mother-in-law manages sister-in-law and covers up her drunk driving, lactation room is occupied, and more — Ask a Manager

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My mother-in-law manages my sister-in-law and covers up her drunk driving

I am at a complete loss. My mother-in-law (Sally), sister-in-law (Karen), and I work for an AirBnB cleaning management company. Sally is a manager and Karen is a supervisor.

Karen is currently on probation for a DWI. This past month, she has tried to drive me to work drunk or has shown up drunk expecting to drive me home with her without me knowing. I found out both times. And she has been caught drunk and with alcohol at work. Yet Sally won’t terminate her or even stick with any consequences. I want to bring this up to higher-up bosses, but I am worried both will lose their jobs, as well mine. My sister-in-law has been spoken to by all of family members and lied about being in AA yet drank during that time. Do I call her probation officer? I don’t know.

This is a work issue, but it’s also a family issue. You have a family member who’s regularly driving drunk; that’s a big deal. Someone needs to be sounding the alarm, taking away her keys, doing whatever it takes to get her off the road. Ideally that someone wouldn’t be you as an in-law, but if no one else is stepping up, use whatever power you have to intervene. If that means calling her probation officer, maybe that’s what you do. I don’t love advising that because I don’t think people belong in jail for addictions, but at this point getting her off the road so she doesn’t maim or kill someone has to be your highest priority.

As for the work stuff, yes, tell your bosses if this is happening at work and your mother-in-law is covering for her. I can’t see why that would result in you losing your job (and quite frankly, your mother-in-law should lose hers since she’s been aiding and abetting an employee in driving drunk). But I’d also get the hell out of that company to put some distance between you and the family mess.

Meanwhile, don’t get in a car that Karen is driving, period, even if you don’t think she’s been drinking since it sounds like she tries to hide it.

2. Interviewer said it was “an incredible lapse in judgment” to talk to my network about the company

This has been rumbling about occasionally in the back of my mind. A few years ago, my son-in-law, a new college graduate at the time, was applying for jobs. He learned that someone who had graduated from his small college a couple of years ahead of him and who he knew slightly was working at a company that might be a good fit for him. After applying for a job there and being invited for an interview, he reached out to this contact to find out more about the company. The contact was very warm and open to a conversation, and my son-in-law came out of it feeling like he knew a lot more about the company’s culture and expectations.

During his interview, he mentioned that he had spoken with this person and gave some specific examples about how what he learned helped him feel excited about the company. Well, his interviewer was livid. Apparently, they went off on him railing about how inappropriate it was that he would have reached out to someone other than them for information about the company and that they wouldn’t even consider him for the role given that incredible lapse of judgment. Of course, he was crushed as this was one of his very first interviews after graduation and he felt like he had done something horribly wrong. At the time, I told him he just ran into a bonkers interviewer and that he likely dodged a bullet with the company. Since then, he has happily advanced in his career, but occasionally, I find myself thinking about that interviewer. Were they as off-base as I think?


It’s very normal to talk to people in your network about a company you’re interviewing with; in fact, it’s a widely given piece of advice! That interviewer was out of his gourd and sounds like he has some pathological control issues.

3. Random people use our lactation room for breaks and lunch

One other person in my office and I pump at work. We have a designated lactation room, but random non-lactating coworkers keep going in and locking the door to use the room on their regular breaks or to take hour long lunches or sometimes for personal calls. My manager is aware and emails have gone out notifying everyone of the room’s intended purpose, but people just keep doing it.

It wouldn’t be that big of a deal to me if it was a rare occurrence, but it’s multiple times a week, sometimes over several hours that every time I go to access the room someone is locked in there using the space for something other than pumping. Unfortunately I don’t have time to just stand outside the door and wait to be next, so the result is that I am sometimes missing pumping sessions entirely. Is this really the best I am entitled to?

In fact it is not! Federal law requires your employer to provide you with a private space to pump “as frequently as needed” and specifically says, “If the space is not dedicated to the nursing employees’ use, it must be available when the employee needs it in order to meet the statutory requirement.” If the room isn’t available when you need it, your employer is violating the law.

Go to whoever is in charge of this sort of thing in your office and say this: “We need a different place to pump. Legally, we’re required to provide a pumping space that’s available whenever needed, and right now people keep using the lactation room to nap or eat or take personal calls. So we need another space that locks and is reliably available, and we need it right away.” Any reasonable employer will hear that and start enforcing the room’s availability to you — but you’re not telling them how to solve the problem, just letting them know that they’re not currently meeting their legal requirements so they’re on notice that they need to fix it.

4. Am I wrong for being annoyed when interviewers ask about my first career?

Seven years ago I graduated from a Ph.D. program in a highly competitive field. Staying in this field would have resulted in a six-figure salary straight out of my program, but I knew the work would not make me happy. I decided to go back to nonprofit work, which was my profession before pursuing a Ph.D. and work I still felt very passionate about. When I was interviewing, several interviewers asked about my career shift, with one of them stating something along the lines of, “Why would you want to switch from a high-paying career to this work?” These questions always rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t mind explaining why my old field was a bad fit and why nonprofit work felt like a calling for me. But I felt like there was an assumption that professional choices should be money-driven and a judgment that the jobs I was interviewing for were not worthwhile for someone who had more lucrative options.

I ended up picking a nonprofit job directly related to my Ph.D. During the two years I’ve worked there, I have been through some major upheaval in my personal life and found a new field I feel passionate about. I went back to graduate school to gain a degree needed to practice in this field. The transition is not completely out of whack; it’s not a straight career path, but also not completely out of left field either.

It is now seven years since I graduated from my Ph.D. program and three years since I started my graduate degree. I am about to graduate and am interviewing for jobs. In an interviews I was again asked three questions regarding this being a second career for me (the first question was asking me to explain the shift; the two other were about my ability to transition into the new field). The questions irked me. I felt weird about being asked about a program I graduated from seven years ago, as opposed to my more recent and more relevant work experience. I had an issue with the way the interviewer framed my Ph.D. training as requiring a completely different skill set than the field I am currently in, since I use my research skills on a daily basis in my new field. I felt like I needed to defend my switch and that my training was treated as a liability instead of an asset. Overall, these questions left a bitter taste in my mouth. I ended up spending at least half of the interview talking about my Ph.D. training and not my recent work experience that was more relevant to this role.

Am I wrong in feeling strange about these questions and seeing them as yellow or red flags? Is there a response to these questions that does not come off as evasive but doesn’t dwell on a part of my career that feels ancient? I should say that in other job interviews, my Ph.D. training was seen as an asset and a testament to my skills and the issue of a second career did not come up. All of the questions were focused on my current field and experience.

I think you’re overreacting to a single interview, since this hasn’t come up in your other interviews. That said, that interviewer’s questions weren’t particularly odd or out of bounds; it’s reasonable to ask what drove shifts in your work history (and seven years ago isn’t that long go, especially when you’re now entering a new field), and it’s reasonable for an interviewer to want to probe a little into how you’ll do with the transition.

I think you similarly read too much into the questions years back about why you’d want to leave a high-paying career for a lower-paying one. It’s reasonable for employers to want to understand what’s motivating you to leave a high-paying field for a much lower-paying one and to make sure that you’ve really thought through what that will entail. They don’t want to invest in you if you’re going to realize four months in that it’s not for you — and believe me, nonprofits deal all the time with people who don’t quite realize what the shift in pay and resources will be like. None of this is personal.

(Any chance you’re feeling any weirdness yourself about the shifts you’ve made? I’m asking because this sounds like a pretty defensive reaction to fairly common interview discussions.)

5. What are post-interview “HR hurdles”?

I am trying to return to the workforce after two years of being home with my kids. I’ve been applying to jobs, and have had a couple interviews at different places. I am very interested in one job and emailed two weeks after our interview to check on the status. I got a quick reply saying that there are some HR hurdles they are working to resolve. I know there must be a lot of possibilities here, but I was wondering if you could share some common HR issues that can hold up the interview/hiring process.

Tons of possibilities! Some examples: A question was raised about the right salary range and they’re figuring that out. There’s a question about whether the budget for the role will be approved. Someone else on that team might be leaving and their role would be a higher priority if so. Someone else on the team is leaving and they might reconfigure both roles. They’re not sure they even need this role at all in its current configuration. Do they actually need someone who speaks Spanish? An internal candidate might be interested. And on and on.

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