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Plus, how to politely turn down your boss's pet charity without ending up in the dog house

Antony Hare

Dear Corporate Governess
My co-worker has been on sick leave for months, and I've been picking up the slack. I'm starting to crack from the stress. Do I have any rights? —Denyse G., Waterloo, Ont.

Dear Denyse
Take your concerns to your manager or HR first to see if they can fix it. It's possible people don't realize you're struggling, especially if you're seen as a strong team player who can handle a lot of work. You'll need to bring documentation to prove the significant increase in your responsibilities and hours, so it's important to track everything. A note from your doctor detailing the impact on your health can also help bolster your case.

Stuart Rudner, an employment lawyer and mediator in Toronto, who has worked with many clients in the same situation, says it's important to decide whether you want to stay in the job. If you do, then first try working out other methods of compensation, such as additional vacation days or flexible hours so you can work from home, or good old cash.

If your company continues to push for you to work longer hours, you may have a claim for constructive dismissal. The "constructive" part is because you haven't lost your job, but your employer has breached their contract with you by substantially changing what you do. Rudner cautions that it's a tricky thing to prove. "Either you're still going to be working, but under protest and threatening to bring a claim if they don't fix things, or the company might just say, 'Get out,'" says Rudner. "Once you've lost your job, the only question is how much you're entitled to. Be mindful that if you claim constructive dismissal, your entitlement is the same as if you were just let go."

One caveat: If you're in a union, you don't have the same right to go to an employment lawyer as a non-unionized worker has. The union is your legal representative, so contact them first.

Dear Corporate Governess
Our boss bombards us with requests to support her pet charity. How do I gracefully decline? —Ewen S., Ottawa

Dear Ewen
"No thank you" is a good start. Then deflect with something like, "That's such a great charity, but all my money this year is going toward saving the black-footed ferret."

It's easier to say no when you've already decided what you will or won't support. I'm game for helping anyone running a marathon for a good cause but will say no to the barrage of chocolates, cookies or frozen meat for a child's soccer, hockey or dance team. And, hey bosses, just send out a group email and let individuals follow up if they choose.