I was accused of eavesdropping, am I supposed to miss class for job interviews, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. I was accused of eavesdropping at a coworkers door

Yesterday my direct supervisor pulled me into the office and told me that our CEO, Kathy, pulled her into her office and stated that there was a complaint that I had been seen eavesdropping outside of my coworker’s door. Kathy wanted me to be moved into one of the other buildings away from the main office.

My jaw dropped. I do not do anything like that and this came out of left field. I told my supervisor that I have no idea where this is coming from and I don’t understand why someone would think this. She stated that she went to bat for me, argued for me to stay where I am and not move offices, and said that I have worked for her for years and she had never seen anything like this sort of behavior.

But I’m at a loss of what my next step should be. Do I tell Kathy that I have no idea where this is coming from and I would never do such a thing? Or does that come across as defensive? Should I let my boss handle it?

Kathy would not tell my boss who accused me. I thought I was on friendly terms with everyone, though I know a couple are drama stirrers. Am I just a casualty in them wanting drama? Is there something going on I don’t know about? Is my employment at risk and this is an excuse to start compiling evidence?

I work in a position with a lot of confidential client data. I feel like my intergrity is being attacked. I am wondering if I should find another job. If they think I am eavesdropping on conversations, why am I trusted to touch client data?

It’s possible this is just a misunderstanding! You were walking by and stopped to look at your phone or tie your shoe, and someone thought you were purposely lingering outside their door. Or who knows, you and a coworker were dressed similarly that day and they mistook that person for you or a bunch of other possibilities — but it’s more likely that this was a honest misunderstanding than a deliberate plot to smear you (unless you work in an office where people routinely hatch deliberate plots to smear each other, in which case that’s the bigger issue).

Go back to your manager and say this: “I’m still thinking about someone saying I was eavesdropping, and I’m really bothered by this. I would never do that. I work with confidential data so it’s crucial I understand the importance of confidentiality! It feels like my integrity is being questioned, and I want to talk about how I can put this to rest so Kathy isn’t left with these concerns about me.”

You might hear that Kathy has already forgotten about it and it’s not going to be an issue, or your manager might say she’ll reinforce with her that it’s not something you’d do, or she might have other advice. But by insisting on talking about it again, you’ll be signaling that you take it seriously and are horrified anyone thinks that, which on its own will help emphasize that you’re not cavalier about people’s privacy.

2. Could my religious education being turning off employers?

I have a undergraduate degree and a masters degree. I double majored in undergrad, and half my bachelor’s degree is religious studies (from a very secular university). My master’s degree, which I got last year, 10 years after my bachelor’s, is in theology (and the specific college it’s from is not immediately identifiable as religious as it’s part of a secular university). The specialty of my master’s was along the lines of pastoral counseling.

I’ve been struggling to find a job and trying to pinpoint the problem (or problems). I’m wondering if my education is the problem? I feel like I can’t remove it because so many jobs require degrees — many even expect graduate education. Moreover, I’m proud of my education and it imparted me with many useful skills and knowledge.

Should I be worried about what people think of my education in secular fields? How do I present my education in a way that won’t leave people worrying about my running around trying to convert people? People are quietly religious all the time. I just have the misfortune of possibly raising biases about it during hiring because of my education.

If I had to guess, it’s less that they’re worried about you running around trying to convert people and more that your recent master’s degree indicates your real goal is to work in a different field than theirs. That impression might be intensified by your bachelor’s being in religious studies, but it’s the recent master’s that’s most likely the issue. Typically employers consider recent master’s degrees to signify the specific work you want to do — more so than a bachelor’s, since people are less likely to get graduate degrees out of a general desire to learn and more likely to do it because they have a focused professional interest … or at least that’s the narrative most employers will assume, especially with a degree that suggests a specific career path like pastoral counseling does.

If you’re applying for jobs unrelated to your master’s, you’ll want to make it clear to employers why you’re seeking work in their field. If that’s not clear, that’s likely getting in your way.

3. My organization says they can’t pay me market rate because of it wouldn’t be fair to non-attorneys

I recently met with HR to request a raise and was soundly denied. It was a frustrating experience, but one thing I’m hung up on is that I was told that they would not be able to get my salary up to market rate because of “internal equity.” I work at a nonprofit that has a lot of different types of employees — social workers, advocates, relief staff, admin, etc. I’m a lawyer, and was told that it wouldn’t be fair to the non-attorneys on staff for the attorneys to be paid more and that they need to maintain “internal equity.” Is this an actual thing? My googling shows that usually internal equity is talking about people doing the same work getting paid the same amount, but is it being used differently in other places? My thought is that if you want a flat-ish salary structure, it would be much more equitable to pay all staff the higher salary instead of keeping one or two departments way under market rate, but mostly I’m just curious if this is a real thing other orgs are doing or if mine is just weird?

Yeah, that’s not what internal equity means! It doesn’t mean “we pay everyone the same, regardless of job” — and if they do it mean it that way, they’re going to have a hard time hiring people, because they won’t be paying market rates for the work (and the market rate for, say, a lawyer is really different from the market rate for, say, an assistant). It typically means exactly what you said: ensuing that people doing similar work are being paid the same and that you don’t have disparities by race, gender, or other demographics.

They’re misusing the term to justify not paying you more. And if their philosophy really is that everyone on staff should be paid the same regardless of role, experience level, or contributions, that’s something they should be very up-front with applicants about from the beginning, because unless they’re pegging everyone’s salaries to the jobs with the highest market rates, they’re going to be seriously underpaying a lot of people.

4. Am I supposed to miss class for job interviews?

I am a college student who recently was offered an interview for a summer internship that I was pretty excited about. I originally had scheduled the interview for a date and time that worked very well for me. Then, the day before the interview, the internship coordinator called (I am not actually sure if this person was HR, the hiring manager, or someone else) asking if I could reschedule the interview to a different, specific date and time. The time she asked for was during one of my classes, so I told them that time wouldn’t work. She said unfortunately, if that was the case, then they wouldn’t be able to fit the interview in, and then hung up.

I’m quite disappointed about this outcome. My mother thinks that by indicating that I prioritized class over their interview, I might’ve made it seem like I wasn’t very interested in the job. Do you think I should’ve handled this differently?

No, it’s very normal to have conflicts with a proposed interview time and to say, “I can’t do X, but I’m available Y or Z.” An employer who refuses to offer you anything other than a single time and date is an employer who’s being overly rigid or just isn’t that interested in the first place (unless they’re apologetic about it and offer context — like “I’m sorry, that’s the only day the manager is available before she goes on leave”).

Your mom’s advice is off-base — it’s normal to have schedule conflicts that you need to prioritize (you don’t work for this company yet! of course you would prioritize something like school or a current job over an interview for a job that you may or may not get) and a company that frowns on you prioritizing school while you’re a current student is a company that’s going to be problematic in other ways.

does it look bad to be unavailable on one of the dates an employer suggests for an interview?

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