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Whistle-blowing can carry some serious consequences

DEAR J.T. & DALE: Difficult question here: How would the typical employer view situations like mine, where I had no choice but to leave my chosen industry due to the unlawful actions of others. This includes my having been a whistle-blower on unlawful actions of state agencies. Of course, I’m not afraid to show anyone the complete lawful record of events. I’d appreciate your perspective on this situation. – Maurice

J.T.: It’s tricky, being a whistle-blower. It’s brave and admirable but comes with serious consequences. Most employers just don’t want to deal with it. In HR, we are taught there are three sides to every story – yours, theirs and the truth. So, if your explanation of what happened is all one-sided, with you taking no accountability, then they’ll avoid hiring you.

Dale: Agreed. Let’s be clear here: You will be discriminated against. However, you must not let that thwart you. Instead, press ahead knowing that everyone faces some sort of hiring discrimination. For example, there are hiring managers who won’t hire anyone without an MBA, and then there are those who won’t hire anyone with an MBA. If you scoff at that example, thinking that’s a minor obstacle for a job applicant to overcome, how about this: I’ve worked with ex-cons who’ve overcome that obstacle and gotten new jobs. What’s important to understand is that the solution is rarely to get better at explaining yourself; rather, the solution is to get better at finding those who are open to hiring someone like you. And such people do exist. I recall a conversation with one CEO where we were talking about a potential employee who’d sued a prior employer over some sleazy behavior. He said, “Sounds like my kind of person, someone who stands up for what’s right.” Knowing that such people exist, I question your assertion that you have “no choice” but to leave your industry. If your case was righteous, there are people who admire you and would welcome you. So I’d urge you to keep networking in your prior field, even while you investigate new ones.

Dear J.T. & Dale: A co-worker, let’s call her Tina, just negotiated to work from home one day per week. I was shocked, because when I took this job a few months ago, they said working from home was not an option. What can I say to my boss about this? – Olivia

J.T.: I think you can inquire; just be prepared that you might not like the answer. They are not obligated to share with you why they allowed this agreement with your co-worker. Has she been there longer than you? Perhaps they feel she has earned it.

Dale: That’s why I would not go to your boss until you’ve had a cheery, congratulatory conversation with Tina. You need to learn how she made her successful pitch for working at home.

J.T.: Then, the next time you are with your boss alone, you could say: “I was excited to see that you agreed to allow Tina to work from home one day each week. I don’t know if you recall, but this was something I was hoping to do at this job. I’m wondering if at some point we can discuss what I can do to eventually earn the same opportunity.” This way, you are letting your manager know you understand there may need to be some investment on your end to receive this benefit and would like to map out what that would be. It’s the polite way to get the conversation started!

Dale: Yes, that’s how to get it started, but your manager might already know how to get it ended. Managers typically are obsessed with the notion of setting precedents, so they will have thought about how to respond to other requests to work at home. Thus, your managers might be prepared to insist that Tina’s was a special situation, not a precedent. If so, you won’t get far. But, it could be the opposite. Let’s hope that they’ve seen the positive research on working from home and they have decided they want to start participating.

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 AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, 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.

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