2010: A year of marijuana, moms and Muslims

This year, the “Your Career” columns that got readers the most engaged and enraged were about marijuana, moms and Muslims.

Employee rights, discrimination and workers overcoming the challenges they faced at work also seemed to draw the most reader reaction. I’ve taken a look back at some of the most popular columns of 2010 and I’ll share some of your thoughts on the workplace stories that made headlines.

For example, a Wal-Mart employee in Michigan was fired because he used medical marijuana that was prescribed by a doctor for pain associated with a brain tumor. After five years working for the retail giant, during which time he was named associate of the year, Joseph Casias was terminated.

The case pointed to a conundrum for many employers who have a long-standing anti-drug policy and operate throughout the country, and how those policies can rub up against the medical marijuana laws that differ from state to state. It also reignited the national debate over whether or not medical marijuana should be legal nationally.

Many readers on the column had similar views to “SMD66”:

“You may be angry at Walmart, but would you feel the same way if this man was a school bus driver? It gets very tricky when you have a drug policy and then start making exceptions for some after the fact. Even if people have a prescription for a narcotic, it still affects their system, thinking, reaction ability, etc. This is a very tough call. If I were a business owner, I would do whatever to protect my company. Firing people is not fun. I had to do it once and it sucks. But if he’s falling at work, and using marijuana even though legally, he is a risk to himself, his co-workers, and the business. There are 2 sides to every story.”

Many of you felt that Wal-Mart was in the wrong.

Code for Nothing” wrote:

“This is a very bad call by Wal-Mart. So heartless to blindly fire someone who is dying of a terminal illness for political reasons. Marijuana laws are nothing but hate laws since they have no social or medical basis otherwise.
This isn't going to be a public relations coup for Wal-Mart. Shame, Shame.”

The archetype of the 1950s “Company Man” just doesn’t fit the working mother of today, and many women are working hard to rewrite the climbing-the-ladder-of-success playbook.

This column offered examples of women pushing for change, including Tricia Kagerer, a 45-year-old working mom who negotiated with a Dallas-based construction company to work flexible hours so she could pick up and drop off her kids at day care and school. She is now the vice president of the firm.

Then there’s Lisa Depew, 34, who was an engineer for Intel when her first son was born and, after taking time off and requesting a part time schedule, is now a technical lead at the technology company.

With a growing number of female breadwinners and women making up more than 50 percent of the total work force for the first time, women like Kagerer and Depew may be in the best position to finally change what has long been a not-so-inviting work environment for working parents.

The column got many of you sharing your stories, and many also took issue with the fact that women are trying to change the rules:

For example, Lara wrote:

“Measuring contribution merely by the number of hours worked is a mistake, especially when it's measured merely by the number of hours worked within the office. Perhaps your company has enabled lazy people (not just mothers) to be lazy, but most companies know if someone is taking advantage or is not producing results. Also, it's foolish to think you know the entire story. I come into work at 6:30AM most days, even though the office doesn't open until 8:00AM. Most days I work until 5:00PM. So, if I have to jet out early one day, I'm not going to feel guilty or explain myself, even to those short sighted people who mumble "must be nice, wish I had a kid" as I walk out. Add to it that a lot of moms will come in on a weekend or work from home on an evening, if anything to show they are a team player.”

And this comment from Frank got a lot of you going:

“Geez, I wonder if a man went to his boss and said he wanted to work at home so he could pick his kids up at 3:00 would still have a job. Probably not, or his upward mobility would be brought to a standstill. These articles only point to a few individuals and do not portray the real world. Some companies will bend over backwards, but only a few. If you can do your job at home then it is a job that probably doesn't need you 40 hours a week to be at the office.
A lot of jobs are not conducive to working at home so why do they make it look like all you have to do is ask to work at home and voila it's OK.”

3. Muslim workers were already feeling the animosity toward their faith that emerged as a result of the national outcry against the building of a mosque near Ground Zero earlier this year.

Imane Boudal covers her face as she leaves Disney's Grand Californian Hotel with civil rights coordinator Affad Shaikh, left, in August. Boudlal claims Disney, her employer, sent her home without pay after she refused to remove her head scarf in front of customers.

Claims of discrimination against Muslim employees have more than doubled since 2004, and federal regulators told me intolerance and hatred of this group in the nation’s factories and offices was among the worst they had ever seen.

Unfortunately, a lot of that hatred came through loud and clear in the comments by readers after this column ran. The piece generated a record number of reader responses for a “Your Career” column, more than 6,000. (I’ve chosen not to run some of the more vile comments here in this column.)

Many of the comments questioned why any accommodations should be made for any religious group.

For example, Cmap98 wrote:

“This is America and we are so tired of having extra requirements shoved down our throats to meet the ‘special needs’ of Muslims. Christians cannot refuse to work on Sunday, our day of worship, nor can Jews refuse to work on Friday unto Saturday or they can lose their job. But an employer is supposed to allow ‘Muslim Prayer Breaks’? Give me a royal break!!”

And Robert Eagle seemed to sum up what many readers were feeling:

“If the rest of these so-called moderate Muslims, would stand up and start denouncing the ‘minority extremists’ we might start believing them that they are peaceful. When someone wants some time to perform a religious function, fine, but don't pay them for that time. That should apply to ALL religions. No extra pay for a religious holiday of any type. No extra pay for Sundays, Xmas, Ramadan, Hanukah, any of them. Feel free to practice any religion you want, but don't expect to get paid for it. You want time off to pray in a certain way, fine, but that time is not paid time off. If my religion says I am to dance naked in the woods, would I get paid time off to do it in the office? Nope.
We are the UNITED STATES of AMERICA because we are supposed to be UNITED. Not the divided states.”

Thank you for reading, and for all the comments. See you next year!