Dear J.T. & Dale: I went on a job interview where the hiring manager noticed my wedding ring. He said: “Wow, that’s a big rock. Did you just get married?” I thought it was odd and said, “Yes, this past year.” To which he replied, “Oh, so are you planning on having kids soon?” I was shocked, but politely said, “No. We are enjoying being married for now.” He seemed pleased, but I left annoyed. I know it was illegal for him to ask those questions, but I also need a job. What could I have said differently? – Marney
J.T.: Honestly, nothing. Calling him out would make him feel like you were combative with him. He is the hiring manager. Think of him as the customer and you are the business-of-one selling your services. While totally illegal, he is clearly cocky enough to think he has the right to ask those things. There was no winning. Anyone willing to be that blunt and do something clearly illegal in the interview will only be worse as a boss. You can find a better job elsewhere – don’t settle!
DALE: You are certainly right about it being illegal. And you may be right about this fellow blatantly disregarding the law, but then again, maybe not. Maybe he hasn’t had HR training and maybe he’s just making conversation. So, to answer your question as to what you could have said in reply to his question about having kids, you might have responded with a question of your own: “Have you had a problem with employees having kids?” There’s a chance he could have replied with something innocent like, “Oh no, but my wife’s pregnant with our first and it’s all I can think about these days.” Or, on the other hand, he might have answered by saying, “I’ve got three employees out on maternity leave right now and I know that even though they all say they’re coming back, at least one or two probably won’t, and that creates a real staffing challenge.” Still illegal and not your problem, but you would have learned something and doing so would be your invitation to a real conversation. That’s when you could have said, “You know you’re not supposed to ask about having kids,” and then you’d see what you were up against. You could even grab the opportunity to explain the logic of it being against the law and, doing so, maybe even have increased your odds of being hired. My point is this: Yes, such questions are illegal and for good reason, but let’s not assume that everyone knows the law or the logic.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I just found out that my colleague who also got laid off went in and negotiated an extra month of severance pay. I already signed the agreement. Can I go back and try to get more? Why wouldn’t they give us all the same? – Trey
J.T.: You can go back and ask for more, but since you signed the agreement, it’s unlikely they will give it to you. As of today, companies are not legally required to give severance, although some states are now looking at legislation to change this. Most places that are good enough to offer severance give a week for every year you worked there. In some cases, people in protected classes (such as older workers, pregnant workers and people with disabilities) can ask for more because it will take them longer to get hired. Going forward, the lesson learned is to always try for more. The worst they can say is “no.”
DALE: When you go back to ask, you’re going in with a terrible negotiating position, but not a hopeless one. That’s because “fairness” can be motivating. So, I’d start by saying that it didn’t occur to you that different people would get different severance amounts. Then, because you aren’t in a position to make demands, you ask-don’t-tell, saying something like, “Is there any way that I could get what others are getting?” It’s a long shot, but it might just work.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site www.workitdaily.com. Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2020 by King Features Syndicate Inc.