Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gambling on getting employer to settle losses

There's an old joke meant to disparage the reputation of a particular profession that goes something like this:

A client decides to pay for the services he receives in cash. After he settles his bill and leaves the cash with the professional who provided the services, the professional notices that the client mistakenly left twice as much cash as necessary. (Crisp new bills tend to stick together.)

Now, the professional faces an ethical quandary, goes the joke, followed by the punch line: "Do I tell my partner about the extra cash?"

An email from a reader reminded me of that joke, although I'm fairly certain the connection was unintended.

The reader recently went on a business trip for five nights to Las Vegas. He booked his hotel well in advance for $100 a night. His company was to reimburse him that $500 plus taxes and food expenses incurred while on the business trip.

After work hours, the reader writes that he spent a bit of his free time in the hotel's casino.

"I lost," he writes, "but I'm not sure that matters."

When he went to check out, his room and food charges had been comped by the hotel.

"My bill was $0."

Now, the reader wants to know if he should put the $500 for his room, as well as the food costs that he would have been charged had he not been comped, on his expense report.

"Or should the company not need to pay anything because I didn't?"

The reader seems in a genuine conundrum over whether or not his employer should pay for a room and food for which the hotel did not directly charge him.

"I certainly would not expect my employer to share my losses, and conversely, I do not expect to share my 'winnings' with them, either," he writes. "I'd love to know your thoughts on this situation."

Because the reader believes he was comped his room because he had sunk so much money into his gambling in the casino, he seems to be suggesting that he essentially paid the hotel something roughly equivalent (or more, he's sheepish about the exact amount of his losses) to what it would have charged him for his room and food. As a result, he believes he might be able to justify expensing what would have been the cost of his room and food had he actually been charged that amount.

If the reasoning in those prior sentences seems a bit convoluted, that's because it is.

The reader gambled on his own time, lost money, and should pay his debt. He should not expect his employer to directly or indirectly settle his losses by seeking reimbursement for expenses he didn't have on the business trip.

The right thing is to use his own money to pay for his losses in the casino, and to be honest about reporting to his company what he was actually charged by the hotel. If he didn't pay anything directly for his room and meals, then his employer shouldn't have to, either. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

What do I tell my boss when I'm interviewing for a new job?

According to a longitudinal survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person born between 1957 and 1964 had 11.3 jobs between the time they were 18 and 46 years old. Nearly half of these jobs (5.5) were held between the time these workers were 18 to 24.

The average person in the U.S. and Canada changes jobs often. Unless these average workers happen to be self-employed or unemployed while looking for their next job, they're typically required to find a way to interview for a new position while still holding their old one.

Going out on these interviews or searching for new employment while on the current job can be challenging. The process has one reader in the Midwest perplexed.

"When a person takes time off work to interview for a new job -- either locally or traveling out of state -- what is an acceptable reason to give to one's current employer about the need to take time off?" asks the reader.

He recognizes that "informing your current employer that you are job searching is probably not a good idea."

But the reader observes that saying you are ill or a family member is sick is "not ethical" since it's not true.

So what to do? he asks.

The reader is correct that disclosing that you're searching for a new job is likely not the wisest career move, unless perhaps it's part of a larger discussion about career goals and job satisfaction. Sure, signaling that you're looking around might prompt an employer to see what he or she can do to keep a valued employee. But it's just as likely to be interpreted that the worker is no longer engaged and already has one foot out the door. It's hardly worth the risk, particularly early on in a job search that might not yield positive results.

When a new job is offered, that's the time to be forthcoming with the current employer.

Calling in sick or claiming an illness in the family as the only alternatives to radical honesty with the boss seems a false premise. A few years ago, I wrote about a survey of workers that revealed 32 percent had called in sick over the course of a year when they really weren't sick, and 27 percent of them viewed sick days the same as vacation days. Faking sickness to get a day off, however, is wrong.

Rather than lie about illness, the right thing is to take either personal time or vacation days to go out on job interviews. If the boss asks why you want the day off, it's perfectly fine to respond generically by saying it's to take care of "personal business," although the right thing is for the boss to mind his own business.

Nothing is gained if a worker is caught in a lie. Granted, a job search is no vacation, but looking for a new job should not be done on a current employer's time. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, February 09, 2014

Are cleaners cleaning up too much?

A reader in California decided to hire professionals to help keep her house clean. She made a verbal agreement with a husband-and-wife team to clean her house every other week. She writes that they told her the fee would be $30 an hour for a two-hour session.

The couple arrived and cleaned her house within an hour. The reader had already made a check out to them prior to their service for $60.

"I gave them the check with no discussion about the shortened time," she writes. "The next time they came, it was the same scenario. Again, they accepted the check without question or discussion."

Now, the reader is a bit flummoxed. She wants to know how to handle the situation when the cleaning crew returns.

"If they only clean for one hour, I feel their pay should be for an hour's worth of work," she writes. "If they want to get paid for two hours, I feel they should be working in my house for two hours."

She writes that she wants to discuss her concerns with the couple so they can come to an agreeable solution, but wants to know if she's wrong in her expectations.

It often can be a challenge to talk with independent service providers about their charges after they've completed a project. If a charge is more than, or a service less than anticipated, then the right thing is to ask the provider for an explanation of the charges.

Of course, initiating such discussions can be uncomfortable, particularly if you're pleased with the quality of the work being done. It's important to be clear that while you like the work performance -- if that's indeed the case -- you want some clarity on how you're being charged and what you're being charged for, particularly if it doesn't seem to jibe with your initial agreement. Any responsible homeowner has a right to know where his/her money is going. And responsible professionals should be more than willing to explain their charges.

The challenge for the reader in California is that she paid her cleaning crew $60 on at least two occasions, even though she believed she only received half the amount of cleaning time committed to her. When that concern first arose was when she should have broached the subject. At that point, the clean crew could have made clear whether the $30 was a per hour charge, or a per person per hour charge. Since this remains unclear, the issue should be raised.

Handing the cleaners a check for an amount the reader felt was too high simply because she'd already written the check was no reason not to have raised her concern at the first visit. The issue certainly should have come up on the second visit, when she once again paid double what she thought appropriate.

As difficult a conversation as it might seem, the right thing for the reader to do is to come clean with her cleaners and let them know that she believes their charge is not what she agreed to initially. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

Why is this fine wine making me a bit queasy?

A recurring concern in the workplace is whether or not it's appropriate to accept gifts from vendors or suppliers. Every five or so years, typically around the holidays in December, I receive a note from a reader perplexed about the appropriateness of accepting such a gift.

The concern revolves around whether such gifts will be perceived to influence the recipient to give more business to the gift giver than he/she otherwise might have.

I've always believed that the clearest thing to do is for companies to establish a policy of not allowing employees to accept any gifts from workplace vendors and to make that policy clear to all vendors and employees.

Such policies, however, are not the norm. Many companies permit employees to accept gifts. In these cases, making clear to vendors and employees the restrictions about the types of gifts and their cost acceptable is important.

A reader writes that he recently received a bottle of wine as a gift from the senior partner of a law firm his company hires to do its legal work. The gift fell within the parameters of his company's gift policy. Since he doesn't drink wine, whenever he receives a bottle from a vendor, he usually gives it to others in his office or re-gifts it at some social event he might be attending.

He understands that once he receives a gift, he can do with it whatever he wants. The reader Googled the wine and found that it retails for as much as $60 a bottle, far more expensive than the gifts of wine he usually receives, but still within his company's gift policy.

One of the reader's associates saw this particular bottle of wine and asked about it. "He's a wine guy," the reader writes, so he asked if he wanted to buy it.

"Sure," the associate responded. "I'll give you $30 for it."

At first, the reader thought about selling it. But then he felt a "moral struggle" of taking a business relationship gift and converting it into "cold hard cash," something far different, he figured than giving it to someone who might enjoy it. "There is something about the conversion of the gift into cash so I can buy a new component for my bike, for example, that doesn't sit right with me."

He asks if there are "moral issues" with selling the gift and using the cash for next week's lunch or to pay his electric bill or buying "something fun for my mountain bike"?

As long as the employee did not violate his company's gift policy, the right thing is to do whatever he wants to do with the bottle of wine. After all, if he had re-gifted the wine to someone at a social event, he would have saved any money he would have spent on a different bottle of wine.

His uneasiness might be more reflective of the fact that permitting gifts from vendors can result in awkward situations regardless of their value and the best policy could be a no-gifts one.

But the wine belongs to him and selling it would be no different than selling that beautiful statue of dancing bronze bears he received from his Great Aunt Millie, although he's likely to find more buyers for the bottle of wine. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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