tiny answer Tuesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s tiny answer Tuesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Required to use vacation days for hurricane

I’ve got another Hurricane Sandy-related work question. My husband works at a post-production facility in Manhattan, though he’s actively looking for a different job. During the Monday and Tuesday of Hurricane Sandy, the facility was technically open, but as we live in Queens and all subways were shut down and bridges and tunnels were closed, he was unable to go to work. He was one of the few people to go in on Wednesday after the storm, and it took him 3 hours to drive the 4.5 miles into work. Now he’s been told that he is being docked for Monday and Tuesday, and that he needs to decide if he wants to take these as personal or vacation days.

I’m assuming that this is technically legal, but seems so completely unfair. His vacation and personal time is very limited to begin with, and losing 2 days will impact our ability to spend Christmas with our families. Is there any legal recourse? Or does he simply have to argue with his (completely unmoved) boss? This attitude is the exact reason they have trouble holding onto talented workers.

It’s legal. No law requires employers to give vacation time at all, so they can place whatever policies they want on it as long as they’re not docking exempt workers’ pay. However, he could certainly try talking with his boss about how other employers have handled the storm and suggest that they take care of their employees by doing the same. (Here’s a commenter describing a much more compassionate way of handling this.)

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Left a job after one month because of bullying

I’ve been reading through your blog and have noticed a number of the write-ins were about workplace bullying, but they all seemed to be people with full-time jobs. I’m a college student who just recently quit her waitress job after only working there a month. I felt that the work environment was not professional, the girls all talked about each other behind their backs, they were very fake to each other, it was all based on seniority, but the main thing that made me quit was I saw some of the girls talking bad about me on Twitter. I didn’t report names, I just told my boss I was leaving because I didn’t feel comfortable and I saw things about me on the internet. My question is what should I write in the “reason for leaving” section on future job applications?

I actually wouldn’t include it on future job applications at all, since you were only there for a month. In general, short-term stays on your resume do more harm than good. More here.

3. Asking contacts to recommend you for a job

I’m writing on behalf of my husband, who is a grad student. He recently applied for a job in his university’s administration. He also reached out to several different contacts within the administration to see if they would recommend him to the hiring manager. Two have emailed her directly, but the other two (who work together) sent him the hiring manager’s email address and asked him to write an email to her mentioning that they recommend him for the position. This seems like a really odd approach to us, and he can’t decide whether to email her or not. Do you think he should email her, or suggest to his contacts that they email her directly?

Neither. He already asked, and they didn’t take him up on it. Asking again risks being pushy, and it also risks them sending the hiring manager a lukewarm recommendation (since their enthusiasm wasn’t sufficient to do it the first time). What’s more, being suddenly inundated with multiple people recommending a person for a job (proactively without being asked) often looks like a campaign orchestrated by the candidate, which takes a lot of the power out of it. Four people reaching out before he’s been interviewed probably passes that threshold. One or two is better.

If he hadn’t already applied, it would make sense to mention these two people’s names in his cover letter, but since he already has, at this point I wouldn’t do anything more.

4. Can’t get promoted because I’m not 21

I am just curious if this is some kind of age discrimination. Two of my immediate supervisors have tried to promote me on two separate occasions for two separate manager positions, taking it up to the district level, where it was refused because I am 20 years old and not 21. I understand having an age requirement, but obviously I’m qualified for the job (except my age) so you’d think they’d make an exception. There’s nothing about the job related to the drinking age, ability to rent a car, or other obvious age qualification. I have thought about going directly to the company’s president and “pleading my case” so to speak. What do you suggest I do?

In most jurisdictions in the U.S., age discrimination laws only prohibit discrimination against people 40 and older, so this is legal. I don’t know why they have an age requirement, but they apparently they do so I’d ask your manager for advice on whether talking to someone higher up would make sense, and if so, who would be the right person to talk to. But if she doesn’t think it’s a good idea, there’s not much you can do other than waiting until you turn 21 and trying again.

5. Manager won’t let me fire a problem employee

I an fairly new to a very small business with national exposure. I inherited a problem employee from two previous managers, who are still in their roles. This employees has been on probation twice in a one-year period for numerous issues relating to attendance, job performance, and insubordination. I even found out she shredded documents to cover her tracks on some issues (for which I thought she should have been terminated), much to the knowledge of my bosses.

We agreed to start fresh noting her past issues, but now she is exhibiting the same behavior. We have addressed this in discussions with the HR rep present, but she continues. My manager insists we should keep her so they do not have to train another person. This has become frustrating to me as they do not have to manage her. I have seriously thought about moving on due to this issue. I feel they are moving her from one manager to another and not dealing with the fact that the is the common denominator and carries the same issues from one manager to another.

She should have already been fired, long ago, and this “fresh start” thing makes no sense. You don’t start fresh with someone who shreds documents to cover her tracks, to say nothing of all the other issues. If your managers won’t let you fire her, they’re sending you a powerful signal about how they operate — as well as how they expect you to operate. And believe me, this isn’t going to be the only problem; if they’re handling this so badly, they’re going to turn out to be terrible managers in plenty of areas too and will prevent you from managing well yourself too. The decision you have to make is whether you want to work someplace like that.

6. I don’t want to get my doctorate

I love my current job — they trust me with my responsibilities, I do what I love, I get great constructive feedback — but I know I won’t be in this position forever. I am in position for another who is back at school for a couple of years. While they might have the funds to keep me when he returns, this is a program where they encourage their employees to get their doctorate. When I was hired, I had all the energy/optimism to pursue this, but now I don’t think it’s right for me. I want to keep my boss informed of my goals/wants and make sure I’m not hindering the needs of the program, but I don’t want to give the impression that I will stop researching my field or that I don’t want to be there. How should I handle this?

Be straightforward! Say what you said here — that you love your job and why, that you’re no longer sure pursuing a doctorate is right for you, that you don’t want to give the impression that you don’t want to be there, and that you’re wondering if that’s going to be a problem. It sounds like you have a good boss who will be able to give you useful guidance.

7. Explaining why I left a past job

I interned and then volunteered at one organization for over two years. Without going into details, all the board members were horrible people, and they made being there incredibly frustrating and stressful. I ended up leaving because it got a point where the stress was affecting my health. Several other people have left because of the board too, so I know the problem wasn’t me.

A year later, I’m trying to find another organization in my field to intern or volunteer, and I’m worried that someone might ask why I left the first organization since I was there for so long. Should I just tell the truth (the board made being there too stressful and I had to leave) and say I’d rather not talk about it if they probe for details, or is there a better way to handle it? I considered saying that I didn’t have time for the volunteering anymore because I started grad school, but then they might want to know why I’m not returning to that organization now that I apparently have time to volunteer again.

Don’t say the board made it too stressful or that you’d rather not talk about it — both responses will raise more questions than they answer. I’d say that you wanted to focus on grad school, but that you’re now ready to take on an outside commitment again. It’s unlikely that they’ll ask why you’re not going back to the previous organization, but if they do, just say that you’re interested in broadening your experience. That’s completely normal; it’s actually more common to go somewhere new than to go back to a previous job.

{ 50 comments… read them below }

  1. Dustin*

    The age requirement for a management position (q #4) is possibly related to insurance requirements. Depending on the type of job, management positions often come with keys to the building, for example. Or alarm codes, or access to funds/documents, etc.

    1. Elise*

      My thought was an insurance issue too. I think it affects contracts in some states too. Age 21 is when one is an adult by US immigration, so I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few things followed that age guideline.

    2. Ellie H.*

      Interesting – I was a key holder (and alarm code operator, and in charge of opening the safe, and effective “shift manager” although we never used that kind of terminology) at my job when I was, I think, 17 (18 at the oldest). I wonder if this was some kind of violation; the place I worked at wasn’t a terrible tight ship at the time.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      The age requirement could also be compliance with a law or reg- that requires supervisors/managers to be 21 or older. Adding another layer of complexity- it might not be in your department. Perhaps other departments have that requirement, but you might be able to make a lateral move to that department once you become manager. This would be more like a CYA thing on the part of the company.

      If this is the case, the company (in a not so obvious way) is actually taking care of you.

  2. Anonymous*

    #7- AAM is right on.

    When candidates complain about stress at their previous job it really brings up questions as to whether it was the job/coworkers that was the issue, or if the issue is with the candidate. We have to wonder, “If we hire this person, will they eventually quit saying that we cause too much stress and that we are difficult to work with?” This is especially true if someone has similar complaints/peculiar reasons for leaving for more than one job on their resume.

    i.e., we had a CFO candidate state the hours she had to work were her reason for leaving at the last 3 jobs on her resume… this definitely raised a red flag for us.

    Generally, you should never speak negatively about a past employer… sugar-coating is usually best.

    1. Kelly O*

      I think you could realistically use that once before it starts feeling too… I don’t know, like what are they not telling me?

      Because one overly stressful thing, sure that happens. But if it keeps happening over and over, is that really why you left? Or did you feel pushed because you weren’t producing. What was making it stressful?

      If I were hiring, I’d want to probe a bit more into the too much stress answer. It could be everything or nothing, depending on what else is said.

      1. OP #7*

        It was probably a dozen things that the board was doing (or not doing) and the way they treated people and the organization, which was why I wouldn’t want to talk about it. It was a huge, horrible mess.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Sometimes interviewers already know the situation. I have had remarks such as “you actually lasted that long there?”. I just smile and change the subject.

          1. Anoymous*

            I get that too, when I tell people I’m looking for a new job and they ask me where I work.

            One person even said, “OMG! I worked for them a while back, and I would never work for them again! They are HORRIBLE people!”

            In fact, I’ve been wondering if my company has a reputatino and THAT’S why I don’t get responses when I send out my resume?

            That said, I still tend to focus on wanting new opportunities for growth, etc instead. I figure you can tell your war stories AFTER you get the new job! ;)

    2. OP #7*

      I liked AAM’s advice to mention “broadening experiences” if asked why I’m not going back. That totally makes sense considering the places I’m applying to now in comparison to the other organization. And it’s comforting to know that it’s normal to go to new places instead of returning to old places.

      And, yeah, I can see why speaking negatively about a past employer is bad. It’s just really hard to think of neutral (or sugar-coated) things to say when you’re so focused on the bad things.

      Just wondering, did your CFO candidate mention what kind of hours she had at her last three jobs? I can’t image how you’d end up with three jobs in a row that had bad hours for you since hours are something you agree to when you’re hired.

  3. Meg Murry*

    #1 – is Christmastime a slow time at your husband’s company? Could he ask now if he could take 2 unpaid days for that time, especially if you already have plane tickets or travel plans? It can’t hurt to ask, especially if it’s not a busy time of year. It’s not ideal, but better than missing out on Christmas holidays.

  4. K.*

    #5: the company would rather have someone that shreds documents to cover her tracks than train someone else?? That is insane. I’d start looking for a new job.

  5. Steve G (from NYC)*

    #1 I would so be looking for another job. Here it is Tuesday – alt. side parking is still suspended, no subway line is running normally, no gas is to be had….if an employer won’t make an exception under this type of circumstance, what needs to happen to get any sort of preferential treatment?

    Not to mention the HOV restrictions on east-side crossing to Manhattan your husband would have had to deal with.

    1. Anna*

      Yeah, the storm was a week ago, and I just had to vote three-quarters of a mile from home because my usual polling place down the block from me is an evacuation shelter.

  6. Joey*

    #5. Start quantifying how much the problem employee costs v. how much it will cost to hire and train a new employee. It’s sad you have to do that, but showing them how much more expensive it is to keep a problem usually shakes some sense into them. Often it will
    be cheaper to fire a problem even when you end up having to battle legal claims f discrimination or any other legal allegations.

  7. EG*

    #4, what state are you in? I used to work for a non-profit that date with those issues, so might be able to give state specific guidance.

  8. DB*

    Oh, wow. After several years of following this blog, I might have an actual answer to one of these questions!
    #4- Some restaurants and food places have an age limit for managers because they are in charge of ordering supplies for the company. Some supplies are alcoholic in nature and seeing as how the age for buying that sort of thing is 21, they are keeping everything on the up and up. Managers have to sign order sheets, thus they are responsible for ordering alcoholic beverages…’buying’ them.

    Not to mention specific names, but a certain famous burrito place has the minimum age for general managers set for 21 because of this fact. The alcoholic beverages include cases of various beers and tequila. Managers have to sign off on said orders, and have a budget at every store to ‘buy’ things. Hence, the 21 limit.

    1. US/German Worker Bee*

      I think you got #2 and #4 confused. #4 “There’s nothing about the job related to the drinking age, ability to rent a car, or other obvious age qualification.” OP doesn’t see any reason why there is an age limit. I would suggest she should ask her manager what the reason is for the age limit. Maybe there are legal/insurance issues that OP is not aware of.

      1. DB*

        Ah, okay, I missed that part, sorry. Yeah, it might be legal issues, but for the most part once you turn 18 aren’t you considered an adult in most if not all legal things?

    2. Kelly O*

      Actually there very well may be insurance issues if travel and rental cars are involved.

      At one time I did travel for a group of analysts, and most of them were fresh out of college, 22, 21, that age range. Some of them could not get rental cars through certain companies because I believe the requirement was age 25. I’m not remembering the detail, but I do recall the problem.

  9. Heather Jackson*

    DO NOT pursue a PhD unless you are absolutely positive that you (a) want one and (b) are required to have one for your job.

    Successfully completing a PhD requires massive quantities of internal drive and motivation. You will ask yourself hundreds of times during those years, “Why am I doing this again?” and if you don’t have a rock-solid reason (and even if you do), you’re gonna have a bad time.

    Carefully weigh the advantages of an additional degree vs. the years of lost experience and earning. You will put years of your life into a PhD along with blood, sweat, and tears. Unless your career ambition is professional research or academia, a PhD isn’t required and by all accounts, these jobs are shrinking in number. PhDs seeking positions outside academia also have to overcome the biases that we’re overspecialized and can’t work at the pace of industry.

    I don’t know what your field is, but there are so many cool ways to apply your expertise to solving the problems of your field or industry/society in general that aren’t directly research roles and don’t require a PhD. To fill those roles, would you fare better with an advanced degree or more years of experience?

    1. Rana*

      +1 with the additional caveat that a Ph.D., outside of fields and positions where having one is expected, can actually count against you on the job market.

      I’m not sorry that I earned my doctorate, but I wish I’d known at the time that I was mostly doing it for its own sake and for the discipline and skills it taught me.

    2. ChristineH*

      but there are so many cool ways to apply your expertise to solving the problems of your field or industry/society in general that aren’t directly research roles and don’t require a PhD.

      I’ve been trying to figure this out myself. I’ve been contemplating off-and-on pursuing a PhD, probably in social work, but have hesitated for some of the reasons above, especially the challenge experienced by those wanting to work outside of academia. I am a strong believer in having access to quality information and evidence-based service delivery practices; thus I’ve been itching to contribute my skills and knowledge in some way (i.e. working with research/evaluation projects). However, the PhD seems like the only way to go, and I haven’t quite felt ready to take the plunge.

      Oh sure, I know there are other graduate degrees and certificate options, but I haven’t been able to find a job, and those degrees/certificates require having money….. you get the idea.

      Alison’s advice is spot on with this one.

      1. ChristineH*

        Arrrgh! For the very first paragraph, I was trying to quote Rana. One of these days, I’ll figure out how people are able to quote on here!! (FTR – I looked on the “how to comment” page; nothing about quoting, but figured the HTML format would be the same.)

          1. Rana*

            Or by putting angle bracket-i-angle bracket QUOTED TEXT angle bracket-backslash-i-angle bracket. (Angle brackets are the things over the , and the . )

        1. Jamie*


          Arrrgh! For the very first paragraph, I was trying to quote Rana. One of these days, I’ll figure out how people are able to quote on here!! (FTR – I looked on the “how to comment” page; nothing about quoting, but figured the HTML format would be the same.)

          1. Jamie*

            Christine –

            Rana’s method will give you italics, but to quote like above anonymous was right in that you need to use blockquote.

            Follow Rana’s instructions but instead of “i” type the “blockquote” (without the quotes.)

            1. ChristineH*


              Or by putting angle bracket-i-angle bracket QUOTED TEXT angle bracket-backslash-i-angle bracket. (Angle brackets are the things over the , and the . )

  10. Michelle*

    #2- Trust me, I know. I worked in the service industry for 5 years, having just escaped about 4 months ago. The reality is that most any bar or restaurant you work in has some level of this kind of drama — especially those with primarily female employees. It sucks. You really have to have a thick skin and be able to distance yourself from the nonsense, but if you have a hard time doing so (which is understandable), find a different kind of part-time job not within the service industry.

  11. Cindy*

    #3–I just applied for a non-academic job at the school I’d attended for grad school. I asked my bosses from my work-study job (both of whom are professors) if they knew people in the dept I was applying to, and if they could recommend me. One wrote me a great recommendation note, the other (whom I didn’t know as well) said, very specifically, the exact thing your husband heard–email them yourself and say I recommend you. It felt really weird but it must mean something to academic types. Many people told me these kinds of heads-up emails are very normal in academia.

    1. OP #3*

      Interesting. The approach of apply first, ask for recommendations second is also something that I thought must be peculiar to the institution. I’m an alum of the same school, and was told to do that if applying to an internal position, but the advice I’ve seen more often for non-academic positions is, as Alison said, to reference the person that you know there in the cover letter. Maybe it’s just the different expectations of academia at play once again?

      Incidentally, the reason that he contacted 4 people wasn’t to cause a rush of recommendations. He just wanted to reach out to several possible people in case one happened to know somebody involved in the hiring process. It turns out that the office the position is in is so central that they all did.

  12. Anonymous*

    #4 – it is 100% certainly age discrimination. That doesn’t mean its illegal though.

    Unfortunately, in the USA, we discriminate against the young in so many ways.

  13. SW*

    #2 – As someone in a similar position (22, working in the hospitality industry) this is something I’ve had to learn over time: you could be the nicest, smartest, prettiest, hardest-working person in the world and someone could still talk crap about you behind your back for any number of reasons. Every workplace has a few unpleasant people in it. Don’t let them get to you. Do the kind of work that you’d be proud of, operate with integrity and you’ll slowly notice that you just made your own workplace better for yourself.

    I realize some workplaces are a lot more dysfunctional than others, and it’s important to know when things can’t be fixed and when you have to leave (this blog is a great resource for determining that point). But having the right attitude can make working with awful people more bearable.

    This quote from Conan O’Brien has gotten me through a lot of bad work days: “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

  14. Lulu*

    re: #5 I’m so beyond frustrated at this training-aversion issue that seems so prevalent these days (though obviously not always to this degree) – they’d rather have a problem employee possibly creating legal issues than have to train someone who could end up being even better in the position, if only because they won’t have this trail of negative issues behind them???

    I agree that if the other managers are showing this level of cluelessness, it does not bode well for the rest of their management strategy. You’re getting some good insight into their thought processes and priorities. As much as I hate to say it given the current job market, I think you’re right to consider moving on, as not only will you have to find a way to accept working with this scenario if you stay, you’ll most likely encounter new levels of questionable thinking as you progress. Not a recipe for job satisfaction.

  15. jesicka309*

    No. #1
    Once at my work a girl got stranded coming home from her holidays. There were snowstorms and her flight was delayed, and she couldn’t fly out for an extra two days (or so she said).
    Management made her take those two days as holidays. She kicked up a stink about it, but what else can they do? She wasn’t sick, she wasn’t on any other kind of leave (study, carer’s, bereavement etc.)
    She also had a history of calling it in when she wasn’t strictly sick. You know the kind of people who take two days ‘sick’ when they’re due back from holidays?
    I know that the Hurricane Sandy issue is pretty terrible over there, but sometimes you have to look at your own personal record. If you’ve got the kind of record that says “I’m dodgy! I take sick leave on convenient long weekends and any other chance I can!” then your bosses may not allow you any kind of leeway when you actually have a disaster. Just something to think about, though it probably isn’t the case for your husband, as his personal days are counted too. (Ours were unlimited, an easy system to abuse)

    1. Cassie*

      I have a coworker who was vacationing in NY and couldn’t fly back to California because of the storm. The coworker had to stay in NY for a couple of days extra (I think) – luckily, we work for a state-funded university which allows for admin leave with pay for emergency situations (such as weather). Of course, it’s up to the supervisor/managers to approve of admin leave w/ pay but it’s still nice to have that option. (If the supervisor/manager doesn’t approve, the employee can use vacation days, compensatory time off or leave without pay).

      1. jesicka309*

        Exactly, it’s discretionary. There are some bosses who, if you haven’t built up your brownie points, would say “you knew there was a hurricane coming, and yet you stayed in NY for your full vacation. You will have to use annual leave or take the days unpaid.”
        Some bosses might be lenient about it, but some people have a habit of conveniently getting more vacation time by claiming travel emergencies or illness. They ruin it for everyone.

  16. Anoymous*

    #1-Our company did that, too. Oh, they GAVE admin leave–4 hours for Monday and 3 for Tuesday. How very noble of them.

    I think this is so very wrong and probably SHOULD be illegal! Busses and Metro (I’m in the DC area) were NOT RUNNING! We have a lot of employees who depend on public transportation AND either don’t have computers at home OR don’t have jobs where working remotely is necessary or even possible! I felt it was VERY unreasonable!

    This really gets to me, because for about five year, I was one of those people–I didn’t have a car and was totally dependent on public transportation.

    1. The IT Manager*

      I disagree that this should be illegal. It is an employee’s own responsibility to get to work every day. If my car breaks down I can’t get to work, I have to take time off some way or how. If I am on vacation on I can’t make it back to work for the day that I planned, I have to take extra vacation days. The reliance on public transportation just means that an employee has different things that affect their ability to get to work than others who drive themselves or walk.

      I also think it’s nice that your company gave some admin leave for those two days. They could have given the full day to be nicer, but they could have given nothing so you should be grateful for their generosity. The level of anger in your post seems unwarranted to me.

      1. Anoymous*

        I should have been clearer: I meant that, in times of natural disaster, when everything is shut down/states of emergency, etc it should be illegal. What you are talking about are circumstances when the person has options.

        What I was referring to was circumstances where someone DOESN’T have options and it is beyond his/her control.

        I have a car. I worked a half day on Monday and left before it got bad. I made a decision to take Tuesday off, so I used vacation.

        My company does a lot of not-so-nice things, so I’m sure I DO sound angry.

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