Home » our “unpaid intern” is paid $42,000/year, my clients can’t make up their minds, and more

our “unpaid intern” is paid $42,000/year, my clients can’t make up their minds, and more

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

1. Our “unpaid intern” is paid $42,000/year

I’m an executive assistant for a small nonprofit agency. I have access to people’s salary information and I’ve never really been concerned about the salaries and fairness before now. Occasionally we take on graduate student interns, very rarely are they paid internships, and if they are paid it’s not very substantial.

Last week I processed the unpaid internship paperwork for an intern we’ve had for almost a year. She’s been there longer than the necessary three months, and has qualified for her class credits so she doesn’t really need the internship anymore. I was fixing something with payroll and became aware that she’s been getting paid through an auxiliary account we use for building repair and maintenance. Her salary is bigger than mine and she’s only at the office two days a week, mostly watching TV or playing on her phone. I brought it to my boss’s attention and he gave me a smile and told me to forget about it.

Another colleague raised concerns about her behavior not reflecting our office values which might impact our place as a positive resource in the community, our boss shot him down and told him to leave the intern alone. She has free reign of the agency, including keys to the petty cash which she’s depleted more than once.

We’re due for an audit by our parent agency in December. I’m really concerned these financial discrepancies are going to fall back on me since I’m responsible for approving the time cards and filing the interns and new-hire paperwork. There have been shady financial things in the past that my boss tried to play up as my fault or an error that I didn’t catch.

That is super sketchy, and it really sounds like something untoward is going on here.

It’s unlikely that you’re going to be held responsible for this; you’re not the one authorizing these payments to her. But to protect yourself, put something in writing. For example, send an email to your boss saying, “I want to make sure you’re aware of my concerns about the payments going to Jane, who is supposed to be in an unpaid internship. I’m not clear on why these payments are going to her or who authorized it, but I wanted to reiterate my concern that we don’t have any documented explanation for the salary she’s receiving, and I’m concerned this will be a issue in our audit in December. I won’t keep pressing this if you’re handling it, just wanted to make sure the concern was flagged.”

Your boss is shady, and I’d proceed with caution.

2. My clients can’t make up their minds

I work as a freelance designer and recently have had clients who cannot make up their minds. I end up going in circles with designs. It feels like an endless game of whack-a-mole, they ask for X, I give them X, but now they really want Y, so I give them Y, but actually let’s go back to X, no never mind, let’s do Z, so I give them Z. At what point do I say: I’ve given you multiple options and you’re still not satisfied … really don’t know how to even finish that sentence. I read your pieces about breaking up with clients, but I really want these gigs. How do I tell them enough is enough with the redesigns? I feel like they’re violating boundaries. How can I nicely be stern about this? I find when I work with clients, I have been more compliant because I want the job and when I speak up it’s not always received well — perhaps I’m usually frustrated at that point. How can I be nice and assertive?

The easiest way to handle this going forward is to clearly lay out in your contract how many rounds of revisions are included in the scope of the work (for example, three). Then, when you send the first design, you remind them by saying, “Our contract gives us up to three rounds of revisions at this stage.” And then if they get to three rounds and they’re still revising, you let them know how much additional revisions will cost (even better if you laid that out in the contract too). Or if you want to be especially nice, you can say, “I can give you an extra round of revisions for free, but beyond that I’d need to charge you for the additional work.”

It sounds like you don’t have that kind of contract in place now, but you can still set limits — “I can do one more round of revisions after this, but then we’d be outside the scope of the project and I’d need to charge an additional ($X) for further rounds.”

3. I’m being kept in the dark during my notice period

After two years at my current company, I decided to leave. I found a great opportunity and am now in the position of having told my team — who I admire very much — and getting through another three weeks before I move on. I gave my employer and close colleagues six weeks’ notice. I’ve done my best to say my goodbyes in person or through thoughtful email. I’ve created written documentation of what is going on, what I oversee, processes, important contact information, etc.

But now, in attempting to organize and strategize with the leadership team around my exit and how to help support my team, there are conversations going on without me and leaving me completely in the dark. This is a pattern and a large part of the reason that I am leaving to begin with, but what am I supposed to do? I have no knowledge or information for my team, yet they are being pulled into transition conversations. Should I just sit silently and not manage anymore? Do I leave early? Do I just tolerate it for that time? I feel so angry and am afraid of letting my emotions get in the way of a professional and graceful exit. It feels like a total assault on transparent communication and I’m afraid of bringing down my already frustrated and wondering-about-the-future team. Do you have any advice?

This isn’t that uncommon when someone is leaving — the work often starts moving on without you, before you’re actually gone. That’s okay! It’s not personal, and it’s actually useful for them to start moving on while you’re still there, because if they do run into things they need to ask you, you’ll still be there to ask.

That said, it’s a little trickier because you’re a manager and you of course want to be able to fill in your team on what’s going on. If you haven’t already, try saying to your own manager, “My staff are asking questions about what to expect in the transition and I don’t have answers. Can you give me any info I can share with them, or if there isn’t a solid plan yet, can you give me a sense of when they’ll likely hear something?”

If that doesn’t produce much of use, then be straightforward with your team (without being grumpy about it): “I haven’t gotten a solid sense of the plans yet, but once I hear something I’ll fill you in. If that doesn’t happen before I leave, then Jane is the best person for you to talk to once I’m gone.”

But basically, this is just how it sometimes goes when you’re leaving. Don’t leave early over it or get angry over it— look at it as if you’re being paid to still be available if they need you (which they may not).

4. I’m trying to pay my old employer money I owe them, but they won’t respond to me

I left my previous job having taken four more vacation days than I had accrued, and I was told I *might* be responsible for paying back the money for those days. About two weeks after my last day, I received a letter stating I did owe my previous employer money for the four days. The letter gave me a gross amount, with instructions to contact the payroll office for the net amount and repayment details.

While I’m annoyed at this (in particular because the pay there was significantly under market rate), I understand this is the policy. My problem is I’ve now left multiple voicemails for the payroll office over two weeks, and no one has returned my call. I’ve also left voicemails and spoken with HR, who said they would contact payroll on my behalf. Still nothing.

So … how long do I have to keep pursuing them? Is there a point where they’re not going to ever actually ask me for the money? Or is there a statue of limitations on something like this? I don’t want to be sent to collections, and I’ve made multiple efforts to get in touch, but beyond repeated calling I’m not sure what I can do. Are there next steps or do I just wait to maybe hear from them? Do I go old-school and send a letter via registered mail then let it go?

I’d give it another two weeks in case someone is on vacation or snowed under with other things and then call HR again. Say that you’re of course willing to return any money you owe, but it’s been a month (by that point) and you’re concerned that no one has responded to you. Say, “I’d like to get this handled within the next week. Is there someone else there who can get me the information I need so that I can close this out?”

Annoying as this is, it’s in your best interests to try to resolve it so that they don’t suddenly come after the money later. (That said, your state may have a time limit on how long they have to collect it from you, so you could check on that. Any lawyers want to comment in the comment section?)

5. I can’t get time off for a family trip at Christmas

I’ve been working, part-time, for a small retail business for the past three years. This business has a policy of no time off during the holidays, as well as having to work either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. I have had full availability the past two holiday seasons, but this year, my in-laws decided to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary by flying the entire family to Florida at Christmas. Not knowing what to do, I requested time off from work, emphasizing that I would be back in time to work New Year’s Eve, but my request was denied. I love my job and don’t want to quit, but this is a major event for my family and my in-laws have already bought us all tickets. Is there a tactful way to approach this issue with the management?

Well … you can try, but if the policy is no time off around the holidays and it’s retail, it might not be that fruitful. That said, you can give it a shot, and it might turn out that they’re not willing to lose an employee of three years over it. Try stressing that the plans were made without your knowledge and that you know the policy and wouldn’t have made these plans on your own, but now that they’ve been made for you, it’s going to cause a family blow-up if you don’t go. But given that this is retail at the holidays, it’s possible that you may have to choose between the trip and the job.

our “unpaid intern” is paid $42,000/year, my clients can’t make up their minds, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.


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