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Career Q&A | By Karla L. Miller, Special to the Washington Post

Your survival job still owes you a paycheck

Q: I was laid off and had been looking for work for 10 months. Finally, through a friend, I was offered a low-paying job at a small business. The owner asked me to stay for a year but said she'd understand if I left sooner than that for my "dream job." I went to work without a contract.

As soon as I started, I began getting calls from positions I'd applied for months earlier. I turned down interview requests. Then, on Wednesday of my third week at work, I received an offer from my actual dream job, which I'd interviewed for six weeks earlier. In that interview, I had said I could start ASAP, so I didn't want to tell them I'd taken a survival job.

I gave notice the next day that Friday would be my last day at the small business, and the owner was understandably angry. I felt guilty but couldn't give up a career position for a job with no future.

Does the business owner still need to pay me? I was paid at the end of my first week, and the next pay period ended on my last day. I really don't know whether I deserve to be paid for those two weeks.

A: Here's the legal perspective: You worked; you get paid. Just be aware that your lack of a contract could be a problem if the boss decides to make it hard to collect that paycheck.

Now consider the karmic perspective: If DreamCo took six weeks to decide to offer you the job, surely it could have granted you some time to tie up loose ends. It would have been perfectly reasonable to ask if you could give your short-term boss more notice — ideally the standard two weeks. Sticking around longer would have been a good-faith gesture to the owner and a show of respect to the friend who helped you land that much-needed interim job, especially if he or she made a referral that got you in the door.

Boss seems flaky, but not malicious

Q: I have a part-time job on the side (evenings/weekends) as a medical transcriptionist. One Saturday, the business owner who provides most of my work emailed to ask if I could take a "quick job" for Sunday. I said I might be available but would have to know the size of the job, as I already had plans I couldn't cancel. Minutes later, I received another email from her, obviously intended for the would-be client. It said:

"We can do it. Just send me more details … lol … as the person doing it has OCD. … is a stickler for details. She's awesome but drives me crazy with details."

Now, I am a stickler for details — you want that in a transcriptionist — but I don't have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Even if I did, I don't think it is remotely appropriate to tell a prospective client that your employee is "great but mentally disordered." OCD is not something you should make light of or disclose without permission. Furthermore, I don't think my simple request was unreasonably picky!

I thought I was respected by this woman. This job brings in only a little extra income each month, but I have used her as a work reference. Should I confront her about what this error revealed about our relationship? Or should I simply keep in mind that I'm dealing with someone not very professional?

A: In hindsight, the best response would have been to immediately return her misdirected email with a simple, "I think this was meant for (Client)." Satisfying for you, (ideally) mortifying for her.

In any case, I don't think her goof reveals much about how she feels about you or your work. I'd say she was using "OCD" as a casual layman's shorthand for "detail-obsessed"— not as a literal medical diagnosis.

What this situation does highlight is the troubling way she covers her own heinie. Eager to win the client but lacking the foresight — or the professional ova — to ask about the scope of the job, she deflected the blame for a reasonable request onto a faceless third party: you.

Then she still agreed to take the project before getting those details! If it turned out to be more work than you could handle with your previous commitment, would she have told the client you had flaked?

Can this working relationship be saved? I think so, if you bear in mind that you're dealing with someone who changes faces like TV channels. To protect your reputation, you might have a professional reference checker — or even a friend — call for a reference and specifically ask how detail-oriented you are. The owner's response will tell you which face she'll show when your livelihood is on the line.

Your survival job still owes you a paycheck 10/13/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 13, 2012 5:31am]
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