Dear Carolyn • I am a paralegal in a small law firm. I share duties with two other paralegals, and one of us has to be at the office during business hours. Both of them struggle with illness, so I have been more than happy to be flexible and available, especially when they have doctor's appointments. However, I planned two days off for my sister's wedding. This has been scheduled for over a year. They both have doctor's appointments on those days and want me to be in the office, claiming that since the wedding is local I should be willing to spend a few hours at work. I have not taken a single day of vacation in over a year. Can you suggest a tactful way for me to tell them this one time I am unable to cover? Or should I suck it up and come in to work?
Dear Paralegal • "I scheduled this vacation more than a year ago, and I plan to take it. I will help you prepare for my absence, but I will not come in." You have nothing to apologize for here, so don't make choices as if you do.
Dear Carolyn • I agree in theory but it is hard for me to actually say this. I just feel guilty when I am forceful with people who are going through so much already. I have had issues with confrontation before, and I know this is something I need to work on.
Dear Paralegal • You're going through something, too a year without a day off and all you have to show for it is a guilt trip from the people you've tried to help. I think the place to start with the "confrontation" issue you describe is figuring out to what you are entitled not as you specifically, but "you" as a human being, family member, colleague, etc. Aim for objectivity. That's because a fear of confrontation is just a symptom of a larger problem with boundaries; it's hard to stand up to people when you don't think you have the right to. In this case, use your employment contract as emotional training wheels: It's your vacation time to use. And, your ample notice means you haven't inconvenienced your co-workers; they inconvenienced themselves by failing to heed your plans.
Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.