Q: The head of our department has been pressuring employees to purchase products from her husband, who recently began selling diet supplements through a multilevel marketing company. When I was invited to a "party" at their home to hear a sales pitch, I politely declined. But she still keeps trying to convince me to buy the products.
I feel that it's wrong for someone in a position of power to put this kind of pressure on employees. Although I have no intention of using these questionable supplements, I don't know how to refuse my boss without getting in trouble. Should I tell her how I feel or just complain to human resources?
A: Your boss' self-serving behavior is both unethical and unprofessional. No manager should ever try to sell anything to employees, including raffle tickets and Girl Scout cookies. The reason is simple: People fear saying no to the person who controls their performance appraisals and work assignments.
Admonishing the department head might damage your career, so a safer alternative is to simply keep repeating, "Thanks for asking, but I'm really not interested." Always deliver this response with a friendly smile, and never question the merits of the product. After awhile, she will turn her attention to more promising prospects.
A trip to human resources is only advisable if others share your concerns and agree to accompany you. When complaining about the boss, going with a group is much less risky than going alone.
Q: My son told me that he's being harassed at work because he looks Middle Eastern. Co-workers keep saying that he might be a terrorist or is related to Osama bin Laden. In fact, we are not even from the Middle East. I am Hispanic, my husband is German, and our son is an American citizen.
My son is very upset and wants to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I think we should try to solve the problem before taking such a drastic step, so I offered to call the owner and talk to him about this harassment. What's your opinion?
A: First of all, your son's mistreatment is inexcusable. Even if those bigoted co-workers said they were joking, there is absolutely nothing funny about calling someone a terrorist. Nevertheless, this is one of those tricky situations where the general principle and the specific case must be considered separately.
Your son has every right to complain to the EEOC, and his desire to do so is certainly justified. At the same time, however, he needs to understand that a discrimination investigation will not make his life easier at work. In fact, it will probably make things more difficult. That may not be fair, but it's reality.
Assuming that the owner is unaware of the harassment, giving him a chance to address the issue might be a better first step. But your son should be the one to initiate this discussion. Unless he is still in high school, a call from his mother could subject him to a completely different type of ridicule.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at www.yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach