Would-be extortionist should be reported to police

Lynne Curry

Q. When I rode up in our office building's elevator several weeks ago, a guy looked at me and said, "Aren't you, Jazz?" I froze. Years ago I danced in a topless bar and also done some pretty wild things. I now work in a high-profile job for a conservative boss.

I pretended I hadn't heard him.

He called me that night and said he remembered me from my bad girl days and planned to tell my boss some of the things I'd done. When I gasped, he told me I could make the whole problem go away if I gave him $500 cash.

He gave me a day to get the money in $5 bills and place it in an unmarked envelope. He said he'd call me on my cellphone and give me instructions on where to go to hand it over and that I'd have less than 10 minutes to get it to him. He warned me not to go to the police and said he was monitoring me. Since I didn't really look at him, I don't even remember what he looked like. What can I do?

A. He's extorting money. Call the police and ask them to help you nail him. Meanwhile, blackmailers lose their hold over intended victims when the victims have nothing to fear.

Your boss knows the present-day you. Come clean with him. You don't have to give him all the gory details, simply say you had a lot of growing up to do and someone who saw you a decade ago has threatened to embarrass you unless you pay money for silence. Let him know you've done the right thing and involved the police. Your boss may appreciate your willingness to bring this into the open and demonstrate his own character by saying "hope you put this creep behind bars."

Q. I'm a commissioned salesperson. I don't think it's fair that my employer expects me to use my personal time for work by asking me to read sales manuals at night. Isn't this illegal under wage and hour laws?

A. Different wage and hour regulations govern you when you work on commissions. Unlike hourly workers, you receive a percentage of sales, allowing you to make far more money than an hourly employee. You trade pay for every hour for this advantage.

Your personal investment in your career pays off for you with increased commissions, and marks you as a professional. How would you feel if your doctor didn't spend time reading medical updates unless the hospital paid her an hourly wage for reading? Would you hire a lawyer who didn't stay abreast of changing laws unless her employer paid her to read legal cases and journals?

Q. I run a small engineering company. We have a handful of Ron Paul supporters who buttonhole other employees almost every day about politics and it always leads to arguing. Last week at a staff meeting I announced that "for the good of all, no more politics." Right afterwards, my office manager pulled me aside and said I couldn't discipline someone for talking politics because of the right to free speech. What now?

A. As a private sector employer, you can set limits on political discussions that interfere with work. Free speech rights don't grant employees immunity from discipline.

You need to figure out a way to get buy-in to less political arguing. What if you sat down with the most vocal individuals and said, "You're doing the right thing by getting involved in politics, but I don't think your arguing does anything except make those who don't agree with you dig in their heels. Could you chill?"

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management-employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Co. Inc. For questions, Curry can be reached at thegrowthcompany.com.