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ASK ALANA: The etiquette of business and money

Colleague's fatter paycheck irks worker

July 19, 2009|Alana Semuels

Dear Alana: I "accidentally" saw a colleague's pay stub. We have the same job title, similar backgrounds and have worked at the company for the same amount of time, but she makes significantly more than I do. Is there any way I can discuss this with my manager without getting myself in trouble for snooping?

Mona in Los Angeles

Dear Mona: I should tell you that snooping is bad and you should be troubling yourself about your nosy habits, not your pay stub. But I empathize with your frustration that she makes so much more than you. It reminds me of the time I looked at the "What People Earn" issue of Parade magazine to find out that people who work for newspapers make less than the people who decide where to plant bushes in your yard. Sigh.

Now, this girl might have something on your manager (like embarrassing photos of him in a Speedo), but more likely than not, she was just better than you at negotiating her salary when she was hired.

It's definitely not a good idea to bring up the fact that you know about the discrepancies in salaries, but you could ask your manager for a raise, delineating specific things that you've done to merit one. In this economy, though, I wouldn't hold my breath. And next time, negotiate a raise when you switch jobs. Step 1: Proceed to the beach to take photos of your manager in a Speedo.

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Should his boss pick up the tab?

Dear Alana: I work for a successful start-up, owned by a guy not much older than I. Whenever we socialize outside of work, which happens quite a bit, he insists on picking up the tab, even if my wife is with us.

Although this makes me uncomfortable, I know he has money to spare. Is this improper, or should I just sit back and take the perks?

Max in Oakland

Dear Max: What a deal you've got going for you. Not only do you have a job in this economy, but you also have a meal ticket, a sugar daddy, a Santa Claus if you will. Kudos!

There's no reason to refuse a free dinner or seven, if he's offering them with no strings. If he's plying you with perks to encourage you to work late, steal trade secrets or cook the books, that's another matter.

Still, you don't want to be perceived as a freeloader, Max. Insist on picking up the tab once in a while, or your boss might begin to think you're ungrateful and throw you out on the street. Pay for dinner when your wife's along for the ride and you might just feel like a sugar daddy yourself.

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Life is full of 'what ifs'

Dear Alana: I am a single professor at a public university. I wasn't planning on buying a house until I got tenure, but with the dramatic drop in housing prices right now I'm tempted to buy. But what if I don't get tenure?

Evie in La Crescenta

Dear Evie: I can't give you financial advice, but I can tell you that it's not good etiquette to ask your boss now whether you're getting tenure because you want to buy a house.

So don't ask. Just keep on working hard and think about your situation this way: Life is full of "what ifs." I want to splurge on a pair of giant red shoes, but what if I get laid off from my job as a clown? I'm saving money, but what if I get struck down by a milk truck and in my last moment wished I had spent more on scrunchies?

The trick is assessing these "what ifs" to find out how likely they are to happen. Is it likely that you will get tenure? Or does that time you put a whoopee cushion on the chair of the department head severely limit your chances?

Keep in mind that if we've learned anything in this whole housing mess, it's that no matter how much you want that house, car or giant purple glass unicorn, don't buy it unless you will be able to pay for it.

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Next month: Summer vacation can be stressful if you're seated on an airplane next to a screaming baby, perpetual beat-boxer or your mother-in-law. And how exactly are you supposed to deal with bosses who guilt-trip you over taking vacation, anyway? Send your questions about vacation etiquette to askalana@latimes .com.

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