I was fired from my internship for writing a proposal for a more flexible dress code

A note about this post, which is being linked to from all over the internet: This situation is not about “young people today.” The letter-writer’s generation is far from the first to bridle at dress codes or misunderstand office culture or start out with little knowledge of how things work in offices. This is about being young and new to the work world, not about what generation they belong to. Most of us made plenty of mistakes when we first started work — I certainly did. So please go a little easier on this person.

A reader writes:

I was able to get a summer internship at a company that does work in the industry I want to work in after I graduate. Even though the division I was hired to work in doesn’t deal with clients or customers, there still was a very strict dress code. I felt the dress code was overly strict but I wasn’t going to say anything, until I noticed one of the workers always wore flat shoes that were made from a fabric other than leather, or running shoes, even though both of these things were contrary to the dress code.

I spoke with my manager about being allowed some leeway under the dress code and was told this was not possible, despite the other person being allowed to do it. I soon found out that many of the other interns felt the same way, and the ones who asked their managers about it were told the same thing as me. We decided to write a proposal stating why we should be allowed someone leeway under the dress code. We accompanied the proposal with a petition, signed by all of the interns (except for one who declined to sign it) and gave it to our managers to consider. Our proposal requested that we also be allowed to wear running shoes and non leather flats, as well as sandals (not flip-flops though) and other non-dress shoes that would fit under a more business casual dress code. It was mostly about the footwear, but we also incorporated a request that we not have to wear suits and/or blazers in favor of a more casual, but still professional dress code.

The next day, all of us who signed the petition were called into a meeting where we thought our proposal would be discussed. Instead, we were informed that due to our “unprofessional” behavior, we were being let go from our internships. We were told to hand in our ID badges and to gather our things and leave the property ASAP.

We were shocked. The proposal was written professionally like examples I have learned about in school, and our arguments were thought out and well-reasoned. We weren’t even given a chance to discuss it. The worst part is that just before the meeting ended, one of the managers told us that the worker who was allowed to disobey the dress code was a former soldier who lost her leg and was therefore given permission to wear whatever kind of shoes she could walk in. You can’t even tell, and if we had known about this we would have factored it into our argument.

I have never had a job before (I’ve always focused on school) and I was hoping to gain some experience before I graduate next year. I feel my dismissal was unfair and would like to ask them to reconsider but I’m not sure the best way to go about it. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Oooooohhhh.

Firing the whole group of you was a pretty extreme reaction, but I can understand why they were highly annoyed.

Y’all were pretty out of line. You were interns there — basically guests for the summer. Their rules are their rules. This is like being a houseguest and presenting your host with a signed petition (!) to change their rules about cleaning up after yourself. You just don’t have the standing to do that.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean that you need to suck up any and every condition of an internship. You don’t. But this wasn’t something like asking you to do unsafe work or work unreasonable hours; this was asking you to abide by what sounds like a very common and reasonable professional dress code.

They presumably have that dress code because, rightly or wrongly, they’ve determined that it’s in their best interest. Sometimes these sorts of dress codes make sense (like when you’re dealing with clients who expect a certain image). Other times they don’t. But you really, really don’t have standing as interns to push back on it in such an aggressive way. And beyond standing, you don’t have enough knowledge as interns to push back so aggressively — knowledge of their context, their clients, and their culture.

What you could have done was to say, “Would you talk to us about the dress code and explain why it’s important? We’re sure we’ll run into this again in future jobs, but coming from the more casual environment of school, it’s not intuitive to us why so many businesses have formal dress codes. We’d appreciate getting a better understanding.”

But instead, you assumed you knew better (despite being in a position where the whole point is that you don’t have experience and are there to learn) and then went about it in a pretty aggressive way. A petition is … well, it’s not something you typically see at work. It signals that you think that if you get enough signatures, your company will feel pressured to act, and that’s just not how this stuff works. A company is not going to change its dress code because its interns sign a petition.

Honestly, if my summer interns banded together and this was what they decided to take on, I’d have some serious questions about their judgment and their priorities. I wouldn’t fire you for it … but I would not be impressed and we would be having a very stern conversation in which I explained the above.

The fact that they did fire all of you for it makes me wonder if there were other issues too and this pushed them over the edge. Were you getting good feedback before this, or had you noticed your manager trying to rein you in on other things? If there were other issues, I can more easily understand them just throwing up their hands and being finished with the whole thing.

In any case, I don’t think you can ask them to reconsider. What’s done is done. But it would be smart to write a letter to your manager explaining that you’ve learned from the situation and that you appreciate the opportunity they gave you and are sorry that you squandered it. They’re not likely to invite you back, but a note like that will probably soften them up a little and will mean that they don’t think so witheringly of you in the future.

{ 1,454 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Katie the Fed

    Oh, OP. I feel for you, I really do. I was very similar when I was younger – I was used to most everything being up for negotiation if I pursued it. I remember pushing back with a boss on something and him agreeing, and I joked “it’s always fun negotiating with you!” and he ripped me a new one, and told me I needed to learn that not everything was subject to discussion.

    You’re not a teenager anymore. It’s no longer appropriate for you to push back on so many boundaries. You’re going to have to learn to assess how much capital you have in a workplace, and what you want to spend it on. In a new internship, you have very, very little capital.

    BTW, one thing you might not have considered – the person who wore more casual footwear may have a special exemption to do so due to medical reasons. I wore ugly black sneakers most of last year because I was recovering from severe leg injuries. Your boss won’t tell you that’s the reason someone else gets to do it, and you frankly don’t have any business asking.

    I agree with the recommendation that you reach out and apologize for your behavior.

    Reply
    1. Katie the Fed

      Oh and also – petitions really aren’t the way things are done. Your workplace isn’t a democracy.

      Reply
      1. MsMaryMary

        I was coming here to say this. Your workplace is not a democracy. At best, it’s a benevolent dictatorship. It might be a totalitarian regime. But either way, rounding up supporters and creating a petition is not appropriate.

        Reply
        1. Rob Lowe can't read

          My Girl Scout troop leaders in middle school referred to themselves as a benevolent oligarchy. (They were four moms, mine included.) That was how I learned what those words meant!

          Reply
        2. Cordelia

          I refer to my household as a benevevolent dictatorship.

          If a group of interns came to me at work with a petition and a proposal for why they shouldn’t have to follow my well established dress code, I would probably sack all of them too.
          Im sure this seemed like a harsh way to learn a lesson. Next time seek out advice. Any working adult that you know could have advised against this.

          Reply
          1. tim maguire

            That’s a great point you make at the end–for all their claims of presenting well-reasoned arguments, it’s plain they never sought the advice of a more experienced person. Who would have been sure to tell them to eat the petition and dress nice for the summer and smile while they do it.

            Reply
          2. BarleySinger

            I worked as a senior I.T. consultant on very large projects, and so I was constantly having to observe my surrounfings to find out how each business (and person in it) functioned. Rules vary wildly. It is a fact of the world we live in, that there are societal assumptions about what is considered “appropriate behavior” in the work place, and this includes how people dress. It us not the same everywhere. Every societal group has its differences. They are different cultyral assumptions in different nations, in different industries and of course there are variations between companies.

            Keep that in mind, while taking this in. Most highly sucessful bysiness people are unysually high in psychopathic traits. Thus means they are power hungry and cannot feel compassion or guilt. That makes for a hard line effective executive, but a really crappy human.

            The ugly truth about capitalism (which is not the same thing as making money) is that the power is very attractive to certain psychologucal types. Capitalusm us in orbit around power. Owners and senior management got where they are because having that power was more important than anything else. They are not going to take well to a total stranger, one they probably few as being “just a child”, presenting a petition to make changes in a policy whose rational the interns had not even inquired about. There might be real world reasons why the rules exist. Try asking, with the caveat that this is all new to a new intern.

            Is it fair that interns (and employees in general) often have to walk on egg shells to cater to their bosses mental health issues. No. But guess what? Not everyone is mentally healthy enough (possessing enough Theory of Mind) to understand that equitable treatment between adults (non competitive game theory) makes companies more money while keeping the employees morale up. But not everyone wants to have healthy relationships with their employees. A lot of bosses are attached to being dictators, and became bosses because they gave an irrational craving for power.

            These facts are not going to change, and when you are on their turf, you have to follow their rules. If you dislike the rules enough you can leave.

            Reply
            1. Adam

              Most successful business people are unusually high in psychopathic traits? Got any reference for that at all? The only study I’m aware of states that the occurrence is notably (3x) higher than the general population, but 3% versus 1% doesn’t seem like a majority.

              Reply
              1. Jamie

                Here’s an article about an unusually high percent of CEOs being psychopaths. It’s nowhere near ‘most’ but it might indicate somewhat of a correlation between psychopathic traits and leadership.

                I haven’t found anything to indicate it yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if most business people have a higher degree of psychopathic traits than the general population. That’s not to say they’re actually psychopaths but that they possess more psychopathic traits.

                http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/13/1-in-5-ceos-are-psychopaths-australian-study-finds/amp/

                Reply
                1. Anonymoose

                  There was also a recent Yale symposium that looked into it (rather quietly) after Trump was elected.

        3. A bunisness owner

          I implemented a dress code at my office. Why? Past hires allowed clients to see their butt-cracks and made other horrible decisions. Would I fire those interns? Absolutely. They are not worth the time and energy of training and getting fired is the best lesson they could have learned. I show up to my office wearing anything I want. Why? I invested almost $1M of my money in my business. If my staff wants to wear whatever they want, they can buy-in as a co-owner. Until then, they abide by the rules, explained in advance (as I am sure this dress code was), and decide not to take the job if it is a problem for them.

          Reply
          1. Kyle

            My boss dressed like like a Orlando Mafia (flared 70’s collar, chains, chest hair, and all) guy at an event he required ties for the men.

            No one had a problem because:
            1) The event had free food (prime rib, salmon, etc)
            2) The event had free, bottomless booze
            3) The guy started the company and made it into a million dollar company.

            Reply
            1. disconnect

              I just want to say that I love your boss and would like to connect with him via LinkedIn. Or maybe quit my job and go work for him.

              Reply
          2. Rick

            That’s all well and good; as the owner it’s definitely your prerogative to do this.

            I would say I would respect an employer much less for having this “do as I say, not as I do” attitude about the dress code, personally. I prefer a “lead by example” boss. If it’s just the dress code, I could somewhat look over it, but if it bled over into other matters as well…your company would be a stepping stone to somewhere else.

            Reply
            1. Just a guy sitting here reading this website

              I get that you invested a lot of time, money, and sweat equity into your business, and you get to enjoy the perk of being your own boss. But I agree with everyone saying I absolutely wouldn’t respect you as a boss if you had a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. When I was in the military, we had a company commander who on his first day stood in front of us and said “when it comes to the appearance of your uniform, I am the standard. You need to either meet the standard or exceed it.” I would run a dead sprint through a brick wall for this guy because of how much I respected him, and I know many others in my company would have as well. If I worked for you, you should expect the minimum standard from me as far as work experience and nothing more.

              Reply
              1. impressed by the guy who was just sitting there reading this website

                That is the crux of what’s missing in culture today. I didn’t serve in the military, though my dad did. Our home, though warm and loving, was a place of discipline and integrity, which has benefited me greatly throughout my life.

                The internet has given everyone a voice, and egotists that we all are, we assume that this makes us all equal unless taught otherwise. Look around the world and see the giant soup of humans living up to a shockingly varied percentage of their full potential, repeating obvious life-mistakes ad-nauseum, yet all of whom secretly think they’re amazing and unique snowflakes who deserve more than they have. Add to that the fact that the youth of today have grown up with the ability to whip out a smart-phone and gang-flame a dedicated accomplished person from a position of ignorance and intellectual laziness without reprisal, and thus have come to believe that leadership which stems from competence, experience & authority doesn’t matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. IRL is not and will never be like internet and the social media. I hope that the kids of today will grow up and look back on their whiny entitled adolescence as we look back on leisure suits and macrame. Well, here’s hoping! ;-)

                Reply
            2. I work for myself now

              This is more nuanced than “do as I say, not as I do”. On the one hand, there are those who take a similar position for ego’s sake (“it’s my company and you will dress up so I can feel powerful and cool”), and those people probably aren’t great leaders for a variety of reasons.

              On the other hand, as a business owner, it is important to deal with things simply and efficiently: there was a problem (exposed butt cracks; presumably other unprofessional dress), the solution to which was to develop an all-encompassing dress code that would ensure the problem ceased.

              It would have been a waste of time to try and account for every possible scenario and have a book-length list of the “dos and don’ts” of office dress (why some jeans are OK but not others; what makes certain sneakers office-appropriate but not others; the difference between a golf shirt and other knit shirts), but something overly broad like “look professional” would be a similarly futile effort.

              Depending on the nature of the company, there’s another element to this: the owner knows what is going to happen each day; who will be in the office, what meetings will come up, which clients might stop by. Therefore s/he knows how to dress the part. Employees aren’t always privy to that information and therefore can’t make such decisions accordingly.

              Reply
          3. Vicki

            Wow. That’s… bad.

            “I show up to my office wearing anything I want. Why? I invested almost $1M of my money in my business.”

            No. No no no. If you institute a dress code, you abde by it. Otherwise, you’re a hypocrite.

            I would be surprised if you don’t have a lot of turnover on your staff. The “I’m the Boss and you’re the staff” attitude doesn’t go over well with most people. Not since the 18th century (and even then). That’s why we have unions now.

            Reply
            1. John

              “The “I’m the Boss and you’re the staff” attitude doesn’t go over well with most people.”

              So what? You don’t like the rules, don’t work there. It’s amazing the amount of people who want to be the “boss” yet have no financial interesting in the business.

              Reply
              1. Zak

                Creating conditions that make reasonable people not want to work there isn’t a very good idea from a strictly business perspective. It tends to increase turnover and reduce the quality of your applicants. There’s also a more subtle effect where workers are more likely to go above and beyond for a boss they respect.

                Sure, if you’re the boss you CAN make unpopular rules for your employees and ignore them yourself, but it has costs.

                Reply
                1. JeffreyG

                  I get the distinct feeling that you are of the intern age! Jobs are scarce, and if you run away to a safe space every time a company owner expects you to do something that he will not do, you are gonna have a long resume with very little experience….

            2. Ron

              No, he’s not a “hypocrite”, he’s “the boss”

              Ie, the guy who signs the paychecks and

              DOES. NOT. ANSWER. TO. YOU.

              Seriously. Some people.

              Reply
              1. Rika

                I’m inclined to agree with Vicky on this one. Of course a boss can get away with things his staff cannot, but there are limits to everything. Abiding by the dress code that you yourself have set for your company is not the same as having to answer to your employees; it just signals that you stand behind your own rules.

                I mean, sure, you can decide to screw the dress code you have told your staff is so important and therefore compulsory. Being the boss that is totally your prerogative, no arguments there. As long as you don’t mind that a manager who is seen to break his own rules doesn’t exactly do wonders for his reputation and his staff’s respect. If that doesn’t bother you, you can do whatever you like.

                I suppose it depends on what kind of boss you want to be.

                Reply
                1. Eastland

                  There is a difference between a boss and a leader.
                  A boss will tell you to do some thing and act a certain way and expects you to do it.
                  A leader is more of a managers position, were you lead by example.
                  A boss doesn’t have to, under any circumstances, follow his own rules. You don’t have to like it, but that is the benefit of owning and running your own company. No one telling you which rules to follow.
                  Imagine a business as a home, the interns are guests who are staying for a certain amount of time and have some rules they must follow, such as cleaning up after themselves (dress code). You follow that rule without question, even if the owner doesn’t follow it himself.

                2. Not the boss

                  “Abiding by the dress code that you yourself have set for your company is not the same as having to answer to your employees”

                  You miss the point. Maybe he wouldn’t mind his employees showing up in the same kind of clothes he does, but dress codes of the form “whatever the boss wears is ok” is only an invitation for disaster. It won’t be long before somebody shows up in something the boss deems inappropriate but they consider to be along the same lines of whatever the boss wore 3 days ago.

                  As the boss you are perfectly entitled to not let dress choices at the discretion of your employees while you trust your own discretion.

                  After all, it is your money and your company. If somebody doesn’t like it they can all go fund their own business venture.

                3. Hmmm

                  There may be a slight difference between a ‘boss’ and an ‘owner’ who is also a boss. A boss can also be an employee and as such should abide by any dress code like all other employees. But an owner may choose to get away with somethings like dress code and working hours etc. Its unlikely an owner wants to harm the image of his own company.

              2. oslianon

                “Ie, the guy who signs the paychecks and / DOES. NOT. ANSWER. TO. YOU.”

                I’m absolutely stunned by these comments and all the others in which people seem hell-bent on emphasizing that the boss has ultimate authority over all … aka his/her lowly employees. What about collaboration? Mutual respect? I am not referring to the situation described by the letter writer — I’m talking generally about employees who work hard and express their opinions about company policies in mature, well-thought-out ways.

                Obviously employees are “free” to leave if they don’t like the workplace rules. (Used those scare quotes because the reality is that it is very, very difficult for people of all classes to find work these days, especially within a short time frame.) But in the interim, they shouldn’t be demeaned for voicing their concerns about a policy if they have a reasonable objection to it. Shutting down that kind of discourse is going to achieve one thing: a deplorable office culture.

                In general, sane, rational people are going to have a problem following extreme, inconsistently applied rules. It amazes me that someone could argue against the validity of that, even in the abstract.

                Reply
                1. LaughingSkeptic

                  No. A boss can basically operate his division as he sees fit. If you want it to be successful, certain types of divisions or companies will do better with collaboration. If you’re the boss over a warehouse… the job just needs to get done and you need to do it.

                  Also – lets consider this. If you want all rules to be consistent. Therefore the boss gets to be given instruction by the employees. The employees get to define the work schedule. They get to define the break schedule. They get to decide the scale of their raises. No – that’s stupid. The boss is the boss, and he doesn’t follow the same rules that you do. He has proven that he doesn’t need to be micromanaged. You haven’t. If you don’t like it… find a new boss. That boss will find and keep people who are capable of doing the job. Because they deserve it.

                2. Annonymouse

                  Again I think the difference here is between a boss and an owner. A boss should abide by the same rules you do – dress codes, asking for holiday leave and accountability.

                  An owner can do as they please as there is no higher authority for them to answer to.

                  E.g at my last job the staff could only take holidays during school holiday periods and only one person could be on holiday at a time. My boss – the owner – could holiday whenever he chose for as long as he liked. He even booked some during school holidays preventing us from taking that time off.

                  Unfair? Incredibly. But as owner he can set the rules and not have to follow them.

                3. GoodChuckle

                  If the Founder/CEO wants to wear business casual but required the entire staff to dress business formal. that is his choice.

                  I find it odd that people would find room to have as their official complaint… “THE CEO doesn’t have to, why do I?”

                  The CEO will leave at 2 in the afternoon and go to the country club and play golf too.

                  All positions aren’t the same.

              3. Mike

                Correct, he does not answer to his employees, and they’re free to leave at any time. Except, realistically, this is not actually an option for most of them, most of the time. And honestly, while no one is arguing that The Boss can’t implement hypocritical policies, just because he can doesn’t mean he should.

                Reply
            3. MeMe

              “I’m the Boss and you’re the staff”

              I worked for a boss who expected us to work 12 hour days during tax season (a small CPA firm with three hired people). That was OK by me. Everyone would be at work by 5AM or 6AM and we’d call it a day by 6PM. He would get upset when we would leave, because he would be in the office alone after 6PM. “Who is going to answer the phones?” he would ask. He’d stay in the office until 11PM during the peak weeks. He expected us to stay as well.

              The problem is, he would show up to the office at 11AM or even noon. If we showed up that late, he’d ask, “Who is going to answer the phone in the morning?” Rather than work out separate office hours to cover the lag, he actually expected all of us to be available and in the office by 7AM to answer calls, and stay until 9PM or 10PM, too. I didn’t mind working 12 hour days. But at some point you have to call it quits as fatigue sets in and it’s just time to rest. I could never comprehend why he failed to recognize we were working just as long as he was, if not longer.

              Furthermore, with the quiet 2 hours we had in the morning, we were able to be more productive.

              In any case, the whole idea of do as I say and not as I do can only go so far. Unreasonable demands are an invite to high office turnover, which he had. After 4 seasons, I tendered my resignation (the last of the three) and now work for an amazing company who appreciates hard work and dedication.

              A dress code is a reasonable demand. You are young and inexperienced. Turn this into your favor. When interviewing, you may want to share this as a lesson learned to your potential employer. You’ll certainly be remembered for this story and it may set you apart from others. Some employers may look for this type of individual. Just make sure you let them know you’ve learned there’s a time and place for everything.

              Reply
            4. annonymouse

              As long as the boss is dressed appropriately (no butt cracks and closed toe shoes – also no offensive shirts) then they can wear what they want.
              I work in a more casual work environment and wear clothing appropriate for my front desk role (pants/skirt & nice tops)

              My bosses aren’t customer facing so they can wear jeans, t-shirts and hoodies. And I don’t care.
              I’m allowed some flexibility in clothes (not overly formal/business but nothing sloppy) but our roles are different and it is part and parcel of working for a small business.

              Reply
              1. annonymouse

                I should point out my bosses are the owners of the small Business I work for.

                As someone above me pointed out there is a world of difference between an owner and a boss. An owner can afford to be a hypocrite about dress codes whereas a boss (another employee) cannot.

                Reply
          4. Kathy O.

            Every place of business has a dress code, and most are in place for good reason. Whether you work for Starbucks and wear a logo’d shirt, or work for a bank and need to wear socks, or work for a tattoo shop and must show your own tattoos. ALL places of business have a dress code. You could’ve saved yourself your internship by simply having a discussion with HR to better understand the dress code that was in place and if it was negotiable. You would’ve been better informed and still have your internship.

            Reply
            1. ThatAspie

              I once applied to a Starbucks (didn’t get the job, but whatever), and in reading their rules, I read their dress code, and it’s pretty strict. I mean, I get that they want a certain image – that’s fine. It’s also fine to have rules that go with wanting a certain image, and it’s obviously fine that they have people dress in ways that don’t put them or others at risk of illness or injury (burns, cuts, scrapes, broken bones, ground-up fingers, salmonellla, e. coli, etc.) But some of their dress code seemed a little ridiculous to me, but I know that, if I worked at a Starbucks, I would definitely adhere, or at least try to adhere. If I had, or knew I was getting, a job at Starbucks, I would put off my next Cherry Kool-Aid hair dye attempt for the remainder of the job (as much as I enjoy looking like Jessie), I would refrain from wearing my white shorts, I wouldn’t show up in light-colored jeans, I’d tuck in my shirt (and tell my poor skin to just suck it up), I’d paint my shoes black, I’d never wear my little green skirt, and I’d make sure to measure my earrings before they even touched my ears.

              Reply
        4. JWH

          It’s called “forming a union,” and there are processes for it. Interns circulating a petition isn’t one of those processes.

          Reply
          1. melrmc13

            If my employees decided to form a union without talking with my husband and me first, I’d shut the doors of our business. I’m NOT dealing with union jerks when I’M the one who invested in the business.

            Reply
              1. Dana

                Yours is a lazy man’s way of dismissing a valid point. Nothing you said invalidates melrmc13’s very valid point. Many businesses do choose to shut their doors rather than deal with unions. That would certainly be my choice.

                Reply
                1. Vicki

                  But gloryB raises a good point. If melrmc13 wants to make a point, s/he need to leave out the pejorative name calling. The word “jerks” cheapens the message.

                  Now it’s not about unions; it’s about jerks.

            1. Buttered Toast

              Even union organizers will tell you that unions don’t create the need for unions. Conditions and policies chosen by management of the particular company in question do. Do a good job as leader and you have nothing to worry about.

              Don’t forget that being “invested” in a business isn’t all monetary. Employees invest a lot of themselves in your business too. Take care of that investment and it will pay dividends for you and them.

              One last thing, if you want employees to have a dialog with you instead of union organizers, it is ENTIRELY up to you to create an environment where that can and will happen.

              About the interns. I am completely in agreement with the actions of management here. It seems clear that to a person, (with one exception,) they had a very poor understanding of the employer-employee relationship. I’m stunned. How does that happen?

              Reply
            2. Stephan Ahonen

              FYI, it’s illegal under the National Labor Relations Act to close or threaten to close a business if employees unionize. If your employees unionize, the law requires you to stay in business and deal with the union.

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                They can’t close a plant to avoid dealing with a union, while otherwise staying in business. But they could certainly shut down the entire business if they wanted to; the NLRA can’t force you to keep your business open. The part you’re talking about is just about individual sites.

                Reply
      2. Trout 'Waver

        A petition also has the underlying connotation that the person responsible for such decisions is unreasonable or unapproachable.

        Reply
      3. Ad Astra

        “Your workplace is not a democracy” is an extremely important lesson to learn here, and also something I wouldn’t necessarily expect someone to know if they’ve never held any kind of job. It sucks that OP had to learn this lesson in such a costly way.

        (This is also why it’s a good idea for teenagers to work some kind of job in high school or early college, before they’re ready for internships or full-time jobs in professional fields — but that may not have been the best choice for OP’s specific circumstances.)

        Reply
        1. L_Tony

          Actually, I think their Colleges failed them as they should have already been TOLD that 1) as an intern you will have NO clout and 2) “making waves” is NOT acceptable when you are on the bottom of the ladder that you are wanting to someday climb.

          Reply
          1. DW

            Maybe their colleges failed them somewhat for not explaining the do’s and don’ts of workplace etiquette, but it’s pretty late at that point. Parents, teachers, and coaches need to explain that somethings aren’t up for debate. Sometimes no is the answer and why not isn’t the correct response.

            Reply
            1. Rowan

              I work in a business school and with both undergraduate and MBA students. Many, many, many of my staff peers do counsel and coach them, as I do, on the various “teachable moments” in life and business (the school even holds etiquette classes for business dinners because students are not getting that info from the home). Too often, the students completely ignore or disregard the guidance provided by professional staff, dismissing them as admin assistants or secretaries. Few staff are in a position to let students outright fail and be monetarily responsible for things like event over-expenditures and the like. I, on the other hand, have told MBA students who view “everything as a negotiation” that while they are in a simulation of work and business, I am actually in a live, production version of what they are still learning and that I will allow them to fall down. But the reinforcement and the effort it takes to get them to even listen, let alone not dismiss me completely because they know they’ll be making twice my salary in 6-months, is staggering – and is only one of five roles I am required to fill for a major research university.

              Reply
              1. higheredrefugee

                I worked with law students for nearly ten years, and I must second this idea. Depending on the culture of the student body, the more likely the students are to ignore the advice of the professional staff and even distinguished faculty. I tried to teach students about balancing their negotiations, especially the young parents, about why sick time or more vacation might be worth more to their sanity than $5000 in salary. Or understanding that when a small employer pays you less but completely pays your health insurance that is taking money out of the owner’s own pocket. But what would I know?

                Reply
                1. Karen C Lewis

                  Most of us don’t have the luxury between choosing a high paying job and a job with benefits. When I worked, I worked in a low-pay industry, but the benefits were great. I talked to a career changer and he had the opportunity to choose between two high paying jobs. The slightly lower paying job had better benefits, the higher paying job required he pay for his own health insurance. In the end, he choose the lower paying job (still about $80,000, as opposed to $100,000) because the cost of purchasing health insurance reduced his overall take home pay.

          2. Comerupper

            I would go one step further and say that their parents failed them in teaching them to not respect their employers. As a disclaimer, I am a college kid but I started babysitting at ten, working Summer’s selling snow cones at fourteen and I did that each summer til I finally got a regular part time job at seventeen… Etc. Hiw is it possible to go through college and never having a job? That sounds so ludicrous to me to be hardly believable.

            Reply
            1. rein-murray

              It’s a privileged position to be in, for sure, but not an unusual one. For those whose parents are upper-middle class and value academic education very highly, sometimes jobs are off the list.

              Personally, my parents were very protective of me growing up and would not allow me to have a job. They definitely thought it more important that I focus on school – basically saying that rather than I get B’s and work a low-wage job at a McDonald’s or something, they would prefer I get straight A’s that would help me to secure a more professional job or internship later in life. I still had many responsibilities and chores and would often volunteer for nonprofits and work for family friends in the like here and there, but nothing formal and rarely paid. When I got to college, I had no reason to get a job because I received a full ride to the college of my choice (a point in the column of ‘focusing on school’).

              Now I know that many people do not have this luxury, but it is a reality. That said, I held several internships throughout college (all unpaid) and never once would have considered this kind of behavior, and my relationship with my employers was more casual and less corporate. I can’t fathom why someone would think this was a good idea…

              Reply
            1. Quickbeam

              I know! Argh. I actually like seeing the interns cone to our very conservative office with their first big boy pants and shoes!

              Reply
          3. Arico1

            As a college professor, I have been fighting with administration regarding this very point, which falls on deaf ears. The college is now seen as a business, the student the customer, and we must make the customer happy in order to keep up revenue.
            My view on the subject is that the student is the “product” of my efforts – to which I must determine if I am turning out a quality “product” to the world.
            It is a struggle, and I have suffered quite a lot of backlash from students (who become quite abusive when they do not achieve their perceived goal), but I persist. I know that employers are not so flexible and that I do my students an injustice by teaching them otherwise.

            Reply
            1. James West

              I entirely agree with Arico1 – as a professor, I don’t view the students as my customer, I view their future employer (or perhaps society) as my customer. Making the student happy is frequently entirely at odds with making them good at their job or a benefit to society.

              Reply
              1. Oligonicella

                Not customer, client. The difference being that a client expects (or should) to get feedback they may not have foreseen. I took on an additional degree at 55. I certainly wouldn’t have needed you to see my nonexistent future employer as your customer nor for you to concern yourself about my benefit to society (which presumes you know better what that benefit would be).

                Reply
                1. Annonymouse

                  I think customer is the right term in the contex. If the student comes from a wealthy family or well connected one it makes sense the university would want to keep them happy.

                  It becomes a transaction: student gets degree and school gets access to money/connections.

                  What the two previous posters were saying is that they don’t want it to be a transactional relationship and want to educate and prepare the students for working life.

        2. Y'all gone make me lose my mind

          Yeah, the intern said they didn’t have a job because they always focused on school. Actually, they didn’t have a job because they could afford not to and still go to college. Your point is well taken. A job in high school would have taught them so much more.

          A lot of college students who put themselves through college would love to always focus on school instead of juggling a job and classes, but they can’t. However, they will have an edge on those whose experience is more limited.

          Reply
          1. Dust Bunny

            I think that a lot of younger people assume that the kinds of jobs they had in high school and the kinds of jobs they have as adults will work differently. It’s normal to not have any clout in whatever job you had as a teenager, but *surely* this job/internship will see them as the potential star their parents told them the would be.

            Reply
        3. ASM826

          It is clear the OP hasn’t learned the lesson, even when it was delivered with appropriate emphasis.

          Reply
      4. Jay Bree

        YES!
        Learn a life lesson. Work isn’t a democracy. Your “vote” may or may not count. Your opinion may or may not count.

        Reply
    2. alter_ego

      It actually says that the boss told her there was a medical reason for the other coworkers footwear during the firing. So you’re spot on.

      Reply
      1. many bells down

        It was the first thing I thought of – if one person is consistently wearing something otherwise not allowed, they probably have some sort of exemption. But that’s probably something that comes with experience of work; I’m not sure it’d have occurred to me in my very first job.

        Reply
        1. Katie F

          And the “Well, they should have TOLD US WHY SHE GOT TO WEAR THEM” bothers me a lot. A medical exemption is just that – medical, and therefore a privacy issue. The manager did the absolute right thing, trying to maintain the employee’s privacy by NOT explaining her medical issues.

          I’m going to assume that prior to the “you’re all sacked” meeting, they probably went and spoke with the Gym-Shoe-Wearing-Employee to get her permission to explain to the interns why she wears those shoes.

          But, ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. This whole situation is one gigantic mess.

          Reply
          1. Kelly O

            Exactly. The reason this person was an exception was absolutely none of the interns’ collective business.

            The reason could have even been “just because” and that would be fine.

            Reply
          2. NotAnotherManager!

            Yes, and not “Well, they should have told us…” because then they would understand the exemption but so they could factor it into their argument.

            I mean, I wouldn’t have fired all of them for just this incident, but this would have been a major teaching moment about appropriate professional behavior.

            Reply
            1. Mallory Janis Ian

              +1. That they say they could have factored it into their argument instead of accepting it as the boss’s very reasonable explanation makes me think this group of interns were probably unsalvageably over the line. I imagine they showed other such propensities, and that the boss factored those in when deciding to wash his hands of the lot of them. There’s a time and a place for rabble-rousing, but this was not it.

              Reply
                1. Dave Mann

                  Very young. Ha. Immature. And unwilling to learn, if the one sided story is any indication. So much for good word of mouth, networking, and connections when you punch up at them.

                2. BananaPants

                  Immature, privileged, and inexperienced sums it up perfectly. These kids have hopefully learned the valuable lesson that the workplace isn’t a democracy, especially when you’re the low man on the totem pole. A freaking petition?!

                3. Growing our future

                  Um – did none of the interns talk to other employees, or maybe their parents, or tutors before riding off to war? What a confrontational way to attempt to solve a pretty unimportant issue (they were only there for a few weeks right?). I agree with an earlier poster, I would be surprised if this was an isolated incident which led to them being fired, I suspect there may have been other earlier incidents.

                  A sad situation and the fail boat has to make a few stops;
                  1. What had the college done to brief students for internship? Perhaps they need to make some adjustments to the content.
                  2. How had the students prepared for the internship? Did they have personal goals and objectives about what they wanted to achieve? Perhaps a more targeted focus would have stopped them getting caught up in “clutter”.
                  3. How had the company prepared? Interns always come with “rough edges” – it’s what they are. They are there to learn – which means the company has to invest some time and effort – interns are not just unpaid labor. There was a wonderful challenge/coaching opportunity here that the company missed. They could have had a five minute discussion on why the behavior was inappropriate, reminded the interns of their role/place, advised the point was not negotiable as it was a policy and then asked who wanted to stay on the bus and who wanted to get off. Quick and simple.

                  This would have been my preferred approach. Most interns arrived with the expertise and skills of a 16 year old office junior, and that is where my expectations are. So the fact they did what they did is not a surprise, it’s a learning opportunity. I would definitely not have sacked them for it.

                4. Stephen

                  Being Young is about learning. Unfortunately this lesson came at the cost of their internships. The sooner you learn things in life, the less the lessons cost you.

                5. Intern2016

                  @GrowingOurFuture I was with you until the 3rd point. As a current intern, I can understand firing the lot of them. This wasn’t a case of a handful of interns constantly pestering a handful of managers about something. If that had been the case, a “teachable” moment may have been realistic. But… They chose a VERY aggressive option to get their way. Basically, they went from 0 to 100, without stopping to get input, as you have stated, or even really thinking through the implications of their actions. I would think as manager, that if this is their default way of dealing with issues, then they aren’t worth my time and effort to rein them in. Especially over such a trivial and narcissistic issue, that really has very little bearing on the reason they are there in the first place. Personally, if the dress code didn’t work for me at my current internship, I would do the work, and at the end of the summer, thank them for the experience, get a good recommendation, and find a job somewhere more lax next year. And that is exactly what I did this summer, not for dress code but due to culture.

                  Furthermore, I don’t know what universities these interns went to, but educating students on etiquette and proper professional decorum is secondary to education on the actual subject matter they are studying. I have taken classes and been a full time student at several universities (I was military and transferred a few times) and every school I have attended, from individual courses at a community college to full-time at various universities, all have offeed professional behavior seminars and classes, but you have to be proactive in attending them. It’s not the school’s responsibility to force students to go to these kind of events any more than it is their responsibility to make sure grown adults wake up and attend class, nor is it the rest of the world’s responsibility to finish their parent’s job.

              1. Robot

                Yup! And if I were their manager, I would DEFINITELY factor in the rabble-rousing. Not only did they show extreme lack of judgement and total misunderstanding of their workplace, but they decided they were going to openly admit to having talked all around the office about their lack of faith in management, and ask a bunch of people to sign a petition agreeing! That kind of thing is damaging to morale and to management structures. To allow a bunch of interns to do walk around bad-mouthing management? Nope. I would have fired them too.

                Reply
              2. Wendy Robertson

                When I read the part about them wanting to know ahead of time about the exemption for the wounded soldier, that they would have “factored it into their argument” sounds a lot like an entitlement issue to me. Someone has always given them what they wanted, and they think they deserve to be allowed something different than what is the status quo. I just HOPE they learned a lesson from this, but stating the above makes me think that perhaps this young man did not.

                Reply
                1. Maurine

                  Funny. Maybe I missed something but I do not see anything about the OP being male. I actually think the OP was a female due to the reference to the female veteran being allowed to wear flat shoes while the rest of them could not. Very high school girl think

                2. Y'all gone make me lose my mind

                  Wendy,

                  They didn’t learn. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be asking, “How can I get them to reconsider firing me?” Dude, you can’t. It’s over. Accept it. Be accountable, say you screwed up and do better next time.

                  That you have to be told THAT after what just happened, says loads.

              3. Bibliovore

                This reminded me of a petition that the 6th graders came to the library. They wanted to be able to stay in the library after school from 3:30 to closing (10:30) unsupervised. I said no. We have had incidents in the past with unsupervised children in the library. They can get a pass from the office to be there after school from 3:30 to 5:00. This way we know who has parental permission to be there. They likened the “getting of the pass” system to civil rights injustices of South Africa.
                They had gotten 60 signature.
                They were shocked (shocked I tell you) when I said that the answer was still no.

                Reply
                1. Huh

                  Not quite the same as the OP’s situation? I wouldn’t expect 12 year olds to have a firm grasp on historical analogies, but I would expect them to be able to conduct themselves appropriately past 5 p.m. (Given all the other things 12 year olds do on their own, I am kind of shocked that you said no, as well.)

                2. Nesnnora

                  So the children could still be unsupervised as long as they had parental permission, until 5pm? Seems like an odd arrangement since your concern is that they are unsupervised and parental permission would not solve that concern.

                  I’d suggest trying to compromise with limitations or a trial period because a child’s interest in being in a library should only be encouraged, not discouraged. You seem a big smug about the whole thing. I worked in a public library for 24 years and I raise my eyebrows at the attitude behind this.

                3. Sleeplesskj

                  Nesnorra – in a school you never leave children unsupervised. Ever. The school is responsible for the safety of those kids at all times.

            2. Michael Ship

              This WAS a major teaching moment. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t have been so coddled and misinformed in university, but they still got the message … loud and clear.

              Reply
          3. Laurene

            Yes I was going to say this too. It is NOT the intern’s RIGHT to know every single detail about every medical condition that every employee in the company has. If the boss sees fit to grant a person right to break a dresscode that is the Boss’es right, and it is no one elses right to know why! It doesn’t even have to be something as extreme as losing their leg in the war. It could be that they tore a tendon while running and need special shoes to be able to walk better. That is NOT “Need to know” information for interns, or any employee for that matter. It is a privacy issue. If the person wearing the shoes wants to talk about it, fine. But it better not explode into a gossip situation either! Gossip will kill professionalism in a workplace environment.

            I most especially love this comment too. “Oh and also – petitions really aren’t the way things are done. Your workplace isn’t a democracy.”

            EVERY WORKING PERSON NEEDS TO LEARN THIS (intern or not!). The Boss gets to set the rules because they are the boss. There is one leader for a reason. There is a chain of command for a reason. There is an order of operations for a reason. If everything is up for negotiation nothing gets done, no profits are made, and everyone loses their jobs. A company MUST make money or there will be no money to hire anyone. And the way a company makes money is for the Boss to set goals and the people to work together to accomplish those goals according to the guidelines and environment established by the leadership. The leadership has reasons. They don’t just make decisions willy nilly to torment their employees. If you don’t understand the reasons, ask someone who might understand, but don’t go straight to the boss and challenge them. They don’t have time for that. They’re trying to run a company and don’t have time for unteachable interns.

            Reply
          4. Nancy Q

            My message to the sacked intern …Get a grip! If you want to work in a suit and tie industry then you will have to wear a suit and tie.
            You are not entitled to know or weigh in on the dress or medical issues of another employee. In the later stages of my pregnancy, my employer understood why I was wearing sneakers to the office. Should this have been placed in the company newsletter?….. ” Sally’s feet are swollen into pods and she must wear sneakers because nothing else fits her. ”
            As an intern, you should have been focused on learning the business not what other people were wearing. This alone shows that your focus was on the wrong thing and I would have fired you as well. I want folks working for me who are interested in the work and focused on learning the business.
            This petition showed a lack of understanding of the potential special needs that some folks need to do their work, in this case a very minor accomodation(sneakers) that allowed someone to work. I don’t want someone working for me with such little imagination that they can’t figure out that accomodations will be made for employees.

            Reply
        2. Swami

          That’s exactly right. If there is someone who daily and obviously is in violation of a rule the office is otherwise held to, there are several possibilities.
          Medical reason is high on the list.
          Other possibilities are Related To Boss and The Only One Who Can Make the Farglinugalator Work.
          Also up there is Consistently Leads in Sales.

          But there is always a reason, and for these interns to assume “unfairness”, well.. at least they got a learning opportunity. Hopefully they learned.

          Reply
          1. Steph

            I love your other reasons. Mostly because I fit into a few of those categories at one of the places I worked, and was able to break dress code on a regular basis so long as the owners weren’t around. It pays to work hard, even in little ways.

            Reply
            1. Average Joe

              Well, that depends on the position that the company is in as well. In one of my jobs, we were required to wear full PPE in some areas. One guy would wear sandals and shorts in those areas and would tell management no if they asked him to put it on. Minimum punishment was supposed to be 1 week unpaid suspension, no ifs, ands, or buts. The company couldn’t really retain employees, it was to the point that other companies didn’t have training, they would just hire guys that our company finished training. Management would say just wait for the slowdown and you guys will still be working and they won’t be. Unfortunately for management, most of the guys were smart enough to realize that if they worked for 6 months and made $100k, was the same as them working for a year and making $50k but with an extra 6 months of vacation. So it was to the point that some guys just wouldn’t show up for work, they’d only show up for an hour, etc. and management wouldn’t do anything about them if they had the seniority.

              Reply
          2. Showy

            >Farglinugalator

            I Googled this word. You are the only Google result for it. You have invented a new and wonderful word!

            Reply
        3. Y'all gone make me lose my mind

          It likely wouldn’t have occurred to you on your first (or any) job to hand in a petition that says, “Look how many people agree with me that your policy is wrong” either.

          Reply
        4. KBonn

          Good point. It should have occurred to them from their experiences in school, however. There are always students–in a public school setting, in any case–who have special needs because of medical or learning issues. I teach high school, and my experience is that most students seem to assume that there is a good reason for one student being allowed to eat during class, take extra bathroom breaks, leave class five minutes early, or any of the other accommodations that a student might need. It’s just something that they’re used to seeing as they’ve grown up.

          Reply
      2. Emily

        Even if the specific reason for the other employee’s exemption hadn’t been revealed (which it probably shouldn’t have been, but wow, it was an effective way to drive the point home!), it’s almost never a good idea to go with the “but my superior gets to!” argument. I completely understand how unfair and irrational it can seem when a superior—or any colleague, really—is allowed to make exceptions to the dress code, or leave early, or work from home sometimes, but junior employees, especially interns and/or other temps, are better off assuming there’s a reasonable exemption in place.

        Firing everyone seems quite extreme. The employer could have used this as a teaching moment without dismissing their entire brigade of interns—after all, I think learning the nuances of office politics, policies, and etiquette is a really important part of internship experiences.

        Reply
        1. The Rat-Catcher

          ^All of this. Interns were WAY out of line, but this also sounds like a company who might see “interns” as “cheap/unpaid help” rather than “individuals who are not familiar with workplace norms and need to be taught.” The petition was definitely off-base, but they probably thought that a written proposal showing that they’d thought out their work and weren’t just randomly complaining would make them appear professional.

          Reply
          1. Tennto 2

            I think the interns just received an excellent education. I applaud the owners of the company for seizing on a teachable moment and firing the lot of them.

            Reply
          2. Bruce

            Most interns provide little work of value. While a few may abuse interns, in most cases the companies feel as if they are providing a service. The intern receive much more value than the company. For interns to present a petition is completely inappropriate and the firing was justified. This spoiled snowflake should file this under “lesson learned”.

            Reply
            1. leslie knope

              “Most interns provide little work of value.”

              this is both insulting to those of us who have done internships and false. this just sounds like something companies say to justify not paying someone for their work.

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I actually think that’s true — and it’s how the law says internships are supposed to work. They’re supposed to be there primarily to learn and for their own benefit, not for the company’s benefit.

                Reply
                1. WV

                  I’ve had a lot of internships and managed interns and honestly, whether and intern is doing valuable work depends on how you use them and (I’m assuming) the type of workplace. Most of my internships involved fairly important work that, frankly, wouldn’t have been done without my work. When I was managing interns I was working for an organization that wouldn’t have functioned without them. Of course, leadership development was a major part of our mission, but we also didn’t have the funding for a huge staff. For the most part, they did the job and did it well. At one point I even farmed out a major project to a group of them and, with some supervision, they did great. They got a big learning experience and resume booster, and I got a lot more time to focus on other things.

                  Bottom line: Depending on the circumstances, if interns are used correctly their work can be both a huge asset to the organization and a positive learning experience.

                2. BTH

                  The interns at the agency that I am employed at work side-by-side with experienced staff to enable us to provide critical services–we couldn’t do the work that we do without our interns, and they provide our agency with tremendous value.

                3. pescadero

                  “and it’s how the law says internships are supposed to work”

                  Nope.

                  It’s how the law says UNPAID internships are supposed to work.

                  Every internship I had as a student was paid, the intern was an employee under FLSA.

              2. David S

                With the interns I have hired, we have them for about 10 weeks, sometimes a bit longer. I sometimes will have a “nice to have” assignment to give an intern — something that, if it does not get done, does not hurt the project, but if it gets done and works, it could be beneficial.

                More often than not, I spend more time with the intern than it would to do it myself. But, that is ok. I am not hiring the intern to get things done. I am hiring the intern to figure out if I want to hire them long term. You do a good job, I will hire you and pay you a bit more. How can you tell if you are on the good side? I will put you in for a DoD security clearance. And I will officially keep you on as an employee while in school.

                In other words, the internship is an extended interview.

                Reply
                1. Bookdoc

                  I only worked for one company that took on interns and it really was an extended interview.
                  It’s a way to see if a person fits the corporate culture, can take instruction, and can follow policies. Most of the hires I saw in their training program came from interns. I thought it was a great idea as it is difficult to judge that sort of thing from a resume and a 30 minute interview.

              3. QD

                Agreed. I work in aerospace, and we commonly toss our engineering interns right into the deep end, usually paired with an experienced mentor or two. Circuit design, FPGA coding, lab testing, etc. They love it. It’s what they want to do for a living, after all. One was timed just right to go on a short site testing trip with us- get to see our stuff working out in the field.

                Reply
              4. Alex

                You can find it as insulting as you like, but interns not only provide little work of value, but are actually a DRAIN on the value of a company. Interns take time to train and always work on the most ridiculously contrived problems that interns work on the whole summer competent workers can do in a couple days. In addition to eating up resources, such as desks, chairs, computers, the most valuable resource interns consume is the time of c0mpetent workers. Taking an hour or two here and there to first explain to you the problem to be solved, as well as walking you through whatever the inevitable stumbling blocks you will stumble on will certainly exceed the number of hours it would have taken to simply have solved the problem himself.

                If value were traded for value, interns not only wouldn’t be paid, but would be paying the company, for the same reason students pay tuition: you are learning valuable skills that are used in the company for which you interened without providing anything of value to the company in return.

                Internships are used as recruiting tools. Companies are willing to take interns who average losses for the company to extend offers to the most competent who will more than make up for the losses of interns.

                Reply
                1. JWH

                  Interns take time to train and always work on the most ridiculously contrived problems that interns work on the whole summer competent workers can do in a couple days.

                  Random memory from one of my summer internships. My boss had me compiling some reports from a database. (Keep in mind this was 1994). I went through it, and I found what I would recognize today as very bad database structure. On the second morning of the project, I told my boss that I couldn’t give him accurate reports because of database inconsistencies. He told me he had confidence in me and I should work at it. That afternoon, I told him I was still having the issue, and I could use some help.

                  We went into a meeting, and I went over the problem with him (in detail). He looked at it, took my observations and went home and said he would work on it. As I recall, he seemed a little disappointed I had brought it to him.

                  The next morning, I asked him how it went. That morning’s lesson was on the value of giving up on on insoluble problems …

                2. LJT

                  Every company spends money to train every new employee. It’s part of the bargain; whether it’s service industry or aerospace engineering, new hires (or interns) get low (or no) pay to learn the ways and potentially become permanent employees. The new guy gets paid crap but learns a lot, and the business pays crap and but has to deal with the training. This is why it’s important for businesses to hire wisely and train well; it’s expensive to keep training new hires.
                  That said, can’t stand newbies in training making laughable demands and pointing to those with seniority with “well why does he get to?…”

              5. Polybius Champion

                I did have an intern once who made really good coffee. And, I also had one who was like a walking road atlas (before GPS). I’ve hired a ton of interns, made full time offers to many. But the goal was to engage in a long term interview, do some social good and get menial tasks done that didn’t require actual thinking. But for the first year of employment very, very few people provide any real value to an orginazition. New (1st year) hires I always told them a great policy was to never offer improvement ideas for at least 9 months. When hiring experienced people I asked them to refrain from making suggestions for at least 90 days.

                Reply
                1. rhucele

                  I had a six month Engineering Internship in aerospace. I worked in three different departments and added to the knowledge base in each with results used after I left. Plus I developed on my own, the concept of a laser scriber for chemical milling masks, an idea that was later put into production and patented by others. I saved the company several times my salary while being moved around.

                2. YepIt'sMe

                  @rhucele, Glad you had the chance to make an impact. But that’s the exception, not the rule. In companies where I’ve worked with interns (and when I was an intern myself), they were given real tasks that would provide real value, but which would not really hurt the company if nothing came of it. And quite often, absolutely nothing came of it. The product of their work is NOT why they were there, ever. Sometimes they did great work. If so, great, we’ll take it! But when we hire interns instead of seasoned employees, we treat it like an extended interview (we actually call our intern program our “farm”). We also do it to be good members of society, giving inexperienced people a chance to grow regardless of whether they ever work for us again. We see it as a kind of charity.

                3. Amanda

                  This is actually some really great advice! While I’m all for people challenging old systems/ways at their company, you need to sit back and learn your job and the company first. I shut up and listen for the first 6 months before trying to take on any new work or offer suggestions.

              6. Ron

                The fact is that the typical intern comes in knowing very little about the company, what it does, and how it goes about doing it. Companies typically bring interns on as a means of investing in their training in the short run to determine whether or not there would be a longer term fit. Working with a summer intern right now, I can tell you I’ve invested quite a bit of time trying to bring this person up to speed on a project and the performance study I needed done, whereas if I utilzed an internal resource, I wouldn’t have needed to invest anywhere near the same amount of time.

                In short, an intern is not in a position to add value immediately, so the statement made above is certainly not false, and is not “something companies say to justify not paying someone for their work.” It’s simply paying the for the value the intern is able to provide.

                At the end of the day, the intern always has a choice, as do we all: If we don’t feel like we’re being paid for the value we provide, look for another job.

                Reply
              7. Dana

                I work for a Fortune 500 company and we don’t hire interns to do work for the sake of work. This is done to give them an opportunity to learn about our business. It is primarily a training exercise….for the intern. We hire them to see how they will fit into our culture for future consideration. I would agree the experience is more for the intern than our company.

                This was certainly a hard lesson, but I agree with the actions of the employer. Their behavior was so unprofessional that is best to learn the hard way.

                Reply
              8. Y'all gone make me lose my mind

                Leslie,
                I think you might have read that more harshly than it was intended by Bruce.

                In our office, we don’t expect our interns to provide anything of value, and that’s absolutely fine! We do derive value from them being there, which allows us the opportunity to help them gain some experience and forces us to talk about what we do, how we do it and why. That gives us perspective outside of the day-to-day running and gunning.

                We don’t expect them to produce like an entry-level employee, but we do pay them entry-level wages.

                Also, a company’s attitude about interns doesn’t figure into it. The law is very specific. The interns must derive value and learn through the internship.

                Reply
            2. Ram Tos

              If your company finds interns to be of little value, you are either:

              1. hiring the wrong people for these internships
              2. needing to overhaul how the intern program is run and managed

              Reply
          3. Swami

            I agree, however, with all these interns being so far out of line, and so unfamiliar with norms, the obvious question is…

            Why didn’t their educators let them know?

            I’m certain the educators who “prepared” these interns considered themselves highly professional, competent individuals, yet this episode calls that into question.

            Perhaps the interns’ next petition should be: “As your brochures clearly claim that the quality of education here is excellent, based on actual outcomes we feel we are entitled to a partial refund”.

            Reply
            1. DeepThought

              “Why didn’t their educators let them know?”

              The answer to that question is simple, throughout my B.S. and M.S(IT). years, I learned one valuable lesson. Most of the Professors were left leaning and had no real world experience. If Professors have no experience in the private sector, how are they supposed to educate?

              Reply
              1. Becky

                I work at a university, and while some of what you say is true, I would also offer another reason. So many of our students today have been told all their life that they are extraordinary, special, wonderful, etc., that they don’t listen to what people who do have experience in the work world tell them — the rules apply to everyone else and not to them.

                Reply
                1. Wem

                  I agree with you. One simple question to the employee wearing the shoes, “Can I ask you why you get to wear shoes different than office policy?” Would probably have gotten a truthful answer. I also think the petition was the last in a series of issues with the interns. I also think a sit down meeting with the interns, after the first couple of issues, with some very clear language may gave helped. All I know is I’m pretty shocked at the language and attitude of young people at work. Jobs are hard to find, wages suck but if you are earning a paycheck do the job you are getting paid for until you can find better. They have a very steep learning curve ahead of them.

              2. shakemyhead

                while it may be true that many people learn valuable skills from school that they then employ in the workplace, the purpose of a college education is to increase one’s erudition…not prepare for the workplace…the place to learn job skills is on the job…that employers wish to shirk their responsibilities and pass them on to schools does not absolve them of said responsibilities…

                Reply
                1. Denise

                  No. It is absolutely not the employer’s responsibility to prepare a college graduate (or any person applying for a job) to be able to work for them, unless this is specifically a “trainee” type position.

                  They should tell them the rules of their organization, of course. If someone chooses to not follow those rules it’s not the employer’s problem, though.

              3. Snowy

                I’d ask that you leave politics out of it; both the left and the right (and the middle) have their share of people without real world experience.

                Reply
            2. Erin M.

              I’m not sure the obvious question is “why didn’t their educators let them know”? What precisely were their educators supposed to let them know?
              Not to think they were collectively entitled to access to private medical information about other employees?
              Not to jeopardize a valuable internship over something as trivial as a short-term, inconvenient dress code?
              Not to think that an intern was on an equal footing as an employee?
              Not to undermine your boss?

              These are not lessons that taught in ENG 201 The Early plays of Shakespeare; BIO 320 Genetics; ANT 330 Archaeology of China or ART 206 Graphic Design. This is common sense. There is no class for that. Nor should there be.

              I get that students may need help filling out forms. My daughter is starting college in the fall, and so YES, she needs help filling out her FAFSA, opening a checking account, buying a car etc. And as we do these things together, she’s taught life lessons like making sure she reads the fine print before she signs something, what happens if you overdraw your checking account, what an interest rate is. But she was taught when she was in PRESCHOOL not to sass her teacher. She sure as heck knows not to sass her boss, let alone start a petition over something as lame as a dress code. They were interns. How long were they going to have to *suffer* under these Draconian expectations? It would have been SO different if an actual employee had suggested casual Fridays, gotten office staff support (in the form of collecting signatures), and presented some data showing that the less restrictive attire improved office morale and productivity. That’s how adults bring about change. But these interns had collective temper tantrums.

              Reply
              1. Jerry K.

                Adults don’t go around collecting signatures, they TALK to their supervisor. If the answer is no regardless of efficiency, morale Etc, endow of story.

                Reply
            3. Annonymouse

              It depends on what the student wants to learn and is willing to hear and what experience the professors have.

              So even the most willing students can’t learn if there is no information available to them.

              Conversely even if you had a fortune 50 CEO deliver a lecture about how to start in business or office environments but the students think they know better or this common advice doesn’t apply to them there is no level of education can reach them.

              Reply
          4. Wesley Long

            If you’ve ever managed a department, you’ll know that onboarding staff is a HUGE (trying hard not to put the “Y” in huge) commitment of time and resources. For knowledge workers, it generally takes 6 months for an entry-level hire to start producing more than they cost, 1 year before you are “done” with all the training and review, and 2 years before you’re “in the black” with a hire. That’s one (of many) reason that experience is such a valuable commodity when hiring.

            An internship is generally less than 6 months, so for all intents and purposes, hiring an intern is charity work. Sometimes it “pays off,” in that you identify a good candidate before they’re done in school, and you can use the internship as a “trial” period and get training done on lower wages, but by and large interns leave at the end and the business has a “net zero” on it. You can’t assign interns to critical tasks because they’re not “invested” in the company. Their first priority is their education, and rightfully so. They also don’t plan on being there 5 years, so long-term planning and development don’t mean much to them, either.

            An internship is essentially a company investing in outreach to college students, hoping to find good talent, but doing it mainly to “give back” to the college world by giving students some practical field experience and a little “culture shock.”

            Apparently these students needed a higher voltage shock.

            Reply
          5. Emily

            Well, wait; I didn’t read “cheap/unpaid help” attitudes in the letter, and didn’t intend to imply that in my comment. The company was certainly free to penalize the interns; I just think their penalty of choice was a bit extreme. It likely taught the interns this one lesson, but now they’re missing every other lesson they could have learned if given the opportunity to learn from their mistake and continue on, and the company is missing out on the benefits lead them to run an internship program in the first place (there are pros and cons to interns, but we can reasonably assume the pros outweighed the cons for this company when they started their program.)

            Reply
            1. Phelps

              I don’t think that the intent was to teach anything.

              The intent was to cut a cancer out of the culture before it metastasized into the whole corporate body.

              Reply
              1. Neil

                This ^.

                What message does it send to the regular paid staff if a bunch of interns can get a petition together that changes corporate policy?

                Reply
            2. Ray B.

              I think the company got what it wanted and taught the right lesson. Interns are there to absorb information and lessons, not make demands of the employer. If the employer hires interns the following year, how many of those interns will make demands about the workplace environment that are superficial? How would interns approach such a question in the future? Will they learn to back channel before making public demands again? What abgreat lesson this company taught! Life is frequently difficult, hpw much better to learn this lesson as an intern rather than getting canned in your first job out of achool.

              Reply
            3. GREmployer

              They did have the opportunity to learn from their mistake: they asked their supervisors for permission to be exempted from the dress code. They wouldn’t take no for an answer, so discussed it among themselves. And escalated to a petition which was pretty much outright rebellion. Once it gets to that level, the only way to stop it is to cut it out. They didn’t learn from their first mistake, so they dug their hole deeper.

              Reply
              1. Sean

                Exactly. They asked, were told they had to comply and then said “no one tells me no” and took it to the next level. Telling them no a second time wouldn’t end the issue.

                None of us have seen the actual petition. We are told it was well thought out with valid points by the same person who thought writing a petition and having everyone sign it was a good idea.

                The amount of time and money wasted by the company to handle the issue justifies the firing, in my mind. The meeting with the interns wasn’t the only time management wasted.

                Reply
                1. Old Enough

                  One reason for having dress codes is to stop discussions and meetings about dress codes. Diverts energy and focus from the important goals of the organization.

            4. J Slone

              Like it was said earlier, the interns may have done some other unacceptable things before they were finally let go.

              Reply
          6. Dweali

            I don’t know…the company didn’t fire the only intern who didn’t sign the petition (at least as far as OP knows) so maybe the company does realize that these are individuals that need to learn workplace etiquette…and they did just get a really good lesson on it (if only they can recognize it)

            Reply
          7. Annonymouse

            But the parts that get me and show that OP was beyond saving are:

            “If they had told us about the medical exemption we would have factored it into our argument.”

            Meaning they still would have fought for the dress code changes even though the main reason for it was that one employee didn’t have to follow it. In their own words there was no argument to be had.

            And

            “How do I get them to reconsider firing me?”

            Both of these show that OP doesn’t get it – that your importance to a workplace is determined by what they get from you vs the hassle of keeping you. When you provide less value than hassle they’ll cut you loose.

            Hassle can be things like wages, work product, reputation damage, costing clients or even personal reasons / personality clashes like we’ve seen here.

            Reply
        2. Rafe

          It depends. Getting fired en masse is a learning experience. If all but one of the interns signed the petition, then all but one of them thought it was appropriate to do — and there’s really no reason to think any would budge from that view if the office … negotiated, or accepted the petition as reasonable.

          Reply
          1. Coco

            The OP is probably reading the comments, and I hope they’re not turned off by this. Calling them “a bunch of children” seems unnecessary and unkind to me.

            Reply
            1. Marvel

              I think it’s harsh, but I also think it’s probably an accurate portrait of the management’s view. OP and cohort were acting immature and childlike, and should learn from this experience.

              Reply
            2. Andrew X

              The world is not “kind”. Children who learn this have taken a step toward becoming what we call “adults”. It would be nice if our universities played a useful role toward that end.

              It would be nice…..

              Reply
            3. Hermilion

              And what made you think someone must be kind and considerate to anybody – especially to person who showed no tack nor consideration herself?

              There is one more lesson to be learned: people do not have to like you and are free to be completely inert about you or your fate.

              This is exactly the lesson that makes kids to grow up – kids are taken care of .. grown up takes care for themselves.

              Reply
            4. Jerry K.

              Well COco, adults don’t write petitions in the workplace, they talk to supervisors and most of all don’t waste time on petty stuff. They are their to learn the culture and business etiquette. I think they really got a hard lesson but will remember.

              Reply
          2. A bunisness owner

            Amen! It sounded like the boss would be managing a day care instead of interns interested in working!

            Reply
          3. David

            Nah, I’m sure that had the employer acceded to their request it would have been the last and only thing they would have ever decided they could change their employer’s policies on and wouldn’t have petitioned again. They wouldn’t have gotten the idea that they ran the place. Just like college.

            Reply
        3. CC

          I get the impression, based on the dress code and reaction, that this was a highly competitive internship in finance.

          Finance has a reputation for a cutthroat approach to problems, and I think this was one where that came to a head.

          Reply
          1. zora.dee

            Yeah, the description of the shoes: “no non-leather flats” sounds similar to UBS’s dress code, and other large banks/financial institutions I’ve heard of.

            Reply
          2. Don't Poke The Bear, Dad!

            Probably. I’m in finance and in IT, and it’s still business casual for us even though our floor isn’t client-accessible … because we all use the same elevators, and the People Who Pay The Bills have decided that they don’t want high net worth clients getting into an elevator with someone with a torn concert t-shirt and their ID badge hanging from their belt.

            I live with it because, holy hell, I know what battles are worth fighting.

            Reply
        4. Stacey

          These interns had a group meeting that involved talking about an employee and what they thought about that employee not wearing the proper type of shoes. They made that person a subject of gossip and speculation. Most places of business have rules about what you can and cannot do to another employee. This is something you cannot do.

          Reply
        5. One Short Comment

          If you were the disabled employee would you like to be working in an office where all the interns banded together to write an essay about how you dress? Who probably in their “reasoned argument” detailed your footwear? Would you feel comfortable working with them after that?

          There is a wronged party here. I think it is not the interns.

          So keep them around after they got together and wrote a petition about a specific, disabled employee?

          I feel that the employee with the exemption was targeted, or would have felt targeted. This is not OK.

          Reply
        6. Annonymouse

          The way OP has responded to the information given
          (would have factored employees missing leg into petition instead of not carrying out petition, asking Alison on how to get their job back as their dismissal wasn’t fair)

          Shows they aren’t able to take value from these lessons. One must have a teacher and be able and willing to understand the lessons taught.

          Reply
    3. Blue Anne

      The OP actually notes that at the end of the meeting they were told the colleague with more casual footwear is allowed because she had lost a leg in the military. What way to learn that lesson.

      I’m cringing for you, OP. I’m sure this is mortifying and painful for you to go through. But I agree completely with Alison.

      Reply
      1. Katie the Fed

        Dammit! I really need to slow down and read more thoroughly before I skip to the answer!

        I was so worried last year that someone would give me grief about my footwear :(

        Reply
        1. Anxa

          I worry about my footwear all the time. I have all but given up on trying to find shoes that you can wear with a dress that cover the full tops of your shoes. For quasi-medical reasons, I won’t wear shoes that can’t be worn with full sock or can’t be easily washed at least weekly.

          Even with pants, it’s difficult to find a full shoe that covers cotton socks anymore. I’ve resigned to wearing street shoes, but that means my whole wardrobe has shifted to more casual. It’s still well within our dress code, though.

          There have been times I’ve needed to dress up and mismatched my outfit with terribly too casual shoes. Sometimes I wonder if you go all out into totally casual, if it’s more obvious its for medical purposes.

          Reply
            1. Anxa

              It’s not really my style, but I have been considering eventually getting something similar. For work I’m thinking maybe a modified oxford. I wonder if I could pull off a skirt or dress with them (though I wear mostly pants at work)

              I’d like to wear more slim fit pants, but I don’t think I could go much slimmer or cropped until I figure out how to pair more with full shoes.

              Agreed that the socks don’t look bad at all in those pics!

              Reply
              1. Blue_eyes

                I have a pair of Cole Haan oxfords that I wear with skirts and dresses. Lots of brands are making women’s shoes right now in styles that are similar to traditional men’s dress shoes. Googling “women’s oxfords” comes up with a lot of results at a variety of price points and formality levels. That could be one option to look into.

                Reply
              2. Murphy

                Ankle boots and oxfords are two of my go-to shoes since an accident that severely damaged my leg and means I can’t wear heels at all. They look great with all sorts of business clothes (loafers are my other go-to, but they have no support so I can’t wear them as much or walk as far in them).

                Reply
              3. Karen

                I wear heeled oxfords all the time with skirts and dresses – but then, my wardrobe sort of skews 1940s and 1950s in style, so it works. I think some flat oxfords can work, too, especially with longer skirts.

                Reply
              4. AVH

                I have back issues but love wearing heels. I have to have comfort, so I wear character shoes which are made for dancing). They are a godsend.

                Reply
          1. Koko

            Oh my gosh, I hate women’s dress shoes for that exact reason, except it’s completely unrelated to a medical reason, I just can’t stand the style. WHY is the entire top of the foot always exposed?? It doesn’t even feel like a shoe to me!

            I exclusively wear dress sandals when I need a dress shoe because I’d rather have the top of my foot covered (which is the case in most dress sandals) and my toes peeking out than my toes covered and the entire top of my foot exposed.

            Reply
            1. Anxa

              I feel like this trend has gotten out of hand in the past few years. I almost wonder if the exposed shoe trend has contributed to the overall relaxing of dress standards in many areas (although I think most of that is marketing untailored clothes).

              My boyfriend sometimes gripes about not finding shoes on sale (I think men’s wardrobes are more affordable, but overall they are less trendy and the staples are harder to find on sale). I tell him at least he’s getting a full shoe!

              Reply
            2. Mallory Janis Ian

              I injured my foot last summer and now I can’t wear those flimsy little shoes that don’t come up high on my foot. Every time I’ve tried going back to “pretty” shoes, I’ve aggravated the injury. I guess it’s Oxfords for me from now on, too.

              Reply
          2. Nelly

            Skechers go walk can come in all sorts of styles, some quite professional, and can often go through a washing machine safely. Comfy/clean.

            Reply
          3. AnonAnalyst

            Ugh, I have this issue, too. I have Raynaud’s that’s particularly bad in my feet and it’s progressed to the point that I pretty much always have to wear fully enclosed shoes with thick socks (apparently something that there is zero demand for in women’s shoes, at least based on the styles I see everywhere I look).

            I’m not a big dress/skirt person, which makes things a bit easier, but I still find that a lot of the shoes that will meet my warmth needs look really clunky or too casual when paired with a more tailored pant and top. I’ve kind of given up because I’m not going to risk permanent damage to my feet just to wear more attractive shoes, but I’m always super self conscious of it when I go to meetings where people are more dressed up.

            Reply
          4. Sera

            Are oxfords or brogues appropriate at your workplace? I think they’re a nice alternative to ankle boots and very pretty styles of shoes.

            Reply
        1. Blue Anne

          Yeah, you’re right. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they’re going to be mortified when they read Alison’s answer, though.

          Reply
          1. M

            Speaking of mortified, mortified is definitely the tone OP should go for if they write a note to their manager apologizing for squandering the internship.

            Reply
            1. OlympiasEpiriot

              This made me think of the (offensive to my mother) Hebrew National tv ads back in the 70’s…”we answer to a Higher Authority.”

              Reply
                1. OlympiasEpiriot

                  She never really explained it to me, but, knowing her as I do, I suspect it was one of the following:
                  (1) Making light of G-d; or
                  (2) claiming G-d as something that cancelled out food safety regulations.

                  Never quite sure with her.

        2. AMG

          She will be in time. And she will have a good story to tell someone who needs to learn stuff like this. Maybe her future interns. It’s okay OP. Everyone makes mistakes. Just another reminder of how different academics are from the professional world.

          Reply
          1. Stranger than fiction

            Exactly. None of the interns thought this was a bad idea, so they’re clearly coming from a university student mentality.

            Reply
      2. Joseph

        Honestly, even if there wasn’t a medically necessary reason like “lost a leg in the military”, it still wouldn’t really be allowable to complain about it. As long as the employee’s manager (and anybody above that) is OK with it, it’s their business not yours.

        At my last job, we had a senior employee who would wear shorts, sandals and t-shirts every day during the summer. The rest of us wore standard business casual – dress pants, polos, etc – and it was mentioned if you weren’t dressed up to standard. But you know why the senior guy was able to do it? Because he brought in a ton of business and the company (wisely) decided it wasn’t worth fighting that battle with a guy selling multi-million dollar contracts every month.

        Reply
        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

          I went round and round with an employee who complained that IT still wore jeans on days when we were supposed to be business casual. I felt like there were only so many times I could say, “I am not the IT department manager, I don’t set their rules.”

          Reply
          1. CH

            My husband is an IT worker who wears jeans every day in a business casual environment. He spends so much time on his hands and knee installing computers, moving servers, and other physical tasks that he would wear out the knees on khaki pants.

            Reply
            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

              Ha! I really, really, really wanted to say, “if you want to crawl around under the server just so you can wear jeans, there is an opening in IT.”

              Reply
              1. Mallory Janis Ian

                I know, right?

                “I am not the IT department manager, I don’t set their rules [but if you want to work in IT, feel free to apply].”

                Reply
              2. NotAnotherManager!

                I have used this so many times. We sometimes provide additional technology accommodations to people who do certain work where having the additional tech makes a night and day difference in productivity. When people complain to me that so-and-so got, say, an extra monitor, I have offered to get them an extra monitor in exchange for taking 25% of the drudgerous project that requires it. So far, no takers.

                Reply
            2. TychaBrahe

              I worked one summer at a job like that. I was required to wear a skirt and pumps because the front of house was a medical office. Yeah, I’m sure the patients enjoy how professionally I am dressed while I am on a ladder running cables in your ceiling.

              Reply
            3. Not So NewReader

              My husband worked a technical job, the standard was tie and white shirt when he started in the industry. You KNOW so many ties got caught in the mechanisms. Finally they ditched the tie and the shirt could be color or patterned. But they kept the dress pants. With no protection on his knees, my husband developed chains of cysts (picture a bunch of grapes) in his knees. His one knee got HUGE.
              Likewise my neighbor has permanent foot damage from wearing heels for retail.

              Companies drive up their own medical costs and are never held accountable for that.

              Reply
              1. Marley M

                You can always quit. I don’t think an employer should purposefully or maliciously torment their employees, but if you choose to work for someone you choose to accept everything that comes with it. Maybe your husband doesn’t like the medical condition, but it seems he liked the job well enough to get the medical condition- he could have quit.

                I personally wouldn’t work for a company that didn’t offer medical benefits so I guess I hold them accountable in that way, I have skills they can’t get without offering me medical so they’re pretty accountable. To say that an employer is “unaccountable” is pretty disingenuous.

                Reply
                1. Snowy

                  You can’t always quit. You can’t always just go and find another job with comparable pay and benefits, and you’ll rarely find one that will match what your seniority at another job might have given you. Even if you do find one, you might have to move, uprooting your entire family, kids in the middle of the school year, etc.

                  A much better solution is for employers to open their eyes and not require workers to do things that are detrimental to their health if there’s a much safer, more comfortable option.

        2. Blue Anne

          Oh, I totally agree that it’s really not good to complain about it no matter what the reason. But I do think that the actual reason in this particular situation is more likely to drive the point home to the OP than pretty much anything else. It certainly would make me feel extra-terrible, if I were in OP’s position.

          Reply
        3. zora.dee

          I agree that it makes sense that there are exceptions to these things for very valid reasons, but I do think that organizations should make a little more effort to explain that to incoming interns or first-job employees. I have seen new employees get in trouble over this exact thing so many times, either dress code, or flexible hours, working from home, all kinds of little things, and I feel so bad for them. When I’ve had the opportunity, I’ve found ways to matter-of-factly explain preemtively, before I see a problem starting, because I think it’s only fair. In many college settings there just are no exceptions, all classmates are given the exact same rules, and it kind of makes sense that some young employees wouldn’t get how those things work intuitively.

          Anyway, I just encourage everyone here to consider making that part of first-week conversations with interns or very new to the workplace employees. It really could make a huge difference in helping out a young person, before they do something like this OP and get themselves in big trouble with a higher-up.

          Reply
          1. Kelly O

            But what message are you sending if you hold a group of interns by the hand and explain “Jane wears different shoes because she has this reason” sets a really bad precedent for expectations in a corporate environment, and would seem to do the opposite of what an internship should do – expose students to a real working environment so they can learn.

            There is no reason to disclose dress code deviations during orientation. Simply present the dress code – this is what it is, follow it. This is not a sociology class, it is an office.

            Reply
            1. zora.dee

              No, I don’t mean that specific other person in the office is explained. I mean explaining that there are exceptions generally, and they should not assume that they get an exception without it being specifically granted to them by their supervisor.

              Another example I have seen bite a lot of young people in the behind in a previous job was working hours. In this location, pretty much everyone worked random, flexible schedules, and after seeing people come in late, leave early, etc, I saw more than one new employee start coming in late, thinking that everyone did that. And their supervisors waited until they had done it multiple times before they said anything, and by then they were frustrated and blew up at them about it.

              I think it would make a lot more sense to just speak about it in general terms during onboarding. “You might notice that other employees sometimes don’t seem to be following some of these policies, working hours, dress code, etc. That does not mean you should assume they are still not the policy. All policies apply to you until you have worked here long enough that you can start earning some exceptions. There are different expectatoins for different postitions.”

              I think that would nip some of this in the bud before it has gone on so long that they feel like a continued pain in the butt. But of course, some people might still not get it and then, sure, cut them loose. I just think it’s worth considering talking about the general concept of exceptions with very new and young employees.

              Reply
              1. Lady H

                This is a great point. It took me until my mid-20s or later to understand that not everything has to be “fair” at work and that circumstances will alter cases when it comes to coworkers having different schedules or dress codes. But for so much of your young adult life you’ve had authority figures stress treating everyone equally…even when exceptions could be made.

                Reply
              2. Mike Schilling

                You can explain the rules during on-boarding, or you can set up your new hires to fail. I’m amazed how many of the commenters here seem to applaud the latter.

                Reply
                1. Katie the Fed

                  They were told the rules. They didn’t like the rules. So they asked for an exception. They were told no. They didn’t like that answer so they wrote a petition.

                  They weren’t set up to fail. They kept pushing something that had already been answered.

                2. Heather

                  For interns, I think that the internship coordinator at the school should be the one to give them this guidance: work isn’t fair, follow the rules, you don’t have the standing or the capital to change things, etc.

                  When I managed interns, I had an excellent coordinator at the school. Tech writing students had to complete an internship to graduate, and we needed lots of tech writing done, so it worked out well for all of us.

                  I had some great interns, and when I found one I tried to help as much as possible. I critiqued their resumes and gave them interview advice. But if the intern was, um, not suited to an office environment, out they went.

                3. myswtghst

                  That’s really not what I’m getting from the comments here. It seems like most of us are totally on board with explaining the rules (which it seems was done multiple times for the interns in the letter), but don’t feel we need to break it down for people that just because you see someone “breaking the rules” doesn’t mean you should assume you can too.

                4. Theresa Foley

                  A lot of commentators have a tough luck, too bad attitude towards this intern, and think that she got what she deserved for having the audacity to speak up about her concerns with the dress code. The lesson she learned is that an employee must never contradict management, a lesson I am sure she will remember for the rest of her career. Companies who teach this lesson to their interns should not be surprised when the company fails to develop innovative ideas and keep up with market changes.

                  I think that the company management is at fault for not providing more guidance to the interns, and their punishment is very harsh.

          2. Katie the Fed

            I could see both arguments. If they seem like a redeemable bunch, I would probably say “listen, you probably don’t realize this because you’re new to the working world, but what you just did was a really bad idea. There are going to be times where people are allowed to play by different rules, and it’s not really your business why that is, until you’re the boss and you can set the rules and exceptions. Right now, you’re here to learn and do what’s asked of you.”

            But if they seem like they’re going to be a continued pain in the butt, I might just cut them loose too.

            Reply
          3. sara

            The thing is, this is really not true in college! I teach at a university, and we provide plenty of accommodations for students with documented disabilities, ranging from note-taking services to extra time on exams, etc. etc. Of course we don’t advertise those accommodations to everyone in the class because it’s a private medical situation, but I would guess there are probably more accommodations given at the college level than in the workplace (I doubt many workplaces give you double time to complete your work assignments because you have ADD…)

            Reply
        4. Kathy

          A friend hired someone who was an extremely big deal in the IT field (he created a well-known programming language). She eventually had to fire him because he refused to wear pants. Nope, not just shorts; NO PANTS. This was a problem. He didn’t understand.

          Reply
      3. Catalin

        Worst part = (having learned the colleague had lost a leg and earned the right to wear whatever she could walk in) “We would have factored that into our argument”
        It wasn’t, “We were mortified by our assumption that if one person got an exception, the rules could and should be bent or changed”, they would have just ‘factored that into” their argument.

        LW, I’m sorry, but you were LUCKY enough to be given the opportunity to intern IN YOUR ACTUAL DESIRED FIELD OF WORK where you were exposed to cultural norms and your reaction was, “Well, these shoes suck and these people are doing it all wrong, let me draft a petition like this is some sort of social injustice requiring banding together in cohort to make our demands.” That company was showing you exactly what your future would look like in an environment where you had the leeway to make a few minor goofs and be mentored.

        Your one graceful course of action here is to write that manager (or company) a letter of apologetic gratitude for the opportunity they gave you, recognizing that you missed the entire point of the internship and you got your priorities skewed. Take responsibility as the ringleader and request that they consider letting some of the barely-involved interns return (you screwed over a lot of young people). Do NOT ask them to take you back. If you write a good enough letter, maybe they’ll consider it anyway, but do not bet on it.

        Snail-mail that letter to the company, chalk up the lesson learned, and find your next move.

        Reply
        1. Christopher Tracy

          Worst part = (having learned the colleague had lost a leg and earned the right to wear whatever she could walk in) “We would have factored that into our argument”

          Yeah, that part was concerning because once they found that out – there is no argument. The argument is moot. The employee would be held to the same standard as everyone else if there had been no medical issue, so bringing up the fact that she does have one really wouldn’t have helped their situation. There was a logic fail in there somewhere.

          Reply
          1. OhNo

            Exactly. If someone is receiving a medical or disability accommodation, your first thought should not be how to argue your boss into letting you have it, too.

            One other thing, OP, that tends to be very important in the business world: it sounds like your proposal and petition didn’t have a “why”. It sounds like you just went to them and said they should let you wear whatever shoes you want because you just want to. That doesn’t fly in the working world. Read through some of the other posts here about actual workplace negotiations – you’ll see that they are always presented with a good reason or benefit to the company. Justifying something like this with “because I want it” is really, really privileged and would make most people have serious questions about your judgement.

            Reply
          2. Anna

            I’m hoping what the OP meant was that they wouldn’t have used that person as an example of how they go away with wearing whatever footwear they wanted. I really hope that’s the case.

            Please let that be the case, OP.

            Reply
            1. Purple Wombat

              That’s what my impression was, too…OP wouldn’t have lifted that person up as an example if they knew the context of that person’s situation. At least, I’m hoping that’s what they were saying.

              Reply
            2. JessaB

              Or depending on why they thought the restriction was there in the first place, the argument would have changed to “Well Sally doesn’t look unkempt, unprofessional, etc. and the average person looking at her would not know she has a medical exemption, and nobody is complaining about her shoes, so why are shoes relevant at all?”

              I think the OP was out of line (petition is not the way to do this at all, and certainly not such a confrontational stance either) but for a long time I’ve had issues with dress codes that do not take reality into account.

              Someone working in a totally non customer facing position or at some crazy night hour in shift work, does not need to be held to the same dress standard as a (to use the banking analogy) teller or bank officer.

              I really hate places that make people who work in, for instance, call centres, dress like they’re on the front lines. Even if they have visitors walking through, sensible people understand that you don’t have to dress much more than “neat, clean, covered, not obscene (in terms of sayings on shirts,)” to do the job.

              Reply
              1. Rosie-O

                The director of “Gone with the Wind” insisted that all the actresses wear the correct style for the 1860s including undergarments. The justification–if you feel the part you will act the part. So too in a call center. Dress professional and you are more inclined to act professional.

                Reply
                1. Jonno

                  Sorry, I have to disagree with that sentiment (not necessarily you). I interact with students and parents (albeit not in person) and I wear pants, shirts, tie, and sometimes a waistcoat or even a blazer (one notch down from full on suit) and then there are times I work from home in my underwear. The quality of my work, my professionalism, my tone, and my commitment to a job well done is unwavering and unchanging regardless of what I’m wearing (or what I’m not). I don’t understand this rationale.

          3. Ad Astra

            I agree, but I originally interpreted OP’s words more charitably. I assumed “factored that into our argument” is just throwaway language for “We might not have mentioned this person at all because we would have realized it wasn’t relevant.”

            Reply
            1. JessaB

              I hadn’t thought of this read, but it does make sense, and you’re right it could easily have meant that, yeh, they would not have mentioned it because well, that makes you look really petty and bad, and it really IS a decent reason to have an exception.

              Although I get privacy and everything else, but I think managers should be able to say or should actually say, if someone complains, “We know about x, our reasons are none of your business, but they’re sufficient for us to be okay about it. That does not however mean you can do it.” Not calling out the fact that exceptions can be made, makes morale a problem because people are conditioned to want to at least get a vague answer.

              Reply
          4. Kelly O

            This is what really sent me over the mental edge with this OP. You can’t take a medical necessity and “factor it in” to your argument.

            Honestly, for that matter, why do some people get to park in the special places right by the door? I mean, if we know they have a disability we can factor that in to our argument that we should park closer.

            See how ridiculous it sounds?

            Reply
            1. Mookie

              I mean, if the original petition required this kind of “factoring” and reasoning and had the nuance the LW says it did, writing and editing it sounds like an endeavor that distracted the interns from their, y’know, job. I wouldn’t be too pleased having that rubbed in my face, on top of how presumptuous and tone-deaf such a petition reads.

              Reply
        2. Living 400lbs

          The “We would have factored that into our argument” also implies that they thought they had a right to know the employee’s personal medical issues.

          BZZZT

          No, you do not.

          Reply
        3. Artemesia

          That ‘factored in’ comment also let me to infer that they had whined about ‘how cum SHE doesn’t have to follow the rules WE do’ in their petition. Again, worst argument ever.

          Reply
          1. Barney Stinson

            I’m reasonably certain that’s exactly what they did, given the manager’s, ahem, tart response.

            Reply
    4. fposte

      In fact, it says toward the end that they were informed that person had lost her leg in the military. And absolutely there’s no reason for them to be told about that, and that’s a great illustration of why “but how come *she* gets to do it?” is a bad way of thinking.

      Reply
      1. Katie the Fed

        oy – I totally missed that! It just hit a nerve because I was so nervous about people judging me for my terrible footwear last year.

        Reply
      2. GigglyPuff

        Exactly, even before I got to the medical reason. I kept thinking, “*she’s* an employee, you’re an intern”. I can’t explain very adequately, but there is a difference between employee and interns, OP. You’re there for a short time to get experience, they’ve been there for x amount. Honestly even if you weren’t an intern, you can’t go into a job thinking you’ll get the same leeway as people who already work there.

        Reply
        1. Kate M

          One of the differences between employees and interns is that (usually), employees have been there much longer, and will be there longer after interns leave. Employees who don’t strictly adhere to things like the dress code (and get away with it) probably didn’t do that within their first few months at work. They proved themselves and their professionalism first. I know in my first year at my first job, I wasn’t late once, never delegated work to anyone else that I could do or complained about any work, and was on my very best behavior. Now that I’ve been here five years and have consistently proved myself, I feel ok coming in a few minutes late (especially when I work late), or work from home once in a while on a really slow day. But the intern who once informed me that “he was going to work from home today” certainly heard from me and others why that was not acceptable.

          You can’t prove yourself enough in the span of an internship for them to loosen the rules for you.

          Reply
      3. Batman's a Scientist

        They weren’t told about the coworker’s disability until the end of the meeting though, so it was after they’d already submitted the petition.

        Reply
        1. GigglyPuff

          I think, at least i see it this way, that shouldn’t have even been part of it though. Just because one person is doing something, doesn’t mean the rest of the office gets to. Just like in this, there was a reason behind it, and management shouldn’t have had to explain it.

          But I do get why the OP did include that rational. It’s not always something you know going into the work place. But now OP does, and can learn from it, and store it away.

          Reply
        2. myswtghst

          I think it’s a good lesson (for all of us, honestly) that just because someone else gets an accommodation we want (or would consider a perk) isn’t reason enough to ask for said accommodation, because we don’t know why they’re getting it (and it often isn’t any of our business). Even in a situation where a proposal or petition would be warranted, holding up “but Jane gets to do it” as a reason why is going to be a terrible idea 99.9% of the time.

          For example: It may be frustrating to me to see my coworker walk in “late” 9 days out of 10, but I shouldn’t assume he gets to do it just because and go off on my manager about how unfair it is that I have to be on time when Wakeen doesn’t. I should assume he either made arrangements with our manager, or is being reprimanded for his tardies, and if I want to come in late, I should have a conversation with my boss about why it makes sense for me to do so, independent of Wakeen.

          Reply
          1. Amber T

            On top of that, just because someone else gets an accommodation doesn’t necessarily mean you get to know why that is. I think management here played it right – not saying why that one coworker got to wear different footwear at first (because the interns didn’t have the right to know), then revealing why as a point to drive home (hopefully with said coworker’s permission/knowledge).

            I bet in the future, the OP and other interns there will think twice before asking something they don’t have the right to know.

            Reply
            1. Katie the Fed

              Agreed! It was the right time to relay that bit of information – to drive home how petty they were being. The only thing that would have made it better was Septon Unella ringing the “shame!” bell.

              Reply
            2. myswtghst

              Great point! I know I’d personally prefer to work for a boss who isn’t going to disclose to all my coworkers why I need an accommodation, especially if it is medical-related, without my approval, even if it means I occasionally have to give my coworkers the benefit of the doubt about their accommodations.

              Reply
          2. Kelly O

            Exactly. He might have a recurring doctor’s appointment, or even a work-related errand that makes him late most mornings.

            If his boss is happy, and he is happy, then what is anyone else’s problem?

            I liked your point of managing it independent of the other person. No two employees have the same needs, and so no two employees can really have conversations that bring in another person’s accommodations. Besides, the mature thing to do is present the reason why it makes sense for you, not whine about why someone else “gets” to do something.

            Reply
        3. Foxtrot

          It could be an experience thing, but reading the letter and seeing that it was one employee constantly breaking the footwear rule, my first thought was medical. I didn’t think it was so horrible to have lost a leg, but there are lots of things that require sturdy footwear.

          Reply
          1. Emma the Strange

            Me too, especially since I have my own medical issues that would make most dress shoes unworkable for me. Fortunately I work at a fairly casual tech start up, so it’s moot.

            Reply
          2. Queen Gertrude

            Yeah, I thought is was interesting that even reading this letter in the OP’s own words that at no point did I ever feel like I thought the employer was in the wrong. I immediately jumped to thinking “medical issue” when the OP singled out the employee “breaking the rules”. And I also thought “Go You!” when it came to the ONE intern who didn’t sign the petition because they de facto stood up to some peer pressure there when faced with everyone else signing it. Now that is an impressive intern. I would have been much more critical of the company if they had gotten rid of that intern as well. But they stood by her. I really hope that our OP is reading all of this and REALLY taking to heart all the years of experience being laid out in the comments section. We’ve all made our mistakes, one of these days I’ll share some doozies I promise! ;)

            Reply
      4. AF

        Yes! I’m trying to wrap my head around how that was the first thought – that the interns were being wronged, and not “maybe there’s a legitimate reason for this situation.” The assumption that the employer is being mean. Not to pick on the OP, but I don’t think I ever acted like that, so I’m having a big problem understanding why that was the default thought.

        Reply
        1. BananaPants

          I notice that our innovation group members routinely violate the dress code rules against jeans and sneakers. The rest of the engineers can’t even buy sneaker-style safety shoes, but because their group is fostering a “startup” culture, apparently the rules don’t apply to them.

          We comment good-naturedly on it within our group, “Did you see Wakeen in his ripped jeans and Vans?” but assume that HR is looking the other way for a reason and complaining will get us nowhere other than looking petty and childish.

          Reply
    5. EA

      I agree with you, and feel for the OP.

      I would have done it at 17/18 too… I thought that everyone was equal and people would listen to me if I presented a good case. You have to learn to sit down and shut up in jobs, especially early on. It isn’t really fair. And no one cares about your feelings like they do in school.

      Also OP- This probably won’t matter much in the long run- leave it off your resume and get another internship.

      Reply
      1. Katie the Fed

        we once staged a walkout in 8th grade because a beloved teacher got fired.

        Oh, how silly we were.

        Donna Martin Graduates!!!

        Reply
        1. Muriel Heslop

          + one million for the 90210 reference.

          As a teacher, I can totally imagine a group of students petitioning for change. Protest! Signs! We have rights! I pay your salary! It’s an abrupt shift to the ways of the world. I mean, my students can wear jeans every day and I can’t wear them at all – of course they feel empowered!

          But I am not their employer. I’m just the only non-parental understanding of authority most of them have until they reach the working world, and if they don’t know workplace norms or professionalism, this is how they would behave.

          Reply
          1. Aunt Vixen

            Heh. At my high school, there was a rule against students having food or beverages in the hallways. (Enforced in at least one instance I remember by a teacher telling me, “Get that soda can out of here before I see it.” I was a good kid, which probably contributed to the laxity on that occasion.) Principal once got up in assembly and said “Many of you have expressed dissatisfaction with the rule about eating and drinking in the hallways. You point out to me that every day you see teachers walking between the teacher’s lounge or their offices and their classrooms with cups of coffee in their hands. You’re right. This is what is known as a double standard. Different rules apply to you than apply to them. Everyone needs to get used to that.”

            Reply
            1. Leah the designer

              My high school was similar. We had a no food and drink rule in the hallways my senior year. We also had a no open pop can rule. Pop bottles were fine. Apparently, high-schoolers aren’t capable of not spilling their drinks.

              Our senior prank was for all the seniors to dump garbage bags full of empty pop cans onto the floor. We didn’t pick them up.

              Reply
            2. Megs

              Your principal sounds pretty awesome, at least in that story. I am 100% with the group who definitely feels where the OP is coming from and am reminded of some of my own early-career mistakes. Life and learn!

              Reply
            3. TootsNYC

              I heard a mom once say when her kids were complaining that DAD got to have food in the living room: “He is old enough to drive. When you are old enough to drive, you can have food in the living room.” She later realized that it was about right for her standards–that someone who had matured enough to be trusted with a car could be trusted with food in the living room.

              Reply
              1. alter_ego

                This sounds like what I tell my dog every time he begs me for people food. I tell him over and over that once he gets a job and pays for it himself, he can go out and buy all the non-kibble food he wants, but alas, he hasn’t taken me up on the offer.

                Reply
                1. Stranger than fiction

                  Same here. Then my one dog “petitions” by leaving an angry poop by the front door sometimes.

                2. Big McLargeHuge

                  Stranger than fiction: In my house, we call this act “Pooping in Protest”. Someone doesn’t like being left in the other room for an extended period of time? Poop in Protest by the door. That’ll teach us!

              2. Ife

                “When you are the one cleaning the floor, buying the furniture, and paying the mortgage, then you can eat food wherever you want.” translation… it’s my $1000 couch and if anybody’s going to ruin it, it’s me!

                Reply
              3. Barney Stinson

                My reply to ‘dad can have food in the living room’ whine: Dad can afford to replace the sofa if he spills spaghetti all over it. You can’t. When you can do that, you can eat meatballs in the living room, too.

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              4. Fashionista

                Heh. My response is, “When you are paying ALL THE BILLS, when you pay for the furniture and carpets, you can eat in the living room.”

                Reply
            4. VivaL

              To me, this isnt even a double standard. A double standard implies that both groups should be treated the same, but are not.

              A large group of less mature students should not be treated the same as a smaller group of professionals at work.

              This is what’s known as :life:

              (though I appreciate the lesson he was ultimately trying to teach)

              Reply
            5. JanetInSC

              Love this. I would explain to my high school students that I had some privileges that they did not have, and, likewise, they had privileges that I didn’t have (like wearing jeans)j. My favorite line was, “When you’re a teacher, you’ll get to do this too.” With age and position, comes privileges…earned through hard work.

              Reply
              1. Adlib

                Yes, yes, and yes to that last line!

                I complained to a coworker as an entry-level employee about being left out of certain things once. Bad move. He reported it to my boss, and she reamed me out. It was an awful thing to go through (for me – who hates confrontation), but I continued to work there and learned to keep my mouth shut. Now I’m 14 years into my career (many different jobs), and now I have the privileges I wanted as a youngster. It just takes time, and we all do dumb things.

                Reply
            6. Pennalynn Lott

              I’m feeling very old. Both of my high schools in the early 80’s [I went to one in San Francisco and one in Dallas] didn’t allow food or drink of any kind (even water!) in the classrooms, let alone the hallway. If you were thirsty, you got a hall pass to go drink from the water fountains near the bathrooms, or just slurped quickly from them between classes.

              Reply
              1. John Ringo

                I wanted a ‘like’ button for this comment. Food or drink in the hallways? You’re joking, right? The nuns would wack you for chewing gum!
                :-)

                Reply
            7. Dot Warner

              I wish I could remember where I saw this (bumper sticker? meme? T-shirt?): “Fair does not necessarily mean Equal.” If Person A earned a privilege, it isn’t fair to them to let someone brand-new have that privilege automatically.

              Reply
            8. Talvi

              This is interesting to me because at my high school, a lot (most?) of us ate lunch in the hallways. (There was a cafeteria. I don’t think I even once ate lunch there.) Of course, from what I’ve heard/seen, my high school was pretty lenient about this sort of thing in general. You could listen to music while doing seatwork, you were free to leave school grounds any time you didn’t have a scheduled class, etc.

              Reply
            9. BananaPants

              This is an argument I’ve successfully had with our 5 year old when she complains about not being able to stay up until 10 PM. She points out that I can and she can’t, and I informed her that’s because I’m a grownup and she’s a kid and different rules apply. If a kindergartener can understand that concept, why can’t these special snowflake interns?

              Reply
          2. Katie the Fed

            Also, I don’t want to overplay the generational differences, but I think there’s a trend toward treating education as customers, not students. So people expect a kind of customer service from their schools and teachers. I suspect this shapes their approach to the workplace when they start too. I can’t tell you how many times I want to say to younger employees “we’re not here to fulfill you. You’re here to work for us!”

            Reply
            1. Kelly L.

              I remember once, in the early nineties, I was ready to go to bat for this guy in my class who’d been threatened with a failing grade for an unfair reason.* This was mostly because I had a crush on him. I had this whole speech planned, but it turned out to be moot.

              *The reason really was unfair, even with adult hindsight. However, the threat was toothless. The teacher was just trying to scare the guy and never really meant to go through with it.

              Reply
            2. Anxa

              I don’t know how much of it is generational so much as school and work are different. I’m sure there have been shifts as the funding has shifted.

              You have a right, even a mandate, to be in school through high school. It’s reasonable to have certain expectations for the institution you have to spend your time in. I think there is some value in the students-as-customers thinking, although the incentives there get way out of wack so easily and that’s a whole other conversation.

              Work is different. Even though there’s a defacto mandate to work to survive, there is a chasm between what we expect from citizens and employees. Yeah, you’re expected to get a job or find capital to create your own if you want to keep eating and living in a safe environment. But you don’t have a right or a mandate to a job the way you have one to education.

              That said, I still can’t relate to the overall line of thinking that even in school certain things like this would be negotiable.

              Reply
            3. Anonymous Educator

              I’ve been working in schools for almost two decades, and there has definitely been more of a shift in both parents and students to a more consumer mentality. The teachers aren’t there to teach—the teachers are there to cater to the customers. It’s disgusting, and I hope the pendulum swings back the other way soon.

              Reply
              1. Artemesia

                My friend who spent 40 years as an excellent primary school teacher noticed this change big time. She noted that when she started teaching the argument ‘we can’t let Johnny do this because we can’t let everyone do it’ made sense to parents; now it is ‘I don’t care about anyone else, I want Johnny to have it.’ Her personal favorite was the very resistant kid whom she finally kept in at recess after everything else had failed, to get him to complete his work. (he would wander around, fiddle with toys etc during class) His mother didn’t want her to do that — why? ‘Because he doesn’t like that’ to which my friend responded ‘that is sort of the point.’

                Reply
                1. Mallory Janis Ian

                  Ha. Reminds me of an episode of that old sitcom “Mad About You” in which the married couple babysat their friends’ entitled, bratty child. They tried to make him mind reasonable standards, such as “don’t kick adults (or anyone) in the crotch” and the kid’s parents chastised them, stating, “He doesn’t like to be thwarted.” Who knew that real actual people would start acting that way about their kids!?

              2. JanetInSC

                Yes, you can’t enforce rules or set high expectations if students and parents believe they are your boss. It’s a ridiculous philosophy. (Just so you know, I fully support students’ rights and transparency with parents. We should build cooperative relationships, which is different from a consumer mentality.)

                Reply
              3. Stranger than fiction

                Totally! (from what I hear from a couple of teachers I know) Wasn’t quite so much that way when my kids were still in primary school and definitely not that way when I was in school. The parents respected the teachers authority for the most part.

                Reply
              4. Dangerfield

                It won’t. In the UK, it’s just been judged that universities must now abide by the Consumer Marketing Authority’s acts for distance selling. While students have to pay so much out of their own pockets for university, they will expect to be treated as customers – and you know what, if I’m paying £9000 a year for something, I would expect to be provided with a damned good service. The pendulum will only swing back if governments recognise education as a societal good rather than a commodity.

                Reply
            4. Anna

              When I was in 10th grade I think, a rumor went around that the Vice Principal sent a student home because they were wearing all black and it was…I don’t know. Satanic? Anyway, the protest was that everyone was going to wear black the next day because that’ll show them! The next day I remember sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch and there were a lot of students wearing black and in strides the Vice Principal completely outfitted in black right down to her socks. She was grinning ear to ear and everyone was so shocked and I just thought, “She totally got one over on all of you.”

              I don’t have a problem with protest. I don’t have a problem with students protesting something they see as wrong. I also think there’s something of a problem with telling students there are double standards in the world and they just need to accept it. Because frequently there are plenty of good reasons for the double standards and you should trust that you can explain them in a way that will make sense. It’s when you can’t explain them that the problems arise.

              Reply
              1. many bells down

                Oh, my school had that rumor too, but ours was that all-black clothes were “gang-related”. I was a drama geek, and who is more likely to show up all in black than theater nerds? We decided we were now a gang, put on all our best black clothes, and yelled “Yo yo come see a show!” at the other students.

                Reply
                1. an anon

                  This happened at my middle school, resulting in an actual ban on all-black ensembles. In response, all the goth kids started wearing head-to-toe bright pink.

            5. Aunt Vixen

              Heh. Same principal made a related point about students not being consumers, possibly in the same announcement. (It was a long time ago, so the exact details aren’t 100% with me anymore.) This was a tuition-paying private school, and there were also rules about where bookbags could be left if we couldn’t make it all the way to our lockers and back between classes or didn’t want to (or shouldn’t, such as maybe in science labs?) bring bags full of books into the classrooms. There were cubby-type bookshelves in various places where bags could be stashed, but there were also seating areas in various places where we were explicitly not allowed to leave things lying around. Ditto leaving bags on the floor against the wall outside a classroom: not allowed. This was a combined tripping/fire hazard and aesthetics issue. Principal says “A lot of you have said things like ‘I pay $[number] thousand dollars to be here, I should be able to leave my bag where I want,’ and I’m here to tell you your argument is flawed. If your parents want to come down here and leave their bookbags lying around the hallways, I guess we can’t stop them, but all of you will put things in appropriate places or they’ll be confiscated.”

              He was pretty cool.

              Reply
              1. whatsanenigma

                Personally, if I were paying $[number] a year to be in a place, I would not appreciate having to step around stuff on the floor that didn’t need to be there and risk tripping and falling all the time. And what really, really would not be fair would be if I were allowed to cause a tripping hazard to others but no one else was allowed to do that, due to the fact that everybody is paying that $[number] to be there (or has done the work to earn a scholarship), not just me, so paying it doesn’t make me special.

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            6. Pennalynn Lott

              As someone who has gone back to college very late in life (I’ll be 50 in October), I certainly see my education through the eyes of a customer, not a subordinate student. As in, I’m paying for this with my own hard-earned money, therefore I expect a certain level of professionalism and courtesy from the instructors, whom I consider to be just like any other professional consultant I hire. If you aren’t giving me my money’s worth [like the professor who had an inexperienced former student teach her class while the prof decided to go on vacation], then damn skippy I’m going to complain about it.

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              1. Aunt Vixen

                Well, indeed. You are applying the correct students-are-the-customer attitude to the situation, which is that you are paying money and are therefore entitled to a service, in this case a certain number of hours per week of qualified instruction. The incorrect students-are-the-customer attitude, which sadly is applied all too often by a nontrivial number of your classmates, is that they are paying money and are therefore entitled to an outcome, usually a particular grade.

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                1. Three Thousand

                  Yeah, to an undergrad complaining about not getting their “money’s worth,” that almost always means a good grade for minimal work.

              2. Old Enough to Know Better

                Right, but I think what people are talking about is this sense of entitlement and customer-is-always-rightism of not just college but jr high and hs. I’m amazed at this attitude among students (and parents) that it’s the teachers’ and school’s fault if a kid gets a bad grade. I went to both K-12 and college with the idea that *I* was the one who needed to prove something – not the other way around. yes, K-12ers have a “right” to an education, but they need to do the work or they won’t learn. And then they go to college and think their professors are like the housekeeper.

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            7. Barney Stinson

              I was raised by nuns, so I had no trouble transitioning to a work environment. My attitude was factory-installed. The nuns weren’t there to make me happy, and neither is my boss.

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          3. Megs

            When I was in high school, our district’s long-time band teacher retired and was replaced with this young hot-shot who actually expected us to learn music theory instead of goofing around for half of the class. No one believed he was going to actually grade those quizzes until the first quarter came around and 2/3rd of us were failing. Naturally, the band circulated a petition to have him fired. To pat my younger self on the back, I declined to sign. But not to give myself too much credit, I was mostly concerned that it was a hand-written petition full of spelling errors and I was a smug know-it-all PITA who wanted them to at least type it up first.

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          4. blushingflower

            Yeah, the teacher/student dynamic is not the same as the manager/employee relationship. I think this letter writer saw this company’s management as similar to their university administration, who would respond differently (most likely) to a petition. But universities exist to serve students; companies do not exist to serve interns.

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            1. Turtle Candle

              Yes, I was trying to think of a way to say this that didn’t play into the ‘consumer vs. student’ thing, because I think it’s not quite as simple as that. It’s more… education is for the benefit of the student. That’s the whole point of it, is to improve the student in some way, whether that’s teaching critical thinking, imparting information, enriching them in some way, training on a specific set of skills, whatever. The end goal is that the student comes out improved: more skilled, better informed, a clearer thinker, etc. That doesn’t mean that they’re always trying to make students happy (and sometimes it requires making the student do something they’d really rather not), but it does mean that the student is sort of… centered in their own education.

              So a lot of teachers, especially good teachers, are actually pleased by a certain amount of questioning, pushback, etc. It means that the student is at least minimally engaged, willing to question and interrogate until they come to a good answer, and using at least some critical thinking skills. Even if the student ‘loses’ the argument or doesn’t get their way, many good teachers will see the interaction overall as a positive (assuming the student wasn’t abusive or something).

              But jobs aren’t primarily for the benefit of the employees. They’re primarily for… well, for whatever the job does, whether it’s widget making or creating software or providing services to the poor or selling t-shirts. Good companies also consider their employees, of course, but whereas school is primarily about the student, work is not primarily about the employee. And that means that you’re less likely to be rewarded for pushback, and your specific feelings about fundamentally harmless things (like whether you can wear non-leather shoes or not) are unlikely to be a major concern of even a pretty good manager.

              It’s definitely a significant mental shift.

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              1. MindoverMoneyChick

                This – your last paragraph especially. Job are not primarily for the benefit of the employees. They are their to benefit the company and this judgement is generally made by your boss. It’s a big mindset shift to make at first.

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              2. Kate M

                That’s such a good point – instead of thinking of students as customers, think of them as the product. The school is there to create a good product – well educated, functioning members of society. That can include, as you said, allowing students to push back and debate things to develop skills.

                For employers, employees aren’t the product. So while good employers still care about their employees’ growth, it’s not the main objective.

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              3. AGirlCalledFriday

                I agree with your analysis…to a point. Yes, teachers do want students to critically think and pursue courses of discussion that explain a point or persuade. We want problem solvers and creative thinkers. However, after some time teaching in international schools, the difference I am seeing from American schools is that parents and students internationally understand that the teacher and indeed the school have more knowledge of the business of education than they do, and if something will benefit the students becoming more knowledgeable and disciplined, it is something that is encouraged. If their child steps out of line, disrespects the teacher, fails to do their work, or disrupts the classroom in any way the parents feel responsible, ashamed, and furious with their child because they dared to put their own selfish desires or petty disputes above the needs of other students and their own need to become educated and responsible citizens. In America, students expect their words to carry the same weight as an adult, they expect everything to be fun, they expect that excuses will be made for them and that there are no real consequences for bad behavior. They argue about everything, fight with each other, disrespect adults, and refuse to be responsible. Even if your child doesn’t do a lot of these, there are plenty other students that do.

                Children are inherently similar – they push the envelope, they want to fight over the best pencils, they will prefer to play rather than do homework. Children overseas are not any better than American children, but with American kids allowed to disrupt the classroom continuously and teachers unsupported by parents and administration, students are often not learning the skills they need to succeed. I see this now with a lot of people in the workforce. I think sometimes the word is often ‘entitled’, but I don’t think any person necessarily thinks that they are better or more deserving. It’s more that we are not teaching our students that everything they think and do and believe are not the most important things in the grand scheme, that fairness does not mean equal, and that it’s necessary to work with people you may not like or whose rules you may not agree with. A lot of American students start figuring this out as they get older, but some do not.

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          5. Peter

            You’re terrible, Muriel. :)

            I remember a particularly low-level/low-paid job I had years ago. I read the dress code (dark leather shoes, dark slacks, light — preferably white — shirt that is clean and pressed) and did one better: I wore a silk tie every day. Within a month, I was promoted. I performed my job well (and was informed I did it better than any prior employee, although I didn’t see how anyone could do it poorly) but I can’t help but think that my seizing the opportunity to stand out via the dress code was a factor. I chose to use the company rules to my benefit.

            That an intern wouldn’t accept a company’s culture, naively assuming that it would be up for negotiation shows that parents and educators didn’t do their collective jobs. And dismissing the OP as merely immature is overly facile, in my view. There are deeper issues here.

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        2. HRChick

          In high school, we staged a sit in for a student who was expelled.
          Ends up, he did some pretty horrible things.
          I’m ashamed I participated without thought now!

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        3. Koko

          My 8th grade year the school tried to ban students from using their lockers except before and after school and during lunch period – forcing us all to carry 3-4 classes’ worth of 50-lb textbooks around all day instead of changing out books between each class. My friends and I started a petition and got something like 3/4 of the student body to sign and stapled to it a bunch of articles about how carrying heavy books was bad for young people’s backs.

          The school relented and offered us a compromise where we could use lockers after 2nd, 4th, and 6th periods (but still couldn’t use them after 1st or 5th).

          It was my first taste of the power of community organizing…and my last. Petitions aren’t really effective 99% of the time.

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      2. Sans

        OP, you say this is your first job and I can sympathize. Live and learn.

        As I’m reading this, I am very grateful that my daughter is now working at her first job, and it’s as a hostess in a chain restaurant, with crappy bosses and some co-workers that are gossipy and/or slackers. In just a few months, she has learned that: 1)bosses can be unfair and sometimes you can speak up but sometimes you just have to deal with it 2) just because others do something stupid, doesn’t mean you have to. People notice who the mature one is 3)Not every rule makes sense. 4) Sometimes work can be fun … and sometimes it’s a huge pain. It takes time and experience to learn these rules. I’m glad she’s learning them before an internship.

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        1. Dynamic Beige

          Sometimes I hear people say that their parents wanted them to focus on their schoolwork and not have a part-time job, that top grades were more important than a work history. My parent made it pretty much impossible for me to have a part-time job while in high school. But it’s letters like this that really show how an education isn’t something that just happens at school. Working a job in retail, fast food or waiting tables teaches things you just can’t learn at home or in a classroom and I think that people who do get part-time jobs are ahead of the game vs. people like me who didn’t or weren’t allowed to.

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          1. TootsNYC

            Yeah, I really think I goofed.
            Though where I live, it can be really hard to get a job as a kid; you’re competing with so many adults who need full-time work.

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          2. GOG11

            +1 A combo of undiagnosed health stuff and living pretty far away from any work opportunities (without the ability to drive myself at the time) I wasn’t able to have employment until I had graduated high school. Things turned out okay, and I’ve developed a great deal of professionalism, but there was a learning curve there for sure.

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          3. Observer

            The truth is, though, that you still can learn this stuff without having to have a part time job in school. The only work I had in HS was babysitting and camp counseloring. But, I knew from my first day on the job that this kind of thing would never fly. So did my siblings. It’s not because we were geniuses. It’s because we heard enough from our parents about their work world in general, and specifically targeted at us, how work and school are different, for use to understand this kind of thing.

            I think that there is a BIT of a generational thing going one here, because I think that what we heard was fairly common when I was that age, but today parents are much more likely to be sheltering their kids and advocating for them no matter what (obviously there are some situations where a parent SHOULD DEFINITELY advocate, but not always) rather than telling them “life isn’t always fair; even when it’s fair you may not know enough to know it; paid employment and school are very different.”

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          4. Michelenyc

            At the time I hated that I had to work part time during the school year and full time in the summers but now I am so glad my mom made me do it. I really think that parents do their kids a disservice by not at least finding a job during the summer. Some of the fresh graduates I have interviewed have left me SMH.

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            1. Stranger than fiction

              Yeah I sometimes joke I should sue my parents retroactively for child labor for making me help out with my dad’s side business starting around age 9. But now I see how that was invaluable and taught me some professionalism even though I had no clue at the time. Every time the phone rang I would hope it was a friend but instead “ugh another client”. Lol

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          5. Joie De Vivre

            +1

            I have a friend who is a college instructor for a nursing program. She has said many times that the people who seem to do the best in the program are the ones who worked as a waiter/waitress.

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            1. Tina

              I’m a nurse, and I’ve always thought my best training – prior to nursing school itself! – was waiting tables. Teaches prioritization, how to detect the dramatic clients/patients vs. serious issues, and always keeping a positive attitude!

              Reply
          6. Ife

            I heard on our local public radio station today that only 33% of teenagers who want to work are able to find a summer job, mainly due to the still-continuing effects of the recession, down from 44% ten years ago. That first job is really important for learning basic “how work works” stuff that is just outside of the scope of formal schooling, so it’s disappointing to hear that so few teenagers are able to get that experience.

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            1. Stranger than fiction

              I’ve also heard a lot of places don’t want to deal with the whole work permit thing when you’re under a certain age, whatever the limit is these days , 16 or 17?

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            2. BananaPants

              When our kids turn 16 they’re going to get certified as lifeguards. Parks & Rec employs lifeguards year round and more of them in the summer. We also have a large amusement park with a water park in town and every summer they’re happy to hire local high school and college students as lifeguards if they’re already certified.

              The amusement park does hire a lot of local teens from the entire surrounding area for seasonal jobs in the park. It’s not hard for a kid to get hired there to do something, it may just not be their dream job.

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          7. Marillenbaum

            I wasn’t allowed to work during the school year (my mom told me that school was my job), but summer jobs were totally normal and okay. I learned that when you’re new, you get a certain amount of scut work, and that it’s nothing personal, that sometimes people are jerks, and how to treat a job like a job (as opposed to a means of personal fulfillment–nice if you can get it, but certainly not necessary). It helped me a lot when I was nervous about applying for professional jobs without any internship experience, because I could show that I knew how to do the less-than-glamorous stuff without a problem.

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          8. Lucy

            The biggest thing working throughout high school and college did for me was networking. Not only does having a job teach you a lot of things you simply can’t learn in school, it gets you involved in a more “adult” world (especially waiting tables, bartending, etc.) because you’re interacting with people who are already in the professional world. People love to help out those they know work hard.

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          9. BananaPants

            I worked very part time starting at 16, lifeguarding at the Y for one or two three hour shifts per week year round, and then during the winter when I wasn’t doing a varsity sport I taught swim lessons several afternoons a week. Working for the YMCA gave me (OK, my parents) a discount on swim team fees. During the summers I worked 30ish hours a week as a lifeguard for the city parks & rec department. I had to ride my bike or walk to work in all cases.

            While lifeguarding was better paying and probably a more pleasant work environment for a peon like me than retail or food service would have been, I still learned valuable lessons about the working world – including the fact that even if a rule or policy didn’t seem to make logical sense or wasn’t fair, I still needed to suck it up and deal if I wanted to stay on my boss’ good side. In some ways I think this was a benefit of coming from a lower middle class background with parents who have always worked in service industry jobs – I didn’t have the sense of entitlement that I see often among upper middle class and upper class kids.

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        2. Queen Gertrude

          Your daughter is learning invaluable experience. I used to envy my friends who didn’t have to work crappy jobs while in high-school or college. Now I realize how much that experience gave me a better foundation for the rest of my career. I wonder how much influence this has had on me when it came to making hiring decisions back when I was in charge of such things at my old job. (I work freelance now).

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      3. Sparrow

        Oof, I’m still relieved that grumblings of outrage at my student job at college petered out without much action. At least we recognized that complaining/arguing about recent changes wouldn’t get us anywhere and established a plan to quietly gather data/quantify and track our workload before presenting anything to the powers that be. So that was actually useful experience and we never got around to humiliating ourselves, so I guess it worked out!

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      4. MsMaryMary

        I was thinking about this too. If OP had created a proposal and petition to change something in high school or college, she wouldn’t have been punished and it might actually have worked. The workplace is not school. It is not a democracy. It is not a place to protest rules you find meaningless or inconvenient.

        So even if she was fired from the internship, at least OP learned something.

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      5. Sam

        I never would have tried this at 17 or 18 because I’m so much wiser than the OP, and by wise I mean a lazy employee who quit without notices whenever I hated a job. Youths!

        You’ll learn from this, OP, and you’ll learn from many more mistakes in your professional career because we all make them. If you’re open to feedback, this doesn’t have to be a totally negative experience.

        P.S. I once wrote a scathing article in the school newspaper about the administration moving the marching band to a different section of the bleachers during football games. They published it, God bless them.

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      6. Ro

        As a former classroom teacher, I often wondered where my students ended up and how they fared in “the real world”. I couldn’t even tell you how many parents I encountered who felt that the rules were “unfair” and always up for debate or negotiation. How hard they fought so that their child never experienced the tiniest of consequences for their actions. I was raised in a different era and even as a young teacher, I knew these parents weren’t doing their children any favors. This was the time of self-esteem where you were hurting a child’s feelings or self-esteem if they had to suffer the natural consequences of an action.

        I feel for the OP. It’s always better to learn a life lesson at a young age. Take comfort that this was an internship and not a paying job where you might not find another for a while and the rent is due. Rank/position/seniority/social capital matter and it’s so important in the working world to be able to read a situation and accurately assess where you stand. (And know that it will fluctuate throughout your career.) This involves being able to step outside of your own self and see things from other people’s point of views. It means recognizing that you don’t know everything or even much of anything (which is so hard when you’re young, I remember!). Employers are not your parents, teachers or professors and you are not the center of anyone’s universe (well, you still can be to your loved ones, your dog, etc.) but this is the real world. Your value is in what you can offer to your employer and mostly on their terms. It will often be unfair or maybe just seem unfair. It sometimes can suck. But that’s what it is.

        Reply
    6. Business Cat

      +1,000,000

      I pushed back on EVERYTHING as a student and as a young professional, and it made my life much more difficult than was necessary. I am still learning to when it is appropriate to push back and when to reign it in, but more often than not I’m better off reigning it in.

      Reply
        1. NotAnotherManager!

          Payback is hell. My best employee decided not to do some administrative requirement one year in protest (and, it WAS, in my opinion, a pointless time-waster but also the pet project of someone with their finger on the salary increase button and not that time-intensive — it was more of a hassle to protest than to just comply, particularly since I went to some trouble to arrange a more suitable/less burdensome method of compliance for my team). It was a terrible uphill battle to get the guy a raise, and I know, somewhere, my former supervisor was cackling and had no idea why because that is the exact same shit I pulled on him as a junior staff member.

          Reply
      1. Leatherwings

        Same. My parents always encouraged me to speak my mind because I was smart and driven. They didn’t teach me that speaking my mind wasn’t always appropriate, and I got myself into some embarrassing and unprofessional situations in my early career as a result. Luckily, I really did learn from those times and even though I cringe now, I learned how to pick my battles and speak up in an appropriate way.

        I’m STILL learning how to do that, but it’s gotten much better :)

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Me too! Parents who subtly rewarded me for being a total rabble rouser at school, etc.

          Oh, the things I did at 20. I was a nightmare to manage. (I think I’ve told this story before, but when I was 20, a group of us banded together to try to insist that our office hire a manager because the person who was supposed to be managing — who was deeply and profoundly loved by the head of the organization — was severely incompetent. We were shocked — shocked! — when it didn’t go our way.)

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          1. Leatherwings

            Ha! When I speak to my parents on the phone nowadays I’ve learned I can’t vent to them about work stuff because their advice is ALWAYS “well you need to say something.”

            They recently recommended that I go to the head of the board about a relatively minor annoyance. Thank god I’ve learned not to listen.

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          2. One of the Sarahs

            I send grateful thoughts to all those who dealt patiently with 19-21 year old me, all idealistic and thinking I could change the world. I blush for myself!

            Reply
            1. Jessie

              I remember taking a current events class in high school that was basically a political debate class (I’m grateful the school let our teacher get away with it.) One of the best courses I ever took in high school, but I shudder when I look back on how brilliant we all thought we were (mostly regurgitating opinions someone else had written) and how idiotic some of my own arguments actually were.

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              1. Artemesia

                I had a philosophy class in high school where I had to construct a personal philosophy (having started at Plato and read up through Wittgenstein and Kirkegaard) and then during one class period at the end of the year read it and then defend it before the class. I still have it. Best class ever. Barack Obama’s mother was a year ahead of me in the same school and took this same class; most intellectually stimulating class I ever had – changed my life.

                Reply
                1. Not So NewReader

                  Can you write more about this on Friday? (you know, whatever you feel comfortable sharing)

          3. Jessie

            I cringe when I hear parents bragging about how their kid always corrects the teacher, especially when it turns out to be about some anachronism or urban legend. Like a parent on facebook was bragging about how their kid ‘explained’ to their teacher that we only use 10% of our brains.

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          4. alter_ego

            Maybe it was because my mom owned her own business, but I never went through that phase. I was the one trying to explain to my obnoxious high school boyfriend why our English teacher would give me more leeway than him if I couldn’t turn in a paper because my printer was broken because I was nice and attentive in class, and he would just flat out tell her she was wrong, would argue constantly, and couldn’t get through a single class without suggesting that she didn’t understand her subject. So yeah, she like me better than him, and yeah, it meant I got more leeway than him.

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            1. Rusty Shackelford

              This is something I drill into my daughter whenever possible. She’s a respectful rule-follower in class, and her teachers appreciate it, and any time they cut her some slack that someone else doesn’t get, I point out to her that she EARNED it.

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          5. Anna

            I think that’s the thing, though. No matter what, you’re going to learn some tough lessons. For some it will be when to push back and for others it will be when not to. Because none of us go into the work world with all the information.

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          6. animaniactoo

            I am not sure how I managed to find the line between “school” “organized activity” and “work”, but somehow I did because from my first job, no, wait, let’s remember that summer I worked as a volunteer at the day care center down the block. There it is, that’s how I managed to find the line. LOL.

            That said, school is definitely a different atmosphere. I do remember my mom talking to me early on about what battles are worth fighting in a work context about her job, but at the same time my parents were politically active and encouraged me to be so as well. So when I told off my younger sister’s elementary school principal for a graduation ceremony that was a glorious tribute to her while the students of each class stood in place as one went up on stage to receive a diploma for the class, my parents and all the other parents around who heard it were all for it. When only 2 students in my 10th grade History class (American Government) had done their homework, everybody agreed to tell the teacher he hadn’t assigned homework. He loved it – especially in light of the particular course. Told us all he was well aware that he’d assigned it, but he loved the organization and united stand so much he’d let us get away with it. But don’t do it again…

            That kind of stuff just doesn’t fly in the workplace.

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            1. Three Thousand

              That’s really interesting. I think Americans have more of a tendency than people of other cultures to idealize childhood and want to reward behavior in children that we wish we could get away with as adults. In the workplace, where there are actual stakes, this kind of behavior simply isn’t cute or charming anymore and doesn’t fly, like you said, and it’s the kids who have to learn this the hard way.

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          7. MDM

            All the talk about fair/equitable…. I’ve told my now 21 year old son for years that “fair” is where his grandma takes cakes and pies every year…don’t feel entitled to it anywhere else…

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        2. Artemesia

          LOL I had a freshman student once whose father lectured us his professors that ‘we had a lot to learn from Sonnyboy’ and would be well advised to hear what he had to say about running our classrooms. (I am not making this up) The guy was intelligent (this was a highly selective program, they were all intelligent) but the faculty were not dummies either and he like his father was woefully lacking in interpersonal skills. It didn’t go that well for this student and his ‘high expectations of making a difference.’ This was also a program that did take feedback from students seriously —

          Interns can make suggestions about the work although based on actually doing the work and also from a position of understanding why it is done this way rather than that way; we do learn from interns. But their assumption should be that the organization is not made up of incompetents and that there is probably a reason for whatever the practice is and they should at least get to know the process and the place before they try to make changes. Odds are good that the brilliant idea you have is that last way that did it and it was dropped for a reason. Or it might be the contribution that gets you hired.

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          1. myswtghst

            But their assumption should be that the organization is not made up of incompetents and that there is probably a reason for whatever the practice is and they should at least get to know the process and the place before they try to make changes.

            OMG so much this. It’s fine to be new and excited, and it’s fine to see something you don’t understand and ask questions to better understand. But it’s not a good plan to assume the people with more experience than you are idiots and to treat them as such.

            Reply
          2. Not So NewReader

            I went to school with a guy who I thought probably had very high grades. I was super shocked to hear he was a C student. Then I realized my error in logic. This guy had people skills that were off the charts. He just KNEW how to talk with people and he could handle situations just off the cuff.
            His grades won’t matter. What he will pick up in his interactions with others will carry him through. His ability to accurately assess situations and know the appropriate response was outstanding , very seldom do I meet people with this much skill. I fully expect to see him successfully running a corporation in the future.

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            1. Corinne

              He may have been dyslexic. People with that disability are often highly intelligent and learn to compensate by developing verbal and interpersonal skills in order to survive and succeed.

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        3. Turtle Candle

          I think it’s so tricky, because of course people want to teach their children to stand up for themselves, to speak out against injustice rather than ignoring it, and so on. But it’s also important to teach them that not every hill is worth dying on, and that not every difference is an injustice. (The example elsewhere in the thread, where IT gets to wear jeans when nobody else can specifically because they spend so much time crawling on the floor and aren’t very visible to clients anyway, is a great one. Yes, IT gets a “perk” of wearing jeans when nobody else does, but that’s not because of some bias against non-IT; it’s because the job is different.)

          Reply
          1. Three Thousand

            I don’t think it’s helpful to encourage the kind of petty or self-serving pushback that people have talked about here, like petitioning to get a teacher fired because they assign too much homework or banding together to avoid doing assignments you don’t feel like doing. Kids do need to learn that standing up for yourself isn’t a good thing when you’re wrong or don’t know what you’re talking about or if your actions could cause harm. That’s a much, much harder distinction to teach, which is probably why most people just err on the side of “always/never stand up for yourself.”

            Reply
          1. Lily Evans

            After I graduated college, I had to have the conversation with my parents where I explained to them that I am not, in fact, a special snowflake who was magically going to get jobs that were way out of my league just because my parents thought I was great. I’m so glad I’d found AAM when I did, or I might have listened to them and let my dad call the hiring manager to “give them a talking to” about why I deserved to at least be interviewed. (I probably never would have actually let him do that, but the AAM post about not listening to your parents all the time was invaluable to me!)

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        4. Koko

          I had a boyfriend in high school who came from a conservative Asian culture where respect for parents was a very paramount value. My parents, like yours, had raised me to question and challenge everything. My boyfriend’s dad once witnessed me push back against something my mom had asked me to do and negotiate something different (not even adversarially, she just was missing information that made it make more sense for me to do it differently, and she agreed once I gave her the missing information).

          Yeah, he officially disapproved of our relationship after that point. He didn’t even want me in the house because I had shown I was “disrespectful” to my parents! He literally had to sneak me in and out of his house because of that one interaction.

          Reply
          1. davey1983

            If all you did was give your parents a new piece of information, then I don’t see how that is being disrespectful, nor is it ‘question and challenge everything’.

            The problem comes from how ‘respect’ is defined by the different individuals involved. Your boyfriends father falls into the ‘do what I say when I say it because I’m your father’ camp, while I (and probably many others) fall into the ‘it is not disrespect if you are polite when explaining your position’.

            I actually think your boyfriends father’s mind set can be damaging– I have a coworker, late 30s, who does anything her father says, even when it is bad for her! For example, she was buying a car a few months ago, she had a budget and found a car she really liked in her price range. Her father decided that she should have a new SUV, and that it would need all the bells and whistles for when she drove him around. She then bought the very expensive (and to be fair, it is a very nice car), and spent 4 times what she felt she could afford (putting her 10s of thousands into debt) because not buying the SUV would be ‘disrespecting her father’.

            Reply
      2. Sketchee

        I’m in my 30s and still have had times when I realize I shouldn’t have pushed back. It can vary widely on what’s acceptable between cultures, jobs and even different managers and individuals.

        Reply
        1. Murphy

          I’m almost 40 and currently playing a “should I/shouldn’t I” game in my head on something work-related.

          Reply
      3. Nikki

        I regret all the things that I *didn’t* push back on. I regret not standing up and saying something when I wanted to. I will always push back going forward and I’m never ever gonna lose that idealism when I get older.

        Reply
    7. AdAgencyChick

      “I agree with the recommendation that you reach out and apologize for your behavior.”

      Me too. There cannot be even a whiff of “and please give me my job back” in the apology, either.

      Reply
    8. Turtle Candle

      Yeah, one of the things about exceptions made for unusual circumstances is that often it would be inappropriate for you to get a complete explanation for the “unfairness.” It may be a medical issue that the coworker doesn’t want disclosed, or a personal issue that is quite simply not the boss’s to reveal, or etc. It can be frustrating, but that’s why sometimes you just have to accept “her circumstances are different.”

      I learned this (second-hand, thankfully!) years and years ago when I was at a job that required coverage, but one of our coworkers was given unprecedented flexibility for a short period of time. We were told that it was a temporary situation (which turned out to be true) and that there was a reason for it, and the bosses worked pretty hard to spread the load so that none of us were unduly overburned by it, but they didn’t explain what the reason was. For most of us, that was sufficient, but one coworker couldn’t let it go and was intermittently passive-aggressive and snarky at and about the person with the new flexibility… until finally one day she, I guess, snapped, and said wearily, “Well, I’d be happy to do a full work shift tomorrow if you want to take over my shift at home caring for my dying father. It’d be a relief; it’s really wearing my brothers and me out.”

      It certainly was an important lesson to me.

      Reply
      1. PM26

        Live and learn and all that but it still strikes me as extremely odd that it would not have occurred to anyone in this entire group of interns that there might in fact be a tangible reason for the exception they saw. I do not have much personal experience with office environments myself, much less formal ones. Even so, if I were thrust into the sort of formality described here where the rules were obviously being enforced, and I saw ONE person deviate – I would not need decades of professional experience behind me to think that, hmm, maybe I don’t have all the information here. I know it may be rude to say, but there are certain types of intelligence that seem to get entirely overlooked in business. Was firing too harsh? I mean, maybe, but if OP was looking for experience, they definitely did get some. They are interns, still in school, and can simply leave this off their resume and no one will ever really have to know they fumbled it. Hopefully, they take away the right lessons.

        Reply
        1. Three Thousand

          If they did think there was a reason for the exception, it was probably an irritating detail that would only get in the way of them getting what they wanted.

          Reply
    9. Jay

      ” I was hoping to gain some experience before I graduate next year.”

      You did.
      Whether you learned from that experience is still unclear.

      Reply
    10. AF

      As soon as I read about the employee who “got to” wear flats, I knew the story was not going to end well. OP, I am trying to be compassionate, but this is a big lesson in not assuming things, not expecting that you deserve an explanation based on those assumptions, and not feeling entitled that you can just get your way because you all speak loudly enough. I thoroughly hope you take all of this to heart.

      Reply
    11. Jim Roam

      A job and an internship are not a right…..they are a privilege. You should show a little more gratitude for the opportunity rather than get so bent out of shape on superficial matters. The education that you….or most likely your parents or the tax payers paid for did you a complete disservice. Your social justice approach to getting your way will not lead you to success in the work force.

      Reply
    12. ThePugLife

      Rule #1 in office culture: don’t be a busybody. Don’t concern yourself with your colleagues’ dress, hours, equipment, vacation days, sick leave, etc. All that stuff is between the person and their manager.

      Reply
    13. Mike G

      These kids learned the most important lesson about the workplace.

      If your peers are about to submit a petition to the boss, be the first one to your supervisor to say “Hey, I just want you to know there’s a lot of grumbling about the dress code and you’re about to hear about it, and I totally disagree with it and really value everything I’ve learned here, especially from you, and I really value you as a mentor, so I did not sign it and I hope to have the opportunity to continue here.”

      Never too early to learn the Eddie Haskell approach to the workplace.

      Reply
    14. CShort

      I thought I’d comment about your thoughts on negotiating. I agree that not everything is negotiable, but I believe that everything is potentially open to negotiation. If I didn’t like something about a job offer or would prefer something changed, I would ask about it. Generally the worst anyone will do is say no as long as you’re not an idiot in how you go about (like these “kids”.)

      I will say the reaction you attribute to your boss puts him in a bad light unless you’ve been ha ranging him over something and bringing the same disagreements up again and again. One of the reasons to hire someone is to get their expertise and opinion. If people working for me never push back when they think they have a better way of doing something and never contribute to making things better, they become interchangeable cogs and that’s not what a good employer will generally look for in an employee.

      Reply
    15. An Internship Coordinator

      I feel for you as I’ve been an internship coordinator for a university, and I know how hard those jobs are to get. In addition to all of the comments above, I want to say that dress itself is a learned communication behavior. I teach it to my own students. Companies design their policies to fit their identity and culture. It’s important to learn how to dress professionally for the work culture in which you find yourself. This was a great chance to get experience doing it. I have known interns who stepped into offices that demanded stockings, skirts and heels. I worked with a company that would not permit denim or chambray in any article of clothing. I knew one that did not permit piercings beyond ears. Another insisted that tattoos must be covered. I knew one that would end an interview if a woman walked in with open-toed shoes. I myself set up a rule with my student workers that included no jeans, shorts, t shirts or flip flops, because I wanted people to feel the difference when they were coming to work. The age of jeans and t shirts has arrived at some companies and in some industries, but for many, there is a deep pride in being formal regardless of who sees you from the outside world. Dressing up makes some people feel different. It’s like putting on a uniform to compete in a sporting game. So when the petition was signed, you weren’t just pushing against a rule about appearance, you were pushing against an established identity. As the respondent said, it’s not the place for interns to try to change an established company culture.

      Reply
    16. Vanessa Van Schoick

      Chalk it up for experience. You learned a valuable lesson young. As a teacher the advice we give to newbies is, Do not disagree with administrators until you are tenured. I have worked with many interns and newbies and the admin prefers the ones that are agreeable and smile no matter what. I am not saying it is right, but the system is very political.

      Reply
    17. DevilwearsPrada

      I would’ve done the same thing the company did. Hopefully, the interns learn from this experience.

      Reply
    18. Financial Samurai

      AskManager.org’s response is SPOT on. Signing a petition? Really? I know one thing, none of the interns will get a job there, and many will have a tough time getting a job in the industry b/c industries are SMALL. Competitors talk.

      The best is to apologize, say you understand, and hope enough time goes by to live and learn.

      Sam

      Reply
    19. D Hughes

      Appropriate to fire all them! How many interns did not get the job?, and they abused their privilege and lost the respect of a potential future “real job” employer. It was very smart of the ONE person to not sign the petition. WOW- who ever thought the idea was a good one should be growing up real soon or face low wages and unemployment.

      Reply
    20. Vicki

      Oh, Katie, that was a bad manager you had.

      EVERYthing at work is open for discussion. You may not get what you wanted, you may not “win” or change minds, but discussion should never be shut down.

      Reply
    21. Bob K

      Unless there is more to the story (like the wording of the petition, for example), and there might well be, this was a brutal overreaction by management. They ought to be ashamed of themselves (unless there was more to the story). A simple no and perhaps, as the moderator suggests, a stern meeting and warning would have been enough. The interns could have been made aware that their method was inappropriate, and they could have been put on notice that further out-of-norm behavior would be penalized (e.g., by firing).

      Reply
      1. JR

        It sounds like both the writer and the other interns were already told NO by multiple managers. But they decided not to take no for an answer…write a proposal AND sign a petition. For a Summer Internship!? They should have been focused on learning for 3 months and got very distracted by trivial matters.

        Reply
    22. Matt

      The colleague who was wearing sneakers was a military vet who’d lost her leg and was given an exemption.

      Reply
    23. Vee

      Your supervisor wouldn’t have told if there was a medical reason because that is an invasion of the other employee’s privacy and the other employee could have sued the company if they had. Most likely your supervisor would have just been told they could not enforce that part of the dress code for the other employee or take it into account for performance reviews with no explanation other than HR told them not to. Only certain employees in HR who have been certified would know the reason.
      Just because you see one person do something at work, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for you to do so. If they were not following the dress code this was none of your business as it would be dealt with by the supervisor or HR. Your job was to abide by the rules for the duration of your time as a guest and a student and to make sure you did your assigned job to the best of your ability.
      The group was fired because you all made an ill informed decision to ask for an entitlement while in someone else’s business. The only one of you who showed any good judgement in this situation was the one person who recognized it for the train wreck it was and refused to sign. I would have fired the whole lot of you because you were obviously unable to follow a simple set of guidelines. You not only owe the company an apology but ever other intern you talked into signing your petition.

      Reply
    24. Jill

      I agree with this but would like to make a point.

      As an intern a person fresh to the working world has much to learn, but ahveing accepted interns at all surely companies understand this.

      The company was right to call the interns together but I believe that as newbies they should have been told that they were out of line and the workplace does not work like this.

      If you don’t want to train interns don’t sign up for them. This was a faux pas and the company should have taken on their instructive role. They didn’t. So now they have to find a whole new stack of interns instead of simply teaching their ex-crop the proper work dynamic.

      I just love how many older people deride youth for being clueless about ‘the real world”. They may well be, but that’s why they go somewhere to learn – and the company – and those who deride interns – fail by criticising not teaching. Interns are not headhunted treasure workers, they are in effect apprentices and companies need to understand that they have to teach work culture as well as tasks.
      Were these interns working for free or for payment?

      Reply
    25. Ron

      One thing I believe you failed to address, any new employee is expected to aid the company in the business of that company. To start to compose an argument about their dress code could never be considered a good way of spending your time. How much of the time of these interns was spent on drafting this document? how much time was wasted by management in even considering the easiest course to deal with this? Otherwise productive employees, like the managers, had their time wasted.
      Even a minimum wage job, time is money. Please consider not wasting that time in the future. The faster you as an employee can become an aid to the objectives of the company, the better the company will succeed. Hopefully, as the company succeeds the employees will share in the success and profit.

      Reply
    26. Sundar

      This is strangely similar to a case we had at our consulting firm. 5 young ones were recruited. All 5 were fired for one reason or another within 6-12 months. They chose to exploit the fact that they all joined the company at the same time to form a girl group of sorts and collectively engage in activities which constantly violated the professional standards. They were such a pain that some staff named them the “bloody Spice girls” after the British band ‘Spice Girls’. They engaged in a whole range of activities from exchanging sexist/homophobic jokes via email to endless giggles to Youtubing at work to long group lunches and defying dress standards. The company tried to break the habit by training them (despite the fact they were already subjected to an orientation programs like everyone else) and subjecting them to a series of warnings. At a counselling session one of the 5 told the HR manager that she doesn’t mind getting fired if it came to that because her dad owns a Golf store and she could work there!. The practice manager was a patient man and chose to reason with them and train them. But all efforts failed in the end. Sad how some people just throw away opportunities because of their resistance to become more self disciplined for their own good.

      By the way I do not believe it is purely a generational issue but anecdotally everyone seems to think millennials are the worst.

      Reply
    1. Artemesia

      LOL. I am getting the vibe that this entire class of interns may have been viewed as immature PITAs; it sounds like there was a lot of high dudgeon about ‘someone being allowed to wear flats not of leather’ which meant a lot of gossip and non work oriented fussing. ‘It’s not fair, how come she gets to do that and I don’t’ is rarely a very compelling argument in the workplace and especially for interns who have no status and no right to demand workplace change. The exception of course is where it is safety related or involves exploitation of the intern. A good internship is a good learning experience and that involves a contract — even if oral, although preferably not– that makes clear what tasks will be performed that support learning. If THAT were seriously violated e.g. the interns were doing only scutwork and not projects they contracted for then push back is warranted — but still never ever a petition. This was a good learning experience of course and one hopes the gang will take away some organizational smarts from it. Tough way to learn though.

      Reply
      1. Bwmn

        As is often mentioned in regards to extreme dress codes, there are still offices in DC where women are expected to wear pantyhose during the summer. As someone who works in DC, that sounds like utter hell – but it also is what it is. And if anything internships are a great chance to learn that.

        But yeah, most dress codes – be they silly or otherwise are also usually something that offices and HR teams really don’t want to deal with at the best of times. Let alone with a large group of perceived unhappy interns.

        Reply
        1. Anna

          I work in an education/training setting and students frequently talk about how they want to revamp the dress code and every time staff has two thoughts. “Ugh, what a hassle” and “That is unlikely to never going to happen.”

          Reply
          1. Bwmn

            Exactly – not to mention our office’s HR recently went under a major dress code re-evaluation, and to be frank the end result was barely different. Maybe one or two tweaks that I notice, but it still took our HR team months of process, and it’s hard to imagine anyone was exactly excited with the process.

            For better or worse, I think that dress codes are largely established because HR/Management doesn’t want to have to tell staff what they should/shouldn’t wear. No matter what dress code, there are always going to be outfits inside the dress code that are completely business inappropriate and similarly outfits outside the dress code that are completely business appropriate. But having conversations on how people look and what they wear is always uncomfortable and I think dress codes are there to hide behind those discussions.

            Reply
            1. Artemesia

              I have had to have these conversations. I was the highest ranking woman in management in my organization and so got tasked with dealing with women employees inappropriately dressed. Such fun. I do understand why blind rule following is easier although the result is that the person who doesn’t practice hygiene still stinks and the person with trashy clothes still is wearing them. Managers gotta manage.

              Reply
        2. Lea

          I had to wear hose and closed toed shoes at a job in DC one year. (and I was working for a hotel, including another hotel 3 blocks away so there was a fair bit of walking between the two, in summer heat). It was not pleasant but it was a job.

          I wasn’t an intern but I sure knew they wouldn’t change the rules for me. These interns were stupid. They complained once and then when they didn’t get their way they got a petition together…I’m thinking the manager was highly ticked off that they didn’t accept the first no, for starters, and that they made them explain the medical exception for someone they probably actually liked who they knew had lost a leg was icing on the cake. Not surprised they were fired!

          Reply
      2. Amber T

        Anytime I hear someone complaining “it’s not fair!” (including my own little voice in my head), I think of Louis CK’s show. I never actually saw it, but pictures have popped up enough on my tumblr to make me really stop and read it, and appreciate it. His daughter(?) complains something isn’t fair because she didn’t get one, and he responds –

        “You’re never gonna get the same things as other people, it’s never gonna be equal. It’s not gonna happen ever your life, so you must learn that now, okay? Listen, the only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”

        This was a wake up call for me in the professional world.

        Reply
        1. DeskBird

          Whenever I hear someone say “It’s not fair!” I think of Sarah in Labyrinth – who after yelling it throughout the movie finally concludes “No, it isn’t. But that’s the way it is.” So many lessons and such good songs.

          Reply
          1. GirlBob

            I always mutter to myself in my head after I think it —

            “You say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

            It does help pull things back into perspective.

            Reply
        2. Liz T

          You should watch at least that scene for how woefully unpersuasive his daughter finds it. It’s brilliant. (I think it’s the first scene of the entire show?)

          Reply
          1. nutella fitzgerald

            You mean I shouldn’t be closing my unsuccessful negotiations with “Can I have a calcium chocolate?”

            Reply
        3. neverjaunty

          I have to say that this routine and variations of this routine piss me off to no end. Sometimes things really are unfair and you should speak up about it.

          Reply
          1. Ife

            This is true on the broad scale, but in the realm of what little kids think is unfair… this is a totally appropriate answer 90% of the time [based on what I read here. I have not seen the whole routine]. The greatest injustices of my youth were things like “She got a pink one and mine is not pink!” and “He gets to stay up half an hour later than me!” and the great and relevant-to-this-letter, “Neighbor girl who goes to the public school gets to wear blue jeans EVERY DAY.” Kids definitely need to learn that “not fair” is different from “great injustice/systematic inequality.”

            Reply
            1. Queen Gertrude

              Exactly! People are always so quick to conflate “not fair” with “unethical” when often times life is just not that simple. And like the OP’s letter, the details of the case sample she wanted to use to prove her point was not only none of her business before they tried to make their case. It was still none of her business after. Honestly, OP is lucky to have gotten any clarification at all.

              Reply
            2. neverjaunty

              Yes, they do. And they can’t learn that when the response is always “life isn’t fair” or “don’t worry about unfairness, worry about yourself”, rather than simple and age-appropriate responses (like ‘he gets to go to bed later because he put all his toys away’). That is exactly how people grow up unable to distinguish between trivial differences and actual unfairness, and think that a petition is the right response to ‘no sandals at work’.

              Reply
              1. Queen Gertrude

                You seem to be making the assumption that all situations are being handled the same way 100% of the time. I can’t imagine why you make such a broad assumption. Most of the time kids (and even adults) cry “That’s not fair” and it’s over petty issues. Other times the complaints are valid, and deserve to be taken at varying degrees of seriousness. Why assume the worst in parents and people that they would automatically be dismissive? To me this quote shows that a parent is trying to teach his child the difference between a real problem and an inconvenience by pointing out that this isn’t a real problem.

                Reply
        4. Pennalynn Lott

          I have often snarky-joked that Boyfriend’s tombstone will read, “It’s not fair!” because that seems to be his go-to in life.

          We were once visiting his parents and his young niece and nephews were there at the same time. His mom served prime rib for dinner. Instead of just enjoying a nice meal, Boyfriend (who was 42 at the time) waspishly said, “**I** never got to have prime rib when **I** was a kid!” I sat there, aghast. Luckily, his mother replied with, “Well, your father and I never got to have prime rib when you were a kid, either!”

          Reply
        5. Not So NewReader

          My saying that I have used in a couple of heated moments is: “Life is not fair. Don’t look for it. It’s not there. The only fairness there is, is the fairness we GIVE. Do not expect to GET fairness. You will be much happier.”

          I get a little tired of “It’s not FAIRRR” because the problem with fairness is that people think that means “sameness” as in we all get the same thing. Now this could crash right into laws about protected classes and protected people, we are not all the same. Period.

          You know, once I dropped the expectation of fairness, I then learned just how much I truly DO have. And there are many people out there who have situations that are disturbingly and wildly UNfair. It’s wise to go help those people.

          Reply
      3. Hooptie

        I don’t know about anyone else, but if these were paid interns, as a manager I wouldn’t be happy that this proposal/petition is what they spent considerable work hours doing instead of value-added work. It’s a case of poor judgement and learning at the University of Hard Knocks, I guess.

        Reply
        1. vivi

          Very apt and perceptive comment, thank you. I recently attended a university graduation ceremony and only one of the six speakers had practical advice for the graduates – ‘arrive first and leave last.” “There are no stupid jobs, just stupid people.” The other five speakers were all talking about social justice and being a change agent and the value of disruption. I wouldn’t hire any of those kids on a bet.

          Reply
        2. One of the Annes

          This. The person had an internship at a good company in the field (s)he wants to work in, and this is what she chose to devote time and energy to in that internship? What a waste. (S)he could have been learning something valuable about the field or making connections or concentrating on doing stellar work that would lead to a great reference.
          I would have fired this person just for wasting time and energy (and other interns’ time and energy) on this crap.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            I tend to agree with the firing.
            They were not asked to write a dress code policy proposal.
            They were not asked to write ANY policy proposal.
            They were invited into that company under a very special and limited circumstance.
            It appears they used company time and company resources to do this task that was not assigned.
            They spent time rallying others into agreement.
            They encouraged people to argue with management on a group basis which assumes they needed the safety of numbers because they did not trust management to handle a one-on-one conversation.

            And then as others have pointed out, the idea of rewriting the policy in light of new information, shows a failure to grasp the policy should never have been written in the first place. No one wants a rewrite, just like they did not want the original.

            Reply
  2. Leatherwings

    Aw. Yeah, I would consider this a valuable lesson learned. I agree with Alison that firing everyone was over the top, but petitions and formal letters just aren’t the way you get things to change at work. And interns (or pretty much any entry-level folks), probably shouldn’t be trying to change things like this at all. Not until you’ve established a good reputation for working hard and being reasonable and flexible.

    I also think this is interesting when compared to yesterday’s letter about unshaven legs. In certain environments, you just need to read the room and make sure you’re going with the crowd regardless of how silly it seems or else you risk your reputation.

    Also a good lesson in not comparing your situation to others, like the former soldier, because you just never know what others’ situations and accommodations are.

    Luckily OP, this was just an internship. If you take this lesson and apply it at your next internship you have lots more chances.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Tracy

      I agree with Alison that firing everyone was over the top, but petitions and formal letters just aren’t the way you get things to change at work. And interns (or pretty much any entry-level folks), probably shouldn’t be trying to change things like this at all. Not until you’ve established a good reputation for working hard and being reasonable and flexible.

      This. They’d just gotten there and aren’t even full-time employees, and they started a petition over footwear of all things. That’s really not the hill to die on ever, OP.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        I don’t know if I would have done it but I think firing everyone was exactly the right thing to do. Would you want to hire any of these people? If not, why waste your time on them when they have already proved to be disruptive and annoying.

        Reply
        1. Christopher Tracy

          True. But I’m thinking about the lone intern who didn’t get fired. Is she now tasked with picking up the slack of the remaining interns who were let go? I probably would have kept the others just so we wouldn’t run the other intern ragged, and then gave the rest a failing grade (if the internship was for credit) and advised their school they would not be rehired. Ever.

          Reply
          1. TootsNYC

            well, in my company, interns aren’t supposed to be doing crucial work–especially if they’re not paid.

            That’s what employees are for. Interns are not free labor–they are here to learn. If the hands-on chance to learn turns out to be a little helpful, that’s gravy.

            Reply
            1. Christopher Tracy

              But even non-crucial work adds up. If I’m the lone intern who didn’t sign that petition and got to keep my internship, and now I’m running errands all day that could have been spread out amongst other people, to the point where I’m probably not even shadowing the folks who are actually doing the higher-level stuff, I’d be pretty annoyed.

              Reply
              1. Queen Gertrude

                From they way the OP’s letter was worded, it sounded like each intern had a manager that they were shadowing. So I highly doubt that that one intern is taking on the work of all the other interns. Also, the summer JUST started and I’m betting they all got this internship through their university which likely has a long list of applicants just waiting to take their place. I’m sure the spots will be filled in no time. Despite claims to the contrary, there are still plenty of people vying for these gigs.

                Reply
                1. Christopher Tracy

                  So I highly doubt that that one intern is taking on the work of all the other interns.

                  I don’t – I’ve seen it happen. And as for whether the company will get new interns right away – maybe. Personally, I have a hard time believing they’d request more interns from this particular school (if they all came from the same place/program) given what transpired with the ones who were fired. But maybe there are other students who are getting a late start/placement from other schools they can use. Who knows (I really want a letter from the surviving intern now).

        2. Anna

          Eh. I don’t know. It kind of smacks of an overreaction. Chances are good they knew who the instigator was (the OP) and they could have fired her, had stern talks with the other interns, and gone about their business.

          Reply
          1. AnotherHRPro

            Actually firing them over this could have been the best thing for the Interns. Maybe they will all learn from this. There are consequences for actions and your employment is not guaranteed.

            Reply
            1. Dynamic Beige

              It will be interesting to see if there’s an update on this one. Because once these interns get back to class and it gets out what they did/what happened, it’s not just these interns who will be learning something. I imagine a whole bunch of other young adults are going to be brought up short by this (not to mention what the teachers are going to think about it). Whether it’s the ones that know better or the others who didn’t complain about _______ but wanted to. After all, if you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.

              Reply
        3. Jadelyn

          Because it’s not a waste of time necessarily – I think it depends on how you look at it. If your primary concern is with being able to hire someone out of the internship, sure, firing makes sense because why spend the time on it? But given that these kids might well have had the potential to be high performers who just needed a wake-up call about the realities of a professional workplace, I think firing the whole lot of them is a straight-up waste of what could have been a learning experience for everyone involved.

          Reply
          1. Amber T

            I think the firing was the ultimate wake up call that company could have given them. I agree that it was harsh, and I’m with Alison that there was probably more reasoning behind it than just this petition. But here’s a really good example of an immediate consequence of a decision they didn’t fully think through. I don’t think the OP or any of the interns are ever going to make the same mistake again.

            Reply
            1. Jadelyn

              I’m not sure I share your confidence regarding not making that mistake again – at least from the OP, it sounds like either it wasn’t well-communicated or well-understood how their behavior was inappropriate (for example, the scare quotes around “unprofessional” when describing their behavior). So I’d be concerned, based on what the OP said and how they said it, that the lesson learned here wasn’t “spend your social and political capital wisely in the workplace, only on things that you have the standing to push back on, and for the love of god don’t do it as a freaking intern” so much as “expect employers to abruptly and unjustly fire you if you ever attempt to be proactive at work”, which I’m not sure is a lesson that’s helpful for them to have learned.

              Reply
              1. sunny-dee

                I think it’s the OP missing the point, though, not a problem with the employer. When someone tells you you had shockingly unprofessional behavior, just believe them. There’s no hidden message.

                Reply
              2. Not So NewReader

                If OP missed the point the first time around, I think the comments here will fill in the gaps.

                Reply
      2. Edith

        And it wasn’t even just demanding a change in the dress code– it was demanding a change to the rules on the basis of “well that guy gets to break the rules!” The gall that takes is astonishing.

        This is a lesson everybody learns in the workplace– you don’t know what’s going on with other people, and you don’t get to assume they’re breaking the rules or getting away with something. The person you’re incensed with for leaving an hour early everyday might be working on a special project off campus. Or she may have permission to leave early to make it to night school if she works through lunch. Or she may be coming in on Saturday to make up the hours. You don’t know. It’s not your right to know. And it is therefore not your right to be upset about it. Luckily most of us learn this lesson when a superior talks sense into us instead of getting the boot. But then again most of us don’t write workplace petitions.

        Reply
      3. LadyMe

        Recalling my intern days (which were not that long ago) I could see an intern being in the mindset of the dresscode *isn’t* a hill to die on, so management won’t be terribly invested in forcing the interns to do it their way and may in fact be open to changing the policy. Especially if it gets combined with the thought of “Wow, these people are stuck in the past. Who on earth wears suits to work anymore?” Then you become the helpful new young person who is informing management about new things (see all the career advice that tells young people to be social media gurus to get hired!) and the petition shows that you are not the only young person who thinks this way, therefore you are correct about the outdated norms! You get to be self-righteous but also helpful!

        Obviously, this is a very wrong mindset, but it’s a seductive trap to fall into.

        Reply
        1. Three Thousand

          I’m starting to see people like this trying to break into my field and it’s pretty galling. They want to talk over you and insist they know more than you with their zero years of experience and tell you how to do your job, because someone told them experience and knowledge don’t matter and you get ahead in the world by bullshitting people. Meanwhile I’m shaking my head at them and trying to get away.

          Reply
          1. John Ringo

            Field Marshall Viscount Sir William Slim, OBE, mentions more or less this same exact attitude frequently displayed by young lieutenants during his time as an Army commander in Burma in World War Two. (Albeit without the condescension.)

            In the military the phrase is ‘Young dumb and full of…it.’
            :-)

            Reply
    2. Isabel

      I would have fired them. It’s just much more trouble than it’s worth. What Allison said about thinking you know better is an important point to grasp, but also – best case scenario – several interns took up supervisors time with trivial questions about the dress code, and the petition took up more time, and editing and redistributing your proposed revisions would be more time. As an intern you are there to work and learn. What if every minute spent discussing, complaining and passing around the petition had been spent, say, looking around to see if there was something you could help with (data entry? refilling the printer? anything!) or perhaps observing part of workflow and taking notes for yourself.

      Reply
      1. Leatherwings

        Yeah, I see why they did it. I see the logic behind the firing absolutely, but I do think that since it’s a bunch of interns rather than employees a stern “final warning” conversation would have been fine. What’s done is done I suppose.

        Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        And how much energy are we going to waste going forward while all the interns grouse about how unfair it was, etc.? Interns can be a lot of work. It doesn’t need to be harder!

        Reply
      3. Pwyll

        I pretty strongly disagree. OP was 1,500% wrong and should be mortified, but the company shouldn’t have fired them en masse (unless, as Alison points out, there were a series of other events that precipitated this).

        Businesses need to be aware that bringing on interns (especially if you have more than one or two) is supposed to be a learning experience. The whole reason some internships are allowed to be unpaid is because teaching the interns how to function in a professional work environment is going to take up significant amounts of the time of supervisors to explain trivial questions. It’s literally the entire point. In exchange for taking the time to teach students, companies get both the goodwill and a pipeline to identify future entry-level talent.

        Assuming there weren’t other significant attitude/behavior problems, or that the company simply didn’t realize the time it was required to put in to train the interns, the company squandered a teaching moment here. The students definitely learned something, but I gather from the tone of the letter all they learned was that their actions have consequences, and not WHY their behavior was so inappropriate. Instead, the company would have been better served by incorporating this lesson into its ongoing training.

        My opinion is lessened somewhat if they were actually paying the interns, but not entirely. Too many companies consider interns to be free or low-cost labor without thinking through the obligations they will have to the student. At the very least, if the company is not interested in bringing on interns new to the work environment who will need to be taught professional norms, they’ll want to realign the types of students they bring in (switching to graduate students, for example).

        Reply
        1. AD

          It seems like you believe companies need to mentor their interns. That isn’t really the case, particularly if there are major behavioral or other issues, as happened here. It’s really not the company’s problem if the interns didn’t learn from this experience, after the massive mistake they made.

          Reply
          1. VivaL

            Wait, Im confused, isnt that exactly the point of an internship – to learn and be mentored? You’re not supposed to be doing business critical work so it seems (operative word here) like the company really missed an opportunity here…

            Reply
            1. neverjaunty

              Perhaps this is one of those companies that thinks ‘intern’ means ‘really really cheap labor’.

              Reply
            2. Sketchee

              One could also make the argument that firing is one way to teach and mentor. Not that the OP has yet learned that point, it will happen from this experience as they move forward in their career

              Reply
        2. JB (not in Houston)

          Whether it was right to fire them depends on way more than we know fromI bring in interns because I want to give my back to my profession, not because I’m getting free labor out of it. But an intern who did something like this would have to have a lot of good points for me to not want to fire them. Interns are so much work for me, I put in way more than I get from them already. I don’t have the time or the energy to spent on training this kind of thing out of someone unless they are otherwise pretty fantastic. This on top of the regular of the regular training on the job itself plus professional norms would be more than I could do.

          Reply
          1. Pwyll

            I really think it depends on the structure of the internship. If you’re bringing on 10+ interns every summer, you SHOULD have a structured program for teaching professional norms. If you’re bringing on ONE intern to directly learn about Teapot Marketing, I would agree. But to not be interested in teaching professional norms to an entire internship program when the company is aware that at least some (and I imagine most) of the interns have never worked anywhere before, seems to be a complete disconnect in expectations.

            Reply
        3. AnotherHRPro

          Actually, some companies look at interns as a big investment. When you pay them a very competitive wage, train and development them and give them housing stipends you are doing this as an investment. You are hoping that these interns will turn into great employees. Based on these interns behavior, I wouldn’t be planning on hiring them so I completely understanding letting them go.

          Reply
        4. Ranting Monkey

          This wasn’t just unprofessional because they wrote a petition and made a proposal. They were wasting company time on a rather insignificant issue, one several of them had already been told no on.

          Given their behavior, I’d wager that sitting them down and explaining why they were wrong to do this would not have ended the matter. They’ve already demonstrated a habit of gossiping and wasting time. What makes you think this would have stopped after a sit down to again tell them no?

          This was not a proposal to help the company. This wasn’t a recommendation on how to save time or money. It was “I want to wear different shoes.” That they made this big of a deal over the issue is a pretty glaring indicator of their priorities. They had nothing better to spend their time on?

          Firing them was the only rational business decision.

          Reply
      4. Michelenyc

        I do too! I think they got what they deserved in the end. All that time wasted when they could have been learning!

        Reply
      5. Artemesia

        This. Each of them ASKED their own supervisors and were told ‘no’ and they still got together in a little fuss of interns and drafted a ‘well thought out’ piece on why they policy should be changed. Learning to take ‘no’ for an answer is an important workplace skill.

        Reply
        1. Serafina

          A “fuss” of interns – yep, that’s going into my vocabulary! (Then again, a “fuss” of almost any workplace title probably qualifies.)

          Reply
        2. harryv

          I would be interested to see if they got another “no” after the letter. What did they have in mind, file a lawsuit? lol.

          Reply
    3. Brooke

      I have to believe that if the entire group of interns was fired that there’s a history of suboordination (or whatever you want to call it) not limited to dress code. This may have been the last straw and the office may have just decided they’re better off without that particular group.

      Reply
      1. LawPancake

        That’s my impression too, I doubt this was the first issue with this intern group. It’s one thing if it’s just an educational internship (in which case we’d have a long and serious talk about workplace behavior before escalating to termination) but I can’t think of a scenario that I’d be willing offer a permanent position to an intern after this. Considering how much work managing interns is, if I’m looking for job candidates, I think I’d cut my losses too.

        Reply
  3. Snarkus Aurelius

    A workplace is not a democracy, OP, no matter how articulate your arguments are.  The sooner you learn that, the better.  

    It doesn’t matter what a majority of individuals think because a majority doesn’t always know best.  But you know who does?  Management.  Not only do they experience and skills but they have the pay grade, perspective, and authority to make such decisions.  You and your interns don’t have any of this. If majority rules were to take over workplaces, I doubt you’d ever see anyone in the office again because, hey, we’d all vote to not work and still get paid.

    That’s why you weren’t given a chance to address the dress code issue.  It’s not up for debate, yet you and your fellow interns assumed that it was.  (Seriously, where did you get that idea?  When I was your age, I assumed NOTHING was up for debate in my internships and first entry-level job.)

    Plus you really need to evaluate why one individual was an exception.  It was not your business or concern why she was wearing different attire.  In fact, that evidence alone should have clued you in that this was a unique situation that was most likely a private matter.  I wouldn’t have brought the real reason to your attention in order to protect that woman’s privacy, but my guess is that the reason management did was to teach you a bit of a lesson there.

    You really need to treat this like the learning experience it was.  Management might have been heavy handed, but they weren’t in the wrong at all.  All of you were, and you all need to own that because that’s what adults in the workplace do.

    Reply
      1. Snarkus Aurelius

        Yes, absolutely, but in this case, with someone who is so new, I thought it best to assume management knows what it’s doing about something as minor as a dress code. (We’re not talking SEC filings or quarterly earning reports.) I didn’t want to give the OP any leeway in thinking s/he could be right.

        Reply
      2. Colette

        By definition, management knows best. Yes, sometimes they might get it wrong, but they then have to deal with the consequences (which could include losing their job or the company going under). As an employee, you can give them information they don’t have, but once your manager makes a decision, there’s no option but to go along – continuing to fight will not end well.

        Reply
    1. J.B.

      Yes. It is fitting that Alison uses Game of Thrones characters as names often, because workplace politics can be just as complex (although not nearly as exciting or lethal!) The workplace is a very different world from school, and my husband went through a period where he was concerned about the fairness of things with bad consequences. Sometimes bosses are bullies, sometimes coworkers don’t do their job or get perks, etc. The main question is how does it affect you and can you find a way to live with it. If someone is preventing you from doing your job, the focus should be getting the job done.

      Often when decisions are handed down, it is without context. Sometimes they are bad decisions. There are ways to ask for the context, but it depends on knowing your office and whether you can outright ask for it or whether someone will get worked up about it…so can you find it another way?

      I’m sorry this happened. It will be a painful but hopefully very powerful learning experience. Once you get further on in your career it can be a great interview example.

      Reply
    2. AnonyMouish

      Yep, this:

      ‘It’s not up for debate, and yet you and your fellow interns assumed that it was’

      …is not only the point, it’s why you got fired. Put another way, you weren’t fired because you were questioning the dress code, you were fired because you were questioning your superiors. Some – maybe even most – things in the workplace are simply not up for discussion. Your hours, your assignments, how often you check in with your boss – they’re all assigned to you, at least until you prove you can manage yourself, but in some cases, indefinitely.

      But in your employers’ eyes, you took issue with, and threw a tantrum about, the very first thing you came across that you felt was ‘unfair’. That tells them you’re not ready to operate in the workplace where many things are legitimately unfair or inexplicable, even when nobody intends them to be – which is why they fired you.
      I’m not trying to be inflammatory by using the word ‘tantrum’, but if you think about it in terms of ‘kicked up a fuss’, it’s exactly what you did, in your company’s opinion, and they let you know they were not going to waste time dealing with it.

      All that said, none of this is intuitive, and training yourself to think this way is difficult and is why we have internships in the first place. But you have to think of it like they’re teaching you how things work in their world, not like you’re explaining about how different it is on the outside.

      Reply
      1. Cathy

        It is difficult to run smack into the Golden Rule this hard. This being: “Them that has the Gold, makes the Rules”.

        I have to admit, my jaw did hit the desk when I read the part about how they would have “factored” the person’s missing leg into their proposal. O.o

        Reply
      2. Anna

        Excellent point. The OP had already brought it up, been told it wasn’t negotiable, and then behaved like of course it was. I still don’t know if I would have fired ALL of them, but certainly the ringleaders at the very least.

        Reply
      3. Argh!

        I hope they haven’t ruined it for future interns. Having had a bad experience with spoiled, entitled brats (which is what the boss probably thinks) they may not want to be bothered in the future.

        Reply
  4. Guy

    Curious if it was a paid internship. If not I side with the interns on this. Unpaid internship, but requiring employees to pay and maintain expensive clothing. All that does is exclude the poor and working classes.

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      While I totally agree with you that strict dress codes for interns are awful, that doesn’t necessarily make what the group of interns did right either.

      There are a lot of things in the workplace that are terrible but, in my opinion, the best way to change that is to work your way up until you have the standing to do something different and better. Pushing for change at the ground level A. Won’t change things (as we saw in this situation) and B. Will damage ones professional reputation in the long term.

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Complying with a standard office dress code (which is what the one here sounds like) doesn’t need to be expensive. You can get the kind of footwear the OP described pretty cheaply at a whole variety of places, from consignment stores to Payless. Lots of poor and working class people dress professionally!

      Reply
      1. AnotherAnon

        Agreed, and you really don’t need to invest in that much clothing! For instance:
        – 1 pair of leather/vegan leather flats in black – ~$30-$60 if you shop around, find it on sale, and combine it with store coupons (I personally wear Merrell Dassies at work – the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever found. They retail for $100 a pair, but I buy them at Bon Ton stores online and use discount codes to get them for $60 a pair. Two pairs have lasted me an entire year.)
        – 2 pairs of dress pants, 1 black and 1 gray – $20-$30 each on sale/with coupons
        – 3-4 sleeveless or short-sleeved dressy tops – $10-$20 each on sale/with coupons (this is how much I end up paying for my Calvin Klein tops at Bon Ton stores)
        – 2-3 nice-looking cardigans or blazers – $20 each on sale/with coupons
        – as needed/as can be afforded – accessories like professional looking necklaces, earrings that don’t dangle, etc. – Kenneth Cole is my go-to brand; regular price is ~$20-$25 for earrings and $40-$50 for necklaces, but I never pay that much. I wait until they go on clearance (~$10 earrings, $20 necklaces) and then use a -$50/$100 purchase coupon to cut the price in half.

        So with those wardrobe staples, you can shuffle around combinations to end up with at least 10 different looks, and you’d be paying as little as ~$150 for the entire wardrobe (which you can buy a little as a time, as you can afford it, and build up as you go).

        Reply
        1. Betty Sapphire

          I get most of my professional fashion advice from AAM. Love it. Thank you, AnotherAnon!

          My personal go-to shopping store is Old Navy. As a plus-size female who can’t usually afford expensive stores like Lane Bryant, I’m always on the hunt to look nice and keep my wallet happy. Old Navy pants fit me the best, and the cuts on their shirts and dresses are modest enough that I’m not tugging on my clothes every five minutes. I’ve never heard of Bon Ton, but now I’ll check it out…

          I also heard of ThredUp.com here, and they have some nice sales! I got a nice ASOS black dress for $20.

          Reply
          1. AnotherAnon

            Bon Ton stores are the best! They have department stores in the Northern half of the US that go by different names (Carson’s, Herberger’s, Elder Beerman, Bon Ton, Bergner’s, Younker’s, etc.) but they all sell the same stuff in stores and online. I get >95% of my wardrobe (professional, exercise, casual) as well as most of my home goods from there. Their coupon system is fantastic if you learn how to best use it your advantage, but it can be confusing to beginners. You can find their coupon codes listed on their website, and you can also subscribe to their email list (they do email 2-3 times/day, which can be annoying, so I use an address I don’t check very often.) A few major rules:

            1) The best discount coupon generally available is -$50/$100 (there’s one that’s good through today online only!). There are some exclusions – “yellow dot” items (which are maximally discounted clearanced items), “incredible value” items (their prices end in $.98 usually), fragrance/cosmetics, electronics, and certain higher-end name brands (Coach, Kate Spade, Under Armour, etc.). You get the most bang for your buck by finding items on regular clearance.

            2) About 50% of the time (not right now, unfortunately) they have additional discount codes for yellow dot items – ranging from 20-30% usually.

            3) Shipping – I never, ever pay for shipping on their site. FREESHIP25 and FREESHIP75 are usually the codes they alternate between (meaning you have to spend $25 or $75 to get free shipping, but the $75 code has worked for me in the past if my pre-coupon total is $75+ but my post-coupon total is less than that – i.e. if you go for the -$50/$100 coupon today). As a store credit card holder, there are additional free shipping codes that work if you use your store card to pay. And if you subscribe to ShopRunner (which is a perk of an American Express card), you get free 2-day shipping on many (but not all) items sitewide.

            4) If you have a credit card with them, you earn rewards cards that are each good for $20 off a $50+ purchase. The best ways to earn them are to look for those rare emails (~4 times a year) where they offer 5 extra reward cards for making any purchase, in store or online, on a given series of dates. These coupons can be stacked (so if you have 2 codes, that’s -$40/$100; 3 codes, -$60/$150, etc.) are good on “yellow dot” items (which amounts to a 40% discount – better than the 20-30% codes offered otherwise). There also a lot fewer exclusions in terms of brands you can use them on – for instance Merrell shoes are an exclusion of the regular -$50/$100 coupon codes but not the reward card codes. The rules of these reward cards are kind of complex, but I can elaborate further if anyone’s interested.

            Reply
            1. Amber T

              Just looked up pixie pants and they look super cute! Me sees a trip to my Old Navy in the near future… thanks for the tip! :)

              Reply
        2. Government Worker

          The problem is that interns often can’t buy their wardrobes a little at a time and then build up – they start a job in June and need enough clothes to get through the week immediately. Some people know about internships well in advance, but others happen pretty last-minute or turn out to have a more professional dress code than expected. Thrifting takes a lot of time to get things that are actually in good shape and fit well, and the timing may not be right for sales or coupons at regular stores. And if you need plus sizes or tall sizes or to have things hemmed or altered because you’re petite, the costs increase and the available options go down.

          I just had to rebuild a professional wardrobe pretty much all at once when I got my graduate degree and started a new job (several years and two kids after my last office job). I was lucky that I had some time and my budget is flexible enough that it wasn’t a big deal, but it could absolutely be a concern for a college student starting an internship.

          Reply
          1. TychaBrahe

            An internship should not be a surprise. If you’re in college, presumably you’re there with the end game of getting out and getting a job, and getting internships along the way. In fact, from the day you’re accepted into college you should be preparing for what you’ll do afterward. If you have a summer internship at the end of your freshman year, you’ve had since early April of the previous year to prepare for the possibility of an internship. If you can’t figure out how to put together one week’s worth of clothes in 14 months, you should spend your summer working a job that pays.

            By the way, one black skirt or pair of slacks looks exactly like five identical black skirts or pairs of slacks. Says the woman who earns quite a bit better than minimum wage, but hates clothes shopping, and has four identical black skirts in one design and two of another.

            Reply
            1. Will Lee

              While I agree generally that students entering college should have some expectation that they’d be working some form of internship in the summer that demands professional attire, many don’t land internships until May or later. And when you do land that internship, you don’t always know how formal you have to dress in the office. After my sophomore year in college, I was having a pretty difficult time landing an internship (NOTE: DO NOT MAJOR IN POLITICAL SCIENCE) and didn’t land one until late May. The internship (working in the state office where my Senator was from) was unpaid and demanded business formal attire everyday. Luckily I had a few suits/shirts and ties that I could rotate, but the extreme dress code made no sense as the Senator rarely ever conducted any business out of the office and we didn’t do much besides sit behind a desk for eight to nine hours a day. I could imagine that internship being infinitely (and unfairly) harder on someone else who just found out about it in May and had to buy a new suit to be ready by June.

              Reply
          2. Amy G. Golly

            Agreed! Finding deals is a skill, and a process that can take a long time. Sure, we all know NOW where to find the best bargains on work-appropriate clothing, but we built that knowledge (and our wardrobes!) up over time. (Also: the LW mentioned wearing suits to work, which is a bit different, and pricier, than picking up some Old Navy slacks and a cardigan to throw over it.)

            I agree with Alison that plenty of low income people manage to dress professionally on a meager budget; but I also believe that the strain of complying with a strict, professional dress code on unpaid student interns is something employers should take into consideration.

            (Not that I think this was an issue for the LW, nor do I think she handled the issue appropriately! Just, you know: principles and stuff. :P)

            Reply
        3. Riri

          $150 is still very expensive for some people. For my first professional job I bought one dress shirt ($4), one pair of dress pants ($6), and one pair of dress shoes ($7) from a charity shop. I handwashed that outfit every night and wore it every day. It was literally all I could afford. My boss pulled me aside after 2 weeks and asked why I didn’t wear anything else and I explained. She gave me an advance on a bonus that I hadn’t even technically earned so I could have $100 to buy some clothes. And you can bet I worked my ass off to earn that bonus and show her how much I appreciated it.

          Reply
          1. Nunya Dambinness

            “$150 is still very expensive for some people. ”

            Not anyone who presumably paid for a college degree.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              That’s not really true though. Plenty of people struggle financially in college, often because they’re in college, and get by only through financial aid and whatever else they can cobble together.

              Reply
            2. AnotherAnon

              Agreed. As others have posted out, you usually know about internships months in advance (even if you didn’t hear back from the internship you were offered until last-minute, you certainly applied for it before that). Even if you’re a broke college student, you can modify your spending to be able to set aside $5-$10 a week to start accumulating professional wardrobe pieces in your closet. Get a work study job, don’t buy coffee or energy drinks as much as you used to, go out to the bar less, don’t eat out as much, or save monetary gifts that relatives have given you. Create a savings account specifically for this purpose so you aren’t tempted to spend the money for a different purpose.

              Reply
        4. Basiorana

          You know, as much as I know the interns were in the wrong, I’m really amused at the idea that $150 is a cheap wardrobe and not a barrier to the working poor.

          When I got my first job with a “professional” dress code I used a credit card at a thrift store and it took me two months to pay it off. The total was under $30.

          Interns aren’t the ones to change it, but we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t admit that strict dress codes in non customer facing roles are a form of classism, conscious or not.

          Reply
          1. Nunya Dambinness

            “I’m really amused at the idea that $150 is a cheap wardrobe and not a barrier to the working poor.”

            What does that have to do with these people who paid thousands of dollars for a college degree?

            Reply
            1. JessaB

              Some people get loans/scholarships, etc. for schooling. Those loans do not have enough extra money in them usually to even pay for books. Paying thousands for a degree does not mean you have $150 in the bank. Most people paying for a degree are counting on being able to pay it back when they get paying work, not when they’re in school still.

              Reply
            2. Murphy

              I know lots of people who went to University and also struggled to feed themselves. Education and poverty are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re actually really highly correlated. The difference is that for those in post-secondary education poverty is often situational and transitional rather than persistent. But it doesn’t make the reality of that situational poverty any different.

              Reply
            3. Marie

              I worked full time during both my bachelors and master’s, while also taking the fullest load of credits so I could get done in the quickest amount of time and minimize costs. My full time work covered rent, food, transportation to and from work (the bus does add up), textbooks, and paying down my school loans as I went to school. Loans covered tuition (at an inexpensive state school) and nothing else. Not only was money tight, but so was time — between classes and work and studying, I had to rigorously schedule time to shower, and had only a three hour block of “free time” once a week (which I used to cook meals for my upcoming week). Finding the money for a new wardrobe (especially as plus size and petite) and the TIME to travel and shop and wash and hem would have been almost impossible unless I was willing to skip work, skip school, or skip studying.

              Of course, in those circumstances, I never could have taken an internship. Because I grew up poor, the idea of taking extra loans to NOT work or NOT get paid never crossed my mind — you pay your bills immediately and on time and work as much as possible to avoid debt, because once you’re in debt you don’t get out. I would have had to have been raised very differently with more resources to ever consider a long term life plan that gambled unpayable debt against future potential earnings.

              You can imagine how frustrating it is for me to hear people insinuate that those who go to college must have plenty of resources. That is a tremendously outdated point of view. Very few people have the resources to pay for tuition outright.

              It is ALSO frustrating to watch the intern system play out. I had the skills and knowledge necessary for success in a workplace since I was fifteen, and I had to watch students with no experience or knowledge get opportunities I could never access. I didn’t blame those students; they didn’t create the intern system. All of us were just calculating our best odds for success under very different circumstances and opportunities. So please don’t lump us all in to one assumed experience. Very few of us don’t have to worry about money; most of us are gambling our unknown potential against an expensive future.

              Reply
        5. JessaB

          Plus honestly, at least in Ohio and Florida (the two places I’ve lived in the last 20 years,) the Job Corps/State Employment agency has an outreach. You can get one or two professional outfits to work for free. Many colleges/universities also have clothing swaps/places to get work dress through their social services units.

          Heck even though I hate them for a variety of reasons (sub minimum wages, expensive prices in stores, etc.) Goodwill and (poor treatment of LGBTQIA+ persons ) the Salvation Army, have programmes that will outfit people for jobs if they cannot afford clothing. The local St. Vincent dePaul chapter where I live will give you a voucher to their thrift store also.

          Many cities have business groups that offer work clothing as well, where professional men and women pass on gently used high end office clothes to people who are new to business.

          If you’re careful, have some good Google-fu and are willing to ASK for charitable help, you can probably get at least enough clothes to get you by if you’re work at it.

          Reply
      2. Jaguar

        I grew up poor and still deal with a legacy of poverty and this “doesn’t have to be expensive” stuff is always a huge barrier. “Unexpensive” expenses are massive when you’re broke, and that’s to say nothing of entering an environment where the culture – literally written into the rules – is that what you can afford matters. So when you buy as thrifty as possible, it’s easy to feel like you’re just barely scraping your way in (and it was still a huge expense to you) and that you don’t really belong. So not only is inexpensive professional clothing still expensive for poor people, it also has a serious self-identity cost.

        I’m not saying people should dress however they want in a workplace, that the OP was justified in his or her actions, or anything like that, but I also agree with Guy 100% that strict dress codes are a way (intentional or not) of excluding people. And it’s extremely frustrating, when you’re poor, to be told a purchase “doesn’t need to be expensive.” When you’re poor, you aren’t stretching discretionary income, you’re sacrificing other things to make it work. A “not-expensive” purchase you didn’t think you needed means you’re down to two meals a day for a while.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          You have a point. But, I’ve yet to see someone of that background with the kind of entitled tone the OP has. And that’s really the issue, regardless of whether I’m right or wrong on this.

          The issue here is that the argument the interns made was not “This is an extreme financial hardship, can you accommodate a bit?” but that they “felt the dress code was overly strict” (!) and that the other guy was allowed to do it, so they should also be allowed.

          Reply
          1. Cordelia Naismith

            This. If the OP’s argument had centered on the cost, I would have been a lot more sympathetic. As it is, it sounds like cost wasn’t the issue — they just didn’t feel like wearing those particular shoes.

            Reply
        2. Red

          Yeah. I can still keenly remember times when $30 for shoes would’ve meant significantly fewer meals in my immediate future.

          Reply
        3. Roxanne

          +1. If you are starting out after years of study and have student debt, getting the right clothes to fit a restrictive clothing policy would be very stressful.

          Reply
          1. Koko

            I completely agree with you who are saying this is exclusionary – but cynically, it’s like that an unpaid internship already excluded people who can’t afford business clothes, because they also couldn’t afford to work unpaid in the first place.

            Luckily DOL has tightened up in recent years and there are very few legitimate unpaid internships these days.

            Reply
        4. nerdgal

          I was quite poor in college and agree with this perspective. However, one thing that students can do, is to factor employment into ongoing clothing purchases. By that I mean, a semi-nice pair of black pants that can be worn to class and also to an office job. Things like that. It would be a kindness for counselors and advisors to mention this to new students.
          I’m 60yo and I still remember what it was like not to be able to afford the Frye Boots and Fair Isle sweaters. I like the phrase “self-identity cost” to describe this feeling.

          Reply
        5. Ad Astra

          Yeah, I grew up poor and am also sensitive to this “It doesn’t have to be expensive!” talk. I was well into college before I had more than one pair of pants at a time, and $30-60 still feels like a lot to spend on a pair of shoes, even though I know that’s on the lower end of what decent shoes cost. Combined with the fact that I was always a bit heavy-set (fluctuating between sizes 14 and 18), and kind of a hard-to-fit apple shape, comments like “You can look nice without spending a lot!” were really frustrating to me as a young adult.

          I got pretty good at styling jeans, shorts, and cotton-y tops to look put together, but even at 28 every outfit I have that fits “business professional” dress codes looks frumpy because I can’t afford nicer, better-fitting items. I definitely look more put together now that I work in a casual office.

          None of this changes how I feel about the interns’ behavior, but it’s one reason I’m not crazy about unduly formal dress codes.

          Reply
        6. Artemesia

          The OP was so CLEARLY not poor and struggling to be able to afford a pair of shoes that look vaguely like leather. This issue of internships and poor students is an issue, but it clearly isn’t relevant here and I suspect an intern who came to the supervisor with that concern would get a different reaction than this group of very entitled people who apparently think there is a Constitutional right to wear sandals in summer.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            Yeah, it does not seem to fit. If someone in OP’s group could not meet the dress code requirements they should have spoken to someone for advice. The question probably comes up frequently at school or at the company so people probably have answers lined up.

            Reply
            1. Basiorana

              In my experience the answer is usually “Oh, don’t be ridiculous! It doesn’t have to be expensive. You could do your whole wardrobe for $150, so just skip the morning Starbucks for a month!” (I was on food stamps).

              The sad part is, while OP was probably not thinking of the economics, she probably got some poor intern fired because that intern thought maybe this was a way they could afford the wardrobe better without being mocked and judged by their boss for being poor.

              Reply
      3. Pam Adams

        My campus career center has a clothes closet. Gently used and new interview/professional wear, that is free to students. (Usually one or two outfits per quarter, but more can be arranged)

        Reply
        1. Pennalynn Lott

          We, too, have a clothes closet. There are also at least a dozen charities in my town who exist solely to provide professional wear to people who can’t afford it.

          Reply
            1. The Crusher

              My community college has an ongoing drive for professional clothing and I was so pleased that (A) I had somewhere to donate suits I bought when I was slightly fatter and (B) they specifically requested plus sized women’s clothing.

              Reply
    3. OfficePrincess

      Normally I try to be very aware of the disparate impact that policies can have on varying classes, but it sounds like the reason for the firing wasn’t because they weren’t following the dress code but rather the extreme and aggressive way they went about pushing back. I still don’t know if I would have gone straight to firing, but it was very unprofessional behavior.

      Reply
      1. Christopher Tracy

        Exactly. And presumably, the dress code was shared with them prior to their start date, so if the cost of the shoes was prohibitive (which I doubt – see the Payless mention from Alison), they should have spoken up for accommodations then. Good interns are not going to be turned down by a reasonable company just because they can’t afford “leather” flats*.

        *Put that in quotes because you can find flats that look like leather, but are actually vegan (and cheaper).

        Reply
        1. Basiorana

          I agree the interns behaved completely inappropriately.

          However, please do not assume a $20 pair of Payless shots is not prohibitive.

          Or that good interns and employees are not turned down for being too poor for the dress code, since most people who have never been poor assume it is a sign of irresponsibility.

          Reply
          1. Nunya Dambinness

            “However, please do not assume a $20 pair of Payless shots is not prohibitive”

            It’s not. It’s nothing.

            Especially when you just spent 30k on an education.

            Reply
            1. Some Sort of Management Consultant

              You don’t know that. You have NO IDEA what other people’s money situations look like.
              For a lot of people, even college educated people, $20 IS prohibitive.

              Reply
            2. Anxa

              This is sarcasm, right?

              I charged $200 on interview clothes in 2008, thinking it was a small price to pay for entry into an interview, after having just spent a small fortune in school. Yeah, it was ‘nothing’ compared to the cost of education, but I didn’t have any other cash and of course there was interest and I never got a job that required a suit to interview. It doesn’t fit quite the same, 8 years later. I will have to wear an ill-fitting suit or self-select out of jobs I’d have to wear a suit to for the next few months while I save up again.

              What you fail to realize is that student loans can be deffered. Out of pocket money that you already spent is ALREADY SPENT. That $20 or $200 or heck $2000 that you haven’t spent yet? That can make the difference between making rent or not THAT MONTH.

              Yes, $20 is a small amount to help leverage the money you’ve already spent, but landlords, grocers, and creditors don’t care about how much money you’ve spent on your education already.

              Reply
            3. Oryx

              You seem really, really, REALLY hung up on this portion and it has zero logic. The fact that someone paid a certain amount of money for school has absolutely nothing to do with their financial resources outside of their education.

              Reply
      2. AMT

        Right, and I’m sure there would have been more flexibility if OP had addressed it like, “I’m having a lot of trouble affording the wardrobe, is it okay to wear these cloth flats a couple of days a week?”

        Reply
          1. JB (not in Houston)

            I have a lot of sympathy for that, but that in no way makes what happened here ok. Part of being a professional is knowing when to set aside your pride, in everything from going to your boss to admit you made a mistake to telling your boss you can’t afford new shoes so you don’t get fired. Your coworkers don’t need to know. Most of the time, your boss doesn’t need to know. But if it’s tell or get fired, you tell. Sometimes you just where the shoes you have and see if you get pushback. But you don’t get a petition going when you’re an intern.

            Reply
            1. Jaguar

              You’re assuming a lot. I’m not saying this is what happened (it doesn’t sound to me, from the letter, that this was a money issue) and I’m certainly not trying to justify OP starting a petition. I’m just giving AMT (and other readers) a better perspective on AMT’s suggestion. I agree that if everyone was awesome, you would go to your boss, explain the situation, and find something that works for all parties.

              That said, here’s what actually happens. You admit you’re struggling financially to someone (boss or otherwise, co-worker or otherwise). They’re understanding, and they allow you special privileges. And they also know you’re poor, so maybe you don’t get invited to lunch when you otherwise would have been. Or invited to an after-work event. Maybe people start to pity you (THE WORST), and suddenly you’re being offered food because it looks like what you brought is really inexpensive. Maybe someone else sees you being allowed to wear something that nobody else is allowed to and brings it up to management (for an example of this, see OP’s letter), and now you have to watch people complain (about you!) to your manager and either your manager spills the secret or they don’t and you have to watch this person that’s sticking up for you deal with shit because of it. Maybe, maybe, maybe a huge list of things, which, if you’re poor, you’ve had happen to you repeatedly in the past, so you don’t ever bring up that you’re poor. If you admit you’re poor, you’re poor for life if other people’s eyes.

              Reply
              1. Observer

                Yeah, but if that’s the deal you do NOT go to the boss with a complaint based on what the other guy is doing; write a “well reasoned” proposal and petition asking that you can significantly downgrade the dress code after being told no to your first request; discuss the matter with a bunch of other people and get them to sign your petition.

                Reply
      3. TootsNYC

        Good point. If the problem had been that one intern had to wear the same blazer over and over, or else wear a cardigan on some other day, that would have been a very different thing.

        Reply
    4. Artemesia

      Few dress codes are about expensive clothing. Appropriate professional clothing can be obtained from thrift shops as well as inexpensive stores. You can’t expect to work in a professional environment and not conform to the workplace expectations.

      Reply
      1. Isabel

        There are also a number of organizations that help provide professional clothing to low-income people entering or re-entering the workplace.

        If money was the issue (and based on the OP’s entitled tone, I’m guessing it was not) the time spent whining about getting signatures could have been spent compiling a list of local resources (thrift stores, Express, etc.) where fellow interns could find appropriate work clothes.

        Reply
        1. Felicia

          Not necessarily the tone, but the not having had a job to focus on school made me think money wasn’t the issue, since low income people don’t have that choice.

          Reply
          1. Anon Accountant

            +1 to low income people don’t have that choice. Several friends, myself included, worked 2 jobs while attending college full time. A work study job plus an evening/weekend job simultaneously. There wasn’t a choice financially. It was a need.

            And completely agree that was time that’s could’ve been spent compiling resources for low cost clothes and shoes if costs were a concern.

            Reply
    5. LBK

      I don’t see any indication that they were expected to have expensive clothing – the OP says the dress code was business casual and the only part of the dress code they really objected to were the shoes. I’d be surprised if most people didn’t have a pair of work-appropriate shoes by the time they were in college from attending any number of formal/semi-formal events (weddings, graduation, etc.).

      Reply
      1. Koko

        I think it was actually more business-formal. The shoes were the big focus, but there was also mention in the letter of suits, which are indeed expensive if you aren’t finding them at charity shops.

        …but we also incorporated a request that we not have to wear suits and/or blazers in favor of a more casual, but still professional dress code.

        My first professional job was biz-cas, but my second job a year later was biz-formal. Even already being in the workforce and having been on salary, it was still entry-level salary in a city with a high COL and I remember what a difficulty it was for me to scrape together enough money just to buy a blazer with pants that matched. Luckily we were only required to put the blazer on when we had guests in the office, which was never more than once a week, so I was able to get away with just the one suit set.

        I had maybe one or two pairs of dress pants I’d worn to church as a teenager and also made do with some stretchy black pants that I had bought to wear to the club, and I paired them with whatever solid-color shirts I already owned. In other words, I *barely* adhered to the dress code for the first year or two. I slowly bought actual dress pants for work, blouses and camis, and eventually a second suit (my hand was forced on this one earlier than I would have liked because I was sent on a business trip where I would be representing the company in a suit for multiple days), but it took me 1-2 years to really be able to afford putting together a complete biz-formal wardrobe.

        Reply
        1. LizM

          On top of that, business professional clothes are expensive to maintain. I interned in the Senate while in college, and a pretty hefty portion of my stipend went to dry cleaning bills. That doesn’t always get factored in when coming up with “budget” solutions to helping people find work appropriate clothes.

          I’m not arguing that we get rid of dress codes for interns, but I also don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a 20 year old to open up about her finances with a boss she just met.

          Not saying what these interns did was okay, but it’s something to consider when setting dress codes – it seems that they’re often set and approved by HR managers and supervisors that are much higher on the pay scale than the employees it apply to.

          Reply
        2. Observer

          According to the OP, they could wear blazers, as well. Makes it MUCH easier and cheaper to maintain the look.

          Reply
        3. BananaPants

          I had to buy a blazer and dress top for a presentation at work, and even going to a cheap place like Dress Barn I still had to spend around $125 on two pieces that I’ll likely never wear again. Since I’m at the low end of plus size I’m much more limited in my options; I can’t just go into Kohl’s or Target and find suiting pieces in my size. On the rare occasion that Goodwill or the Salvation Army has plus sized suiting it will be something like a lilac purple skirt suit with huge shoulder pads, straight out of 1984.

          For my 21st birthday (when I was a size 12 – those were the days!) my parents bought me a suit in anticipation of upcoming interviews during my senior year of college. My mother took me to Talbot’s and their salesladies found me a charcoal grey all-season wool pants suit and two wrinkle-free Oxford shirts that fit me beautifully. I decided that when our daughters reach college age I will do something similar for them; buy a nice, serviceable suit to have for job and internship interviews.

          Reply
          1. LizM

            This is what my mom got me for my college graduation (I was going on to grad school, so no need for an interview suit my senior year of college, but would need a suit for internship interviews in grad school).

            Reply
    6. Katie the Fed

      I’m down with unpaid internships for that reason. But assuming they knew it was unpaid, they should have made an effort to get the proper shoes. They’re really not THAT expensive.

      Reply
    7. LawBee

      You can get leather shoes (or shoes that are fake-leather but can pass) pretty cheaply, tbh. And paid or unpaid, the interns screwed up.

      I would be surprised if this was an unpaid internship; it sounds like it was pretty corporate, and those – in my experience – tend to be paid. Poorly paid, but paid nonetheless.

      Reply
    8. INTP

      The only part that caught my eye was the “No non-leather flats.” If anyone who isn’t able to wear heels is required to buy genuine leather shoes, then that’s potentially costly (and morally objectionable to some). But I suspect that if you came in with a pair of polished-looking faux leather flats, no one would say anything, and it’s more about the appearance of not wearing more casual fabric shoes.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        No one is going to be looking at labels in shoes. Plastic shoes in fake leather are going to be just fine. They don’t want sandals, trainers, canvas flats etc.

        Reply
      2. Anon for this

        I agree. And I think, if that’s the case, the interns could have talked about affordability or “does it really have to be leather?” and not banded together weirdly.

        Reply
      3. Not So NewReader

        I used to sell leather goods and I know most people cannot tell fake leather from real leather. Keep the shoes clean and neat and there should not be any problem.

        Reply
    9. Temperance

      I disagree. As a former poor person, I would say that unpaid internships and internships in general do discriminate against poor and working class folks, because we’re often working crap jobs instead of resume building. However, a professional dress code is not that.

      You can easily ebay or thrift work appropriate clothing. If anything, requiring professional dress is a good thing, because it’s a lesson in how this stuff works to those who haven’t been exposed to it.

      Reply
      1. Anxa

        I don’t know. I think that even the cheapest clothes, if they have to purchased when you don’t have them, is a hardship. In fact, these cheap shoes add up. I guess $10-20 doesn’t seem like much to some people. But that could still be skipped lunches.

        That said, they didn’t approach management asking to relax the dress code so that they could reduce their expenses.

        Reply
        1. Jen

          I agree. The other thing about professional clothing is that it is if often dry clean only. These things really do add up when you don’t have a lot of funds.

          Reply
          1. Temperance

            I really do disagree with this point, too. My only dry clean only work clothing is my suits and the shells that go with them. My everyday stuff is machine washable, and it wasn’t that hard to find.

            Reply
            1. Koko

              My suit jackets for a long time were also the only dry-clean-only items in my wardrobe when I was first starting out. I joked that “Dry Clean Only” meant “Keep it dry and clean” because I never actually had them dry cleaned. I think I was 30 before I ever used a dry cleaner.

              In my experience expensive professional clothing is dry-clean-only, but inexpensive professional clothing is not. A good example of this is Ann Taylor and LOFT. The styles are very similar, but the Ann Taylor label is more expensive than the Ann Taylor LOFT label and virtually everything at Ann Taylor is dry clean only, while the only LOFT garments that need dry cleaning are typically suit jackets. LOFT is a more budget-friendly label and they know their customers aren’t the sort to do dry cleaning.

              Reply
            2. Jen

              Maybe in your experience, but I have worked at places that have very strict dress codes, buy nearly all of my clothing from discount/outlet stores, and nearly all of my slacks and blazers are dry clean only. I’ve had some luck with dresses and sweaters, but if they require you to wear a jacket (as many very strict dress codes do), it is more than likely to be dry clean only. Combine that w/ the fact that if this is a summer internship in DC or NYC, then sweat and grime is inevitable.

              Reply
            3. Talvi

              Depending on the material, I would probably risk gently hand-washing things even if the tag said “dry clean only.” (Unless it’s rayon. Rayon is a fragile fibre.)

              Reply
          2. Girasol

            I read once that the test of appropriate professional wear is whether it can be laundered at home. If it can, it’s not professional. (By that definition I’ve never dressed professionally except twice in interviews.)

            Reply
            1. Temperance

              This is definitely not the case! It might be easier because I’m a woman, but plenty of professional dresses and skirt sets are machine washable!

              Reply
    10. Bwmn

      For better or worse, the whole unpaid internship system inherently benefits wealthier students over ones without the means. This isn’t just about whether or not a student can afford to take a summer when they’re not working, but also whether they can afford to be physically placed where the “good” internships are. Cities that are niche areas for highly desirable internships (i.e. DC or NYC) often require students to find some kind of housing/living arrangement – and for students without means/connections – that alone can prevent accessing the majority of high caliber internships.

      Very strict dress codes that are unreasonable for the summer largely brings to mind Capitol Hill DC internships. It is about as formal as you can get in dreadfully humid weather, but it also is what it is.

      Reply
      1. Dan

        I went to school in DC, but studied Engineering. While my friends were off to Capitol Hill to donate their services over the summer, me and my Engineering buddies were making $17/hr. One of the reasons I went to school in DC as opposed to somewhere else is that my parents lived in a rural area without many internship opportunities. I figured that DC had a lot to offer — while DC certainly has a reputation for politics and international affairs, there are plenty of tech and engineering opportunities too.

        Granted, most of my friends were “of means” so they weren’t complaining too much about their lack of a paycheck, but I was one of those who needed the money.

        Getting this back on track, I’ve made plenty of my own mistakes as an intern/early career professional, including the dress code boo-boo. So whenever someone writes in about “I goofed up my internship”, I just nod my head and think, “yup, that’s kinda the whole point. Lots of us have.” You pick up and move on.

        Reply
        1. Bwmn

          There are lots of ways that students can and can’t approach schooling based on their means. DC and NYC is utterly inaccessible for many students for loads of reasons based on means and having a professional culture place certain values on internships – many of which remain unpaid – continue to favor those with means. The UN has many prestigious internship programs, but they’re all unpaid and demand being able to support living in cities like New York or Geneva without a salary.

          It’s not that there aren’t alternative approaches or professions that don’t require this – it’s just that it’s a system that favors those with means. Regardless of whether or not leather shoes come into play.

          Reply
    11. Annalee

      I’m actually 180 degrees from you on this. If it was a paid internship, then what they were doing was organizing to improve their working conditions, and firing employees (which they were) for doing that is a legal can of worms the company should not have opened. I don’t personally think shoes should have been the hill they chose to unionize on, but if they were paid, then that’s what they were doing, and they may very well have legal protections.

      If they were unpaid, however, then they weren’t employees, and legal protections don’t apply. There’s a separate conversation to be had about how 1. unpaid internships disadvantage working-class folks and 2. most unpaid ‘internships’ do not meet the necessary criteria to be exempt from minimum wage laws. But if this was a legal unpaid internship, then learning about standards of business dress (and starting to build a business dress wardrobe, which they will need for future interviews) is part of the package.

      Reply
      1. Leatherwings

        Nah, I really doubt that signing a petition to wear sandals at work would give them legal standing to argue they were attempting to unionize. Not a lawyer here, but I seriously doubt it.

        Reply
        1. Pwyll

          Actually, if they were paid employees, this likely could have been considered a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. Discussing working conditions and advocating for changes to them is protected even if the employees are not specifically seeking to create a union. It’d be pretty shocking for companies to be allowed to wipe out entire classes of employees for presenting a proposal to management to change working conditions.

          Reply
      2. sam

        I was going to ask about this – if they were employees (regardless of the “intern” title), how does the petition/mass firing comport with labor law rules around discussions/organizing regarding workplace conditions?

        Don’t get me wrong – I think interns choosing dress codes as the hill they want to die on is really stupid, and regardless of short-term outcome is going to ruin their prospects in the long run because they don’t understand the point of being an intern – namely to learn how to operate in a business environment, including how to comply with things like office norms and dress codes, but just from a purely legal perspective…

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          From a purely legal perspective, if the interns were considered employees, firing them for the petition itself would be a violation of the NLRA if they’re in the U.S. I think you could structure this firing in a careful enough way that you could comply with the law though (like if they spent work time on it).

          Reply
          1. Sad, Sad Grad

            That’s what rubs me the wrong way about your response. You are telling this person to apologize for organizing for better working conditions, a legally protected activity. Workers’ rights in the US have been suffering from decades and you’re suggesting something that would actively make it worse. I know you get a lot of letters from people who think they have legal standing when they don’t, but the NLRA is very clear that retaliating against protected activity is illegal. Apologizing could jeopardize any case LW or their former colleagues might want to bring.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I am assuming the company handled the firing in a way that was legal (as I note above).

              And that’s not even getting into the fact that legality doesn’t make something inherently reasonable, wise, or warranted. Facts matter.

              Reply
            2. Jb

              I have to disagree with you on what constitutes “better working conditions.” I don’t feel that dress code is something that is detrimental to the health and safety of these workers. Now, I’m no expert on worker’s rights, but I feel that Alison’s response was fair based on the situation.

              Reply
              1. AF

                Yes – it’s not like they’re not being allowed lunch breaks or something more egregious. Also, if dress code is so important to the OP and other interns, they could ask about it during future job interviews. But depending on their industry, they may find that their opportunities are limited if they’re not willing to dress more formally.

                Reply
            3. Temperance

              I think your use of the phrase “better working conditions” is off-base here. A relaxed dress code doesn’t really fit within that paradigm and workers’ rights in general.

              Reply
            4. Oryx

              You realize this whole thing was over shoes, right? Comparing that to the bad working conditions that were fought over for years is a little tone deaf.

              Reply
            5. Zillah

              I’m not convinced that bringing a case over being fired from a summer internship because you pushed back on what shoes you were allowed to wear is likely to go anywhere in the first place.

              Reply
            6. annonymouse

              Better working conditions normally relate to safety and security of the people involved.

              I don’t think wearing running shoes and sandals in a corporate environment meets those grounds, do you?

              Reply
    12. AW

      Folks are downplaying how difficult it can be to find clothing that works for you & your situation (which happens every time this comes up) but it doesn’t sound like that was why the interns were protesting the dress code.

      Also, Temperance makes an excellent point that a kid working their way through college likely can’t afford to take an unpaid internship in the first place.

      Reply
    13. Chriama

      I feel like this argument is a lot like “not everyone can afford sandwiches”.

      OP presumably knew the conditions of the internship before she started, and the petition was primarily about shoes. I literally wear the same shoes every day in my professional job – black flats, they go with everything, and it’s highly likely that OP has a pair since the conversation was “we want to wear less formal stuff” rather than “I don’t have the appropriate wardrobe and I can’t afford to get one.”

      Unpaid internships already exclude the poor and working class, but I don’t think expecting a reasonable dress code (I’m assuming dress pants, blazers or cardigans, etc) is the primary reason or even has that much of an impact on things.

      Reply
      1. Bif

        It appears to me that they were sold the job as Business Casual and found out later it was Biz Formal. I can see where that would be an issue.

        I disagree with how they handled it, but I can see the problem if that was in fact the case

        Reply
        1. Chriama

          Even if that was the case, does that matter? As it’s described here, the petition was about preference. They wanted to wear slightly less formal clothing. This isn’t a bait-and-switch like finding out you only get 10 days of PTO including sick time or a lower salary than you wanted at first. I don’t think many companies go out of their way to ‘trick’ people into accepting a job by hiding the dress code, of all things.

          Reply
          1. Bif

            Well, I would entertain a job that was Biz Casual whereas I’d run like hell from Biz Formal. I’m completely unwilling to buy an entire wardrobe that cannot be used 18/7/365. (With notable exceptions for safety gear.) Not how I run my life, and it’s a deal-breaker for me.

            And you’d be surprised by the methods companies that know they have serious onboarding/retention issues use to coax people into thinking they are or are not something. I have absolutely scene a company misrepresent a dress code before.

            Reply
    14. neverjaunty

      Except it’s pretty clear from the OP that the issue was not about cost, it was about a more ‘casual’ style: Our proposal requested that we also be allowed to wear running shoes and non leather flats, as well as sandals (not flip-flops though) and other non-dress shoes that would fit under a more business casual dress code.

      Reply
      1. BananaPants

        We have a business casual dress code in my office and sandals and sneakers/running shoes are explictly forbidden. You can wear flats, pumps, oxfords, boat shoes, etc. – just not sneakers or sandals. There have been exceptions made for what I assume are medical reasons.

        I have a coworker with a pair of fabric Burberry ballerina flats; no one is going to argue that those aren’t equivalent to leather dress shoes! Either a pair of $20 black pleather flats from Payless or those $350 Burberry ballerinas are certainly a different level of formality from a pair of Tevas or Keens.

        Reply
    15. Alex

      What a crock. If that really was the reason, it would have been in the letter above and would have come up immediately when getting hired as an intern. Additionally, buying a pair of slacks, two dress shirts, and business shoes with socks can all be gotten for a ONE TIME total of $100, $200 if you’re of odd size. I’m sure each and every intern has a celllphone, with an average monthly recuring bill of $70, that even your “poor” (there are no real poor in America, just relative poor; that’s why the official definition of poverty in the US is relative to the median income, without regard to what can actually be bought and consumed by these so called “poor” people) and working class (who often make as much if not more than white collar, which people like you oddly don’t consider “working class” despite the fact they work more hours, on average, than blue collars).

      What actually happened is what was stated: they saw someone else who wasn’t conforming to the dress code (didn’t know why and didn’t care why, but somehow because someone else was doing it, this was important in their lives too), so, in true kindergarten fashion, claimed they had the right to be exempt, too.

      Reply
    16. Financial Samurai

      Expensive clothes? Plenty of cheap clothes at Target, Walmart, and Ross Dress For Less.

      Half the battle of looking good is just being fit. Semi-formal dress does not have to come from Gucci, Prada, and Armani! It doesn’t even have to come from J. Crew or BR.

      Sam

      Reply
  5. really

    Alison’s answer is right on. When you are the bottom of the totem pole you work hard and learn. Even if the dress code was overly strict there is no way that running/athletic shoes would be appropriate outside of an athletic environment. And personally there are very few if any sandals these days that are work appropriate either.
    And on a personal note I like suits and blazers but have no problem with the typical business casual of good pants and polos and modest dresses. But too many people seem to think that as long as the erogenous zones are mostly covered they are good to go.

    Reply
    1. Amber T

      I’m sure there are people in the middle of the totem pole, and even towards the top, who would love to wear whatever they want. As Alison said, there’s a reason for the strict dress code. It could be because clients have the potential to see you. It could be because forcing you to dress up makes you remember you’re at work and not home. It could be one high level person in charge laughing maniacally behind a desk saying “dance, puppets, dance!”

      I think your best bet is to let this go, and reach out again next year apologizing, saying you’ve learned a lot in the past year and have matured, and you understand what you did was inappropriate, and you valued your time there. The worst (and most likely) scenario is they just ignore it, but maybe, if otherwise your work was positive, it could lead to something good (networking, connections, etc.).

      You may not feel like that now (if you’re anything like me, intern level me would read all the responses here and scoff because no one here REALLY understands the situation), but I promise you, once you get more experience, you’ll change your tune. You’ll eventually be able to laugh this off as a “how ridiculous did I used to be?” story and move on.

      Reply
    2. LawBee

      The pedant in me is dying to point out that the person at the bottom of the totem pole was actually the most important, and put there so you could see him, and the people at the top were the least important.

      The pedant won. :D

      Reply
      1. SophieChotek

        Tangent.
        I was surprised when I read about the origins/true meaning of the totem-pole.
        But I think “low person on the totem-pole” seems to have lead to a new meaning for that…

        Reply
        1. MyFakeNameIsLaura

          The actual meaning never changed though. The term was used incorrectly due to a misunderstanding of indigenous/Native cultural practice. In my case, I just heard wrong for years and assumed it was correct, only to become abruptly aware my willful ignorance was a racial microaggression while listening to a podcast I love (Another Round). Thank you so much for pointing this out for others, LawBee.

          Reply
    3. Mkting Gal

      I had a marketing internship in college. I always dressed up for class on days that I had to go to the internship afterwards. Once, I work nice black jeans, a top, and booties. (It was a firm where the women dressed very fashion forward).
      I was taken aside at the office later that day and told that jeans were inappropriate for the work place and against their dress code with the exception of Fridays. I was MORTIFIED and had a friend meet me with slacks. I’d naively thought that *black* jeans didn’t count like in the rule of “no blue jeans except on Fridays,” because, hey they were black?
      I changed, wrote a profuse letter of apology and was embarrassed to show my face for the rest of the day (partially because my friends slacks were 3 sizes too big and I looked like an idiot).

      Reply
    4. Zillah

      I do want to point out that this is highly dependent on the work environment – there are plenty of jobs where running shoes and/or sandals are work appropriate. This just wasn’t one of them.

      Reply
  6. Sir Alanna

    From a fellow intern, I understand the frustration and the confusion. I think it’s pretty common to have rules spelled out in the handbook and then have nearly everyone not follow them. Here’s an important thing: some of those exemptions have been earned. Maybe senior staff wear sneakers on the days they don’t have meetings. Full employees have likely proven themselves capable of following the dress code, and now they are allowed to choose, with good judgement, to carefully break some of those rules.

    As interns, we haven’t earned anything. We are new, to the company and to the workforce, and we need to prove ourselves capable of being professional and following the handbook. So when my coworkers use their downtime to browse Facebook, I read professional publications in my field. Some people in my office duck out early; I make sure to stay until the end of my shift. Just because others can push boundaries doesn’t mean we should. We’re there to learn, and I think this is an important part of that process.

    Reply
    1. Temperance

      Can I clone you, so you can replace my interns? I leave early for PT appointments a few days each week. I reprimanded one of my interns for his constant lateness (“but the train doesn’t get there until 9:00!” was his genius excuse), and I caught him complaining to the other intern about me leaving early after calling him out.

      He also thinks that he’s going to get an offer … LOL ….

      Reply
      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        He also thinks that he’s going to get an offer …

        My one bad intern experience was a young woman who was late every day and then went to HR when she wasn’t offered a position. Nevermind that it wasn’t just me who spoke to her about arriving on time, but my boss and my boss’s boss…it still never sunk in.

        Reply
          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

            I think it’s people in general. It’s like the person who behaves abhorrently on a date and then gets upset that you don’t want to go out again.

            It’s like the worse people are, the less self-awareness they have.

            Reply
            1. neverjaunty

              It’s because they don’t think of other people as having their own thoughts and opinions – at least, none that matter. Terrible people think they’re awesome, so it genuinely doesn’t dawn on them that others might think otherwise.

              Reply
          2. Cordelia Naismith

            I feel like that’s one of the hallmarks of incompetence — if you’re truly incompetent at something, you have no idea what competence even looks like, so you overestimate your own skill (or lack thereof). Unconscious incompetence.

            Once you’ve learned a little more, you’re better able to appreciate just how much you have left to learn and you begin to really understand your incompetence. A lot of people give up at this stage when they’re learning something new, but this is actually a positive sign! You now know how much you don’t know! You’re learning! You’ve achieved conscience incompetence.

            Then comes the stage where you’ve learned enough to be competent, but it still feels kind of forced. You can do it right, but you have to think really hard about each individual piece of the process and work at it to get it right. This is conscious competence.

            Lastly comes the stage where you’re good enough at it that you can do it in your sleep. You don’t have to think about it anymore, you just do it. You’ve achieved unconscious competence.

            Reply
    2. TuxedoCat

      This is great advice. I’m not intern, but my more junior coworkers get envious when others can get away with things like setting their own hours and working from home but it’s because they haven’t earned it. It hasn’t boded well when they’ve pushed back.

      Reply
    3. Isabel

      Exactly, Sir Alama. The veteran’s disability ratchets up the cringe factor exponentially but regardless of that fact, perhaps that employee has proven herself indispensable by bringing in record sales, dazzling everyone with creative presentations or saving the company substantial money by cleverly reworking budgets.

      Reply
    4. Betty Sapphire

      “As interns, we haven’t earned anything… We’re there to learn”
      Sir Alanna, I agree with you 100%. I feel that this mindset is what helped me move to my current job role less than two years after graduating. (I also feel that the incredible support from my bosses at my internship had a big role in this.) Even with my current position, I KNOW I do not know everything and I still learn from my higher-ups while fully committing to my job duties. I also work really hard to distance myself between my age and the “Millenials are lazy, entitled, etc.” stereotype…

      Reply
    5. Turtle Candle

      Earning exemptions is a great way to put it. My company has a rule about no flash drives/portable hard drives being connected to the work computers, for two reasons: one, it’s an easy vector for viruses and malware, and two, they’re concerned about people stealing our IP (for obvious reasons, we’re very protective of our server code!).

      But there was a time after I’d been working for the company for a couple of years that I needed to do a lot of moving of files from one site to another, and my boss told me that since I’d been there long enough, I could be given an exemption and permitted to just use a flash drive (as opposed to the more cumbersome workaround using the FTP site, shared network drives, etc.). She said that I had earned the privilege of an easier workflow, because they knew that I was smart enough not to accidentally virus-infect our system, and trustworthy enough that they weren’t afraid that I was going to dump a bunch of code on the thing and vanish into the night. I got it put in writing, even, to avoid any potential ‘gotcha’ moments later.

      I could definitely see someone going “why do I have to do all this validation crap and use the FTP site and have IT put things on a portable drive and on and on when she can just get a flash drive and go?” But assessments like “is this person savvy enough to know not to just plug any given random USB into the computer? is this person trustworthy enough that we will give her access to the code?” can take time to make.

      Reply
    6. Financial Samurai

      YES! The easiest thing an intern can do is come in before everyone and leave after everyone because she wants to learn and help as many people as possible.

      Please folks… you must LEARN BEFORE YOU CAN EARN. Don’t ever forget this.

      Sam

      Reply
  7. B

    This, so much of this! As an intern you are there to learn about a workplace, ask questions, and soak up as much information as you can. Unfortunately, you just learned a few very hard lessons. 1) Because you see someone doing something that is what you consider “contrary to the dress code” you do not know the full set of circumstances. It is none of your business what someone does or does not do when it does not affect you. 2) As an intern you do not have the power or understanding to give your managers a petition about a dress code that is specifically written out. As Alison said you could have spoken to your manager to understand the reasoning, if they even wanted to tell you, and then moved on.

    Reply
    1. Adlib

      “It is none of your business what someone does or does not do when it does not affect you.”

      I know grown professionals who still need to learn this.

      Reply
  8. Jeremy Stein

    But this is exactly the sort of thing that might get results at a school. I wish schools would do a better job of explaining the difference between school-life and work-life. There can be a bit of a culture shock. For me, the two biggest changes were that my assignments couldn’t necessarily be done in the time allotted (unlike class assignments) and the fact that I have to work through summer — what’s up with that? :)

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      LOL I remember one of my kids coming from the first week of work and saying “I have to get there at 7:30 to get a project done by 10 and I don’t leave till 6 pm — can you believe that?’ Uh yeah. You don’t get spring break either.

      Reply
      1. Edith

        I had the opposite– my parents insisted it was unprofessional and unwise to take advantage of the relaxed approach to schedules* at my first job, arguing that I shouldn’t do it because I wouldn’t be able to do it at other jobs. To me that’s all the more reason to take advantage of it while I can. And I’m still at the same job nine years and several promotions on, so I must be doing something right…

        *The official day is 8-5, but they’re perfectly fine with people who want to work 7:30-4:30 or 9-6 or whatever. I generally work 9-5:30 with a shortened lunch break.

        Reply
      2. Cordelia Naismith

        Oh, Lord — I remember my very first job and what a shock it was we had to be there every day. Even at Christmas. (I mean, not Dec. 25, but the whole time leading up to it.) Even over the summer. Every. Day.

        I have no idea why that was a shock. I knew that nobody got a summer break or a spring break outside of school. But for some reason the actuality of it just blew my young mind.

        Reply
        1. MillersSpring

          Reminds me of the recent letter from the intern who wanted to take I think two weeks off for a family vacation. Yeah, too damn bad. Childhood is over, and you have to get past that sense of entitlement to a summer vacation.

          Reply
        2. TychaBrahe

          I spent my summer breaks at camp when I was young, transitioned to a junior counselor as a pre-teen, then started doing summer school (extra classes, not makeup–I graduated high school with five years of math) and working for my parents during school breaks to keep me out of trouble. When I got to college and actually had a week off between semesters, it was really, really weird.

          Reply
      3. BananaPants

        I’m in grad school part time and the program I’m in is split around 50/50 between full time, on-campus grad students in their early 20s and part time distance students who are generally working professionals in their 30s, 40s, and beyond.

        One of the full time grad students this semester has a summer internship and halfway through this summer’s course he publicly complained to the professor that we were given an assignment on Monday and it was due on Thursday night because, “Work makes us zombies and we’ll basically have no downtime in the evenings early in the week.” Dear 22 year old single full time grad student working a summer internship, my heart just BLEEDS for you. You want to see lack of downtime, come walk in my shoes for a while as I work a 45 hour week on a different schedule than my spouse, wrangle 2 small children, volunteer, and take a grad class.

        Reply
    2. JMegan

      Yes, absolutely. OP did what she had been taught to do, which is to present a focused, reasonable argument supporting her position. Nobody told her that this is not how things are done in the workplace. Getting fired is a tough way to learn that lesson, for sure, but the good news is that this is likely the kind of mistake that you only make once.

      Further good news is that it’s an internship, and this mistake won’t follow them for the rest of their careers – it’s very much a “learn from this and move on” kind of experience.

      Reply
      1. themmases

        I don’t want to pile on to the OP but this is something I noticed about the letter too. In school, you follow an example and you may even get a rubric to follow, and if your work product follows the rubric then your work is “good”. This is really not very much like work or life.

        Outside of school, you are not the judge of whether your argument is a good one. Your audience is the judge, and if you don’t convince them then your argument wasn’t good. A good argument doesn’t just have the internal components you may have seen in the rubric, like being well-organized and clearly explained. There are external parts too, like being appropriate in context and incorporating what you know about your audience. As a new intern it’s almost impossible for you to make such an argument because the external components are missing. You don’t know your audience well yet and it’s probably inappropriate for you to be arguing about anything yet at all.

        A good argument for special accommodation in life happens outside what you write and can take a long time to build. It’s the many policies you cooperated with before asking for an exception to this new one. It’s being good at your job and earning your boss’s trust so they listen when you say “we have a problem”.

        Reply
        1. Liane

          As someone who scored essays, I can tell you that rubrics alone are not enough. You had to see lots of examples of every point in the rubric in question to be able to score well. The rubrics, created by educators, alone make you think, “WTF does that even mean?”
          Our hapless OP just made a spectacular example for the lowest scorepoint on the Work rubric.

          Reply
    3. Snarkus Aurelius

      My dad is an academic. He’s just as clueless as an alien when it comes to everyday workplace norms because he’s never had a job like that.

      Academia is more about molding minds than job prep, which probably explains why you don’t see teachers making those distinctions. They either don’t know them or it doesn’t occur to them to say something.

      Reply
      1. Not a Real Giraffe

        One of my grad school professors was an ED for a major nonprofit, and all of his assignments were designed to mimic how he expected employees to present new ideas/proposals/etc. Though I had already been in the workforce for 5+ years, I was endlessly grateful for this approach. Way to combine school-life and work-life!

        Reply
        1. OpheliaInWaders

          Our old CEO (we run like a non-profit, but we’re employee-owned) now teaches a graduate practicum about our profession, and once a semester I get to come in and pretend to be the client as they present proposals, and then give them feedback–it’s absolutely fascinating to talk to the students about which things matter, and why, and how to address them in context. It’s not something I ever experienced in school, but it would’ve been great.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Slightly related: Last night I got to Skype with a college class who had read my “how to get a job” book as part of a class assignment, and wanted to ask follow-up questions about job searching. (Their professor is a reader here.) Their questions were great and it was super fun — I want to do that nightly now.

            Reply
            1. Trout 'Waver

              I would be interested in seeing a transcript of such a Q&A. It might be insightful to those of us who hire fresh grads.

              Reply
            2. TychaBrahe

              If you really love the work, do set it up to be an occasional thing. And ask if you can record them and start a YouTube channel. First of all, it would really be an excellent resource. And second of all, you’d probably get enough hits to get a revenue stream.

              Reply
        2. OfficePrincess

          One of my favorite professors had worked in the field for years and was teaching while he worked on his PhD. Before we all started our internships (required for graduation), we all had to come to class dressed as we planned to for a normal day at our internship. We all had very different internships, so there was a wide range of outfits, but he was well known in the community for our field and wasn’t going to let us embarrass him. We also had a weekly seminar during out internships where we talked about what was going on – what we were learning, any issues that came up, etc. On top of learning about the particular work environment we were in, we got to hear about the places our classmates were as well.

          He also brought other workplace norms to the table, like telling us he was only reading the first 2 pages of our papers for certain assignments and if we couldn’t say what we needed to in that space to re-write it until we did.

          Reply
          1. lowercase holly

            nice. the teachers at my grad school almost all had “real jobs” and only taught 1-2 classes/semester. it was pretty great because they could discuss a lot of actual issues and how to deal with them.

            Reply
          2. Recent (Employed) Grad

            I recently graduated with my bachelors from a large business school. One of the required classes for all business majors and minors was called “Career Preparation “. It covered almost all of the important points of navigating the business world, from resumes, to dressing to impress, even dining etiquette. The best part of the class was a required practice interview, where upper class/ graduate student were the interviewer. They offered feedback in the entire process, from the greeting and clothing to the closing and follow up. This gave great insight into any flaws or tics in interviewing, as it was recorded for our benefit. It helped immensely when I went through my interview process, and I was able to be offered from one of the largest firms in my field. Having this class experience helped me anticipate the professional expectations. When I gave a capstone presentation to freshmen, it was highlighted as one of the most beneficial classes I took.

            Reply
      2. CMT

        I would argue that it’s not really the job of say, the classics professor, to teach students about workplace norms. If for no other reason than the classics professor likely knows *nothing* about them.

        Reply
        1. Fade

          Agreed on this point. If colleges want to offer classes in White Collar Business Norms, that’s fine, but the last thing I want my professor of Ancient Greek to be doing during a tightly scheduled class on Hesiod is to stop and go, “Now let’s talk about business wear expectations if you work at an office with a dress code!”

          Now, my high school actually had a mandatory semester-long class for seniors that was all about preparing for the real world. How to rent an apartment, set up utilities, pay the bills, balance a checkbook, account for taxes, avoid credit card debt, spot cult recruitment strategies, conduct a successful adult relationship, etc. But high school is pretty much mandatory, and Life Skills is a valid thing for it to be teaching. College has a very different purpose. Unless you’re getting a business degree, business norms aren’t their responsibility to teach.

          Reply
          1. Serafina

            Dang, I wish I’d gone to your high school. We had a “Life Management Skills” class that did teach us a little about things like CPR and general concepts of decision making (i.e. making pretty colorful charts), but spent a ridiculous amount of time on abstinence-only sex education and “anti-suicide campaigning” via watching It’s A Wonderful Life. Biggest waste of a semester ever!

            Reply
            1. Fade

              Well, it was a mixed bag. This was a very religious private high school, so part of the “life skills” seminar was things like a lecture on how having sex before marriage would ruin your life, or explaining how The Gays would try to recruit you with these specific lies about how homosexuality was okay and here was how to refute them.

              Some of my growing up was unlearning the things that school taught. But they DID give me very good advice about avoiding credit card debt, and gave me exactly the checklist I needed so that I could see when a campus group I joined in college was being manipulative and unreasonable.

              Reply
              1. Serafina

                Heh! Welp, I guess I avoided the lecture about The Gays. My experience was also pretty mixed – public high school in a college town in a generally rural, religious region of the state, so half the population was ferociously conservative, the other half fiercely liberal. So we got “if you don’t abstain, you’ll ruin your life, but if you simply MUST ruin your life, use condoms.” (snerk)

                Going back more to the topic, what was aggravating was the anti-work attitude that a lot of teachers had. Some insisted passionately that work obligations were NOT an excuse from any school obligations because “students shouldn’t be working anyway.” (It was also a generally wealthy area, so the notion that some high school kids might need to help their families make ends meet never occurred to quite a few of them.)

                Reply
                1. Kelly L.

                  With sex ed, they mostly just tried to scare us with diseases. “If you ever have sex, you will get gonorrheasyphilAIDS all at once!”

          2. LQ

            Holy wow that sounds like a useful class!!!

            I am well into adult and there are some days I feel like I could use that class.

            Reply
          3. Kelly L.

            We got some of that in high school, though it was scattered among different classes–for example, we learned how to write a resume and a business letter in English, how to write a check in a special unit put on by Junior Achievement, how to see through deceptive advertising strategies in something else entirely…

            Some of that could be done in college too, though of course the caveat in either high school or college is that info can become outdated without instructors realizing it, as we’ve seen over and over in threads about career center advice.

            Reply
            1. Fade

              Yeah, it was one particular teacher’s hobby horse, and a low-grade fear for a lot of parents, so he would do the checklist for one of the class sessions.

              The “funny” thing is that the checklist for cult recruitment strategies is pretty much the same as the checklist for abusive romantic partners, plus or minus a few details. Isolating you from your support structure/friends/family, love-bombing, slowly increasing sets of rules, double standards for you and the other person/leaders, telling you that you’re so special for being involved with them but no one else would understand, demanding control over your finances/other relationships/schedule… I’d say I got more use out of that one lecture than any of the ones on balancing checkbooks and how to set up a phone line at a new apartment.

              That, and the one teacher coming in and just telling horror stories of credit card debt in his youth.

              Reply
            2. Chinook

              ““spot cult recruitment strategies” – really?!?”

              I did this as part of a high school world religions class where we learned about 6 different religions and then I ended with “how cults are different from organized religion.” I knew it was successful when, for a final assignment where students could chose (among many other things) to create their own religion on paper and one student perfectly described the rise and fall of his own (fictious) cult.

              Then again, when I introduced this topic to this particular group of notoriously bad kids, I joked that I would be more worried for the cult leaders if they were ever recruited (because they could never be manipulated!)

              Reply
          4. Meg Murry

            We had an (optional) seminar that was specifically for freshman about how to get a summer internship – there were sessions in resume writing, and then some peer editing, session on interviews and then mock interviews with critiqued feedback, a career fair with [paid!] internship opportunities only for that program, etc. It was a partnership with alumni, and they were given some suggestions on how to mentor your intern, etc. It was honestly probably one of the most useful experiences of my whole college career, because that first internship the summer after my freshman year put me in the running for a better one the next year, and so on.

            Reply
            1. Christopher Tracy

              The university I attended required us to take a 10 week co-op readiness course where they did all of what you mentioned above (the mock interviews helped a lot).

              Reply
      3. Adlib

        I had a college accounting prof lock the door after class started. If you weren’t there on time, you weren’t getting in and had to go to the office and hope to get an excuse approved for missing class. He did it to mimic work life and to teach kids about being on time. Fortunately, he stopped doing it my freshman year, but he was scary enough in other ways!

        Reply
    4. BRR

      My husband’s dream job is professor. I’ve let him know how I don’t think school fails in certain ways in preparing students for the working world. My mom was a teacher and she had trouble figuring out why the rest of the family couldn’t take off whenever they wanted.

      Reply
      1. Sophia in the DMV

        To be fair, grad school/PhD actually doesn’t prepare people to be teachers. They prepare people on how to be researchers. Most of us profs are probably awkward in part BC we likely weren’t taught how to teach

        Reply
        1. BRR

          I do agree with you with the slight exception that he’s humanities and his program was slightly less research focused.

          Reply
      2. Zillah

        That’s bizarre on its own to me – my mother was a teacher for 30+ years, and she definitely couldn’t just take off whenever she wanted.

        Reply
    5. Tomato Frog

      This is indeed so, but… even in school, I waited until I had built up credibility and a reputation as a serious student before I tried to bend rules or rabble rouse.

      Reply
    6. Kira

      Same as some of the other commenters, I don’t think teachers/professors have the right experiences to explain workplace norms in non-education fields. In the same way I can explain what it’s like working in small nonprofits, but I’d be useless at explaining how to work within a union environment or in an engineering context (or in academia). I just don’t know how their workplace roles are set up.

      Reply
  9. Marketing Grad

    Oh, OP, I still don’t think you quite understand why you were all let go. Take this as a major lesson learned. Choose your battles wisely throughout life. Dress code in your internship is not a fight worth fighting. I’m assuming you knew what the dress code was before your first day. If that strict of a dress code isn’t going to work for you, then don’t take the job. Simple as that. You can’t go in, especially as an intern, and think you have the authority to organize a petition. Self-awareness is a very important skill. Also, in your professional career, you will always see others get “benefits” you don’t have access to. You never know the full story and it’s none of your business unless it’s directly impacting your work. Do yourself a favor and focus on what’s important- like your tasks at hand. That’s how you will get ahead (and what you want!) out of your career and life. Alison’s response was on point.

    Sorry this happened to you. I’m sure it’s jarring and embarrassing. But take this time to reflect and move on.

    Reply
    1. Christian Troy

      I agree with you. It’s hard for me to really get where the LW is coming from because prior to graduating college, I had already been working at mall stores and fast food. I knew enough by that point that there are rules about dress code and how to do things and you don’t need to agree with them, but that’s part of the job so you do it. I think LW has gotten a really unrealistic view on the professional workforce based on what happens at college, which is completely different. Colleges have a financial interest in retaining and attracting students so they have a benefit to listen to petitions and hold town hall meetings.

      Reply
      1. Snarkus Aurelius

        Plus higher Ed is the appropriate place for such discussion, although ironically it’s administration who decides what to do anyway.

        Reply
      2. Marketing Grad

        I agree. I don’t think OP has had much experience in the real world. And while college is great for learning and exploring boundaries, an internship is not the same. OP sounds like she could be one of those people who would have really benefitted from a part-time summer job. In fact, if OP is now jobless for the summer, I encourage her to go get a summer job. I can pretty much guarantee the grass is not going to be greener on the other side when she has to wear khakis and a work-issued t-shirt to work every day.

        Reply
        1. OpheliaInWaders

          Yes. OP, if you’re reading this, I think you might actually learn more this summer about what you really need to know by taking in retail/etc than you would’ve at your internship.

          Reply
      3. Turtle Candle

        And it’s not just the financial issue, either–good teachers often want to be questioned, hear arguments, be presented with logical reasons why thing should change, because many of them see critical thinking and reasoning as an end unto itself. Even if the student loses or is wrong, many good teachers will be pleased that they put the thought and effort into making the argument in the first place, because fostering that kind of critical thinking is a big part of their goal.

        But that isn’t a primary goal for workplaces, which makes it very different indeed.

        (I also started off with retail-type jobs early, which means that I learned pretty quickly that working required following rules, some of which made sense and some of which didn’t, and you’d better damn well pick your battles carefully. I mean, I also learned that some battles are well worth picking–the cashiers at the grocery store where I bagged were unionized, and I’d seen them make exactly that assessment about things like health insurance coverage or preventing ‘clopening’ shifts–but definitely that many of them are not.)

        Reply
    2. AnotherTeacher

      “Do yourself a favor and focus on what’s important- like your tasks at hand. That’s how you will get ahead (and what you want!) out of your career and life.”

      This is a terrific lesson to learn now.

      Reply
  10. AdAgencyChick

    OP, take this as a lesson: Just because someone else gets to do XYZ, doesn’t mean you get to do it. Maybe the worker who always wears the non-dress-code-compliant shoes has some kind of medical need to do so. Maybe she is a rockstar who brings in a ton of revenue to the company, and her manager has decided her value to the company is enough to allow her to deviate from the dress code.

    As Alison said, you guys were guests who tried to protest what is clearly part of their culture and important to them. A rainmaker can do that without repercussions. Interns cannot. I might not have fired you, but I actually don’t think it was too extreme a response. Interns are not the easiest people to manage. You spend a lot of time training them, and then they’re gone at the end of the summer. Add into that a group of interns who complain and try to change office culture, and I can see a manager deciding that having interns at all is more trouble than it’s worth.

    Reply
    1. AdAgencyChick

      And now, having read the letter more thoroughly…Yup! Sounds like they had an exceptional reason to make an exception to their dress code! Not that I think any less of the company for not having told OP this before the firing.

      Reply
  11. Dana

    The hippy in me is right behind you. Stand up for yourself and the whole bit. However AMA is right on this one. There are better ways to argue this. Work places aren’t really democracies and the lower you are on the totem pole the truer that is. With that said I applaud your take charge attitude but I hope you find another way to use it.

    Reply
    1. Florida

      I, too, applaud your take charge attitude, but hope you find another way to use it. Yesterday, the discussion of one letter was about making waves – when to make waves and when not to. OP, I hope your take-away from this is learning to choose when to make waves and when to go with the flow. Please don’t let the take-away be to never waves. There are times when it is appropriate to push back and there are appropriate ways to do it. Unfortunately, you usually have to screw up a few situations to figure out when to do what (coming from someone who has learned this the hard way.)

      I’m really sorry that you and our colleagues were fired over this. Yes, you made a mistake, but the point of an internship is first and foremost a learning experience. I’m sorry that they chose to eliminate everyone rather than use it as a teaching opportunity. (I guess they taught you something, but there were better ways to do it.)

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        Yes, this. If the OP and her fellow interns had been raising concerns about (say) blatant safety violations, that’d be one thing. “We want to wear sandals!” is not, however, a hill to die on.

        Reply
  12. EJ

    I think that’s a pretty rude and ballsy move to be an intern and petition a new dress code. You don’t run the show, you’re job is to follow it and learn.

    I’d suggest for any future position — bring a pair of appropriate shoes with you to the office (or clothes if that’s a problem), you can change them before and after you leave.

    Reply
  13. Bwmn

    OP – Being fired sucks. It’s embarrassing and I totally get your perspective on wanting to repair this – but I think just like AAM said that this was not an appropriate way to address the situation, sometimes a termination is just a termination. I think that you can send a letter to your manager apologizing for misreading the situation, but I really do see that as the only option left.

    This all being said – take this as an amazing opportunity. You learned something and you now know what it’s like to be fired. This is an internship and while I’m sure it would have been better to not be fired, professionally no one ever needs to know about this. You have lots of time prior to the coming school year to try and negotiate a fall or spring internship or other volunteering/work experience prior to graduation. And while there will always be people who knew what they wanted to do at a very young age and have had internships since high school – it is ok if you don’t have that.

    If the company went to the position of basically terminating all of their interns, I think the chance of reconsidering is very slim. I think taking this time to take a deep breath, maybe try to temp for the rest of the summer to get some work experience, and think about what to do senior year. It will be ok, but this opportunity is likely entirely over.

    Reply
  14. (Another) B

    “I have never had a job before…”

    Reasons why I think all teens should have a job. Summer, part time, whatever. There you will learn skills and to appreciate the good job you hopefully get when you graduate. When I graduated at 21 I had already had 7 years of work experience. Mostly retail but that showed me how to appreciate my career!

    Reply
    1. Katie the Fed

      I agree! One of the things I have to remember when dealing with my new employees is that for many of this, they’re not just new to this kind of work. They’re new to working, period. EVERYTHING is new. I often assume they know basic norms but they don’t.

      Reply
      1. LawBee

        I have a friend whose two daughters have never worked outside of school in their lives. One is 20, the other is entering college. I am very interested in seeing how they adapt to the workplace.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Most people in that position are just fine. It’s not like ballet, where you have to start at a certain age or else you can never be really competent.

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          1. Christopher Tracy

            Exactly. I never held a job in high school, and I was pretty good in my first real job in college. I was quiet and observed what the people around me were doing and modeled myself after the ones who were considered top performers. Even though I was pretty “meh” in my first unpaid internship, I rocked the second one. So the success of the student worker really does depend on whether the student comes in willing to listen and learn.

            Reply
          2. some1

            Sure, but if you made this mistake as a 15-yr-old working at Panera, getting fired would not be nearly as consequential.

            Reply
            1. neverjaunty

              On the other hand, chances are you are less likely to make certain mistakes at 20 as you are at 15.

              Reply
          3. Jinx

            Yeah, I’m an anecdote to that. I never worked while I was living at home, and I got my first job in college. I’m in a professional office setting now, and honestly I don’t feel like lack of high school work experience was a barrier. This type of job is so, so different from the hourly student jobs I worked in college that it was still a major learning curve.

            Sure, working in college can teach you the obvious stuff – show up on time, follow the dress code, be polite, etc. But unless you work an internship in college (which I didn’t, I needed $$$), those environments don’t really prepare you for the office. Heck, I spent my first six months not realizing that I could communicate with my boss about my workload or prioritize my own tasks, because I was so used to jobs where they said “do x,y,z”. Independence is incredibly difficult to get used to. It doesn’t surprise me that some professional newbies take it too far the other direction.

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          4. Anna

            I think for some people it puts them behind on the learning curve. I worked full time during the summers in an office setting during high school and I know it helped me out immensely. Where some people don’t get the lessons I got at 14 until they’re 20, I was ahead of some of my peers in that. It doesn’t mean they are forever marred and behind, though, it just might help in the early part of work-life.

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        2. SL #2

          I never had a real job until I graduated college. I like to think I turned out fine… like fposte said, it’s not like you’re going to be an awful employee unless you waited tables in high school. Lots of people adapt just fine. It requires flexibility and being open-minded to new/different norms, but people like the OP are rarer than you’d think.

          Reply
      2. A Bug!

        Every once in a while I remember some of the things I did in my first arm’s-length job, and I mentally roll my eyes at how little I understood about the adult world. Especially my interview. I’ve bombed interviews since, but those have been your pretty bog-standard bad interviews. That interview, though. I am very grateful that the hiring manager chalked my idiocy up to inexperience and took a chance on hiring me.

        Reply
    2. Artemesia

      Teens who have worked get one very important experience that prepares them for the future work world. Bosses get to ‘boss you around’; that is what it means to be the boss.

      Reply
    3. EJ

      I agree too!

      Unfortunately, my parents wouldn’t let me get a job after school or during the summer in high school. They didn’t want to drive me, nor did I have money to buy a car. But there was no public transportation, no side walks, and not close enough to ride a bike… :(

      Reply
      1. GOG11

        I was in a similar position (living in out in the middle of nowhere). I did work while in college, but my employer was at the university where I went to school and was very flexible and laid back. With my student employees now, when I have them do something that differs from what they’ll encounter in other professional offices/work environments, I explain how it differs, why we’re doing it this way, and what is more likely to happen elsewhere. I definitely would have benefited from it when I was a student and want them to have a better foundation when they leave than I had.

        Reply
      2. INTP

        I was in the same situation. They “made” me get a job one summer when I was 18, then forbade it after that. I did get a hostessing job once as a rebellion and was an absolutely horrible employee, calling out all the time because I didn’t need the job.

        Luckily through their connections I was able to start interning early and was fairly polished by the time I graduated. My first intern boss, though, was accustomed to supervising only very high level independent professionals (she was a program manager), so I got used to a lot of freedom day-to-day, no strict hours and little supervision, and had to be reined in by subsequent managers.

        Reply
      3. Kyrielle

        Me too. And that, and this, means I plan to make sure my kids do get some early experience working. (Unless we move, that will be easy transportation-wise, but if it weren’t, I’d figure something out.)

        Reply
      4. Jayn

        I feel like this assumes getting a job too. My parents would have let me have the car, but I didn’t get any of the (admittedly few) jobs I applied for in high school. They hired me themselves over the summers, but I don’t expect my experience there to reflect other workplaces I’d encounter.

        Reply
    4. K.

      Totally agree. You need to hear “because I said so” at some point, because when you get into the working world, that is very much a thing. I heard it at home from my parents, verbatim, but I also started working a taxes-taken-out* job at 15 (started babysitting well before that), so I was quite familiar with the concept of doing what you’re told by the time I started working full-time.

      *You also want to get used to that “Wait, where’s all my money?” feeling early. It stings less that way.

      Reply
      1. Amber T

        Hahahaha oooh the first paycheck woes. I had a few jobs before my first real one, but it never hit me until my first real, post college, salaried job. I remember mentally dividing my year salary by 24 (we were paid twice a month), and subtracting a little bit for taxes and stuff, and thinking, oh my god I’m going to have so much money. Then I got my paycheck. Oh. Yeah. Womp womp…

        Reply
        1. K.

          My work experience prior to my first taxes-taken-out job was babysitting, so of course I had no frame of reference for taxes. (I babysat all through my tweens, teens, and early 20s, even when I was working other jobs.) My parents did warn me about taxes for that reason. I can’t remember what they said exactly, it was something like “You make $X but you aren’t going to bring home $X.” But you can’t really prepare for it until you see the cold, hard numbers.

          Reply
          1. Zillah

            When I got my first paycheck from my first real job, I thought I was being underpaid and almost called my boss to explain the mistake and ask her to fix it.

            Thank god I googled “taxes” before that.

            Reply
        2. Turtle Candle

          Haha, yes. My high school job was in the late 90s in a state that followed the same minimum wage as federal (I want to say $5.25/hr gross pay?), and after withholdings and so on I felt so deflated! Like, “I spent twenty hours this week bagging groceries for this?” (On the other hand, it did make me a lot more careful with my money; I was assessing “is this worth four hours of smiling at jerks while attempting to arrange their bananas to their satisfaction? probably not” before every purchase.)

          Reply
      2. Karo

        When I started my first real job, I got my first paycheck and was stunned by how little I had made.

        Turns out they had only paid me for 1 week instead of 2. So after that shock any amount of withholdings seemed reasonable.

        Reply
    5. fposte

      I’ll dissent slightly, in that I agree that it’s good to have work experience, but you’ve got to go through those first job pains sometime no matter when you start work. You generally get more slack at 16, but internships have a lot of leeway too.

      Reply
      1. Turtle Candle

        That’s true. We have (paid) internships at my job, and it’s sort of understood that they will probably have some rough edges at first. Many of them pick up on the norms all by themselves (I can’t tell you how many interns show up the first day in a not-wildly-inappropriate-but-definitely-borderline outfit, and immediately self-correct and show up every day thereafter correctly attired, just from having seen what everyone else is wearing), but those that don’t, yeah, we’re not going to clobber anyone for not picking up on workplace norms instantly. Those that don’t self-correct quite quickly get a gentle but firm “this is how it goes” talk from the intern coordinator.

        (Now, if they argued back after the gentle-but-firm talk about no flipflops or how meeting times are generally non-negotiable without a really good reason, that would be another matter. But we haven’t had that problem.)

        Reply
    6. Snarkus Aurelius

      My brother never had a job until he was in his 30s because he spent his life in school. He almost got fired at his first job when he learned that you can’t get a project assignment and then disappear for a few weeks like he could when he was a PhD candidate. His PhD deadlines were sometimes years into the future!

      Reply
      1. blackcat

        Ha, this is the thing I love most about being a grad student. If my work gets done in a “timely” fashion, I can come and go as I please. It’s a HUGE perk. At the same time, it’s always hard to judge how much time off is too much time off.

        The nebulous deadlines of “finish a dissertation in 18 months” are actually the worst thing about the PhD process. There’s simultaneously so much work AND so much time to do it.