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Guest banality

How do Benefits Managers think - ethically as well as legally

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Guest banality

I read this forum from time to time to get an idea of how Benefit's Managers think, but it always depresses me because half the posts seem to be about how to exclude people, how to legally reduce benefits, and how to retain privileges for the bigwigs while shafting the rank-and-file.

From time to time, I also read interesting articles about how bias and illegal action can be covertly accomplished through HR. For instance, check out this recent article on how black-sounding names can hurt job applicants:

http://abcnews.go.com/sections/2020/Busine...s_040820-1.html

I wonder: do Benefits Managers ever worry about conflicting pressures of their employer, the law (the spirit as well as the letter), and the right thing to do? Has there ever been a major class action lawsuit that was specifically aimed at Benefits Managers? Are there any notable examples of whistleblowers or people who have taken an important stand to protect the more disadvantaged segments of the organization they serve?

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Rather interesting, if one sided comment, banality.... I think most people (including those who post here) are more concerned with doing hteir jobs, and doing them well. Sometimes, that means reducing the costs of providing benefits, and sometimes the only way to do that is to reduce benefits. Keep in mind these are business people. Business have certain economic realities that will determine their continued existence. Benefits (and all labor costs, if fact) are one of those variables that a business may be able to (somewhat control).

As far as "retain[ing] privileges for the bigwigs while shafting the rank-and-file," that isn't necessarily the case. In many cases, providing better "compensation" (which includes benefits) to those who's value to the company is greaterthan others is a legitimate business practice. I agree that at times it appears that the rank and file get the shaft, but look at the provisions of IRC Section 401(a)(1) et seq. Most of these provisions have the effect of causing companies to increase benefits to the rank and file. Arguably the complexity involved in complying with some of these provisions has increased administrative costs, and may have, as a result, had the effect of decreasing overall benefits - and further, have caused some to look for ways to maintain benefits for a select few. The code and regs actually allow this (look at the cross testing provisions of the 401(a)(4) regs, the ability to integrate employer non-elective contributions, the fact that we have a coverage and average benefit requirement for NHCEs of only 70% - i.e. some "discrimination is legally permitted). I see nothing wrong (philosophically or otherwise) with taking advantage of these provisions - where appropriate- to provide higher benefits to those who determine whether benefits will be offered at all...l

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Guest georgia

an organization that struggles to remain solvent seeks to reduce its expenses, including salary and benefits. an organization that loses that struggle may cease to exist, who enjoys salary and benefits then?

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banality,

A Benefits Manager is only an employee. Employees follow orders given by the bosses. Employees look after the interests of the bosses who employ them not those of the co-workers who work alongside them temporarily.

Usually anyone who places the interests of employees before the interests of the employer, does not last very long in their position.

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Just to expand on what others are saying...IMHO

(I'm pretty much strictly in the small Employer market as a TPA)

In this day & age & economy, many of our clients have eliminated any employer funded "pension" plans they may have once had. In order to encourage these small Employers to maintain any type of qualified plan at all, we need to make the plan as attractive to the owners as possible. One way to do that is to show them how they can maximize their own benefit with the least amount to the rank & file. I understand that it can sound like a negative for the employees, but is it really? I, for one, know that many of the clients my company services would not offer any type of plan at all for their employees if the owners were not realizing the maximum benefits at the lowest cost. Isn't that better than the alternative of offering no plan at all?

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What about protecting the plan? Fiduciary duty? As a benefit professionals we are required to administer the plan according to its provisions. Unfortunately that means if someone didn't elect coverage when eligible then gets ill and wants coverage, we can't do that. Is it morally or ethically right? Depends on your point of view, but I feel its part of my job to protect the plan and its provisions. That may mean being harsh or cruel to one person in order to preserve government qualification of the plan for everyone else.

By the way, our "big wigs" have the same plan options and contributions towards coverage as the rank and file.

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With whom does the fiduciary duty rest, the Benefits Manager, the Plan Sponsor or the Plan Sponsor's agent (the TPA)?

Who is the Plan Sponsor, the Benefits Manager or the Employer?

Who is the Employer, the Benefits Manager or the "Boss"?

It does not matter what the Benefits Manager feels or wants, it matters only what the "Boss" wants? He pays any penalties for wanting something illegal or improper, not the Benefits Manager.

The only the thing that the Benefits Manager can do, other than to follow orders, is to give guidance to the Boss. It is the Boss's decision whether or not to accept the guidance.

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The only the thing that the Benefits Manager can do, other than to follow orders, is to give guidance to the Boss.

...and document your position and actions for the possibility of a convenient case of temporary amnesia.

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GBurns says : The only the thing that the Benefits Manager can do, other than to follow orders, is to give guidance to the Boss.

WDIK says: ...and document your position and actions for the possibility of a convenient case of temporary amnesia

Or you can voice your opinion, use your skills, your passion for what is right, to convince others to be better.... And, if you can't, and if the situation is so repugnant, then it's time to find another situation....

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Guest banality

I understand that the issues for Benefits Managers involve keeping their jobs and protecting the legal and financial stability of the plan. I'm glad someone brought up the idea that "just following orders" may be morally wrong.

Of course it's easy to talk about doing something for the moral good if it isn't your own job on the line. I also don't think "quit your job if you don't like it" is the answer. Job separations seriously disadvantage the job seeker, even when the economy is booming. Recruiters and hiring managers are predisposed to think that something is "wrong" with the individual when they separate from a previous position, especially if they don't want to provide a recommendation from a vindictive previous manager. Of course, it's customary to avoid saying anything critical about your previous employer, which causes all sorts of suspicious verbal contortions. At best, a person who chose to leave an organization looks like a possible bad fit. God help you if you've left more than one position for reasons of integrity.

Therefore, I think it's unfair that we as a society leave no option for integrity other than risking your job or quitting to avoid participating in something "repugnant." I also think it's a shame that a lot of Benefits Managers seem to deal with this by narrowly focusing on "following orders". The main reason I brought up padding Bigwig Benefits while cutting those of the rank and file is that I was reading posts about it on the forum, and the questions were presented in such a mundane, business-as-usual way: "Can anyone tell me how I can legally boost the boss's benefits while cutting everyone else off?"

The lesson I'm drawing from this is not that the administration of benefits has become too expensive, but that there aren't enough laws (or enforcement of existing laws) to protect employees from "the boss". The entrepreneurial spirit is part of what is supposed to make this country great, but the other part is supposed to be having the conscience and values to do the right thing.

I just find it very depressing that people have to cut off their conscience to do their job. I'm sure if they don't, though, it's very hard to struggle through the day under such inhumane and morally empty circumstances.

Then again, maybe the next social revolution with start with Benefits Managers: you guys seem to be right on the front line of the issues.

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I agree wholeheartedly that "I just find it very depressing that people have to cut off their conscience to do their job".

How did we get here? I blame the HR people as being the ones who fostered the growth of this environment. I also blame them for causing the situation you described regarding job separation and references etc. They are the ones who caused all of this by setting the tone and conditions of job interviews, screenings and references etc.

You might also be partially right regarding "that there aren't enough laws (or enforcement of existing laws) to protect employees from "the boss"." however, it might really be a case of the non-reporting and non-litigating of violations. Again a situation most likely fostered by HR who neither will report incidents to the authorities nor support employees (or ex-employees) in any dispute with the "boss".

Why won't they? They are protecting their own butts and just putting on a show. No different from what we just discussed about Benefit Managers.

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Guest banality

I do hold HR responsible for distorting the workforce in the direction of hyper image-consciousness and rampant dishonesty. HR screens candidates for their looks and various personality factors. In response, job candidates tailor their looks, to the point of seeking plastic surgery, and try to give HR the answers that HR reps want to hear. As a result, the most successful candidates are often the best liars. The people of true integrity are weeded out for giving the wrong answers. HR people seem to be comfortable with shifting the blame to the weeded-out candidate for not wanting to join the company badly enough to jump through the hoops that HR sets up.

While I'm making over-broad generalizations, I'd like to mention that it's disheartening that the HR reps for large corporations all seem to look like Salesperson Barbie and/or Ken.

On the employer side of the HR wall, managers are still able to mysteriously work around HR rules in their own favor. They create the best soft-skills jobs after they have a candidate (friend of a friend of a friend) that they want. They know HR will fall all over themselves to cover it up if they break corporate policies. This is a stealth perpetuation of class society because it's a system that produces cookie-cutter people.

The basic truth is there is very little intelligence differential between people, and very little "character" difference as well: scratch a "bad employee", and you will probably find a "bad manager" and a "crazy environment" as well. So at the end of the day when you have wide differentials in opportunity, compensation, and personal respect, what you are really looking at is the fingerprints of class channeling, facilitated by HR.

I previously regarded Benefits Managers as less culpable in this system: I thought that they basically dealt with rules and paperwork. However, after reading this forum, I started to see the ways Benefits Managers participate in practices that promote the abstract "organization" at the expense of real people.

I'm not someone who thinks litigation will save the world: the legal profession is as corrupt and money-driven as any others these days. However, I'd like to see more pro-employee laws and pro-employee litigation. I agree that the problem is non-reporting (fear of retaliation: HR will support managers even if there are written policies that forbid retaliation) and non-litigation (there is little money in employment law, aside from outright discrimination, since they are hard cases to win and lawyers can usually only recover wages lost). Something has to be done to change this situation.

Otherwise, I think people will be ground to dust by layer upon layer of "just following orders".

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Someone on 1 of these Forums reminded me once that I could not "police the Internet" nor the Boards. There are some things that you cannot change and which are not worth your effort.

Believe me when I tell you (from many personal experiences) NO ONE will thank you for making the corrections and while you are doing NO ONE will visibly support you. You will be the lone voice crying in the wilderness. and if you are ever successful at causing change no one will thank you if they even remember that you did it.

Remember the Peter Principle, these people will all eventually rise to their level of incompetence. Crud usually rises to the top and floats with the current. Then it all gets flushed, anyway.

Unfortunately, that is the way societies historically rise and fall. Maybe its just the start of our turn.

Do that which furthers you along your chosen path and let other solve their own problems. Let them be "ground to dust" if that is what they allow, just don't inhale any of it.

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Guest banality

Well, no one will visibly support me no matter what, because I'm not the sort of person people bother with. But to quote Sir Walter Raleigh, "...it is the unhappy fate of great inventions, to be vilified, as idle fancies, or dreams...and being once made known, to be undervalued; as falling within compass of the meanest wit." Sorry, I can't think of a similar contemporary quote, but the point is that someone has to say the unpopular thing. The first person to say it is usually the one who has nothing to lose, who isn't dependent on the "appreciation" of others.

I don't want to police anybody, but I do wish people would start thinking of the larger, longterm consequences of their "business decisions". However, if people do think about it, I'm sure they would have to realistically conclude that you can't put that sort of responsibility on people to do the right thing: they look after number one first - that's the natural human survival instinct. Thus, the only way to fend off the inevitable corruption is to create and *enforce* laws that protect people from the worst aspects of each other.

People can hate me for saying it - it makes no difference in my life since I already get the short end of the social stick, but I hope there are people with a respected voice who are saying it as well.

I agree that we're on the downslope of a larger historical cycle. The flexibility of the U.S. has relied on upward mobility, with a policy bias toward the middle class. Current social behavior rigidifies the class structure, and generates increasing tension between image and integrity that smacks of fascism. I don't think it's hyperbole to raise the issue of where the "just following orders" mentality will lead under these circumstances.

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I've been resisting saying this because of the obvious political overtones but I agree with you, Banality, and think the whole problem of this downward slope has been the fundamental tenant of supply siders and the failure of trickle down economics.... We all seem to be motivated to "get to the top" at all costs, while those at the top are motivated to keep us from getting there.

Some people don't want to climb the same corporate ladder, and our current employment/HR philosophy is that if you don't want to climb my ladder, and grovel all the way up (whilst pushing me ahead) then you aren't the kind of material I want in the workforce....

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Guest banality

Wow, that's an astute observation. It does seem like the social consequence of trickle down economics would be to increase supplication for arbitrarily available resources. I have a friend who works as an economist, and I'm going to bring this up and see if he will hash this out with me.

Thanks!

Edited to add: I'm going to argue in another forum that the interpersonal stresses of this situation adds to the overall public cost of health care.

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I would argue that it has nothing to do with "trickle down" or any economic theory and also has nothing to do with "get to the top at all costs" either.

I think that it is more a failure of ethics and morals caused partially by the failure of "religion" and religious and educational thought and teachings (or lack thereof).

I do not think that most people try to or are even interested in "getting to the top". As a result there is not much in the way of those at the top trying to keep others away. The air is too thin at the top and the base too wide for the "top" to keep anyone "down".

I also do not agree with "our current employment/HR philosophy is that if you don't want to climb my ladder, and grovel all the way up (whilst pushing me ahead)" etc. I do not think that there is any concern about anyone climbing any ladder, however, I will agree with the "grovel all the way". I think that that is really what they want to see employees and co-workers do, sweat and grovel.

"Grovel all the way" and debasing your fellowman seems to have become the norm along with "if I don't have it you should not have it". Envy, sloth and petty greed have replaced or redefined most of our ethical and moral standards.

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Guest banality

I think the "struggle to get to the top" is mostly an effect of trying to get past the people who are making you feel insecure through arbitrary or petty behavior rather than personal ambition to rule an empire.

I just got a note from a recruiter that told me that I was no longer being considered for a job because the "requirements had changed". Actually, the recruiter had been enthusiastic about the close match between my skills/experience and the job, *until* I met the recruiter in a face-to-face interview. At that point, the recruiter's "people instincts" came into play, and she wrote me off as the wrong type. This has happened to me so many times, that I'm beginning to make large negative generalizations about the nature of humanity. Despite all religion, philosophy, culture, and even the messages of pop entertainment, the people with a little bit of decision-making power can't seem to get past their superficial assessments of the "right sort" of person. I just don't think people are individually able to overcome the illusions that seem like instincts or, worse, "people judgment" to them. There will always be rationalizations for prejudice.

That's why I think legislation to protect the people most vulnerable to the darker side of group dynamics is the only solution.

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banality:

I get the impression that you feel as though you have been unfairly treated many based on some physical characteristic or mannerism. Would you mind sharing with us the basis for you being considered the "wrong type?"

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Guest banality

Yes, you are correct. I'm vague because it's a topic I find embarrassing. But I will share it here so you know where I'm coming from.

I have two medical conditions that affect my looks. First, I have a condition that causes female hirsutism. That means I have a lot of hair growth on my face: I have to tweeze it (I tried laser treatment, but that actually stimulated the hair growth). As a result, I have obvious large red patches on my face that people comment on. I tend to keep my head down because of this. People might argue that this is my choice, but those people don't understand that this is one of the most embarrassing things that can happen to a woman. My tendency to keep my head down is often interpreted as weakness, gullibility, or worse, potential passive aggressiveness. If I try to bring up the medical cause, the manager will panic because no matter how carefully I put it, it raises the specter of a discrimination claim.

I also have a genetic disorder that causes claudication. This is not something that interferes with my work in any way, but when it affects my ability to walk just to make it to the commuter train. This is not something I share with my employers, but I do take medication when it flares up - for cholesterol, blood pressure, blood-thinning, etc. This effects my looks: I look tired and pale, but it doesn't affect my work. Unfortunately, people sometimes speculate, and I only hear gossip fourth-hand when it makes it to the lunch room, and someone asks me how I'm feeling.

I lost my previous job because I was worried about such speculation, and I informed my manager, via email, that I was taking medication for a medical condition. The email was intended to reassure her that it was not causing any problems with my work. In fact, I was an exceptional employee, and there had never been a negative comment from my manager or fellow employees before that time. My manager, however, called me into her office, and told me that I was never, ever to submit "documentation" that might "involve HR". Even though I got the message at that time, the manager fired me as a surprise three weeks later. I was pushed out the door immediately, so I could not retrieve email to show that there was no performance problems (the "documentation" remark is obviously my word against hers). HR had a "no retaliation" policy in regard to both discrimination and raising matters related to HR, but they choose to cover up for the manager's actions (including claiming my email had been "accidentally" destroyed) instead of upholding their "no retaliation" policies.

I'm actually not surprised by my manager: people make petty, knee-jerk decisions and then have to cover for themselves. I am disgusted with how HR responded, and also the fact that there was no way to enforce my rights in what should have been a blatant case of wrongful termination. The EEO screening call told me I needed some documentation that my manager had discriminated against me, even though she had acted to make sure I would be surprised and would not be able to obtain any documentation. Besides, she was smart enough to do everything verbally, while making her subordinates document everything they did. I waited another four months for a 1/2 hour appointment with the CA Dept. of Fair Employment and Housing. They told me the case was too complicated, and they sent me off to fend for myself with a Right to Sue notice. The Right to Sue notice does me no good, because wrongful termination is apparently not something lawyers can make a lot of money off of, and I'm a high risk since I would only be able to pay contingency fees. I wrote to various political representatives, and I finally got State Senator Don Perata to ask DFEH to reconsider my case. By that time DFEH could smugly say their deadline had gone by: even though I couldn't even get an initial appointment with them until a month before their deadline.

My unemployment checks ran out in December: the only reason I'm not homeless yet is that I dutifully put money away for retirement in an IRA. That money is almost gone now. I go to interviews from time to time. Recruiters are usually enthusiastic when they look at my resume and talk to me on the phone. However, when I go in for a personal interview, the Employer Advantage and lookism kicks in. The HR rep probes me on why I don't have a recommendation from my former manager, I look suspicious because I have to go into mental contortions to avoid badmouthing her, and, of course, the HR rep gets busy interpreting why I'm slumping slightly and have a tendency to keep my head down. The whole situation makes me angry. I'm a smart person who works hard: I've done well at every task I've ever been given. I'm also a nice person, though the work I invest in cultivating relationships can easily be undermined by a manager who attempts to control a situation by rumor and innuendo. I can only imagine what my former manager told all my coworker after I was shoved at the door: but all the people who had seemed like good friends never attempted to contact me after I was gone. Out of sight, out of mind I guess.

My situation is almost iconic in its representation of social waste: a capable and good person has been thrown away by personal meanness compounded by all the evils of group dynamics and institutional evil. There are laws to address situations like mine, but it doesn't mean a fig since no one is there to enforce them.

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A few suggestions:

1. Consider working in the Public sector preferably the governmental employers or School Districts. The larger, the better. Your circumstances would be more common and accepted.

2. Do some research (even a simple Google search) on your conditions and the possible treatments and medications. From your post and past experience I would bet that your claudication is being seriously mishandled. Remember that the AMA recently admitted that almost 50% of cases were misdiagnosed (in certain major diseases) and that the majority of treating physicians did not even know what the established treatment guidelines for the popular major diseases were. Chances are your situation is the same.

3. Take a few very deep breaths and be thankful that it is not worse.

4. Take some more deep breaths and then go back and read all the posts. You seem to be getting too resentful of the situation and developing both a "chip" and blinders. You will need to plan your approach to life very carefully and should not carry any unnecessary items such as "a bad attitude".

5. Consider what your appearance and demeanour should be. Maybe such things as keeping your head down and not looking people in the face might not have been such a good idea in a society that likes to "look you in the eye". There might have been other ways to handle the situation.

All that said, it is very easy to sit on this side of the fence and give advice, however, your situation is not unfamiliar to me. I had an uncle who I watched suffer with a fairly similar situation and I am familiar with how he handled it. I have a 23 year old niece with the worst case of Atopic Dermatitis ever imaginable, and I have watched how she handled it in Public School, college and now work. I am also very familiar with what people subject to racial and other prejudices go through and while not the same as your situation is not all that much different. everything that you posted is applicable to many black people especially those with afflictions and not so good looks.

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Guest banality

I'm afraid my "bad" attitude isn't going to change: I think the fact that my manager and HR got away with what they did has larger ramifications. This can happen to anybody. And being quiet about it just guarantees that managers will continue to engage in this behavior and regard it as a "successful" business tactic. The only hope to curb it is to be vocal about what happened and hope the dislike of the publicity will persuade organizations to take steps to do the right thing. I realize this makes me a "disgruntled employee" with no credibility, but by sharing my experience, perhaps I can provide validation to someone who hasn't lost their credibility yet: and they might be listened to when they speak.

I do realize my experience is not uncommon: many people have shared similar stories. That's what makes it all the more frustrating that the victim still comes off as suspicious in job interviews. The very fact the victim has to go through the job interviews means that they are forced to "explain themselves" while the perpetrator doesn't have to explain anything. It's massively unfair.

You are also correct about the claudication being mistreated. My condition is very rare, and every time I end up in a new health care plan, I have to wait for the new doctor to go through all the traditional false starts until he verifies what I was telling him up front. The problem is that they won't do the tests for claudication up front because they are expensive. There is no treatment for the underlying genetic condition: it's degenerative.

I do have experience teaching, but I made a deliberate decision not to pursue that profession, and it is frustrating that encounters with awful people may drive me back to that. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants hard work and achievement to pay off, rather than having to depend on the random good will of middle managers.

I agree with you that my perceived demeanor is a problem. However, when people comment on the red patches, it's very embarrassing. I feel like people are speculating about the tweezing. It doesn't help that hirsutism is a major target for comedians when they rip on "ugly" women. This is why I'd rather live in a world where I would be able to explain my demeanor too my boss without getting fired for it. I think that should be part of culture diversity. Interestingly, my former employer is supposed to be a leader in cultural diversity.

I am thankful my situation is not worse. For instance, my genetic condition could cause retinal bleeding at any time, and since I have no access to rapid medical treatment, I would almost certainly end up legally blind. There are many other ways my situation could be worse: my savings could be depleted already. As it is, I can probably hold out a couple more months. But still, my situation is bad. And I deserve a lot better.

One frustrating thing about public sector jobs: you have to fill out an application and take an exam for each job. It's really onerous for the jobseeker. I've applied for a few junior technology jobs, and nothing came of it. The process also takes many months.

I wish there was a way to raise public awareness about mistreatment of employees and violations of their rights without coming across as just one disgruntled individual - laden with sour grapes, shoulder chips, blinders, etc. Where are those TV superheroes when you need them to stand up for you, lol!

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I know that this sounds like a cop-out. (I don't mean it to be. I am petite and people think I am much taller than I am until we meet. I then get questionable comments and questions in interviews about my mental ability as if being short affects one's brain.) But have you considered doing any distance education teaching? You mentioned that you used to teach. I am a distance learning teaching for a fairly large distance education institution, and there are 100s now in the business. The pay is not too good, but if you combine it right, it might add up to something you can do until or on top of whatever else you can put together.

I wish you much luck.

I also can understand your frustrations with physicians as well.

Theresa

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Guest banality

Thank you for the suggestion. I agree I would be much better off in a "behind the scenes" job where I don't have to deal with visual preconceptions at all.

I have often considered distance education since I have teaching experience as well as extensive web experience. I have tried to get contract work as an Instructional Designer, but it seems like this is one of those catch-22 jobs that you have to have direct experience in before you are eligible for consideration. Do you have any suggestions for getting into the field.

Also, thank you for sharing your experience and feelings about lookism. I'm also a small woman, which seems to throw me out of the category of full-fledged adulthood. I was actually grateful when I started to get some gray hair, because it was something that would confirm my actual age and (hopefully) experience.

Anyway, it really does help to hear about people who have encountered similar problems. It makes me hope that the votes will be there if laws are ever proposed to protect people with these sorts of disadvantages and vulnerabilities.

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