Your colleagues are out of line, not you

This is an archived article that was published on in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

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.

Paralegal again

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.

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