Published 7:24 a.m. ET March 13, 2018 | Updated 12:55 p.m. ET March 13, 2018

Johnny Taylor, a human-resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is the president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.

The questions submitted by readers and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity. Have an HR question you think he can answer? Submit it here.

Question: My female boss called me a “slut” in a joking way in front of other co-workers. It made me uncomfortable, but I was too afraid to say anything because she was more powerful. With everything going on in the media, I wish I’d had the guts to have said something to HR. Any advice for what to do if I find myself in a similar situation again? — Dee Dee

Answer: Wow! How uncomfortable that must have been for you. Not only would that have caused anyone to be embarrassed, but I guarantee your colleagues felt uncomfortable as well.

An embarrassing slur has no place in a working environment – or social setting, for that matter – even if said in a joking way. Saying it in front of others makes her already poor judgment even worse. What’s more, exchanges like these can pollute the entire workplace culture and send talented people like you heading for the door. They are too toxic to ignore.

That said, an ideal ending to this story would involve you having a face-to-face conversation with your colleague to let her know how inappropriate you found her comment and request that she refrain from such behavior in the future. In my experience, this type of approach is likely to be stronger and faster than the alternative approach of bringing others in to intervene.

It’s not too late to have that conversation with your supervisor. If she becomes defensive, repeats the behavior or retaliates against you in response to your conversation, then bring a formal complaint to your HR department.

Q: During an interview, can companies ask you about your current salary? If you do not want to tell them, do you have to? What is the best way to handle a question like that? — Leslie S.

A: You aren’t the only job candidate who is intimidated by this question.

This is likely not the answer you wanted, but employers in most states and localities can legally ask you about your current salary. But even if you live where the question is legal, you are not required to disclose your current salary.

While a few states and cities, including California, Oregon, New York City and New Orleans, have enacted laws that prevent employers from asking a job candidate about salary history, there’s one inescapable problem: The employer is going to learn your current salary when and if it decides to conduct a standard background/reference check.

So, I would caution you not to shy away from the salary question.

Your employer expects you to have opinions about your pay, and your failure to answer the question might prevent you from getting the job you want.

Putting aside the legal answer about whether an interviewer can ask the question, I offer you some practical advice: Do your research before an interview to evaluate pay in your industry and in your geographic market to determine how much you want for your services.

So if the question arises, you can answer it directly and quickly pivot the discussion to your salary expectations based on your qualifications, ask about the pay range for the position or explain why your current salary (high or low) should be put in context.

We know, for example, someone’s current salary may be low because he/she made a conscious decision to accept a lower-paying job as a traveling spouse.

Answering the question directly can only enhance your chance of successfully landing your dream job.

You may also be interested in:

More: ‘What’s your salary?’ becomes a no-no in job interviews

Salaries: Why you need a raise instead of a bonus

Where you work: Is your workplace one of the ‘Fortune’ 100 best companies?


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