getting paid in pizza, asking for a raise via email, and more

It’s wee answer Wednesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. I bombed an employment test — can I ask to retake it?

I just got back from an interview and made a really terrible mistake! They gave me a proofreading test, and I bombed it – I missed around 60% of what I was supposed to catch. The thing is, this is very out of character for me. I normally produce error-free or close to error-free work and have consistently done so in my past occupations. I was very nervous, and I think I blanked out because of that. I feel like the rest of the interview went reasonably well, but unfortunately, proofreading is a substantial part of the job, so I know that what I did was very detrimental.

I’m wondering if there’s ANY way at all to mitigate this situation? I haven’t sent my thank you/follow up note yet, and I’m wondering if there’s something I can say in there to address this and explain that it’s out of character? Would it be appropriate to say something apologizing, explaining that it’s out of character for me, and possibly mentioning that if there was any way to give a second demonstration of my abilities, I would very much appreciate that?

I feel very bad about this, more so because it’s so unlike me and I let my nerves get the better of me. I want to communicate to the employer that this isn’t a reflection of my work without coming off as panicked/desperate. Is there a way I can do that, or have I basically lost my chances?

You can definitely try saying that you know your nerves got the better of you and that you’re normally a carefully and neurotic proofreader (people who want proofreaders love neurotic ones), and that you’d be grateful for an opportunity to retake the test if that’s possible, but that you understand if it isn’t. They may or may not agree, but you have nothing to lose by asking.

2. Can we be paid in pizza and beer?

I work for a mid-sized company (800 employees) that’s been in business for 10+ years (yet upper management tries to convince us we’re a start-up, but that’s a whole different thing all together). I’ve been in the same department for almost 3 years now and we are all salaried, but non-exempt employees.

When I first started in my role, it wasn’t uncommon to see emails requesting people to work overtime, and it was always clear it would be compensated and how much compensation there would be (usually time and a half).

Now these requests still fly into our inboxes at least once a month, but the compensation drastically changed: from time and a half to pizza and beer. Although it always says it’s voluntary to participate in these 3-5 hour “after hours” overtime shifts, several of my trusted coworkers and I have commented that management seems to subtly retaliate against those who don’t partake. We’re all folks who have a degree and although this is a job most people take straight out of college, we are still professionals and we are adults — not a fraternity! I much rather get paid in money than pizza and beer (which, frankly, I can buy myself if I really wanted to). My question is: is this even legal, working for pizza and beer? I don’t know if HR knows about this (I assume they don’t).

If you’re non-exempt, your employer is required by federal law to pay you overtime (time and a half) for all hours over 40 worked in a single week. It’s not optional. Pizza and beer does not count, and you cannot “volunteer” to waive overtime pay.

3. Can I make my raise request via email rather than in-person?

I have prepared myself for asking for a raise and I think I have sufficient arguments and enough space considering my salary at the moment and my contribution during previous years in the company. The thing is that I strongly believe that it could be presented better if it is written and summarized in email rather then in ordinary conversation with my boss. Should I write an email and how does that look in eyes of my employer?

It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it looks a little weird — like you were afraid of advocating for yourself/your work in-person. This tends to be a face-to-face conversation.

Also, how long is this email you’ve written? If it’s longer than a few paragraphs (which I suspect it might be, based on your belief that it’s better presented in writing), it’s too long.

Anyway, if at all possible, talk in person. You can certainly use notes to remember the points you want to make, but talk face-to-face.

4. Grieving at work

I lost my sister late last year, and I am just now starting to process the loss, if that makes sense. Her death was unexpected and early. How do I handle crying/sadness at work? I try hard to stay focused and busy, but sometimes a random thought will just bring on the waterworks. Most of my coworkers know, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

How awful; I’m so sorry. If you’re with others when it happens, it’s fine to say, “Excuse me, I need a minute” when you start to tear up or feel emotional; people will understand. If you’re alone at your desk, it’s fine to close your door or — if you don’t have your own office — go somewhere more private, even if it’s just the bathroom or for a walk around the block. And if you want to, you can tell the people you work with most closely that you’re finding it’s really hitting you at work lately, but you don’t need to do that if you’d rather not.

This is such a understandable thing to go through, and most people will be compassionate.

5. How do I come up with goals for my job?

I need to meet with my boss in two days time and be able to discuss my 5 and 10 year goals and objectives. We are a green energy company that is a new arm to a very large gas and oil distribution company. So it is a new area of the business that we are creating. My boss, for lack of a better word, is #1, making me the #2 of the western region. Because there is nothing established or to reflect on within the company, I am not sure where I can go? I do know depending on production and growth, we will be opening an office in a downtown area of the state we live in. For now, my boss and I both work solo from our own homes. Green energy is growing, it is expanding, and contracts are in excess of 25 years. So I know there is stability and growth.

How do I create goals and objectives that are realistic? Training within the company is spotty at best being we are breaking new ground. But I would like to know more about what we are doing and the process and to understand the birth to grave process of green energy.

I would like to stay employed with this company until I can not longer work and wish to retire. I would like to stay in the state I am in, near my family. That’s all I have to offer… what kind of goals and objectives can I create with this?

Your goals should be about what you’ll achieve over defined period of time. Frankly, 5 and 10 years are unusually large chunks of time for individual goal-setting; it’s more typical to do them for one-year period. (Companies and departments often have 5-year plans, but you might talk to your boss about doing annual goal-setting for yourself, and longer-term goal-setting for your region. Or maybe the nature of your position means that it’s the same thing — I’m not sure.) In any case, the idea is that the goals you come up with should describe what a successful performance would look like during that period. What do you want to achieve? What plans will you need in place in order to do that? If you imagine it’s X years from now and you’re looking back on what you achieved during that time, what do you want to be able to say was accomplished?

If you’re not clear on the answers to this stuff, the first step is to have a conversation with your boss to get better aligned on what you should be working toward achieving.

6. Can my employer make me find people to cover my shifts and not pay them extra?

My employer has “retired” the receptionist and has distributed her duties to the rest of the secretarial staff. No compensation in wages was given for this, and we are still expected to complete all of our regular work while having to come up to the front of the building to answer phones and deal with constant interruptions for several hours each day.

I am preparing to go on a long overdue vacation, and my employer has instated a policy that I have to find someone to take my “shifts” at the reception desk. OK, I can do that. The problem being that they want that person to do it for free. My question is: Is this legal? Of course no one is going to want to do this for free!

Yes, it’s legal. They can put whatever restrictions they want on vacation time, since no law requires them to offer it at all. As for not paying people to take your shifts, they’re not required to pay extra for additional responsibilities. Or do you mean that the person wouldn’t otherwise be working on those days, and they want them to come in and work those days for free? If they’re non-exempt, that’s not legal; non-exempt employees have to be paid for all hours they work. If they’re exempt, or if these are times they’re already working, then the employer isn’t obligated to pay them additional wages on top of it.

7. Workplace called me to come in when I was supposed to be out of town

I work for a restaurant in the state of California. I was scheduled Tuesday and Thursday off. I covered my shift on Wednesday with another employee. The manager signed it. I was going to leave home for three days. But my trip got canceled. So I come home from being gone all day and have two messages on my home phone. They are trying to call me in for Wednesday.

Since I didn’t leave on my trip, I was home to receive the message. What if I had taken off for three days? How would not receiving the message be my fault? I don’t own a cell phone — never have. They know this. Should I never leave home?

Well, you’re assuming here that it would be a problem to not return the phone call, without actually knowing that it is. In most workplaces where this happened, it would simply be because they forgot the reason you were going to be out (and figured you were in town and potentially available), and when you returned from your scheduled days off, you’d simply say, “Hey, I got your message, but I was out of town,” and that would be the end of it. Now, certainly if you have reason to think that will not be the case here — or if it ends up not being the case when you return — then there’s a problem. But so far, there’s no reason to assume that.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. jesicka309

    When I first read #OP 6, I read it as finding someone else (eg. not someone already covering the desk) externally to do her role.
    Eg. Getting a temp, asking neighbour’s daughter if they want some free experience, interns etc. to cover a paid worker without paying them the salary?
    Maybe that’s what the OP meant, as most offices share the workload when people are on leave without sharing their pay.

    1. Jamie

      Free experience? Who could I. Good conscience ask someone to do that?

      When our office manager is out my boss always asks if my daughter is available…but she’d never ever ask her to do it for free.

      1. jesicka309

        I was reaching…I really struggled to think of ways they would get someone in for free. Some doing high school work experience, for example. Though that’s pretty unethical, and illegal in many places.
        I hope it’s the way Alison read it, and not me haha.

  2. Anonymous

    #6: Do not take the vacation. Save that compensation for a break before your next job. That’s what I would do. I would not work for a company whose management chooses not to, ya know, manage. They will not be bothered by you. They will not be bothered by you taking vacation (You must find someone to do your job while you’re gone!) They certainly will not be bothered if you were to cancel your vacation at the last minute. I’d wager they wouldn’t even remember you had one scheduled. They simply do not care about you. Find another job where you do not have do your manager’s work.

    1. Anon

      I don’t know why you think the mgr isn’t diona his/ her job. When I’m out I usually have to arrange my own coverage. Im pretty other places are like that too. Also, what do you mean when you say ” they can’t be bothered by you”? I didn’t understand that part

      1. Just a Reader

        It appears that the company isn’t providing the resources to provide the coverage. That’s not managing.

        1. A Bug!

          Yeah, it sounds to me like the manager is requiring the writer to find someone who will volunteer to cover reception, at the expense of that someone’s own duties, for no additional compensation. The writer doesn’t have authority to say “Hey, reception needs to be covered, and you’re it.” So it’s no surprise that people aren’t falling over themselves to offer to fill this gap.

          Although the writer uses the word “shifts”, I don’t think there’s an actual shift-work situation here. It’s that all the employees work normal office hours, but they have scheduled periods where they have to be at reception. So when the writer needs to take a holiday, those “shifts” need to be covered, by employees who are already supposed to be in the office and working at that time.

          1. ThursdaysGeek

            And if you say yes to taking those shifts, it will look like you don’t have enough work to do! So who is going to volunteer?

            1. Meg

              Well it’s not necessarily the fault of the worker for not having enough work to do. If someone who is lean on their workload were to volunteer, if I was the manager, I wouldn’t look at that worker as not having enough to do and lazy; I’d probably view them as proactive on making sure they had enough work to do by covering the reception desk.

              At my job, I’m wrapping up two major projects bythe end of the week, because I have a conference to go to next week (and all my deadlines or ‘expected completion dates’ fall during next week). When I get back, I will have nothing serious to work on, and that’s not my fault. My project manager, luckily, is aware is has time to find at least code maintenance and backlog stuff for me to work on until another major project comes up.

              So yeah, a lean work load would be the perfect opportunity to volunteer for work.

  3. Jessa

    re 7- there’s no reason for you to answer the call, just because you picked up the message. You could have picked up your messages from anywhere. You can if you want to, but even then if you’re off (trip or no) you don’t have to say yes to going in either.

    1. Sydney Bristow

      I was hinting that her coworkers or boss found out that her trip was cancelled and so she might be available again. Something like that could so easily happen if she posted something on Facebook that a coworker saw, mentioned it to someone she works with, etc. But I agree that just because the trip was cancelled doesn’t mean she has to go in since she had scheduled the days off.

      1. Sydney Bristow

        By “hinting” I really mean “thinking.” I can’t type this morning!

  4. Y

    “I work for a mid-sized company (800 employees) that’s been in business for 10+ years (yet upper management tries to convince us we’re a start-up”

    Oh, how I know that line… Not so much with the start-up, but with the large company that’s trying to tell its employees about how they are a small, family-like business.

    “They can put whatever restrictions they want on vacation time, since no law requires them to offer it at all.”

    I have seen this line a few times on this blog now and it seems strange to me. Just because they are not required to offer it does not, to me, directly mean that they can put any restriction they want on it. It seems like there’s no legal restrictions, but that doesn’t follow from “they don’t have to offer it”. There could well be laws saying, for example, “If an employer offers employees time off, they may not discriminate amount of vacation time based on marital status” or whatever.

    1. Mike C.

      Do you live in the United States? Because if you don’t or simply aren’t familiar with our labor laws, you’re in for a rude surprise.

      1. jesicka309

        I always get surprises about culture shock on this blog. It’s really fascinating: sometimes I’m jealous. Other times, I’m relieved. :)

        1. Y

          I get a lot of culuture shock on this blog – but my comment had nothing to do with that, only with that I disagree with the logic of “the law doesn’t require A to provide B” => “the law places no restrictions on B in case A does provide it”

          1. RG

            Actually, that’s pretty much it. The government isn’t going to regulate something (put restrictions on it) unless it has a compelling interest to do so. And if the law can’t require A to do B, then it doesn’t really have a compelling interest, and what weight would the government regulations have?

          2. The Snarky B

            No, Y is totally correct here. The logic doesn’t necessarily follow. If Corp doesn’t have to provide Vacay, they still have to abide by other laws re: general workplace. I’m not sure about actual laws here, but it would mean that Corp would be in trouble giving vacation only to Black employees “because they’ve earned the time.” And not to white employees because “they’re privileged enough.” Whether actually illegal or just actionable, I don’t know. But definitely not immune bc it’s vacation time.
            Reparations says what’s up lol I had fun with that example.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Yes, you cannot use race, gender or other protected classes to discriminate re: vacation time. But that’s true of absolutely everything in the workplace. You can’t use race/gender/other protected classes to discriminate in regard to work assignments, seating arrangements, proximity to the vending machines, kind or rude treatment, or any of the myriad other things that the law doesn’t cover. In other words, just because the law doesn’t cover X doesn’t mean you can treat people differently in regard to X because of their race/gender/etc. But aside from protected class issues, you can have whatever rules or practices you want regarding that stuff.

              In other words, protected classes are always the area of law in play. But I’m going to continue to say “yes, it’s legal to say you can’t eat candy at your desk” rather than “yes, it’s legal to say you can’t eat candy at your desk (unless they’re only saying it to people of a certain race/religion/etc.)” because it would be incredibly unwieldy to add that caveat every single time. I’m assuming that people who read this blog regularly know about protected classes.

            2. The Snarky B

              Oops I wrote another comment just below this and I guess I didn’t post it. Sorry, Alison – it basically said what you’re saying about people on here already knowing that caveat and that I was responding purely to the “logical” part of what Y was saying, not the “in practice/in blog reading” part.

      2. Y

        No, I don’t live there. Still, that was just an example. I also said “It seems like there’s no legal restrictions”. I just disagree with the reasoning of that sentence.

        1. Oderixi

          I’m not sure that such provisos are written into legislation in quite that way. AAM is right – if you’re not obligated to offer something, there can be no repercussion for removing it… Or, restricting it in asinine ways (as long as you’re not discriminating against a protected class).

        2. fposte

          You’re right in that they can’t break *other* laws via their vacation policy–they can’t offer vacation time only to one race or gender, for instance (marital status isn’t federally protected, so unless you were in a state that made it illegal, you could offer vacation time only to the single or married). But vacation time (or leave) isn’t even mentioned in the law that forbids discrimination on the basis of race or gender–the vacation issue is a minor consequence of a law that’s really focused on other stuff.

        3. Ask a Manager Post author

          Of course they can’t use vacation time to discriminate on race/gender or to break other laws. But because no law requires them to offer it, they can put any restrictions on it that they want that don’t violate existing laws. So they can’t offer it only to one race, for instance (because that would violate discrimination laws), but they can say you can’t take it unless you find coverage, or unless you make 3 Kit Kats from scratch for your manager every Tuesday, or unless you deliver your time-off request in song, or any other silly restriction they want. Or they can say you can’t take it at all, unless you have a contract that says otherwise (and most U.S. employees don’t have contracts at all).

          The point is that there’s no legislation around it (except for a few states that require things like vacation payout when you leave).

          1. Jamie

            Right – although everyone should know what their company handbook says about vacation (and your offer letter) because when a company puts them in writing they are holding themselves to a higher standard than the minimum legal requirements.

            Although I’ve never seen rules for coverage spelled out, every place I’ve worked has the schedule for accruing vacation and how it’s paid out when you leave in the handbook. This gives you official recourse should they decide they aren’t cashing you out if you quit, for example.

          2. Heather

            But I make chocolate teapots, not Kit Kats! Is it legal for them to require me to make Kit Kats without training?

            1. Jamie

              Sigh – there are Kit Kats in the candy drawer upfront and I’ve been so good at staying out of that drawer.

              But now…it’s all I can think about…although they aren’t homemade. Just store bought Kit Kats…which are pretty wonderful in their own right.

    2. Runon

      I think that there might be an issue if it was, men get vacation but women don’t. Or pregnancy means you aren’t allowed to take a vacation at all. Or only white people can have vacation. But that would be because those are protected classes and that would be discrimination of those protected classes. (I don’t believe marital status is a protected class.)

  5. Andre

    #2. There was a case last year in Brazil where members of a specific sales team at Ambev (or Inbev, parent company of Anheuser-Busch) got their commissions paid in “sex-ticket”. The sales manager organized business meetings where prostitutes were called-in to perform strip-teases. The best sales rep of the month also got the chance to choose one of the girls and take them to a motel, everything paid by the company. Eventually, one of the employees who was constantly bulled by his colleagues for refusing his “commissions” decided to take the case to the court. The jury decided the company is guilty of “moral harassment” and was obliged to pay an indemnity of 50K Brazilian Reais, which is equivalent to U$25K, to the former employee. I know that it was an extreme case, but I think that you should really look for your rights and don’t be afraid to take legal actions if necessary. I unfortunately did not find an article in English describing this case, so I pasted here a link for the article in Portuguese published by one of Brazilian’s major magazine. http://www.istoedinheiro.com.br/noticias/96675_SEXO+CERVEJA+E+BONUS+NA+AMBEV

    1. OP #2

      You gotta be kidding me! Good for that guy and shame on the company. I was briefly considering bringing this up before management and hint toward this possibly not being legal (thanks for confirming, Alison!) but I actually will be headed bck to school full-time come fall, and will be leaving this job anyway.
      Thanks for the amazing article! I have to forward this to my “trusted” peeps at work!

  6. Jenny

    #2 I have a few questions for you-

    Since you referred to this as “shifts” are you doing work or is it more of informal meetings?

    Is any type of machinery or contacting any customers or outside parties involved?

    Is it a keg, bottles or cans? (j/k).

    The mind is boggled.

    1. OP #2

      Actual work is involved, and the manager who is in charge of sending out these requests is clearly stating the expectations of the output that must be produced during the time. Clients (or peers in other departments) if needed, have to be contacted via email… We could probably call but chances are they’re eating pizza and dunking beer on their couches at home!

      Since I haven’t stayed for a shift since the compensation was changed I can’t know for sure, but my guess is bottles :P

  7. Anonymous

    #4 – I’m sorry for the OP’s loss, grief is such a complicated process, and everyone copes in different ways, it hits you right away or can be delayed. When I lost a member of my family 3 years ago, I thought I could just “suck it up” and keep moving on, going through the motions, never took any time away from work but eventually 6 months later, I was a mess. I joined a grief counseling group where people had experienced the same loss and then followed that up with a few individual counseling sessions through the company EAP program. It helped a lot at that point because people close to me at work, while compassionate, I can tell felt awkward around me, and family didn’t really want to talk about it anymore, I needed to. A simple google search of grief counseling in your city would give you an idea of who to contact for something like. As I said, i’m sorry for your loss….

    1. Jen

      I agree with this! I had a miscarriage and it just stuck with me for a long time and when the sadness turned to bitterness, I realized I needed to find someone to talk to. I didn’t do grief counseling but I found a therapist and after a few months, I felt much much better. I highly encourage it if you hadn’t already.

      When sad things happen, most people simply don’t know what to say so they end up saying nothing which makes you feel so alone in your grief. Finding someone who can listen to your grief and help you battle through it in a more healthy way is key.

      I’m very sorry for your loss.

      1. fposte

        I’m sorry for your loss, Jen. is there something that you would have appreciated hearing from people at work (outside from a simple condolence) or way that you would recommend workplaces handle this? I work with a lot of people of the having-kids age, and it’s only good fortune that I haven’t encountered this situation yet.

    2. KimmieSue

      +1,000,000

      #4 – I’m terrible sorry for your loss and what you and your family are going through. Grief is so unpredictable. Please reach out for counseling and support. Your local Hospice organization probably has a ton of referrals for grief support groups. You can reach out to Hospice, even if your family member wasn’t in their care.

      Also, you might need to try a few different groups. After suffering the loss of two very important people in my life last year (both unexpectedly and both on the SAME day); I was a wreck. I’d have moments of progress and then you just get hit with a wave of sadness, anger, loss. I had to try a couple of groups before I felt comfortable and related to others.

      Please take care of yourself. Get some support from others that have been there. Don’t worry too much about your work and co-workers. When you are having a moment, just step away and take some time for yourself. I don’t know too many people that wouldn’t be supportive. Also, there is no “schedule” for the stages of grief. We all go through it in our own ways.

      Again, my sincere condolences to you.

      1. Kelly O

        After my dad died, I realized one day I was sitting at my desk, lining all my paperclips up on the side of my desk calendar, and melting down because they were not exactly lined up the way I needed them to be. I had a ruler out and was measuring everything, trying to put my desk in some exact order that was suddenly very important to me. This was a few months after his passing, and a coworker noticed and stopped to talk to me.

        It really led to a processing of what had happened over the course of that past year. (It was a very quick thing, and that year feels like a blur to me now.) I did go to a few therapy sessions to hash out his death, my failed marriage, and all the things I was pushing off to the side.

        I don’t know what your thoughts on it are, but if you possibly can, try to find a therapist, even just for the few sessions your EAP might provide, or your insurance might cover. It was absolutely worth the time to me, and helped tremendously.

    3. PPK

      I agree too. When my father passed away, I “sucked it up” for several months. This led to crying in the car on the way to work, at lunch time and crying in the bathroom at work. Finally, I used my company’s EAP program as well and did grief counseling. The counseling was nothing fancy, not because it wasn’t a quality, but it wasn’t some Big Thing where we had Talk About Everything. It was a nice safe place to talk through my grief.

      #4 OP — it does get better! And delayed grief is a real and not unusual thing. Whether a couple months or several years. I agree with Alison’s suggestions.

    4. Meg

      My dad passed away when I was a teenager, 13 years ago. I still have moments where I break down, or at least tear up, when I go through what I would consider important milestones that I wish my dad was there for.

      Then of course, sometimes I just cry for no reason – I assume it’s my tear ducts wanting to explode. I’m not talking watery eyes… I’m talking full blown crying, tears running down my face for NO REASON. No allergen, no heightened emotional state, nothing.

      And then, since starting hormonal birth control (though a low dosage of estrogen), I get more teary-eyed when frustrated. Usually happens at work when I don’t understand something (I’m a developer, so if I don’t understand the propriety language for a web environment, or something similar) and I have to ask for help, I try to keep it together because it’s directly related to my birth control and not my skill as a developer. Luckily, none of my coworkers have asked me about it.

      But yeah, sorry for your loss. And I know breaking down at work over anything can be quite embarrassing, and it is really complicated to explain should you want to. Hope you feel better soon!

  8. Forrest

    I thought #6 meant that she would have to get a coworker to take over shifts but the company wouldn’t pay for the extra work (since its just a redistribution of duties or during the set work day hours).

    But since people don’t want to do these duties anyway, #6 may feel that she would have to throw money in to get them to cover her shifts.

    #6, you just need to offer to cover their shifts when you come back. It sucks, but its not unheard of asking coworkers to do some tasks if you’re out of office for a long period of time. Especially if the task can’t be put off.

    1. Mo

      This is what I was thinking too. That these responsibilities must be done every day regardless of who does them. Since they’re currently assigned to OP #6, she has to find someone to do them while she’s out.

      When someone is out of the office in my department, we have to split up that person’s responsibilities between those still in the office. Regardless if we want or like to do them, they need to get done every day. We don’t get paid extra for it since we manage these responsibilities throughout or normal work day.

  9. Liz in a Library

    #4…I’m so sorry about your sister. Grief hits people in different ways, and the delayed reaction your describe happened to my mom when her father died, too. Sometimes I think that after a major loss, we just can’t wholly process right away, so the magnitude of it hits us later. What you’re feeling is so completely normal that if your coworkers aren’t crazy people, they will be compassionate and understanding.

  10. some1

    “We’re all folks who have a degree and although this is a job most people take straight out of college, we are still professionals and we are adults — not a fraternity!”

    I know you mentioned that the environment of the job and the fact that everyone has degrees to point out just how ridiculous it is to expect employees to accept food and beverages in lieu of money, but this wouldn’t be acceptable for a business to offer this compensation to, say, a high school student working as a cashier, either (besides the fact that it’s illegal to provide alcohol to teenagers in the U.S.). Every business should offer money for time worked. Even in jobs where you can eat for free or at a discount while working (like restaurants), IMO the employer should still offer a fair wage.

    1. Elizabeth

      Yeah, pretty much the only time it’s acceptable to pay people in pizza and beer is when your friends help you move into a new apartment.

    2. Lindsay J

      I got paid in energy drinks when I was working at a pizzeria in college – closing duties took longer than they should have because my manager and most of the other workers would stand out back smoking, so after a certain point (a couple hours) the manager would clock us out so we wouldn’t get in trouble. I got energy drinks worth the equivalent dollar value I would have made while on the clock.

      I didn’t mind because I would have used the money to buy the energy drinks anyway, but it was definitely illegal, and my dad made fun of me for it saying it was like those Trident Layers commercials where they get paid in gum.

  11. fposte

    On #2–is it possible that you are exempt employees? There are places that will pay overtime even to the exempt, so the fact that you got overtime for a while doesn’t rule it out. I could see a situation where your office ran out of money for this not-legally-required extra pay, or where somebody initially thought it was required and then realized it wasn’t, and it was summarily stopped. They handled it really badly, if so, but it wouldn’t be a legal violation.

    1. OP #2

      I’m 99.9% sure we’re non-exempt. I am basing this on my research (Google PhD, ha!) and the fact that during major emergency situations (i.e. Sandy) workers that didn’t make it into the office due to danger/subway closing down/etc. in our dpt didn’t get paid for that day even though they came to work the rest of the week – I understand this cannot be done to workers who are exempt. Unless of course my company is trying to get best of both worlds for them… Hmmm.

  12. The Other Dawn

    In regards to #6, I’m not 100% sure what OP is talking about. I think she’s saying that she needs to find another employee to cover the hours she would have worked at the front desk since the former receptionist’s work has been redistributed. So maybe she needs to ask Joan to take Monday from 11-2, Sam to take Tuesday’s hours, etc. Then she would fill in for them when they leave for vacation. If this is the case then, no, there wouldn’t be any compensation outside of their standard pay. It’s just pitching in where needed. And that’s totally normal. I’ve never been in any workplace that pays a little extra because they fired Sally and now the team has to pitch in for a few weeks or months.

    I didn’t take this to mean that she needed to hire a temp or otherwise bring someone in from outside the company. If that’s the case then, yes, that person needs to be paid.

    1. Forrest

      That’s what I took it to mean and that she was basically saying (or felt) that Joan wouldn’t help unless she got extra money and of course the company wouldn’t give extra money, so the LW felt she would have to bribe Joan herself.

      1. The Other Dawn

        Well, if she feels no one will pitch in without her having to bribe them, then that company either has some big issues or needs a more flexible staff.

        1. fposte

          Yes, I think the management needs to back her up more here. If it’s like receptionist positions I know, it’s not really a shift-work office where she can trade and cover somebody else’s as well, it’s a place where the receptionist position is unique in the amount of coverage it requires. If so, it’s really not fair to treat it like a shift-work business where the OP can just cover Saturdays for somebody else for a while–it’s a special circumstance that shouldn’t deprive the OP of a vacation and that’s a result of the office’s need for this position.

  13. Kim

    Re: #4 – When I was experiencing some major family problems I found therapy very helpful because it helped set aside the time in my life to grieve/obsess/dwell. When the overwhelming emotions would come to me I would be able to pause and remind myself that I would have an hour on Thursday to be able to do nothing but think about that issue. So it helped to give me a special time set into my schedule to feel sad and this way it didn’t take over my whole life. It may not work that way for everybody but perhaps it will work for you.

  14. Employment lawyer

    Regarding #6: AAM’s advice may be (depending on the state) incorrect.

    AAM said “They can put whatever restrictions they want on vacation time, since no law requires them to offer it at all.”

    That’s not really true. Some states (including my own stats of Massachusetts) treat earned vacation time as a wage. Once you’ve earned it, the employer must allow you to take it, or pay you for it. An employer can have a “use it or lose it policy,” but it needs to be REASONABLE.

    An employer who functionally refuses to allow an employee to use her vacation is not necessarily acting reasonably. You can’t force them to let you take the time off–but you may be able to challenge it if they eventually take away the vacation under a “use it or lose it” policy; or if they fail to compensate you for the value of the time when you leave the business.

    1. I wish I could say

      I worked in NY for a company for 14 years and was let go without a severance , without my 2 weeks vacation pay and 2 personal days pay. I was told ” Those are benefits you had that we just took away. It’s just business. Don’t take it personally. ” I was informed by an attorney that although unethical, it was not illegal.

      1. fposte

        Right, because it would need a New York law, and New York doesn’t have such a law. Massachusetts does, as Employment lawyer notes; California does; so do several other states. It’s all about where you work.

  15. ExceptionToTheRule

    #2 – I’m pretty sure the only acceptable instance that “beer & pizza” can be used as payment is when you ask your buddies to help you move.

    1. Andrea

      And even then, I don’t think that’s acceptable once you’re older than 25 and gainfully employed. At that point, you should have to hire movers. (If I seem bitter, it’s only because I have a pick-up and am beyond sick of people asking for help moving their stuff.)

      1. Meg

        Oh man… beer and pizza (and gas money, if using their vehicles) is totally an acceptable payment for moving for at least childless adults of any age. With children, it’s a bit more hassle, but my boyfriend and I are both over 25, and beer and pizza would totally seal the deal for helping out friends.

        1. Andrea

          This is one of my favorite essays of hers, but I’d forgotten that the “hire movers” thing was in there. So true.

          And hey, I’m not unwilling to help close friends when they’re moving. When my best friend moved, I was there to help her with her cat and help direct movers, and I brought her some groceries so she would have stuff in the fridge without having to run right out to the store. And I did help her unpack boxes and set up her kitchen and bathroom right away. When I moved, she helped me with my cat and also helped carefully pack up some very fragile items. She also made up my bed for me as soon as the movers set it up because she didn’t want me to pass out, exhausted, on a bare mattress at the end of that long day. But after a certain age, it’s a little much to expect friends to move large appliances and furniture or carry heavy boxes. In any case, my point was that beer and pizza are certainly not appropriate payment for work, and in all but the rarest of circumstances, that’s not even appropriate payment for friends.

  16. Not so NewReader

    OP4, I am so sorry for your loss. All of the advice here are really good ideas that will help for sure.

    Nothing is an instant fix. Ever.

    When my father died, I cried in the car to and from work, every day for four months. That was my cry time- I deliberately chose to just let go. I thought I was never going to stop crying. Then one day, I realized “no, I don’t need to cry today. Maybe tomorrow, I will see about it tomorrow.” I felt the the crying I did before work helped me get through the day. And since I knew i would cry on the way home that became another coping tool.
    Be sure to respect your own feelings. If you tell yourself to stop crying- this could be making you cry longer and harder. Talk nicely to yourself and use affirmations: “Yes. I am sad. Yes, I miss this person”, etc. I know this sounds like a really silly exercise but you might want to try it. (Ok, try it at home the first time and see how it goes.) It helps to face our feelings- acknowledge the emotions.

    The time it takes to reknit your heart and your life is the time it takes- there is no schedule to follow. Some of the losses we experience in life we spend the rest of our lives grieving. The way we grieve changes, but it is still grief. I stopped crying so much but his keys hung on the hook in my kitchen for ten years before I could put them away. Yeah, I still have the keys in a memory box. He will be gone 20 years next year. So you see how my grief has changed over the years.
    Just because they are gone, doesn’t mean we stop loving them. And it is okay to still love them.

  17. anon

    #1 I have worked as an editor for the last five years. I have also taken a proofreading test during an interview process, completely blanked, and bombed it. I’ve always been a good test taker so it was a shock for me. I have also taken proofreading tests in the past and done excellently on them. It was like someone scrambled my brain, and I just lost my reasoning abilities during the test. I know how horrible it can feel when you don’t perform or demonstrate the skills you really do have. Luckily, after I bombed that test, another job opportunity landed in my lap that was much better for me, so I like to think that the rejection was keeping me available for something better. Try to take it in stride and trust that you’ll still end up with a great job eventually. We all make mistakes. What’s that quote? Failure is inevitable. It’s the courage to continue that counts.

  18. Elizabeth West

    #1–proofreading fail
    >_< Oh I feel this; it happens to me every time I take a typing test! I get nervous and my fingers stiffen up and I make far more mistakes than usual.

    #2–pizza pay

    I have a young friend who does this at the place she works. She says she loves the job (a restaurant), but she is so stressed out from working every single freaking day that even free groceries aren't worth it. I told her it is illegal for her manager to do this and if someone reported him, he could lose his job. Her health isn't good and I worry about her. I don't know what to do to help her. If I had a better job for her, I would give it to her!

    #4–grief at work

    *HUG* I'm so sorry for your loss, OP. I know it's hard.

    #6–reception duties

    They might consider using the night ring to answer the phone, and putting an extension menu on it, if they haven't already. Then people can deal with occasional visitors (OP doesn't say if they are common), but most callers can go to the menu and find people that way. People who want to go on vacation can do so without the added hassle of covering "shifts" at the front desk. Doing that in addition to your own work is enough of a pain.

    1. fposte

      What state is your friend in? It might actually be legal to require her to work every day–there’s no federal law against it.

  19. Meg

    #6:

    What happens when someone is sick? How do shifts get covered for unexpected absences?

  20. Elsajeni

    #7: It’s not totally clear from your letter, but was this a call like “Hey, you’re supposed to be in today, where ARE you?” or a call like “Hey, we need someone to cover a shift from noon to 8 today, are you available?” Because if it’s the latter, I would definitely not worry about it — if you always say no to that kind of request, it might eventually cause problems for you (you could get a reputation for being inflexible or unwilling to help, etc.), but saying no or not returning the call sometimes shouldn’t be a problem.

    If it actually was a “Hey, where are you?” call, then I can understand why you’re stressed out about it and worried that you might be in trouble! But even when something like that happens, you should be fine if you call back (whenever you’re able) and say something like, “I got your message asking where I was — I think there must have been a miscommunication, because I had arranged for Jane to cover my shift.”

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