DEAR READERS: After 22 wonderful years, the Help Wanted column is coming to an end because I have retired.
It has been a pleasure to answer your questions over the years. In the beginning those questions came primarily by snail mail and phone calls. But over the years email became the primary way they arrived, reflecting technological changes in our society. No matter the form of delivery, what matters is that they kept coming. My biggest regret is that I couldn’t answer them all.
Your questions were a great barometer of changes in the local job market. During the Great Recession I received several questions from hourly employees who wanted to know if their boss could suddenly declare them exempt and pile on extra hours without extra pay. The answer was “No,” unless their duties changed to reflect their new status. As the economy improved I began to receive questions about promised raises that were slow to take effect.
And the questions others sent raised a variety of interesting issues over the years: whether it was illegal to ban fragrances or open-toe shoes in the office or to dismiss a recovering addict. Others sought advice on how to deal with a smelly co-worker; how to get help with a bee infestation; how to maneuver the job market as an older worker; how to confront an office bully and how to reclaim company property from an ex-employee.
Many employees wrote to ask me if they were entitled to unemployment benefits or more Social Security benefits. Some wrote to tell me that an answer to someone else’s question helped them. I recall a letter from a widow who found out from this column that she was eligible for Social Security survivor benefits and used the new-found money to save for her daughter’s college education.
Irv Mijoner, who retired as head of the Long Island office of the U.S. Labor Department in January, said in an email to me after I announced my retirement: “I have often received feedback from the public – workers, employers and their representatives, friends and family — telling me how helpful your column was, in alerting them to workplace issues about which they would otherwise not have known.”
This column has never been just a job. It has been a great education for me, and I hope for you as well. It provided me a front-row seat to the issues that employees and employers face in today’s workplace.
A good number of you have told me over the years that you were faithful readers. It was always good to hear that you took the time to read Help Wanted when so many other things were vying for your attention. And some of you gleefully called or emailed me when you spotted my column in newspapers across the country during your travels. Those sightings have run from Virginia to Oregon.
I wouldn’t have had a column without you — nor could I have written it without the help of the many lawyers, career experts and government officials who provided answers over the years.
And I’d like to thank my editors at Newsday, who by allowing me to write the column, provided me a platform every week for over two decades to carry out the reason many of us reporters made journalism a career: to help others. That will always be one of my proudest accomplishments.
I wish you all the best.