The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 6, 2013

Watercooler: Bunking with the boss; paycheck privacy

By Karla L. Miller
Special to The Washington Post

— Q: I have a job and a boss that I really like. Unfortunately, our company wants to save a buck by having my boss and me, 40-something females, share a hotel room on business trips. While there is nothing inappropriate about the arrangement, I still feel that at this stage of my career, I have earned the right to some privacy, and sharing a room with my boss — even though we are friendly — is stressful. I believe she would be offended if I resisted the arrangement. How do I handle this delicate situation?

A: I don't suppose you're prone to seismic snoring or nude sleepwalking? Either would solve the problem — or get you passed over for future trips.

The legal perspective, from Sharon Snyder and her colleagues at the Ober Kaler national law firm, is that although there is nothing "strictly illegal" about your company's practice, it creates an "unreasonable risk"; imagine if, for example, an employee were "harassed [or] assaulted or . . . had his or her privacy violated because the roommate discovered confidential health information." The legal fallout could outweigh any cost savings.

But raising the specter of legal liability could sound like a veiled threat. And as your boss doesn't mind having a roommate, asserting seniority won't fly.

You could make a bid for pity by telling your boss that you have anxiety about sleeping in a room where someone else (besides your significant other, if applicable) is present, and asking for a change in policy so you can be better rested while on company business. If the answer is no, you may have to risk your boss' ire by pushing harder, risk advancement by declining future trips, or find a way to overcome the stress. (Does your per diem cover the minibar?)

Q: I work as a contractor for a company that has lost its government contract. The winning company wants to hire most of the employees but wants us to show our last pay stub. We are looking for an opinion on this request.

A: If you really need the gig, you may not have a choice. First, ask what information the new company wants and whether it will accept another form of proof; i.e., an offer letter or promotion notice from your current employer. If only a pay stub will do, black out everything not wage-related: Social Security number, marital status, tax allowances, tax deductions and leave balances. Until the new company issues your paycheck, that information is none of its business.

Thanks to Elaine Fitch, of the Washington-based Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman and Fitch employment law firm.

Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.