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Elaine Varelas | Job Doc

Several laws protect pregnant workers injured on the job

Email|Print| Text size + By Elaine Varelas
January 20, 2008

Q. I suffered an on the job injury when I was 32 weeks pregnant. I was ordered out of work by three different doctors. It has now been almost eight months and I continue to be out of work from injury. However, I recently found out that when and if I am cleared to return to work, I do not have a position to return to. Is this legal? And do I have any recourse as far as losing my job after maternity leave and while out on work-related injury? Is this considered discrimination?

A. Your pregnancy and injury situation seems complicated. Tread carefully about how you approach your employer about your desire to return to work after medical approval. It will matter in the long run.

I consulted with Barry Miller, an associate in the labor and employment practice at Seyfarth Shaw law firm in Boston, who noted: "There are a number of state and federal laws that may protect an employee's job when she takes leave as a result of pregnancy or work-related injury. Both the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act require most employers to allow eligible employees to take leave following the birth of a child and require employers to restore a new mother to her prior position after her leave. However, those statutes only extend protections to employees for a discrete period of time - eight weeks under the Massachusetts statute and twelve weeks under the federal statute."

Miller continued, "Statutes protecting individuals with disabilities may give you additional rights. Both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Massachusetts antidiscrimination statute, Chapter 151B, require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee with a disability or handicap. Whether a condition rises to the level of a handicap or disability is often a very complex question. Typically, pregnancy itself is not considered a disability unless there are substantial complications. However, the fact that you were injured on the job may be significant because employees who are injured at work are protected under the Massachusetts antidiscrimination statute, even if their injuries are not otherwise severe enough to constitute a handicap or disability. Depending on the circumstances, your employer may be required to provide additional leave as an accommodation to allow you to recover and return to work."

Consider consulting with a lawyer. Disability discrimination is a very nuanced field, and an employment attorney can determine whether you are covered by the relevant statutes and what legal rights you may have.

Chronological resume gives accurate portrayal
Q. The company where I worked downsized its staff last week. My position, VP of projects, marketing and training, was eliminated. The company decided to outsource marketing, move training to human resources, and have managers run their own projects. Six months ago, I was VP of project and systems management. This is my expertise, and what my focus will be in a job search. The time between my role change and layoff was very transitional. With only six months in the position, there weren't many accomplishments. My question is how do I reflect this on my resume? I feel comfortable discussing it in an interview, but I fear adding it to the resume will confuse the reader./p>

A. A great resume helps the reader more fully understand the expertise the writer has and wants to demonstrate. A great resume is also accurate, but so detailed it confuses or overwhelms the reader. I find both your titles a bit confusing, perhaps only because the valuable descriptive paragraph outlining your accomplishments, the results of your responsibilities, and the quantifications of what you increased or decreased, wasn't included in your question. Titles at different organizations and in different industries can have similar words yet significantly different meanings. An entry-level person in one company could have a title comparable to an executive in another organization. Administrator is one of my favorite ambiguous titles. You could be the number one person in a healthcare organization, or someone's assistant in another industry.

Using a chronological resume, and a traditional format will allow you to portray and explain your experience in the most accurate and informative manner possible. I recommend using the VP of projects and systems management title and in the last bullet describing that job, highlighting your shifting responsibilities as needed prior to the reduction.

Timely communication key to new job's success
Q. I have been out of a job for more than two years since I got terminated at my last position with a life insurance company doing fund administration. I accepted this position through a staffing agency. I was told the fund administration position would fit my background based on my experiences on my resume. However, after 13 months on the job my manager called me into her office one day and told me I was not performing up to the level expected. I was so shocked at that time and found out I was hired for a senior position which I was totally unaware of. From that point on I was constantly working under pressure until my last day with the company. My question is how can I handle the question, "Why did you leave your last employer?" during interviews with prospective employers. Should I lie or tell them what actually happened to me? I have told the interviewers at some companies that I left my previous job by mutual agreement and did not explain in detail. I find it impossible to go back to the workforce or even have an interview if I don't know how to handle this question.

A. Whether a candidate thrives in a new job depends on clear, honest, and timely communication. Without it, disaster can follow. It seems like this is what happened in your situation. It's time to put an end to your predicament by embracing the truth. In your next interview, explain what happened at your last job and review what you have learned from the situation which puts you in position to successfully transition to a new job.

You started by working with a staffing agency, which is a wonderful way to locate job opportunities. Staffing agencies work for employers that are looking for talent to fill specific roles. Many people are under the mistaken impression that staffing firms work for individuals to help them get jobs. This is not the case, and needs to be taken into consideration when you review the opportunities they discuss with you to see how closely the job matches your skills set, or how much of a stretch the opportunity might be.

You need to be responsible for understanding the position well, and to use the interview to find out more about the job, the expectations, the organization, and the manager. One of the main focuses of an interview is using the time to sell yourself into an opportunity, and that is a great skill to have or develop, but getting offers for the wrong jobs is not the place you want to be. This may not be the case here, but knowing it was a "senior" role should have given you a better clue to the expectations the employer had.

You were on the job 13 months and then were shocked when you were given negative feedback, which led to your termination. I'm hoping you received some feedback on your performance prior to that, but being shocked by such serious feedback is a terrible place to be for both the manager and employee.

Anyone on a new job should be looking for feedback, formal and informal, about how they are doing from the beginning. Managers should be focused on providing honest, timely, and constructive feedback on an employee's performance so that no one is surprised by any criticism, particularly if it leads to a separation from the organization. It is a manager's job to have the difficult conversations about performance, but they often postpone this task hoping performance improves.

But employees need feedback, and coaching about what they are doing or not doing, and how they approach their work to be successful. If you are a new employee, or you are a manager with a new employee, make sure you have a time frame for reviewing performance. At the end of 30 days is a good time for a formal discussion. The same should occur at the end of 60 days, and a formal and documented review at 90 days is appropriate. If your manager has not made any attempts to set up review time, take the initiative and ask.

Your current situation needs an answer that doesn't lead to more questions or concerns by potential employers. You have found that "mutual agreement" isn't enough, and won't satisfy potential employers. Your goal is to reassure hiring managers that you want the job, aren't a problem employee, and will be successful.

Your conversation might go something like, "I was in my last position for just over a year, having been put into the job through a staffing agency. Unfortunately, I found that the responsibilities of the job were greater than the experience I had, but this hadn't been clearly explained to me by either the agency or the manager. In retrospect, I should have asked for feedback earlier in the process. I have learned to make sure we are all clear on the expectations of the job, because I know we all want me to succeed. That is why I am so interested in this job. It is a great match with my skills and the job I was so successful at prior to my last company."

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston.

E-mail questions to jobdoc@globe.com or mail to Job Doc, Boston Globe, Box 55819, Boston, 02205-5819.

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