Lynne Curry: Think positive about future

Q: I'm 48 and burned out at my job. I've been a nurse since I was 23 and would like to quit but have no money saved and no other skills. I can't face 17 more years of nursing but it's the only job for which I'm trained and I don't really want a job at Walmart or McDonalds. My husband is on disability and we really need the income so I feel like I'm stuck. Give me some hope.

A: Don't sell yourself short; you have options.

Good nurses excel at patient and family interactions, making them quality hires in customer service jobs.

Good nurses exercise caution in mediations, giving them an eye for detail. Your medical knowledge and detail consciousness might make you a good pharmacy technician. If you have great people skills, you can aim for a lucrative pharmaceutical sales job.

It took study to become a nurse. Have you considered taking evening classes to position yourself for another career? Although you would have to start at the bottom in a new field, the hurdle-jumping you might have to do will feel better than remaining stuck in a profession you no longer want.

Before you leave nursing, however, decide whether you're burned out on the profession or simply your current job or employer. If the latter, nurses are in high demand. If the former, consider other jobs where your skills make you a good catch. And most importantly, think in terms of what's possible rather than what's not.

Q: I'm a truck driver. The other day I was visiting with other drivers in the break room talking politics. I said Mexico is inundated by drug thugs and their drugs are killing kids on the streets of America and that Mexico's president was weak and ineffective.

Suddenly the doors flew open. Two managers stormed out, one of whom was of Mexican descent. They said I had made racial slurs and would be put on a disciplinary step if I said one more word. I said if I had to dance around on egg shells for fear of offending drug thugs, I don't need to be working for their company.

I'm pretty upset. Is it legal for them to spy like this with apparently hidden microphones in the break room? Isn't that an invasion of privacy? Was telling the truth a racial slur?

A: When you make comments about any legally protected category of employees, you take a risk.

Even if you don't mean to disparage a fellow employee for his or her race, sex, age, national origin, pregnancy, disability or other characteristic, when you make comments about any category of people, others can take offense.

Because your employer has an obligation to protect your co-workers from disparaging comments, if they learn of them, they can discipline you.

Meanwhile, Washington statute RCW 9.73.030 prohibits anyone recording or transmitting private conversations without obtaining the consent of all persons engaged in a conversation. The question becomes: was your conversation private or public?

Although you have privacy rights, you stripped away much of that right by airing your views publicly to your co-workers, making them your employer's concern.

What if your managers overheard your comments because you made them in a loud voice in a public area? If so, they didn't violate your privacy and were entitled to act on what you said. Further, if your employee handbook lets employees know your employer uses electronic surveillance in the break room or other areas, they have put you on notice that workplace conversations lack privacy.

Additionally, if any of your co-workers didn't like your comments and reported them to management, your "private" comments became public record and your employer's concern.

Richland attorney Lucinda Luke adds, "Your employer has rights too -- the right to protect itself from claims of unlawful discrimination. The comments you made in the break room could certainly be construed as discriminatory and could lead to liability for the employer if the employer does not take corrective action to stop similar future conduct."

Your best take away -- don't disparage categories of people when you're at the workplace -- because you can't count on your "truth" being the final word.

-- Lynne Curry can be reached via email at lynne@thegrowth