Handle With Care

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Below are common workplace occurrences. Here’s what you should know if you find yourself in any of these situations.

gossipFired for gossip
A 47-year-old former residential manager says she was fired “without warning or bad reviews” after eight years. She had been employed much longer than the other managers of equal rank, but received two weeks’ vacation time while others got three. “My boss told me I did something intolerable, but she would not tell me what it was,” she says. “I know the other managers gossiped about me to hurt my character. I was always an advocate for the residents, which may have worked against me. What should I do?”

Answer: You should have spoken to the company’s president when you discovered that equal-level managers with less seniority than you received more vacation time than you. Apart from employment contracts for key employees, benefits should be awarded equally to same-status employees.
Most states follow the doctrine of at-will employment, which means a company can fire an employee without giving a reason, as long as it is not discriminatory in nature. Your manager gave you a reason, though not complete, and may have legally trapped herself. Once employers offer a reason, they have opened the door for argument. Your lost vacation time may total thousands in benefits, and you may have lost your job because of damaging gossip. Spend the money on the hourly fee to consult with an attorney to handle this.

Invisible paycheck
A man who worked for a privately owned business left his job a month ago and has not yet received his last paycheck. The owners keep saying they do not have the money to pay him. What can he do?

Answer: He can file a charge under the Fair Labor Standards Act with the labor department where the company is doing business. The state labor department may rule in his favor, but if the owners do not have the money, he may be waiting a long, long time to receive the back pay. Filing a charge may empower him emotionally, but he should then let it go and put his energy into working elsewhere.


Salary inequity

I have been in my field for 11 years and have held a senior position at my current company for the past eight. I am a solid performer in a performance-driven industry. Two months ago, another woman with less experience was hired as my junior but given the same responsibilities. I went into my boss’s office to silence his cell phone and accidently saw her employment agreement sitting on his desk. Her salary is 20 percent higher than mine. I was devastated, so I confronted my boss with this information. He said he would talk to his boss but got back to me saying that he could not give me a raise because of a merger going on, but that he could give me a cost-of-living increase next year. He also said that he had thought I made more and that we could talk at a later date about how to make it right. I have worked so hard that I do not want to leave, but I do not want to be taken advantage of, either.

Answer: Salaries are open to negotiation. Your new co-worker was a good negotiator. Many women could use help in negotiation skills, so make this a subject to read about and improve. A cost-of-living increase next year is not much to look forward to, but your boss’ statement about discussing other ways to make up for it sounds promising. Feeling used will only hurt you. You love your job and made your case and your boss was open to it. His budget is likely already set for 2011, but the merger may bring along new organizational plans. Focus on your performance and learn how to negotiate to receive a higher salary no matter where you work.