I’m filling in for someone on leave who left me tons of rules for what I can and can’t do while she’s away

A reader writes:

I have recently accepted a one-year maternity cover contract at a large multinational firm. I’ll be covering the head of an extremely busy department with 5 managers, 2 deputy managers, and 40 staff. I’m extremely excited ( and nervous) as it will be my first time heading up a department. I have 8 years of senior management experience, but this will be a huge step up. I was looking forward to a smooth transition with the person who’s leaving but unfortunately it’s all gone very, very wrong!

On my first morning, she took me for coffee (outside the building) sat me down and explained her “rules” for me covering her:

1. I’m to only introduce myself to clients, answer emails, etc. as ”Miss B, who is covering Miss A, the head of the teapot department.”
2. I’m not to make any new contacts or new clients without her express permission.
3. She has instructed that appraisals, performances reviews, etc. must wait till her return.
4. I am not allowed to change my LinkedIn to “head of teapot department.”
5. I am to stick to her schedule of meetings, etc.
6. Any important emails to be sent to her (now my) PA, who will forward them to her.
7. I am under no circumstances to assume she will not return from maternity leave ( in one year), but if I play by her rules, ”she will see I’m taken care of’.”

I can totally understand that she is nervous handing over her department for a year, but this seems very extreme, I was planning on speaking to her and to try and explain that in order for her department to run smoothly for year, such rules just aren’t practical. However, when I came in this morning, HR informed me that she’s taken her leave early and won’t be in, and she has apparently told HR that she has fully prepped me for the role.

I’m now at a loss of what to do. Are her rules weird? Is this normal for a maternity leave contract? I really want to do well in this role and make a great impression with the company.

No, this isn’t normal. It sounds like she’s having some pretty major control issues at the prospect of leaving her department in someone else’s hands for a year. And while to some extent that’s understandable, what she’s proposed doing isn’t practical or reasonable.

Some of this isn’t totally crazy — it’s not unreasonable, for instance, to want clients to know that she’s not permanently gone. But that doesn’t require you noting it in every single email, and it’s ridiculous to imply that you should. Similarly, I can see why she doesn’t want major personnel moves made until she’s back, but it’s not reasonable to make staff members wait a year for formal reviews of their work (unless they all just had them), and regardless, you’re going to need to be giving regular feedback to people throughout the year. And dictating what you can and can’t put on LinkedIn? Really not her business — and more worrisome is the fact that she felt the need to bring it up preemptively, which is indicative of the broader problem, which is that she’s approaching all this as “how can I contain and limit my replacement,” rather than “how can I set up my replacement up to succeed while I’m away?”

At this point, I’d talk to either HR or your manager about the rules she’s asked you to follow, and express your concern that you won’t be able to fully perform the job if you adhere to them. The company will probably overrule her on at least a few of these. At that point, you should ask about the best way to handle this with her — because you don’t want to get into a situation where they’ve told you to handle things differently but she doesn’t know and is having mini blow-ups from her leave when she sees things going differently than she thought they would.

And if for some reason the company doesn’t overrule her on most of these, then I’d seek additional clarification about exactly how they see your role. If you’re not allowed to take on new clients without her okay or even modify meeting schedules, you’re not really leading the department — the role is something else, and everyone involved needs to be clear about what it is and isn’t (and you can decide at that point if you even want it).

{ 244 comments… read them below }

  1. Elkay

    I’d be worried about the PA for two reasons
    1) If the PA has access to your email (as some PAs do) I’d be really concerned that she’ll be forwarding emails on to her old boss.
    2) The PA still has to work for the old boss when she returns. This PA has the potential to be stuck between a rock and a hard place as presumably the exiting boss has given this little pep talk to the PA too. If you’re going to go against this craziness you need to make sure the PA isn’t going to be in trouble for defying the old boss.

    1. some1

      I would definitely have a discussion with the PA and get everyone on the same page, no question. But as a career admin I can tell you the PA didn’t rise to the level of assisting a dept head with that many reports without figuring out how to navigate two managers who seem to have opposing interests and keep them both happy.

      One of the best tricks I learned as an admin was talking a manager I supported out of a bad idea like this and getting him to think it was his idea.

      1. Elkay

        I’ve seen it both ways, my previous boss’s PA I can totally see navigating this, the one before that would have been feeding back to the boss on leave regardless of what they were told to do.

      2. GOG11

        I know this is entirely unrelated to the post at hand, but would you mind sharing a bit about how one would “navigate two managers who seem to have opposing interests and keep them both happy”? I am an administrative assistant with two bosses and am currently struggling with this.

        1. some1

          It kind of depends on the situation, but typically you are always going to defer the preference of the manager that you actually report to. If I was the PA in this situation, and the LW told me not to forward emails to the manager on leave, I wouldn’t, but I might say something like, “I know Jane is really concerned about missing updates about Project A while she’s on leave. If anything major develops, would it be all right if I kept her in the loop? Or you could shoot her an email in that case?”

          The LW might still say no, but she at least knows I am not planning on reporting anything and everything, and I have covered my behind either way.

  2. AdAgencyChick

    Absolutely 100% go to whoever your new manager is in this role and discuss which items on her list make sense. And then in a year if she complains about it, you can say that you and her manager mutually reached the decision to do X, Y, and Z.

    I agree with Allison — it’s concerning that she seems to have approached this from a place of “how can I make sure absolutely nothing changes from how I run things?” and not “how can I make sure things run well in my absence?” The fact that she wants to withhold reviews for up to a year is the most concerning — she could end up losing a good employee who was hoping for a good review and a raise.

    1. GrumpyBoss

      +1. You work for the manager, not her.

      I wouldn’t even bring up her stupid list. I’d ask your manager what his/her opinion is on rules of engagement. Your manager is who you need to impress, not “Miss A”.

      1. Ezri

        I don’t know… in OP’s comments further down she mentioned that her PA seems to be in communication with Miss A. Would it be beneficial for OP to show management the list just in case Miss A starts a conflict further down the line?

      2. AnotherHRPro

        Yes. You are covering for Miss A. You don’t work for her. You need to get this type of guidance from your manager so that you can meet their expectations while you are in this role. It would be reasonable to bring up the subject by saying that while you met with Miss A to discuss your responsibilities, however you have some follow up questions regarding her directions that you were not able to discuss as she went out on LOA early. You want to review the guidance and your questions to make sure you and your new manager on the same page as to how you will be covering for the next 12 months.

        12 months is a very long time to assume that you will not make any major decisions or change anything. I can understand the Miss A being a little nervous with you not having done this role and being new to the organization, but with your managers help, in time you should be able to fully cover the role. And honestly, the Miss A should take advantage of this time off for her health and the health of her child.

  3. KimmieSue

    Outside of the “rules” I think another major flag is that of the 5 manager & 2 deputy managers – that they were not covering her with an internal resource? I’d be poking a big, fat stick at this one. I’m not trying to insinuate that OP isn’t capable and up to the task but this seems like a very strange coverage scenario. Even if they didn’t have ONE person that could step in – they certainly could have divided some of the duties between the direct reports.

    1. fposte

      When somebody’s out for a whole year? I think it’s vastly preferably to get somebody in than to spread around the work.

      1. Katie the Fed

        wouldn’t it be better to designate a more junior person to fill in for that period than bring in an outsider?

        1. Graciosa

          Given the scope of the absent manager’s control issues, I think putting a junior person in this position would be very, very bad. That individual wouldn’t get to leave after the manager returns, but would have to stay and face a manager who apparently doesn’t want anything to change in her absence – which is frankly, an impossibility.

          I do think that issue should be dealt with higher up, but this scenario spells DANGER for the more junior person until it is handled.

          1. Katie the Fed

            Oh I totally agree. I meant in general – isn’t it better to designate a junior person? This makes me think the company is well aware of the manager’s issues and would rather have an outsider for the reasons you list. Bad situation.

            1. MaryMary

              I think it depends on how the department is currently staffed. Maybe all the direct reports are already stretched thin and don’t have capacity to pick up the director responsibilities. Especially for an entire year!

            2. Koko

              Maybe this isn’t a very good reason, but I’d worry about what happens to the junior employee when the manager returns. Will there still be higher-level work available, or will the junior employee be “demoted” back into their original position, possibly also back to a lower pay rate, when the person on leave comes back? I would worry this would cause bad feelings or drive the junior employee to seek a permanent director position elsewhere once they’ve gained the experience at your company. I know it sounds a bit mean to deny someone valuable experience because you can’t provide them a permanent job at that level and don’t want to lose them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some companies are thinking about it that way. It’s easier to cut loose a temp when the position disappears than to worry about what happens when you demote a top-performing employee.

              1. Pearl

                That’s exactly what happened to me a few years ago. I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to step up, but chose to leave at the end of the contract rather than return to my previous job (which would have meant a significant hit in terms of both responsibility and pay). My manager told me right from the off that he wouldn’t have anywhere else to move me to at the end of the contract, and although he didn’t want to lose me, he thought I needed to broaden my horizons and look at working in other organisations rather than be demoted. It was good advice, and I did end up working somewhere else for a while. However, I was really pleased when my original employer offered me a new job, and I’m back with them in a permanent, and more senior role.

        2. Felicia

          In Canada, where a year of parental leave for the mother is extremely common in the professional world, to the point where it’s almost expected, the vast majority of the time, an outsider is brought in to cover for the year. In fact, i can’t think of a time when it wasn’t an outside person brought in for a one year contract. This is just how it’s done in this particular country where taking a year off after you have a baby is the normal reality.

          1. Colette

            That’s not the norm everywhere – I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone come in on contract to cover maternity leave (unless it was an admin role) – the existing people in the group reshuffle things to cover.

            However, I will say that it’s very common to not come back from maternity leave – a good portion of the time, the woman who is out on leave decides to take more time off or (more often) finds a new job.

            1. Felicia

              And in my experience, it’s really uncommon not to come back from maternity leave – in my experience, most people do (though some do leave not long after). I’ve seen 4 maternity leaves of one year, all 4 were for vaguely marketing related positions – more mid-level than high level but still, all 4 were covered by someone external, and all 4 came back after a year (actually the third came back after 10 months, close enough).

              So anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that both recruiting internally and externally are not unheard of, and people often come back from one year maternity leave, and often don’t. I don’t think personal experience can really say what’s common, though I read the average amount of maternity leave taken in Canada is 10 months.

              1. Colette

                I’d imagine it differs based on industry, job, and dozens of other factors. I personally know:
                – women who were laid off while pregnant
                – women who were laid off shortly after returning from leave
                – women who returned to the same job they left
                – women who returned to the company in a different job
                – women who found a new job while on leave

                Note that the women who were laid off were part of a larger layoff – it wasn’t because they were pregnant/on leave.

            2. IrishGirl

              In Ireland, statutory maternity leave is six months paid leave, with the option of taking four months unpaid. Additionally, full time workers are entitled to minimum 4 weeks paid holidays per year, which isn’t affected by maternity leave. It’s rare for someone not to return from maternity leave here however, as often employee contracts stipulate that maternity pay must be repayed if the person doesn’t return post-baby.

            3. HM in Atlanta

              Felicia’s experience has also been my experience with employees staffed across Europe and Asia (I’m in the US, where it’s the exact opposite). I asked my UK colleagues why a more junior staff member didn’t take the interim assignment as a growth opportunity (and then filled the junior staff role with a 12-month contractor). It just wasn’t something that happened. No one was upset about being overlooked, and it was because maternity/sick/sabbatical cover was just a part of doing business. Occasionally someone would express an interest in being the person in the cover role, but really only if he was interested in eventually moving into that role.

          2. Jen RO

            On the other hand, a year of maternity leave is also common here, and (at least in the places I’ve seen/heard about), it’s common to either temporarily promote someone or spread the manager’s tasks around. In my department, the other team lead in on maternity leave til 2016 and most of her responsibilities have been taken up by the other team members. Any issues that cannot be solved by them or need additional input are raised to me (team lead for a parallel team) or our manager.

            1. HR Generalist

              +1 – we try to find an internal to promote of have higher ups cover. If neither of those work, we bring in an external (I’m in Canada so normally one-year contracts as well, I’d say about 50% return).

          3. EM

            I’m in Canada too, currently also working a one-year maternity leave position at a university. It’s very common here for internal candidates to be promoted for mat leaves, and (from my perspective) it’s a really great way for junior people to get great experience. The exception is when there is no one in the department with relevant experience, so in a very specialized workplace I imagine it would be difficult.

        3. Anonsie

          As with most things, “it depends on the department,” but I will say that after being assigned to cover for someone’s maternity leave, I am now skeptical this is a viable option. Unless that person’s role completely changes over to the one they’re covering and their old tasks and contacts are covered some other day, or the tasks are really blended somehow into one person’s worth of responsibility, this is as close as you ever get to literally doing two jobs at once. If you need a whole person’s worth of availability and meetings and work and people dropping by the ask questions and frantic emails and etc for both positions, trying to have one person cover them all or having one person take the bulk and spreading out the rest among the team is not going to cut it for more than a few weeks.

          It’s entirely possible to create a different setup while someone is on leave so everything get’s covered, but if you need a whole person in that place still, I think getting a whole replacement is probably the wisest move.

      2. KimmieSue

        I respectfully disagree (which doesn’t happen often with your comments fposte). It’s an excellent opportunity to give 1-2 of those direct reports to flex some challenging leadership muscles. I’d assume that they also would benefit from the internal’s “institutional knowledge”. They likely know how the department operates, who is in what roles (and priority level) within the company and the clients. I think it shows that the manager going on leave hasn’t developed her staff to step in. There doesn’t appear to be any succession plan. Great leaders usually plan for these things.

        1. Elkay

          I’ve worked in a department where the maternity cover was covered internally and cover was recruited for the now vacant post. That might work in a situation like this because you’re lowering the risk by recruiting a more junior person on a contract. However, they’ve done what they’ve done and now the OP just needs to make sure she doesn’t end up in a sticky situation trying to deal with this woman’s regulations.

        2. fposte

          I think it may vary depending on the position; I have less experience with this kind of corporate model than with those where interim job-holders are pretty common.

        3. Mike C.

          Yeah, this would absolutely be the norm where I work. You can’t train up new managers unless they get some time actually being managers.

    2. jhhj

      Someone who is in for a year as a mat leave replacement isn’t going to be demoted back to their old job at the end, so there’s not going to be frustration or unhappiness. Another vote saying that, in Canada, it is totally normal and expected to hire someone to take the mat leave position and just give it back after a year when they return, and it would be looked at very oddly if you did otherwise. (Note: companies are not on the hook to pay out mat leave, though some elect to top up the government benefits.)

      1. EM

        I think labour laws in Canada require that the woman on mat leave be able to return to her position at the end of her leave. I imagine maybe that’s different in the US where there aren’t the same protections for maternity leaves/pregnant workers?

        1. Diet Coke Addict

          As a rule, people who take over 1-year maternity leave contracts are fully aware going in that it’s a year-long position. Some people make careers out of doing mat-leave contracts, other people use them as a way to break in to a new field. It’s a pretty common way for new grads to break into fields–not by usurping someone’s position, but taking the year of experience to apply for similar permanent jobs.

          1. Cath in Canada

            In my team, which has needed a lot of mat leave cover over the last few years, everyone originally brought in as an 18 month mat leave replacement* has ended up being made permanent. The organic rate of growth of the team and of people moving on to other positions has matched the number of mat leaves very nicely! It really is a great way to gain experience in a new type of role, with little risk for the employer if it doesn’t work out.

            *we have people overlap by 3 months before and after the year-long leave, to ensure a smooth handover.

          2. Elizabeth the Ginger

            I’ve seen this happen with teachers a lot. Schools that wouldn’t be likely to hire a new teacher for a permanent position may hire one for a one-year or half-year maternity leave. At the end, occasionally the teacher on leave decides not to return (this is how I got my job!), sometimes the teacher on leave returns but the replacement is hired for some other opening, or (most often, because there aren’t always openings at the same school) the replacement gets hired elsewhere for a permanent position. It’s hugely helpful experience to have on a resume, since teaching is a field where the first bit of experience is crucial.

            1. Natalie

              My best friend just got her teaching license and will likely be doing the same thing. For one thing, it’s one of the only way to get a job in January.

          3. Persephone Mulberry

            Perhaps I misread jhhj’s response. I initially interpreted it as “an internal someone who fills in for the maternity leave wouldn’t be demoted back to their original position” – which is what I was questioning.

  4. Katie the Fed

    So many red flags on this – enough to make me question taking the job at all. I feel like you can’t win on this – if you do well, she’ll find ways to undermine and badmouth you so you don’t look more capable than she is. If you do poorly (which I think she’s probably hoping) then you’re screwed at this company anyway.

    This seems like a no-win situation. I also question why they aren’t filling this internally. Is it normal to have a senior-level fill be someone from the outside?

    1. Felicia

      At least in Canada, having someone from the outside fill in for a senior level position is the norm. In fact, year long maternity leave is what the vast majority of corporate people take, and i’ve never seen it filled with someone internal.

      But yes, all the other stuff would make me question taking the job at all, and it seems like there are major red flags. But having the position filled by someone from the outside is how it’s typically done.

      1. My two cents...

        she’s also obviously very VERY pregnant, and might just be really stressed out on the whole…which could also be a contributing factor as to why she’s taken leave a bit early.

        1. Anonicorn

          Exactly. I was thinking some pregnancy hormones might be partially to blame for this. Not that it excuses the behavior, but I don’t know that I’d consider the woman a saboteur.

    2. esra

      Super normal here in Canada, as others have noted.

      I have a new gig starting in January that’s covering a one-year mat leave. I can tell the person I’m taking over for likes some things a certain way, but the level of involvement described in that list is out of control. That list should’ve been part of the hiring process, if it was what they really wanted.

  5. Kat A.

    I’ve seen this situation before several times. The only time it worked out well was when the replacement simply nodded and said OK to the person on leave and then did whatever she (the replacement) was going to do anyway. No going to HR or anything (because some HRs just follow the lead of the manager no matter how unreasonable).
    Just going about it their own way worked.

    1. NJ Anon

      That was my first thought. “Yes” her to death and do what you want after she leaves. If everything runs smoothly, she really can’t complain and neither will the “higher-ups.”

      1. Cassie

        That was my thought too. It’s not like the mat leave person can monitor the OP’s every movement during this time although if the PA is still in touch with the mat leave person, it may make for more monitoring than I’d be comfortable with. I guess it also depends on whether the OP hopes to get a permanent position in the company afterwards – the mat leave person seems to be dangling that carrot.

  6. Interviewer

    I’m sure her boss would be very interested in hearing the entire list of her directives. Maybe she thinks she’s keeping a lid on what could happen if you outshine her. Taken as a whole, she’s really pointing up her feelings about leaving her role in someone else’s hands for a year. And at the very least, it sounds like she plans to spend part of her maternity leave working, checking up on you and her team – HR needs to know this. It screws up payroll when this happens.

    Typically contract workers take this role knowing someone will return (and if they really like the gig, hoping they’ll get to stay on). In a year, what if she doesn’t come back? You’ve spent all of that time being hamstrung by a bunch of rules that suddenly won’t matter. If she does come back, wouldn’t it be better to set her up for success when she returns, rather than sinking her entire department into a giant pit of dysfunctional muck because she’s like the ghost that won’t go away?

    I get the LinkedIn piece, but as a compromise, what if you put “Temporary/Contract” before the title?

      1. long time reader first time poster

        Yes, Interim is the way to go here. And I’d add that to my title in my email sig and *leave it at that* — no need to make a big deal out of it every time you talk to a client or colleague. People will figure it out.

      2. AMG

        My inner (er, outer) rebel would want to leave off the ‘interim’ and proceed to break every ‘rule’ from there out of spite. I’m not saying I would handle it any differently than Alison outlines, but I sure would want to.

      3. Anna

        “Interim” is perfect. I started adding that on my own for a contract position because it was up in the air on whether or not it would be permanent and I didn’t want people to expect me to be there in six months.

        1. Sara

          Like Alex, I’ve seen Acting added to titles, such as Acting Manager. I once worked with someone who was Manager (Acting) and I asked the difference – if I understand correctly someone who is Acting Manager, is someone who is a role different to their current skill set (sort of like a step up in responsibilities say if I was to step up and act for my manager while on leave), but someone who is Manager (Acting) is in a managerial role regularly and is just acting in the position temporarily. Hope that makes sense.

    1. Tiffany In Houston

      Coming here to say that if the manager is on maternity leave, which is considered short term disability at a lot of companies, and is actually working (even responding to email) that the company itself could get in a lot of trouble with its insurer. HR needs to know if that occurs, because it will be problematic.

      1. ThursdaysGeek

        Yeah, that was my question. This is probably not the US, since the maternity leave is a year, but when my spouse was out on short term disability, he was not allowed to have any contact with people at work, no work email, so he was doing no work. (They would quietly call and ask questions, which leaves no tracks.)

        1. Brenda

          Agreed, here in the UK if you’re on maternity leave you’re not supposed to be working. You can take a certain number of “keeping in touch” days to visit the office or attend conferences or events, but these are limited and need to be agreed and scheduled in advance. You should not just be replying to emails while you’re on maternity leave!

      2. Not So NewReader

        After one accident, we had a person sitting outside our house watching everything we did. They call it “activity checks”. Someone watches you to make sure you are not working.

        We did not care because we were too sore to really do much other than sit around/sleep/eat.
        But we knew that someone contracted by disability was watching us.

  7. some1

    1. I’m to only introduce myself to clients, answer emails, etc. as ”Miss B, who is covering Miss A, the head of the teapot department.”

    She should already have sent out an email to her contacts explaining she’s going on leave and introducing the LW.

    2. I’m not to make any new contacts or new clients without her express permission.

    Cool, you don’t want the company to make more money.

    3. She has instructed that appraisals, performances reviews, etc. must wait till her return.

    This is just not practical. What if you have to do PIP?

    4. I am not allowed to change my LinkedIn to “head of teapot department.”

    This is ridiculous. It’s your profile and you can list whatever you want.

    5. I am to stick to her schedule of meetings, etc.

    Any good manager should recognize that schedules need to be adjusted from time to time to suit the needs of the dept.

    6. Any important emails to be sent to her (now my) PA, who will forward them to her.

    This is a really inefficient use of the PA’s time. She’s either on leave or she’s not — she needs to trust that you can handle daily emails and reach out to her only when absolutely necessary.

    7. I am under no circumstances to assume she will not return from maternity leave ( in one year), but if I play by her rules, ”she will see I’m taken care of’.”

    I’m guessing she’s in no position to make any promises.

    1. puddin

      for #6 – is maternity leave the same as STD or LTD when you cannot engage in work or you (potentially) lose your benefits?

      1. fposte

        Interesting question. I think this isn’t in the US, so I couldn’t guess, but I wondered the same thing when I saw the bit about the PA passing along messages.

      2. Diet Coke Addict

        If they’re in Canada, yes–you cannot engage in work or you’ll lose your benefits, at least temporarily for that period, and they’ll investigate.

        1. Diet Coke Addict

          And because I had to look this up, EI says “If you work while receiving EI maternity benefits, we will deduct the entire amount you earn dollar for dollar from your benefits. Normally if you work while receiving EI parental benefits, you can earn up to $50 per week or 25% of your weekly benefit, whichever is higher. We will deduct any money earned above that amount dollar for dollar from your benefits.”

          There are some exceptions, but they aren’t around wages.

          1. Colette

            Which brings up the issue of whether the person on leave is getting paid to work by the company they normally work for. I would imagine submitting a timecard while on leave would raise a few eyebrows.

          2. Judy

            It would seem like there would be some issue of the EI paying the person, yet they’re doing work for the company. Would it make sense to the company for the employee to return to work after 6 months but let the EI pay the salary?

      3. Sarahnova

        It depends where you are. In the UK you can work for up to 10 days during your maternity leave, which are officially designated as “Keep In Touch Days” so you can do a day in the office, attend meetings, etc.

    2. Case of the Mondays

      If it is company paid leave (as opposed to STD/LTD) you can do what you want work wise. However, if it is unpaid leave, I wonder if there are some wage/hour issues if you continue to work. I’m an attorney and it is common for attorneys on maternity leave to stay abreast of major developments on their cases and provide some strategic input while out on leave. They don’t want to get copied on every email of course. Far from it. But if there is a good settlement offer, they want to know about it and be part of the decision of whether to accept.

    3. Anonsie

      Re: #6 I could see this if she just wants the really important stuff available to her later, so it’s not like all communications in that time are inaccessible to her when she returns. That could make it easier to catch up and refer to things that happened in her absence; it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s actually working in that time.

      1. Anna

        I don’t think you could do this efficiently on a year’s worth of information, though. I think most people would get some sort of debrief when they came back that would cover anything of long-term significance. There’s a good chance that anything contained in an email will have no relevance when the manager returns.

    4. AMG

      I wonder if the woman going on maternity leave is in some kind of a power play with some other co-worker and that’s the reason for her behavior.

    5. Lynn Whitehat

      I’m very dubious about #7. What does that even mean, “she will see I’m taken care of”? I wouldn’t place much weight on something so vague.

  8. J-nonymous

    This seems weird for sure, but I also wonder if there are reasonable explanations behind the instructions. Maybe continuity is a Very Important Thing for the customers of this firm, maybe there are considerations that need to be taken before new clients are accepted and a contractor, even one with many years experience, wouldn’t have the institutional knowledge to handle alone. Maybe there are specific important communications which need the input of Miss A. Maybe it’s wholly inappropriate for a contractor to provide annual reviews to full-time employees.

    That said, I still think that without any context, Miss A’s list of rules comes off in the worst possible light as if she’s territorial and fearful of being outperformed.

  9. YourCdnFriend

    This situation blows. I do encourage you to have some compassion for the outgoing manager. Her requests are way out of bounds but she is obviously scared about leaving for a year and I can empathize with that.

    Alison’s advice is spot on and I would only add that it may be beneficial to be obvious about your respect to the outgoing boss (even if you have to fake it). She’s going to come back and if you’ve changed things but kept an attitude with other management and staff that it’s because of x situation and not being old boss had it wrong, that good will could go a long way. Old boss will hear from others that you’ve shown her respect and that will probably ease her concerns a little bit.

    Caveat: all bets are off if she really is crazy and horrible and this little play isn’t just a symptom of nerves and lack of self confidence.

  10. Snarkus Ariellius

    I know im going against the grain on this, but I totally get it. I once had to take a LOA for two months. I came back to no job.

    Sure it was nice to collect a paycheck, but I got bored. Worse, no one seemed to notice. When id push, I got told that things were smoother and there was no need for me to do anything.

    I can totally see doing something like this. Its very easy to be forgotten.

    1. fposte

      I can understand the impulse easily, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. But this doesn’t solve that problem–it makes the absent employee seem irrational and self-focused, which doesn’t enhance people’s fond thoughts about her in her absence.

      1. Snarkus Ariellius

        I agree with you that this isn’t feasible, but I can see some serious micro-managers loving this plan. I know a boss who would consider that dedication. For real.

        I should back down a bit from my original post. Id never do anything this extreme, but id do more to ensure my instructions weren’t ignored. I know how it feels and I said “that was on my LOA plan” a zillion times through gritted teeth.

    2. Sarahnova

      There’s a difference between two months and a year though, as well. A job CANNOT stay in stasis for a full year.

      And these rules won’t save her job if it’s at risk – more likely the opposite.

      1. Ezri

        This. If you feel your job is in such jeopardy, making a bat-crazy list of requirements to sabotage your replacement isn’t going to help.

    3. anon o

      If this is in Canada, the company has to bring her back after her maternity leave at her position or an equal position.

      I suspect once the baby is born this person might calm down and focus on other things. Maybe she just needs a break. Or maybe she’s a control freak.

      1. Snarkus Ariellius

        FMLA has similar requirements, but reality paints a much different picture. Again, I say this plan is extreme, but im not surprised at all.

    4. Persephone Mulberry

      It sounds like your job duties were spread around, though, not covered by a temp/contractor?

      1. Snarkus Ariellius

        Correct. They were redistributed and never officially given back to me, however I was still held accountable for the results. Yes you read that right.

        While I remained left out of meetings, I was still held accountable for the things discussed in them as Boss viewed them officially as my job. For example, Boss would go to my coworker to assign a task that used to be my job. She would never include me. When the task didn’t go well, she would take me into her office and demand explanations as to why. When I would tell her I was left out of things, she’d say she wasn’t my mother and that was my responsibility to be proactive.

        It’s a really nice way to “legally” get rid of someone. If you’re ever called on it, you can say that Snarkie had X, Y, and Z duties like she always had! She just wasn’t performing up to snuff. All these projects were going on and she wasn’t making herself aware of them.

        It’s a great way to get around any laws. If you think this is crazy, then can you see why someone like this woman would be a little over controlling?

    5. INTP

      I can understand it, too. Especially given that it seems like this position relies a lot on client relationships and development. If your replacement brings in clients and the existing clients get used to them and don’t want to adjust to another change, you can find yourself out of a job or missing a large portion of your responsibilities.

      That said, I think the manager is very misguided in how she’s going about preserving her job. She’s given instructions that will make her look very bad and like “not a team player” when the OP goes to management (as the OP should). A more appropriate way might be to prepare as much structure and material as you can for the replacement so they don’t have to do much and become indispensable.

  11. Adam

    Something about this situation makes me think the person going on maternity leave is paranoid about being cut out for taking time off. Does anyone else get that impression? Wanting to have such a tight leash on the contract department head seems to me that even though she won’t be at work for a while she doesn’t want to actually look like she’s left it.

    1. Celeste

      I think she’s reverse-nesting. Instead of being in a rush to get ready for the baby and her (presumably new) role as a mother, she’s hyper-focused on her work identity.

      1. Adam

        I think her rule about the OP not claiming the title on her LinkedIn page is a big tell. Whatever fears she has about the fate of her role for taking time off she wants to make absolutely sure it doesn’t look the OP flat out replaced her.

  12. David

    I’m all for maternity (and paternity) leave and striking the right balance between work and life, but 1 year is an exceedingly long time for a person of this rank to expect they can be away and for the whole world to come to a screeching halt in their absence. This direction just seems impractical, and I have to wonder if management above this individual is on board with it.

    1. Diet Coke Addict

      If the person is in Canada, which sounds like it may be the case, it isn’t exceedingly long–it’s the norm, even for high-ranking people. It really is.

      1. David

        “Exceedingly long” wasn’t commentary on the length of time allowed for maternity leave. A year is a year. And a lot can happen in one year regardless of the reason for the leave.

    2. some1

      Well, it’s pretty telling that the manager took the LW for coffee offsite with no one else there in order to spring these rules on her.

      1. Adam

        The clincher for me was the rule about the OP not claiming the title of Head of Department on her LinkedIn page. To me that screams that the person going on leave is making darn sure she doesn’t get replaced.

        1. some1

          Right, and it’s comepletely futile. If the company can and wants to replace this manager with the LW, they are going to do it no matter what it says on anyone’s LinkedIn profile.

        2. Not So NewReader

          I don’t get it. We have had discussions here about people lying on LI. It seems that LI is a big deal to her. I really thought that this was one of the weaker talking points on her list. That and the one about new customers. ugh.

      1. David

        Like I said above, I think a year is a long time to not be actively working in a position AND expect that nothing will change in that time regardless of what country you’re in. Has nothing to do with what’s allowed for maternity leave. The passage of time is what I’m speaking to.

        1. YourCdnFriend

          Makes sense. I am 100% for a year long leave (although I wish more fathers were encouraged to take part of it) but you can’t expect everything to be exactly as you left if when you come back.

          I can also attest that in canada (where are a year is the norm), people at all levels do this and companies manage. It may not be as easy as if they hadn’t left (obviously) but it’s totally manageable.

      2. Judy

        I don’t read the comment as “the leave is too long”, I read the comment that “the leave is too long to expect that situations will not change, new clients will not (need) to be found, etc”. The world will not press pause for that year.

        1. Judy

          If someone resigns, can the interim manager not promote internally or hire a replacement? A year is a long time for employees to not have any feedback or reviews. And so on.

        2. Adam

          I agree. The country and company’s provisions around leave are what they are, but the world will move on in a year (probably quite a lot). The way the person who is taking time off is acting it’s like she thinks the OP is house-sitting for a week, not heading up a department for a whole year.

      3. Ezri

        US maternity policies, especially when compared to those of other countries, are super depressing. A paid year off for having a baby seems like magic.

        1. SerfinUSA

          I’ve always wondered about the rationale behind rewarding people for choosing to have children, but not offering a parallel benefit for health choices not related to childbearing. I could *seriously* use a year of paid mental health leave!

          1. Zahra

            Believe me, a year of maternity leave is anything BUT a mental health leave. Taking care of a child requires a lot of energy, physical, mental and emotional. You don’t get a choice about that either (apart from the choice of having a child). Once your child is born, you deal with whatever you’ve got, whether it’s intense needs baby or a mellow, adaptable baby. Whether you have 13 weeks or a full year of leave, sending your child to daycare is not easy, especially during the first week. You’re still responsible for that child outside of work hours (whether you split sick days, daycare dropoff/pickup and other responsibilities you have toward your child or not).

            I don’t know that a mental health leave could have the same requirements and impacts on your life.

          2. Jen RO

            I don’t plan to have kids, ever, but I am happy that my country offers 1 – 2 years of maternity leave. I will never use it, and some of that money probably comes from my taxes, but if that’s what it takes for my female friends to be supported in a choice that makes them happy… so be it.

            1. JB

              Me, too. I don’t ever plan to have kids. But somebody needs to have kids, and I’m all for making sure that the only part of the population can have them doesn’t have to choose between having kids and having a job.

            2. Not So NewReader

              I feel the same way. I’m not a parent but I well remember being a kid. If a parent wants to stay home for a year or whatever, then they should be able to do that.

        2. Canuck

          True; although to be fair, Canadian maternity payments aren’t actually that generous. Unless your company tops you up, the benefit is calculated as 55% of your salary, up to a maximum of $48,600. So the most you can get is $514/week, assuming you are earning over $48K/year.

          However, this is not to complain as it is most definitely better than no payments, and the 1-year leave is fantastic for families!

        3. sunny-dee

          Yeah, but it kills female promotion and advancement paths. Let’s say I have 3 kids — that is three years out of the workforce in my 20s or 30s, at the time most people are putting in 10+ hours of overtime a week. I don’t know about Canada, but if it was like a workman’s comp claim, then along with losing an employee and paying for a replacement, I’d also be on the hook for paying part or all of the leave payments. As an employer, I would view that as a liability.

          I’m actually really glad we don’t have mandated paid maternity leave — it makes me less of a “risk” to employers.

          1. Jen RO

            Well. I don’t think so. The paid leave is not making the choices for you – if you decide to have three kids and take three years off, that’s on you. Even in countries that have paid maternity leave there is no one forcing you to take the full year, you are free to come back whenever you are ready. And in companies that aren’t shitty (I’ve witnessed it first hand), women do come back to their initial positions and do succeed in them in the future (even after multiple kids!). Of course, losing a year means an impact on raises and future pay, but I don’t see that as necessarily related to pregnancy – a person of any gender would face that if s/he took extended medical leave for example.

            1. Natalie

              It’s true that it would affect anyone, but it does have a disparate impact on women. At least until we end up living in that movie Junior.

          2. JB

            Not all companies see women as a risk when they have paid maternity leave. The smart ones does. But the ones that do–that mindset makes no sense to me. Companies need people to have kids because the economy does better when the old people don’t outnumber the young. And the economy does better when more women work than stay home. So for there to be more young people, and for women to be working, they need to be able to take time off after their pregnancy and then return to their jobs.

            You can see it in countries like Japan and Korea where they are basically begging people to have children, but they are lousy places to work if you a woman, and careers are difficult to have if you have kids, and childcare options are a joke. Yet they don’t seem to see why more women don’t want to have kids.

          3. Zahra

            In Canada, workman’s comp isn’t impacting the company. Employees and organizations pay to a federal pool (employment insurance) and the turnover doesn’t have an impact on the amount organizations pay. As an employee, you can decide to retain your health insurance, but you need to take arrangements with HR for the payments.

          4. Canuck

            I’ll start by stating that I am male, so cannot argue that I can relate in any way to the folks who have had babies while juggling a career. I do have two kids myself, but of course this affects me in a much different way as a father.

            I’ve heard the “lower risk” argument many times, in terms of whether mandated maternity leave should be in place. While that is conceivably true, I think how maternity leave is perceived is very much cultural. In Canada, it is just an accepted norm that women have the option to take up to 1-year off, and it does not seem to affect their career progression compared to countries without mandated leave (e.g. the US).

            Here’s an interesting article, comparing countries with the percentages of women in senior management roles:
            http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-management-global-comparison

            Canada (27%) is ahead of the US (20%), although I would argue that neither are doing particularly well. I would suggest that the maternity leave policies of each country actually has much less of an impact on women’s careers than people think, and that there is more inherent, general sexism at play.

            1. long time reader first time poster

              “of course this affects me in a much different way as a father” — why is that, precisely?

              1. Zahra

                There’s the “father” factor: people presume he’ll be more committed to his job as a way to provide for family once he becomes a father.

                There’s the parental leave factor: it’s still the stereotype that women will take the bulk of parental leave, whereas men will take the minimum. This also affects hiring practices (even if it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender or pregnancy). Many companies will assume that a woman in her 20s or 30s will have kids soon and take a year’s leave each time. A man doesn’t face the same discrimination, even if, in some circles, he might take half the leave.

            2. sunny-dee

              It’s not general sexism. I have two junior associates, up for the same promotion. One has worked two years straight, 75+ hours a week. The other never goes above 45 hours, regularly takes time off for school activities, and was out for 4 months FMLA two years running. Without sex even being a factor, the one with less time off and more hours on the clock is going to get the promotion.

              Hence, the act of choosing to be a mother — regardless of whether the time off was mandated or voluntary or a perk of the business — impacts female career progression because they are (most frequently) less focused on their careers.

              There are other situations that have a similar impact — long term illnesses, extended time in college, switching careers. But motherhood is common and long term.

              1. RR

                It’s not general sexism. I have two junior associates, up for the same promotion. One has worked two years straight, 75+ hours a week. The other never goes above 45 hours, regularly takes time off for school activities, and was out for 4 months FMLA two years running. Without sex even being a factor, the one with less time off and more hours on the clock is going to get the promotion.

                I think you might be rewarding the wrong things. The second person has a work-life balance and is much less likely to get burnt out. I’m also assuming you offer the time off that the second person is taking for school activities, so… why penalize this person for using a benefit? If they’re both getting their work done, the second person is in fact more efficient than the first, because the first one is taking much more time to do the same job.

              2. Zahra

                You know your male associate is entitled to FMLA if his wife gives birth, right? Why are women taking that leave and not men? Part of it is that it’s unpaid (and women do need the healing time, especially if they are part of the 1/3 women who have a generally unneeded c-section). Part of it is the social pressure to continue working (and be even more dedicated to work to “provide” for their family) while their wives take the hit for sick days, FMLA, taking care of children’s activity and the whole social calendar and logistics of the family.

                Sex *is* a factor in your decision. (Not to mention RR’s point.)

        4. Kelly

          A year long maternity leave does seem long for the US. It could be that the company has more family and life friendly policies like longer maternity leave time and more vacation time. Also, the woman on maternity leave could have negotiated a longer than company standard maternity leave as part of her employment. That being said, her demands are absurd and ridiculous. Her department needs someone who can make decisions during the year she is absent.

          I work for a public university that has a good leave policy that allows me in the slim chance I chose to reproduce to take anywhere from 6 months to a year off for maternity leave. I’d have to refresh my co-worker on my duties or my boss would have to hire a temp person to cover. It’s a nice benefit of the job should I chose to use it.

  13. MaryMary

    I’d definitely talk to HR about this. In addition to the concerns other people have brought up, there are often rules around people disconnecting completely while on leave. I don’t know if the maternity leave is paid or unpaid, or if short or long term disability is involved, which could make this even more complicated. Either way, there are usually rules to protect both the employee and the employer during the leave. At OldJob they locked people out of email and the LAN and disconnected their security badges. If your company does something similar, that would mean the PA is sending emails to a personal account, which is a big no-no at most businesses. Even if your company doesn’t disconnect her access, there could be worker’s comp or other compensation/benefit concerns if she continues working while on leave.

    1. Case of the Mondays

      Depends on the industry. Certain industries you stay somewhat connected in no matter what but I agree that it raises some really interesting legal issues.

    2. AnotherHRPro

      Very good point. After a few months, we would deactivate badges and network ids. If work is to be sent to a personal e-mail account that could get both Miss A and the PA in trouble.

  14. NJ Anon

    1. I’m to only introduce myself to clients, answer emails, etc. as ”Miss B, who is covering Miss A, the head of the teapot department.” Just put “interim” after/before your title
    2. I’m not to make any new contacts or new clients without her express permission. Ask your/her manager about this. Seems silly. Would you rather ask permission or forgiveness. I assume the company is in business to make money!
    3. She has instructed that appraisals, performances reviews, etc. must wait till her return. An HR matter. They should not wait.
    4. I am not allowed to change my LinkedIn to “head of teapot department.” None of her beeswax!
    5. I am to stick to her schedule of meetings, etc. Meh, change if you have to.
    6. Any important emails to be sent to her (now my) PA, who will forward them to her. Again, meh, if that’s what she wants. Or when responding to an important email, bcc her.
    7. I am under no circumstances to assume she will not return from maternity leave ( in one year), but if I play by her rules, ”she will see I’m taken care of’.” What does that even mean?

    1. Jax

      I like using “Interim” before your title and just being done with it. Miss A’s ideal signature is a gross way for Miss A to make sure her name stays out there.

  15. RVA Cat

    Somewhat off topic, but if this is indicative of control issues in the department head’s life in general, I hope for the sake of her family’s mental health that she deals with them. It’s one thing to micromanage a contractor who is after all an adult, but let’s all hope she doesn’t think she can control her child like this. Having had my firstborn this spring, I am well aware of how little you can control and how plans fall apart.

    1. Snarkus Ariellius

      That’s not really fair. Women quite often come back from maternity leave to no job or just enough work to avoid an FMLA lawsuit. To chalk up a very real fear (backed up with empirical evidence) to mental issues is insulting.

      1. fposte

        I don’t think RVA Cat suggested mental issues, though; she just suggested this might be part of an overall approach. Given what the workplace is saying to the OP, that could be an accurate conjecture.

      2. Observer

        This is actually very on point. If she’s worried about coming back to a non-existent job, this is exactly the wrong way to go about it. Being a control freak is rarely, if ever, the right way to handle a situation. Micro-managing your substitute to the point of effective sabotage is certainly not the way to go.

        The point is that if you are correct, then she is trying to use micro-management and excess control to get the outcome she wants. And that is bad enough when you try it in work relationship with an adult (who is not entirely under your control.) With infants and children it’s a REALLY, REALLY bad idea.

        1. RVA Cat

          That is what I was getting at – if this is her personality, the reality of parenthood is going to be an even bigger shock that it usually is, and she may be at higher risk for postpartum depression, etc.
          I agree that she is probably driven by a real fear of discrimination, which very much exists (although since she’s taking a year off, I am guessing she is not in the US and may have more protection that FMLA provides). Also we should never, ever call a woman “crazy” when we’d assume a man is just a jerk.

    1. Adam V

      Heck, we could probably get a follow-up in a couple of weeks, after the OP has spoken to HR and either been told “yes, you’re right, please disregard those rules” (and let us know what the original manager did when she found out) or “no, sorry, you’re going to need to follow those rules” (and let us know how they reacted when she told them that she might not want the job under those conditions).

  16. CaliCali

    I think you also cannot discount the effects of impending life changes in these directions (I say this as a working parent myself). When you’re about to be a parent for the first time (I’m making an assumption just based on the prescriptive and unsustainable level of these instructions), you are heading into some very uncharted territory, where a lot is outside of your control. It can bring about a lot of fear. So you attempt to exercise control over the variables that you can foresee. This doesn’t make her demands any more reasonable, but if you see them as coming from a place of concern — concern that her life is about to go into new directions, concern that her job will be unrecognizable after her leave, and concern that she’s not as valuable in her job as she believes — rather than intense micromanagement, it’s easier to understand.

    1. some1

      Absolutely. I believe the woman that she has every intention of returning to her job, but stuff happens. What if her baby is severely ill or has special needs and it’s just not feasible for her to return to work? What is the company gets sold in 8 months and everyone’s position is eliminated?

    2. Adonday Veeah

      You can understand it till the cows come home, and still not be able to live with it. But you’re right — an open heart is always helpful.

  17. Kasia

    I think it’s worth noting she’s not actually your boss, and therefore its really up to you if you want to listen to these requests or not. If you do, it might even make you look like you’re not doing your job to your new manager. I would discuss with your manager what they expect from you, while bringing this ridiculous list to their attention.

    It’s also not up to her to make sure you’re “taken care of” when she gets back since, again, she’s not your boss (and you probably wouldn’t want to work for a crazy person like this anyways). She also will not have worked with you much during her leave so she really wouldn’t be a good indicator of the work you’ve done (that would be your new boss).

    I would bet her attitude will change once she has the baby, since she probably won’t want to deal with work while looking after a newborn.

    1. Artemesia

      If I got this load of codswallop, the first thing I would be doing is sitting down with my boss to sort our his or her expectations and my concerns with the specific ‘rules.’ Of course people need to be reviewed; of course it is inappropriate for her to be working and monitoring emails while out for a year; of course new business should be encouraged.

      And if I agreed to take this position I would definitely start looking for a new job at least 4 or 5 months out and assume I would be moving on unless by that point a permanent offer had been made. In no way would I be expecting this control freak to ‘take care’ of me.

      The OP works for the manager not for the person she is replacing; the person whose needs she needs to meet are her managers not the person she is covering.

  18. Dan

    I’m just curious… The op mentions a contract, does the contract address any of this? If the op ignores this persons directives, can miss a actually do anything?

    1. sunny-dee

      The contract aspect makes me not really object as strenuously to #1 and #4.

      What *is* the appropriate way to refer to a temporary position on LinkIn and/or emails?

  19. Adonday Veeah

    I’m curious, LW, who selected you for this position? I’m guessing it wasn’t the manager you’re covering for, or you’d have had these rules presented to you during the interview process. Go to the person who selected you, and ask for guidance. They clearly had some idea in their head as to how they expect you to handle the job over the next year. And let them know what this person’s “marching orders” are, so that they can weigh in. And then and only then, as AAM advises, should you decide whether or not to take this job. This could be a huge stepping stone for you or a year of hell.

  20. Mena

    Um, let’s not forget you are a competent adult with judgement and experience. And she doesn’t get to make the rules – your manager/her manager gets to make the rules. Time for a talk with the boss to learn and understand what he/she needs from you in the coming year (it isn’t about what this absent person wants or needs from you).
    And when she complains to you that you’ve done this or that and it is against the rules list, calmly explain, “Manager ABC asked that I do this or that” and move on.
    I’d worry less about her and focus on your manager’s needs. Good Luck!!

  21. libertybelle

    Hi all
    OP here, thanks so much for the advice and comments so far
    #KimmieSue I had asked at my first meeting with HR why they were not recruiting internally for this role, (to clarify I was headhunted by the Director whom I had met at my previous companies networking events) the response was the specifically wanted ” An outsider who could invigorate the department and bring fresh ideas”
    # I like the interim idea..I think its much better than saying ‘Maternity cover for Miss A’
    # I’ve been here just a week now ( I spent 4 days at induction) and when I walked into what would be my office, every single surface was covered in files, paper, greeting cards, teddy bears, thank you notes and tons of pictures of staff outings pined to the walls, there was literally nowhere for me to even put my bag! I very politely asked my PA would she mind emailing Miss A about all her personal stuff, I phrased it that I was concerned about her things going missing or lost over the next year and perhaps ( some of it) should be boxed up and delivered to her..needless to say the PA suggested I ”work around it” as Miss A is resting..
    I sent HR an email voicing my concern about all Miss A’s personal belongings and within 2 hours a HR assistant came down with boxes to help me pack, I was also asked by HR if Miss A had handed over the my work cellphone and laptop yet..she had not..I am now starting to feel they may be stirrings behind the scenes that I’m not aware off..

    1. Ezri

      Oof. I’m glad you got all that stuff out, but it seems like your PA is still taking orders from Miss A. That could be awkward, down the line.

      1. BRR

        This is a good insight. I can see the PA keeping Miss A informed about everything so just keep that in mind.

    2. Adam V

      Sounds like you have a good rapport with HR and the Director, but it also sounds like the PA and “Miss A” are on good terms, and I worry about any potential sabotage they may attempt. (“Sabotage” is a strong word, but I couldn’t find a milder one that fit as well.)

      Make sure you keep the PA informed about any changes you’re making, but if you feel like she’s going behind your back to talk to Miss A about the goings-on, you might need to put your foot down to make sure that she understands that while Miss A is on leave, you’re the boss.

        1. Adam V

          Much better – “sabotage” feels very active, “undermining” seems more passive or behind the scenes. Thanks!

    3. Adam

      Yep, I’m thinking you really want to get on board with your boss and make it clear that even if only for a year you are the one heading up this department. You may not be there to flat out replace her but you are filling her role while she’s out, and I can foresee some power struggles happening.

      And I would establish a good relationship with the PA as soon as you can. Hopefully she just had a brain fog moment as you really can’t be expected to work around someone else’s stuff like it’s priceless antique furniture that can’t be moved, especially for that long a time.

    4. fposte

      Wow, if management is serious about “An outsider who could invigorate the department and bring fresh ideas,” that means they’re really not going to be behind Miss A’s approach to the interim. I wonder if Miss A. is generally as risk-averse as her mat leave approach suggests and they really want to break up some stagnancy.

    5. Well

      “An outsider who could invigorate the department and bring fresh ideas”

      Just to give an outsider’s perspective here, from the limited info I have at hand it sounds like the person you’re replacing may be a poor performer. She seems very, very insecure that you may be more successful than she was in the role. I think most people who take significant leaves of absence worry about that sort of thing, but typically they don’t worry about it enough to prize their personal job security over their team’s effectiveness in their absence. That seems like what a lot of her ‘rules’ are intended to do: to make sure that you can’t be more effective than she is in the role.

      Fortunately, you’ve got a fairly easy out, thanks to the Director’s comment. Just hand your manager a copy of Miss A’s list of instructions and say “Hey, during the hiring process, I heard that you really wanted someone who could bring a few fresh ideas to the department. I took the position because I think that’s something I can do well. I want to accommodate how Miss A wants me to fill in for her as best as possible, but this list is going to make it really hard for me to implement anything new. Can we talk about how I should handle this?”

      I imagine that’ll get you a better sense of what the additional context you may need to navigate here, how much Miss A has the support of leadership, etc.

      1. Not So NewReader

        There you go, OP, this is great stuff. You want to aim for transparency. Keep everything out in the open and above board.
        If you think the PA is going to have problems, start now addressing that.

        Uh, frankly, I never heard of anyone getting woke up out of a sound sleep by an email. So, she could have emailed when you asked. I am not comfy with how she thought your direction was optional.

    6. Anonsie

      Oh god, stirrings indeed. Either A has some performance issues that the company is trying to explore here and she’s not going to cooperate, or A is being forced aside for taking her maternity leave and is trying to protect herself by making it difficult for them to quietly shift her away, or something like that. I wonder if the company has a history of women coming back from leave to greatly diminished jobs and A knows it? It would seem unnecessarily risky for them to try to go after a poor performer around her maternity leave, seeing as that would open the door to a lot of liability on their part, but who knows.

    7. Mike C.

      Holy crap, you’re going to be there a year and were told “to work around it”!? You need to whip this PA into shape. I almost wonder if you should ask for someone else if that’s at all possible or appropriate. If nothing else, it fits in with the wish for “fresh ideas”.

      1. Artemesia

        I would broach the assistant issue with your boss as soon as possible; you only get so many whines — so make them count. This PA is lined up to report back to her ‘boss’ and to undermine your every step. Her response to packing up the crap in the office is perfectly outrageous. Her ‘boss’ doesn’t need to give permission to remove personal items from the work space. And the fact that she is hanging on to the computer and phone is another major red flag. I would be presenting the list of demands with a concern about effective functioning of the department during this year. And I would be ignoring most of these demands — in particular anything that limits your doing your job e.g. new clients, reviews of staff etc. But having a PA who is primed to send professional emails to the ‘boss’ for a year — such very bad news.

    8. Observer

      Clearly, your boss and HR are NOT going to be on board with Miss A’s rules. So, give them a head’s up, and let them know that although you will obviously be putting “Interim Head” in your sig, you will be ignoring any of the rules that get in the way of doing your job, unless explicitly asked to by Boss/ HR. And, keep an eye on the PA. Be nice to her, but if she pushes on what “Miss A would do” or “Miss A expects” you need to let her know that till Miss A comes back, you are running the department – and think about pulling HR in if you need to.

      It wouldn’t be a bad thing if you BCC Miss A on really important emails and to send her something like a monthly report of what’s happening in the department. This keeps her in the loop and tells her that you are expecting her to come back and resume her position.

      It sounds to me like she knows that her rules will get in the way of doing your job, which is why she promised to “take care of you” – quid pro quo. “You do a lousy job, to cover my rear and I’ll take care of you.”

      1. Gene

        I like the monthly report of significant happenings. It allows her to feel she’s still in the loop. I would just make sure to never put in anything to her, “What do you think?” or “How do you feel about that?” or the like.

        1. heyteacher

          I love the monthly report idea!

          I feel like including her on emails (even if it is just occasionally) would be inviting her to step in. She could easily reply to a client without CCing the OP on it – that would just be a mess!

          The month report, though, keeps her updated without her hands being directly “in the pot.” It will also make her transition back into the position easier at the end.

    9. Night Cheese

      Document everything unusual that happens (dates/times/participants) because this could get ugly. Yikes.

      Here’s hoping that the baby tires Ms. A out so she can focus all of her attention of her maternity leave and let you work in an unhindered capacity.

    10. Jax

      HR is probably well aware of Miss A’s control issues/micromanaging/workaholic issues (pick one). It sounds like they are behind you, so I would do my best to assert myself now and get her foolish list out in the open. Absolutely box up the teddy bears and pictures–it’s incredible that she didn’t put that stuff away herself! You can tell the PA that you’re removing the personal items so they aren’t ruined or broken during the year.

    11. Ask a Manager Post author

      Oooof. After talking to your manager and getting clarity on this, you’re going to need to have a conversation with the PA to lay out clear expectations about how you’ll be working, as well as when she should/should not be looping in the old director. And you need to be willing to be very assertive with the PA (even replacing her if it comes to that) if she’s not clearly on your team, not the old director’s, for this year.

    12. soitgoes

      To me it sounds like they don’t intend to have her back in the same role when she returns. It’s very telling (and good for your future employment) that HR already knows that the employee wasn’t going to hand over your work materials.

    13. Chinook

      In her defense, Miss A may have been caught short with the birth, especially if she thought her due date was written in stone and not just a guestimate by the doctor. I have had 3 colleagues caught like that where they thought they would have atleast another week or two.

      1. Observer

        The only thing that explains is that she went out a few days earlier than planned. That’s no big deal – the OP seems to only have mentioned it in the of not getting a chance to discuss this further with Miss A. But that’s rally not the issue at all, so this is not really relevant.

    14. Not So NewReader

      People are tipping their hand a bit with you, OP. Within two hours someone from HR came down to help you pack? wow.
      This on the heels of what they said when you interviewed.

      I would keep my eyes wide open here and see what else you notice. The second thing this tells me is that you need to go forward with sharing her list with your boss.

  22. soitgoes

    If this woman is this finnicky about being replaced, she shouldn’t be taking the whole year off. Yes, she’s entitled to it, but given her expectations and her (real or perceived) position of importance in the company, she should reconsider the length of her leave. It sucks, but if taking the full year is a predictable problem in her industry/role, it’s what she signed up for. Many women take the full amount of leave and have things turn out great. Others recognize that, in order to come back to the exact same role (and not the legally required “equivalent”), they have no choice but to make themselves available to do the work. That’s what’s bugging me here: she’s demanding that the same EXACT job be ready for her when she returns, and that’s not how the law works, at least in the US.

    tbh I’d base my approach to the demands on whether or not I’d really be “taken care of” when the employee returns. Is there a smooth way to bring this situation to the managers’ attention and getting them to answer the question of, “No, really, if I do what she says, will I be offered a permanent position in a year?” If it turns out that this is an unfounded promise, I’d do what I wanted. If there was a strong possibility of being hired in, I’d make a bigger effort to fit into the company culture, which apparently includes complying with this woman’s nutty demands.

  23. Joey

    I have a completely different take. I seen all of those directives as suggestions, not requirements that you’re obligated to. I say that because while she’s out her directives mean nothing. The only directives that matter are between you and your short term boss. I wouldn’t even raise the list. I would consider her list and tell the boss how I plan on handling things in her absence. Because, really that’s what you’re being paid for- to run the place, not to report to someone on maternity leave.

    1. JMegan

      Agreed. I’d do exactly what NJ Anon suggested above – smile and nod, wish her well, and file her list in the recycling bin on the way back to your office. You don’t report to her, and she doesn’t get to call the shots on any of that to you.

      The monthly report is not a bad idea if you really feel you want to keep on her good side, but I think I’d probably do one or two of those and then get “too busy” to send any more.

  24. Steve G

    OK, I don’t think anyone in the organization besides the one on maternity leave will agree that her replacement shouldn’t be looking for new clients. Hello! The point of business is to make money. What if they lose a couple of clients, they can’t be replaced until she returns?

  25. Liane

    I am glad it seems like HR at least might be keeping an eye on this, & hope this contract goes well for you.
    However, speaking of keeping an eye on people–I would keep one on that PA.
    Granted, I have never been in a job like yours (contract or perm), where I had any sort of admin, much less a PA. But something about this PA telling you–who are her boss for the next year–to work around Miss A, when you asked her to do something, instead of doing it. It just makes me think PA is Team Miss A all the way–and may even have been told by Miss A, “Make sure My Office isn’t changed by Ms Libertybelle.”

    1. AnonyManager

      Agreed. The PA is going to have to be dealt with. She is already acting unprofessionally. It sounds like PA’s loyalty is to Ms. A instead of the organization that employs her. That’s a problem.

      1. Jennifer

        Well, Miss. A is the PA’s immediate problem, especially in a year when Miss A comes back, all angry and vengeful on her PA for being a “traitor.” I think I can understand why the PA is covering her own ass. Throwing loyalty to the company/Miss B/anyone else may only make things worse on her in a year.

        1. heyteacher

          True. I was thinking it might do better to reposition the PA for the year the OP is in the job. That way, the PA isn’t losing her job, but also doesn’t have access to being a spy for Mrs. A.

  26. libertybelle

    Hi OP again..
    I notice some questions regarding it length of the maternity leave, I’m in the UK (Scotland) and 1 year is roughly the norm..
    Also the Director has suggested a catch up meeting tomorrow at 3pm (UK time) to see how I’m fitting in..I’m thinking it might be the ideal chance to raise some of my concerns..so I’ll have a more of an update then.

    1. My two cents...

      is this her first child? do you think maybe some of this could be hormone-related?

      (before we start down a path, i’m a woman who’s sister has had two children.)

        1. My two cents...

          how is that irrelevant?! have you been around a woman who’s pregnant with their first child? to pretend that a woman’s thoughts/concerns/hormones/feeling of control wouldn’t be relevant here is ridiculous. cripes.

            1. My two cents...

              have you seriously never interacted with a very pregnant woman? this wasn’t a sexist or misogynist comment at all, Mike. it’s a very real and factual thing that hormones and stress related to pregnancy can cause some otherwise abnormal/extreme behaviors. the hormones are very real, and the down-to-the-wire planning is likely extremely stressful.

              matter of fact, doing a sales training for a disti last month, the woman at the reception desk was very visibly pregnant (i’d guess 8mo) and started tearing up while writing out our visitor name badges. she couldn’t help it. she was laughing the whole time with the tears steadily streaming down her face.

              1. Observer

                You keep on insisting that people are arguing this point because they are not familiar with pregnant women. What we are telling you is that we ARE familiar with pregnant women (in my case I’d estimate approximately 100 that I’ve interacted with fairly closely), and don’t buy it.

                Getty teary, stressed or into nesting mode etc. are all in a very different league than what is being described.

          1. JustMy2cents

            My two cents… December 16, 2014 at 4:59 pm
            how is that irrelevant?! have you been around a woman who’s pregnant with their first child? to pretend that a woman’s thoughts/concerns/hormones/feeling of control wouldn’t be relevant here is ridiculous. cripes.

            Um yes, I’ve been around woman who have had their first child – and I’ve had my own first child… and it’s still irrelevant, especially how it’s been presented by you in response to several comments (all posts are forwarded to my email.. so I got to see your comments one after the other after the other..). It also is STILL speculation..
            AND it’s derailed the conversation from the facts presented in the OP’s letter. Which is what we’re supposed to be discussing!

            Sorry if you had a rough pregnancy.. but being pregnant (however close to the due date or due date wrong..) does not explain away or excuse the control freaky behavior.

            A lot of really good advice has been given in this thread for the OP that pertains directly to what she is asking about. Looking forward to OP’s updates!

          1. JustMy2cents

            You seem to be trying to justify behavior you’ve either seen or have exhibited .. just being pregnant does not explain away bad and/or unprofessional behavior. Just being pregnant does not excuse bad and/or unprofessional behavior.

            If you or someone you know/know of was pregnant/is pregnant and is being a nutty, control freak… it’s not the pregnancy or the hormones creating the behaviors..

            Stop using pregnancy as an excuse for bad/unprofessional behavior.

    2. Adonday Veeah

      “…a catch up meeting tomorrow at 3pm (UK time)…”

      Ah, CRAP. That means we gotta wait for an update! Good luck, and REPORT BACK.

      And ignore Elkay — we ain’t waitin’ till Friday!

  27. Mike C.

    So does this manager on leave have a reason for acting in this manner? I mean yes, it’s no good that this is how things are going, but I just have to wonder if she’s seen other mothers on leave illegally pushed out of their jobs in one way or another once they came back. Or she’s just an overbearing person.

    OP, did this manager tell you why these rules were being put into place? Also, why do you even have to care about them? She’s on leave, and she’s not your manager. So long as your actual manager doesn’t say otherwise, what is stopping you from doing whatever the heck you feel is right? Did I miss something here?

    1. heyteacher

      I think it is legit to be concerned about the list, especially when it comes to the PA. Knowing where the higher ups stand on this issue will give direct information as to how the OP deals with day to day managing of the role.

  28. So Very Anonymous

    What jumps out at me in OP’s update above is that the manager is saying they hired externally for this position because they wanted “an outsider who could invigorate the department and bring fresh ideas.” Not to defend the list of rules, BUT, if I were \going on maternity leave for a year and I knew that an external replacement had been hired in order to “invigorate the dept and bring fresh ideas,” I’d be scared too, and thinking, was the department not sufficiently invigorated/fresh under me?

      1. So Very Anonymous

        Agreed. I don’t think this is a good approach. But I can see where there’d be some fear.

    1. AnonyManager

      I would probably be concerned also, but instead of wasting so much energy trying to keep the status quo maybe Ms. A should take this opportunity to see if there is someplace else that may be a better fit for her. Or even have a talk with her higher ups to find out what direction they would like to see the department take. She certainly isn’t helping herself by making it hard on her replacement and making herself (and her PA) look bad in the process.

  29. My two cents...

    some of this might be pregnancy hormones or postpartum wonkiness.

    she might cool her jets naturally in a week or two, if everything otherwise goes smoothly.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger

      If she hasn’t had the baby yet, I also predict that things might change a bit when she does. I don’t have kids myself, but a good friend recently gave birth and she spent the last few weeks before the baby was born in a bit of a “what do I do with myself?!” state – lots of feelings, including some anxiety, but not a lot to actually do anymore. She channeled it into organizing the nursery, but I could imagine someone else instead staying focused on her job.

      When there’s actually a (external) baby around, the baby will take more attention. Combined with the way a newborn keeps parents from sleeping, the woman in the letter may find herself much less inclined to think about the office!

      1. My two cents...

        exactly! i recall my sister was very meticulous in her work-related planning while nearing her first round of maternity leave. not nearly this neurotic…but there’s a LOT of planning that comes with having a child. and a lot cools off once the baby shows up and things are running smoothly.

        someone further up the comment thread said her pregnant state is irrelevant…
        obviously they’ve never been around a woman who’s about to be a first time mother.

        1. Observer

          obviously they’ve never been around a woman who’s about to be a first time mother.

          No. I’m from a community where most of my relatives, friends, acquaintances and a good chunk of my workmates over the years have had children. I have NEVER seen anything like this that was pregnancy related. Even nesting in professional women generally hasn’t taken this tack.

          On the other hand, I’ve met control freaks. This sounds like par for the course.

          1. My two cents...

            well, you’re lucky to have always been around some level-headed folks. meanwhile, the heavily pregnant woman working the reception desk at a distributor site we visited last month started crying while writing up our name badges. she was laughing about it with the tears streaming heavily down her face, apologizing the whole time. she sincerely couldn’t help the reaction.

            some women react and over-plan and over-stress. others are cool as cucumbers. but, to pretend it ISN’T a possible factor is just stupid.

            1. long time reader first time poster

              Clearly, women are crazy. The poor things just can’t HELP it, what with their hormones and all.

              Ugh, I loathe this rationalization.

            2. Observer

              No, what’s stupid – and hugely offensive to women – is to pretend that any and all ridiculous behavior is “probably hormones”.

              Again, there is a HUGE difference between the behavior you describe this receptionist displaying and the control freak behavior described by the OP.

              There is also a HUGE difference between “over planning” and the kind of “rules” the OP describes.

              This is totally not typical of “pregnancy hormones”. It IS however, something I recognize – it sounds very much like a former co-worker and this stuff showed up looooong before she got pregnant.

              Women’s careers suffer enough because of motherhood. Some of the issues can’t be helped – needing to cut back on hours, needing to take of for extended periods etc are legitimate problems. But it’s just unfair to saddle women with another “black mark”, that people should have to be concerned about dealing with in addition to the real problems.

  30. Well

    I agree that her response is troubling, although I’d say that it’s week one for you with the PA, and it sounds like Miss A may be a bit…well, let’s say, controlling. That has a way of engendering some reflex conflict-avoidance responses in people underneath you. I’d give the PA a little bit of time for the fact that Miss A’s gone for 12 full months to sink in. (This doesn’t mean that you need to defer to her, of course – the idea that you can “work around” someone else’s stuff *for a full year* is ludicrous, which is kind of why I feel like the PA’s may have given you a knee-jerk response based on “oh God she can’t move stuff around, Miss A would be so pissed”. So I’d be patient.)

  31. libertybelle

    Hi Mike C
    No she never mentioned why she was putting these rules in place, they where ( to my understanding) her rules not the companies.
    Her exact wording was ”Please remember I’m the actual Department Head, your just the caretaker” she wasn’t in any way aggressive or angry but seemed very, very stressed.

    1. Mike C.

      After your previous responses, I’m heavily leaning towards “overbearing personality”. I would say that you should take your directive for “fresh voices” to heart and do what you think is best.

      Best of luck to you!

    2. Joey

      I bet she also likes to flex her authority with her reports. I bet engaging them in “boss” decisions will be a welcomed change.

      1. Natalie

        Which dovetails nicely with Well’s comment right above this one, that the PA may be accustomed to working under someone overbearing/controlling and could adjust in a week or two.

    3. Chriama

      Sounds like she’s afraid for her job. There could be many reasons why this is (she’s not good at it, the company’s moving in a new direction and she’s worried she won’t be part of it, it’s her first child and she’s generally anxious, she’s experienced/viewed something similar happening to other women). I wouldn’t let her motivations influence your behaviour, but a little kindness in your thoughts is good for everyone. I would disregard the list entirely after discussing with your director and agreeing on how to handle things while she’s gone.

  32. HR Manager

    Is that woman a control freak much? Sounds like she is very insecure about her team and her management style as well. While you do want to respect the incumbent, and not change every thing just because you can, at the end of the day, I’d focus on working under how the OP’s manager wants things accomplished, rather than pleasing this person.

    I don’t think HR can be helpful here, outside of just assuring her that legally, the woman can’t force her not to update an appropriate title on LinkedIn. I think the key is to understanding the manager’s goals and wishes, and doing your best to meet those objectives.

    And what exactly does that incumbent mean by “see that OP’s taken care of”? It’s so bizarre. If someone approached me with this suggestion, I would think they were bonkers unless the fill-in did something so extraordinary that a highly unusual exception was warranted. But if that was the case, I’d probably look into seeing if we could hire that person FT rather than whatever this incumbent thinks she can do or has in mind.

  33. I live to serve

    I was out for a year-long sabbatical so I know from whence the controlling manager is coming from….
    that said… I was officially gone and after handing over my files, my curriculum and a few who to watch out for on faculty it was time to bite my tongue and walk away. I did select the person who was “acting” with my supervisor. The acting person did many things differently and many things not “how I would have done them” and many things better.

    So my big advice is to document.
    Act as if the mat leave manager is there to advise… send email updates on clients to the supervisor and cc the maternity leave manager when appropriate.

    Assume the personal assistant is informing the mat leave manager on your every move. If conflict arrises perhaps a switching of departments for that year might be in order.
    Make the job your own.

    1. Chriama

      The thing is, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to keep this manager in the loop. She’s going to be gone for a *year* — this isn’t like she’s out on medical leave for a few weeks and needs to keep her finger on the pulse of things she’s still responsible for. They’ve hired an interim department head, so she’s not responsible for anything right now! Also, she probably can’t legally be working for the company while on paid leave. Overall, it’s better for everyone – the company, the new mom, her baby and OP – if she disengages from the company for the majority of her leave. I suppose in the last few months she could start checking in to transition things back to herself, but the first part of the leave should be completely disconnected.

  34. it happens

    I mostly agree with Allison’s advice. It’s great that your manager wants to have a check-in with you – I’d suggest you take full advantage of it with a clear agenda. I don’t think that that means going over the list point by point (as other posters have said, you can safely ignore most of them). Rather, establish what the manager expects you to complete during the year. What does she mean by new and fresh ideas? How does she want to work with you? And, by the way, how involved should the woman on maternity leave be? She would like to be kept in the loop – is that in line with law/company policy? Could the manager please communicate the limits with her? (Maybe volunteer to type up whatever she says in this meeting for her to send to the new mom so it actually happens.)
    After the meeting, I’d recommend a good sit-down with the PA – you are not trying to ‘take’ her boss’s job, you are there for a year and the PA reports to you. You are all working on the same team for the year and her loyalty should be to the company’s goals, which will be met by following your lead; this is not a betrayal of her regular boss. And then telling her whatever your manager said about limits of business involvement with the woman on maternity leave. This one year thing is tricky – but it sounds like HR and your manager want it to work. The woman on leave will have plenty to do at home soon enough – and if her manager sets clear limits with her maybe she’ll be able to unplug from the office. Good luck.

  35. I live to serve

    Chriama,

    I am trying to think of when it would be appropriate to contact the Maternity leave manager
    …. An upset client with a long history with the company… handle it… do I request information from the Maternity leave manager before following up? A meeting that I would be presenting at and perhaps I don’t have the background information that I need? A signed significant contract that is cause for celebration…wouldn’t it be great to give the good news to the Maternity Leave Manager.

    1. Chriama

      I honestly think none of those apply. If she’s the only one with that institutional knowledge, the company has a problem but she still shouldn’t be compromising her maternity leave.

  36. Chicken

    ”Miss B, who is covering Miss A, the head of the teapot department.” is super awkward. We have someone in my office who is covering a maternity leave, and her email signature is “Jane Doe, Interim Teapot Manager,” which I think works a lot better.

    1. JMegan

      We do A/Teapot Manager (for “Acting”), which serves the same purpose.

      But no, the name of the person you’re acting for does not remain in the signature!

  37. Name

    I feel bad for Miss A who is obviously afraid she’s going to lose her job. It’s not the best way to handle it obviously but let’s try to be understanding towards someone who might lose their source of income on the heels of having a new baby.

    1. So Very Anonymous

      This is what I was thinking, too. Neither we nor the OP knows what’s gone before, or gone into the decision to bring in someone with “fresh ideas” to lead while the mother-to-be is out.

  38. CAndy

    Interesting to hear you’re in Scotland, OP. Had just assumed this was someone in North America.
    The norm in Scotland for maternity leave is 6 months, however the company may be offering unpaid leave or could be being generous and offering a full year of paid leave.

    The point is that a female returning from maternity to a job in the UK can’t be fired on a whim. There would have to be full due diligence with reviews and all the rest if they decided they wanted to get rid of her on her return. (firing a female just back from maternity would be a huge can of worms that nobody would go near). This is just like with any worker in the UK who has been in her position for more than 2 years. It’s not like in the US where you can just get told to pack up your stuff and go because, “things aren’t working out”.

    I suppose that leads me to the conclusion that you’ve been dealing with a very insecure person, and one who isn’t smart enough to know what her position really is in this.

    Advice would be to ignore her advice completely, and bar a chatty email or phone call once a month or two by way of an update just forget about her. A one-way email, subject “Update”.

    Your success depends upon sorting out the PA, and getting things done the way you want with the support of your line manager.

    This female is an idiot, don’t let her ruin this for you.

  39. Preston

    Letter writer:
    I have no read all the comments, but I get the feeling this is a sales/consulting type job. I think Miss A is scared you are going to do better then she was and “her clients” will prefer working with you. Hence the whole reinforcing you are a temp. You need to get the PA to understand you are in charge for the next 12 months and you need to get management to understand you are doing Miss A’s job. Miss A needs to go enjoy her year off.

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