my coworker’s creditors call her constantly, indignant over lack of a raise, and more

It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. Employer asked me to do 30 hours of free work as part of a hiring process

I am being interviewed for an executive director job for a U.S.-based NGO doing work internationally. I have been told I am a finalist for the position. The next phase of the process requires that I create a detailed development plan that should take “30 hours” to complete over the next couple of weeks.

I have a problem with this on many levels. I don’t think the motives of the rather young and inexperienced board of directors are in anyway nefarious, e.g., to get free work and then pass it on to someone to implement. Yet, I will not do this. The most I would spend on the task would be 8 hours, which is even more than I think is necessary to achieve their stated objective of understanding strategic competency. How would you handle this?

30 hours?! That is insane, and not acceptable.

As I’ve said here many times, it’s crucial when hiring to see candidates actually doing the work they’d be doing if hired. But that means an hour, maybe two.

I’d say something like this: “I’m not able to do 30 hours of work without charge. I’d be glad to walk you through similar plans I’ve created in the past and/or refer you to references who can talk in detail about how I’ve approached this kind of work.” (If you prefer a different framing, you could replace that first sentence with one about how your schedule doesn’t permit you to do 30 hours of work in the next few weeks because of existing commitments to your current job / clients / etc., but that leaves the door open for them to try to extend the timeline or even shrink the project to, say, 15 hours … which would leave you needing to use the first, more direct explanation anyway.)

(Also, I’m sure you’re right that they don’t intend to screw you over; they’re inexperienced and don’t realize that this isn’t okay. That kind of thing isn’t uncommon at smaller nonprofits, but you can point it out to them.)

2. How can I discreetly ask my coworker to stop letting creditors constantly call her at work?

I am responsible for reception duties as well as some accounts payable responsibilities at a mid-sized company. Every day, I receive many personal calls for a particular coworker of mine, most of which are credit card companies and mortgage companies trying to collect a debt. I have been dutifully transferring these calls to her line multiple times a day, but it is reaching a point that it is interrupting my work and seems excessive. I know it is within my colleague’s rights to tell the debt collectors not to call her at work and they must respect this request, but for whatever reason she hasn’t done this. Is there a way I can stop these calls without stepping over any personal boundaries or embarrassing my coworker?

I’m guessing that you don’t have the authority to tell your coworker to stop taking so many personal calls at work, which means that you’d need to frame it as a suggestion rather than a request — framing it as “I wasn’t sure if you knew you could tell them to stop and they’d have to, and thought you might find it helpful.” But if she declines to do so, then you’d be left needing to talk with your manager about it — and actually, that might be the place to start, because your manager might prefer to intervene with your coworker herself than put you in the position of doing it. (Or she might tell you to let it go and not say anything.)

3. Should I be indignant that I’ve taken on much more responsibility without a raise?

I was hired right out of college, a year and a half ago, at a TV news station as half producer, half assistant producer. On the weekends, I’m in charge of entire shows, but on the weekdays I simply assist all the full-time producers with their shows. However, when one needs vacation or sick time, I end up filling in, sometimes with no notice. I may go an entire month being an assistant but once.

These are big newscasts with incredibly high ratings, and more reponsibility and more pressure than an assistant deals with – but I’m not being paid more.

Do I have any justification to be indignant? Is it fair to ask for a raise based on these new circumstances? If a similar thing happens in a future job how should I react? Again, this is my first ever job so I don’t have much to go on.

You can absolutely ask for a raise based on this. (In fact, if you haven’t had a raise since you started a year and a half ago and you’re doing a good job, you should probably be asking for a raise anyway.) But I’d try not to be indignant about it. It’s nice if your employer offers you a raise unprompted, but ultimately you’re the one responsible for advocating for yourself and negotiating your salary. There’s advice here and here and here on how to do that well.

4. Manager is giving some people extra vacation time around Christmas — but not everyone

Is it fair for the boss to give staff time off around Christmas when they didn’t work time in or have vacation days left, when other staff have booked vacation time that they must use? Mostly I am talking about the working days between Christmas and New Year’s. We were discussing vacation time at work and several of the staff are not happy that they have had to book vacation time and wait all year to take time off over the holidays, while the boss won’t close the office but tells other staff that have no vacation time left to not bother coming in those days — essentially it is extra vacation time for them, some of which are new staff this year. Those who have booked vacation time feel they should be able to use their vacation days for extra days.

No, that is not fair. Legal, but not fair. You should point out to your manager that she’s essentially giving extra vacation days to some people and not to others (and in the process, penalizing people who presumably deliberately didn’t use that time earlier in the year so that they’d have it available to them now). If she’s willing to close the office for that time and not charge some people vacation for it, she should be willing to do it for everyone.

5. How much notice do I need to give when I’m being laid off in 60 days?

My workplace just gave me 60 days notice of being laid off. If I am lucky enough to find employment before that 60 days is over, how much notice should I give? I was informed that I would be paid through the 60 days, but I might be told my last day is sooner than that since it’s all dependent on work that is being contracted out. When what’s left is over, then so is my reporting into the office.

First, read your severance agreement. It might require you to work a certain amount of time (or even the whole 60 days) in order to receive severance. (You might rather have a new job than the severance anyway, but you want to make sure you know what’s in that agreement.)

Aside from that, I’d try to give the normal two weeks notice if you can, simply so that you don’t risk burning a bridge or harming your reference. There’s certainly less of an ethical obligation to do it, but you still want to protect those things. However, you could also talk with your manager — who obviously knows you’ll be job-searching — and ask what kind of notice she’d like if you get another job during the 60-day period. You might find out that she would be fine with you leaving sooner. (Although for what it’s worth, most employers won’t push you to start sooner than two weeks out anyway, so this would presumably be mainly about whether you wanted to get out of there earlier, as opposed to an employer needing you to start sooner.)

{ 175 comments… read them below }

  1. ann smith

    Thank you, Alison, for your great advice on handling the question about what appears to be an “insane” request of a 30-hour project from a prospective employer. You helped validate my concerns and, most importantly, gave great advice on how to communicate them. I am very glad I found your site!

    1. Joey

      You know it says something about them as bosses that they would ask this in the first place. Frankly I’d anticipate that there are other wildly unreasonable things they’ll ask of you

      1. Anonymous

        This exactly. I’d be concerned that it was a peak into their culture and that more unreasonable things may be asked of you if hired.

        1. Kate

          Agreed. I’ve worked in a number of nonprofits. Some are great and treat employees well. Others can be incredibly unreasonable. If they’re asking 30 hours unpaid now, how many more “extra” unpaid hours and unreasonable requests are to come? (And yes, if the OP is exempt, then they’re not really “unpaid” hours, but if you sign up expecting to work 40-50 hours per week and you end up working 80….)

      2. Jamie

        Yep – this is a huge red flag for me, too.

        Even if they modified it now they are either completely naive about common practice, or they will have ridiculous expectations over all.

        This would be enough for me to pull out.

        1. Pseudo Annie Nym

          Ugh, yeah–I had an interviewer give me a 50-hour unpaid “skills test” before they even had a phone interview with me! This is for a publication that’s well-known for underpaying/not paying its contributors. (I also loved the, “Oh, BTW: This is a $30k/year position. You need 3-5 years industry experience and we’ll expect you to work nights, weekends, and holidays–that’s OK with you, right?” email.)

          I couldn’t run from that job fast enough!

        2. Anonymous

          Yes, one bad thing is surely a sign of many other bad things. Pull out. Don’t proceed or try to get confirmation that your suspicions are correct. Not worth the time. They are probably bad at other things too.

          1. Laurauk

            Ok, but I have certainly spent that amount of time on interview prep and presentations over a couple of weeks and didn’t see it as free work. I’m fairly senior and was asked to do various things in terms of writing things and presentations. The job I’m in now had a load of exercises one of which was a recruitment strategy. Now they didn’t delineate 30 hours but what I produced took me about that but I aced it and they were impressed. I don’t see as many red flags here. But I guess you get used to a three fold testing process. This one also included psychometric tests. It wasn’t free work it was just one hell of a process and time put in got the result I desired

            1. Julie

              When I applied for one of my previous positions, I was asked to produce a PowerPoint presentation on my plan for the department. It definitely took me some time because I wanted to do a good job. They didn’t give the candidates any budget to work with, so I talked about what I would do without worrying about financial constraints. When I got the job, I was glad I had already thought about what I’d like to do, even if we didn’t end up implementing everything in my plan.

  2. EngineerGirl

    #3 – No. Save indignant for injustice and discrimination.

    You were given the chance on stretch assignments, and have been given the chance to prove your worth. Now that you have done that you have the power to negotiate a raise. No emotion.

    1. Jen in RO

      As usual, EngineerGirl is right. They gave you an opportunity to prove your skills, you did, now take that proof to the manager and ask for the raise.

    2. John

      Great answer, EngineerGirl.

      I’m familiar with the TV news business. The entry level is not well paid. Just having gotten in the door is a big deal and having these opportunities to show your stuff are invaluable to building a career. Yes, you need to push on the salary front, but you also need to take full advantage of these opportunities.

      A producer may leave and you will be well positioned to jump in. Or — especially if your station’s newscasts are highly rated — you could jump to a competitor. Do a great job and build strong relationships with leaders and colleagues.

      Good luck to you.

    3. B

      Yup, this exactly. And working in news requires that type of 24/7 commitment, especially when just starting out. You can certainly ask for a raise but I would also think of it as gaining very valuable experience.

        1. Jenny Lee

          Very true, Anna. The reason I no longer work in TV news – which I loved and excelled at – is because I can’t afford to work in TV news. It’s the whole “Devil Wears Prada” philosophy of a ” a million girls would kill for this job”. I can’t tell my landlord that a million landlords would kill for a tenant like me. They want cash. not prestiege.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule

            Landlords also don’t take sunshine, which one station in a state known for its oranges told me was part of its total compensation package.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule

        The OP can certainly ask for a raise, but entry level producers are a dime a dozen and the probability of getting a raise is slim to none. I don’t mean to be rude or dismissive, but this is the way it is. Think about how many people you graduated with & then consider that there are maybe 5-6 producer positions in a station with 3-5 stations (depending on market size) per city and you can quickly see there are more graduates every year than jobs.

        OP, if you want more money, you need to start sending out tapes and make a market move. Keep in mind, however, that the job you described above is every producer position I’ve ever seen in 17 years. If someone’s sick, someone has to fill in and that’s why you’re there.

        Get on and start looking. Another good resource to help you put your career in perspective is Survive Your Job in Television News:

        Good luck, OP.

  3. anon

    #1 Thirty hours? THIRTY hours, over a number of weeks? I would balk instantly at that. I feel like they just didn’t think it through at all. Some people ask things like this, and they obviously haven’t thought past step one, i.e. how much time and effort it will take, what they’re going to do with the data, how much it could potentially put off talented and experienced candidates, if they really need 30 hours of work to draw their conclusion or if 1 hour will do…

    I have several co-workers who will carelessly ask me for unnecessary things that will take up a lot of time and effort and cause me plenty of inconvenience, and when I (politely) point out this out to them, they say, “…Oh, I honestly didn’t think about it that much, I didn’t realise it would take you two days/ you can’t fit it around x project/ you’ll have to work all weekend to get it done”. Obviously if it’s something necessary I don’t mind, but some of the superfluous, time-consuming things people ask me for that they’re not even going to use…

  4. Windchime

    #4 — Are the coworkers being paid for the time off? The post says that the employer told them to not bother to come in, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are being paid for those days. If they are being paid, then yes, that’s unfair and I’d be unhappy about that, too. But I guess if they are hourly workers and they are just not being paid for those days, then it’s still kind of unfair that others weren’t given the option of using their vacation days earlier in the year and offered dock time as well during the holidays.

    I guess it’s kind of weird, either way.

    1. Working Girl

      #4 I agree, it sounds like unfair management, those taking vacation time are being penalized for having the time to take while others are being rewarded for not having the time to take vacation but being given it anyway.

      1. Contessa

        It’s unfair either way, but it’s a different kind of unfair if the workers with no time left are being told not to come in, but aren’t being paid for the “days off.” That’s not being given vacation, it’s losing income.

        I always work the week between Christmas and New Year’s–it’s actually my favorite week out of the year to work, because it’s so quiet. I get so much done! If my boss told me not to come in and by the way, I wouldn’t be paid, I’d be livid.

    2. A Bug!

      This is what I’m wondering. My office closes for a few days around Christmas, and I’m generally given the option of using vacation time or taking the days unpaid. If I had no vacation left, of course, it would have to be taken unpaid, and I wonder if that’s basically what’s going on here: the boss recognizes a lower staffing need for the time period, and wants to save costs.

      If the coworkers are getting the time unpaid, then the OP might be able to go to the boss and say “Hey, I wasn’t anticipating that you were going to be closing the office anyway. If possible, I would rather take those days unpaid like the others, and save my vacation days for the new year.” (Basically the same as AAM’s advice but with a different angle.)

    3. Chinook

      That was my first question too – do you know if your coworkers qre being paid for their time off? I have been that new employee who got the 26-28 off but it was unpaid. The only way my coworkers would know that, though, was if they asked.

      1. Christmas Vacation

        Yes, staff are being paid for their time off when they are getting vacation that they did not have to take.

  5. Ann Furthermore

    #2: I really feel for the person getting harassed by creditors at work. Years ago when I was struggling to make ends meet and trying to finish school, I was in this situation. I had creditors calling me, and let me tell you, they are absolutely relentless. And some of them are mean, nasty, and abusive. Talking to them is very upsetting. One awful person had me in tears once. The creditors are probably deliberately calling the OP in an effort to embarrass and humiliate her the OP’s co-worker.

    I don’t know the specifics of the law, but it could very well be that there are some loopholes that still allow the creditors to contact people at work, and even though the OP’s co-worker has asked them to stop calling, they’re still within their rights to do so.

    1. Anonymous

      It’s not always a matter of loopholes; a number of debt collection agencies pretty flagrantly violate the law and harass debtors inappropriately anyway. Consumerist has whole tags devoted to debt collectors and debt collection that are full of examples, lawsuits, ways to get them to stop contacting you, and all the rest.

    2. some1

      If you ask to a creditor to stop contacting you on the phone; they have to abide. A certified letter is a good way to go for this.

      If you get contacted after that, there are state agencies you can file a complaint with.

    3. Elizabeth West

      They don’t always listen when you DO ask them not to call. I had this happen at Exjob. It turned out that the coworker had had his identity stolen and the bills were coming from accounts that weren’t his. He had notified all the requisite authorities and even explained it to the creditors and asked them not to call him at work, but the incessant calls continued. He couldn’t even get the calls from the area where he worked. All I could do was take messages.

      We both went to my boss, who was clueless about how to handle it. I ended up lying and telling them the person didn’t work there anymore and it finally stopped.

      1. Anonymous

        For future reference, if the creditor is in fact violating the law by continuing to call after you have taken all required steps to make them stop, you can sue them and the statute provides for legal fees to be paid by the creditor to your attorney. Attorneys also take these cases on contingency (you only pay if you win money). There are attorneys whose entire practice focuses on violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. Check with your local bar association or google your city and consumer protection/FDCPA. At the very least they will normally provide you a free consult where they decide whether to take your case and you decide whether you want them to represent you.

        1. Joy

          The FDCPA currently only applies to third party collectors – not to creditors. A creditor is a company collecting debts it is owed directly, versus a collection agency. Creditors can be pretty nasty and face no legal ramifications.

          1. Anna

            I’ve been dealing with an equally annoying phone call from collections agency thing. I have a company cell phone and the person in the position before me used it as her contact number so I got a lot of calls from “an agency” in Texas stating she was being sued blah, blah, blah. I had to call them five times (it would have been four but they hung up on me once) to tell them they were calling a government cell phone, the person who had the phone doesn’t have it anymore, and they have to stop calling. I think this last time stuck, but we’ll see.

        2. Elizabeth West

          You can sue them, IF you know who the H they are. These people left a different number every time, would not answer any questions, and blocked their numbers so you couldn’t trace them back.

    4. Editor

      I was once pursued for someone else’s debt. We had similar last names, but they weren’t the same, and I had only recently moved into the state. I told the initial caller’s manager that I was the wrong person and to stop calling me, and he told me to pay the bill and he would stop.

      I did manage to find out the place the bill was owed, called the office manager, and she promised to intervene. When she called me back, she said in bewilderment that the agency had told her I should pay (several thousand dollars) of someone else’s bill. She was horrified because apparently she had pushed for using a collection agency. I don’t know why she believed my story over the phone — I guess she knew my voice was different.

      My husband and I did a conference call to the collection agency to tell them to stop calling (before I talked to the office manager), and the supervisor at the collection agency told us we were rude. He also told us if we kept arguing with him he would wreck our credit rating. If the office manager hadn’t intervened, we would have certainly filed complaints, since we documented the calls.

      Some bill collectors are just shady. Others just have a thankless job. But I think people who stay in the business a long time have much different personalities than I do, or develop different personalities.

      1. Daria Morgendorfer

        ALL bill collectors are shady. It’s a totally corrupt field. The only thing to do is fight fire with fire – get as mad, as agressive, and as lawyered-up as they are. Read the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and DO NOT GIVE THEM ONE MINUTE’S leeway. They are all evil.

    5. OP

      Thank you Allison for posting my question! Thank you to all those who have posted additional advice so far, I appreciate the feedback immensely. I really feel for this coworker, as I have had my own financial troubles in the past (who hasn’t in these tough economic times.)

      The real problem I have here, is that I don’t have ANY relationship with this coworker, I have met her maybe once. She works on a different floor in a different department. I would feel much more comfortable talking with her about it if we had any kind of rapport, but I hardly know her. I have thought about typing up something anonymous and slipping it into her mailbox, giving her some resources to help her out and stop the calls.

      1. Anonymous

        Personally if it were me I would feel far worse about an anonymous note than I would about a note from the receptionist. I mean, if your job is to answer the phones and direct the calls, presumably if she stopped to think about it she’d be perfectly well aware that you get the calls?

      2. Natalie

        I get the impulse to give her an anonymous note, but personally I would recommend against it. It’s more likely to make her paranoid about which/how many of her co-workers know about this debt issue and might embarrass her unnecessarily.

        If you really don’t feel comfortable approaching her directly than I think the suggestion to talk to your own manager is a good one.

      3. Jessa

        Try to get your manager to make a policy for you. Then whenever you take such a call tell them “I am sorry this is an office we do not take creditor calls. We will not take a message or put you through, thank you.” CLICK. And yes I mean ring off on them. Every single time. NOTHING more than whatever sentence your manager gives you. Never take a message. Never answer does the person work there. NOTHING.

        As an office/corporate policy whether or not your employees owe money, there’s no reason for business time to be used for this. And there’s also no reason to be more than professionally polite to these people. Make it a policy, not just because it’s not really permitted to call the office (unless it’s the actual creditor in which case it might be permitted but it’s not ethical.)

        1. Twentymilehike

          Oh this. I see to answer phones for a small company and the owner was the one with all the creditor calls. He never took them. We tried everything. I tried telling the. They had the wrong number, I tried saying this was a business, or saying he didn’t work there. I even gave them his cell number and said call that instead and they STILL called the office because it was the main number he used in all his accounts. SO FRUSTRATING. I’d end up yelling at them, and tell them to quit harassing me while I was trying to work.

          Don’t feel bad for hanging up on them. The goal is to get them to stop wasting your time, not solve their debt problem.

          Good luck!

  6. WIncredible

    Maybe someone could clue the employee into the fact that the Fair Debt Collections Act says that a collector cannot call

    (3) at the consumer’s place of employment if the debt collector knows or has reason to know that the consumer’s employer prohibits the consumer from receiving such communication.

    Maybe give the employee a chance to stop this before bringing in management. Be kind.

    1. Ann Furthermore

      Hmmm…so it doesn’t say that the consumer can tell the collector not to call because they don’t want to be harassed at work? Then the OP’s co-worker may be out of luck.

      I get that some people just flat-out don’t or won’t pay their bills, and that debt collectors can’t be pushovers. But so many of them go so far beyond what’s acceptable and professional.

      A good friend of mine does corporate credit work, and told me once that she temped for awhile doing consumer collections a few years ago to help pay off her bills. She told me that she could never do it during tough economic times though. She had no problem chasing people for money who have just been irresponsible and for instance spent their money on a vacation instead of paying their bills. But hounding people who haven’t paid because it was a choice between feeding their kids and making payments on their credit card was just a whole new level of dreadful.

      1. Rebecca

        But the first part of the statute reads:

        § 805. Communication in connection with debt collection [15 USC 1692c]

        (a) COMMUNICATION WITH THE CONSUMER GENERALLY. Without the prior consent of the consumer given directly to the debt collector or the express permission of a court of competent jurisdiction, a debt collector may not communicate with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt —

        Then it goes on to points 1 through 3 (3 is posted above).

        I would also find out if there’s an Employee Assistance Program in place. They have great resources for debt management and dealing with these issues. And, make a copy of the basics of the FDCPA for the person receiving their phone calls. It’s possible they’re so overwhelmed and scared they don’t know what their rights are or how to get help.

        1. Ann Furthermore

          I think it’s very possible that this is what’s going on. I can say from personal experience that being in this situation is just horrible all the way around. You’re embarrassed that you can’t pay your bills, you feel like a deadbeat, and you certainly don’t want to tell anyone else what’s happening. Debt collectors calling to harass you and tell you what a loser you are certainly doesn’t make you feel any better. You just want to hide under a rock.

          And most importantly, you *know* you’re in the wrong: you owe money to someone, and you haven’t paid it. So you don’t really feel like you have any leg to stand on at all.

          1. Natalie

            Just my personal experience, but almost all creditors farm this stuff out to third parties. It’s fairly likely that the FDCPA does apply here.

          2. fposte

            I also think that laypeople don’t differentiate when they’re talking about collections calls and will often use the terms interchangeably, so I wouldn’t assume that somebody was saying “creditor” to mean “not a third-party collector.”

      2. Anonymous

        Please don’t interpret the language as meaning that the debtor’s motives for not wanting to get calls at work are a huge factor, and this one has to suffer in silence.

        The debtor may not want to be harassed at work because, well, he or she is supposed to be working. It is not unreasonable to assume that your employer wants you to work while you are at work and take care of personal visit when you are off the clock. The debtor should be free to just say “Don’t call me at work,” hang up the phone, and have that respected.

        1. Anonymous

          Sorry – personal visit was meant to be personal matters. Apparently I’m not yet awake enough to be allowed near a computer.

    2. Nelle

      The collectors giving her coworker information about these debts may be grounds for reporting on them, too. I could be wrong but I believe they aren’t allowed to harass other people for one person’s debts, and getting many calls a day at work sounds like a real hassle for this coworker. I hope the OP and his/her coworker can work out some kind of coordinated hangup plan.

      1. Frances

        A coworker of mine actually gets the occasional call from debt collectors looking for her old roommate – she’s very good at telling them to leave her alone but it doesn’t mean they don’t try every so often.

  7. Lillie Lane

    #1: Great timing for this question, as Alison answered something I was wondering yesterday: “What is an acceptable amount of time that a prospective employer can expect you to devote to a skills exercise?” 1-2 hours.

    Earlier this week I had to submit plans for 2 different sample project scenarios, and it took me about 10 hours total. And this was doing the bare minimum, since I was annoyed with how long the tasks were taking. This was also for a non-profit. Am I being overly judgmental of non-profits, or is this a trend?

    1. Observer

      Overly judgmental.

      Some nonprofits are terribly managed – but the same thing is true for regular businesses as well. Let’s face it, Scott Adams didn’t get his Dilbert strip out of the non-profit sector.

      I’m curious, do the people you are talking to know how much time this should take? The OP indicated that the board KNOWS that it’s going to be 30 hours. That’s just flat out bad management. But, if they don’t realize, then perhaps pointing this out might be useful.

      1. Joey

        Although it seems that there are quite a few non-profitors that haven’t experienced anything at the professional level outside of that bubble, no?

        And don’t non profits on the whole have less access to the best of the best because there aren’t a lot of well paying positions?

        1. Lillie Lane

          “And don’t non profits on the whole have less access to the best of the best because there aren’t a lot of well paying positions?”

          Oh, I don’t know about that. I applied for another position at the same place (one that matched my experience much better) but was rejected because they had the creme de la creme apply. Not much pay, but I’m desperate.

          Plus, comparing non-profit work and corporate work in my industry is like apples and oranges. I’m having a terrible time breaking into the corporate world because I’ve never worked for a company. I have the degrees and skills they want, but since I’ve never worked in the corporate world, I can’t get an interview. However, through networking, I have one job possibility :)

        2. fposte

          I don’t think that’s true. There are a lot of professions where people work for rewards beyond just salary level, and many of those are nonprofit. It’s not a simple linear relationship between salary level and candidate quality.

          1. Joey

            I’m not disputing that I’m just speculating that on the whole there seems to be fewer non profit jobs compensated well compared to market(I’m talking total comp) in non profits which should mean that they get fewer candidates that are worth the most.

            1. fposte

              And in my experience that’s not true, both because many nonprofits are competitive and many people involved in such work feel actively compensated by rewards other than the paycheck.

              What’s more of an obstacle, I think, is when such low-paid sectors are connected to massive inefficiencies/irrelevant task demands that minimize the impact of an individual contribution. A lot of people find “making a difference” to be a highly compensatory reward, but if you take that away and deliver a low salary that’s when retention and attraction become big obstacles.

              1. Joey

                Maybe I’m saying that because the non profits I’ve known (some very well regarded) always compare themselves to other non profits, not the private companies that non-profiteers leave for.

                On a side note I think this is one reason why there seems to be a lot of people in non profits with a “director” title. In the private industries I’ve been in directors have much more oversight and are really a much higher level position that a non profit director.

                1. Judy

                  Yes, one nonprofit I’m associated with has maybe 20 employees, but there are 3 or 4 directors and one CEO. This is a nonprofit that is an affiliate of a national nonprofit. Two others I know that are about the same size, the head of the local affiliate is the director.

                  At my company, a director would have 200-500 people working for them and the CEO has more than 50,000 people working for him globally.

                2. fposte

                  I don’t know about the broad tendencies of nonprofits, but I think for the people I’m familiar with (which is to say the non-director levels), they’re not looking profit vs. nonprofit–they know they want to work in the arts or social justice or community service or what have you, so that puts them in a nonprofit. They don’t just hop across to a for-profit because that would be leaving their field. My impression is that such stream-changing is more common at the executive levels.

                3. Joey

                  Eh, all of the people I’ve known who’ve hopped over never really knew what they were worth in the for profit industries. This is purely my opinion, but it seems like they clung to the cause because that was the only thing worth clinging onto. Once they realized they could do much better financially in the for profit world the cause was still noble, but less of a priority than making a better living for themselves. I haven’t run across more than a handful of people who knew they could be paid much more in the for profit world yet turned it down for a cause. And that was because they had dreams of becoming a lucrative artist, actor or similar.

                4. Cat

                  Joey, I’m curious where you live. I’m going to take a guess that it’s not Washington, D.C., where much of the city could be making a lot more money than they are.

                5. Joey

                  No not DC. But I’ve know some people in political circles in my city and they’re much more like people who flock to LA and DC- willing to sacrifice a well paid career for a chance at realizing a dream that very few actually succeed in realizing. That’s great, it’s just not the norm.

            2. Cat

              When I was in law school, the non-profit jobs were often more sought after – and got better applicants – than the firm jobs, despite paying about a third as much (if not less).

              1. Joey

                Oh yes I agree that you tend to wear many more hats at a non profit (and small companies) which if worked right makes you much more valuable in the long run.

                But on the flip side it can also cause you to be more of a jack of all trades, master of none or feeling like you’re a big fish because you’re in a small pond.

                1. Cat

                  That’s not what I said though. (And anyway there are plenty of non-profits where you’ll be just as specialized and expert as you would be elsewhere.)

        3. Ask a Manager Post author

          I’ve spent my career in nonprofits, and at the well-managed ones, hiring is rigorous, often much more rigorous than many private sector firms.

          The issue, I think, is that there is WIDE variation in quality of nonprofits; some are run poorly and others are run as extremely tight ships. Just depends on which you’re looking at.

        4. Victoria Nonprofit

          Sure, there are plenty of career nonprofiteers (myself included, although I currently work for a (c)4 so I guess I left the team)… just as there are plenty of corporate folks who have never experienced anything “outside of that bubble.”

          And regarding your second point, that assumes that everyone behaves as a perfect Economic Man and makes choices solely based on their financial benefits. It would be academically pleasing if that were the case, but we all know that it’s not. Approximately 20% of Harvard’s graduating class this year applied to Teach for America; that’s a pretty good proxy for the willingness of “the best of the best” to work for a nonprofit.

            1. Cat

              I don’t know if it’s proportional, but you’d be wrong – there are math, physics, and engineering majors who do Teach for America. (And Harvard graduates in non-STEM – though I hate that acronym – fields also often have lucrative career opportunities they could pursue instead of TFA if they were just seeking out the money.)

            1. Cat

              It’s designed to be a short-term program. A lot do end up in fields like educational policy, which is hardly ibanking money.

              1. Joey

                Yes I know. My point is that its frequently just a learning ground for people with little or no experience. The best of the best have at least some experience.

                1. Cat

                  But you have to compare people against other people of similar experience levels. Regardless, it’s irrelevant; plenty of experienced, qualified, brilliant people take lower paying jobs because it’s doing work they believe in or find more interesting.

                2. Joey

                  I’m not saying the best never sacrifice a significantly higher salary for a cause I’m just saying most don’t.

              2. Cat

                I think you’re seriously underestimating both the talent and the compensation in a lot of non-profit and public (and semi-public) sector jobs.

                1. fposte

                  I also think it’s a little skewed because you (Joey) are seeing the people who leave and not the people who stay. Those who leave to get more money are by definition going to be the people who are more interested in getting more money than in staying with the field.

                  But in general, I disagree with your underlying theory that money is the main motivator for everybody, and I think reward is very field-culture dependent. (Gender plays a complicating role too, given how many nonprofits come out of traditionally female sectors or draw historically on female direction.)

                2. Joey

                  Actually I’ve worked in all three and hired in all three- public, private and govt. and there are definitely great people in all of them. They’re just a lot easier to come by when being a high performer puts you in the upper echelon of the market which is almost always in for profit.

                3. Cat

                  What you’re saying is highly specific to the particular organization. Nationally recognized non-profits that are leaders in their fields have no trouble getting the best qualified candidates.

                4. fposte

                  Oh, I always thought you were strictly on the for-profit end–you’re a man of many talents :-).

                  I would say it’s certainly possible that you can attract more candidates in a for-profit that can pay more, but at most levels the nonprofits seem to attract enough, even if it’s not as many. And enough is enough. Where I tend to see it more, as I suggested, is in higher-level positions where the non-financial benefits are less available but the financial benefits don’t compensate (or, as a very talented person I know said about rejecting a high-level academic admin job, “If I’m going to have no life I want a private-sector salary for it”).

      2. Lillie Lane

        I suppose I could tell the hiring committee head, as I know him. It’s just that as a candidate, you’re at a disadvantage, because it’s hard not to come across as whiny or difficult when protesting these crazy requirements *before you even have an interview*.

        I was picking on non-profits because I’ve never had to do this type of exercise for a for-profit company, only non-profits. I’m sure some corporate hiring processes require this kind of pre-screening exercise, but I’ve never encountered it.

        1. Just a Reader

          I had to do something that took about 5 hours for a private-sector role. It was a detailed communications plan and I didn’t get this job because it “wasn’t strategic enough.” Nevermind that they gave me 2 days to turn it around and I had to bang it out while on a business trip for the job that was paying me.

          Never again! Now I will know to push back.

            1. Just a Reader

              The assignment was pretty vague too. “Tell us exactly what you would do in detail, but make it high level.”

              1. Clever Name

                You dodged a bullet. I would assume that the instructions you were given are reflective of how they delegate to employees. Vague and conflicting instructions is not a particularly effective management strategy.

        2. BCW

          Agreed. The candidate will sound lazy, entitled, or whiny if you don’t want to spend hours doing these tasks because there is always someone out there more desperate for a job who is willing to. If thats how they choose to screen out people before they meet them, then fine, but I think they are losing out on more people by going that route.

    2. BCW

      I posted something similar in an open thread a couple weeks ago. Essentially, they wanted me to watch over 2 hours worth of training videos just to learn how to do the tasks they asked for, which would probably take another couple of hours. This was before I even had an in person interview. Although I haven’t officially contact them to remove myself from the process, I decided not to do it. If they contact me, I have no problem saying that I felt like at the point in the hiring process I was at, it was entirely too much of a time commitment.

      1. Lillie Lane

        I hope you get the chance to tell them. I was about to pack it in and tell them to throw me out of the candidate pool, but I know the hiring committee head and am also currently collaborating on some projects with him, so I decided to chug through it to keep a good impression.

        1. BCW

          If its a job I was dying for, that would be one thing. After the phone interview, I’m not incredibly sold either way, so I did want to go in. I’d be fine doing this as a final step in an interview process, but to ask someone to do that before they have even had the chance to feel out the company is asking a lot in my opinion

  8. bearcat

    #2: It’s naive to think that your coworker is “letting” creditors call her at work. They just do. They’ll call your parents, your siblings, your boss, or literally anyone that you are linked to in an effort to embarrass you. It’s not necessarily against the law. I’d go to the supervisor and get a policy in place where you don’t transfer calls without knowing that they aren’t collection calls.

    1. Anon

      Agreed – I have worked reception for many years, and you can almost always differentiate these calls immediately. I find that polite (feigned) confusion, telling them they dialed a business and I suspect they were given a wrong number, seems to disarm the callers and usually stops further calls from that creditor.

      I honestly wouldn’t bother going to the coworker at this point, but would mention to my supervisor that there has been a dramatic uptick in personal, non-work-related collections calls, and propose that the receptionist be authorized to tell them to stop calling the business’s number.

      1. Ann Furthermore

        This might work but debt collectors as a rule won’t say who they are or why they’re calling. They may even say that they’re a friend or family member of the person they’re trying to reach.

        Of course, I think this is illegal, but the problem is that you don’t always have the presence of mind to ask for a first and last name, the name of the collection agency, or any other pertinent details. So then even if you do want to report them, you don’t have any specifics.

        1. some1

          Once a debt collector called me for a close relative with the same last name as me. He wouldn’t say who he was and then got pissed at me when I wouldn’t tell him my relative’s contact info until he told me who he was and what he was calling for.

        2. Anon

          I’m not talking about reporting the collections agencies for calling, but sharing a method that has actually worked for me (many times over) for getting them to stop calling your place of business in search of an employee. Some collections callers are sneaky and may slide through, true, but an experienced receptionist is very skilled at recognizing most of them. Sounds like the OP just needed advice on how to handle an ever-increasing number of collections calls that aren’t pertinent to her business’s line of work but are eating up her time.

          One other tip for the OP: for persistent collections callers or ones that specifically ask if Wakeen works there, start telling them that you unfortunately are not authorized to share employee information, but your HR department would be happy to help if the caller leaves a voice mail with their request.

          1. fposte

            There are actually some excellent tips for receptionists in several comments here–I hope the person who asked about being a great receptionist the other day is reading this!

          2. Wren

            Several places I have worked have a policy that they don’t transfer calls, you have to call the person’s line directly. It is mostly to keep unsolicited sales calls down.

          3. OP

            I know these calls are from creditors because my phone system identifies them as such. When the call comes through, it identifies the company calling (ie. BofA.) They ask for this coworker by name. I think it makes sense to refuse to transfer personal calls, especially if HR and my supervisor supports this action. My worry however is that this coworker will think the calls have stopped because her creditors have forgotten about her, and she won’t take the action necessary to resolve the issues, rather than because I have taken action to make them stop.

            1. Jessa

              I don’t think that…for all you know the debt is invalid, or (please nobody pile on me for this but in this economy it matters) past the statue of limitations, or being negotiated with the original creditor (some places sell debt to more than one place.) It’s not really your business what your coworker is doing in their life. Whether she’s trying to resolve it or cannot resolve it at all or is just ignoring it, or it’s not her debt, is your coworker’s RIGHT. And it sounds awfully judgmental to make it your business whether or not she will take action on this. I was with you until that. She does not have to take ANY action.

              1. Colette

                It’s true that the coworker (who I’ll call Wakeen) doesn’t have to take any action, but I also understand the OP’s point that if the calls stop because of a policy that Wakeen doesn’t know about, Wakeen might take different actions than he would have if the calls continued, because he doesn’t know that they’re still happening, they’re just not getting through to him.

            2. Anon

              Your concern for this coworker’s situation is touching, but seems a bit misplaced. After all, she is an adult and is responsible for her own self. It is not up to you to see that she handles her personal finances wisely.

              If you really feel the need to do something, you could mention to her that your workplace has updated their call routing process to more efficiently handle incoming calls, which means her personal collections calls will no longer be forwarded.

  9. Brett

    #3 Is there a previous post or posts that address what to do when a manager (or someone higher than the manager) says, “No.” to a raise?

    1. Tina

      I suspect the answer would be to start looking for other opportunities, if it’s that important to you.

      1. Brett

        That is one option, but it is not always possible to do that (pensions, training repayment, post-employment restrictions, etc.).

      1. bigcat

        Has anyone else been stuck in this infinite loop?

        You can’t have a raise because you don’t have enough experience. You don’t have enough experience because you haven’t lead a project nor some bit of training. You can’t lead a project because you don’t have enough experience. You can’t have the training because you haven’t lead a project and you don’t have enough experience.

      2. Brett

        Well, I actually went out to lunch with my manager today and had a talk about this. The answer was pretty bad, “Nothing. You have the highest reviews in the division and you are already under the discretionary hire salary. But the compensation study was not completed so there will be no raises.”

        Definitely reaching the point where I have to balance the cool things I can do with this job against being one of the lowest paid people in the industry at my responsibility level.

    2. Jen in RO

      Suck it up and either:
      a. work harder in hopes of getting a raise in the future (if the company budget can handle it)
      b. realize that it won’t get better in your current company and you need to look for work elsewhere.

  10. Voice of Experience

    #1 – The employment market has become infested with this recruiting tactic, and it’s not just nonprofits that are using it. It’s unethical and possibly illegal (see: Department of Labor; IRS). I know many mid- and senior-level professionals who’ve been through similar exercises; not one got the job, and in several instances no one at all was hired. Do not give them the benefit of the doubt. I can assure you that they do intend to get free work, and once you deliver it, it’s highly likely you won’t get a job offer.

    1. Joey

      It’s pretty hard to get anything of value from an applicant that doesn’t require a lot of additional work unless they’re asking you to file or something. I doubt most places use the work samples applicants produce, except maybe getting ideas from them.

      More likely is that they don’t realize how much work it takes or they figure there are enough qualified applicants who will invest the time.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      While I have no doubt that some places do intend to get free work, that’s not typically the case. And it’s very, very difficult to use applicants’ work as is; the type of work samples asked for in hiring processes typically wouldn’t be suitable for actual use.

    3. Voice of Experience

      The assignment as OP described it is specific to the hiring organization, specific to the role, and something that the hiring organization would ordinarily pay an employee to do. Whether the deliverable is “used” or not is irrelevant. The work was done. Consultants produce assessments, reports, plans etc. that clients often end up not using. Those clients still need to pay for the work.

      Unpaid “homework assignments,” like unpaid internships, are hard to square with federal labor law. If you insist on auditioning job applicants this way, pay them for the work they do, at an agreed-upon rate.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.

        What Alison said. We had an exercise we were sending to our top 5 or so candidates for a high-level fundraising position, and we had one of the candidates refuse to do the exercise for this reason.

        What I couldn’t understand is what she thought we could possibly do with her fundraising plan… did she really think that her 4 pages of “I would call these people, email these people, do these things in this order” was going to be groundbreaking stuff, when the people we had specified were called things like “100 people who have donated more than $500, but less than $1000, and not within the last 5 years. 250 people who currently donate $50 each year. 1000 people who have donated at least $25 in the past 5 years, but have not donated in the past year.”

        The exercise was to get a peek into that person’s methodology. There was no way that anything any of those candidates produced would be useful for us to jack and use ourselves. If we wanted to have someone create free generic templates for moves management, there’s plenty on the Internet; there’s no reason to go through the farce of an application process if you’re just trying to get free, non-company-specific work out of random strangers.

      1. Voice of Experience

        As is, “While I have no doubt that some places do intend to get free work, that’s not typically the case.” Evidence, please?

        Auditions and homework assignments (along with marathon onsite interviews) are rampant in the private sector. It’s abusive, a form of employer theft that’s possible only because of the dreadful job market. “We weren’t able to use it” is a poor excuse for demanding 30 hours (often more, in fact) of unpaid labor from job applicants. Alison, I enjoy your blog, but you’re human and your point of view isn’t always spot on. I suggest you rethink this one.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I say it’s not typically the case because I’ve watched a lot of job simulations be used in hiring and never once saw anyone do it with the intent to use the work.

          But I certainly agree that asking for 30 hours of labor from applicants is unacceptable, like I said in the initial post.

  11. Mike C.

    Re: #2

    I’m a little baffled at the framing of this question to be honest. No one tells creditors to call them constantly at work, or to call constantly at all. In fact, it’s not up to the person how often they are called, it’s up to the people calling. It just sounds like this particular employee has some debt in the hands of some very aggressive collectors.

    Am I missing something fundamental here?

    1. fposte

      I see that a little in the title of the question, but that may be Alison’s–the actual text of the question seems pretty clear that she’s just trying to make the work interruptions stop and is happy to help the co-worker.

  12. Anonymous

    #2. This is an embarassing situation. I would approach the coworker discreetly and let her know “I noticed you get a lot of calls from debt collectors. I just wanted to let you know that you have the option to stop these calls by doing xyz. I hope that’s helpful.”

    I know it’s not your job to find this info and go above and beyond for your coworker, but it’s the nice thing to do and will be most likely appreciated.

  13. LF

    #2 – I’m surprised Alison didn’t mention the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act as an additional resource. There’s a good summary on Wikipedia.

  14. ellex42

    #2: Depending on the state, it may be illegal for creditors to repeatedly call a debtor, particularly at their workplace. The creditors will do it anyways, but the co-worker they’re calling may not be aware of her rights.

    That said, since the creditors and collection agencies are calling the co-worker at her workplace, she is absolute within her right to tell them to stop calling her there. Calling her workplace may qualify as harassment, since they potentially could be jeopardizing her job. The OP can also inform the callers that they are calling a business, not a personal line, and that such calls will not be forwarded to the co-worker.

    I had a similar experience, where the co-worker had quit the company but her creditors had started calling us, and wouldn’t accept that the person they were calling was no longer with the company and we were absolutely not going to give them any personal information to aid them in contacting her. It took threatening to go to the police and file harassment charges to get them to stop calling.

  15. anon

    #2 I’ve had to deal with this at several different offices while handling phones. Some strategies I’ve used (ymmv depending on your office and the preferences of the co-worker being called and the managers involved):

    –I’ve told the caller that so and so isn’t available and then I either take a message or transferred the call to VM, giving the co-worker they were calling a heads up later.
    –I’ve told the caller that while the person works at the company this is not the number to reach them and that I’m not allowed to give out their number without prior permission. I do not take messages or transfer to VM in this case. I’ve mostly used this at times when the person either doesn’t have a desk/office with a phone line and/or their cell phone is their primary contact number.
    –I’ve explained that as a company policy we don’t allow employees to take these kinds of personal calls during work.
    –All automated calls I hang up. This is a personal policy for everything automated, actually, including those stupid google listing calls.

    I’ve also done the thing where I dutifully put the call through. Mostly though, I don’t feel like it’s my job to deal with the fallout of my co-workers’ debts nor do I feel like it’s my job to help collectors collect those debts. So I take the temperature of my co-worker(s) and my managers/bosses and then do what I can that they are comfortable with and that also makes my life easiest. If that means transferring to a VM inbox that is forever full and unable to take messages, so be it. If that means “dropping” the call during transfer so be it. If that means recognizing the number and not picking up so be it. I put calls like this in the same category of sales calls; I’m there to screen out the important work-related stuff from the time-wasters. If a co-worker wanted all of these calls transferred 100% of the time that would be different, but that’s never happened to me: “oh, yes, I ALWAYS want to take calls from debt collectors!!!” No, it’s usually: “ug I HATE THESE CALLS WHY ARE THEY CALLING AT WORK????”

    There was one office where we got a call from a debt collection agency for a company “debt”. They stopped calling once we asked for an invoice, a signed contract, anything to prove that it was an actual debt as our records showed we had gotten a quote and never went forward with the job. And it was only crickets after that.

    1. Elizabeth West

      –All automated calls I hang up. This is a personal policy for everything automated, actually, including those stupid google listing calls.

      I had to at least listen for a few seconds to make sure it wasn’t an airline notification for someone who was traveling–that happened once, and lucky I did that, or I would have missed it. They would have missed their flight, too. Those notifications are almost always robocalls.

      1. anon


        I don’t think I’ve ever worked in an office where someone would use the company landline instead of their personal cell for something like travel information, but yeah, I always listen for a few seconds unless it’s clearly a message I’ve heard before; I tend to get the same ones again and again.

        1. Liz

          It’s possible to list multiple contact numbers, and airlines tend to call all of them, especially for last-minute changes. For a work trip I’d probably list my work number in addition to my personal cell phone (no work cell, thank goodness).

          1. Elizabeth West

            I’m sure this was the case–it only happened once, and when I informed the person, it didn’t happen again. I suspect that they only gave their cell number after that, to be sure they would get the message. Missing it would have been a huge PITA.

  16. Briggs

    #2 … I’m not going to claim to be an expert at the law here, but I do know that the federal Fair Debt Collection Act does put some very specific limitations on creditors and collectors, and it sounds like these guys are violating it. I do know that it’s illegal for a debt collector to tell anyone other that the person with the debt that this is a debt collection call. It’s also illegal for one collector to call more than once per day, and illegal for them to continue calling a place of employment once they’ve been asked not to.

    You should try the friendly approach, and let the person getting the calls know that they can push back about this. If it’s really serious, you could refer them to It’s a team of people who sue abusive creditors on behalf of the person getting those calls.

  17. BCW

    #4 Is an interesting question to me, because I see both sides. I can understand you being upset that you saved your vacation time to use during that week. However, on another note, it seems to me that the manager is trying to give a nice gesture to the staff. I don’t know what type of office you work in, but if there is no work to be done, and the employees will literally just be in the office doing nothing, then whats the point in having them come in? You say the boss isn’t closing the office, so it sounds like some roles just won’t have work to do, while maybe higher up ones will. As was a question last week, it can just be frustrating and annoying to do that. I mean, do you really just want them to come in for no reason? Thats kind of the issue with “use it or lose it” vacation policies.

    I’m kind of in a similar position. I saved up my vacation time to use between Christmas and New Years, however it now turns out that they are closing the office anyway (which I knew was a possibility). However, I’m not angry that people who didn’t save their vacation time are getting it off as well. Either way, I’m not coming in those days. Yes, it would have been nice to use them earlier in the year, however “punishing” other people by making them come in for nothing won’t do anything for me.

    1. TL

      I’d be pretty annoyed if I had to use my vacation days when no one else did. It’s not about them twiddling their thumbs; it’s that you have to use PTO for those days when not everybody does.

      If the boss is planning to close the office, she should give everyone the time off without pulling from their PTO bucket.

      1. BCW

        I get that part. Maybe the OP could take her vacation next week or sometime after the new year. I’m not clear if they have a use it or lose it policy or not, so if it doesn’t roll over, I get that it doesn’t leave a ton of time. I’m not saying the manager shouldn’t try to make accommodations for those people who put in the time, but being bitter that others are getting free time off is kind of pointless.

        1. TL

          Well, right now, the OP is taking her vacation when everyone else has free time off and it’s not clear that she’ll have enough days to take another vacation (not to mention if she bought tickets/spent money/planned to have people come into town.)

          And certainly it’s not worth becoming a Scrooge over but it is worth talking to the boss about and making a strong case to get those vacation days back.

          1. Christmas Vacation

            It is good for the staff that didn’t have the vacation time to take but the staff with the vacation time feel this is unfair. All staff are being paid for the time, whether they have vacation time or not.

        2. Jessa

          The problem with this is not just the PTO thing it’s that they saved it up. Others are getting the time off and the OP could have used that time in October or something. IF they’re paying people with or without PTO they need to say it in advance so those who have PTO can use it BEFORE that week.

          I used to work for a Japanese company where New Years was the more important holiday but they understood their American employees would want Christmas so they closed the week between (we had our party/clean the joint for New Years thing on 24 December and then left early.) We got paid for the week, independent of our holiday time hours which we all used at other parts of the year. Nobody was expected to save time for that week and we all knew it.

          If the ones being let off those days are being paid it’s unfair to make someone use PTO. AND not just because they’re losing the hours, but because they could have used them another time like the rest of the employees that had none. If they’re NOT getting paid it’s poor planning not to let them know in advance (IN JANUARY,) that they can hold hours for that time of the year if they want to.

    2. Jamie

      I’ve seen it where the time was given to everyone last minute, and the people who had put in for vacation time were told it wasn’t coming off the books. One place with rolled over vacation time let people keep the time, and another just cashed out their time as they zero out vacation time end of year.

      I don’t think anyone has a problem with giving people unexpected time off, it’s that by some people getting it for free and other people burning vacation time it’s like charging Shirley, Keith, and Laurie for an item and then giving the same item to Danny, Chris, and Tracy for free because they didn’t have the money.

      You don’t take more from people who can afford it or planned for it just because they have it.

      1. doreen

        Not in a situation like this, anyway. I have seen situations where people who had every intention of working but couldn’t get in because of severe weather had the leave credits restored to them after the fact, but the people who were on planned leave didn’t , but I think that’s different.

  18. Marie


    I’ve been the primary or secondary phone answerer in a few workplaces. I was also on the wrong end of a mistaken identity debt collection nightmare pretty much right out of college, so I knew my rights about workplace calls. So when debt collection calls showed up for my coworkers (or just as often for former coworkers or people only vaguely related to our business, since the collector was just fishing for info), I have a quick and easy plan:

    1) If I suspect they’re a debt collector, I don’t transfer — I ask them for their name, a callback number, and a message, and I take a handwritten message. This will usually suss out the shady folk right quick — regular callers might be annoyed at this, but shady callers will get evasive and pushy, because they don’t want to give you their super obvious 1-800 number.

    2) Go to my supervisor, tell them we received a debt collection call for an individual, and ask if we have a policy on how we respond to those calls.

    3) If pressed on who the debt collector was trying to contact, I usually say something like, “I haven’t spoken to them about this yet, and I’m hesitant to divulge private information like that before I’ve given them a heads-up. But I came to you first because I just wanted to clarify if there was a policy I should be following before I spoke to anybody else about it.” If my supervisor pressed me, I would probably tell them the employee name, but I’ve never had that happen — usually my supervisor cares about us receiving debt collection calls, not that an employee is in debt, because that’s their personal business.

    4) If there’s no policy, I suggest that we make a quick one that just says we don’t accept non-business related debt collection calls, and we don’t divulge information on our employees to debt collectors (most workplaces already have a policy about not divulging things like schedules or other information to any caller). I’ve never had a supervisor ask me to provide reasons to support my suggestion, but the obvious answer has always been, “It would make my job so much easier, and it will be easier for any other employee who answers the phone and gets a debt collector, since those are awkward calls to take.”

    I always shoot for the policy rather than just an internal unwritten “here’s how we handle this” rule that only the receptionist knows, because it lets all employees (including those with debt problems we don’t know about because it’s none of our business) know that they can rely on their time and privacy being protected at work, can refuse those calls knowing their employer supports them in that (and that they can then go after the debt collectors if they keep calling), and it also provides a template for the employees who occasionally answer the phone when the receptionist is busy — without that template in place, I’ve seen coworkers get flustered and accidentally communicate inappropriate details or otherwise handle things in a less-than-awesome fashion.

    Debt has a lot of cultural baggage attached to it that makes this situation seem way more confusing than it should be. Treat debt collection calls like telemarketing cold calls — these are people who can leave a message if they need, should not be needling you for information, and you do not have to humor them, not even if they seem to know the name of somebody on the staff. I mean, if you got daily calls from “Greg at Copier and Toner Services!” and he’d like to talk to “Supervising Director Mary!” and you can hear the buzz of a call center behind him, you wouldn’t transfer that person to Mary every time they called, because you’d know they were a cold calling telemarketer who has somehow managed to fish up your supervisor’s name. So it’s the same if you get a call from “Greg at Loan Services!” calling for “Supervising Director Mary!” If you’re ever unsure or a call seems sketchy, don’t transfer and take that message by hand, giving yourself time to mull/talk it over — if it was a legit call, your coworker can always call them back and all is well. If it was a sketchy call, you just operated as a great gatekeeper.

    1. Marie

      I should also mention that if all of this goes well — you get a policy, it’s communicated to staff, and that’s that — I may never end up having to address the calls with the coworker who was receiving them, which potentially saves them embarrassment. I usually do address it with them anyway, because it’s totally possible that they *aren’t* actually in debt and the debt collectors have attached the wrong name to a debt, the person’s identity has been stolen, or the collectors are being shady con artists (it happens a lot!), and it can be helpful to get a heads-up about that so they can start protecting themselves.

    2. Bea W

      +1 Great plan.

      It’s exactly the same as cold call telemarketing. These companies buy old debt that has already been written off by the original creditor on the cheap hoping to make money off it, and then they dig up information about the owners of the bad accounts they bought. These are not primary creditors that already have your employment information due to you having applied for a loan or line of credit with them.

      My mother died with a lot of really old debt, and within months, guess who these shady companies were contacting – the next of kin listed on the death certificate. They pretend they think the debtor is still alive too (or just don’t give that info to the people in the call center), maybe hoping some people will fall pray and think they will have to pay these super old debts. Oh heck no. The most they got from me was a sternly worded directive to cut the crap and a copy of the death certificate. That shut them up.

    3. Mike C.

      I really like the fact that you have a simple policy on hand to make the decision that much easier for your manager. There’s a huge difference between “Here’s a problem, what should we do?” and “Here’s a problem, here’s my thoughts on a solution, what do you think”?

    4. anonymous

      This sounds like a great system.

      A view from the other side: I am sure that I’m going to start getting collection calls in the near future (we are losing our house, unfortunately, due to long-term unemployment in the past). I have no idea how to address this with my work – I don’t have my own phone; everything goes through the main line. I REALLY do not want to have to tell my boss (who sometimes answers the phone; we don’t have a receptionist) and my co-workers who share phone duty what is going on. We’re a really small company and tend not to have policies for things like this. How have others handled this?

      1. Same Boat

        You may not have to tell them anything. When/if the first call is received, they can patch it through to you and you can tell the creditor not to call you at work. You can also follow this up with a written directive that they not call you at work.

        I’ve been there and it was hard. I was sued by a creditor and had to retain a lawyer that I am still paying off to handle it. It’s not easy to be in that situation so you have my sympathy.

        I highly recommend reading the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and this board:

    5. Original Poster

      Thanks for the advice, and my original instinct was to contact my coworker directly, but the problem with this is that I don’t know her at all, I have met her maybe once. We work in different departments on different floors of the building. I would feel a lot more comfortable reaching out to her directly if I had any rapport with her. I don’t want I ever have with her is an embarrassing and awkward one about her debts. Especially because she could take offense, thinking its none of my business, and it could cause some real tension. These are not collection agencies calling. They are creditors, my phone system identifies them as such when the call comes in (ie. Chase) they ask for my coworker by name. It makes sense to contact HR directly and ask about a policy in place or that one be put in place. What I don’t want is for this coworker to stop receiving calls and think it is because her creditors have forgotten about her, and not take the action necessary to remedy her situation (if there is in fact a situation, and not a case of mistaken identity, etc)

      1. fposte

        I wouldn’t assume that they were Chase just because they’ve set the caller ID to read Chase (and they would certainly know the person’s name either way).

        Can you email her? I don’t think it’s a big deal to say “We’ve been getting some non-office-related calls from banks and stuff for you, and in such cases I check with the recipient to see if they generally want such calls directed to them or whether they want reception not to pass along such calls. Let me know what your preference is.” Frame it as something that comes up in offices (which it does) and isn’t just her.

        1. Marie

          YES THIS. If you haven’t run into this situation yet, you will — the “holy crap your teenage son calls you CONSTANTLY during the summer, do you want me to put all these calls through or what?” kind of situation. That’s all this is, and you handle it the same way — they’re getting a lot of non-business related calls, is the way you’ve been handling it good, or should you do Y or Z instead?

      2. Marie

        I forgot to mention that in my circumstances, I’ve been working at places where I had enough faith in my supervisor’s discretion and good sense that I could bring this stuff to them. My current supervisor, I would never bring this debt collection conversation to them — I would just talk to the person who was getting the calls directly instead, and maybe HR if I still wanted to get a policy on the books. Usually I’ve found that a policy like this is so innocuous and obvious-once-you’ve-thought-of-it that there’s no trouble getting set in place, but again, it depends on how well you know your employer.

        As for your situation, all of this is compounded by how culturally embarrassing debt is for us, but if you take the debt part out, it’s a pretty normal work problem. Like, replace the collection calls with vendor calls. Supervisor Mary is getting A LOT of phone calls from a particular vendor, enough that you’re beginning to wonder if they really want all those calls. In that case, you’d just say, “Hey, I’ve been transferring [vendor] calls to you, but they’re calling a lot, so I just wanted to check in with you to see if that’s how you wanted me to handle these.” The debt conversation doesn’t really have to be different. I mean, you can soften that up however you like by throwing in things like, “It’s none of my business, I just want to make sure I’m handling it in the way you’d prefer,” or “I know this is an awkward thing to bring up, sorry, but I wanted to make sure I was doing this in a helpful way for you.”

        You can control the conversation somewhat, too, by controlling the tone. People will take their conversational cues from you, so if you approach this with a terrified nervous embarrassed-for-you face, they’ll get that signal loud and clear. If you approach it with, “Hey, quick work question,” face and reiterate that conversational tone in as many ways as you can (through casual body language, neutral voice, etc.), that helps communicate that you’re approaching this as a boring, regular work matter and not a matter full of terrible SHAAAAAAAAAAAME.

        Another way of controlling the conversation is by quickly moving it from the debt topic to the what-will-we-do-about-it topic. That is, if you say “I’ve been doing X, is there something else you’d prefer I do?” your coworker might freeze up and try to exit that conversation as quickly as possible, because that conversation is all about I KNOW YOU HAVE DEBT now begin talking about this incredibly sensitive topic to me. Instead, saying something like, “I’ve been doing X, but I could do Y or Z instead, if you’d prefer, just let me know,” quickly moves the conversation from I KNOW YOU HAVE DEBT to I KNOW YOU HAVE DEBT and here are two or three totally-not-shameful things we can do about me knowing this.

  19. some1

    #3: I would put a very easy to read doc or email together (1-2 pages) listing the extra responsibilities you have taken on since you were hired, and suggest a figure.

    Don’t assume your boss &/or the decision-maker knows about each new task, even though it seems obvious.

  20. Bea W

    #2 – Debt collectors tend to be aholes and unless specifically directed in writing to stop harrassing people at work, they’ll just continue to harass people at work, and usually only because if they continue to do so, they might end up being sued and fined. They’re supposed to stop if you tell them orally, but frankly, I’ve never heard of that working. Have you actually spoken to your co-worker about this? Has she told you she doesn’t tell them to stop?

    My guess is that she’s either ignoring these calls when you forward them or at the very least not telling these people to stop calling if she does speak with them, not that telling them anything would work. As someone else mentioned, she may not even be the one in debt, and despite being told that, these idiots keep calling. I know people who have had this happen to them.

    If you haven’t spoken to her about it, I’d recommended doing it if it’s not uncomfortable so you can find out if she wants these calls to stop and what she does when she gets them. If you want to help your co-worker, as the receptionist you are the gatekeeper. If you know it’s a debt collector, tell them to stop calling the business, and that any calls from their company will be rejected. Stop forwarding these to calls to her. Of course, knowing it’s a debt collector is sometimes tough. They will sometimes pretend to be a “friend” or someone calling about some other urgent personal or family matter, but if you are able to identify a debt collector, there is no reason you need to let those calls got through.

  21. Bea W

    #4 Are these people still getting paid for that time, or is it unpaid leave? If it’s paid, yes that’s like extra vacation time and really unfair. If it’s unpaid, then that is fair actually, because they are not getting anything extra, except maybe some hours to sleep in, but they lose income, so it’s not really benefiting them as much as someone who is taking PTO.

    1. Christmas Vacation

      Staff are on salary so it is paid time off. Staff who have vacation time must take it or lose it, while others who do not have vacation time get it off anyway. The vacation staff are told the office is open but the no vacation staff are told not to come in.

      1. Anonymous

        Being on salary doesn’t necessarily translate to PTO. Sometimes the pay is pro-rated for a partial week when there are whole days not worked. That’s legal (at least in MA). What is really problematic that one set of people is being told the office is closed and the other set is being told the office is open. The office is either open or closed. It can’t be both at the same time!

  22. Kelly

    #2: I don’t put collector calls through to any of our employees. I need them focusing on their jobs not on their financial troubles. I offer to take a message but refuse to put their calls through – not even to a voicemail.

    1. mel

      I agree with this tactic, with coworker’s permission of course! If this was happening to me, I would be too embarrassed to ask the receptionist to screen my calls for me, but would be eternally grateful to have someone “on my side”.

  23. Nonprofit Office Manager

    #2. Ooh. If a receptionist and I shared the same manager (which might not be the case here), I think I’d rather have the receptionist approach me directly, rather than tell my boss. Fair or not, if someone is deep in debt, it can color a person’s perception of them. Not to mention, if I ask for a raise, I wouldn’t want my boss thinking that my debt had anything to do with my request.

  24. Kimberlee, Esq.

    On #1, on the one hand, I totally agree with Alison and pretty much everyone else on here. The only part that gives me pause is that the opening is for the executive director. Given that that’s a position that 1) is probably paid pretty well, and thus is a riskier hire, and 2) one that you really want to find the right person and, hopefully, have them with your group for many years, I can understand the impulse to have a really rigorous and revealing hiring process.

    Of course, that being said, obviously 30 hours is ridiculous. And it’s a bit baffling that this Board decided that was appropriate. But I do think that asking your prospective leader produce actual work, something really concrete to evaluate them on, and even something that will take a couple of hours, is appropriate.

    Having longer exercises is riskier the higher up the totem pole you go (since you could scare away good candidates who don’t feel like doing it), I think it’s also more justified. 30 hours is just never justified, though.

  25. liz

    My take on asking you to work for free as part of hiring process: Years ago, while interviewing for a mid-level marketing position, I was asked to review the employers website home page copy and rewrite it as I saw fit. I made extensive edits. I did not get the job; was politely told it went to a “more qualified candidate” . Imagine my surprise when I visited the website a few weeks later and found that they were now using my copy verbatim. After getting nowhere with the HR and marketing people I had interviewed with, I called the president of the company explaining the situation and requesting that I either be compensated according to my freelance rate, or that they take down my work product. He was very apologetic and seems genuinely surprised that they did this – the copy was removed, and I bet (and hope) someone there was in hot water!

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