Q and A / HELP WANTED

Q and A

March 23, 2005

2nd-time dad seeks short paternity leave

Q. I work for a company too small to come under the Family Leave Act. My wife is due with our second child any day now. Other than using all my vacation/sick leave, what are my options for taking a small, extended leave to help her during her recovery?

J.J., Baltimore

A. A large and growing number of private companies provide leave to fathers upon the birth of a child. Parents employed by the state of Maryland are granted up to 30 days of paid leave to take care of a newly born or adopted child. Many states require that even employers too small to be covered by the federal Family Leave Act must provide some leave to fathers or mothers caring for a new child. With these facts, you have support to argue that leave for fathers is a common business practice, and a reasonable request.

MICHAEL HAYES associate professor of law

Q. I have seen memos and heard rumors about a reorganization that will mean loss of jobs, including my own or close co-workers. How do I approach management or these co-workers with this information?

B.K., Reisterstown

A. It may be worthwhile to ask management about these rumors, and whether they are considering any changes that would affect employee benefits, like health, severance or retirement. Reorganizations often involve offers of early retirement, severance or other new or changed benefits. Many courts have held that when benefit changes are under "serious consideration," management must disclose them. If the company is publicly traded, management may be restricted in what it can disclose about changes, like mergers, that would involve stock. Nonetheless, it still might generally have to tell employees that benefit changes could be coming. The earlier you and your co-workers can find out what is being considered, the sooner you can begin to plan your futures. MICHAEL HAYES

Because reorganization rumors can send people into a panic, it is smart to proceed with caution when discussing unsubstantiated information. Do what you can to learn whether the rumors have a basis in fact, and when further information is likely to become available.

ELLEN KABCENELL WAYNE assistant professor negotiations and conflict management

Q. When I participate in a meeting or make a suggestion at work, it gets overlooked or ignored. But when a man suggests the same idea, it gets more attention, discussion and follow-up. As a woman, how do I deal with this?

F.D., New Jersey

A. If this is a case of gender discrimination, you might be able to file a legal claim, especially if this practice is directly harming your chances for promotion or increased pay. However, before turning to your legal options, try to solve the problem cooperatively. Read Deborah Tannen's Talking From 9 to 5: Men and Women at Work to learn about how gender roles can shape workplace communication. At the same time, talk to a senior trusted person at work, describe what you have observed and seek help in developing a strategy to raise your visibility.

ELLEN KABCENELL WAYNE and MICHAEL HAYES

Q. What is the city doing to get employers to extend employment opportunities to people with criminal backgrounds?

H.S., Baltimore

A. Maryland law provides some assistance by forbidding employers from asking applicants about - or requiring them to disclose - arrest records or expunged criminal charges. A leading organization in assisting persons with criminal backgrounds is the Homeless Persons Representation Project. That group can be reached at 410-685-6589 or www.altrue.net/site/hprp/.

MICHAEL HAYES

University of Baltimore professors answer questions from readers about workplace issues. To submit a question, send it to working@baltsun.com or Working, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278-0001, or fax it to 410-783-2517

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