my 40 hours, and have been watching my work pile up as a two co-workers have quit and no one has been hired to take their places and I am trying to juggle all the work.

  3. shawn*

    Is there any chance that #1 is actually referencing a situation where an employer doesn’t want an employee working overtime? I didn’t read it specifically that the employer wants the employee to work for free, but more about prohibiting overtime from being worked. Even so, if it went down this way, it’s poorly worded. Just curious.

      1. I'm the over time person*

        Sorry if I wasn’t that clear. What has happened is that the company that I work for had two employees that were let go and they did file claims that they should get paid for the “volunteer” overtime that they put it. The company is leary – understandingly so. I, on the other hand, will stay 20 – 25 minutes past closing to finish the task at hand or leave and come in a bit early the next morning to get it off my desk. It is a small company, and I have many responsibilities, of which some involve dealing with the customer on the phone, which can take some time, as we are a customer orientated business – hence not getting the task at hand done. I am not asking for payment, nor do I expect it. I just want to finish what I am in the middle of. As I stated, the topic has not come up since I told her that I would not sign a letter without having it checked. The climate in the office has not changed and I am not worried about losing my job. It is a wonderful place and has wonderful people.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I know this has been said, but just to make sure it’s clear: If you’re non-exempt, doesn’t matter if you agree to volunteer your time. Because it’s illegal, the agreement wouldn’t be valid … and if you decided later to change your mind, you could go after them for back-pay and penalties (and you would get it). So no sensible employer would agree to that.

        2. Amber*

          What I read from you calrified nothing, it only made me think “Wow this person cannot multi-task”!! seriously!

    1. Anonymous*

      Think of the most notorious character on the most notorius tv show that came out in the past few years. That is her name twin.

      The star goes mostly by a nickname, but her real name ia not exactly unknown.

        1. Amber*

          I though snookie, then though no way, weird. Who names their child snookie as it is a nick name- it’s gotta be Lindsay Lohan!

      1. KayDay*

        That’s unfortunate. I think that’s reasonable grounds to have your name legally changed. Or at least start going by your middle name.

        1. Anonymous*

          While those can be grounds, why should she have to change her identity because others think of that reality star? Any employer should be smart enough that they aren’t getting the resume of the reality star.

          I’d suggest to the OP’s friend to insert a middle initial, if applicable, in writing her name.

          1. Lemon Meringue*

            Can’t resist…

            Michael Bolton: Yeah, well, at least your name isn’t Michael Bolton.
            Samir: You know, there’s nothing wrong with that name.
            Michael Bolton: There *was* nothing wrong with it… until I was about twelve years old and that no-talent a– clown became famous and started winning Grammys.
            Samir: Hmm… well, why don’t you just go by Mike instead of Michael?
            Michael Bolton: No way! Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.

  4. Evan the College Student*

    (#3) Or, if the reality star is that well-known, perhaps she could just mention on her cover letter that she isn’t the same person?

    (Incidentally, I share my real name with a UFO researcher, a film director, and a pirate. Fortunately, the age and career gaps are large enough that there shouldn’t be any confusion.)

    1. Anonymous*

      As mentioned above, I would mention it in cover letters…maybe even try to make a joke out of it? She could also go by an initial and your middle name (if she has one) and then explain the name confusion if she gets an interview.

      As a side note…this reminded me of an article I read before the British royal wedding about people named Kate or Katherine Middleton getting calls for media interviews.

      I guess it’s much better to be associated with a princess than a reality star though!

    2. Anonymous*

      If I saw that in a cover letter, I would think it was really strange. I might keep reading, but maybe not if there were plenty of others to choose from. Don’t assume that everyone watches reality shows. I don’t, and the only name I could possible come up with is “Snooki”. If that is her name, um, change it. :)

      1. Ellen M.*

        The friend with the same name as the reality star should start a blog, “I Am Not Snooki” and put the url on her resume, in her cover letter, on her LinkedIn page, etc.

        I am only half kidding. Of course she may change her mind like Leonard Nimoy and embrace her “alter ego” one day!

      2. Rachel*

        If that is her name, she should write hilarious things and then “accidentally” leak them to blogs. One good way to do this would be to sign up to review books on Amazon, because Amazon can compare your username with your credit card and display a badge showing that the user is oh god I have thought too much about this.

      3. JT*

        You’d stop reading because of a name? I don’t think that’s appropriate or professional. There are billions of people on this plane – most are bound to have namesakes.

        1. Liz in a Library*

          I think Anonymous was saying that s/he’d stop reading after seeing a joke about the name in a cover letter, not after seeing the name itself.

          I wouldn’t have a problem with making a short joke about it in the cover letter. It shows that you are aware of the misconceptions that might arise about you and care enough to address them, and that you have a sense of humor about yourself.

        2. Anonymous*

          It is a joke I wouldn’t get, it would fall flat, and let’s face it, these days I get about 100 resumes for every developer job. Even if your name is Jason Bourne, I know you are not THAT one. It’s something you don’t need to waste time addressing. If I have 100 resumes to look at in four hours, you have about 5 minutes to make an impression and get into the call back pile. That’s the reality.

  5. Rachel*

    Re: 7: it sounds totally unfair, because they are letting the employees direct the timeline for choosing vacation. If the OP wants to take one week in February and one week in March, but the least senior person doesn’t want to take vacation until August, the OP can’t even ask for the time off in March until the least senior person has requested her August dates (which might not happen until April or May).

    If everyone sat down at the beginning of the year and picked weeks in order, that would be annoying, but fair. But making someone wait to schedule their vacation because another coworker is holding up the line is dumb.

    1. Ask a Manager*

      If the other employees can hold off as long as they want, then yes, I agree with you. I had assumed the others had some deadline for choosing theirs — OP, do they? If not, then yeah, this is silly and they should just revert to first-come, first-served for everything after the first weeks or something like that.

      1. Rachel*

        I could have misread it, but why would Feb. 1st have been too soon for her to book, unless they were waiting for someone?

        1. Liz in a Library*

          I read it as the workplace wants the OP to book, but s/he doesn’t want to make a decision as early as February.

          1. Rachel*

            I think you’re right and that I misread it.
            This policy sounds dumber and dumber the more I think about it, honestly. It may not be “unfair” but it doesn’t strike me as smart.

            1. LB*

              This is how my company does it. In my dept. with 12 mgrs, We have 6 people who have over 25 days of PTO in the department and some who have only 2 weeks. In addition, we are open 7 days a week except for xmas and thanksgiving. If we didn’t do it like this, those at the bottom of the seniority list would never be able to have any holidays off because those at the top would take the xmas, thanksgiving, memorial day, 4th of july, mother’s day and father’s day off. It’s a bummer, but it goes by round, so that means that major holiday times (Thanksgiving and New Years) will fill up first but those at the bottom can get a stab at the other holidays.
              I think having to strategize like this happens with PTO comes into play (as opposed to lesser vacation but more sick days). PTO is a big deal and that would definitely mean people considering leaving the organization if they couldn’t ever anticipate getting major holidays off.

              1. Anonymous*

                Ed Zachary. You’d lose all the junior employees and have a very top-heavy, unsustainable organization.

              2. Liz in a Library*

                Agreed that a strict seniority system where those with seniority get to request all their days in advance of others and effectively shut their junior colleagues out of a vacation is a bad idea.

                However, while I see that seniority-based scheduling is a perk for your long-term employees (and sounds really great in theory), I’m not sure I like it as an idea at all, and really don’t like the idea that one employee could prevent everyone else from scheduling their time by dragging her feet. I would cap it at a certain point, maybe like airplane boarding. The senior-most folks would get an opportunity for priority scheduling, but if they miss the announcement or drag their feet, then scheduling opens up to everyone. They’d still have the opportunity to schedule after the priority period, but they’d be subject to the same first-come/first-served restrictions as everyone else.

      2. Anonymous*

        Not the OP, but was in the opposite boat at a job I had a while ago. I worked at a place where seniority ruled for everything, including vacation. The “pick” was generally held in November, and you were given a set time–usually two days to make your pick. You didn’t have to pick all of your time at that time, so you could hold onto days for unexpected wants, but depending on your department, you might not have much latitude if you waited.

        While those of us with less seniority didn’t begrudge the most senior people from having first pick of prime days, allowing them to pick all of their days at once created some really unfair situations. The people with 20+ years had 5 weeks of vacation plus 2 weeks of “holidays” (we had to have non-stop coverage, so in lieu of major holidays like Xmas, we were given 10 extra vacation days, and the people with high seniority could use those days to take off the holidays), as well as 1 week of “purchased” vacation time. Yup, 8 weeks total. In the meantime, there were strict rules about coverage–in most work groups, no more than one or two people could be out on a given day. The workers with first pick would grab a two week vacation, all the major holidays, and still have 4-5 weeks, which generally they used to block off summer Fridays. This meant that within the first pick or two, there were no full weeks available in the summer. By the time the final people picked, there were only random weekdays, so some people had trouble piecing together any decent block of time. While those who had top seniority loved to remind those of us at the bottom that we simply had to “pay our dues”, there were some departments where people had over 20 years of service, and had never once gotten to take a week off in the summer. They had kids who were graduating from high school who never got to go on a vacation as a family.

        Eventually there was a proposal for a two stage vacation pick. The first pick would be for 3 weeks of time–long enough to grab a full vacation plus a bunch of holidays, and then after everyone picked those days, there’d be a second pick for the remainder. This was a union situation, so there was a vote among the membership, and the proposal passed easily. However, the officers were all high seniority people. I was shocked, having had little experience with corruption, to overhear one officer say to another “Who cares what they vote for? We just won’t mention it to management.” That was a sign to me that my values were not a good fit for that environment!

  6. Ruth*

    Re: #5. I also work in Korea, and the chances of a public school secretary speaking enough English to transfer a call in English to the OP’s co-teacher are very small. Maybe he/she could email the co-teachers (and any other references) and ask to provide their mobile phone number and some good times to call.

    1. Anonymous*

      Many of my friends who have worked teaching English provide phone numbers and emails and a note about the time difference. From what I’ve seen from them, it’s more common for the hiring manager to have difficulty getting the reference on the phone because of the time difference rather then English barriers. This also gives the employer the chance to decide if they would rather call or email the reference. If I were the reference I wouldn’t want to provide a mobile number…international calls are expensive!

  7. KayDay*

    Re: #5 . Would your references be willing to have your perspective employers call them on their home/mobile phones?…given the time difference, there is a really good chance the call will take place outside of normal Korean business hours. You should also provide their email address, so that the reference checker can set up an appointment by email. Also make sure your references have skype, in case the employer would prefer to use that.

    I would include a note that says: “Kim is available from 8am – 10 am EST and can be reached at home or by Skype. Please email her at to schedule a time to speak. She speaks fluent English.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! I would also note the time difference very clearly, because sometimes people don’t think about that and you don’t want Saul Tigh to get a call at 3 a.m.

  8. Kerry*

    HIPAA does apply at work. A manager should not under any circumstances disclose an employees medical condition without their permission.

      1. ThatHRGirl*

        Alison is right. The only thing HIPAA has to do with the workplace is dealing with what information health care providers can release TO the employer and how. The US Dept. of Health and Human services has a ton of FAQ’s on it at

      2. Satia*

        I worked at an office where there was a bulletin board outside of the common bathroom. Typically the notes on the board were about simple changes or announcements, interoffice memos that I am guessing the management assumed everyone merely skimmed and then deleted.

        However, one day someone from the HR office posted a document that listed the worker’s compensation claims filed in the previous years. I’m guessing the intention was to show that we had a very low number of files claimed. Unfortunately, on the document itself it clearly states that it is not to be shared and is to be securely filed. (Not quite HIPAA but clearly a privacy issue.)

        But Alison is absolutely correct; HIPAA is directed only at healthcare workers and their administrative staff. Unless you sign a document specifically saying so, they can’t even tell your health insurance company what they do.

        PS: After seeing the clearly stated, in bold font, sentence on the above mentioned document, I went to my desk, picked up a highlighter pen, and highlighted the sentence, knowing that the HR person would see and remove and presumably properly file the document away. It was gone shortly thereafter.

  9. Liz in a Library*

    #7…I’m not sure if this is intended, but the tone of your question comes off as so massively entitled that it makes me cringe. I’d love to work at a place that gave me scheduling perks for seniority; that’s a pretty sweet deal!

    If you don’t like the policy though, the way to campaign to change it is not by punishing everyone else (by refusing to turn in your requests so that the next group can get their own in) and calling your manager or HR person a drama queen. Have you tried approaching them reasonably, perhaps by offering to waive your right to choose first for the week that you aren’t prepared to schedule yet?

    1. A Bug!*

      I certainly agree. It definitely comes across as more, more, more. “I’m first in line at the buffet, why shouldn’t I be able to clear out the prime rib and leave the brussels sprouts to everyone else?”

      It almost seems like it could be a universal rule that people who throw around terms like “drama queen” are a leeeeetle bit high-maintenance themselves.

    2. Anonymous*

      What we did in a previous job was schedule vacations from Jan-June in December and Jul-Dec in late May/early June. That way you weren’t forced to schedule your September vacation 9 or 10 months in advance. I think it had more to do with writing the oncall schedule than anything else. If you write an oncall schedule for an entire year, you’ll need to rewrite it when a few people have quit or gotten promoted throughout the year.

      If someone had a special (non-holiday) date in the 2nd half of the year, they would typically ask around to see if anyone had a known conflict. They would put it on the schedule with the understanding it wasn’t actually guaranteed (but we were all friendly and stood by our word). Aside from that twist, we did it the same way as the OP – most seniority picked first in rounds. This way the most senior people still got Xmas and the people in the middle usually got Thanksgiving. We did have a rule you couldn’t get both Xmas and Thanksgiving unless there were still open slots at the end (which was rare).

      We did have a one guy with a lot of seniority who had similar complaints to the OP but I think it helped that out manager had very little seniority.

    3. Long Time Admin*

      I could see someone wanting to schedule their second week right away if they were taking a 2-week vacation.

      I get another week of vacation this year, and I’m thrilled beyond belief. Fortunately, it won’t matter to anyone else when I take my vacation time.

  10. ChristineH*

    Your answer to #1 caught my attention because at the nonprofit where I volunteer, there’s a woman who works as part-volunteer, part paid employee. Different tasks, however, in each role. She seems okay with it so I assume it’s a mutual agreement. So I was surprised to see you say that’s it’s illegal even in nonprofits.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The Department of Labor says nonprofit employees can only “volunteer” if (a) the work isn’t similar or related to their normal job duties, (b) the work doesn’t take place during the employee’s normal working hours, and (c) the employee truly volunteered to do it and isn’t being coerced into (including with the promise of rewards in the future — like “we’ll promote you later if you work for free now”). So it’s possible your coworker qualifies; I’d want to know if A and B were the case.

      1. Anonymous*

        Our policy is that no hourly/non-exempt employee may volunteer for our organization. If you help out, you get paid! The only exceptions that ever occur are when someone is passing through and “jumps in” to help out on a quick task.* However, if it evolves into something longer, we add the time on the clock.

        *I literally mean something quick, as in “Could you please watch the front so I can run to the restroom?” or some such.

    2. Anonymous*

      As someone who works in non profit as a volunteer manager, I make it very clear to my volunteers and my colleagues that volunteers should NEVER be doing the work that a paid staff member should be doing, they should also not be doing work that paid staff members simply don’t want to do.

      I think it is a serious abuse of volunteers when they are used in place of paid staff.

      (exception to this being if all the staff of the organization are volunteers, however, I’ve seen many organizations use volunteers in place of paid staff when they have the means to hire a full-time staff member)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmm. I’m not sure I’d agree with this. After all, some people WANT to volunteer specific talents to a cause they support. For instance, if I wanted to volunteer to write grant applications for a nonprofit and I was good at it, they shouldn’t refuse just because normally you’d pay someone to do it.

        1. Anonymous*

          Sorry, to clarify, before I began working at my current position there were issues at the organization with general volunteers coming in and being given tasks that really should be given to regular staff members because the director didn’t want to pay to bring on a staff member. Staff were also encouraged to give volunteers their “dreaded” tasks. As a result, many of the volunteers would come in for a week or two and then never return.

        2. Heather B*

          I’m the volunteer coordinator at my library, and the guidelines I received in a workshop led by a (state) DOL employee were that it could be illegal if a volunteer is doing work that constitutes a substantial part of an employee’s job description. That’s not to say that a volunteer can’t take on one or two tasks that staff do, but it’s worth being pretty careful IMO.

      1. Anonymouse*

        #1 Something of this sort is fairly common in places where I have worked, though implemented in a different fashion. Because of lawsuits over the last several years, employers want to make sure their accounting is closed-out in a timely fashion (the way a check expires are 120 days), and that a person who leaves isn’t trying to recoup wages with a letter along the lines of “I have been keeping track of unpaid overtime for the last 12 years. You owe me $1,162,000 in unpaid wages!”

        I work in the federal sphere and it’s illegal to work for the government for free (it’s a conflict of interest), so the employer needs tight controls on this in case of audit. In my case, compliance rules are very complicated and the purpose is to certify that time accounting is both correct and complete.

        It’s excessively weird that your manager specifically asked *you* to write the document, and that they used the language “volunteer” instead of, say, “uncompensated.” It sounds like your employer is wading through a clunky interpretation of the FSLA. My guess is that your manager was told by her superiors to take care of it but given no guidance how to handle this situation (welcome to management) . You’d be astonished how many people are placed into management roles with no information or training on their legal obligations.

        Either way, if you are exempt, it’s just uncompensated time, not “volunteer.” If you are an hourly employee, you are compensated. Again, no volunteering involved. Google SHRM, overtime, lawsuit, and you’ll find some further info on this topic.

        1. Joey*

          How is volunteering or an unpaid internship for the federal govt. a conflict of interest or illegal? It’s not in local govt.

          1. Anonymouse*

            In the most basic case, a contractor would seriously underbid competitors by offering to do some of the work for free, and later come back and get an unfair preference in subsequent competitions for work. It creates a climate of favors instead of merit. Big no no.

          2. Fed*

            If I’m reading the above post correctly, the problem exists because of the employment situation. It’s certainly not illegal to volunteer or do an unpaid internship for the government. However, the same person cannot work or contract for the federal government AND volunteer, like Anonymouse said.

  11. Ed Sub*

    #5 She works in the WHAT school sector? Are there really schools for that area?

    (Love a clasic typo!)

    1. anth*

      I have a degree in public policy. Our career staff said when you proofread your cover letters/resumes/etc, make sure that you say PUBLIC policy because it wont be picked up on spell check. So yes, I do ctrl+f for pubic.

      1. KellyK*

        Good plan. You can also add it to an exclude dictionary in Microsoft Word, but I’ve never had the exclude dictionary actually work, so I’d test it out before you trust it to catch that.

        1. kristinyc*

          Yeah, I majored in public relations, and I had a panic attack after sending my first few cover letters that I would accidentally type “pubic relations” (even though I triple checked everything). :)

  12. Nicole*

    Regarding #1: I worked at a place (hourly, but 40 hours a week) where I was told that if I didn’t come in 20 minutes early everyday voluntarily to show my enthusiasm for the job then I would be let go. I refused of course, and later on I was let go “because of the economy.”

    I lined up another job quickly, but I still wish I had filed a complaint. It’s terrible what some employers try to get away with in a bad economy. I would suggest to the OP to write everything down just in case with names, dates, etc.

    1. Nicole*

      Also, this is the last place I expected Battlestar Gallactica references, but it’s all the more awesome for having them :)

  13. LCL*

    #7-if your workplace has to provide 24/7 coverage, your system is trying to be fair but is disorganized and poorly run. The manager should have the same deadline for everyone.

    We go by seniority for choices and we do two rounds. I process everybody’s first choice by seniority, then I process everyone’s second choice by seniority. For this to work, I have to sit down with the calendar at the start of the year and figure out our pay periods and our schedule, put together a package for the group with all of that information, then set deadlines for getting the paperwork in. I always make the start of the request period early April, and the end of the request period be the end of the pay period that includes New Year’s day. This leaves mid-Jan to end of March as first ask first get, but it works out OK.

    We put no restrictions on how much or how little time can be requested per choice. Some people make one choice only, for six weeks. Some people split their time evenly, the majority ask for two short vacations and take the rest as things come up. Some people don’t participate at all, and take vac when nobody else is.

  14. Anonymous*

    I’m a girl… excuse me, woman… and wouldn’t have taken offense in that at all. Well, unless it was quite purposely being used in a condescending manner, which I don’t believe OP #3 was intending.

  15. Anonymous*

    Regarding #4: I was recently diagnosed with MS (I say recently but its been a few years, and I am rather young for the diagnosis), and my former coworker tended to be a bit chatty about it. My constant fear is that this coworker, who is also a reference of mine will slip somehow and tell a prospective employer that I have MS, which, though illegal, would probably cost me the position.

    Even though HIPAA doesn’t come into play, people need to realize that they can REALLY screw someone over by talking to people about their illnesses, especially chronic ones.

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