short answer Sunday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s short answer Sunday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go.

1. Company is banning vacation time for five months

My friend has been working for a beauty supply chain for 10 years. The store had a black-out period where nobody could request time off for November and December of last year (for the busy holiday season), but on top of that, they have been told they cannot get time off from January-April because her manager will be on maternity leave. So, this means she is not allowed to ask for any time off for 5 consecutive months. Is this legal?

She has a lot of vacation time and wants to use a day here and there, but my understanding is it IS legal for employers to tell you when you can and can’t use it since vacation pay is a privilege, not a “right.” What I’m wondering is whether you can tell employees they can’t take any time off, paid or unpaid, for a period that long. She has also tried contacting her HR department several times but gets a machine, leaves messages, then never gets a call back.

Yes, it’s legal. No law requires that employers offer vacation time at all, so employers who choose to offer it can put any restrictions they want on it. That doesn’t mean that what this company is doing is sensible — it’s not — but it’s legal.

2. Why do recruiters ask where you are in the job search process?

What does the question “Where are you in the job search process” mean? What are recruiters trying to gauge with this? If I have an offer from another company, does it affect the process with another company I’m applying to? Do I have a professional responsibility to keep a recruiter informed of my process (if I’ve been extended a formal offer, etc.)?

They’re asking because they want to get a sense of whether you’re likely to receive an offer in the near future. If you are, they might do things differently with you — for instance, moving you through their own hiring process more quickly if they think you’re a strong candidate so that they don’t risk losing you to another employer’s offer.

3. Job closed before I could apply for it

I found my absolute dream job last night on a local hospital’s website. I woke up early this morning (before my kids) to type up a wonderful cover letter…the job is no longer posted! It must have closed at midnight last night! Ahhh! Any advice? Can I just bring it to the person in charge of the program or HR?

Go ahead and try to send in an application anyway. If it’s electronic application system that won’t let you apply now, try to figure out the email address of the person doing the hiring and email your materials to them. Include a note saying that you saw the job while it was still open and were excited by it, but it had closed the next day, and say that you hope they’ll still accept your materials because you’re so interested in the job. Some places will, some won’t — but you have nothing to lose by trying, and potentially something to gain. But do it quick — today!

4. Salary verification during background checks

I recently bought your book and wanted to say thank you. It’s helped me a lot since I’ve been job hunting. One thing struck me as really strange when I was interviewing. A hiring manager asked me for my salary history and said that in the past she was not able to hire candidates because they overstated their salary history. This was discovered by their company during the background check. I was really surprised by this because I was under the impression that this is not available without my consent. Is that legal or typical? I thought background checks meant checking on employers and references.

Yes, it’s legal, and not that uncommon. Some employers do include salary verification as part of reference-checking, and offers do get pulled if it turns out that a candidate lied about their salary. Frankly, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business what you get paid, but if you’re going to talk about it, you shouldn’t lie.

5. Can employer ban employees and volunteers from socializing outside of the office?

I work for a nonprofit that also relies heavily on volunteers. Can the director legally ban employees and volunteers from socializing outside of the agency? Does this change if there is alcohol (read a glass of wine, not drunken debauchery) involved?

An employer can’t ban employees from discussing wages and working conditions with each other, so attempting to ban them from talking and socializing outside work would be risky territory — I suspect that the National Labor Relations Board would be unlikely to look on it kindly. Alcohol shouldn’t be a factor either way.

This may help.

6. Tone in a cover letter when you know the hiring manager

What is the best way to go about writing a cover letter to someone you’ve worked under in the past? It seems to me that it might feel particularly awkward to talk about the work you’ve done under that person, especially if it was in the recent past and his/her impressions of you are still fresh. This isn’t to imply that I didn’t do good work; it’s more about the self-conscious awareness that everything I say will be measured against my former supervisor’s already-formed judgement of me.

Also, is it acceptable/expected to be more personable in such a letter? Can I address the manager by her first name, if I’ve never called her anything else?

I can’t make you feel less awkward, but if you want the job and think you’d be good at it, you’re going to explain why — in the interview too, not just the cover letter. However, you shouldn’t feel that you need to do this in a stiff and formal way — even if you’re writing to a stranger, and especially when you’re writing to someone you know. Similarly, you should absolutely address her by her first name since that’s what you call her.

People tend to think that cover letters are supposed to be some odd formal document, when in fact you should write them in the same voice that you’d write to any colleague in — your normal one.

Read an update to this letter here.

7. Sending job applications on your company letterhead

I never would have considered using letterhead of my current affiliation on cover letters, but I’ve been recently told by a number of people (including people from hiring committees and mentors) that when applying for academic positions, I should be using my current university/department letter head and I’m doing my self a disservice if I don’t. I would have thought that my applying for jobs externally is not really part of my “work” and thus I shouldn’t be using their letterhead. Is this a weird quirk of academia (or is it still wrong?), or should I also be using my department’s letter head for general job applications (policy, research centres, NGOs, think tanks, private sector)? It feels wrong, but I’m not sure what the standard is out in the “real world.”

I have no idea how academia does it, but in the rest of the professional world, you shouldn’t be using your employer’s letterhead when you apply for jobs — you’re not representing them when you’re applying for work elsewhere, and there’s something particularly crass and wrong about using your employer’s resources — and making it obvious that you’re using their resources — when actively attempting to leave their employ.

But I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that academia does this differently, as they do lots differently.

{ 82 comments… read them below }

  1. majigail*

    #5- If you’re concerned about your employees getting too friendly with volunteers, a simple talk about boundaries will help. At my agency, some staff are Facebook friends with volunteers and others think that’s insane, but have no problem having dinner with a volunteer. Staff always has to remember though that the volunteers are in effect coworkers so they should act appropriately (quadruply so if they’re board members.)

    1. Sarah*

      Yes, that makes sense….but is it legal to have a policy banning employees from socializing with volunteers while not doing agency work? Mine currently does, but they just got rid of the ban on middle-management–employee socialization due to illegality.

  2. Your Mileage May Vary*

    #7 — I asked my husband who serves on his university’s hiring committee and he said that if he saw someone writing on their current university’s letterhead, he would find that exceedingly weird, for the reasons Alison mentioned. He says he has never seen any applicant do it.

    Perhaps if you were applying for a Fulbright scholarship or something like that, you might use your current letterhead since you would still be under your institution’s employ while you complete your Fulbright term. But for a regular job posting, probably not.

    1. moe*

      I’m very surprised by your husband’s experience, and I have to challenge it. Never? (And is he on search committees for academic jobs, or something else–perhaps administrative?) It’s a debated subject for those currently employed on the tenure track, but still very common; and it’s absolutely the norm for grad students, postdocs, VAPs, etc., to use the current affiliation’s letterhead.

      Dr. Karen Kelsky (at The Professor Is In) and many on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s forums recommend using letterhead regardless of whether your employer knows you’re looking or not. You’re very unlikely to get the reaction that YMMV reports, in my experience and research.

      1. Your Mileage May Vary*

        Yup, academic. He has been on the committee three times since getting tenure and all the years before he was tenured except for his first year so he’s seen a lot of applicants. Like Eric said below, it’s unlikely anyone would be shunned because they used the letterhead but it using it wouldn’t set them forward either.

      2. Anony*

        I was a part of the hiring process for a top 10 business school. It was very normal for me to see a cover letter from an applicant ESPECIALLY when they are a post-doc at the other university.

      3. Rana*

        Based on my rather limited experience on the hiring end, and sadly extensive experience on the searching end, of academic job hunting, my sense of it is that using professional letterhead for faculty applications (when you are also faculty) is potentially different than using it when you’re a grad student or a post doc.

        The reasoning, as I understand it, is that post docs and graduate students are assumed to be at a temporary stage in their career, and so it’s expected that they’d use official letterhead when applying for subsequent work, since that’s part of what goes along with being a grad student or a post doc.

        If you’re faculty, it’s less clear cut. Yes, you have the right to use that letterhead, but (IMO) it’s a bit tacky to use official letterhead to apply for another position – sort of like charging your application postage to the department account. Other people may disagree, though.

        1. OP #7*

          Thanks all for the fantastic comments. Just FYI, I am currently a post-doc, so maybe that’s why I’ve been recommended to use the letterhead. Great discussion though, it hadn’t occurred to me that my current job-type was the determining factor and had perhaps unfairly assumed that it was all of academia.

        2. Cary*

          I’m in the middle of hiring for a tenure track position. Most of our applicants, who are usually Post Doc Fellows, use letter head. As Rana says PDFs and Grad Students are assumed to be a the temporary stage of their career.

  3. JT*

    I am not familiar with common practice in #7 but in some situations it seems logical for me for the applicant to use school letterhead. For example, in science, grad students and post-docs are expected to move on, having school letterhead with their lab’s address on it would seem to communicate that.

    I do know many academic CVs use the person’s school office address, so school letterhead does not seem a stretch from that.

    1. Anonymous*


      In fixed-term positions, using letterhead is completely normal. Graduate students, and undergraduates with lab experience, often have the support of their professor/boss in their next career move, and the reputation of the institution they’re leaving is implicitly attached to the student.

    2. Ellie H.*

      I was thinking of it more like someone who is currently a graduate student or postdoc now applying for academic jobs, in which case it would make sense to me to use the university letterhead.

      If it’s someone who currently has a faculty/lecturer appointment (not time/stage limited) and is just looking for a different one maybe that’s a bit different. I do work for an academic dean but I don’t know much about hiring so am not an authority.

  4. Eric*

    For #1, I wonder if it might not be legal. Vacation time is part of her compensation. An employer can’t retroactively change the terms of employment, and here they are effectively taking away a piece of compensation. I imagine anything an employee handbook says might be particularly relevant.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      Vacation time isn’t considered part of wages, though, which is the legally important part of compensation. And you can change the terms of employment, it just means that (in some states) the employee is eligible for unemployment compensation if they quit over it. And, finally, they’re not taking it away; the employee is free to use them after April.

      1. fposte*

        The only time I can think of where it would be different is an FMLA situation, which they couldn’t forbid people using during any time as long as eligibility is met. (While the retail location likely wouldn’t have enough people in its own right, a lot of those chains would easily have 50 employees within 75 miles.)

      2. Construction HR*

        “And, finally, they’re not taking it away; the employee is free to use them after April.”

        Yeah, but it ain’t April, yet. Seems capricious.

      3. Jamie*

        Everything that isn’t discretionary is a legally important part of compensation.

        They don’t have to offer vacation time, but if they do and the parameters are in writing they can then change the terms going forward, but they can’t changed the terms on what governs that which was already accrued.

        I.e. in my handbook it outlines how much vacation time you have based on years of service. It also spells out the way it’s cashed out if you leave the company. So the weeks I have in my accrual are very legally important as its money/time accrued.

        In this instance if they have to put a moratorium on leave for 5 months they can, but it should be acknowledged that its a last resort and appreciation for the inconvenience communicated clearly. Also, once reinstated management should do everything possible to accommodate all requests.

        Although, I do think if leave was already approved it should still be granted during this time. If someone put in for time and they have tickets bought or an event planned, after it was approved, that should never be revoked.

        No one should have to chose between changing the dates of their wedding or losing $ on reservations/tickets because their manager got pregnant.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Perhaps they could set limits to the vacation time during the boss’ absence. For example- one day per week AND not more than one person off on any given day.
          The thinking behind it is what gets me. We all understand that X industry has a busy season at Y time each year. But in this example the whole group is banned from vacation because of one person…. who ironically is using vacation time. Are all employees treated in a similar manner? If any person has a major life event and the accrued time are they also allowed to take months and months off at clip?

          Don’t get me wrong- I think it is good that the company lets her take all that time to be with her newborn. But, the employees have no say in this decision. (I know, not a democracy.) Management should realize that if other people are not being treated in a similar manner – there is going to be some upset people.

          And I kind of chuckle, I cannot believe the place would fall apart if one person took a day off here and there during the manager’s absence. Management sounds panicked, to me. Most places I have worked ran very well without the boss. Everyone pulled together and worked sharper and were more considerate of each other because of being short-handed.

          1. Lulu*

            My current revisiting of the retail experience is reminding me that retail doesn’t always run on the logical premises that non-retail people would – I’m not going to even attempt to throw out hypothetical explanations for this, but I’m definitely running into a lot of “issues” that make zero sense to me (as someone who usually has worked in an office environment) but the people who are full-time employees seem to accept as how it is. I spend a lot of time telling myself it’s not my problem, or my head would explode ;)

          2. L.A.*

            I’m assuming that OP #1 is not THE store manager but a full-time “manager” based on the fact that she gets vacation time…

            At my store, and most that I know of there are 4 “managers”: the store manager, co-manager and then 2 key-holders (1 full-time, 1 part-time). The 2 key-holders are often not allowed to work more than 40 hours a week. You can make do with only 3 managers (a store manager or co-manager, and 2 key-holders), but only if no one takes any time off. The only way to cover time off is to get help from other stores, which is not ideal.

            So I can understand that, if the store manager or co-manager is out for a period of time, vacation time would have to be at a minimum.

            At the same time, I’m sure if a specific day off or two was needed for some reason that they would be able to accommodation it. Just not 3+ days off in a row. I’m sure, if needed, OP could arrange for 2 days off in a row for a mini “re-coup” time – as 2 days off in a row is rare in retail anyways.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If the handbook promises that vacation will be earned at a certain rate, they can’t change that retroactively, although they can change it going forward. However, they can absolutely say that vacation time can’t be taken during certain periods, even 5-month periods, and there’s nothing illegal about that. (FMLA leave would be a different matter, as fposte points out.)

      Employers restrict when people can use leave time all the time — there’s no legal issue there.

    3. Esra*

      Even in places where you are entitled to vacation, the employer can still dictate when you can take it.

      Last year I had 7.5 months unavailable for vacation. It was ridiculous. For #1’s friend though, what I did (since we don’t have HR at my organization) was sit down with my manager at the end of the year and say:
      1/ That having no vacation time available for 7.5 months of the year left me feeling really, really burnt out at times.
      2/ I have ideas XYZ as to how I/we could change things so that it didn’t happen this year as well.
      3/ Reiterate some other things I am willing to do to help carry the load during heavy times, rather than take no vacation (ex, instead of taking a full vacation day, take a couple half-day Fridays during the heavier months).

    4. Erica B*

      Here’s my thing with #1. It’s unclear if the OP has other PTO such as sick time, but does this “no time off policy” include sick time? 5 months is a long time to force people to not take a vacation so 1 person can have maternity leave. I feel like a temp should be hired, or borrowed from another store as needed to help alleviate the schedule conflicts that will arise. What if someone calls out sick? You can’t prevent that, and *most* doctor’s offices don’t have evening hours, so to expect workers to go before or after work (assuming they work the standard 9-5 shift) is unrealistic.

      Also if I was the pregnant one going out on maternity leave, I’d feel like crap upon returning knowing that I did this to my co-workers. My bet is that many will be bitter about the policy when the manager returns and will hold it against the person. I do agree thought that if time off has already been approved it should still be honored, if possible.

  5. ChristineH*

    #1 – Banning vacation time

    I’ve seen many instances, particularly with colleges/universities, where vacation time is prohibited during certain high-volume periods–such as during registration or new-student orientation–so a ban on vacation during the holidays make some sense. But 5 months?? That’s extreme.

    #6 – Tone in cover letter

    People tend to think that cover letters are supposed to be some odd formal document, when in fact you should write them in the same voice that you’d write to any colleague in — your normal one.

    I had to chuckle at this because just this past Friday, I had someone look over a cover letter I’d written, and he suggested that I change “you’ll” to “you will” (“as you’ll/you will see in the attached resume…”) because the cover letter is considered to be formal. He isn’t exactly a career counselor (it was at one of the places I volunteer at), but a large part of his job involves advising job seekers with disabilities. So I’d say that assumption is still prevalent!

    1. Jamie*

      Fwiw I never use contractions in business communication, but I don’t remember ever noticingif others do – its just a habit of mine and I don’t even know if there’s a rule on this.

      Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain I seem to remember a rule about not mixing them. I.e. if you use ‘you’ll’ in one sentence don’t go with ‘you will’ in another. That may be obsolete like the white Labor Day thing, or could be something I picked up along the way and made it a rule in my mind only.

      1. K*

        Many lawyers still don’t use contractions in any legal writing whatsoever. I do, but try to do so judiciously.

      2. Interviewee*

        What about cases when your cover letter will be used as a writing sample, i.e., the organization is looking at how you communicate professionally. I would not want to see “you’ll” in a professional document.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Why? I’ve written professionally my entire career and I use contractions liberally. I’ve been published everywhere from the Washington Post to the New York Times and I’ve used them in those pieces too.

          Lots of good writers do (aside from lawyers, who are generally trained not to use them in legal documents and who often carry the habit into other documents).

          1. Interviewee*

            I guess it might be just me, or because I am in science and am used to dry, technical writing with? I just don’t see it a lot in my professional communications.

          2. ChristineH*

            So using contractions in cover letters is acceptable? I know that it will very likely make no difference for the job I just applied to, but now I’m curious for future reference (though Jamie is probably right above regarding being consistent throughout.

          3. KayDay*

            I’ve always been taught to avoid contractions in formal writing (simply because it’s less formal). Some people have told me this as a hard rule, but I (and others) take it as a guideline, but not a hard rule. Although no contractions are allowed in our official work publications, period.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I remember in grade school being taught that contractions were less formal, therefore not acceptable in writing. I don’t see many contractions used in the work place. However, to me it really dials down the tone of the message:

        “Do not ever do x.”


        “Don’t ever do x.”

        I think the latter is more digestible somehow.

        1. JT*

          There’s such a huge range of “professional” communications.

          I write letters (mailed and emailed), newsletters and, invitations, fundraising appeals, some policy papers and case studies, and general purpose website copy. Avoiding all contractions would make that writing look stilted and not work as well. I think a lot of writing could benefit from being more similar to speech – that’s more engaging.

          Never had an article in the NY Times like AAM, but have had a handful of letters there, which I just looked at. I certainly didn’t use every possible contraction, but there are a few.

        2. Rana*

          Speaking as an editor, everything is potentially acceptable in writing.

          The determining factor is context: the purpose of the document, the audience, the norms of the field involved, etc. So while “ain’t” and “coulda” are perfectly fine in a novel or webcomic with characters that speak that way, you’d probably want to avoid them in an article intended for publication in a scholarly journal. ;)

          Honestly, a lot of what they teach about writing in grade school and high school is a bunch of shorthand “rules” created so they don’t have to spend the time teaching you about all the nuances. (Don’t get me started on the five-paragraph essay, for example. tl;dr version: it’s not inherently wrong, but it is overused and used reflexively too often, even in circumstances where following the form rigidly is a hindrance rather than a help.)

          1. KellyK*

            Speaking as an editor, everything is potentially acceptable in writing.


            And contexts are specific, not general. “Professional communication” is everything from updates to your company’s Facebook page to quick “Thanks for reviewing my XYZ report” emails to presentations to the CEO. “Technical writing” is everything from military IETMs to Dummies books to an informal process manual for people in your department.

    2. Kit M.*

      When I look at cover letters and college application materials for friends, my first comment always ends up being, “You can use contractions!”

  6. Eric*

    #7, I was on the hiring committee for a Dean, and we had a couple people use their current institutions letterhead. It came up, and the general consensus was that it was an unprofessional thing to do. There were a few people who weren’t bothered by it, but nobody thought it was a plus.

          1. Anony*

            I think it’s the case. To secure an interview where I worked, it was leaned heavily on connections that letterheads from certain schools had more priority.

  7. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    For the record, I totally understand why the manager in OP #1 would say that employees can’t use vacation time during her maternity leave; it’s a retail environment, and if she’s on maternity leave, there’s a strong chance that there would be nobody who is an exempt employee to cover those hours. I’m betting that the store either had to bring someone in from another location or is paying a ton of overtime to over the manager’s absence (and the inevitable sick days that come up all the time) anyway. If you start letting people take extra vacation days, that stuff becomes really hard to cover. Then, a few weeks in, someone writes in here asking if it’s legal for them to be required to work 50 hour weeks because their manager is on maternity leave and someone else decided to take a weeklong vacation.

    It’s a long time to go without a vacation, sure; but then, the majority of retail doesn’t provide paid vacation at all, so it still sounds like a better deal than it could be.

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      Gosh, really!?? The only time i had non-paid holiday days was a temp seasonal jobs. All my other jobs have had, retail or bar or contract work etc.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        There are a handful of localities in the US that mandate some kind of paid leave, but there’s not a lot of them. And even those places, you usually have to have worked at the place a year, and worked a certain number of hours in that year, to qualify.

        Honestly, I think the amount of paid leave some countries give is outrageous! I would rather see the standard work week become 4 days, and people got enough other vacation to take two other weeks of at some point. That seems sufficient. Though I guess if those other countries make it work, it can’t be the burden that American companies complain it is.

        (Oh, also, in terms of retail/foodservice jobs, our lobbying groups for those sectors are pretty strong, stronger than our unions for those sectors, so that helps explain why they tend to be crappier to work for in America).

        1. Jamie*

          It’s less of a burden for some countries because few other countries have the 24/7 availability of many services that we do.

          When talking about retail and food service especially, our availability makes for more complicated staffing issues than those that have more limited hours of operation.

        2. Chloe*

          I’m so glad I live in a country with mandated annual leave (4 weeks is the minimum and more senior employees can have 5 or 6 weeks). When it is the custom and its part of the accepted cost of running a business it does’t appear to be a major problem. To many people outside America, it actually seems more outrageous that you have so little leave!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            To many of us in America (certainly not all), it seems outrageous that we could start a business and have the government legislate so much of how we operate, to the point that many of us might just not bother hiring anyone. Different values :)

            1. Chloe*

              Sure, but there are other costs of doing business in America that don’t exist in other countries – swings and roundabouts I guess.

          2. EngineerGirl*

            But many countries that have significant vacation also have very high youth unemployment (far more than the US) because the cost to hire someone is much higher. There is a cost to be paid for all that vacation. It is great IF you can get a job.

            1. Flynn*

              Of course, high youth employment (i.e. cheap labour) often means much lower ‘adult’ employment rates. We’re seeing that in NZ – they got rid of the youth wage, youth employment shot up but those jobs were still being filled. By older people – now that it wasn’t a saving to higher younger people.

              I’m siding with the ‘less than four weeks is madness and exploitative’ viewpoint, anyway. In some places (mostly education), two weeks of that is gone on mandatory Christmas close downs anyway!

    2. Esra*

      Full time retail, at least in Ontario, has paid vacation, at least two weeks. If that’s the case in OP’s scenario, I feel like they should be able to work out vacation days and coverage during those five months. Otherwise you’re going to have one crazy, burnt out staff by the end of it and everyone rushing to use vacation time to catch up afterward.

      1. Jamie*

        Really? The vast majority of our staff take their vacation during plant shut downs in July and December…so most go 6 months without vacation days and its not an issue – common for my industry.

        5 months isn’t that long to go without taking vacation – as long as (IMO) they aren’t canceling ore approved leave for which people will lose money on tickets, weddings, etc.

        I would venture that most people go 5 months between vacation days.

        1. Carrie in Scotland*

          I wouldnt say that is the case over here in the UK but tjen I think that in the US, you tend not to get so much annual leave as standard.

          1. UK HR Bod*

            UK requirements (based on European legislation) are 28 days for a full time, 5-day per week worker. This can include Bank Holidays (8 in England / Wales, more in NI and Scotland I think), but often doesn’t. Actually you can have the problem that people don’t take enough leave – I struggle sometimes, but technically if I don’t take all those days, my employer is in breach of the working time regs. However, employers can restrict the times people go on leave, or mandate them for instance where there are Christmas shut-downs.
            I think I’d struggle with the lower amount of leave in some countries, although I could go for Kimberlee’s suggestion of a 4-day week and 2 week’s leave! Although that would work out more than double the leave required here (although about what Tube drivers get if you believe what the papers say every time they threaten a strike).
            It does seem that 5/6 months without any downtime would leave people a bit burnt out, but I guess you get very used to a different working environment.

        2. ExceptionToTheRule*

          When I worked retail, you might get two weeks of vacation time, which meant that you would easily go 6 months without a vacation. Going 5 months doesn’t strike me as odd at all.

        3. Esra*

          Their big vacations, sure, those tend to be in the later half of the year, but not a single vacation day? Not a single long weekend or event or anything in five months? That would suck.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          In the last two years, I took days every three months, but that was because I was in a long-distance relationship. Either I went there or he came here.

          Even when I get a job again, I am not going to want to go six frigging months without any vacation, except for possibly the first year. And hopefully I won’t get a shitty job like that again. If it’s one of the two jobs I want most right now, that won’t be a problem; neither one makes you wait that long for PTO.

      2. KarenT*

        Full time retail, at least in Ontario, has paid vacation, at least two weeks.
        That may be your experience, but unfortunately there is no regulation for that in Ontario. Your employer must give you vacation pay, but vacations are very often unpaid (just like you don’t get paid if you call in sick).

          1. John Quincy Adding Machine*

            If it’s anything like all the restaurant/retail jobs I’ve had, they must give you vacation pay, but unless you ask (more like badger) them about it, it goes on every paycheque and you end up without any accrued to cover your actual vacations.

            1. Esra*

              When I worked retail, I saved the 4% so I would have it for vacation days when I needed them. Essentially, vacation days are monetary compensation one way or another, at least when you get the % on every cheque, the money is yours to do with as you please.

      3. Chinook*

        True, in Canada, we do get 2 weeks paid vacation, but most retail places I work at just pay it to you on each pay cheque as vacation pay and, if you do take time, you are expected to have banked that money.

        In my current Calgary based management organization job,we can’t take time off for the first fiscal year (which starts the week of Christmas, so you can always take time off) but that time is banked as a fiscal liability for the company. I suspect it is to make it easier for payroll/hr so they don’t have to figure out how much vacation time is accrued for each employee. It sucks but is definitely legal.

    3. doreen*

      I’m betting its a coverage issue, too. I’m sure that people are thinking of chains of large stores like Target, and they probably wouldn’t have a problem allowing vacation while the manager is out. But there are chains of small stores with only three or four people working per shift. If the manager is on leave and another employee is on vacation it’s going to be a problem when a third person calls in sick.

      I don’t even work in retail and FMLA leaves cause vacation/coverage problems for me. I have three people in the same title who can all cover for each other. If one person is on leave, I have no problems. If one is out on FMLA and I approve another for vacation (even for one day) that will be when the third person gets sick, or her car dies or something. And then I have no one to complete the tasks that must be done that day. ( I don’t mean intentionally, but it’s happened that one person has approved vacation, and then someone else needed FMLA. And it’s just inevitable that something will cause the third person to also be out. There’s nothing I can do when the vacation is approved before the need for FMLA comes up, but I’m not going to put myself in that situation if I don’t have to)

  8. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    I wonder if a legitimate reason to ask about former salary is just for informational purposes? Like, say you get hired on as a marketing assistant, and your last gig was as a marketing assistant. Knowing what you made before in a similar position does help the employer to know more about the actual market rate position, which can help them decide what a reasonable salary for their position is.

    I’m guessing that most employers *don’t* ask for this reason, and instead ask so they can actually base your offer on your previous gig, which is kinda dumb, but I feel like it would be legitimate to collect that information for comparison/research purposes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are so many other ways to do it that don’t put the candidate in that position though — big companies generally have compensation specialists and smaller ones generally can purchase membership in industry orgs that provide data for benchmarking salaries.

  9. Carrie in Scotland*

    My org is considering putting a ban on annual leave days between jan and april (end of year.months) but as admin we dont have *that* many perks – and also, it is just admin, not the people we do the admin for. Nobody is very happy about that.

  10. Editor*

    One job I had limited vacation during a couple of busy summer months. One of the rules was that a week was the maximum for each person; even if someone had four weeks of vacation, they couldn’t take it all at once during the time of the year most people wanted to take time off.

    I would feel more concerned about the five-month ban if vacation didn’t accrue. I wouldn’t want to lose vacation because I wasn’t allowed to take it. Going five months without taking vacation doesn’t seem unusual to me.

    If you want to be forced to take vacation, apparently a financial institution is the way to go. When my brother worked for a bank, they preferred employees to take two-week vacations annually, at a minimum. That sounds nice, but it was so his work (or any other employee’s work) could be audited if necessary, and two weeks gave the bank time to check the books.

    1. Chloe*

      I know of banks in New Zealand with the same requirement. I think at least one theory was that if you are cooking the books, in the two weeks that someone else is assigned your tasks they will see what you were up to. Or yes, they could audit your work as well.

    2. Min*

      When I worked in banking years ago we had to take one week of our two weeks vacation time as consecutive days, presumably for that same reason.

  11. Abby*

    I am in academia and I think this is common to use your current university’s letterhead and haven’t ever heard of someone thinking it was unprofessional but I am older and perhaps this has changed. Where you are coming from is very important in academia and I think that is why it has been customary. I certainly think it isn’t as bizarre as it would be in the business world however.

  12. Ali*

    Phew…#1 really makes me glad I work from home and am considered a contractor/self-employed. Yes, this does have its other downsides (particularly taxes), but I have never once been told by my boss that we’re not allowed to take time off…and especially not for that long.

  13. Elizabeth West*

    #3 job closed before applying

    This has happened to me a couple of times this go-round. Lucky I was able to email. Worth a try, anyway. And maybe they’ll decide their applicant pool sucks and call me. :)

    #5 socializing with coworkers

    Going out for drinks, being friendly if you live near each other, hanging out on weekends, etc. is all stuff people at Exjob did. I went to lunch with my supervisor sometimes, always making sure the phones were covered, of course. And we’ve stayed friends, at least on Facebook. In fact, I’m Facebook friends with several former Exjob survivors, three of whom are still there.

    It’s my personal rule, however, not to date someone at work. Not only do I not need the drama (dating someone in my chat room has turned out badly enough), but I cannot afford to lose a job over a guy. And I do not want to see someone I’m living with / married to all day every day, especially if I’m mad at him.

    1. Lulu*

      LOL your dating rule makes sense, I suppose, except I have a complete inability to meet people outside of work… which I guess also explains why I’m still single. I think if you work for a large enough company, it can be a non-issue, but it’s also one of those areas where everyone has their own comfort level, that’s for sure!

  14. Sam*

    I have a bit of academic experience (undergrad – doctoral, assistant prof, one stint as chair of hiring committee) and I would advice professors and administrators NOT to use their current university letterhead if they are applying to external positions. Popular opinion is split on this one, so using non-uni letterhead is the safest bet. In all other cases (grad students, postdocs, grant apps, internal positions), feel free to use the letterhead.

  15. Oxford Comma*

    Re: #7 – I am an academic librarian. It would not/does not reflect positively on applicants. It may be different for post docs or grad students though.

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