Falsely Accused of Creating a Hostile Work Environment.

Question: I was recently terminated from my place of employment of four years on the accusation of hostile work environment. I was disqualified from unemployment benefits because of this. I have always treated my team with respect. given them praises on their work and given them incentives along with Christmas bonus. I believe this accusation arose because of my belief in maintaining and keeping a professional relationship with the team. I don’t engage in joking or becoming too chummy. When you try to correct them they feel that you are intimidating them. What should I do?

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What About Pay Owed To Me, Now That Boss Has Passed Away?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to get a final payout from a job.

Question: I am doing construction and assisting a sub-contractor and our boss had a heart attack on the job site and passed away. What do we do? We’re having a hard time getting paid.

Response: We specialize in workplace communication issues, rather than employment law or business continuity. However, we will make some suggestions about your concerns and perhaps it will help you find some other resources. I can imagine how upsetting this is and hope it is settled soon!…..
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Should I Disclose My Stress Disability?

A question to Ask The Workplace Doctors about having a stress disability: 

I have been on a new job about 3 months. I have a disability where I get stressed out by life at times and have issues with interpersonal situations. As a result, at times, I need a few days to a week to recoup, speak with my counselor and just reflect on the situation.

I like the job and want to stay. This particular job is working for me where I am a telemarketer so I mainly interact with people on the phone and not so much in the office. When I am feeling well I am in top form — performing well. I have received several compliments from my boss.

Should I disclose my disability to my employer so they can accommodate me or will doing so open a can of worms that will get me fired? I have never disclosed my disability with an employer before because I am scared as to what they will say. In the past I either quit or my actions have gotten me fired. Right now I can really use a break. I know I will feel better after some down time.What should I do?

Answer:

We are a workplace communications site rather than a site about areas requiring ADA expertise such as you will need for a stress disability. However, your question does link to the issue of communicating as openly as possible, when it is necessary–and finding out your legal rights and obligations about it.

A big issue here is whether or not you are considered disabled under Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines (ADA) and what the obligations of you and your employer are, related to that Act. It may be that you have already been designated as having a stress disability and have paperwork from your counselor or others to verify that you cannot perform some essential work or life functions without accommodation. But, my cursory research indicates that a formal diagnosis is needed, not just the opinion of an employee or even an employee and a counselor.

Here is a response from the ADA website http://www.ada.gov/ about a general issue of notification:

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Should I tell my employer that I have a disability?

A. If you think you will need a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions, you should inform the employer that an accommodation will be needed. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation only for the physical or mental limitations of a qualified individual with a disability of which they are aware. Generally, it is the responsibility of the employee to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.

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That does not say much about your specific issue, so you will need to research it further or ask for assistance from ADA sites or offices. The Internet has a lot of articles about the situation, but make sure you also have ADA site opinions, rather than relying on a non-expert person (such as me!).

Having said that, let me also offer some practical advice. I am not suggesting that you can overcome your stress disability merely by wanting to do so, any more than you could overcome a physical disability in that way. Mental and emotional issues are often lifetime challenges. However, I would like to offer another view for you to consider:

You need this job. You’re doing well with it and have been complimented. I would like for you to consider that you may have developed a habit or personal expectation that leads you to think that when you feel stressful, you have to have a break from work of a few days or weeks and it is impossible for you to continue working without that time away. That  may be the case, but three months of work is just getting started. If you are doing well, maybe you can use that to buoy you up and keep you going for another few weeks, then some more and then some more, until vacation time. That is what many millions of people with even very severe emotional and psychological problems have learned to do.

Consider new and improved ways you can use the 16 hours or so a day that you have away from work and the two full days you probably have off every week, to recharge, re-energize and successfully manage your stress.  If you see a counselor, share that goal and ask for help to move you to that point. Just as with someone who has a physical challenge, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of, “I can’t do that.” “That’s impossible for me.” “That’s too much for me to handle.” “If I’m uncomfortable, I don’t like it and I need to take a break.”

If you and your counselor are convinced that it is not possible for you to work consistently for very long and you have reached the point where you must take the time off or risk harm to yourself or others, you may have to ask for leave, working with HR in your company, and almost certainly have to give a justification for asking for the leave. If you cannot show that your disability fits ADA status, with letters from professionals or other paperwork you have used in the past, you will probably not be granted the leave.

Consider it from the business position: Let’s say that 10 people are needed at work, to get the work done. If one of those is gone for several days, who will do the work? And if the other nine can do it, why is the 10th employee needed? Further, what about all of the rest of the employees who might be having stressful issues or severe personal problems? Can they take time off as well, and what if almost all of them need it at once?

I think you should talk to your counselor about this matter and ask if he or she has suggestions. If you are considered disabled under ADA, your counselor will know the degree to which you have a stress disability. The counselor may also have had other clients who have been able to work through the situation with employers. Then, perhaps you can do some ADA research for your state and find out if there are any state employment requirements that might apply to your employer.

If you have a family member or friend who could help you, that might make the process of finding answers less stressful for you.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens, so we can share the experience with others if we are asked about a stress disability or related concerns.

Tina Lewis Rowe

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Hi Tina,

Thank you so much for your response. I never realized there are so many ways to look at it. Because of my ignorance, I was hesitant to just go to my employer and advise I have a disability and see what they can do. I will definitely do some research on the ADA website and speak with my counselor. I was interested in hiring a lawyer, but they are expensive and I have limited income. I have been formally diagnosed as disabled but after working for about 20 years it’s hard to just stop working. So doing a part-time job makes me feel somewhat normal. I have a lot to think about. Thank you so much! Your website is great.

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Unpaid For Vacation Time When I Resigned

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about not  being unpaid for vacation time upon resignation: 

I have a signed check that shows vacation hours at 264 hours and a letter from the accounting department stating sales staff can roll over their vacation hours annually. For my final paycheck, however, the owner is stating that per the employee handbook you cannot roll over vacation time. My final paycheck was short prior year’s vacation hours. I have not deposited the check and did not sign the document showing the reduced hours. I live in Colorado. Do I have any leg to stand on?

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

We aren’t attorneys and can’t provide legal advice, but I did research Colorado’s Department of Labor website about the topic of  being unpaid for vacation time. Not as helpful as you’d like, because it doesn’t address roll-over time. In addition, it doesn’t address what an “agreement” may be.

If you don’t have a contract of some kind, in which all benefits are clearly stated and both you and the company signed it, the requirement to pay for vacation may not apply anyway.  Here is what it says:

VACATION AS WAGES OR COMPENSATION: Colorado wage law provides that vacation pay, earned in accordance with the terms of any agreement, is classified as wages or compensation. If an employer provides paid vacation for an employee, the employer shall pay upon separation from employment, all vacation pay earned and determinable in accordance with the terms of any agreement between the employer and the employee.

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Unpaid Travel

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about travel-time pay.

I am an hourly employee and was just told I will not be paid for the time I travel to a trade show even though it is on my day off. Is that legal in Utah?

Signed, To Go On My Own Dough

Dear To Go On My Own Dough:

We answer workplace communication questions, not legal. You might consult your state department of labor. I doubt that there is any law that employees must be paid for travel time to a show on a workday. Check with your personnel or Human Resources to learn more. If you don’t have a union that has negotiated such rules, you most likely must voice your displeasure and then determine to go or not to go.

Don’t blame your boss; such matters are company determined. As and if you gain influence in your organization, you should have more voice in such matters. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. By that I mean I wish the best for your interests and those of your company. It’s in your company’s interest to create an employee friendly workplace–fairness is what matters. I expect that executives in your organization get their travel paid and those lower will not until they collectively voice their concern for fairness.

William Gorden read more

Demoted for Personality Conflict with Boss

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about  pushed out: She writes harsh comments on my work and says she is doing this to push me to get to the next level.

I was working for an attorney in a specific area of law and I was the only assistant who had any experience in that area although I only had a limited amount of experience. That male attorney, whom I assisted, left the firm and they hired a woman lawyer and made me her assistant. I set up her practice and got her familiar with the files she inherited from the man who left. After a few months I was too busy and they promoted the floater in our firm (a much younger woman than me with very little legal experience and no experience at all in the lawyer’s area of practice) to assist me and the lawyer.

The lawyer and she got very friendly. Now after 6 months they are making the young woman the lawyer’s main assistant and removing me from working with them. The lawyer said that the clients like me and have great attention to detail but said she can’t “read” me. She writes harsh comments on my work and says she is doing this to push me to get to the next level. I am sensitive and find this bullying instead of encouraging. She treats the other woman differently. If she does say something mean to the other assistant, that young girl just sticks her tongue out at her or talks back. The lawyer and young girl act unprofessional and immature. I am serious & go to work to do my work. I have never experienced not being able to get along with my boss. I am a hard working assistant. I need advice how to deal with a new lawyer I will be assigned to soon.

Signed, Frustrated and Anxious about What Comes Next

Dear Frustrated and Anxious about What Comes Next:

I have slightly reworded your question to make it clearer to me. I trust that I have not changed its meaning. As I understand it, you have weathered an increasingly difficult boss-bossed relationship with a woman attorney who gets along well with a young woman assigned to help her and you.

Soon you expect to be assigned to a different attorney. You worry that this same frustration you now experience might reappear under this new attorney. How might you prevent this? Hopefully, the new assignment will enable you to develop the kind of serious cooperative relationship you desire. Must you just wait and hope for that or might you be proactive?

You are asking the Workplace Doctors the kind of question you need to ask the new attorney. By that I mean within the first few days, either the newly assigned attorney or you need to talk about the kind of working relationship each of you wants. Too frequently boss and bossed just assume they know that. Unspoken rules of communication and action become the norm without collaborative discussion. In short there is no talk about talk. And the fact is that how a boss-bossed communicate determines their effectiveness and happy/unhappiness on the job.

Attorneys are aware that “process” is important in their practice and that entails developing the rules of process with their assistants. Doesn’t it make sense for you spell out the tasks you expect to be assigned in light of what you know about your job and then to take that list with you to meet with this new attorney? In such a session, you would invite her/him to examine this list and discuss the what, where, when and how of each task? Such collaboration sets the stage for clarifying rather than assuming what each of you thinks will be most effective. Such a session should also establish precedent for reviewing and modifying the rules you two formulate.

This exercise is one of shaping a job description in ways that you might otherwise just bite your tongue about or in retrospect approach the boss when things displease either of you. Talking about what is expected in a concerted fashion is an important stage of becoming a boss-bossed team, one that discusses rather that gives and takes orders. It is what I think of as a wego relationship. WEGO is my coined word to acknowledge that the interdependent micro and macro relationship of a workplace at best is one in which each party takes his/her responsibility for voicing how they mesh. If you have scanned any of our many Q&As, you probably have seen my signature: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

This is my way of saying the success of an organization hinges on collaborative shaping its mission day to day with those with whom you work. My best to you over the next few weeks as you anticipate a new assignment. Guard against talking about frustrations in your the current one now and later. Rather think of what you are experiencing now as learning what can be better. Often we learn to make good rules because of unhappy situations. Please don’t think of this advice as a fix for your new assignment so much as an approach that you might take in light of what is happening. And if you can make time to do so, let me know what you do and if it works and or doesn’t.

William Gorden read more

Can Health Care Be Taken Out Of My Check?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about health care: Can I also tell my boss I don’t want health care, even though it’s not offered?

I work for a family owned company that has a total of 5 stores throughout the Chicago area and suburbs. I work about 25-30 hours a week and I do not have any dependents. I get 15% off my check for taxes. I see that some of that 15% says for medical care but my employer does not offer us health care. My sister said she told her boss she didn’t want health care so they are not discounting health care from her pay, though she works at a large company. Can I also tell my boss I don’t want health care, even though it’s not offered? Can it even be possible to take health care and not offer it?

Signed, Unsure About Insurance

Dear Unsure About Insurance:

Ask the person in charge of payroll to explain the various deductions on your check, especially the part that concerns you. Or, show the deductions section of your check to someone who is knowledgeable about taxes; maybe a tax preparer you will use or just an older friend who has been in business. It could be that you are seeing Medicare or Medicaid listed as a deduction, along with Social Security and other taxes. It could also be that an error has been made and that your pay is being calculated as though you are a full-time employee when you might usually be considered part-time.

Some businesses provide health care for full-time employees but not for part-time employees. However, if you find out that money for health insurance is being deducted but you are not getting those benefits, you should write a request to have those deductions stop immediately. It seems logical that you should also get back deductions taken out incorrectly.

If your employer refuses to stop the deductions and you feel there is an error you should contact the Department of Labor in your state and ask them about laws governing employer deductions.I would bet there is a simple explanation and that the deductions are correct. But, you should know exactly what each deduction is for anyway. Best wishes to you with this matter. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you find out.

Tina Lewis Rowe read more

Can I Be Forced To Flex My Time?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about flextime:

Can a full time worker be forced to flex time?

Signed, Timed Out

Dear Timed Out:

Unless you have a legally binding contract about your working hours your employer can establish any kind of time schedule that works effectively for the business. A flexible schedule (Flex Time) can refer to a schedule in which the employee picks the hours he or she works, within a given time frame. Or, it can refer to a schedule in which hours and days vary according the needs of the employer.One thing that can help an employee in such a situation is to not assume that a proposed schedule is the only one available. Sometimes there can be some negotiation about a schedule. Even an hour either way can make a difference. Best wishes to you with this situation.

Tina Lewis Rowe read more

Want A Raise Without Sounding Like A Blackmailer

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about money: How can I drop hints that I’m looking for new opportunities,without actually going for a interview?

I have been working for the company for 6 years and am part of a department of about ten people. However the job I do is very specific and I and another girl are the two that have the qualification and experience to carry it out. It’s a very important part of the company structure. She is leaving in 4 weeks time to take maternity leave and they are trying to recruit a temp to cover her for 9 months, (I’m more senior than her and earn £21,900 per annum. They are having great difficulty in finding someone with the skills and experience to take on the role. They are offering the job at £20k, however I heard they might now be willing to up this salary to try and get someone. The job is very busy and you need two full time people. If they don’t get someone in soon they will be in big trouble.

I have started to look around myself now and have seen the job I do at other companies for a lot more money then I’m currently getting. My problem is if I was to get another job, it would really leave my company that I work for in a big mess, as they are really struggling to get one person in let alone two. How do I approach them about getting a raise,without been seen to be blackmailing them,which I’m not,but it would come across that way. Also I’m annoyed that this temp could be on or nearly the same money as me, when I have worked there for such a long time. I have done all the internal management courses and been for promotion twice but didn’t get it. I now feel like I’m stuck. How can I drop hints that I’m looking for new opportunities,without actually going for a interview?

Signed, Stuck

Dear Stuck:

This is a challenging time for you and your future so it has to be handled well. I don’t know your work culture, your business or your status and stability there, so my thoughts are merely that and may not reflect the best thing for you to do in your specific circumstances. Perhaps they will give you some ideas to help in your decisions.First is to decide what your real issues are. If you could get a pay raise, would you stay, even thought things aren’t quite like you want? If you don’t get a pay raise, will you definitely leave at some time?

You might as well know those answers for yourself before you start your job hunting. If you know you could get a job elsewhere and do better financially as well as in strategizing career-building, you should probably move on when the coworker comes back. If you’d like to stay, then your focus can just be on salary and benefits for right now, with plans for trying to move up in the future. If those plans don’t work out over the next couple of years, THEN you could look at a move.

There is no way to hint about something like this. For one thing, hints are usually resented and irritate everyone as well as hurting your future chances and your current reputation. So, my advice is not to hint. Come right out and talk to your manager and/or HR about your desire to get a raise to reflect your increased value now and in the future, and the fact that you’ll be helping to provide orientation to a new employee while filling in gaps created by the maternity leave. Be clear that you are committed to working hard while the coworker is gone and that they can depend upon you. But, also say that since pay hasn’t been evaluated for awhile, you’d like to ask that your position be audited, keeping market values in mind. (Or whatever protocol is usually followed for deciding about pay raises.) I do want to mention that the fact of a temp being paid more isn’t much leverage in many jobs.

Temps are often paid as much or a bit more than incumbents, just to get their help short-term. They wouldn’t be hired at that full-time. It’s always frustrating to long-term employees when that happens, but from a business viewpoint it makes sense for a few weeks or months.

The next thing you have to consider is, what will you do if they say there is no way they can pay more for your position? Will you leave, no matter how it hurts the business? Will you stay and feel resentful and have it hurt your work? Will you stay and try to find a way to be positive in your response to the disappointment? You need to know that before you ask for the raise.

This would be a good time to show that you are thinking like a manager and like someone who seeks the best for the business. Perhaps you can use this to help you either advance there, solidify your job there and get a raise, or at least allow you to move on one day with a positive reference and good contacts.

My main concern was to advise you to be honest with your manager about at least some of your thoughts processes. I also wanted to mention that from an ethical viewpoint, if you have basically been treated well in your work, this would be bad timing for leaving. Likely the coworker will return by the end of the year. You can hold on that long probably. If something better is out there, you can leave for it then. If a sure thing comes up that is much, much better in the next few months, at least there would be a temp worker there (hopefully). You could leave while feeling that you’ve done your best to be a loyal employee but you also have to do what is best for you and your future. Good luck to you about this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe read more

Should I Train Others Before My Contract Expires?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about training: Training people was not in my job description. What should I do? Should I train them? Is this even right or legal? Should I quit?

I am a contract worker who has led many initiatives the company. in the beginning I was somewhat promised a job, but with new management this has changed. Now my boss wants me to train old employees for things that I have learnt through my $30,000 education. After that he wants to let me go. Training people was not in my job description. I am a recent grad in a field that is forever changing and my coworkers do not have the knowledge that I do. They last went to school over a decade ago. I have five weeks left in my contract. What should I do? Should I train them? Is this even right or legal? Should I quit?

Signed, Hostage

Dear Hostage:

Your contract may be legally binding or not, and for that you would need to seek the advice of someone with knowledge about the whole issue. Most contracts have “other tasks as assigned” in them, so you probably can be asked to do training. HR may be able to help you with that aspect of it as well.If you truly refuse to train, that’s something you have to decide. But I’ll bet whether you train or not, you aren’t going to be kept as a contract worker. So, you won’t be saving your job, you’ll just be ending it with bad feelings.

Here is my thought: You only have five weeks left. That’s 20 days. Why not go out feeling positive and helping others as much as you can? You will be more likely to get a positive reference and you will have another thing to add to your resume. If you were talking five months, that would be different, but five weeks is a mere blink of an eye in work life. The last week will be wrap-up anyway, so you really only have four weeks–16 days. Think of the impact you could have personally and professionally on many people in that time.You mention your expertise and their lack of it.

Think how worried they are about learning and how much they may resent or be embarrassed about a contractual employee teaching them something they feel they should probably know, but realize they don’t. They may dread training. If you could make them feel that you respect their work history, understand their frustrations and simply want to help, think how they would feel about you? You’d be their hero in these next five weeks.If, up until now, you haven’t had a great relationship with them or even have found you don’t like them, you’ll notice a difference when you’re training them.

You will have a chance then to have a leadership role. Just asking, quite often, “How do you feel about this so far?” “Am I helping?” “Do you realize how well you’re doing?”, can help them link with you in a different way than ever before.My advice about the next five weeks is, don’t just do the time, use the time. I realize from your perspective it isn’t fair. It may be unpleasant. It will undoubtedly take extra work. But, you can do it and in the process you can go out in style instead of just having your contract expire. I hope you will do that. I wouldn’t advise it if you had a long time left and your contract was being violated in a horrendous way, but it doesn’t sound as if it is. You’re just being asked to train your replacement–a request that is made of many people in every job.

Think about this situation in some new ways and see if you can view it as a great opportunity, even though that might have not been the intention of your manager. We’d love to hear back from you about what happens over time. Best wishes in your efforts to leave with dignity and grace, gain positive reviews from many, and play a significant role in the lives of those who need your expertise.

Tina Lewis Rowe read more