Ask Jack: Work for Free, Office Birthdays, and Job of the Week

birthday cake on desk in office
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AOL Jobs reader Roger has been looking for work.

Prior to being laid off, I held a senior staff position at a major company. In order to get into another well-known company, I have been asked to work for free for 4 months with the possibility of getting hired. Do you think it is worth my time or is this company really taking advantage?

Ooh, when you're done at that place, maybe you want to come by and paint my apartment and wax my car. Of course, I can't pay you anything, but just think of the experience you'll gain! First of all, Roger, there are potential legal issues here; is the company violating the Fair Labor Standards Act? (It's only been on the books since 1938 so maybe they haven't heard about it yet.) Regardless, it does sound like they're trying to take advantage of you. We don't even have to factor in that you're a seasoned employee. Companies have tried to pull this garbage with unpaid interns forever, and in recent years they've finally been called out on it.

And four months? Sheesh! If it was for a week, then maybe, maybe it would be worthwhile, if the opportunity was with a terrific company where you truly wanted to work. Or if it began as a contract position without benefits, then that's not ideal but at least you'd know where you stood. Roger, my advice is to use these four months to look for a job where -- call me crazy -- you'll actually be paid for the work you do.

Meanwhile, Merri says...

Uggh. I just received an email (subject line: "shhh! surprise!") that there is going to be a "little birthday gathering" right by my desk this Friday. It seems like they are always having one and it drives me nuts. Yes I know there is a Seinfeld episode about this but it is really true! I just want to do my work, not be a big phony and cheer for somebody I don't really care about, frankly. I don't want to sign the card, I don't want to chip in for a gift. How can I avoid these?

Note to self: Re-think our big surprise party plans for Merri. I know, I know, they can be a cliché, and it often seems like we're just going through the motions with the seemingly endless stream of office birthday parties, baby showers, etc. But I prefer to think of it as employees clinging to our basic humanity within the robotic drudgery of the workday. These gatherings can be a nice little break, and some people actually are close friends with their coworkers and enjoy celebrating with them. Of course, not everyone feels this way; many like to have a clear delineation between their work and personal lives. That's cool too -- you shouldn't feel forced to participate. So the e-mail can be a heads-up to go for a walk when the party is scheduled. Your coworkers will eventually get the hint, and stop asking you to sign the card, etc. You'll probably get a bit of a reputation, but I'll go out on a limb and guess that you're OK with that.

Last week's Ask Jack questions

Do you have a work-related question for Jack? Write it in the comments below (better answers to this week's questions are also welcome!) or tweet it @AOLJobs with the hashtag #AskJack.

Jack's Job of the Week

I heard through the grapevine that there's an opening for a Birthday Party Host in Grapevine, Texas! It's at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center, and apparently everything is awesome there. But if cake, balloons, and interlocking bricks aren't your cup of fruit punch, do your own search on AOL Jobs. You'll be avoiding parties at a new company in no time!

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