Q: The head of our department has been pressuring employees to purchase products from her husband, who recently began selling diet supplements through a multilevel marketing company. When I was invited to a "party" at their home to hear a sales pitch, I politely declined. But she still keeps trying to convince me to buy the products.
I feel that it's wrong for someone in a position of power to put this kind of pressure on employees. Although I have no intention of using these questionable supplements, I don't know how to refuse my boss without getting in trouble. Should I tell her how I feel or just complain to human resources?
A: Your boss' self-serving behavior is both unethical and unprofessional. No manager should ever try to sell anything to employees, including raffle tickets and Girl Scout cookies. The reason is simple: People fear saying no to the person who controls their performance appraisals and work assignments.
Admonishing the department head might damage your career, so a safer alternative is to simply keep repeating, "Thanks for asking, but I'm really not interested." Always deliver this response with a friendly smile, and never question the merits of the product. After awhile, she will turn her attention to more promising prospects.
A trip to human resources is only advisable if others share your concerns and agree to accompany you. When complaining about the boss, going with a group is much less risky than going alone.
Be up front about reason for losing job
Q: I was recently fired from my job as a food server after a customer complained. This woman said that I was rude and impolite, but I was actually trying to make a joke that had seemed to amuse other customers. However, the owner didn't see it that way, so he let me go. Now I'm not sure how to explain this situation when I apply for other jobs. I want to be honest, but I don't believe I did anything wrong. My immediate supervisor has said he thinks the world of me and will give me a good reference.
A: While you are under no obligation to volunteer negative information, any routine background check will quickly uncover the terms of your departure. So if you still have a civil relationship with the owner, find out whether he would be willing to call this a resignation. If not, then you should just give interviewers a simple explanation.
For example: "In my previous position, there was a misunderstanding with the owner about a comment I made to a guest. I was trying to be funny, but I have now learned that joking with customers is not a good idea. However, my immediate supervisor will be glad to talk with you about the quality of my work."
Under these circumstances, your supervisor's recommendation may be the golden ticket that ultimately gets you hired. Once you land that new job, you should at least send him a thank you card.
Let son make issue of harassment
Q: My son told me that he's being harassed at work because he looks Middle Eastern. Co-workers keep saying that he might be a terrorist or is related to Osama bin Laden. In fact, we are not even from the Middle East. I am Hispanic, my husband is German, and our son is an American citizen.
My son is very upset and wants to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I think we should try to solve the problem before taking such a drastic step, so I offered to call the owner and talk to him about this harassment. What's your opinion?
A: First of all, your son's mistreatment is inexcusable. Even if those bigoted co-workers said they were joking, there is absolutely nothing funny about calling someone a terrorist. Nevertheless, this is one of those tricky situations where the general principle and the specific case must be considered separately.
Your son has every right to complain to the EEOC, and his desire to do so is certainly justified. At the same time, however, he needs to understand that a discrimination investigation will not make his life easier at work. In fact, it will probably make things more difficult. That may not be fair, but it's reality.
Assuming that the owner is unaware of the harassment, giving him a chance to address the issue might be a better first step. But your son should be the one to initiate this discussion. Unless he is still in high school, a call from his mother could subject him to a completely different type of ridicule.