my boss does my coworker’s laundry, employee always misses staff photo day, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss does my coworker’s laundry

I recently learned that my boss has been doing one of our coworker’s laundry. I was a bit taken aback by this because my coworker had moved to new housing closer to our workplace about six months ago. I had heard them make comments before about my boss doing his laundry, but I thought she was just joking around. I am also a manager and could understand offering to help one of my staff for a short time after a move, especially if they live close to me, but my boss and coworker live an hour apart. This would mean she is picking up his laundry, taking it home to do it for him and bringing it back to him (and as I said, this had been going on for at least six months). The only reason I can think of for this is that he does not have a washer or dryer at his house, so my boss views it as “teamwork” and just helping him out.

I personally felt like this is crossing a professional boundary line, especially when I consider how this could be viewed by other staff if they knew this was going on. Am I wrong to think this way? What would be the best way to approach my boss with these feelings?

Noooooooo, this is super strange and inappropriate. I mean, maybe she’s not actually driving to his house to pick up the laundry and then driving back to deliver it — maybe they’re making the switch-off at the office, which would make it marginally better. But it’s still super, super weird and inappropriate. And yeah, if people hear about it, they’re going to assume all sorts of concerning things about that relationship, as well as about each of them individually. At best, the boss will look like she’s inappropriately mothering him and he will look like he’s too immature to be able to wash his own clothes. At worst, it will look like something really icky is going on between them. Either way, it will look like she has zero clue about boundaries with the people she’s supposed to manage.

If you happen to have a very good and close relationship with your boss and she takes candor well, then you could certainly say, “Hey, this looks really inappropriate and I’m concerned that people are going to draw pretty alarming conclusions if they hear about it.” Or if you see signs of favoritism toward this employee (aside from the laundry), that’s something you could raise. But otherwise, you don’t really have standing to address it, weird as it is.

2. Employee always misses staff photo day

I’m a brand new manager (six months) in the unit I have worked in for five years, and each year we send out a team holiday photo to our colleagues around the country. For the last two years, a chronically absent employee has had to be Photoshopped into our photo. He has only worked in the unit for three years but is chronically absent. The other people in the unit prepare for the photo, we have a spouse come to the office and take the photos on location, and photo day is planned weeks in advance. This year, we are again stuck with an incomplete photo because this employee didn’t show up.

The employee historically does not attend any group functions, nor take part when he’s in the office. Retirement parties, group photos, office lunches, and the like always happen to coincide with a sickness and absence. His absenteeism is not a secret, and is an elephant in the room of our otherwise very cohesive team. It also has gone on continuously for years, even prior to joining this team. (He’s absent in total about four months of the year, but in a unionized environment, supported with sick notes, and all days taken without pay anyway because his vacation and sick leave credits exhausted each year, we cannot get rid of him. Why he is kept on is a whole other situation which we can’t do anything about.)

It’s frustrating when the entire team plans for this event only to have our efforts thwarted by yet another absence. Should we send out the photo without the absent employee in it? Should we attempt to cut and paste an old photo of him into the otherwise beautiful picture we currently have? Teammates have suggested I speak to him to see if he minds sending the photo without him in it. Despite his answer (I’m sure he wouldn’t mind at all), I worry about how this will look to our colleagues, particularly as it’s my first time managing. Then again, it’s just a photo! If you’re absent on picture day at school, then you’re not in the class photo … right?

Just send it out without him in it and don’t give it another thought. (Frankly, that sounds like it would be more representative of your team anyway, since he’s basically never there. Let the photo reflect reality! Plus, he’s made it pretty clear that he’s not into this stuff. So be it.)

The bigger issue is how someone missing four months of the year still has a job, union or no union, and whether anyone can manage effectively in an environment that takes core managerial authority away from managers (“we cannot get rid of him”).

3. Asking “make or break” questions once you get a job offer

I’m interviewing for a job but want to be careful about entering a toxic work environment. Do you think it’s appropriate to ask “make or break” questions before receiving an offer? For example, during an in-person interview, one might ask what the work culture is or what their management style is, but answers are always rosy. If I received the offer, would it then be appropriate to ask more direct (rude?) questions, like “how often do people work overtime” and “what are your methods of feedback” and “what do you or management do to increase diversity and be inclusive”? Is my perception of more direct questions being rude wrong? And if there are questions that are best saved for post-offer, what are they?

There are lots of questions that make sense to save for post-offer! For example, detailed questions about hours, flexibility, and benefits should usually be held for that stage. (That convention can be frustrating and isn’t always logical, but it is the convention so you usually get better results if you abide by it.) But questions about culture and management style are usually things you can ask earlier in the process. And in fact, it’s smart to do so, so that you can figure out if you have more targeted questions to ask once you get an offer based on their answers from earlier.

That said, you don’t want to just rely on asking the hiring manager these questions if you’re gathering information that’s really important to you. You want to talk to other people and do due diligence in other ways — because bad managers often misrepresent things (not necessarily on purpose; they often genuinely aren’t equipped to talk with precision about how things work there). So by all means, ask these questions if they’re important to you — they’re not rude, and you shouldn’t accept an offer without having answers about things that matter to you. But don’t make that your sole source of information.

4. I can’t get a copy of my job description

I have been with my company for 12 years, and in the same position for about five of those. I recently asked my boss to send me my job description in preparation for hiring someone to backfill my position (as I hopefully move up). He did not have a copy and told me to call HR to request it.

I called my HR department and was told that I needed to have my boss call the compensation team to request a copy of my job description. I was advised not to do this myself — HR told me that compensation would not give me my job description; the request had to come from my manager.

Am I wrong to think it is strange that I can’t access my own job description? HR told me it’s because they don’t want people reviewing their job descriptions and arguing that their responsibilities have changed and they therefore deserve more money. It seems to me like having access to one’s own job description is a basic tenet of a working relationship. Who’s in the right here? For what it’s worth, my boss was able to call and get a copy, which he immediately shared with me, but he said it was an argument to even get compensation to send it to him.

Nope, that’s weird. People should have their job descriptions so that they’re aligned with their manager about the work of the role — and so that if the role has significantly shifted, they can get aligned with their manager about that too. There are certainly ways around that; you can create the same thing more informally with your manager. But if a written job description exists, it’s bizarre not to share it with the person in said job. And it’s even more bizarre that your boss had to fight for it too.

5. Am I hurting my chances of getting hired by filling my time with volunteering?

I graduated university some time ago and since the job market in my area is really competitive, I thought I’d keep my resume busy while jobseeking. I’m currently active in a couple of volunteering roles I’m passionate about and wrapping up an internship.

I walked out of an interview last week feeling pretty good — the interviewers seemed really interested in my background, my skills and the experience I’ve been building in my ongoing voluntary roles. Then they called to let me know someone else had gotten the job, and when I asked for feedback, they said they’d been really impressed by my application but it came down to someone who could “transition quicker” into the vacancy.

What does that even mean? Is it my volunteering that’s the problem? That’s the only thing I can think of — that they’d see my other activity to be an obstacle in getting settled into my role in a timelier manner. I’m already frustrated from the long job hunt, so I’m feeling anxious. Am I actually hurting my chances of getting a job by filling in my time with other activities I only think would help get me jobs?

It’s possible that they meant the person they hired could start immediately, but it’s much more likely that they meant the person has more experience and can hit the ground running with less training because they’ve done this work before.

Of course, that assumes that you’re not indicating that you’d need months to wrap up your volunteer work, or that you’ve committed to a long-term position that you’d need to finish up with before starting work with them. If you’re saying things like that, then yes, that could indeed be a problem. But assuming you’re not saying anything that precludes you being able to start within a few weeks, I wouldn’t worry about this. Most employers aren’t going to hire just based on who can start a week or two earlier (except in some very narrowly defined circumstances which aren’t at all typical). That said, there’s nothing wrong with making sure that you’re being clear about your availability if you think people may have the wrong idea.

{ 538 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#1, is there any chance that your boss lost a bet to your coworker, and doing laundry was the stakes? I’m just really really hoping there’s a more normal-ish explanation than “Your boss has no sense of personal boundaries and is mothering, or carrying on an intimate relationship with, your coworker.”

    (But yes, so much wtf otherwise.)

    Reply
    1. Caelyn

      My SO and I are binge watching The Office and I immediately thought of something like that. Although, in the show, it was the other way around.

      Reply
    2. Oblomov

      In my first job, I did laundry at my boss’ apartment every other weekend.

      But that job was in Russia in the mid-1990s, when there were still a lot of apartments (including mine) that weren’t renovated to European standards and didn’t have European washing machines!

      Reply
      1. Bea

        Using the bosses washer/dryer would make a lot more sense to me than the boss doing the laundry for the co-worker! That’s along the lines of helping someone out that is a little weird because you’re going to your bosses house for a personal thing but you could offer to anyone in the same situation easily enough.

        My mom picks up my laundry sometimes and does it, even as an adult because that’s just the mom she is and I don’t care one way or another it makes her feel like she’s helping me out with my workload mounting. So this situation smells of mothering the coworker to me.

        Reply
    3. Falling Diphthong

      I know of a pool game where the stakes were “Use ‘penguin’ in a scientific paper published within the year.” (These were particle physicists.)

      Reply
      1. GG Two shoes

        A industry colleague and I were doing a panel discussion at a conference together a few years back. I bet him that he couldn’t work in the word delicious (without mentioning food) into one of his answers. He did so, repeatedly.

        ex. “Working to implement that program was a delicious idea that Bob did flawlessly.”

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Hysterical.

          In high school and college I had a silly little game that I had to work the word “juxtaposition” into every paper. Fortunately the Spanish word is similar, “yuxtaposición”. I always kinda wondered if anyone noticed. :D

          Reply
          1. TempUserName

            In high school my friends bet that I couldn’t work a made-up word into our AP Gov oral exam without our teacher noticing. I did, and he…didn’t remark on it, and gave me a good grade. But he did give me a strange look.

            Reply
            1. Kimberlee, Esq.

              Ha! In junior high and high school, some friends and I had a couple classes where it was really clear that the teacher just basically wasn’t looking at answers on worksheets and stuff, so we’d always test it. I remember an Economics teacher who would give you full credit as long as you put an answer. That’s it. A friend had some phrase, I wanna say “purple monster” or something equally obvious, that he used as an answer once per worksheet for EVERY worksheet. Never got marked off for it. Not once!

              Reply
              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

                I had an AP Government teacher who did the same thing (in the end it was awful, we all did poorly on that exam since the teacher stopped caring in September) and I once turned in homework written entirely in my very fledgling Japanese. Full marks.

                Reply
                1. Specialk9

                  These stories are cracking me up.

                  I mean, I guess I can see “purple monster” getting missed, but Japanese characters?! That’s a teacher not even *looking* at the papers! Wow.

              2. Fern

                We had to journal every day for our sophomore English class, and the teacher started the year saying “what you write in your journal are private, so I’m only counting pages to make sure you are writing in them in each day” and my friend and I made it about a month before we devolved into writing lyrics to songs and the opening monologue from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off pretty much every day. We both got A’s for our journals all year.

                Reply
                1. Canadian Natasha

                  I had a teacher say the same thing in elementary school but when I wrote (like 4 pages worth) entirely in a substitution code I got from a Nancy Drew book she refused to accept it because it wasn’t in plain English. Needless to say I didn’t trust the privacy promise after that.

            2. Izzy

              Maybe they weren’t sure it was made up, and didn’t want to risk that it was a real word that they didn’t know and you did.

              Reply
            3. Winger

              I had one history class in HS that involved writing a lot of long-ish research papers, often one each week, but very little other “homework.” The teacher was relatively cool so people would often try to play tricks with their papers – inserting random words, making paragraphs into acrostics, making elaborate references to inside jokes. Some of them were absolutely hilarious, and people got really creative about it. In some ways, I feel like these kinds of things were as important to the development of my writing style as the actual process of researching and writing the papers.

              Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          This was literally every first-year law school class I took. :) We called it word bingo—how to incorporate outlandish or bizarre phrases into answers while being cold-called.

          Reply
      2. Anion

        Some writer friends of mine and I all worked a certain nonsense phrase into our books at one point, because the phrase was a joke between us. So there are four books on the shelves with the same nonsense phrase in them. We still get a kick out of it. :-)

        Reply
      3. ginger ale for all

        Judy Greer wrote in her book that she and other celebrities challenge each other to say a certain word in those press junket interviews to make them more fun for each other. I think she used the word crocodile when she was promoting a movie once. She said that she and another star got along like two crocodiles swimming down the Nile.
        Greer, Judy (2014). I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-53788-9.

        Reply
      4. Med Student

        In an electronics class, I added the words “chocolate spread” in a friend’s coursework (not even in context, just randomly inserted in the middle of a sentence). Our teacher asked us (sincerely) if it was a technical term and what it meant.

        (There were other clues to her incompetence too, but this was the funniest)

        Reply
  2. Princess Cimorene

    #1 – the first thing that comes to my mind is the boss and this employee have some “secret” love affair going on, and if your boss doesn’t realize this looks that way she is extremely out of touch. How bizarre!!

    Reply
    1. Nursey Nurse

      Yeah. In fact, i almost hope they are having an illicit personal relationship, because short of your boss being his mom I cannot think of any other way this isn’t just plain bizarre. I’ve had bosses who I considered friends, who I hung out with on weekends, who came to my wedding, etc. The only way I would ask to use their laundry facilities would be if every other washer and dryer in town had spontaneously combusted. And that’s me borrowing their washer. I would never, ever let a boss actually handle my laundry. They just don’t need to know that much about me.

      Reply
        1. Jesca

          Could you imagine someone you are not intimate with folding your underwear as an adult? I don’t even want my mother doing this. This is all I could think of! WOW haha

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          1. GG Two shoes

            My vision was she was washing and drying it, then giving it back unfolded. Wrinkles, sure, but that’s better than the image of her folding it for him.

            Reply
          2. Detective Amy Santiago

            My mom did my laundry for me once a couple of years ago when she was between jobs and I was working a ton of OT. It was definitely weird.

            Reply
            1. Anastasia Beaverhausen

              Our washer broke a few years back, so we took our laundry to my husband’s parents’ house. Before we could get over there to fold the dry clothes, my MIL had done it. I was SO embarrassed when I remembered I had this OLD, falling apart bra in there that she would have seen. I pitched it shortly after, LOL!

              Reply
              1. Turquoisecow

                My mother in law routinely travels several states to babysit for her grandkids. While she’s there, she does the family’s laundry. I’m the only one who finds this weird. My husband is perfectly capable of doing his laundry (he handles 99% of ours, except folding and ironing), but his mom also used to come visit him from several states away and do his laundry.

                We live about 45 minutes away from her now, and I’m mildly terrified that if/when we have a kid she’s going to volunteer to babysit and do our laundry. I do not need my MiL seeing my underwear, thanks. (My husband thinks I’m weird – if she wants to help, let her!)

                Reply
                1. Sled dog mama

                  I had the same issue. Hubby and I got a second laundry basket which stayed hidden in my closet. His mom would wash the stuff in in the basket in our bathroom and I would put things like my workout clothes in the basket but most of my clothes went in the secret basket which MIL has never touched. I don’t know if she’s ever noticed that she’s only washing her son’s clothes and an occasional shirt of mine, but she’s never commented on it.

                2. AMPG

                  My mom does the kids’ laundry when she babysits. You could let her do that so that she can feel like she’s helping (it’s a huge help for us).

                3. Arjay

                  I was in a long-distance relationship for a couple of years and his mom lived with him. It was a little weird when visiting, but it was generally ok. In a deeply misguided attempt to be sexy, lol, I once left a pair of my underwear in his bed.
                  That was when I learned that this grown man had his laundry, including his sheets, washed by his mom. Oops.

                4. KT84

                  I just realized I am like your mother-in-law – I often dog sit for my sister and bro-in-law and often she “forgets” a load of laundry in the dryer. Since I am also doing my laundry, I usually fold it for her. She has never said not to so I guess she is not embarrassed by me folding her bras and their underwear. I am not embarrassed either – at my house growing up laundry was rotated each week between me, my parents and my sister so I have been folding other’s clothes for years lol.

                  But I would never offer to do a co-workers laundry unless their house burned down or was damaged – if they are old enough to have a job, they are old enough to do their own damn laundry.

                5. Another person

                  Yeah I think that varies a lot. I would not find it odd if my parents did my laundry for me when visiting (if the laundry wasn’t down so many stairs) or if my MIL did it. My mom usually visits me when I am working, so she does some chores while I’m at work to help out/because a lot of the time the weather is gross and she doesn’t want to go do things. She just wants to make it so that we are more likely to invite her back by making it easier.

                6. attie

                  I once came home from an international trip to find my panties expertly folded. And that’s how I learned that as soon as I leave the house for a few days, my boyfriend secretly brings over another woman to live in our apartment in my stead. I assume she mixed up some things in the laundry basket, otherwise why would she be doing my laundry??

                7. Reya

                  Many years ago, when I was living with my parents and my then-boyfriend was living with his parents, our washing machine broke. They kindly said we could use theirs, so I brought a load of the most essential laundry over with me and chucked it in the machine.

                  When I next saw the laundry it was not only clean and dry, but had been ironed as well. By my boyfriend’s mother. Every bit of it, including my dad’s underwear.

                  WHO IRONS UNDERWEAR?

          3. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            BTDT, but that was with roommates. I was reliant on a cane and couldn’t do much that kept me on my feet for long periods, so folding everyone’s laundry was one of my chores in exchange for them doing more standing-intensive work.

            Reply
            1. SarahTheEntwife

              A few years ago a friend was saying at my apartment for a few days and we threw our laundry in the machine together because it was just easier that way…only to discover that not only are we about the same size, we have the same taste in cheap multipack underpants and so quite possibly ended up inadvertently swapping underwear :-b

              Reply
          4. Izzy

            My ex-husband told me that from his teens, he washed his underwear in the shower out of respect for his mother so she wouldn’t have to handle it.

            Reply
          5. anna

            I outsource my laundry – we have a laundromat with wash and fold service less than a block from our apartment. The first time we did it I felt a little weird about handing the manager our dirty underwear but I got over it pretty quick because it is SO nice to have someone else do this chore I hate. I do hold back delicates with special washing requirements and do some pre-treating of stains, but otherwise it’s amazing. If only I could have her actually put away my folded clothes as well, lol.

            Reply
            1. Jesca

              Yeah, I know what you mean. I wish I lived closer to one myself. But I think it is different because this is their job (and likely see a lot of “things” lol), and you don’t know them personally. Its all just kind of professional in that sense like dry cleaning.To have someone you know well do something like that just seems icky to me!

              Reply
          6. Bea

            I’m the odd duck out because I find nothing personal about my underwear. But I’m the one who forgets to close the bathroom door or strips down to my undies in front of people to change without thinking about it. So I don’t see it as an intimate thing but certainly weird to have a coworker let alone a boss handle.

            I remember my brother being adamant about our mom not doing his laundry after age 14 or so, so I get that I’m absolutely the odd one here.

            Reply
      1. Brandy

        Some people are the type people do for. I had a coworker Jerry, my mom knew him and I got him the interview, she typed up his resume and everyone always did for him. People cooked him meals (he said he couldn’t cook, but wouldn’t pay attn. when I tried to tell him how). Someone once bought a thanksgiving turkey at lunch and put it in the work fridge. They left and forgot it and the office raffled it off (I know, they could’ve picked it up the next day) and surprise, guess who won. Also my boss took it home and cooked and sliced it for him and brought it to him. It was ridiculous.

        Reply
        1. Turquoisecow

          This reminds me of my father-in-law. His mother and father, then his wife, did everything for him. I’m amazed he knows how to tie his own shoes.

          He’s also very distractable and not at all interested in learning anything. Recently his Skype contacts were somehow rearranged to not be in alphabetical order, so he couldn’t find anyone. I tried to explain to him that he could search by name, but he brushed that off as being too difficult and taking too much time.

          Reply
          1. the gold digger

            My husband was staying with his dad when his mom was in the hospital. Primo washed, dried, and folded their laundry and asked his dad, who was not a stupid man and who thought he was the smartest person in the world, to put the clothes away.

            Sly said he did not know where Doris’ clothes went.

            They had been married for 50 years. They shared a small closet and a dresser.

            Reply
      2. Someone else

        I had a boss who was a good friend (and our spouses were also friends). At one point they did do their own laundry at our house, but that was because A) their machine had just broken that morning and they had a toddler and B) they were coming over anyway for dinner and a game night. So when they told us about the bad timing of the problem with the machine, we told them to just bring the laundry with them so it could run while we did other things. It wasn’t a regular occurrence though. It does not make sense for this to be any kind of regular arrangement unless these two are either secretly relatives or one lost a bet. Even then it’s a crappy bet given the distance between where they live.

        Reply
      3. anon this time

        I once had a boss who let me use his washer and dryer since I didn’t have either, there wasn’t a laundromat, and I lived nearby. That was weird enough.

        Reply
    2. AvonLady Barksdale

      I’m envisioning a “mommy-boss” type of thing, where this guy said something about not knowing how to do his laundry or messing it up somehow or not having a washer and dryer in his new place, so boss offered to take care of it (and thus him). I know women like this. Still not appropriate, and to me, that’s ickier than an affair (which I could understand). I would find it less icky (still inappropriate) if the co-worker were going to the boss’s house to do his laundry.

      I know the origins of this arrangement are moot, but still, I really want to know.

      Reply
      1. manager2.0

        Hi AvonLady Barksdale,

        I point blank asked why my boss was doing his laundry since it did come up in conversation between the 3 of us. The only reason she gave was because he did not have a washing machine or dryer.

        Reply
    3. kittymommy

      I mean listen, a couple of senior management in my office offered to let me did my laundry when I was displaced by hurricane irma but that was only for a month. 6 months?!? This would weird me out to and definitely be suspicious.

      Reply
      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        There is also a big difference between saying “hey, you come over and do your laundry at my place” and “let me do your laundry for you”.

        Reply
        1. Kathleen Adams

          Exactly. One is providing a basic kindness (and wouldn’t be too odd, especially if there weren’t laundry facilities available elsewhere – and I have lived places where laundromats aren’t easy to find). But the other is…well, intimate – either Mommy-Taking-Care-of-Helpless-Child intimate or Oooh-Let-Me-Do-That-for-You-Lover intimate. So wrong, so very, very wrong.

          Reply
        2. Turquoisecow

          Yeah, I used to bring my laundry to my moms house because going to the laundromat was such a pain and I went to my parents’ almost every weekend anyway. But she did not do it for me. She just let me have access to the machines.

          But my mom isn’t the overbearing type. She taught me how to do my laundry at about 13, because I was too lazy to get it in the hamper and she wasn’t going to pick it up. When I went to college, so many of my classmates were completely flummoxed by the laundry process, because their parents had always done it for them.

          Reply
          1. Detective Amy Santiago

            I still do my laundry at my parents because it’s easier and cheaper than a laundromat. But I do it myself. And usually my mom and I catch up on our TV shows while I’m there.

            Reply
            1. Libervermis

              Same, when I visit my parents I usually bring a basket of laundry along because it’s easier and cheaper than a coin laundry machine. But I do all my own laundry, often throw in a load of towels or fold whatever was in the dryer while I’m at it, and only touch laundry that isn’t mine because we’re family and have mutually agreed it’s okay.

              Reply
          2. SAHM

            Lol, I have my 8 yr old wash laundry. Not the folding part yet, but the picking it all up off the floor, putting in hampers, and putting it in the wash and then the dryer. Those little laundry detergent pods make it a much easier chore. Plus he’s tall enough to push the buttons and can read the words and decide if it’s sheets or normal or whatever.

            Reply
    4. Hc600

      In undergrad I once saw a grad student taking a (married) professor’s (distinctive) dog for a very early (pre 7 am)morning walk as I was doing my own walk of shame. “They are definitely sleeping together” I thought. Several years later it was revealed publicly that they were having an affair, it was a huge scandal for various conflict of interest type reasons, etc. they are now married to each other.

      Sorry I just had to share.

      Reply
    5. Fiennes

      See, I almost think there *can’t* be an affair, because then surely they wouldn’t mention it! (Or if they did, there would be many, many other tells.)

      Reply
      1. Sparky

        Perhaps this is a weird benefit he negotiated? “You can’t go any higher with the salary, I can’t ever work from home, you won’t give me any more paid time off. I really want this to work for both of us; would it be possible for someone to do my laundry for me?”

        Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I think it’s totally normal/ok for OP to feel leery about this arrangement and to bring up that discomfort with their manager. Aside from the sheer weirdness of the boss doing the coworker’s laundry, it sounds like they openly joke about it in the office in a way that ropes everyone into their strange arrangement. So this isn’t about OP prying or not minding their business; it’s about the boss and coworker creating a skeevy dynamic that affects how coworkers might view one another and their manager.

      Reply
      1. Mes

        Of course it’s normal to feel weird about it. I just don’t think OP has anything to gain by calling out her boss. If it’s an open joke in the office, the boss’s boss can deal with it.

        Reply
        1. manager2.0

          Hi Mes,

          I appreciate your opinion on this situation. My boss’s boss does not work in our building because the management team I am part of is a contracted management team. Our “big boss” is only around once a month. It also is not an open joke within our workplace, because my coworker make it very clear that nobody was supposed to know this was going on. This was part of the reason for my concern over this information being shared with me.

          Reply
    2. Princess Cimorene

      Yes, because the boss doing the laundry of one co-worker doesn’t bring up at the very least worries about favoritism… hmm…?? If the boss isn’t having a love affair with this coworker, then at the very least to this coworkers peers it will appear that they have some other strangely inapporpriate relationship where there is some favor involved. Which means this coworker may get unwarranted promotions/praise/projects etc over other employees who have earned it and that is unfair and is absolutely LWs business.

      Reply
      1. Chocolate Teapot

        Once, the washing machine in my building broke down and an acquaintance offered the use of their machine, but the intention was to go to their house with my laundry, put everything in the machine and wait until the end of the cycle, then unload and take everything home.

        Are the boss and co-worker related by any small chance? If not, it is odd it has been going on for so long.

        Reply
        1. manager2.0

          Hi Chocolate Teapot,

          No, they are not related. Just a very strange bit of information that did not seem appropriate to me considering the length of time it had been going on.

          Reply
      2. Tuxedo Cat

        That’s what I was thinking. It seems like such an intimate act, to do some else’s laundry, that I’d question whether I was receiving a fair shake at work. If I had an issue with my coworker, could I tell my boss that?

        Reply
    3. Gingerblue

      What is it with all the scoldy replies lately? And who the heck doesn’t wonder why the boss is doing an employee’s laundry?

      Reply
      1. Purplesaurus

        For real though. I don’t know what’s making some people so cranky, but I hope it doesn’t discourage people from writing in.

        Reply
      2. Kathleen Adams

        “Scoldy” is very good – and very apt. I agree that “Mind your own business” is often good advice, but then so is “Don’t provide inappropriately personal services to your subordinates, lady!”

        It’s so wrong. Of course the OP wonders. Anyone would wonder, and I’m going to go so far as to say that anybody who claims they wouldn’t isn’t being honest with him/herself. It’s *weird*.

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yeah—there’s been an uptick in scoldy comments. It’s not necessarily a numerical increase in the number of commenters doing it, it just seems that those commenters are doing it more frequently/consistently.

        Reply
    4. Jenny

      I think an inappropriate relationship between someone’s co-worker and their manager can be their business when it’s making the team uncomfortable.

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        Yeah, if you’re going to have an inappropriate relationship, at least keep it outside the office. This is a joking conversation where I imagine everyone within earshot wishing they could be abducted by aliens.

        Reply
        1. Snark

          What’s the difference? If you’re aware of a weird, inappropriate dynamic that raises questions of favoritism, that’s weird enough to be uncomfortable.

          Reply
              1. JB (not in Houston)

                “superabundant experience feeling weird and uncomfortable”
                Ha! And I wish that didn’t describe me, but alas

                Reply
        2. Falling Diphthong

          Uncomfortable–> reminders of an intimate relationships between boss and employee leaking into the workplace. For a lot of us, doing someone else’s laundry is a level of intimacy that suggests romantic partners or parent-child. (Hiring your boss to wash your underwear in exchange for money would also be weird.)

          If boss and subordinate regularly delved into discussions of obscure pokemon details, that would be weird but not uncomfortable.

          Reply
        3. LBK

          That seems like splitting the hairs of a natural cause and effect? Generally things people find weird make them uncomfortable.

          Reply
        4. PainScientist

          I see a lot of people questioning this and I wonder if you use these terms the way I do, Roscoe. I tend to use “makijg me feel uncomfortable” to mean “making me feel unsafe” (especially in regards to other people making me uncomfortable or doing something that does) whereas weird can mean anything from odd or awkward to icky or a bit nervous, but not unsafe.

          Reply
          1. Bea

            Thank you. This person’s comments are always giving me the knee jerk reaction to snap back because of the snide way they come across but out of respect for you and the others here I try to keep a sock stuffed in it.

            Reply
          2. Gingerblue

            Thank you. The comments have been making me increasingly uncomfortable lately, particularly the handful that seem to be looking for any way to read the letter, no matter how tortured, that lets them paint the OP as at fault and lecture them.

            Reply
    5. Just stopping by

      I have to say, I really don’t understand why this would be such a big thing. Unless there are OTHER issues that indicate there is something weird going on or showing favouritism, based on this alone I would just assume that boss and co-worker have some kind of relationship (and I don’t mean a romantic one) outside of work. I’m from a small country though, so colleagues having a relationship separate from work or even being related would not be at all unusual.

      Reply
        1. Myrin

          That is honestly the thing that is ickiest to me about this whole situation. I know intellectually that the (appearance of) favouritism is the biggest problem here, not to mention the general weirdness of it all, but what gets my hackles up emotionally is men who can’t/won’t do basic household chores (unless there is a legitimate reason like for example an illness, of course).

          Reply
          1. One of the Sarahs

            Yeah, me too. “Grown adult human can’t do their own laundry” is a very bad look anyway, but the idea of a man’s female boss doing the laundry for him has a ton of implications that make it worse.

            Reply
      1. Oryx

        It’s an optics thing. Just having some kind of relationship — romantic or otherwise — outside of work between a manager and a subordinate LOOKS like favoritism. Doesn’t matter if favoritism is happening or not, if my boss has a friendship/relationship/whatevership with one of my coworkers outside of the office, that means that my coworker has a professional advantage that the rest of us don’t have. This is why friendships between bosses and subordinates are usually discouraged. Again, even if everything is above board it LOOKS like favoritism and a good manager would want to squelch that as soon as possible.

        Reply
          1. Detective Amy Santiago

            My French teacher in high school used to say that all the time. We were convinced she was having an affair with our Trig teacher. Turned out we were right.

            Reply
      2. Observer

        Sure. But most adult relationships don’t include doing other people’s laundry outside of parents and intimate partners.

        Reply
      3. John

        It stands to really diminish the boss in the eyes of the team. And I can’t imagine her giving direct feedback to an employee whose undies she is folding.

        Reply
      4. Brandy

        I had a boss that would let her pets take longer lunches with her and would change the time in the clock for them so they appeared to only take 30 min lunches. It wasn’t right.

        Reply
        1. tigerStripes

          For just 1-2 wonderful seconds, I thought you meant that the boss would let her cats and dogs take lunches with her at work :)

          Reply
      5. Snark

        Well, most of us here are from a big country, and this is 100% friggin’ bizarro world where we come from. Don’t forget to factor in how you might be an edge case.

        Reply
        1. Just stopping by

          An edge case? I’m not familiar with that expression. I feel like we’ve seen a lot of fairly bizarre behaviour cross our computer screens on AskaManager, and this just isn’t really one of them. A bit unusual, sure. A problem? Not particularly. Unless there are other things happening that would also indicate favouritism, this one thing in and of itself wouldn’t bother me terribly. I can see I’m very much in the minority though, so mea culpa.

          Reply
      6. Susanne

        It’s weird because it doesn’t fall under the normal definition of “relationships outside work.” It’s not a friendship or a shared hobby. I don’t know any other circumstances in which a person voluntarily does the laundry of someone else in a different household on a regular basis, except for perhaps helping an elderly person or a relative with a new baby. But it’s not a typical “thing” that grown adults do – hand one another laundry to do. (And yes, we all get there are exceptions, hurricanes, power outages, blah blah blah. Not the point.)

        Reply
      7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        This really wouldn’t strike you as weird or creepy? The relationship part isn’t necessarily creepy (although it’s problematic if they’re in the same reporting chain), but the airing of dirty laundry seems guaranteed to make people feel squicky.

        Reply
        1. Canadian Natasha

          “the airing of dirty laundry seems guaranteed to make people feel squicky.”
          I see what you did there. ;)

          Reply
    6. finderskeepers

      When OP#1 says “doing their laundry” does OP actually know the boss is taking the dirty clothes to her house, sorting the clothes, loading the washer and dryer and folding them? Or could it just be picking up and dropping off dry cleaning? Srsly, no big deal

      Reply
      1. caryatis

        Even if it’s just drycleaning, it would be weird to me. Why can’t the coworker do his own basic personal tasks?

        Reply
      2. k8

        you think your boss doing your coworkers chores for them is nbd?? if boss was doing their dirty dishes would you be okay as long as she was using the dishwasher vs hand washing?

        Reply
          1. Anna

            This is not a gift; it’s a weirdly personal task, whether it’s picking up and dropping off dry cleaning or doing laundry. It may not be a cataclysmic big deal, but it is weird and enough of an optics issue that it should be addressed.

            Reply
      3. Bend & Snap

        This reminded me of the Friends episode where Monica and Chandler still think their relationship is a secret.

        Monica: I can’t wait to see you. I’m just going to tell Rachel that I’m doing laundry for a couple hours.
        Chandler: Laundry. Huh. Is that my new nickname?
        [Rachel is shocked]
        Monica: You know what your nickname is, Mr Big…
        Rachel: AHHHHH!
        [hangs up]

        Reply
      4. Snark

        What’s the difference? If I asked my boss, or if my reports asked me, to pick up their dry cleaning, it’d be weirder than an eyeless cave mole. “Superiors doing personal chores for their reports” is a weird-ass thing to do whether it’s laundry or dry cleaning or groceries or shoe polishing.

        Reply
        1. Susanne

          I could see an one-off type of thing – for example, I live near a mall and someone ordered something to a store near that mall and would I mind picking it up next time there since it’s on my way, versus having them drive an hour to get there and an hour back. I’ve done that for coworkers and my boss on occasion. But those are very much one-offs, “if this fits your schedule” types of things with much appreciation at the back end. Not routine expectations.

          Reply
          1. Lehigh

            I can imagine asking that of a coworker, but not of a boss. Maybe I’ve just never been that close to a boss? But asking a boss for a personal, non-work-related favor, has never crossed my mind.

            Reply
            1. Anna

              Exactly. Even if the boss offered (and I feel like it would have to be the boss offering) and I accepted, it would still be odd.

              Reply
      5. manager2.0

        Hi finderkeeps,

        Yes, I do know that my boss is taking his dirty clothes to her house and doing his laundry at her house. That is exactly what I was told was happening.

        Reply
    7. Snark

      Actually, if you really think about the situation instead of just leaping to bite OP’s head off as usual, it’s 100% their business because it raises the issue of favoritism, rightly makes everyone else uncomfortable, and raises a lot of questions nobody wants to ask about their boss.

      Reply
    8. Samata

      When I think of “doing the laundry” I think of Monica and Chandler doing it in private. That’s all I’m saying.

      Whether something more is going on or not, Oryx is right that perception is a real thing here and the manager needs to be aware of it. If they are talking about it in front of the team they are making it the teams business….and if any single person on the team is uncomfortable it should be brought to the attention of the manager.

      Reply
  3. many bells down

    People end up missing out of group photos all the time. The bigger the company, the more likely someone – or several someones – will be out sick or have a doctor’s appointment or have car trouble that day. Nobody will think it’s weird if one person is missing out of your photo.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer

      Dude clearly does not want to be in the photo. Do not spend any more time worrying about trying to get him into the photo.

      Reply
      1. Chocolate Teapot

        Every time a company has forked out for a professional photographers, the group office photograph ends up being out of date very shortly afterwards with people leaving, or new ones starting.

        Reply
      2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)

        I’m wondering if this guy really objects to being in the photo for some personal reason and is trying his best to get out of it without making a big deal about whatever his reason is. I’d just go ahead and leave him out and forget about it. If anyone ever asks why Johan isn’t in the photo, just say “oh, he was out sick the day we took it” and shrug. Unless you are actors or models or for some reason it’s really essential that you all be in the team photo I would not worry about it.

        Reply
        1. Artemesia

          ” Dear AAM, I am in the witness protection program and have done my best to keep out of the office photos which are posted on the web site. Every year my clueless supervisor photoshops me into the photo or nags me endlessly about being there. What do I do without blowing my cover.”

          Reply
          1. Aveline

            I have a client who had to change her name bc of stalking so bad she almost died and was in a coma.

            People don’t want to take her no for an answer when she says “no photos.”

            I have another friend who is married to someone who’s very famous (think George Clooney famous) and doesn’t want his photo or the kids on the web. Friends hound him at parties die “just one” snap.

            There are also a lot of people, like myself, who have very personal reasons they don’t like photos that aren’t anyone’s business.

            Coworker clearly doesn’t want to be photographed or do group things. That should be respected.

            Reply
            1. Anna

              Yeah, there are a lot of reasons people don’t want to be included in photos. Unless for some bizarre reason it’s a job requirement, I’m pretty sure the OP can let it go and maybe focus on the employee being out all the time instead if it’s not for good reasons.

              Reply
          2. Anon Accountant

            I thought of something similar or something that had to be kept secret for very good reasons. And “sick leave” seemed too be the best way to handle it.

            Reply
            1. Jesca

              Yes, and maybe why they push back so hard on not firing them? Haha oh the speculations I could summon in my paranoid mind! How interesting that all is.

              With that said, I effing hate having my photo taken. I dodge out of pictures all the time. I get seriously angry when people also force me to stop what I am doing to pose for one. It drives me nuts!

              Reply
        2. Tuxedo Cat

          I try to keep a low online profile because a stalker ex (police involved situation), but the nature of my job is such that I’m relatively easily Google-able due to publications, conferences, etc. My name is also fairly uncommon..

          If I were in a different role or were more worried, I could see not opting for a photo. It’s just one more data point that could let this person know where I am.

          Reply
      3. k.k

        Yep, he clearly doesn’t want anything to do with this photo. Whatever the reason (witness protection, super self-conscious, camera phobia, just doesn’t give a rats behind about this job…), he’s not into it.

        Reply
    2. Gingerblue

      It’s the photoshopping him in that I thought was unusual.

      This guy sounds like a problem for a variety of reasons, but as someone who hates being photographed I kind of envy the brazenness of just refusing to show up for it.

      Reply
    3. Ramona Flowers

      Am I misunderstanding or does everyone have their spouse come in? Maybe he doesn’t have a spouse and that makes it awkward?

      Actual work issues aside, I do wonder if it’s ideal to judge someone’s participation in a team on things like photos and retirement lunches and not focus on judging their actual work performance.

      Reply
      1. Julia

        It sounded to me like they were having one spouse coming in so spouse could be the photographer, but maybe I’m wrong?

        Reply
        1. Jeanne

          That’s the way I read it too. One spouse comes in to take the picture so that no employee has to be missing from the picture.

          Reply
            1. Antilles

              Eh, there’s a lot of benefits to having someone actually standing at the camera and looking through the viewfinder that just can’t be matched by a tripod/shutter (at least at the level/quality of photography equipment we’re probably talking about here).

              Reply
            2. Koko

              Maybe nobody owns a tripod and they don’t want to purchase one for a single use each year. Maybe the spouse is a professional photography who does the photo for free.

              Reply
              1. KT84

                I agree – why does it matter whether they use a tripod or a spouse to take the picture? Who cares? The original comment about it was needlessly snippy and just seems like a troll-ish comment.

                Reply
              1. KT84

                Exactly – my friend is big on taking pictures with his tripod and it never works out. He either misses the photo, or sets the timer for too long and we are standing there smiling like idiots for two minutes or he cuts off our heads lol. It is so much easier to have someone just take the picture.

                Reply
    4. Foreign Octopus

      Totally understand not wanting to be in photos. I did everything in my power to avoid having my photo uploaded onto the company’s site.

      I think, as Alison and others have said, the real issue is the absence.

      Reply
      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        My college dean’s suite recently sent around an email to all departments that anyone with no photo on their website profile had to provide one ASAP. I got all the faculty and doctoral students with no photos to go to the university photographer and submit the photo, with the exception of one person. She said that she is never photographed, and my predecessor informed me that this is because of a domestic violence situation from years ago but with ongoing stalking. I told the dean’s office that she would not be photographed, and they then remembered that she has requested that before. It was in her file, but there had been turnover, so no one had institutional memory without looking it up.

        Reply
      2. Sally

        No wonder he’s absent, if his coworkers constantly and cluelessly pressure him into photos and social events that he has an aversion to. Some people are anti-social and that’s perfectly fine as long as they are doing their work.

        Reply
        1. JM60

          The only time I’ve called in sick (actually, worked from home on a day we’re expected in the office) at my current job was when my company was going to go to a racetrack for the afternoon to celebrate a product release. While I did have a legitimate reason to not come in that day (insomnia), I was strongly considering calling in sick to avoid this event, and I’m considering doing the same for a similar event next week. I absolutely hate being pressured to attend social events.

          Unless having the employee in the photo is somehow important for the operation of the business, the OP shouldn’t make a big deal about the employee not being in the photo. On the other hand, being absent 4 months a year is a big deal.

          Reply
      3. AMPG

        I’m in charge of updating our website content, and one member of our leadership team is being ridiculous about getting me a one-paragraph bio for the staff page. After stonewalling me for weeks, she sent me a bio with Angelina Jolie’s details instead. She had no problem with the photo, though.

        Reply
      1. Triangle Pose

        I’ll take all your love kernels
        This video ate up our production budget
        Love kernels
        We used up literally every cent
        Love kernels
        Darryl is now played by a broom on a stand

        … Thank you for this. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack nonstop at work.

        Reply
      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        Me, too. Seems like a whole lot of over-investment in having a complete team photograph. And wouldn’t the resulting photo look weird? I’d rather be represented by “an upturned mop with a bucket for a head”* than be photoshopped in.

        *Stanley, The Office

        Reply
          1. Anon Accountant

            Thank you! I agree. What is a team photo for? Maybe just stop the photos and certainly stop photoshopping him in.

            Reply
      2. Aveline

        Because it is a consent violation.

        Dude has known preferences that LW bulldozed their way through because she didn’t think his reasons (which she doesn’t know) could possibly be valid.

        Reply
        1. KR

          I didn’t see in the letter that he said “I do not want to be in this picture so I am not coming in today.” It just sounds like he gets sick a lot and happens to get sick every picture day. I think your statement is unfair to the LW because for all we know he is fine with being photoshopped in.

          Reply
    5. paul

      It kinda seems like burying the lede to me with him missing 4 months a year. After that, who cares about a photo? That has to be frustating as hell for OP

      Reply
      1. Matilda Jefferies

        I thought that too. The photograph issue is annoying, but I would bet that no one feels nearly as strongly about it than the OP and the missing coworker. Easy enough to let go on its own.

        But what’s up with the rest of it? You have someone who is routinely missing an entire third of the work year, and you’re not allowed to discipline or fire him. Ugh, that must suck. I’m guessing then, that the photo is more a “straw that broke the camel’s back” kind of thing, or that the OP figures this might be one small way to regain some control over the situation. Either way, I’d recommend looking at the bigger picture, rather than just this one small part of it.

        Reply
      2. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

        Yeah. I kind of want to defend him for not wanting to be in the picture, but if he’s also failing to show up to do his actual job, then…no.

        Reply
      3. SarahTheEntwife

        Yeah, the not participating in teambuilding stuff could be an issue over time, but seems kind of minor so long as he’s otherwise collaborating well with coworkers and producing good work and stuff. But he’s presumably *not* doing that if he’s out that often.

        Reply
  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#2, it sounds like your employee’s chronic absenteeism is what’s really bothering you. The photo is just a manifestation of the many things he misses/avoids by being absent.

    I honestly think it’s fine to send the photos without your employee—it’s not worth the mental energy of worrying whether he feels excluded, whether outside business contacts will notice, etc. The group photo sounds like it isn’t a big deal to him, and it shouldn’t cause extra work/concern for you.

    I suspect you’re fixating on it because it’s one of the things you feel like you should be able to control. It sounds like you might be feeling that way about other work that Fergus is expected to contribute toward (i.e., that you should have control, but you don’t because you don’t have power over whether to keep/fire an employee who is absent for 1/3 of the year). It might be worth exploring what options are available for either cabining your feelings of frustration (which are totally valid! I would be super frustrated in your shoes), or dealing with the absenteeism. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. :(

    Reply
    1. Aveline

      Photos and “optional” group events are either optional or they aren’t.

      I firmly believe that we shouldn’t force people into group “fun” or group activities that they don’t want to attend or to be in photos if they don’t want to be included. Personally, I think these photo directories are over-rated and rarely used for their stated purposes.

      Also, why is it so easy to jump to conclusions that make Ferguson into a jerk instead of someone struggling.

      Dude could have PTSD.
      Dude could be very ill with an intermittent condition that flares up.
      Dude could be a stalking or abuse victim.
      Dude could simply be an introvert w body issues.

      The only legit issue here is the absenteeism. The two questions should be why he’s absent and how that impacts the team. Then LW can proceed.

      LW need to let go of the idea that she will ever have a perfect team or that she can fix Fergus w the “magic argument” that will make him see sense (I.e., her POV). I’m not slagging on LW. We all do this.

      There is a stunning lack of empathy here by everyone, including us commenters. My first reaction was to hate Fergus. But then I stepped back and asked myself if Fergus’s actions matttered beyond our human tribal need for group cohesion – even if it’s forced. Like you, I asked myself, what really mattered for the actual work being done.

      There’s an assumption that Fergus is doing all this because he is a willful bad actor. In my experience, it’s more likely there’s something personal going on (e.g., health issues or a family issue such as elder care).

      That is why you don’t focus on Fergus’ absence from optional activities, only his work performance and impact on the team’s productivity.

      LW has no idea what’s going on and whether Fergus’s actions are justified. That’s why she should focus only on the absences.

      Photos should always be optimal absent some very compelling need (e.g., ID badges). Group activities not related to work should be optional. Not everyone has the time or mental badwidth. Some people carry very heavy loads outside work such that every spare second is as precious as rubies.

      Very few adults have chronic absenteeism “just because.” Most of the time it’s physical health, mental health, care taking, or addiction.

      Never assume ill will when incompetence or bad luck or physical or mental health issues will explain the action.

      TLDR: focus on absenteeism only, address photos and group activities only if there’s a legitima business reason, be kind, don’t assume Fergus is a jerk on purpose.

      Reply
      1. Catherine

        While it sounds like this truly is a dysfunctional situation, I did also wonder if the employee is chronically ill and *deliberately* missing non-mission-critical events like picture days, lunches, and parties, in order to be there for as much actual work time as possible.

        Reply
        1. Aveline

          Thank you. Glad I’m not the only one.

          I also wonder if LW and colleagues aren’t pushing him beyond his boundaries and making him want to avoid them in order to self-protect.

          If I were him and had some mental or physical issue and I was photoshopped into a group photo without my consent, I would not trust that team to understand if I tried to explain or respect me if I set self-care boundaries.

          If LW wants him to participate, she will get a more positive reaction if she respects his stated boundaries and then asks “is there anything that I or the team can do to make it so you could occasionally attend?”

          Has she ever asked him that question? Sounds like she’s trying to convince him rather than enable him.

          Reply
          1. Sally

            This: “If I were him and had some mental or physical issue and I was photoshopped into a group photo without my consent, I would not trust that team to understand if I tried to explain or respect me if I set self-care boundaries.”

            Using someone’s photograph without their consent is not okay in my book.

            Reply
          2. KR

            I didn’t see in the letter whether the missing coworker has even said clearly that he doesn’t want his picture taken. For all we know, OP is saying “Oh Fergus we missed you yesterday when we were taking our team picture!” And he’s freely saying , “Oh yeah, I had a health flare up. Feel free to Photoshop me in!”. I wish commenters wouldn’t paint OP as someone using someone’s photo without permission when we just don’t have that information.

            Reply
            1. 12345

              I wish commenters wouldn’t paint OP as someone using someone’s photo without permission when we just don’t have that information.

              I agree. There are a lot of assumptions being made about this OP and situation.

              Reply
        2. k.k

          That’s a really good point I wasn’t thinking of. I tend to call out sick more than most (though not as much as in this letter), and I always check my work calendar before I decide if I should force myself to go in. I’d be much more likely to miss picture day than a meeting, deadline day, etc.

          Reply
        3. Marley

          I thought much the same thing. When I was going through a period dealing with a lot of daycare germs in our household, I didn’t do anything “extra”–I was just trying to get my work done.

          Reply
        4. LKW

          Many years ago a supervisor pulled me aside and said that he was disappointed that I wasn’t joining in team events and he wanted to encourage me to be more social. I then had to explain to him that my father had unexpectedly died shortly before I joined the team and that I was giving them everything I could; by the end of the day I was emotionally exhausted. He visibly paled and never brought that up again.

          Sometimes people have reasons. That reason may be as simple as “I just don’t want to participate.”

          Reply
      2. Sally

        +1 Awesome response. I completely agree. It’s rare that someone misses that much work because they are a lazy no-good jerk. It could be because of depression/anxiety, elder care, health issues, or other problems.

        If a coworker is avoiding social activities, and not expressing the sentiment “Darn, I’m SO bummed I missed it!” then you need to assume they are not interested and just go about your workday without mentioning it, pressuring them, or trying to “fix” it.

        Reply
      3. Amelia

        Yeah, I was sort of taken aback at the OP’s complaint over management not being able to fire him when the OP also said the absences were supported by sick notes. It sounds like sick notes are required and your coworker faithfully supplies them (you know, as is normal in most union environments). So…you’ve decided his sick notes aren’t legit? Why are you the arbiter of that?

        I mean, yes, it’s irritating to have someone out for so many absences, but there may well be a legit illness going on, could be mental rather than physical. If you’re saddled with extra work, that’s a management issue, not your coworker’s problem. That’s why unions are a blessing to people with disabilities requiring accommodation. You don’t get to know why he’s absent so much; it’s enough that he’s providing documentation for his absences.

        And just let the photo thing go!

        Reply
        1. Sarah

          I mean, FOUR MONTHS out of the year is far beyond what would be allowed under FMLA. He may be legitimately sick, but if this employee is truly so ill that he is missing 17+ weeks of work, it sounds like he needs to be on disability and the office should be able to hire someone who can handle the workload.

          Reply
          1. Friday

            FLMA allows 12 weeks (~3 months) so not far off. But, many a condition does not get neatly resolved after a full three months. Ideally, the manager has the agency to discuss that with the employee though to see if it makes sense to continue a full-time employment or if the employee needs to resign to focus 100% on their health.

            Reply
  5. kas

    #2. If he wasn’t absent all the time I would assume he just doesn’t like pictures even though that could still be the case. If my work had a staff photo day I would probably call in sick too. I don’t like being in photos that I know will be passed around. I barely post any of myself on social media, I just don’t like having my photos out there.

    Reply
    1. Princess Cimorene

      I’m the same, I don’t want my photo on staff websites and I don’t want to be included in any formal/official staff photos. If I am photographed during an event or outing or something that doesn’t bother me much, but anything official or tied to my title or role (when I was in the workforce) I decline when I could, or found my way out of otherwise.

      Reply
        1. Princess Cimorene

          I’m honestly not 100% sure to be honest! I’ve tried to evaluate these feelings in myself over the years, but have never come to just one conclusion. I’ve been like this since grade school in one way or another! Partly, I am just very private person. I am an extreme introvert (not shy by any means, and I do well socially but need long periods of recharge afterwards haha) I don’t tend to mix my professional life with my social life in any way. I am currently self-employed but I still dont intermix. Which sometimes makes networking hard, I’ll admit. I just like to keep things separate as much as I can. (Not really sure of the pathology behind that, but I used to maintain similar boundaries around my friend groups when I was younger. Like I would have certain friends I did x with. Certain friends I did y with. and didn’t like to the groups to meet or mingle. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve been open to and deliberate about introducing my friends to one another and purposely having get-togethers and events in which people can meet and form their own friendships if they choose to. It was uncomfortable for me at first, but I felt like it was a good thing to do, and it has been!)

          Also, I don’t like the idea that someone could google my name and find my work photo / my work title / my place of employment – feels invasive. (I don’t use LinkedIN) I also don’t like the idea of a future employmer googling me and making decisions about me based on my race (racial minority in my country) or gender (female) although I’d imagine (and hope) that would be less likely, I don’t doubt it happens.

          I guess it boils down to me wanting to control how/when/how much people have access to me and even in this day of everyone’s lives being everywhere on social, I’m just one of those people that likes to maintain a secure boundary around that.

          Reply
          1. kas

            You pretty much just described my life, I thought I wrote this for a second. I’m not at the friends mixing and mingling part yet though, I still keep them separate. I also have LinkedIn but no picture on my profile.

            Reply
          2. Jenny

            Very interesting! I had an ex who was very much the same way about not having different groups of friends interact, although he was never really clear on why haha. Now as an adult, having different groups of friends than I know from different points in my life and different places I’ve lived, it would be strange for them to interact because they all know a different side of me.

            Reply
          3. Rainy, or has been, or will be

            I also avoided mixing my social groups until I learned better!
            For me, part of the motive was definitely my upbringing. My family considered themselves upper class and had the notion that social classes should avoid mixing. It took me 20 years to realize they were about the only ones to think that way (even in their social group), and another 8 years to act on it. It also felt uncomfortable for me at first, but actually quite many in those separate groups knew each other!
            Princess Cimonere’s description could fit my family: “I guess it boils down to [them] wanting to control how/when/how much people have access to [them] “

            Reply
          4. JB (not in Houston)

            “I guess it boils down to me wanting to control how/when/how much people have access to me and even in this day of everyone’s lives being everywhere on social, I’m just one of those people that likes to maintain a secure boundary around that.”

            This is me. I realize it’s kind of weird/outside the mainstream, but it’s how i am.

            Reply
            1. Aveline

              Yep. Overriding his known preferences by photoshopping him in is a consent violation IMHO. Not cool.

              If someone has a known preference for not being in photos, it’s disrespectful and wrong to override that.

              Reply
    2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

      I’d call in sick for photo day too. I’m not ugly per se, but I am one of the least photogenic people ever and despise having my picture taken.

      Reply
      1. Myrin

        Ha! I don’t mind having my picture taken but man, I am so unphotogenic, it’s unbelievable. I’m not particularly good-looking but geez, camera, what is it about you and me that just doesn’t go together? (I always look way better than in real life in videos, though. It’s weird.)

        Reply
          1. SarahTheEntwife

            Yes! I feel all cute and proud of myself that I actually managed to put together an outfit instead of just grabbing whatever was clean and then…potato.

            Reply
      2. Caro in the UK

        Me too! People always tell me “don’t worry, you look lovely, I’m sure the photo will be fine”. Then they take the photo and say “Oh… you really aren’t photogenic.” :)

        Reply
        1. Lora

          +1. Last job, the CEO’s wife was a photographer and I explained that I am spectacularly un-photogenic, just take the picture and get it over with. She did the thing all photographers do, insist that ohhhh it will be fine, then snapped the first photo, looked at her camera and frowned. Had me turn a little, try different expressions. She continued to look puzzled and scowled at her camera. She fussed at her assistant to change the lighting, adjust the screen behind me, etc. Still couldn’t take a good picture. Finally after much sighing, she just gave up and picked one, which nobody realized was a picture of me until I told them.

          Some people don’t translate to 2D well. It has nothing to do with whether or not you are smiling awkwardly or not relaxed or posed all weird. It’s a bone structure thing, people look at a collage of my baby/childhood pictures mom put on her fridge, and think they’re all different children. they also don’t recognize a single one as me.

          Reply
          1. Amy

            My husband is the same way, I don’t know what it is but he ends up looking terrible in most pictures. There are very few of the both of us where we both look good.

            Reply
            1. Nita

              Hahaha me too! I don’t think I’m horribly ugly, but gosh, I look awful in 99% of my photos. In some of them I don’t even look like a proper human being – like, everyone else is fine, and I’m kind of blurry. I think the group shots just keep catching me in the middle of talking and fidgeting – they’re usually family photos, and I’m the one trying to get everyone else to step up and sit still :) It also doesn’t help that I tend to get red vampire eyes on camera.

              Reply
              1. many bells down

                This is what my dad told me. Every EVERY photo he ever took of me has me making a weird face. And my dad was an excellent photographer. He said I’m just “too expressive”, my face is always in motion, and so it’s really difficult to catch me with a “normal” expression.

                Reply
          2. Robin Sparkles

            This reminds me of the How I Met Your Mother episode that was the opposite of this -Barney always took amazing photos no matter what the situation.

            Reply
        2. strawberries and raspberries

          Last night my org had our annual gala and after taking one group photo (that he insisted I get in), I actually saw the photographer angle the camera so that I was edged out of the second one. I told him I shouldn’t have gotten in!

          Reply
        3. JB (not in Houston)

          Me, too! It’s a mystery in my family how I can look perfectly nice while having my picture taken but look terrible in the photo

          Reply
          1. Mallory Janis Ian

            Me, too! I look perfectly nice in person but like hammered sh*t in photographs. It’s like on How I Met Your Mother: Barney takes a fabulous picture regardless of any intervening factors, while Marshall just as reliably takes crap photos. I’m a Marshall.

            Reply
      3. (Different) Rebecca

        I am exceptionally interesting looking. From a good angle. In person. In a photo, I come out all troll-like. *sigh*

        Reply
      4. Shop Girl

        Yes yes yes I am horribly unphotogenic and I hate having my picture taken under any circumstances. I have finally,at 60, started having personal snapshots of me so when I’m gone my kids and future grandkids can know I existed

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          This is a really good idea. While not thrilled with being in photos (I am incapable of holding a natural smile on my face for more than half a second) I was haunted by a story from a woman who’d always hated having her photo taken… and then her dad died and there were no photos, going back decades. And she figured her kids wanted something, even if she didn’t like how she looked in the photo–it wasn’t for her to look at.

          Reply
          1. Sualah

            Yep, my mom hates having pictures taken of herself, and fine, I’ll respect that, but it always makes me really sad that there will be no pictures of her with my kids because she absolutely refuses.

            Reply
          2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

            yeah, sometimes you have to take one for the team. We had a family reunion trip to Disney World and I had to let myself be photographed. There are actually one or two decent shots, but for the most part I’m wondering how everyone in the family photographs well except for me.

            Reply
        2. bohtie

          this is why, I don’t care what anyone says, I am all about the selfie. Instant feedback and control over the circumstances of the pictures and the ability to get rid of the ones that I don’t think actually look like me, haha.

          Reply
      5. Mutt

        Me too!! And having the inevitable “no, you’re lovely! I’m sure it’ll be great!” argument is so draining, bc you’re not actually putting yourself down, you’re just stating a fact.

        I totally stole a phrase – canNOT remember where I saw it – that I started to use that has helped:

        The camera can’t handle my beauty.

        This is much more effective bc it doesn’t sound like I’m putting myself down or fishing for compliments, while still getting the message across. I still have to squabble sometimes, but it has drastically reduced the tension of the whole situation. I am actually often surprised at how well that line works, it takes away some of the other person’s power of persuasion somehow.

        I’d love to hear of any other phrases people have used successfully!

        Reply
        1. Alex the Alchemist

          Not something I’ve used personally, but my Nana always told me that “the prettiest people take the worst photos.”

          I don’t know if she genuinely believed that or just wanted to console me during my awful school pictures, but hey, it worked.

          Reply
          1. Izzy

            The opposite is also true sometimes. I once had a friend who was a professional model. She was not particularly good-looking in real life. But her photos were awesome (way before Photoshop).

            Reply
        2. Amber Rose

          Well, only with family/friends, but “You’ve got the real thing right here, enjoy it while it lasts!”
          Or “Pictures of me aren’t nearly as exciting as the live action version.”

          Basically, I imply that they can choose between taking pictures or enjoying my company, and also that my personality is more interesting than my appearance. If they argue, they come across kind of mean. Shuts most of them down.

          Reply
          1. partypants

            One day you will be dead and some people like to have a photo so they can remember you and share stories of you. I have ONE photograph of my Da’s father and his face is partially obscured by a cigarette. Wish I had something more of a man who died when I was too young to know anything about his personality.
            There are relatives who I rarely see; so rare, I would probably walk right past them not realizing it. would be nice to have some photos so I could make a connection.

            Reply
      6. Amber Rose

        I remember in high school, having to get grad photos taken three times because every shot was so awful. The best one ended up being one where I looked sort of terrified. I opted out of grad photos altogether in university.

        I’m not hideous, it’s just that cameras do something awful. Shadows or something. Anyways, I have developed a sort of phobia about cameras now because of it. My self esteem is kinda fragile, I do not encourage the production of things which make it worse.

        Man, am I glad I never tried internet dating.

        Reply
        1. Risha

          This is honestly the primary reason why I’ve never tried internet dating. (“Primary” because I’m lazy and antisocial, too.) I don’t have that many hangups about my appearance in real life, but I can’t conceive of a universe where I’d have a picture of myself I’d be willing to put on a dating profile.

          Reply
      7. Risha

        Yes, this! I was forced to provide a photo for a presentation at Current Job, and I took about 25 before I found one that I could live with, and I still lightly photoshopped it and then put a filter over it. All that just to get one photo I wouldn’t cringe at a coworker seeing.

        Reply
  6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#5, I strongly suspect “transition quicker” is more about work experience in that specific role than it is about your volunteer work. It sounds like the employer liked you but that they may have had needs that, on the margin, weighed in favor of the other candidate.

    In my (limited, nonprofit/social justicey) experience, volunteer work is often viewed positively, especially when compared to doing nothing while unemployed. Of course, there can be SES/class biases in viewing volunteering favorably, but I think it’s more about someone doing something with open time (for example, temping can also be seen as positive when compared to doing nothing).

    As Alison notes, as long as you’re not signaling that you need time to wrap up your volunteer commitments before you can start at a new job, then you should be fine.

    Reply
    1. HannahS

      Yep, I agree. I feel like reasonable employers understand that when job markets are really competitive, not everyone who’s qualified to have a job will have one.

      Reply
    2. Gene Parmesan

      Same. I was just coming to post that I would have interpreted the feedback of another candidate “transitioning quicker” into the position as a skills or experience based reason, NOT anything to do with availability timelines. I figured they found another candidate whose background was a very close match for the opening and they could come in and hit the ground running, with minimal orientation or training. Perhaps this was someone internal to the company who has some background knowledge of the position or projects already.

      Reply
  7. Sabine the Very Mean

    I’m hyper-protective of my image being shared. I was involved in a violent crime as a victim/witness and have always avoided any situation where my photo and name are shared with strangers. I too like to be absent on these days. People are strangely offended by my reluctance so I Might not show up either.

    He may not have a good reason considering his other behaviors but I agree that the chronic absence from actual work is the real issue.

    A better way to avoid this is have it be optional all together or replace the project with something else. Send a card where everyone shares their favorite tradition–something like that.

    Reply
      1. SusanIvanova

        They do have a photo of him that they just photoshop in.

        I haven’t been in a group photo since high school, and that was an awful lot of just standing around waiting. I’ve got better things to do when I’m at work – though from the sounds of it, that’s not this guy’s issue either.

        Reply
        1. Lora

          I’m sorta wondering how they got that one picture. I’m imagining a stealth campaign where someone catches him in the restroom, with an enraged expression and his hand halfway in front of his face…

          Reply
      2. Bend & Snap

        I think we each get to define what a good reason is for our own images. OF COURSE what’s described above is a good reason! But really everything from wanting to control the use of your own image to hating how you look in photos is a good reason.

        I have professional headshots and participate in group snaps at work events, but try to avoid having my picture taken otherwise.

        Reply
    1. Aveline

      Yes, as an attorney, ive has plenty of clients and other people who have legit reasons to control their image and data.

      However, dude should need a reason. He should not be photoshopped in without his consent.

      This is a huge consent violation and stunningly disrespectful. Unfortunately, it’s so socially conditioned into Americans via school photos, holiday photos, etc. that we just don’t see it as either a consent violation or about respect.

      I don’t want to via words or not showing up should be enough.

      Unless his work contact or the policies and procedures require a photo, this is over a line.

      Reply
      1. WellRed

        Well, I think the Photoshop is over the line, but we don’t know they don’t have consent. If he doesn’t like it, the onus is on him to say so.

        Reply
      2. KR

        I cannot stress enough that we do not know if the missing coworker has given his consent or not to have his picture photoshopped in. For all we know he is perfectly on board with being photoshopped in. All we know from the letter is that he gets sick more than the average person and happens to get sick every picture day – whether he’s saving his spoons for a day that involves more work and less pictures or he just happens to have flare ups on the days when there are pictures WE DO NOT KNOW, so I don’t think it’s fair to comment like OP is crossing some huge boundary.

        Reply
  8. kk

    It’s interesting to note that #2 the employee was described as ‘chronically absent’ rather than ‘chronically ill’ – even though the absences have been supported by doctors notes. I think the tone of the letter would have been quite different with that change.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Missing work one third of the time is a big deal in most jobs, regardless of whether it’s for legitimate illness. That’s a huge amount of work for someone else to cover or to go undone.

      But it sounds like the OP has reason to believe it’s not always legitimate — or at least that’s what I thought she was getting at with “Retirement parties, group photos, office lunches, and the like always happen to coincide with a sickness and absence.”

      Reply
      1. Detached Elemental

        To me, the fact that the absences coincide with social activities makes me wonder if these activities exacerbate the medical condition.

        I don’t mean to diagnose, but if the coworker has something like an anxiety disorder or social phobia, I can understand that they may not be able to attend these events.

        Reply
        1. Jennifer

          Or alternately, employee is ducking the cameras that tend to be at those events. (Maybe not the office lunches, dunno there.) If he’s so consistently absent at camera-friendly events, I think he does not want his picture taken.

          Reply
          1. Kerr

            I read that as tying in with anxiety disorder/social phobia – the two wouldn’t be exclusive.

            I mean, he could also be on the run and wanted in ten states and shirking his job duties. But the fact that he’s exhausting vacation days and sick days, and his unpaid time off is supported with doctor’s notes, points to FMLA for a chronic illness.

            Reply
            1. Jeanne

              I’m not completely convinced the OP is in the US so FMLA might not be relevant. The worker protections mentioned are unusual for the US, even with our unions. It could be either way but I vote Canada or Europe.

              Reply
            2. copy run start

              FMLA is only 12 weeks though. This guy sounds like he’s regularly blowing through even FMLA, if this is in the US. I see three possibilities:

              – He is legitimately ill this much and there are no other reasonable accommodations for him than this position, where his frequent absence appears to be manageable. Company does not want to push him out due to the illness, employee knows it’ll be really hard to find another gig with so many absences.
              – He is legitimately ill and taking advantage of that to also skip certain events he doesn’t like, knowing the company won’t press him on it because they’re afraid of legal issues from the illness.
              – It’s all a sham and he’s got some buddy with a doctor’s degree writing him excuses for 1/3 of the year…? I find this hard to believe.

              I find it hard to imagine a union who would be so powerful to prevent anyone from getting let go or “managed out,” but maybe this isn’t US. I was actually talking with my mom a few weeks ago about all the ways to get someone to quit in an environment where you can’t fire them. She always found a way.

              Reply
              1. partypants

                “ways to get someone to quit in an environment where you can’t fire them”
                Um….yeah, let’s make sure someone you don’t want to work with has to quit to avoid harassment.
                Wow. I’m just stunned

                Reply
                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I didn’t read that as referring to harassment! I assumed it meant having candid conversations with the person about why they weren’t the right fit for the job, that expectations weren’t going to change, etc.

                2. copy run start

                  Wow, I’m not talking about harassing people out of their jobs! I guess I phrased that poorly and didn’t elaborate well. I’m talking about discussing the fit of the position with the employee and mutually transitioning them out to another internal role or to an external position if needed, or adjusting the role or duties to accommodate them if there were options. There is always a way to make it happen. Often in union environments it’s easier to make transfers happen because internal employees are given some preference in the hiring process and the company can get someone in the new role faster. It can also be a more flexible environment regarding job duties, as long as you don’t run into the boundaries between positions.

          2. Falling Diphthong

            Because… he has a second job as a spy. It explains both the frequent absences and the care not to be photographed. Because someone out there knows him as “Darryl, international man of mystery” and someone else as “Darryl, prince and arms dealer with a pet tiger” and he can’t risk having them come across “Darryl, origami reverse fold compliance” while glancing over someone’s mantle of Christmas cards.

            Reply
            1. Lora

              Hahahahahaha oh thank goodness I wasn’t drinking coffee.

              Darryl, jewel thief who drives a Mini Cooper through the subway. Darryl, ex-KGB assassin who escaped a Siberian gulag. Darryl, a rogue genetic experiment whose superpower is invisibility – he IS there and in the pictures, you just can’t see him and all the doctors notes are actually from generals at Alkali Lake’s underground facility! Darryl the vampire who misses work in summer because the sun is still out when he has to report for second shift.

              Reply
              1. Amber Rose

                Darryl, the mysterious leader of a gang of arms dealers. Darryl, the ex-enforcer for the mafia who still takes on some contract work. Darryl, circus performer and lion tamer.

                This is a fun game. :D

                Reply
                1. Dweali

                  Darryl and Michelle take down the duck club
                  D & M vs food thieves who can’t handle the heat
                  D & M school interns on protesting dress codes

                2. Lora

                  ROFL it’s like Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

                  Darryl & Michelle and the Admin’s Curse
                  Darryl & Michelle and the Ghost Of Teacher’s Past
                  Darryl & Michelle do laundry

                3. Lora

                  Oh my word, I was going to try to get some work done today, but it doesn’t look like happening.

                  Darryl & Michelle’s Midnight Taxi Service
                  Darryl & Michelle Find A Mystery Message
                  Darryl & Michelle vs The Birdman
                  Darryl’s Mom Jokes
                  Darryl & Michelle – Grave Desecration 101
                  Darryl & Michelle’s Medical Interventions
                  Darryl & Michelle: Poop Detectives
                  Darryl & Michelle: Night of the Stalkerboss
                  Darryl & Michelle’s Surprise Dinner Party
                  Darryl & Michelle: Diet Police

          3. Aveline

            And LW and the team have shown they won’t take know for an answer by photoshopping him in.

            So, if the has some issue, their actions have made it more difficult for him to participate bc they have violated known boundaries.

            Reply
            1. LCL

              I know we are talking about opinion now, and you believe what you just posted. As I believe what I am posting now-seeing being photoshopped into a picture as a boundary violation is blowing something completely out of proportion and appears to me like searching really hard for something to be offended about.

              Reply
        2. Princess Cimorene

          I agree with this, or that he is not interested in being photographed at all for some reason (oooh now I’m all “maybe he’s in witness protection” curious! haha)

          Reply
          1. neverjaunty

            It seems more like this guy doesn’t like his co-workers or his workplace at all (makes sense, since he’s gaming the system to miss so much work).

            Reply
        3. Jayn

          I had the same thought. Those types of events have been known to make me physically ill, and can sometimes prevent me from attending even when I want to because it saps so much energy out of me. (It can also be difficult for me to be around food when my nerves act up.)

          Reply
      2. Marzipan

        Mmmmm, but it’s also possible to look at “Retirement parties, group photos, office lunches, and the like always happen to coincide with a sickness and absence.” as suggestive of someone chronically ill trying to manage their health. Like, in a ‘the state of my my health is such that being here at all causes me pain/anxiety/fatigue and going through that to stand around eating pizza and drinking flat cola is not a productive trade’ way. I have certainly had team members ask to be absent from team meetings on the occasional weeks when the focus is more social, for exactly this reason.

        I agree that I don’t think that’s how the OP is seeing it; and I do think in that situation it would be better for the employee to be open about what was happening to help make sense of those absences, but I guess I’m looking at it from the perspective that here is a person who is missing all of the days that most people would see as slightly easier than a normal work day. If it was the other way around – if it was someone who was always on on the day of the company picnic or the afternoon retirement party or what have you but missing work at other times – then that’s one thing, but part of how I’m reading this is ‘this person keeps missing the days on which they’d probably have to do less work than a normal day’ which suggests to me that there’s something else going on. (Or alternatively, that this team are expected to get a full day’s work done and also do the other thing, which again I can understand how that could be a problem for someone with health issues.)

        Reply
        1. Ramona Flowers

          Yep. Chronic illness here. Standing around being social is way more hard work for me than doing my job and I find it exhausting.

          Reply
        2. Yvette

          “Retirement parties, group photos, office lunches, and the like always happen to coincide with a sickness and absence.”

          Maybe he doesn’t like all the rah rah social BS. Is a financial contribution required? Maybe he doesn’t want to/can’t afford to participate and then does not want to partake of the food and drink. We always hear complaints about people who won’t contribute or bring in food for parties or pot lucks but are the first in line when it is time to eat. Maybe he does not want to be “that person”.

          Reply
          1. TL -

            But I feel like a more reasonable approach is to bow out rather than to miss the entire day?

            Maybe that’s just me, but when I don’t feel like being social at work, I just make my excuses and send along my well-wishes rather than calling in sick.

            Reply
            1. Rusty Shackelford

              Given the content of the letter, I have a feeling he’d get a LOT of pushback if he simply said he didn’t want to participate. Maybe being sick (or “sick”) is simply the easier option.

              Reply
              1. TL -

                Hmm. I don’t know that many people would feel that taking multiple unpaid sick days would be easier than disappearing into the bathroom at opportune moments or getting a reputation as the office grump (which he probably already has anyways.)

                Reply
                1. Rusty Shackelford

                  When you’re out, you’re out, and we don’t know that the unpaid sick days are actually an issue for this guy. When you’re there, and you try to disappear into the bathroom, they wait for you to come back. Or you try to politely refuse, and you get a dozen people asking why, and arguing against whatever your objection is.

          2. paul

            I highly doubt they’ve got four months of those each year; even in my at times annoyingly touchy feely rah rah office we don’t touch that.

            Reply
          3. Turquoisecow

            Or maybe he has some kind of serious dietary restrictions and wouldn’t be able to eat the food everyone else is eating. Those can go along with chronic illness. Since it sounds like he’s not explaining himself to his coworkers, he definitely would not want to go to a retirement gathering and have to explain why he’s not eating, or brought his own food.

            Reply
        3. MK

          It’s also possible he is being thoughtful about planning his absenses, given the accommodation he has received from the company. Maybe he is choosing to come to work on days that will actually result in a full day’s work and scheduling his doctor’s appointments on days when a portion of the working hours will be spent posing for a photo.

          Reply
          1. Caro in the UK

            This was my immediate thought, that he could be saving energy for when it will be most useful work-wise. However, if this is the case, he’d probably get a better result if he was honest with employer about that (although he may feel that they wouldn’t be receptive to hearing it).

            Reply
            1. agree with Marzipan

              It seems like this company should be more worried about the time they are wasting on “celebrations” than someone’s medically documented health issue. In addition to the other theories about social phobia or witness protection (lol), maybe this guy has religious beliefs he doesn’t want to make public or compromise, such as being photographed or consuming certain things. Maybe this guy has celiac or other dietary restrictions and doesn’t want to eat the junk typically served at such events. Or even worse, be questioned by co-workers about why he isn’t eating? Maybe he has an eating disorder and food centered public events trigger him? The LW appears to be asking Alison permission to fire this guy for not attending what should be voluntary activities.

              Reply
              1. TL -

                These all sound like pretty normal celebrations to me though – they’re pretty much in line with what I’ve had at most of my jobs, which for the most part were fairly productive environments. Maybe the frequency is abnormally high but I don’t think the OP said anything to suggest that.

                Reply
              2. GG Two shoes

                I’m positive this LW said he missed a whole bunch of days, that just happen to include work celebrations. That means he’s missing a ton of days that have nothing to do with that. I have a chronic illness and miss plenty of work, but if i missed 4 months worth of work I hope someone would at least as, “what’s going on, GG? Is there something going on we should know about? you are missing a lot of work recently.”

                Having had to fire some for missing 1 day a week for 30 weeks myself and who also didn’t like coming to group stuff, I understand LW’s issue. My absentee employee just didn’t like to work and was kind of lazy. She was also just not engaged with the company and thus didn’t want to go to employee stuff which would have been fine (other employees don’t come) but I think these are separate issues.

                Reply
        4. Brandy

          I used to not be able to eat most food served at these gatherings. And people lost their minds if I showed up with a plate from home I just ran and heated so I could be part of. Couple that with being picky. Its easier to miss those days.

          Reply
      3. Some Sort of Management Consultant

        Or what if the medical condition is something like severe social anxiety? It’s not hard to imagine that could be the case.

        (Or more innocently – I tend to get sick around holidays because the times leading up to them often are stressful and when it’s over, my body just nopes out. I have missed SO MANY company events (that I want to go to!) because of that, and sheer bad luck (surgery before annual kickoff was the latest thing).)

        Reply
        1. Aveline

          It honestly doesn’t matter what it is.

          LW should focus on enabling him to be his best self at work, not convincing hi, he’s doing it wrong.

          This should be about “can we do something to help you participate mor” and not “you are not participating and I’m going to convince you why you are wrong.”

          Reply
          1. Some Sort of Management Consultant

            Actually, OP should probably take it one step further; it’s not about Fergus’ participation in social activities, it’s about Fergus’ doing his job or not.

            Reply
            1. Aveline

              Yep, but she’s focused and asked about the social stuff.

              It also seems like the absences aren’t within her power to address.

              So I’m not sure what, if anything, she has the ability to address.

              Not all frustration has a remedy.

              Reply
      4. Bea

        Prior to making giant leaps improving my mental health conditions, my anxiety around food and eating around others would be excessive and to the point it would put me into a state of sickness if I were expected to be somewhere centered around sharing a meal or even snacks with others. I couldn’t even eat around my partner when we first met, it was a huge issue.

        So I can see why someone would pointedly miss out on all those things because I assume there is social interaction and food involved, both things are huge anxiety triggers for many of us who have that illness.

        Or perhaps he is someone who isn’t allowed to celebrate things but given the environment he’s around, he can’t actually admit it’s a religious issue.

        I’ve been around so many different environments that aren’t toxic necessarily but are very unforgiving and judgmental, so dealing with people thinking you’re faking sickness is a lot better than having a huge meltdown, sweating and fainting spell at a company lunch because everyone keeps pestering you to eat something that your stomach is physically refusing to allow you to put inside it.

        I understand the OP thinking it’s odd and a farce but as someone who’s been there and tried to explain it for years, it’s a real thing that happens to people.

        Reply
  9. WeevilWobble

    I have a co-worker just like OP#2’s except he’s not always absent (although he disappears a lot.)

    Knowing he won’t be part of stuff is just known. We had a cake for his birthday and said he didn’t have to attend. (My boss’s logic was she does it for eveyone else.) And he enjoyed eating it after!

    There are serious work issues to be addressed but the missing photos and functions shouldn’t be a big deal.

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      I like your boss’s logic. Especially knowing the likely reaction of hungry coworkers to the disappearance of their expected simple carbohydrates.

      Reply
  10. ManagerOfMany

    You should consider that “Absent from Pictures/Functions” has some sort of anxiety issue or something else deeper going on. Also it’s work NOT family. Who cares about the darn photo?

    Reply
    1. Scarlet

      Yes, exactly. Having to pose for a group photo sounds like a nightmare to me, I hated the yearly school photos with a passion and I really wouldn’t want to be forced to go through that again.
      Also, the guy is absent a third of the time and the manager is worried about the PHOTO???
      If he cannot do his job properly because of his absences, it should be dealt with. But if his performance is good (and it doesn’t seem to be a problem, since the letter doesn’t mention it), please let the man be. It sounds like an “enforced group cohesion/we’re all a big family!” atmosphere and as an introvert, it would be hell to me (even though I get along well with my colleagues).

      Reply
      1. TL -

        It sounds like his absences are a problem; they’ve at least looked into getting him fired.

        There probably are jobs where you could miss 33% of your work and be fine, but I think in most jobs that’s cause to fire someone. Either you can just pay someone for part-time work or work is not getting done.

        Reply
        1. Scarlet

          I have no doubt that his absences are a problem at work, but I find it strange that the LW doesn’t mention the work/performance aspect and seems to focus solely on the social aspect. People are paid to work, not to socialize. So his manager should certainly deal with it, but in the context of whether he’s actually doing his job, not in the context of “doesn’t want to have his picture taken/doesn’t attend office parties”. That’s not what he’s paid for.
          As far the fact that he’d be “impossible to fire”, I don’t see how it would be impossible to discipline someone who’s not doing the job they’re paid for.

          Reply
          1. Kat

            That’s exactly what I feel should be focused on here. Surely if he’s absent then there may be bigger issues at play than not being in a group photo? There seems a pattern of his missing work social events, and I think if that’s causing concern it would be worth finding out from him how he feels about it.

            Reply
          2. Em too

            I suspect LW focused on the point they felt in need of advice on, which may not be what they consider the most significant issue overall.

            Reply
            1. TL -

              Or at least the point they feel like they have some control over; it sounds like they can’t fire the guy for whatever reason so they’re focusing their frustration on something that they think they have a reasonable shot at changing.

              Reply
              1. Scarlet

                It’s a bit silly though. It’s like, I don’t know, having your car totaled in an accident and worrying that you’ve lost your key ring. It’s a big waste of energy over something that has very little importance.
                If they *really* don’t have anything to say about his work performance (or “can’t” say it for whatever reason), they should just leave him alone.

                Reply
        2. WM

          He’s missing 33% of his pay as well- the LW makes clear that most of the time off is unpaid leave because he exhausts his available PTO/sick leave every year.

          Maybe the employee made his situation clear when he was hired; he has a chronic illness and will miss large periods of work, for which he’s willing to take unpaid leave. He works less than other employees, he’s paid less than other employees. I’m really worried about the attitude in some of these comments that “If you can’t work 100% of the time you’re a problem and can’t work at all!!” There are people with these kinds of chronic health problems who will only be able to work 66% of the time. What’s the harm in having him work 66% of the time for 66% of the pay? The alternative is 0%

          Or at least, that’s how I’d frame it at the most sympathetic (to absentee) interpretation. Certainly the LW doesn’t make it sound like an understanding accommodation has been reached in this situation, and the possibility of foul play is there. But… I’d always err on the side of sympathy.

          Reply
          1. TL -

            I don’t begrudge our office manager for only working 60% of the time, because she’s hire to work at 60%. I did begrudge my coworker who treated her full-time job like a part-time job and left me to do my full-time job and part of hers. (And my coworker was not nearly as bad as this guy!)

            Nobody is saying that all jobs should be full-time or anyone who can’t work full time is useless, but rather that someone who was hired in a full-time position can and should be reasonably be expected to work full-time most years. This guy is not doing that.

            Reply
          2. tigerlily

            He may only work 66% of the time and be paid for 66% of the time, but he was hired for 100% (or whatever 100% minus the vacation/sick time package that is allotted to him is). The company has a need for that 100% and planned for 100% by hiring someone to work full time. Their needs aren’t being met.

            The alternative isn’t 0, it’s letting this guy go and getting someone who can meet their needs. If you can’t work the whole amount of the time you’re hired for (allowing for the sick, vacation, and anything else like FMLA you’re legally entitled to), you should probably be looking for work more in line with your own needs.

            Reply
        3. Amy

          I know it’s different than work but I was chronically ill in high school and missed a total of over 180 days my freshman-junior years, that is the equivalent of 33%. I still maintained a 3.5 GPA and completed my class work. Depending on the work he is doing and how efficient he is when he is there most of his work may still be getting done.

          Reply
      2. Anon today...and tomorrow

        I am not a “joiner” by nature so I don’t do photos or getting to know you questionnaires. I literally just started a new part time temp job this week and they told me I was required to fill out a form with interesting facts about myself. All I wrote was “Interesting fact #1 – I don’t like doing getting to know you questionnaires. :)” Luckily for me the rep at the company thought my answer was hysterical and let it go.

        Reply
        1. Koko

          You could also take the approach of Ron Swanson’s birth announcement for his son: “John Middle Name Redacted Swanson was born some time ago, weighing multiple pounds and several ounces.”

          Reply
      3. Susanne

        You know something? At some point, absent a compelling reason such as needing to keep your privacy because you’ve been a victim of stalking or a religious belief about not having your picture taken, it’s kind of important to grow up and not make big deals out of things. “Having to pose for a group photo sounds like a nightmare” … you stand in a group for a minute and you smile and say cheese when the photographer tells you to and then you disperse, and no one is ever really going to look at the picture anyway. This is just not even remotely any big deal in life.

        This is reminding me of the threads in which people act all curmudgeonly and grumpy and It’s Such a Big Deal over such minor things as having to sign a card for a coworker or acknowledge other people in the hallway who say “how are you.” I get introversion. I am an introvert myself and if I could lock myself in a room and just do my work for hours without interruption, I would be happy as can be. But people are using introversion as an excuse for being all hot and bothered by even the teensiest of inconsequential social interactions. Signing a card for a coworker is an inconsequential social interaction, acknowledging a “how are you” / “fine, thanks, how are you” is an inconsequential social interaction, and yes, posing for a group photo is an inconsequential social interaction.

        It’s a mighty big stretch from “we posed for a group picture” to “this must be an atmosphere of enforced group cohesion / we’re all a big family / all for one and one for all.”

        It’s not really fair to lump people who have extreme social anxiety / anxiety disorders in the bucket of introverts. These are two entirely different things.

        Reply
        1. Delphine

          This advice could go the other way, too, though: Don’t make a big deal out of needing a “group photo” of your employees.

          Reply
        2. Scarlet

          Who’s being “hot and bothered” here?
          Not a big deal to do it, not a big deal not to do it either. The LW seems to focus a great deal on the social events and the photos when it would seem that repeated absences would probably be a job/performance problem rather than a social problem. That’s what I don’t get.

          Reply
    2. Christy

      If you work with remote people or remote offices, it can be really really nice to have a group photo to put a face to the name and voice. For one team I’d worked with for years, I printed out their photo and pinned it to my cube wall and labeled it so I knew who each person was.

      Reply
      1. Sarianna

        My team solved this by using webcam at our daily sync-up meetings. Manager got a cheapie $30 webcam and put it at one end of the table, and pointed it to us as we talked. Super awkward, but everyone did it, including the remote folks. Made it easier for some of our more insular folks to understand the remote people with strong accents.
        I am one of the people who hates having their photo taken, but at least webcam images aren’t persisted.

        Reply
    3. Maya Elena

      I think LW also expressed worry that the worker would be upset or take it offensively if not included in the photo representing the company.

      Reply
    4. Fleeb

      Yeah, this reminds me of the yearbook girl from Can’t Hardly Wait agressively trying to get people to sign. It rubbed me the wrong way- social events should be optional, and team cohesion should be about work results. The absenteeism is a separate issue.

      Reply
  11. AlligatorTrainer

    It would be very unusual for a CBA to literally have no procedure for disciplining or eventually terminating an employee who misses work 1/3 of the time. Often when people say the union means they “can’t” fire or discipline, what they mean is they don’t want to go through the collectively bargained procedure to do so. But it sounds like for some reason even that is out of the LW’s hands, which suggests to me there’s more going on with this guy and his situation.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Part of me wonders if the employee is covered under FMLA, which would account for 3 of the 4 absent months (and perhaps the CBA adds an additional month, so long as it’s unpaid?).

      Reply
      1. SystemsLady

        Yeah, FMLA would be the only common chronic reason somebody could take that much unpaid leave, even in a union environment. Most places I’ve been would resist giving that much extra unpaid time off.

        Reply
    2. Sheworkshardforthemoney

      I’ve worked in union and non-union workplaces and you can be fired from a union job. It is a lot more work for management but it can be done. In one incident a worker had child porn on his work computer . He was formally charged and fired before his court appearance. His union gave him minimal support and he never came back. In the other incident it was a personality clash with the manager. The worker was micro-managed to the point where he made a vague threat to management and was gone in less than a month. He did fight it and managed to get a settlement.

      Reply
    3. Mike C.

      This has been my experience as well. “We can’t fire him because of the union” usually means “I can’t go and just tell him he’s fired unilaterally, there’s a form I have to fill out and give to HR and that sounds like too much work to me”.

      CBAs are agreements between a union and an employer, no one would agree to one where it was impossible to fire someone for cause.

      Reply
      1. Christy

        As someone who works in a union environment and whose mother is a union board member, it’s not just filling out a form for HR. At least in my workplace, your performance evaluation has to reflect your poor performance, and if a performance evaluation is going to be lower than the year before then a warning must be given at the mid-year review so the employee has time to improve their review. Once you have the poor performance documented over a span of time with no improvement shown, then you can begin the official disciplinary process.

        Barring some agency-specific violations that will get you relatively immediately fired, it takes at least a year. My mentors talk about 18 months as a typical length of time needed to fire someone.

        So please do trust me that it’s not just filling out a form for HR.

        Reply
        1. AlligatorTrainer

          Most CBAs require documentation and opportunities for employees to improve if they’re just preforming poorly, but the majority also have processes for when something egregious happens. I say this as someone who has worked in multiple unionized workplaces and volunteered my time to bargain one of my contracts.

          Reply
        2. Lora

          It varies according to the union and the strength of their contract. Some are more rigorous than others. When I was in Teamsters (grad school), they had this boilerplate contract that was like, Coors Lite weak, and nobody had put any effort into writing a good contract, so it really was, fill out a form and send it to the admin who will handle it. When I was in ICWUC we sat down with the lawyers to write a serious contract, and the company decided they’d rather illegally terminate every single union member and get the management to get their hands dirty rather than negotiate a contract. We all got settlements for lost wages and stuff, but the company obviously went under 3 months after that stunt because union contracts can’t fix stupid.

          Reply
        3. neverjaunty

          Mike C. is oversimplifying (at least for many workplaces) in terms of how much paperwork exactly is required, but he is correct that there is a huge difference between “can’t fire” and “don’t want to put in the effort to fire”. Or, in some cases, “this workplace is so dysfunctional that we can’t adequately and fairly document work problems.”

          It’s the same thing when you hear a manager gripe that they can’t fire Fergus because he might sue for discrimination.

          Reply
          1. Koko

            Yes, so much of the time when someone says that a thing “can’t be done” what they really mean is, “It’s hard and I don’t want to.” See also: politics.

            Reply
          2. Koko

            Actually, see also: We can’t let employees see their job description because we don’t want them arguing with us about their compensation.

            And: We can’t give a salary range on the job ad because we don’t want mid-tier candidates arguing they deserve the top of the range.

            Reply
          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Yeah, that’s how I interpreted Mike C.’s comment. And he’s right; you can always fire unionized employees. But many employers don’t want to deal with the cost (in time, effort, etc.) of following the due process protections often found in CBAs.

            Reply
        4. Just Snarky Today

          Oh the misery. I inherited a Union employee who was in position for six years. Within my first month, I had discovered that she had not been doing the work of her position for at least six years. She would come in late, leave early, disappear during the day. And lie. I documented. Turned out that lying is not a fireable offense. She once lied to client and said that she didn’t have a phone. She refused to set up voicemail on her phone. Well, she didn’t refuse, she just didn’t do it. AND she threw her fellow union members under the bus when ever possible. Multiple investigations. Nothing was her fault. PIP and step discipline were my part time jobs for a year and half. I needed employee assistance just to deal with her. Then add the multiple grievance meetings that I had to prepare for. I would have laughed at the absurdity of it all but I am still three years later traumatized by the experience. I understand the temptation to just not. Give the employee a cubicle. Give work that has no impact on the work of department.

          Reply
        5. Catherine

          If the issue for which you’d want to fire someone is poor performance, you’d already have done many of these steps by the time you decided you needed to fire the person, right? It doesn’t sound like the firing process itself would be long or egregious if the person had been getting good management all along.

          Reply
          1. Jadelyn

            THANK.

            It’s a collective pet peeve on my team (non-union nonprofit environment) when managers come to us and say they need us to help write a PIP/MOU for a problem employee, or they want to start the separation process, and when we ask “when did the behavior start?” we find out that it’s a chronic issue that’s been going on for months without any documentation. And at that point we have to tell the manager, look, if you’d been documenting this all along and coaching your employee appropriately, we’d write you a PIP/MOU/reach out to Legal for their sign-off on terminating the employee so we can get that going. But you haven’t, so even though it’s been going on for months, because you didn’t actively manage the problem behavior until now, you have to start at step 1. Come back in another month or two with documentation that you’ve spoken with the employee, coached them, made it super clear that this behavior can’t continue, and that they’re still doing it, and then we’ll talk disciplinary action.

            Managers get frustrated at this, and we’ve had a couple complain that it’s too hard to fire someone, but it’s like…this isn’t us being stubborn, this is you not providing consistent management and guidance to your staff, and we’re not going to fire someone out of the blue (from the employee’s perspective anyway) or spring a PIP/MOU on someone when you haven’t even tried to, you know…manage them consistently.

            Whereas a manager who’s documented several conversations with the employee about the problem behavior, can describe to us the coaching that’s already occurred and any accommodations they’ve tried to make around the problem (like shifting someone’s work schedule to accommodate their need to get kids to/from daycare when the daycare stuff was making them chronically late), we’ll take that documentation and after a brief conversation with the manager to confirm that we really are at the “out of options” point and there’s nothing we can do training/coaching-wise to help the employee succeed, we’ll set up the call with Legal for the next day and if need be, we can have the employee out the day after that.

            Reply
          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Seriously. What’s being described is what competent managers should do, regardless of whether a CBA prescribes the process. It’s pretty crappy to offer no coaching, feedback, or opportunity for correction and then fire someone “for cause.”

            Reply
        6. Professor Moriarty

          But in a union environment managers know this and should be recording performance and performing reviews this way anyway.

          Reply
        7. Creag an Tuire

          I mean, the progressive discipline with formal warnings and opportunities to improve are management best practices endorsed by AAM herself. The only thing that sounds unusual about this contract is the strict timetable — generally you don’t have to wait an entire review cycle to start the ball rolling on progressive discipline, so either management is choosing to interpret it this way, or “poor performance” is very subjective and subject to supervisor bias, and that’s why the union has bargained such stringent protections (this is the case with a lot of teachers’ contracts, frex).

          And yes, I work in organized labor and I’ve literally never seen a contract without a clause to circumvent PD for egregious/illegal behavior.

          Reply
          1. Just Snarky Today

            So the response to my situation was that the employee was not coached, not warned, not given notice that her behavior and job performance was poor. My post separation investigation showed that her supervisor for her first two years was covering for her. After that she was extremely capable of placing the blame for any shortcomings on other workers or departments. Emails that were not returned, tasked that were not completed had little or no consequences. Inaccurate and missing timecards were noted by finance but there were no consequences. She had ok performance reviews. With a few negative comments for punctuality, leaving the unit without notice, incomplete tasks but no consequenses. The first six months that I supervised her, we would have coaching meetings with written expectations, completions the dates, etc. The official PIP started a year after I began as there was no improvement. I was told the timeline from there would be 2 years. Each segment of progressive discipline had to have a six to eight week time to document improvement or lack of improvement. The grievance filings began within three weeks of the first disciplinary action. Our division had never fired a union employee in the collective memory of the departments.

            Reply
            1. Just Snarky Today

              And the irony of this whole situation was that I was the union rep for our job class in my former position.

              Reply
            2. Doreen

              I have had similar problems in a union environment – but here’s the thing. If your predecessors had done their job, she would either have been gone or would have improved long before you got there. That’s the problem, not the contract.

              The union environment I work in has much the same process as the one described by Christy. Evaluations must reflect the poor performance, a midyear review is required and at that review the employee must be told ” If I had to rate your performance today, the rating would be unsatisfactory”. But here’s the thing- every employee is supposed to be evaluated once a year and every employee is supposed to be given a mid-year review. I’ve been a member of three different unions and there were three things all of the contracts had in common
              1) The evaluation process was the same for all employees- whether it was once a year or twice a year, midpoint review or not , the requirements were the same whether the rating would have been satisfactory or not. A lot of supervisors didn’t actually follow those standards, because for some purposes evaluations that were not completed were treated as if they were satisfactory, because you don’t want to deny someone a transfer or a salary advance or a promotion because their supervisor didn’t do his or her job. ( I myself didn’t receive a non-probationary evaluation until I was at my current employer for 20 years.) But that’s an issue of the supervisors not doing their job, not extra requirements to take disciplinary action.
              2) There was always a way to terminate someone much more quickly for truly egregious behavior.
              3) There was always a probationary period during which it was very easy to terminate an employee.

              Since I have been in supervisory/management positions, I have not had a single problem employee who was not already a problem during their probationary period. Not one. Because someone didn’t deal with it then, I’m dealing with it 25 years later.

              Reply
  12. The RO-Cat

    #4 Job description: it is highly unusual in my (admittedly, European) experience. Not only is it necessary for the employee to know what their job entails, but it is also necessary for the org, too. In fact, JD is one of the first things created when orgs contemplate the decision of creating a position (there’s a whole process with several steps, JD is part of this process).
    Not to mention that here it is mandated by law for the JD to be in writing, explained to the employee and signed by said employee (don’t know in the US, though), so the org would be in hot water with DOL.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      No such requirement here. Employers don’t even have to have job descriptions here if they don’t want to, and if they do have them, they can keep them buried 40 feet under ground if they want to. The only exception is that some states require you to have access to your personnel file upon request, and if the JD was part of that file, then you’d legally be able to insist on seeing it.

      Reply
      1. The RO-Cat

        I didn’t know that, thanks. Still, seems an odd decision, to keep JD from employess. I mean yeah, if you’re gonna have your CPA clean toilets and your sales guys do constructon work at the owner’s mansion that might explain it (thus, red flag for candidates), but otherwise it’s bad for business. The clearer the job, the better results and / or employee – position fit, I’d venture to say.

        Reply
        1. Jeanne

          Every job description I’ve ever seen says “Additional duties as assigned” and that covers all possibilities. My thought is the description is so old and never revised so it’s not really relevant and no one wants to update it so they hide it. Or there is no proper description. Or they’re afraid you’ll fight over every detail.

          Reply
          1. Lindsay J

            I think the fight every detail thing is possible.

            Some people – even with the “other duties as assigned” caveat that I’ve seen in every single one – seem to treat the job description as an all-inclusive list of everything they could possibly be required to do and will decide that anything that is not on there is “not my job” even if it’s something that makes sense for someone with their responsibilities to do. (Like an administrative assistant refusing to learn how to fax a document because the job description mentions scanning and copying documents, but not faxing).

            Honestly, if someone who wasn’t new to the company/their position requested their job description, I would assume they were gearing up to fight about something they were asked to do that they felt was not in the realm of their area of responsibility for whatever reason.

            However, even assuming that, my response wouldn’t be to not give it to them. I would ask why they were looking for it – it could be something like the OP’s case or the department working on creating a new position, 0r making a case for a position adjustment, or something else. If it did turn out that they were asking about it because of the “not my job” thing, I would find out the specific task. Is it the CPA being asked to scrub the retail store’s toilets? Or is it something more in line with the scan vs fax thing? If the task they were being asked to do were inappropriate I would give them the description and advise them who to raise the issue with. If the task they were being asked to do was appropriate but just not specifically outlined on the job description, I would give them the description but also remind them that it wasn’t created to be all-inclusive of every duty required as part of the job and point out the “other duties as assigned” verbiage if it were there.

            Reply
        2. Lora

          It is definitely an odd decision and if an employee contests a firing as wrongful termination, not having that stuff documented can be a really fun conversation with the state department of labor. But people make inadvisable life choices all the time.

          Reply
    2. Lava-Loving

      I work for a large Fortune 50 company. Very well-known. We have a similar policy where employees do not have ready access to their job descriptions. In fact, our company operates in almost the same way as LW #4. Your manager has to request it from Compensation; you can’t request it yourself.

      Reply
      1. Something Witty

        OP here. In my case I often describe my entire job as “and other duties as assigned,” and my need for the JD was simply to start updating/revising the description in preparation for hiring someone. I do understand the fax/scan argument and agree completely that it’s easier for companies to avoid those discussions if they can. What’s funny is that, after I submitted the question I came across another job description for the same position – different job code and title than the one that I got from HR (and the one to which I am currently assigned), but it actually seems to be a better distillation of what the position entails. I forwarded both to my boss since we will be working together to hire someone.

        It was more the attitude of “we don’t trust you to have this information” that bothered me than the fact that I needed my boss to ask for it. It feels really underhanded, somehow.

        Reply
    3. Jadelyn

      There’s no requirement in the U.S. for employers to have JDs at all. Mind you, if you don’t bother to have them, and you wind up in court being sued by an employee for…pretty much any wrongful adverse employment action, FMLA retaliation, worker’s comp stuff, EEOC stuff…you’re going to be at a major disadvantage by not having proper documentation of the employee’s role and duties, because now it’s a “he said, she said” between company and former employee as far as what the job included or was supposed to have included, what their compensation was based on, etc. So they’re a strongly recommended best practice, but there’s nothing legally mandating it.

      Reply
  13. Nobody Here By That Name

    I have a sort of similar question to #4: how odd is it to have to fight to get a copy of the most recent org chart? I understand that org charts can change and have draft forms which might be confidential, so I’m not talking about those. I mean versions which reflect the current state of the company: in other words the information that you could get if you went around and asked everyone what they do and who they report to, only this isn’t feasible in a corporate office of 200+ people watching over sectors of thousands of employees. For further context, we’re not a government office, nor are we in any sort of security business or one with strict government reporting.

    Am I crazy to think that an org chart of everyone’s current position should not require an HR gauntlet to get? In other words – and bringing it back to why #4 spurred me to ask – why would a company not want to tell employees what their co-workers do?

    Reply
    1. CoffeeLover

      Wow! See my comment below! I encountered the same thing once upon a time and I thought there’s no way anyone else has experienced this foolishness. Every other firm I worked for had the current org chart posted in a shared drive that could be accessed by anyone. So yes, it is weird they won’t share it with you. I honestly think it’s a power play by a poorly run HR.

      Reply
    2. Susan K

      I think that’s very strange, although there is already another comment two comments down from this one saying the same thing. Everywhere I’ve worked, the current org chart is readily available on the company intranet. That really shouldn’t be confidential information (at least not to other employees).

      Reply
    3. Laika

      I worked in a small (>35) non-profit that restructured so frequently that they simply couldn’t produce org charts fast enough to keep up with the staffing changes. They were really big on branding so the executive director insisted that every new chart was produced by the design & marketing team, but since org charts were considered both internal communications and low-priority, they kept getting bumped down in the queue. If you went to ask HR for one, they wouldn’t be able to give you one – not maliciously, but just because they wouldn’t have an up-to-date chart to show. You’d get a lot of “Oh, I’ll try to find one, I’ll get back to you, I know we have one somewhere.” So literally the easiest way to figure it out would be to wander from office to office and ask everyone in person. I always wondered why they didn’t do up a 30-second job in MS Paint and slap the logo on it if they knew it was only going to last two weeks!

      Reply
      1. Jadelyn

        …look, my org has 260-some employees, I manage our org chart, and it takes me *maybe* half an hour to update it every month. And that only because I sometimes need to go hunting in my emails to check on the details of particular changes before I reflect them on the org chart.

        For a company the size of an elementary school classroom, that should be a 10-minute job at most, and that’s assuming major reorganizations requiring shifting whole structures from one page to another or something. I wouldn’t do MS Paint, though…we actually use PowerPoint for our org chart, mostly as a legacy thing because that’s how the VP started doing it many years ago. We export it to PDF to be uploaded onto the intranet, and I have a distribution list of people who’ve requested to have new org charts emailed to them directly each time I update. This is really not rocket science, people.

        Reply
    4. Jeanne

      My company never wanted us to see the org chart. Half the promotions were secrets and the chart had titles. Or seeing the chart meant you knew who to go to to get things done and independent action was a big no. Sometimes management likes to make things harder for peons.

      Reply
    5. Amey

      Ha, I’ve had this problem too! They took our organisational chart down after a fairly major restructuring and it never went back up. I’d been on maternity leave during the restructuring and I really needed to get up to speed with who was doing what now, and I could not seem to get it from anywhere… This was during a (longer than it should have been) period when my boss couldn’t absolutely tell me who he was meant to be reporting to, so it’s possible that it just didn’t actually really exist at that point.

      Reply
    6. hbc

      If you just get a runaround and not outright evasiveness, I’d bet that they simply don’t keep it updated. And not just the new hire from last week, but maybe not changed in 2 years. Often that’s just not a high priority as long as everyone knows who they report to and who reports to them.

      Reply
      1. Nobody Here By That Name

        It’s a really strange situation. We have a lot of staffing changes so keeping the charts updated is an issue. However when specifically asking for the most recent chart that anyone was allowed to see (in a situation where my dept. needed to know general structure more than specific names) it was still a weeks-long gauntlet of “But WHY do you want to see this?” and the request being escalated up to the head of HR before it could be sent to me.

        So there could be an element of disorganization on their end, where the changes have happened so much that they’ve never been able to hit a pause and say a certain set of org charts is okay for internal release. That being said, I do think there’s an element of power play in it as well as one time I asked for a copy of an org chart I already had but in a different format (think PDF vs PPT) and STILL had to run the gauntlet. I was literally standing there with a copy of the org chart in question IN MY HAND having to go through all the steps to justify why HR would give me a copy of the org chart I already had a copy of.

        Reply
    7. Mike C.

      This is a massive, massive regulatory issue if you happen to be in one of those “we have parallel production and quality departments to meet regulations” companies. Everyone needs to know who to go to if their concerns are being ignored.

      This is one of the first things an auditor asks for.

      Reply
      1. Lora

        It gives me great schadenfreude that a particularly awful exjob is dealing with that exact issue right now and has had multiple QA people quit on the grounds that they won’t sign off on such nonsense…

        Reply
      2. Lindsay J

        Yup. Ours is posted in the front of the handbook and on our internal webpages and on the shared drive. I would have to try to avoid seeing it. Which is what they want.

        “I didn’t know who to escalate the issue to,” is not an excuse anyone wants to hear after a preventable issue.

        Reply
      3. Nobody Here By That Name

        That’s interesting. We’re not but we do business with companies that have stricter requirements than we do, which means by extension sometimes we’re expected to meet those requirements. Our head of compliance is, ironically, not such a pain to deal with. I’ll have to ask them about whether this is an issue they need to be aware of.

        Reply
    8. t

      I work for a very large international organization that does publish an organization chart, but all the titles are “HR” titles. So everyone at a certain level is a Director, but no where does it say what they are the director of. It is impossible to find people who do certain functions without some serious sleuthing!

      Reply
    9. Turquoisecow

      Oh, that reminds me of my old job. My boss was secretly promoted. He told me, and I told some people, and when it got around he was very upset. I’m still not sure. If you’re going to be in charge, it helps if people *know you’re in charge!

      I also was promoted to “coordinator” after being a “specialist,” an excuse they used to try to force a fellow specialist to accept a pay cut. They framed it as “your job is being eliminated, here’s a similar job with lower pay.” Nothing about my duties changed. Shortly thereafter they hired “clerks,” who were junior to me but apparently not below me? I never got clear direction on if I was supposed to “manage” the clerks, so I didn’t.

      An org chart would have cleared so much up. Even more frustratingly, a nearby department with which we worked constantly but not as part of put out new org charts all the time. But we were never on them. At last, we got a VP who created an org chart! And then a few weeks later I was moved off of it and onto a special project. Oh well.

      Reply
    10. Jadelyn

      I think it comes from an overall philosophy – a bad one, imo – that assumes an adversarial relationship between company and employees. Employees are treated as “the enemy”, the company assumes bad faith on the part of employees seeking information, and thus does its best to keep them in the dark.

      Now, employees *can* start asking awkward questions when you give them certain pieces of information, like JDs and org charts. Like, “Jake sits next to me and we do the same job, why am I on the org chart as an “Associate” and he’s on there as a “Specialist”?” Which is a conversation that is not particularly comfortable to have – but that’s a good thing! When an employee forces you to explain something like that, you either solidify your decision to have different titles for similar roles (“Jake actually does XYZ in addition to the things that you both do, and he has a degree in ABC as well, so we gave him a title that reflects the higher level of education and additional responsibilities.”) or you discover you’ve, perhaps inadvertently, created an inequitable situation (“Wow…the employee is right. They do the same thing, there’s no reason to have different titles, and since Jake has the higher title than Amy, that could be seen as a gender discrimination problem. We should fix this.”), which gives you the chance to course-correct and do better.

      But there are a lot of employers who react defensively to that kind of revelation, rather than taking it as an opportunity to rectify the situation. So they try to avoid giving employees access to information that might prompt those conversations in the first place, so that they can keep on their comfortable little path of misclassifying employees and being sloppy and careless about internal equity.

      Reply
  14. Willis

    Of all the weird, office inappropriate things we’ve heard on AAM that have ever made me squirm in my seat, the thought of washing my co-workers dirty underwear might be close to the top! How weird! And even more weird that they don’t think it’s weird to mention to everyone else!

    Reply
    1. sin nombre

      I’m trying to envision having my boss wash *my* dirty underwear. Actually, on second thought, I’d rather not. Gah!

      Reply
    2. SystemsLady

      My coworker once didn’t tell me he’d left his dirty clothes in the hotel we’d been staying in (and that I’d be staying in for a little while longer), hours from both of our homes, because he – correctly – figured I wouldn’t be comfortable even picking up a plastic bag of his dirty underwear from the front desk.

      Reply
    3. (Different) Rebecca

      Srsly. I came back to the communal apartment dryer two minutes* after my clothes were dry, and found a neighbor ‘helpfully’ removing my things, saying ‘oh, I was about to fold them for you!’ Dude. DUDE. NO. Get your hands off my knickers!!

      *Literally two minutes; when I do laundry I set a timer.

      Reply
  15. CoffeeLover

    #4 I once had to fight the HR department at my old job to give me the org chart. The org chart! Not only did I have to get my supervisor involved, but it had to go all the way up. My exec director had to talk to the exec director of HR. I was in Compliance so I needed this information for very legitimate reasons. All this is to say that sometimes HR sucks and makes your job harder to do not easier (Toby from the Office anyone :P). At my ex-job they liked to hoard information under the pretence of privacy. I felt like they were getting a power kick out of saying no. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same was happening here.

    Reply
    1. MommyMD

      HR seems to always think we are up to sneakiness. I wanted a copy of my CV bc my computer crashed and HR got their hackles up. I wasn’t leaving. I just wanted a hard copy.

      Reply
        1. Hall of Famer

          She said her computer crashed. Presumably she didn’t have a backup and was thus trying to retrieve a copy.

          Reply
            1. Bea

              I assume it’s her home computer that crashed and not everyone has any reason to take on the costs of having recovery by a professional when the most important thing saved on there is just a CV.

              Reply
      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)

        You’d think that if you were being sneaky you wouldn’t just come right out and ask them for the information.

        Reply
    2. SusanIvanova

      When you said “had to go all the way up” my first thought was “but without an org chart, how do you know who to escalate it to?” :)

      Reply
      1. Ramona Flowers

        And that’s why you can’t have it. You have to guess what’s on it, and if you guess the right person they’ll retrieve it from behind the Beware of the Leopard sign.

        Reply
    3. Ange

      My best HR interaction was on our secure HR portal where I put in a question – I think it was regarding sick leave. Some time later I checked and my query had been closed but with no info. I rang them up and it turned out that they had answered it (the answer was “your boss has to ask us”) but made the answer only visible to managers! I got no explanation as to why the answer to my question was a secret from me.

      Reply
    4. Emmie

      Surprisingly, having a current org chart and updated job descriptions aren’t always accessible. Org charts change A LOT if you have an operation that changes position reporting structure frequently. Job descriptions may have been last updated when the position was open and that can be a while ago. While these things should be updated, your ask may require an update to the items. Accessing an employee’s resume may be a big ask for a company – unless it’s required for regulatory reasons.

      Reply
  16. Susan K

    #4 – That is a bizarrely antagonistic attitude for HR to have. It comes across as playing some kind of game or trying to trick you — “Gotcha! You can’t prove it’s not in your job description, so we don’t have to pay you more for taking on extra responsibilities!” That said, I actually do have my current job description from when I applied for it four years ago, because I always save a copy of the job description when I apply for a job. I do that in case I get called for an interview after the job posting has already been taken down. By virtue of the fact that I never delete anything, I still have the one from my current job on my home computer (although I’m fairly sure my company would provide it for me if I asked, anyway).

    Reply
    1. hbc

      I don’t think the HR attitude is that unusual, but it’s pretty strange to admit it! What’s the point of having a “clever” plan to keep the masses from realizing they’re underpaid and then telling them about it? Even if I’m charitable and they have experience with people completely misunderstanding, you still don’t tell the people you believe are incapable of interpreting their job description that you think they can’t handle it.

      Reply
    2. Trout 'Waver

      That was my first thought also. If an HR person ever “told me it’s because they don’t want people reviewing their job descriptions and arguing that their responsibilities have changed and they therefore deserve more money,” I’d be out of there so fast it’d make their heads spin.

      Because, HR is specifically saying that they withhold information from top performers in order to underpay them. Fuck that.

      Reply
      1. Something Witty

        OP here. Honestly I do wonder if that’s part of it, but I obviously can’t prove it. Regardless, it added another layer of jadedness to my already cynical outlook on this particular department.

        Reply
  17. MommyMD

    Stay out of the laundry issue unless it’s directly affecting your job. You are making a lot of assumptions about who does what and where. It’s weird but it’s between them and they may have something personal going on. If they bring it up at the office you can ask coworker why Boss does his laundry. But unless Boss is violating a company policy, your views on the issue have no bearing. I guarantee if you go up to your boss chiding her about “inappropriate ” behavior it will not go over well. Just stay out of it.

    Reply
    1. Princess Cimorene

      LW is a peer to the employee having his laundry done who may be feeling some weird sense of boss playing favorites with this coworker (is boss also then giving this employee higher profile projects, raises or promotions?). It is LWs business and the business of their other peers. Because even if the favor stops at laundry, it doesn’t necessarily APPEAR that way to the other staff members and that is a problem for morale. Not to mention it’s bizarre fodder for office gossip. Also if a BOSS is having an intimate affair with an employee that actually does matter. If this boss isnt, it can appear that way to the rest of the staff because of this odd arrangement.

      Reply
    2. CoffeeLover

      Ya, I agree. Princess Cimorene above made some valid points about favouritism and how other people could perceive the situation, but honestly, how does the laundry situation affect you OP? It doesn’t really affect you at all. If this guy really is the favourite with your boss, he’ll remain the favourite even if she’s not doing his laundry. In which case the situation is about her being a bad manager and picking obvious favourites (not something you can fix). If how others perceive the situation is your biggest worry, well that’s not your worry at all. That reflects poorly on your boss. All in all, it’s not your responsibility to watch your managers reputation in this way. She’s making a poor decision that could reflect badly on her, and that’s on her. Getting involved in this seems so unnecessary and like it could lead to other drama. Why even bother when it doesn’t really affect you? Besides, you don’t even know what’s really going on. Just ignore it. Or if you’re curious, ask the guy what’s up to satisfy your curiosity and leave it at that.

      Reply
    3. WeevilWobble

      Yeah, if she were also management this would be different. But it’s an employee going to her boss asking her about whose laundry she does and suggesting she stop. Is it super weird? Yeah. But this won’t go well.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        No, it an employee going to HR or their grandboss and saying, “This is something I’ve unfortunately become aware of and it raises all kinds of questions about favoritism, and I thought you’d need to know.”

        Reply
    4. Oryx

      Disagree. If the Boss and Subordinate have a relationship or arrangement of any kind outside of work that does not involve the rest of the colleagues, it looks bad and appears like favoritism. Even if this is the only thing happening and even if it really is as innocuous as doing laundry, the optics lend itself to an inappropriate relationship and regardless of what is actually happening, the coworker has a professional advantage over her colleagues.

      It falls under the same umbrella of why friendships between boss and subordinate are discouraged.

      Reply
    5. Snark

      It’s easy to suggest OP stay out of it, but what if it doesn’t stay out of OP’s orbit? What if there’s layoffs? Laundry Boy probably isn’t going to be in the first wave. What if there’s only a budget for two people on the team to get performance bonuses? Laundry Boy probably isn’t walking away empty handed. It’s 100% off base to suggest that this is none of OP’s business.

      Reply
      1. LCL

        It may become OPs business for the reasons you suggest, but Mommy MD is still right. OP asked two questions. The first was ‘am I wrong to think this way?’ The answer being, you can think whatever you want, your mind belongs to you. Right or wrong doesn’t apply to feelings, it’s what you do with them.

        OPs second question was ‘what would be the best way to approach boss with these feelings?’ Don’t approach boss with any feelings, that is a weird blurring of boundaries.

        Reply
    6. manager2.0

      Hi MommyMD,

      I appreciate your feedback on this situation. This actually was brought to my attention while I was at lunch with my boss and my co-worker. We 3 are the management team for my department at my workplace. We were at lunch at our workplace surrounded by many people from our department and other departments. Also, note that we work for a contract company, so the perception that our “client” has of the management that my company had placed at our facility plays a major role in whether or not we keep our contract. And there are rules in place for my workplace that do forbid intimate relationships, perceived or otherwise, between management and subordinates.

      I hope that sheds some more light on the situation I mentioned.

      Reply
  18. MommyMD

    I don’t want to be in any group card either. The absenteeism is another matter. Don’t make such a thing of the picture. In actuality your clients don’t care who is in it.

    Reply
    1. Amey

      I think this is true – your clients shouldn’t care at all, I’m sure that most large team photos don’t include everyone. The only way that I could see this mattering is if you’re an extremely small company – if there’s only 4 of you, then it’s going to look a little odd if one person is left out. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case.

      Reply
      1. Lindsay J

        100% guarantee it. I know some of the vendors I work with have group photos. Some even in their email signatures.

        I have literally never looked at it. Why would I?

        And if I did look and someone was missing I would shrug my shoulders and go “oh I guess he must have been out or something that day”.

        I am willing to bet almost nobody cares about this picture and its not something worth putting any mental effort towards.

        Unless the Photoshop was well done, I would probably notice that someone was Photoshopped into the photo and laugh about it. And then again forget about it almost immediately.

        Reply
        1. Susanne

          Totally agree that most clients / vendors would receive this picture and toss it in the trash without a minute’s hesitation, which is why I wouldn’t see it being such a hill to die over. If management wants to waste 5 minutes corraling us in a room for a picture, let them.

          Reply
  19. Marie

    “The bigger issue is how someone missing four months of the year still has a job”

    I find this answer unusually harsh. Whether the LW believes them to be forged or not, this employee has doctor notes. You just don’t fire someone who is chronically ill just because you can’t be bothered to prove dishonesty on his part: everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.

    Not sure if this is the case in America, but it would definitely be illegal in my country.

    Reply
    1. Julia

      Yeah, I was a little surprised by this because Alison usually shows so much empathy.

      I mean, I get it. At my last (horrible) job, there was a guy who was almost never around (and when he was, he caused more harm than he worked), because not only did he have knee surgery, back surgery, then shoulder surgery etc. all in succession, he also used more vacation time than he had and our joke of an “HR” person could not argue with him. We couldn’t really hire a replacement because we didn’t get the budget for it, and every time we wanted to do so anyway, he promised he’d be back soon, we gave up on replacements, and he suddenly produced a doctor’s note saying he’d be out another month. It was frustrating.

      Reply
      1. MK

        Alison is very empathetic, but the standard script she offers in cases of continuing absenses is “I need the person in your role to be reliably here. Can you do that?”. Reallistically, the most likely outcome for this is for the chronically ill person who will be absent a lot to lose their job (I get that this might be the only option for the manager).

        Reply
        1. Princess Cimorene

          FMLA is what about 12 weeks annually? This may be something this employee is using and working out with higher ups or HR unbeknownst to this newer manager (who should be looped in of course, if that is the case)

          Reply
        2. Caro in the UK

          I suspect this would be the case in the US .But speaking for the UK, it’s much harder to fire someone who has chronic illness (documented by doctor’s notes), especially in unionised environments. In my most recent job, I had a peer who was out 50-60% of the time for the entire time I worked there. HR were trying to find a new, less physically demanding role for her to move into, but would not (and would have found it very difficult to) fire her.

          Reply
          1. Bagpuss

            This is true up to a point. Even in the UK, a person can be dismissed on the basis of capacity, provided that the employer follows the correct process to do it. that process would normally include getting occupational health involved (to determine whether there are reasonable adjustments which can be made to assist the person to return to / continue in work) and considering things such as alternative roles, of reduces or flexible hours.
            Obviously, the larger the organisation is, the more reasonable it is likely to be to expect them, as an employer to make adjustments
            However, if that is not possible, then the person can be dismissed and the dismissal will be fair.
            There is, however, a fairly common misconception in the UK that people can’t be fired for being off sick (I’m not saying you share it, Caro, I see you said ‘difficult’, not impossible) but you do see situations where managers belive that to be the case so they don’t do anything at all.

            Reply
          2. TL -

            Maybe it’s just my experiences working in a lab where people were allowed to just not show up for months on end (sigh) but … it’s much easier to (officially or unofficially) transition someone to part-time and put them on a reduced schedule that they can do a decent job of sticking to than to play “will they, won’t they?” every day, isn’t it?
            If you can only work 50-60% of the time, it’s much easier for me if I know to only look for you Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, rather than really needing to talk to you and having no idea when or if you’ll show up.

            Reply
        3. Aveline

          Except that is not LWs job. It’s above her pay grade.

          It’s clear the PTBs have decided he’s worth keeping. They get to do that.

          She gets to say “Here is how Fergus’ absences impact the team. How can we mitigate that?”

          Reply
      2. paul

        You *can* be empathetic and still need an f/t employee to actually be f/t.

        Missing 4 months a year every year is a ton of time.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          Right – you can be empathetic while still, for example, working to transition him to a part-time role that fits better with his scheduling needs. Empathy doesn’t mean a free pass.

          Reply
        2. Lissa

          Seriously! As soon as I read this letter and reply I knew there were going to be a bunch of comments jumping on OP and suggesting the guy must be chronically ill/food allergies/anxious etc….these things are all *possible*, but it sounds like the OP is not aware of a legitimate reason for this person to be doing this and still in a full time role…

          Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I don’t think Alison is suggesting that OP assume dishonesty or fire the employee for being chronically ill. She’s suggesting that it is difficult if not impossible for a full-time employee to miss 1/3 of a year’s work every year without it affecting that employee’s performance, as well as the performance of the company. Although the FMLA protects employees with chronic health or caretaking responsibilities, it only runs for 12 weeks (and it’s relatively rare for someone to max out that leave every year unless they are grappling with severe medical treatment, such as ongoing chemo/radiation therapy). And even with those protections, it’s relatively rare for courts to force a company to keep an employee who has been absent to the level that OP describes.

      This may be a situation in which the country context makes a difference in how her advice is perceived.

      Reply
    3. Jeanne

      Based on the employee still having a job, I assumed the letter writer was non-US. Doctors notes aren’t really protection for anything here.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I think the notes aspect could refer to FMLA and the CBA. Doctor’s notes can definitely provide “protection” in those contexts.

        Reply
        1. Jeanne

          Those are not doctor’s notes. That’s very specific paperwork that usually isn’t provided over and over. I’ve never heard anyone refer to that as doctor’s notes.

          Reply
    4. TL -

      But if you’re missing 4 months of the year, every year, and it’s a full time job, you…can’t really do that job.
      That’s a little different then a year where you get really sick or have a child or need other accomodations – they’re supposed to be short-term. If the writer had said “This year Jim-Bob got sick and ended up using all of his vacation, all of his sick days, and all of his FMLA,” I think Alison’s answer would’ve been way different.

      Whatever is going on in this guy’s life, it sounds like he can’t hold down a full-time job and it’s very unfair to ask the company and his coworkers to continuously do a significant portion of his job on top of their own, which is what has to be happening here. It is a problem that the guy is still employed.

      Reply
      1. MK

        “But if you’re missing 4 months of the year, every year, and it’s a full time job, you…can’t really do that job.”

        “it’s very unfair to ask the company and his coworkers to continuously do a significant portion of his job on top of their own,”

        These statements are not necessarily true. It’s possible to be productive enough, or at least bring enough value to the work, that it makes sense for the company to keep an employee who is absent a lot, especially since they are not paying him for the time he isn’t working. For the company’s point of view, it might not be all that different than having a part-timer in that department. If his workload is falling on his coworkers, that’s a serious problem, but the OP doesn’t say anyhting about that (and given the general attitude towards the coworker, I would think he would complain about that, rather than about the photo).

        Reply
        1. TL -

          The OP says they can’t get him fired and why they’ve kept him on is “a whole other issue.” So it’s heavily implied that they’ve looked into firing him and the wording isn’t “he’s great otherwise but has heavy absenteeism” but “we can’t get rid of him because of union stuff.”

          Also, I do think that hiring someone for a full time job and having them only able to show up 66% of the time means they can’t do a full time job – a full time job means you work 40 hrs a week minus sick and vacation time. He is… not doing that.

          Reply
      2. WeevilWobble

        The OP’s bosses clearly don’t believe this is the case because they choose to keep him and it’s not up for discussion by them.

        There may very well be a reason they are keeping a chronically ill employee. OP has suggested there is but it wasn’t the point of her issue.

        Reply
        1. TL -

          Or they’re just letting him be a missing stair instead of officially transiting him to part-time work (a totally reasonable solution) or firing him (also reasonable.)

          Reply
        2. Aveline

          For all we know Fergus has some vital skill or is hyper productive when he’s not ill.

          If the leadership has decided the 4 months isn’t a deal breaker, the all LW should care about is how that impacts the team.

          Reply
      3. McWhadden

        She never suggested others are doing his job. She’s upset that he doesn’t want to go to parties or be in a picture. Both of which are entirely reasonable on his part (who wants to be in an office picture?) Especially if he’s someone with a chronic condition, which he must be since doctors just don’t hand out notes for years for nothing. Because that can make you pretty miserable.

        Reply
    5. McWhadden

      I think it shows how accustomed Americans are to rather callous working norms. Because even the most empathetic person (like Alison genuinely is) can jump to canning the guy with a chronic medical condition when his manager’s chief complaint about him isn’t really his work but that he doesn’t want to be in group pictures or go to retirement parties.

      Yes, it’s a problem but management is aware of it and we aren’t being told that it does actually impact his work functions. Lots of us could probably be out a cumulative 4 months and still get our work done.

      I had a co-worker with fibromyalgia. It’s completely invisible so most didn’t know what she was suffering from but she was in constant pain. She did take off a ton of time. All documented. But managed to get her work done. There is also no way in hell she’d be doing pictures and stuff. Being in literal constant pain could make her kind of grumpy.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        Expecting a full-time employee not to miss 4 out of every 12 months doesn’t strike me as particularly callous.

        Reply
        1. McWhadden

          Casually suggesting firing someone with a chronic condition when the manager’s main complaint has nothing to do with job performance but that he won’t take a photo is definitely callous.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            There’s many letters where the ostensible question is about one thing, but other information in the letter reveals a greater problem. And I don’t think the suggestion of firing was “casual” at all – it’s not like Alison tacked on a PS of “or you could get rid of him and not have to deal with it anymore”.

            Reply
      2. LBK

        I just can’t believe there’s any way to get a full-time job done in a part-time schedule without dumping a ton of your work on your coworkers.

        Reply
    6. Susan K

      Normally, I think people deserve the benefit of the doubt about medical issues, but in this case, it looks like there is a suspicious pattern to the absences. There are some unscrupulous doctors who are willing to write notes for anything (or for their family and friends), so just because he has a doctor’s note doesn’t necessarily mean it’s legitimate. Even if it is, being absent for four months out of the year exceeds the limit of FMLA protection, so at least in the US, it would not be illegal to fire someone for this amount of absence (unless the CBA says otherwise, which would be unusual).

      I think the company photo is a completely separate issue, and I really think the OP should consider allowing employees to opt out. Not everyone likes having their picture taken. I, for one, would be really bothered by being forced to be in a holiday photo that is going to be widely circulated, so I don’t blame this person for wanting to get out of it. I also think it’s silly to dwell on his lack of participation in group social events. To me, this should be the least of your concerns about his absenteeism, compared to, say, his ability to complete his work when he’s absent 1/3 of the time.

      Reply
    7. LBK

      The ADA says you have to actually be able to perform the basic requirements of the job with reasonable accommodation in order for your medical condition to protect you from termination. I don’t know a lot of full-time jobs that could be adequately performed in 1/3 of the time allotted for them.

      It’s certainly nice to keep someone on the payroll who’s making a pretty minimal contribution to the productivity of the department, but it seems to weird to act as though you’re doing it out of anything beyond empathy. There’s no way that person is actually a valuable employee to the business.

      Reply
    8. Super Anon for This

      Even people who are chronically ill can’t be off the job for 3 months every year! “Reasonable accommodations” only. Not to mention, how convenient it is that he ALWAYS gets sick *precisely* when there is a social event going on at the office.

      Reply
  20. Ramona Flowers

    If they’re worried about people asking for more money, they could just add that time old line about other duties as assigned.

    I’m perplexed that anyone’s JD would be a secret. How on earth can you self review if you don’t know what you’re officially meant to be doing? Do you just write a big question mark on your annual appraisal?

    Reply
    1. A person

      ‘Other duties as assigned’ would raise a yellow flag for me. A previous workplace used that same clause to push a receptionist into doing full on book keeping work (which she was qualified for but she was hired specifically for reception/phones/minor admin and filing) but refused to pay for that time at an appropriate rate, then got mad when she refused to do anymore book keeping work.

      The fact that they’re hiding the JD combined with HR saying what they said is weird and suspicious.

      Reply
      1. Super Anon for This

        Yeah, I get why that clause is there, sort of, but I have only ever seen it used by employers abusively, to force employees to do things that are way outside the duties they were hired for.

        Reply
        1. Doreen

          I’ve never seen it used abusively – but it comes in handy when employees whose job description includes “maintain records of case contacts ” argue that maintaining those records in an electronic record is “data entry” and therefore not included in their job description. They wanted to continue to hand-write their notes and have support staff enter it into the electronic record – but the “other duties as assigned” shut that down pretty quickly.

          Reply
          1. A person

            I agree that it can come in handy, that same receptionist didn’t mind occasionally arranging airport pickups and hotels for clients or reconciling the petty cash once in a while but there’s a world of difference between doing the occasional task that keeps the wheels turning smoothly and regularly doing a specifically skilled task that is one, an job in and of itself and two is paid at a rate markedly higher than the one currently being received.

            Reply
    2. Something Witty

      Oh, the job description (and every one I’ve ever seen from my organization) has the tired old “other duties as assigned” included in it. As for reviews, question marks pretty much sums it up. I don’t have anything to measure against so I make it up.

      Reply
    1. manager2.0

      Was it?? I’ve seen every episode of The Office & didn’t even consider that. Too funny!

      But alas, this is a true story.

      Reply
  21. Chelsea

    For #4, it almost seems like the company is trying to take advantage of its employees by slowly increasing their responsibilities but refusing to adjust their pay accordingly, and they want to keep their employees in the dark about it.

    Reply
  22. Some Sort of Management Consultant

    Oh gosh, please please leave the poor coworker in #2 alone.
    (I realize there is the whole problem of absenteeism but since OP asked about the photos in particular):
    Is it a requirement in the employee’s job description to appear in group photos? Or to attend teambuilding/social events?

    If not, I really really really think you need to drop it. Focus on the real problem instead!

    Reply
    1. McWhadden

      Yeah, I HATE when we have to take photos at work. I suck it up and do it. And probably always will. But it really shouldn’t be something I have to do if I dislike it.

      And I do like the social gatherings but, again, lots of people don’t.

      It’s really not that big a deal. Different strokes and all.

      Reply
    2. Kathleen Adams

      I agree – just leave the coworker out. It’s irritating, of course, but not important in the greater scheme of things. And don’t make your poor photographer try to PhotoShop him in there, either. If he doesn’t want to be in the photo, don’t have him in the photo.

      On the other hand, chronic absenteeism and a “but we still do anything about him because Reasons” attitude is very important in the greater scheme of things, so I’d worry much more about that if I were you, OP.

      Reply
    3. Just Snarky Today

      I totally agree on this point. Who cares about these photos. Team building social events. meh. I think the OP should keep her eyes on her own plate. If the absenteeism is affecting her own work load, document and discuss with own supervisor.

      Reply
  23. Hiring Mgr

    It sounds like the guy who’s out of the office for four months has plenty of free time to do #1’s laundry…

    Reply
  24. Kat

    I don’t blame someone for not wanting to be in a photo. I am always refusing to have my photo taken at work because I know they’ll go online and I try very hard to keep my job separate from online things. I don’t mind so much if it’s ‘official’, so I guess a yearly holiday photo would be OK, but I don’t see a problem with someone wanting to opt out. Not everyone is cool with their photo being taken and, even if it seems unreasonable, I think that should be respected for something like a holiday photo (different, I guess, if it’s for something directly work related, but to me this isn’t that. Maybe because we don’t have such a thing).

    Reply
  25. cornflower blue

    I also avoid non-mandatory photos. I need to keep a low profile due to my spouse’s job. Addressing excessive absences is one thing, but if the guy doesn’t want to be in a picture, leave him alone. Plus, putting so much emphasis on this holiday photo is cheerleader-y in a way that detracts from your point about wanting him there to get things done.

    Reply
  26. Cdd89

    #2’s suggestion to cut and paste reminded me of our company’s “staff photo”. It was taken in the summer, when several staff were away.

    The entire “back row” of faces, including mine, were (somewhat poorly) photoshopped in from people’s ID photos – and looked like a set of washed-out miserable zombies.

    Reply
  27. babblemouth

    OP1, Here’s a long personal story:

    Back in college, I had a job tutoring a high school kid 4 hours a week. I didn’t have a laundry machine in my apartment, and they offered me the use of their washing machine while I was over at their house to do laundry while I was tutoring the girl. I put the laundry in and out myself and brought own detergent, but I still felt super weird about it. I was cash-strapped, so did it anyway despite the weird feelings. It was a very odd mix of the very personal and professional, and even though they were kind about it, I felt indebted to them. I often hand-washed my underwear instead of bringing it to wash at their place because it just felt too intimate.

    Being able to do my own laundry in my own machine in my own house is one of the things that most makes me feel like an adult. I can’t comprehend your coworker still doing this, unless he is extremely short on cash for some reason – and even then, it’s weird they’d talk about it in the office.

    Reply
  28. Roscoe

    #2 I say send it without him. I’m not going to get into his chronic absences. But I will say, I personally hate staff pictures. So the fact that my company makes them mandatory is something I find quite annoying. If I didn’t come in on picture day, they’d still find a way to make me be in one. If he doesn’t want to be in one, let him. Maybe if you gave people the choice to opt out in the first place he wouldn’t be “sick” that day

    Reply
  29. eplawyer

    #2 — the employee had made it quite clear he is not into group things at work. Accept this and stop expecting him to suddenly change. He won’t. Since he seems to always be absent for group functions, maybe if you scheduled fewer of them, he might show up for work more. Everyone else might be a tad relieved too. Not everyone thinks tons of group functions with work are the bestest thing since sliced bread.

    I can guarantee your colleagues who receive the group photo are not spending time checking to see who is in it and who isn’t. They get the picture, they either 1) pin it up on a board somewhere where no one ever looks at it or 2) immediately throw it in the trash. Your company is making a bigger deal out of this picture than it warrants. Spouses show up? During the work day? Let me tell you, if my SO told me I had to come to his office for his picture day during MY work day, I would suggest he be absent too.

    Reply
    1. Murphy

      I think one spouse comes in to take the photo so all employees can be in it, not that spouses are also in the photo.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        Either way, it’s ridiculous. In some ways even MORE ridiculous. I mean, the idea of expecting spouses to take a day of whatever to be your photographer is REALLY out of line. If that’s what were going on, I’d want to know what other expenses is the company expecting employees to shoulder.

        Reply
        1. TL -

          The spouse might have volunteered as an amateur or professional photographer? I volunteer to take photos of people a lot, especially if I’m looking to get more experience doing a particular type of shot.

          Reply
        2. Murphy

          I think you’re making a lot of assumptions! There’s no reason to assume anyone is being forced to act as photographer.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            The OP says that spouses (plural) show up. My original assumption was that the spouses were part of the picture, which is weird by itself. Murphy suggested that perhaps it’s not that, but that the spouses are acting as the photographer. To which I respond that IF (and we don’t know which it is) that’s the case it’s even worse.

            In other words, I’m not making assumptions. I’m just pointing out that the suggestion doesn’t make things any better.

            Reply
    2. Scarlet

      Yeah, this really sounds like excessive rah-rah-let’s-show-everyone-we’re-a-big-family. The LW says they’re a newly appointed manager so they might be overenthusiastic about it or it might be the general company culture. Either way, there’s a big chance a lot of other people hate it too and secretly envy this guy for being able to escape it.
      Cutting down on forced socialization might be a relief for everybody.

      Reply
  30. Observer

    Alison was spot on with The bigger issue is how someone missing four months of the year still has a job, union or no union, and whether anyone can manage effectively in an environment that takes core managerial authority away from managers (“we cannot get rid of him”).”

    I’d go a step further. Why is the group photo your big issue here? Why are you not looking into some way to fire or move him. It’s rarely TRULY impossible to get rid of a really bad fit, just a lot of work and hoops. What are you doing to manage around the REAL performance issues that you claim you have with him, and his really high level of absence?

    Reply
    1. McWhadden

      I think the OP is fully aware of the issues and reasons why he can’t be moved so that’s why it’s not her first priority.

      And, honestly, the optics of terminating an employee with a chronic illness would be daunting for anyone in their first six months.

      Reply
  31. Rusty Shackelford

    Teammates have suggested I speak to him to see if he minds sending the photo without him in it. Despite his answer (I’m sure he wouldn’t mind at all), I worry about how this will look to our colleagues, particularly as it’s my first time managing.

    It would look to your colleagues as if he was gone that day. Really, chances are, no one cares at all.

    Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      This for real.

      Don’t force people to have pictures taken. And don’t force them to do social things.

      Reply
        1. KR

          Where did it say in the letter that he had stated he did not want to be photoshopped in or did not want to be in the picture? All we know at this point is that he happens to be sick on every picture day. We don’t know whether it’s a coincidence or he’s saying he doesn’t want to be in a picture.

          Reply
    2. Snark

      It seems like a lot of effort and headspace given over to this pointless team photo. Maybe just stop doing that every year. Maybe cut down on all the social functions and parties too.

      Reply
    3. Sara without an H

      Indeed. I guarantee you that the recipients of the photos look at them long enough to say “That’s nice,” then throw them out. Send the photo without your colleague and move on.

      Reply
  32. Agile Phalanges

    On #1, yeah, that’s really REALLY weird. I had a broken foot once, and couldn’t drive, plus lived in a second story apartment with the laundry room downstairs and a bit of a hike away. I just couldn’t manage laundry with crutches, and my office had a laundry facility on the main floor (which is also the floor I worked on), so I got permission and started bringing my laundry (and my own detergent, etc.) once a week. It still felt REALLY weird to be bringing my dirty (and then clean) laundry in through the building in which I work, and having co-workers potentially seeing my underthings (I buried them really well, but still!). Yeah. Awkward. But much appreciated as I was able to manage my own laundry, without having to pay for a service OR have a friend touching my unmentionables. But yeah. Definitely weird.

    Reply
    1. Lily in NYC

      It’s weird but I guess I’m the only one here who thinks it’s none of OP’s business. And #2, just leave the photo guy alone. Chronic absenteeism is one thing, but she seems way more annoyed by the fact that he’s missing the photo, which to me is small potatoes.

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth H.

        I agree it would probably be best for OP#1 to just ignore the laundry thing. It is weird, but unless it is part of a pattern of other inappropriate behavior/lack of boundaries between boss and this staff member or others (it wasn’t mentioned that it is, so I would assume it isn’t) probably best to just leave it alone unless something changes.

        Also agree that the photo thing or any other kind of “extracurricular” activity for the guy in #2, is not worth making any kind of deal over. absenteeism and other performance-based issues is one other thing and should be addressed on its own if/when/where possible, but LW#2 should stop wasting any time at all worrying about his absence at photos, morale events, staff picnics or whatever. And especially about photoshopping, good grief.

        Reply
  33. Sunshine on a cloudy day

    For #1, is this something that could/should be reported to HR? I’m all for minding my own business in most cases, and totally don’t usually think to go to HR for interpersonal issues. But because this sort of situation does seem to effect the OP (or their other team members) it seems kind of warranted, no?

    Not in a super tattle-taley way, but just in a “hey I’ve been made aware this is happening. Is this something you want to look into?”. Then from there I would mind my own business 100%.

    Reply
    1. manager2.0

      Hi Sunshine,

      I’m sure it would fall under a reason to contact HR. But I don’t usually go to any of the higher ups unless it’s a “last resort” type of thing or I truly do not feel comfortable going to my boss about it. I do like the suggestion for how to phrase it, though. Thanks!

      Reply
  34. Jessen

    Side benefit on #3: it’s much harder for them to back out at that point.

    I’ve been thinking of this. I have chronic health issues, which means benefits are Very Important. I would almost certainly not ask about benefits until after the offer because it would be much harder to back out if I say that I have a chronic health condition. Possibly cynical, but hey.

    Reply
  35. Granny K

    When I read the headline for #1, I was assuming the boss was “doing his laundry” (nudge nudge wink wink) instead of actually washing his clothes. If it were me, I’d also assume they were dating too. Best to stay out of it unless it’s creating a weird work environment (favoritism, etc.).

    Reply
  36. Manager-at-Large

    A comment on photos. If someone doesn’t want their photo “out and about” and chooses not to be in the group photo, using Photoshop to insert their ID photo into the back row is not a good practice. This is treating “I don’t want to be in the photo” as the same as “please don’t take my picture today I look awful” – when it might not be the same at all. Better to Photoshop in cartoon avatars or somesuch if you are concerned that you want to show the right number of people and the names for the group.

    Reply
      1. Manager-at-Large

        Could be. But as a general practice, especially based on comments from others here, I wanted to bring up the possibility that forcing in a photo where a person asked to be omitted might not be a good solution.

        Reply
  37. Sara without an H

    OP#2: You really, really don’t like this guy, do you?

    You say you’ve been newly promoted to manage a unit you’ve worked in for five years. You’ve undoubtedly formed opinions about everybody on the team. These opinions may actually be detrimental to your ability to think about them as their manager.

    Your absentee employee has made it clear that he doesn’t like photos and work-mandated social events. OK, fine. Send the photo without him and stop trying to get him to join in lunches and parties. A quick tour of the AAM archives will turn up multiple messages from people who would rather undergo root canal than attend office social events.

    How well do you actually know this employee? What kind of work product does he turn in when he’s present? Are there accommodations you could make that would allow him to be more productive? Does he feel like a part of your team, or does he feel he’s being frozen out?

    While I understand your frustration at not being able to “manage him out,” I think you need to focus for now on just finding a way to manage him.

    And try not to let your personal feelings get in the way.

    Reply
    1. Brandy

      To me this is similar to the manager that made a 180 in the past couple of weeks where everyone on the team was buddies but one and she managed her out since she was “no fun”. This is like her at the beginning. As long as he does his job and isn’t rude to anyone, let him be. Treat him well but know he doesn’t choose to participate. Whats so wrong with that? Try not to manage him out. I mean are you going to screen in interviews to replace him for people that participate in the “fun”? Not everyone comes to work for fun, just to work and go home.

      Reply
      1. Sara without an H

        As one who has gone to extreme lengths to avoid the eldritch horrors of “staff development day” — I completely agree with you.

        Reply
  38. a1

    For the photo – it sounds to me like the OP was more worried about how it would for her to send a photo w/o someone on the team in it, wondering if that was OK or would it look like they were excluding him. Like “Here’s our team!” but it’s not true since someone is missing. I’d say it’s perfectly fine. Don’t worry about it. If you want to ask him first, go ahead, and assuming he says it’s OK (and it sounds like he would) just send it out w/o him.

    Reply
  39. Aphrodite

    OP #2, I rushed right over here to post a comment before even finishing reading the post and the comments because it really struck home for me. I am exactly the same way about photos at work. I do not allow them, I will not participate, and I do not want to join lunches, parties, etc. At. All. Also, I am not on any social media nor have I ever been nor will I ever be. I am a very private person and will remain so.

    I let others think it has to do with perhaps a past stalking incident but it doesn’t really even though that has perhaps colored my thinking to a small degree (it was a very long time ago and for a relatively short period of time). It’s simply this: I have a job. I come in and I do it. I do it very well. But … I do not have friends here. I do not want to make any. I have a wall bigger, stronger and taller than the Great Wall of China dividing my work life from my personal life–and that’s the way I like it and the way it’s going to be. I have avoided any and all group photos (no one is going to put any photos of me online), sometimes by hiding behind a taller, bigger person, other times by flat out refusing. I don’t explain why because frankly it’s no one’s business.

    You need to realize that maybe the absences are related to your employee’s desire to just do his job and nothing else and that maybe he has these absences because you won’t honor his desire to not join your “fun” times. I don’t know if that is the case on your part but from my reading it certainly sounds like it. Why does he have to participate? What does it matter if he’s not part of the group photo? You could ask him why but I’d suggest not doing so. You can let him know about it but also let him know he is free to bow out without any whining or fussing by anyone there. Maybe his absences will cease if he feels truly free to not participate.

    I know I resent being cajoled because I cannot say “BUG OFF” to those who think it is their duty to drag me into something I so obviously do not want to participate in. Why won’t you respect our decisions?

    Reply
      1. Aphrodite

        True, we do not know that but I picked that up from everything she said. And I believe it’s not coincidence that he is absent a lot of the time when there are these sorts of events. But you are right; I am making assumptions.

        Reply
  40. stitchinthyme

    #3 – One time after I got a job offer, I asked (through the recruiter I’d been working with for the position) whether the job would require me to be on call or carry a pager. (I’m a computer programmer; sometimes working off-hours is necessary, so a “yes” to this would not have been a dealbreaker; I just wanted to know up-front what I was getting into.) In response, the recruiter told me that the company had rescinded the offer just because I asked the question. I found this so bizarre that I was glad I didn’t end up working there, if they were that touchy over a simple question, especially one that would have had a pretty big impact on my life outside of work.

    Reply
  41. imaskingamanager

    #4 what i found incredibly disturbing about this letter is the comment that HR doesn’t want people “arguing” that their job descriptions have changed and therefore they deserve more money. Fair compensation is one of the basic responsibilities of HR. If someone’s job has changed and they should receive higher compensation, then HR should be LEADING that conversation, not trying to hide things. This is the kind of behavior that results in discriminatory compensation practices.

    Reply
  42. Dave the Cat

    About the laundry – I worked at a company where BEDBUGS were found and traced back to a specific employee. A really bizarre story emerged. He had apparently been sleeping in the office (on conference room tables, stuff like that) – unclear if he was homeless or if the bedbug infestation at his residence was too bad, or what, but part of the story is that someone in his department had been doing his laundry for him. So the mere mention of a co-worker doing another’s laundry fills me with dread.

    Reply
  43. Colorado

    OP #1: first thing that popped into my mind is they are having an affair. I would mention something once if you have a good rapport with her, and leave it at that.

    OP #2: I don’t see the big deal of leaving him out of the photo. He very obviously doesn’t want to be a part of it. If you list the employee names below it, just say Bob Smith (not pictured). NBD at all.

    Reply
  44. boop the first

    1. This rumour sounds misogynist as hell. I wouldn’t be bothered to butt in, but I think I would lose a big notch of respect for anyone who is so helpless as to require a woman to do their laundry, AND not feel incredibly humiliated about it. I’m a little surprised he hasn’t been laughed out of the workplace yet.

    Perhaps I am being too harsh/sensitive, even coming from someone who lives in a place where in-suite laundry is sadly rare in rentals. But the least the guy can do is to GO, himself, and physically do his own laundry. Even if someone offered, I would be too embarrassed to take it. And I hate doing laundry.

    Reply
    1. JD

      I think it is a bit of a jump to say he is requiring a woman to do his laundry. We have zero context here. Also, a man is not misogynist if a woman does his laundry. Feminism run amuck there. So if a man kills a spider does that make the woman weak? I mean, come on now.

      Reply
      1. SarahTheEntwife

        If she demands that a man kill the spider, then yeah, I’m going to side-eye that. Ability to deal with bugs is not divided by sex.

        Reply
    2. OfficeBusyBodiesNeedToStop

      There’s zero context beyond a letter writer who “found something out” and is now writing to an advice column. So… yes, you’re being too harsh to the boss, not harsh enough to the person who has no stake in what is going on. I still have flashbacks to a toxic work environment where I had to keep basic stuff hidden because of an office busybody. When she found out I had a tattoo because the edge of my sleeve went up too far, she marched me into my boss’s office and made me explain what it was, despite the fact that she could only see the edge of it and was SURE it was some kind of gang symbol.

      I mean if you want to consider Green Lantern a gang, that’s cool.

      Office Busybodies are the problem, and they don’t get called out enough.

      Reply
      1. manager2.0

        Hi Busybody,

        I am sorry if my submission offended you. This information was actually shared directly with me when I was having lunch with my boss and my co-worker. We 3 make up the management team for my department at my workplace. So this is not an unwarranted rumor – it’s a truthful thing that is happening. My submission was intentionally vague to protect those involved, and I have no problem expanding on the situation if asked (as long as the information shared will still protect those involved).

        Reply
  45. Nicki Name

    Two possibilities sprang to mind about #2: either severe social anxiety, or problems with the disruption to work schedules that come from special events. These aren’t mutually exclusive– there are forms of social anxiety that also come with high-stress reactions to changes in daily routine. But it could also be that he’s learned (maybe at some other job) to associate “retirement party” and “photo day” with “no actual work will get done that day so why bother”.

    Reply
    1. manager2.0

      Hi Sofia,

      That’s exactly my concern. I would hate for that to be the perception, because I know it’s not true.

      Reply
  46. JD

    I just showed my boss the laundry letter and told him “snap snap, get to washing”. Thanks for that laugh. Perhaps next time I ask for a raise I will ask for laundry instead. This could save countless hours a week for me.

    Reply
    1. manager2.0

      Lol! I sure wish my boss would do mine for me as well. It’d save me time and money.

      Glad my little situation could give you all a laugh though. What was your boss’s response or reaction to it?

      Reply
  47. OfficeBusyBodiesNeedToStop

    hey, Allison, FYI, I think part of LW1’s letter is missing. The only thing I’m getting is that two people unrelated the the Letter Writer at all have worked out a deal where one is doing the other one’s laundry, and there’s no context because it’s none of the Letter Writer’s Business. It says “Co-Worker” and “Boss” and it doesn’t say that anyone complained to the Letter writer, just that she “found out.” So, unless something happened that it is the Letter Writer’s business and that was cut out, maybe the Letter Writer should focus on her job. Because at this point my guess is that the pair have some kind of arrangement, either someone lost a bet, or their dating, or one of them just enjoys doing laundry that much, or they’re trading chores that really doesn’t seem to be anyone else’s business.

    Reply
    1. 12345

      Looks like you missed this sentence.

      I had heard them make comments before about my boss doing his laundry, but I thought she was just joking around.

      If she’s heard comments from the Boss before, it doesn’t stretch credulity to think she’s heard more since, and more concrete.

      Reply
      1. OfficeBusyBodiesNeedToStop

        No, I did notice the sentence. “I had heard them make comments before about my boss doing his laundry…” I read that as they HEARD something. Not something was said TO the OP. And if she’s heard more since, then that goes back to my point that it’s NOT included in the letter. So what I’m going off of right now is that the OP heard something, suspects something, knows nothing about what is going on, and is making snap judgements based on it. Nothing in this letter (or even Allison’s advice) says anything along the lines of “Hey this is affecting me by (fill in the gap here).” Just that there’s a rumor that even the OP isn’t sure is true, or what is going on. The OP feels uncomfortable about something they have only half the information about at best.

        I would feel differently if I read “Hi, Allison, I have a strange position at work right now where I found out that an employee is doing my boss’s laundry, and gets to leave early because of it.” Even then, sure it doesnt’ affect the OP, but its a power imbalances. Right now we have a bunch of “mights” from someone who doesn’t know what is really going on.

        Reply
    2. Observer

      Well, for most people it DOES make a difference if their boss and a co-worker are dating.

      Just because you had a problem with an office busybody does not mean that no one is even justified in noticing anything that is not literally on their desk.

      Reply
      1. OfficeBusyBodiesNeedToStop

        Why?

        and I notice plenty. The difference between me and an office busybody is I keep my mouth shut unless it involves me. If my boss and a co-worker are dating they have a reasonable expectation of privacy until such point that 1) they tell me or 2) it affects me in some way, shape, or form. This appears to be neither…

        i’d ask that you please not malign my character simply because I don’t feel like screaming that someone is violating the dress code because they put on a sweatshirt when it’s cold in the office.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Actually, they don’t — in most companies that’s considered abuse of power and is prohibited.

          And it’s certainly reasonable for employees to be concerned about favoritism in a situation where a boss is crossing normal manager/employee boundaries.

          If you don’t feel that way, so be it, but it’s not really shocking or surprising that other people do.

          Reply
  48. anon this time

    I once had a boss who let me use his washer and dryer since I didn’t have either, there wasn’t a laundromat, and I lived nearby. That was weird enough.

    Reply
  49. Flurpity Flurp

    Hi OP #2,
    You mentioned it’s your first time managing, so I think it’s great that you’re open to guidance on this stuff. The good news is, your second to last sentence is correct! It’s just a photo. Part of managing well is knowing where to focus your efforts – when to pursue something further and when to shrug and let it go. This can be tough if you tend to want all the details to line up perfectly, but learning to make that distinction will be incredibly useful as you move up and look more towards the bigger picture. I appreciate your desire to be thorough, even with very minor details like a staff photo. But here’s the thing: because it’s such a minor detail, staff photos belong in the “shrug and let it go” box. If you’re really concerned about him feeling excluded I think it’s ok to check with him, although I don’t think that’s necessary – presumably he knew when the photo was being taken and therefore already knows he’s not in it. He may have even planned it that way. Regardless, it’s totally fine to send the photo without him. It won’t look weird. Most people probably won’t even notice he’s missing. And the few people who do notice? They’ll shrug and let it go.

    Reply

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