Dear Salary Sally,
As an aspiring fashion magazine editor, I'm not the kind of gal to call in sick. In fact, I probably qualify as a workaholic. It's the only way to get noticed at a fashion magazine, after all. The pay is dreadfully low, so you have to be passionate and work hard if you want to succeed in the biz and earn a hefty salary.
I always come in early, am the last one to leave and work my butt off in between. In fact, it took three summers of running errands in three-inch pumps and fetching Starbucks for the higher ups before an editor noticed me and I got a real job offer. I jumped at the opportunity to work as an assistant editor and was sure I was on my way to the top.
A few months into my full-time gig with the magazine, I fell ill with the flu. I'd never taken a sick day before but I was puking my guts into the toilet and there was no way I could make it to the office. I called my editor and she wished me a quick recovery. I was so relieved.
When I returned to my dream job the following Monday, the executive editor of the mag politely called me into her office and fed me this line: "We're making some staff changes. Excessive absences can't be tolerated. Please clear out your desk."
I was devastated and speechless, fighting back tears. I walked to my desk to find a security guard waiting, cleared my desk and was escorted out of the building.
Salary Sally, is it fair for them to fire me for taking sick leave – and is there any way for me to get my awesome job back?! -Former Fashionista
You're right. You never should have gotten the ax for being under the weather. What's done is done, though – and there's no point in trying to go back into a hostile work environment. Here are four tips on how to protect yourself and move on to the next great thing.
1. Fight the Firing: Protect your Unemployment Benefits
Schedule a meeting with the magazine's human resources department to discuss your firing. You'll want to file for unemployment and excessive absences may not be an acceptable reason. "Produce a doctor's note. Their claim about excessive absences isn't legitimate," says Steven Mitchell Sack, a New York City-based labor and employment attorney and author of "Getting Fired: What to do if you're Fired, Downsized, Laid Off, Restructured, Discharged, Terminated, or Forced to Resign."
"It's important to get [your employment record] expunged," Sack said.
2. Research your Salary and Job Options
Getting fired can be a sign that a job or employer just isn't the right fit for you. Instead of fixating on what you've lost, look toward the future. Compare your salary to others with similar education and experience to get a sense of what you can earn. Take it a step further and play around with the kinds of jobs that might be available to you. Look for something that matches your passion, your career goals and your salary requirements.
3. Reconsider your Resume
Even if the job you were fired from is super hot and enviable, you may want to leave it off your resume. "If it's a first job and it's been less than two months, it's not worth the questions," Sack said.
4. Find a Better Gig
Your former employer will be sorry that they ever let you go when you end up working for the competition down the street. Here are some tips on how to get back on the job search train.
- Tell everyone you know you're job hunting. Swallow your pride and let people know you lost your job. We mean everyone, not just your friends in the fashion business. Your Pilates instructor may have another client who needs a fabulous assistant. Sometimes it really is all about who you know.
- Set up "informational interviews." If you've got a friend of a friend at another fashion magazine, ask to meet her boss. She'll offer her best advice and possibly pass along more names of more people to talk to. Eventually one of those folks might offer you a job.
- Freelance. Get your name out there with gig after gig. If you do a great job, you'll be invited back. Don't be afraid to ask if your temp boss knows anyone else who may be looking for freelancers.
5. Find an Employer with a Solid Sick Leave Policy
A 2008 Society for Human Resource Management survey found that most companies are sensitive to illness. Seventy-four percent of companies offer paid sick leave and 13 percent of companies let workers accumulate sick days over several years, giving them the opportunity to be paid for a prolonged illness. Some companies even let you donate your sick days to co-workers who have serious illnesses.
Fashionista, if you're really up for hard work and can survive meanness of fashion journalism, I'm sure that you'll get an enviable offer soon.
Good luck with your search!