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Dear Kathryn:

I'm a real good worker, have gotten very good reviews over the years but predict my days here are numbered. I have developed an uncontrollable and very embarrassing reaction to receiving criticism or bad news. My problem has gotten worse in the last three months and I fear getting fired.

When I heard about my boss's son in ICU and nearing death, my uncontrollable response was to laugh. When my co-worker announced she was getting married, I burst into tears. I've been able to kind of hide some of these inappropriate reactions in the past, but this last incident has me on shaky ground with my boss. I got my review and received some positive comments. My response was to burst into tears at the good comments and giggle at the negatives. At first my boss looked confused and quite honestly, so was I. He mentioned something about "this behavior having to stop".

I don't want my employer to think I'm nuts, or in need of serious medical attention, but I truly fear for my job. How can I explain away my crazy reactions when I don't really know the root of them?

What should I do next?

CHRISTINE T., West Hartford, CT

Dear Christine

I think you're a worrying about the wrong thing first-your health quite frankly, is your first priority. If we focus on resolving the real health-oriented issue immediately, my prediction is your worries about your job will be eliminated. Right now, today, make a doctors appointment to further discuss with a trained professional who you should see about this relatively new odd behavior.

Next, ask to have a private meeting with your boss. Explain that you are concerned about this new development and are seeking medical attention for it. This does two things. It shows him you're not ignoring the problem that obviously others in the workplace have noticed. Secondly, it unofficially puts him on notice that you indeed have a problem. Should a termination come about because of your uncontrollable behavior, you may need to rely on the fact you told your boss that you were concerned and were seeking help.

Next, check on your unused vacation and sick time and if you have disability insurance, how the short and long term policies work. Your first concern is addressing this increasingly distressing problem of yours; the second to determine how you will survive financially should you need to take time off.

I did consult Attorney Henry Zaccardi to find out whether you might be in a "protected class". Zaccardi feels that until you have a bonafide medical opinion as to what's causing this, your status in regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act is unknown.

Good luck.

Dear Kathryn:

We have an office that is clean and oder free and have worked hard to keep smokers out of our environment. Not only do we feel that smoke is offensive in our small firm, but the smoking breaks employees crave take time away from their working.

In my interviews, I tell employees we have a non-smoking building and a non-smoking office. I look for their reactions to my non-smoking statement and sniff around their clothing when they come in. I don't outright ask them if they are smokers. I've been successful in ferreting out the smokers until now. Here is my big problem, all wrapped up in one big puff.

I hired this secretary a month ago, never guessing from her odor or reaction to my non-smoking statement that she was a smoker. A day after she started, she arrived daily smelling as if she had smoked two packs in a closet. She didn't leave for smoking breaks but returned from lunch reeking of smoke. All of us here agree we cannot deal with it and I want to terminate her.

I started compiling a personnel file so that I could have something concrete to terminate her. Her work was good so the file was thin, but I issued the pink slip regardless.

Here's what happened. She filed for Unemployment but also filed a complaint with the Labor Board stating the reasons for termination were fabricated. She said she was terminated for smoking off premises. Actually, this is true but we will not agree to this. We think this aggressive young woman will cause big trouble and expense for us. We are a private firm and feel we should be able to operate our company as we wish. We made it clear we didn't like smokers when she was hired and feel she actually pulled the wool over our eyes. She should have come clean with her habit when I stated our policy. What is our protection here?


Dear Smoke Blowers in Manchester:

Your contact to me is a little late-you should have written before taking the termination action, not after. I can appreciate your wanting to keep your workplace smoke free, but you've overstepped your bounds.

While you can determine whether you allow smoking breaks and that your workplace environment is smoke-free, you cannot dictate what the employee does on their own free time, and this includes smoking.

According to CT Statute 31-40s, you can't discriminate against an employee who smokes on their own free time. This means that if your ex-employee can prove her termination was because of your discriminating against her being a smoker, it will be you who goes up in smoke. At this stage, I wouldn't continue compiling any more false allegations of her ineffectiveness, but only keep in her personnel file any real performance inadequacies or attendance issues.

I'd hire a good labor attorney to be waiting in the wings should this matter go forward.

Dear Kathryn:

We make it a standard practice in our company to get all of the correct addresses, home phones and cell phones for our employees. We currently have many employees that list one address, but actually sleep who knows where. Out of our sixty employees, over fifteen now have refused to provide their cell phone numbers. We have had a few occasions where we have needed to reach our employees in various departments, and it's been frustrating to come up against this.

Isn't there some stipulation that as an employer we can require that our employees provide cell numbers and correct and current addresses where they actually reside?

MARY S., West Haven, CT

Dear Mary:

Employees will say this is protecting their privacy. Here's what the law says and doesn't say.

Make it part of your personnel policy manual that current addresses be provided to personnel. I checked CT's Regulations, Section 31-60-12, and this regulation states that the employee must provide a current home address. There isn't any stipulation that the employee must provide phone numbers.

While you can ask the for the cell phone number, unless it's germane to their job that you be able to reach them at any time of day or night, there's no law that mandates they must provide that.

If you're that concerned you have an employee with a hostile or uncooperative attitude you can terminate them. The question is just how important that contact information is vs the good employee you may be giving up. Remember, there's no guarantee as to what you'll get with your replacement hire!