Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. Is my boss taking credit for my work?
I have been on this job for many years, but there has been a re-org and now I report to a new person. My new manager has not been in this unit long, so there are times when she refers to me regarding questions on unit procedures and policies to respond to others in the company. She will then send out emails with the information I gave her, with some edits. I am always CC'd on the emails, but is that taking the credit for my work if I put together the initial document?
No, that's pretty normal. It would be nice for her to acknowledge you and say something like, "Here's some information that Jane put together on this," but there are times when the work involved in pulling the info together wasn't significant enough to make it a huge oversight that she isn't doing it. And either way, it's not really "taking credit for your work" if she's just sending out info on policies and procedures -- that's more about passing along information than doing work that could be taken credit for, in the sense that people normally think about credit.
2. My company won't pay for bathroom breaks.
The company I work for recently informed us that any bathroom breaks will now be unpaid. Our supervisor gave us a speech about how we "already get scheduled breaks and [we're] not children so [we] should be capable of holding it until then." I think the speech was mostly because in order for this policy to work, our supervisor has to manually remove the unapproved minutes from our timecards so that we won't be paid for them (paying a supervisor to spend 10 minutes removing 5 minutes from a subordinate's pay doesn't work out for me in a cost/benefit sense but that is the sort of logic we're dealing with at this place).
I know that federal law says breaks of less than 20 minutes have to be paid. But anyone I've seen who pushes back or questions the policy is told some variation of "someone checked with a lawyer when they came up with this, so don't even worry about it." I don't believe that. I think management skipped consulting with the corporate lawyer about the legalities of docking employees' pay; this company has had compensation policies result in a class-action lawsuit once before that I'm aware of. Any suggestions for how to approach this (keeping in mind that management is not interested in hearing any of it)?
Yes, it's illegal. While no federal law requires paid breaks, the Department of Labor does say, "Breaks from 5 to 20 minutes must be counted as hours worked. Even though they are not required by the Fair Labor Standards Act, if you permit your employees to take breaks, they must be counted as hours worked. This includes short periods the employees are allowed to spend away from the work site for any reason. For example: smoke breaks, restroom breaks, personal telephone calls or visits, or to get coffee or soft drinks, etc."
It also says: "Note, however, that you need not count unauthorized extensions of authorized breaks as hours worked when you have expressly and unambiguously advised the employee that the break may only last for a specific length of time and that any extension of the break is contrary to your rules and will be punished." My reading of that is that if they were sticking to their original policy of paying for bathroom breaks that don't go over four minutes, that would be legal, because they're clearly warning you of the time limit. But when they decided to throw out that policy and make all bathroom breaks unpaid, they ran afoul of the paragraph above.
I'd go back to your manager and say, "Federal labor law requires that short bathroom breaks be paid. I know we want to be careful to follow the law so I want to make sure we're handling this correctly on our paychecks." Do this by email so you have a record of it in case you're later retaliated against. But yeah, your management sucks.
3. How can I preserve my flexible schedule when my manager leaves?
I've been at my job for two years now. I have second-highest seniority in my department. I work full-time as well as go to school full-time. For the last two years, they have worked with my school schedule.
My direct manager is leaving her position. I am scared the new manager, whoever that may be, will not work with my school schedule for whatever reason. What is an appropriate way to bring this fear/stressor up to my bigger supervisor and/or new manager? I want to sound professional, I don't want to beg, but this is really important for me. If they don't work with my school schedule, I'll have to quit, so I want them to understand the importance.
Just be straightforward. I'd say this: "I want to make sure the schedule I've been working will still work even once Jane leaves. Because I go to school full-time, for the past two years I've been able to adjust my hours around my school schedule. Usually that means (explain what adjustments you make). It's always worked out well, but do you foresee any problems letting me continue to do this?"
And if your manager hasn't left yet, you might also ask her to leave something in writing about her agreement with you for her replacement. That won't obligate the replacement to continue it, but it will add to the impression of simply being "how we do it" and will work in your favor.
4. Asking for a job description before applying for a job.
Is it appropriate before applying for a position to request a job description? I have a disability and it is important to know that I am able to carry out the duties of the position before applying. In addition, I find it helpful to gear my cover letter to the skills and duties I have performed, which are often not stated in the job posting.
I wouldn't. The info in the job posting is the info they're comfortable giving candidates at this stage, and most employers don't want to take the time to supply additional information until they've determined that you're a candidate who they're interested in talking further with. (Plus, the job posting may be identical to the formal job description; many are. And if that's the case, your question will just cause confusion.) That doesn't mean that you can never ask for more information -- but you should wait until they've reached out to you after an initial screening to do that.
And regarding wanting to be able to better tailor your cover letter, you definitely don't want to ask them to give you special treatment just so you can write a better cover letter. Write the cover letter based on the info they have provided.
5. Phone calls when I have a voice disorder.
About 10 years ago, I started losing my voice. After spending thousands of dollars on various doctors and medications, I found out that I have spasmodic dysphonia. I am not in a financial position to get treatment at this time.
When I have an interview or speak with someone on the phone for the first time, do I tell them about my disorder? I am constantly being asked if I am sick, or if I am crying or OK I avoid the phone as much as possible, but it is hard. How would you suggest I go about conducting business on the phone with people who I have not ever met?
I'd just briefly explain it at the start of the conversation -- "I'm dealing with some voice issues; please excuse my voice" or any other wording that you're comfortable with. Let people know so that they don't wonder or ask about it, and then just proceed like you normally would. Most people won't be alarmed once you tell them what's going on.
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