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Firm should benefit from chance for better coffee

DEAR J.T. & DALE: My company provides free coffee, which is kind of them, but the brand they buy is gross. I have a friend who roasts coffee, and she said she’d give me a commission if I could get her company in as the coffee provider. Is it illegal to do this? – Darwin

J.T.: You’d have to check your company’s employee manual to see if it has rules against you profiting off vendor contracts. Getting kickbacks is forbidden at some companies.

Dale : Let’s back up. Don’t even look at the employee manual. If you’re asking whether your actions are illegal, you’ve already entered into There Be Dragons territory. The concern here isn’t if it’s legal, or even if it’s ethical, but what your employers will think when they find out. And yes, you must assume that everybody always finds out everything.

J.T.: And that takes us right to where I was heading: See what you can do for your employer. Can you get better coffee at a lower rate through your friend? And, if you want to not feel guilty and take the long-term view, skip the commission and ask your friend to pass the savings on to your employer. Now you’ve added value, and that will be something you can reference the next time you are seeking a raise!

Dale: Doing so also will increase the odds of your employer agreeing to the switch. And speaking of switching, what every veteran employer knows is that there will be complaints about the new coffee – there’s griping about the new anything. That’s why you should suggest to your boss an office taste test: Make it a vote, and you’ll minimize the grumbling and maximize the gratitude.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I’m worried about my co-worker. She is overweight, and I noticed that she eats a lot of unhealthy foods. I can tell that she is self-conscious about her weight. She is shy at work, and I think it is because she’s afraid she is being judged. I want to help her, but is that overstepping my co-worker friendship? – Lori

Dale: Yes, your co-worker is clearly being judged … by you. Let it go.

J.T.: Not so fast. It’s great, Lori, that you care so much about your co-worker, but I’m glad you also recognize that maybe you shouldn’t approach her. This is a sensitive area. Until she makes a comment that opens the door to the conversation, you really can’t initiate it.

Dale: Even if “she makes a comment,” do not be pulled into that personal issue. I can understand why J.T. is more casual about such conversations – you should know that J.T. is a person who used to teach an aerobics class for fun. (For fun!) So J.T. is accustomed to having “body” conversations. But this is a workplace, and your place is to discuss work.

J.T.: Even in the workpace, Lori, you can continue to be you! If you set the example by bringing in healthy foods, talking about your exercise routine and even commenting on your own struggles to stay healthy, it may lead to her asking you about it, and then it would enable you to talk about it. That said, one thing I caution you against: Don’t make her your project. She has to want to change for herself, not because she is feeling as if a co-worker is pressuring her to do so. I’d actually advise you to consider taking a course on coaching and mentoring. This might help you to understand the right approach to take to inspire her without making her feel like a failure. It’s a fine line, and you don’t want to cross it. Everyone’s health journey is unique. When she is ready, she will make changes, and then you can be there to support her.

Dale: Sounds like a good way to head right to where you told Lori not to go – to “make her your project.” However, if you simply cannot mind your own business, then maybe you should investigate doing a company-wide health event. Or start a lunchtime walking club. Keep it about the workplace.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.