fired for wearing a Halloween costume to work, bug drama, and more

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

1. My employee got fired for wearing a Halloween costume to work … and trick-or-treating in an important meeting

I work at a financial firm. Every employee must wear a suit. Only closed-toe dress shoes are allowed, no wild hair color, etc. Our dress code is always formal with no exceptions. On Halloween, one of my employees came to work dressed as Princess Tiana. We had a meeting scheduled with our C-suite and directors and several important clients. She showed up minutes before the meeting started and came into the room in her full costume, asking everyone to give her candy, to the disbelief of everyone who was present. She was asked to leave the meeting immediately by someone from the C-suite.

She told me afterward that she didn’t see what the problem was and wanted to bring fun to our “stuffy” office. I asked her if anyone told her it was okay for her to dress up and she said it was her idea and she didn’t talk about it with anyone here. She said she was going to come as Michonne from The Walking Dead but had decided it wouldn’t be appropriate for work. I was going to have a serious talk with her because she kept saying she didn’t do anything wrong, but she was fired later that day on the orders of our director.

I had hired her five months ago just after she had completed her studies at university. I’m sure she was still figuring out how things work in office and finance environments. The decision to fire her was out of my hands though. I have been in a supervisory role and hiring people for over a decade. There were no red flags from her at any time and this came out of left field. The director keeps asking me what she was thinking but I have no clue. If my employee had mentioned anything to me about this, I would have explained why she couldn’t do it.

The director has also ordered a reprint of our handbook and all materials to clearly state dressing up in costume for Halloween is not allowed. I don’t think this is necessary because in the 15 years I have worked here this has never happened before. The director keeps on asking me why my employee would do this and what she was thinking but I don’t have an answer for her. She said she has never been so embarrassed in her life and has been getting heat from her boss and the C-suite over it. How do I address this with the director? I had no clue of what my employee was going to do. I don’t think a reprint of all our materials is necessary. She keeps asking me what my employee was thinking but I don’t know what to tell her and she has brought it up multiple times.

This is a really weird thing to fire someone over, unless there had been other signs that she wasn’t getting your culture or professional norms, or unless she was more disruptive than I realize when she entered that meeting. To be clear, trick-or-treating in an important client meeting is truly terrible judgment … especially from someone five months into their first post-college job. And then calling your office “stuffy” when you talked to her about it later? Not good.

But the outrage over the costume itself is strange, and it sounds like your director is wildly overreacting; plenty of offices do dress up for Halloween, and your employee just misjudged that. If they don’t want Halloween costumes there, they can tell people that before Halloween. It does not require an immediate reprinting of the handbook, nor the director repeatedly questioning you about what your employee was thinking. She asked, you gave a reasonable answer, and that should be the end of it.

If it comes up again, I’d just say this: “She clearly misjudged the culture. In many offices, people do dress up for Halloween, so I’m sure that’s where she got the idea. I hadn’t seen any previous signs that she wasn’t fitting into our culture or that she wasn’t following our professional norms, but she’s also right out of school and new to the work world. Going forward, I’ll make sure my team is clear that we don’t dress up for Halloween.” That’s all you can say, really. Hopefully your director won’t spend days on this.

It would also be worth making sure that you’re clearly communicating any cultural expectations to new hires, especially more junior ones. I don’t know that it should have occurred to you that you’d need to mention costumes ahead of time, but given that someone got fired over it, that’s a clear sign that your culture is unusually uptight about some things that wouldn’t be a big deal at other places — and so you’ve got to make sure you’re being very clear with people about expectations.

2. My coworker put a bug in the plant near me

I have a weird issue. My coworker recently brought a ladybug down from his office two floors up to live in our potted plants (we have two plants near my desk in an open office plan, there are none upstairs). Before he did it he was walking around with it announcing his intention to rehome it in the plants and I told him not to leave it here in no uncertain terms. I hate insects and I certainly don’t want one, even a “cute” one, set loose to wander the office. Or create a colony in the plants NEXT TO MY DESK.

He put the ladybug in the plant despite my protests. My two other coworkers didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. After he left, I tried to find and kill it but it was already gone god knows where. I told him I killed it anyway just to dissuade him from bringing more bugs down here. (It’s snowing and all the bugs are heading inside to the warmth where they can, so it’s possible this wouldn’t be a lone instance.) He was horrified.

This dude doesn’t work on the same floor as me or have the same boss, but transferred from our area a couple weeks ago. He’s a nice guy, I guess as evidenced from so badly wanting to save a ladybug, but WTF? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills, because to me it seems clear that you don’t put bugs in your coworker’s work areas.

Should I approach my boss about this or let it slide and hope he doesn’t repeat this odd behaviour? What concerns me most is that he completely ignored me telling him not to do that!

Do not approach your boss about this. It doesn’t rise to the level of warranting that.

And don’t tell your coworker that you’re killing bugs he’s trying to save. When he’s clearly trying to save a creature’s life, that’s a really unkind thing to say, even if you were annoyed with his actions.

If you feel strongly that you don’t want him to deposit a bug near your desk in the future, I’d say something like this: “Hey, I really don’t like being around insects and I really don’t want you to put them in our plants. There are plants in the X and Y areas that you could put them in though.” I know you said you tried telling him, but it sounds like originally you may have been so emphatic about it that he didn’t take you seriously — which, while counterintuitive, is a thing that sometimes happens when someone’s reaction is so strong that other people assume they’re just being silly. (That said, he’s not likely to entrust you with a bug in need of a safe home again so this probably is a non-issue.)

3. What’s the deal with “reach out”?

Alison, you get a lot of emails. Do you have any insight into the popularity of the phrase “reach out to” replacing the simple verb “contact?” When did this become the normal phrasing? I see it in letters in your blog frequesntly. I just got this email from a customer care associate, with three “reach out to” instances in three sentences and I wanted to scream: “I was reaching out to you first, as the customer only said they had reached out to (vendor). (Vendor) did not advise what the price should be. Would you reach out to the (vendor) or would I?”

It seems to imply a fake over-solicitousness that would be more appropriate in social work or the caring professions. I don’t work in those areas, I work at a huge company that is definitely for-profit! Am I horrible if I point out the overuse of this phrase to my customer care people? They all use it. They are all youngish (under 35) Using “contact” would save them some keystrokes too.

Ha, I’ve noticed I use it all the time too. I don’t know why; I just like it. I think this is more pet peeve on your end than something you need to correct in the people working for you.

This is an interesting piece on it though, and it points out that “contact” was once seen as an annoying colloquialism as well.

4. Do I need a new cover letter if I’m reapplying to a job I applied to previously?

A few months ago I applied to a job that fit my experience really well. I thought my cover letter was great, because I was able to reference work that my current office does with the company I was applying for. I never heard anything back, but today I saw a job posting that seems exactly the same as the one I applied for months back. I am still pretty interested in the job and think I’d be a good fit. Can I apply for this job again? If yes, do I rewrite my cover letter so it doesn’t sound like the one before (to avoid them thinking I copy and pasted)?

How many months back? If it was within the last few months, I wouldn’t reapply. You applied, they considered you, and they rejected you, so for now at least, they don’t think you’re as well matched with the role as what you’re looking for.

But if it’s been a while — which I can’t quantify precisely because it depends on the context, but more than three months, maybe more than six months — then sure, you can give it another shot. But when you do, write a brand new cover letter. The old one didn’t work the first time, so it makes sense to try something new. Plus, if they realize it’s the same as before, it’s going to look like you’re just going through the motions, rather than putting real time and thought into applying.

{ 1,336 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. Lorelei Gilmore

      I actually really want Princess to write in about her firing, just because I desperately want to hear her side of the story.

      I’m so embarrassed for her it hurts. But I also just really want to know what she was thinking. How did she think this was going to play out? And we’re only hearing from the manager… what did she say to her coworkers leading up to this? Did they make her think it was okay?

      I have so many questions for the Princess.

      Reply
        1. JulieBulie

          I wonder if her coworkers put her up to it as a practical joke. “I’m going as Bumblebee!” “I’m going as the Hamburglar!” “Jane always goes as Dilbert!” “We like to trick-or-treat at client meetings!” I know… the letter says the employee claimed it was her own idea, but I wonder if she said that before she knew she was getting fired.

          I mean, usually there is some chatter before Halloween with people discussing their costumes, what they went as last year, etc. The only way the employee didn’t know would be if no one mentioned Halloween at all and she didn’t mention it herself, either. Which is kinda weird.

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          1. Q

            The coworkers at my last job did this to me. We were allowed to dress up for Halloween, and everyone in my department said they were going to wear something. The receptionist also encouraged me and said some people reall get into it. I showed up in full costume, and no one else in my department did. Two other people in the entire company ended up dressing up. I was fairly new and felt like an idiot, and ended up leaving a few months after, it was a crappy place to work with overall crappy coworkers.

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            1. Not So NewReader

              My sympathy. One would think people would be done with this crap in grammar school. Guess not.
              I am glad you got out of there.

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            2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)

              Wow, that’s really mean of them. I’d be livid. But I have an irrational hatred of pranks.

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          2. Plague of frogs

            My cousin told us to dress as pirates for her wedding, and I had a passing thought that maybe she was just pranking us–we would show up dresses as pirates and everyone else would be semi-formal.

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      1. designbot

        Especially about the trick or treat gag… the costume, I can write off as a misunderstanding. But when she showed up at work and nobody else was in costume, how did she still think the trick or treat gag was a good idea??

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        1. Falling Diphthong

          It seems almost aggressive, “well no one’s fired me yet, maybe they didn’t notice.”

          Why would people sitting in a meeting be armed with candy for passing trick-or-treaters?

          I don’t care if they’re the interns rather than the C-suite, you don’t wander in and start demanding any treat-ish items they might be carrying in their pockets. (My husband’s old work had trick-or-treating; our daughter went in dressed as a butterfly and roamed the cubicles, demonstrating her flapping. Everyone who wanted to participate knew in advance and had candy on hand. Also, she was 3 and not 23.)

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          1. Amber T

            My dad’s office allowed you to bring your kids in on Halloween to go trick or treating, and all employees were notified in advanced and asked to bring in candy if they wanted to participate (asked, not voluntold). Dad jokingly asked me if I wanted to go with him and go trick or treating again (I’m in my late 20s). It’s adorable when tiny children do it, but suuuper weird when a grown adult does it.

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        2. EddieSherbert

          I wonder if it was like a panicked laughing-at-herself way to acknowledge she’d been kind of dumb?

          ..Like, oh my gosh, I’m the only one in costume and I don’t have other clothes and I have a meeting in 5 minutes… Maybe I can play it off as a joke.

          (still terrible judgment, but not necessarily malicious shove-it-in-your-stuffy-faces intent)

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          1. Observer

            But then she doubled down and told her supervisor that she was trying to “bring some fun into the stuffy office.”

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          2. ggg

            Exactly. Was this her coming in and saying, as a joke, “Where’s my candy?” or actually going around the table holding her bag open in front of everyone?

            And the comment about the “stuffy office” doesn’t sound fireable either. OK, you tried to inject your fun into the stuffy office and it DID. NOT. WORK. Don’t do it again. If she does…well, then you can fire her.

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            1. fposte

              It’s not so much the comment about the stuffy office as it is the failure to acknowledge that she was wrong. If I tell my report that she blew it and she refuses to admit she did or agree that it’s a problem, that’s huge to me–it means that I can’t expect improvement based on my input and that I have serious doubts about her ability to assess her own performance. I wouldn’t hire somebody if I knew they were lik ehtat.

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        3. minuteye

          In that position, I would have been really embarrassed to realize that I was the only person in costume. If there was no option to go home and change (e.g. an important meeting happening that I couldn’t miss), I could definitely see trying to make a joke of some kind to defuse the tension. Once you’re stuck in that situation, drawing attention to the oddness before trying to move on makes some sense.

          It was still a big error in judgment to a) not ask beforehand whether a costume would be appropriate, and b) double down and insist she hadn’t done anything wrong. But the first of those is a really easily made mistake (especially for someone new to the workforce) and it doesn’t sound like the second had anything to do with the firing (word came down from on high, and they probably hadn’t spoken to her since the incident).

          Assuming there were no other problems with the employee’s work, it’s a tremendous overreaction for an office that hadn’t bothered to tell employees about the invisible “no costumes” rule.

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          1. Halloween fail

            This was me! When I was 21 and had no clue what was appropriate/non appropriate..I have my first ‘grown up role’ working as an admin in a large historical house ,I had been told that on certain holidays costumed guides were around as the house was open to the public , so on Halloween I rocked up to work dressed as a french maid complete with garters and fluffy duster..bad, bad ,bad idea!!!!! I hadn’t realised that A) costumed guides meant actual historical/living history guides NOT the staff.. and b) what seemed funny in theory was just horrifically cringeworthy in reality..especially when your the only one in the office in costume and you have to sit through a 45 minute ‘chat’ from HR on appropriate office attire and a whooooooole lot of office teasing..for months!

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          2. Slow Gin Lizz

            I agree a lot with minuteye’s point b. The biggest error in judgement here is that after she was told what she did was inappropriate she didn’t immediately apologize for her mistake. Well, no, the whole thing was one giant judgement error, but if she wasn’t immediately acting penitent for what she did, then I’m not sure firing was an overreaction. She showed up to an important meeting *with clients present* and tried to go trick or treating? That’s a fire-able offense, IMO.

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            1. Jadelyn

              I’m not sure about that – for someone with some professional experience under their belt, I’d be more inclined to see it as such because they should have been better able to read the culture and I would be worried about their good judgment in general at that point, but for a brand new college grad in her first post-school job, I feel like some leniency for one screw-up – not even a screw-up with major implications, it’s not like she made a mistake the cost the company a federal contract worth millions of dollars or anything – while she’s still in the “learning and calibrating expectations” phase of her career would be a better approach.

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              1. Slow Gin Lizz

                I thought she showed up to a meeting where there were clients present, in which case she may indeed have cost the company a contract worth millions of dollars. Not that we know that for sure, of course, but there’s usually an added expectation of professionalism whenever clients are involved, so she definitely should’ve stayed away from that meeting.

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                1. Christopher

                  You would at least hope that the amount of people offended enough by a costume on Halloween is pretty small. Who would cancel a contract because of that?
                  They’d be confused by it sure, but enough to leave?

                  I assume this story is in the US because there’s no way they’d be allowed to fire a person based on this here in the UK! It’s like some sort of nightmare to read that this is possible in all honesty.

          3. S-Mart

            I don’t think it’s fair to call the ‘no costumes’ rule “invisible”. Maybe not explicit, but assuming the LW’s assertion that “every employee must wear a suit” is codified in the dress code – which I don’t think is a stretch – that eliminates the vast majority of costumes (including Princess Tiana).

            I do agree that the firing is probably an overreaction, but it would come down to how exactly the trick or treating went. Firing for the costume alone would be an overreaction for sure. Firing for the surrounding behavior I think depends on nuance of how it went down that only those present will get.

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            1. JB

              What if an employee showed up in, say, a black suit, white shirt, black tie, and sunglasses? Obviously a Men in Black costume, but still a suit.

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              1. J.

                They could take the sunglasses off for a meeting with clients and pretend like it never happened when it was obvious that literally no one else had dressed up?

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              2. Kj

                And that would be hilarious and appropriate- because it could be easily passed off as professional clothes if the sunglasses were put away.

                Really, if you want to be in costume, pick a costume that is close to your professional norms- I’ve dressed up for work before (but I work with kids in a setting where this is perfectly fine) but the costumes I have chosen are basically something I would wear to work anyways + an accessory or two that makes it clear I’m in costume.

                I also dress up every year for May the 4th, wearing Star Wars socks, putting my hair in Princess Leia buns and wearing a Star Wars t-shirt under a nice sweater. It is setting appropriate and fun and, again, I work with kids and my quirkiness is considered an asset with my population. But that is why I don’t work in finance.

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                1. BostonBaby

                  It really is about so office dependent and the more you can fit it into the “office norms” the better. For example I just started a new job in Finance, I am also a huge nerd. And love comics and movies and go to conventions.

                  I have a great collection of nerdy, but classy pendants/rings I can wear to work regularly. Non-nerd just see a necklace, others recognize their people and then I get to talk about Thor and the Hulk.

                  I have

              3. dawbs

                that’s more or less the rule I had my employees subscribe to when I worked at a ‘no costume’ location.
                If you can *reasonably* pretend it’s clothing, you can wear it.

                So you want to do the whole ‘super hero shirt under a button down’–rock the Barbra Gordon. Or dress that resembles a star trek uniform (but is work appropriate length! so TNG, not original) with a gold pin, you can be Counselor Troi.
                (Plausable deniability costuming)

                But you may have to remove the accessories if the great-grand-boss visits our floor.

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                1. many bells down

                  When I can’t really dress up, I put on a black dress and a witch hat. The black dress by itself is unremarkable, and the witch hat can get ditched if it’s a problem.

                2. PepperVL

                  I wore a Hogwarts student on Tuesday – grey skirt, black tights, white button down shirt, Ravenclaw tie. Perfectly business appropriate outfit that became a costume when I put in the robes. My co-worker was Wednesday Addams in the Peter-Pan collared black dress and just left her wig off. Those are the costumes you wear when costumes aren’t done.

                3. Falling Diphthong

                  It’s one of the great sci fi mysteries: The belief that in the future, everyone will wear skintight unitards all the time.

                  At least when early 20th century sci fi has everyone put on a hat before they go out the door, they’re reflecting a current fashion norm.

                4. many bells down

                  @Falling Dipthong – The mystery to me was that some of the later-season TNG uniforms for the women were jumpsuits that zipped up the BACK. I guess no one has to urgently pee in the future.

              4. mdv

                I think so! A couple of years ago I had an informal appointment with my dad’s orthopedic surgeon after my dad passed away (had to finish a disability claim in order to get life insurance), and it ended up being on Halloween. His “costume” was a skintight Superman costume shirt under his shirt and tie, with the tie loosened and ONE button undone — this could be easily tightened up to look formal as needed!

                He is a gorgeous tall fit man with curly black hair, he made a *great* Clark Kent. [DROOL]

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          4. Katherine

            Honestly, if the dress code was that strict, I don’t blame the higher-ups for assuming everyone knew not to dress up in Halloween costumes. At the very least, you’d think a person would ask ahead of time instead of just showing up in costume.

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            1. Decima Dewey

              The order for an immediate reprinting of the handbook, with the No Halloween Costumes rule explicitly added, is probably to avoid rules lawyering. That is, “But where does it say I can’t dress up as Tarzan?”

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              1. fposte

                But if you can’t set firm lines without being granular, you’re doing a bad job of managing. You can’t make the handbook a defensive measure that attempts to close every loophole without that taking its own toll.

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                1. Jadelyn

                  Yes. A handbook that attempted to predict every single possible bad idea or misbehavior an employee might do would wind up being hundreds of pages long, and you’d still find things as you go that you didn’t account for because you never thought someone would, I don’t know, take a dump under someone’s desk, and you never imagined anyone would need an explicit rule about that.

                2. Not So NewReader

                  Well, now OP can just tell her new staff, “Don’t dress up for Halloween. The last person who did got fired.” I think that would be pretty clear.

              2. Katherine

                Oh, I agree. I’m just saying that I think it’s unreasonable to refer to it as an “invisible rule.” In this particular environment, it seems like it would be a matter of common sense.

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            2. CMart

              I work in a “casual” office where we are allowed to wear jeans every day, but my department (finance and accounting) tends to skew slightly more professional with jeans + nice blouse/button up shirt and non-sneaker shoes. We’re a fairly quiet, keep our heads down kind of bunch and while I don’t think anyone would have gotten in trouble for wearing a costume it would have been really out of step with the general atmosphere. I’ve only been here 6 months and I knew nearly without a doubt that no one would be dressed up, and I was right.

              That’s a long way of saying I agree with you. The kind of office where you’re in business formal every day does not strike me as the kind of office where you’d get away with fanciful cat ears, let alone a full on costume.

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            3. As Close As Breakfast

              I agree. For me, it leans more towards common sense than not knowing because you’re fairly new in your first post grad job.

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      2. Rusty Shackelford

        How did she think this was going to play out?

        I know, right? “Hmmm, my workplace is way too stuffy. I think I’ll show up in full costume and demand treats. That’ll loosen them up for sure!”

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      3. Kiki

        I’m secretly hoping she wanted to get fired and decided to go big and do something she knew was totally ridiculous but not so egregious that it would ruin her professional reputation.

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      4. Specialk9

        It just seems like a wild over reaction by management. They ordered her to leave (which would reduce me to a puddle of humiliation by itself), fired her (an otherwise good employee), and are harassing OP and OP’s director? Get a life, crazy uptight people.

        This was a teachable moment. This was to be her future cringe worthy memory. Not actually a black mark on her record that may ruin her career!

        Over reacting jerks.

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        1. Allie Jones

          Yes, I feel it was a really huge overreaction.

          Also, does anyone else see a racial component in this? The OP did not say but the fired employee mentioned to Black characters that they were going to dress as, which makes me think that she is a black woman herself. The massive over-reaction to me sounds like an ugly case of “you don’t belong here.”

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          1. AmyKins

            YES! THIS! I had the same thought–it does sound like the employee had some extreme judgment errors but I share your concern that the reactions she received may have also come from a place of “She’s not one of us,” for lack of a better phrase.

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          2. Specialk9

            Oh wow I didn’t catch that! I didn’t know that Princess Tiana or that Walking Dead character were both black, but oh my yes that adds an important wrinkle!

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    2. Important Moi

      To me this falls under “Ask forgiveness, not permission.”

      A lot folks when they wish to do something questionable that to them doesn’t fall under the category of dire, they do it and then apologize.

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      1. Mary

        But who would *want* to wear a costume to work if they knew it was going to be a huge faux pas? However much you love costumes, i can’t see what’s in it for you if you know you’re going to be the only one in the whole organisation!

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          1. fposte

            I don’t know if that’s true–I think she may not have realized it was as much of one as it was, but if she wasn’t just CYA about bringing fun to the stuffy office, she knew it was out of culture.

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          2. Mary

            But then it’s not “ask forgiveness, not permission”. “Ask forgiveness not permission” is for when you know you’re not supposed to do something but you want to do it anyway. There’s no advantage to doing something humiliating and then asking forgiveness.

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      2. Falling Diphthong

        When I first ran across that phrase, in a Miles Vorkosigan novel, I thought “Ha ha, how great!” But it’s a really, really lousy quality in a coworker. Or friend, or romantic partner. Only amusing when you’re reading about the crazy antics of someone who is safely way over there, in a fictional universe.

        In a later book, Miles realized that his boss’s “I hope someday you have a dozen subordinates just like you” was a formal curse.

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    3. DeskBird

      Just to present a similar story that ended totally differently – There are about 200 people where I work and only one dressed in costume – who was head to toe dressed as a 20’s flapper. She went and knocked on the glass wall of a conference room and then did a flapper dance when everyone turned and looked. It turned out they were some super high up’s from one of our big customers from a big industry. When she realized who they were she was mortified – but everyone else in the meeting was super amused. Sometimes it is o.k. to dress up even if no one else does – but she has worked here for a very long time and knows it is ok, even if no one else does.

      Reply
  1. periwinkle

    #1 It’s not just the Halloween costume that got her fired immediately, although it certainly didn’t help matters. I’m assuming the director fired her for (1) appalling lack of professional judgment resulting in (2) embarrassment to the firm’s professional reputation in front of major clients and (3) huge embarrassment to the director made worse with (4) lack of accountability for her behavior and attitude that the firm’s culture needs to be more like what she wants (less stuffy).

    If she had merely worn a costume, she probably would have been sent home to change and maybe been disciplined or at least brought in for a serious level-set discussion. The rest of it, thought?

    Reply
    1. I totally don't know anything about this

      Yeah, to me the behavior in the meeting with important clients is what sealed her fate.

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        1. Falling Diphthong

          But from people who probably aren’t even carrying candy. Which does have an underlayer of “Oh yeah? Well, what do you have?”

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          1. Kelly L.

            Well, I doubt she really thought they were going to give her anything, candy or otherwise. It was a tone-deaf joke, but a joke.

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          1. Anion

            We have no idea what the racial or ethnic makeup of the firm is; the OP didn’t mention it, so it’s just as possible that the higher-ups are POC.

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          2. JessaB

            Or possibly the other way. We do not know whether the employee is Black or White. This could be a case of costuming while Black, but it could also be a case of appropriation and costuming as a Black character while White. I don’t think in this case it matters however. Understanding Michonne is a bad idea, and not getting that in a really formal place Tiana is also not okay, is an issue of not getting the tone of the place.

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      1. Tuesday Next

        I agree. It’s one to arrive, realise you’re the only one dressed up, and sit quietly at your desk hoping nobody notices (or ask to go home and change). Barging into an exec-level client meeting to ask for candy is so tone-deaf, I can’t even wrap my head around it. I can’t help wondering how none of her colleagues noticed that she was dressed up.

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        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

          And an excellent argument for having a professional change of clothes that lives in the car/in your desk drawer/etc! This is my practice and it’s been a lifesaver more than once.

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          1. Broadcastlady

            This! My husband is a criminal defense attorney and keeps a tie and suit coat both in his car and in his office, just in case he unexpectedly ends up in court. And it happens quite often.

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                1. Samata

                  So, actually, to me this is how you test the waters in uber-conservative environments. Wear your professional wear, put on a cat ear headband and see how it plays out. in this case, a tiara.

                2. Jaydee

                  Yes. Accessorize an otherwise work appropriate outfit. And if it doesn’t go over well, it takes exactly 5 seconds to take the cat ears or tiara off, shove them in a desk drawer, smooth your hair down, and pretend it never happened.

                3. Zombeyonce

                  Or just a a giant witch hat (me on Halloween). Easy to take off when not appropriate, easy to wear otherwise for holiday spirit.

              1. Julia

                My husband is a city attorney and these are the actual contents of his car! He doesn’t usually wear them at the same time except mid-change, but he got into the habit of keeping swim/sailing gear in his car when he was a law clerk and his boss required him to be available to go sailing at any time. (Not as egregious as it sounds – the boss was and still is a good mentor and friend and my husband is an excellent sailor and was a state champion swimmer in school.)

                Reply
            1. Mabel

              I used to do that just because I like to be prepared for any situation (not an attorney). Now I only have a tiny locker at work, so I’d have to find a wrinkle-proof dress to stuff in there. I already have shoes and pantyhose (and clear nail polish in case of runs) in the locker, so… this is giving me ideas. I may follow up on this and find a wrinkle proof dress, just in case!

              Reply
          2. SoCalHR

            Agree that’s a good thing to have on a normal basis, but ESPECIALLY on a day you are in costume. What if you get a flat tire or something, do you really want to be waiting on the side of the road as Tiana? I threw a change of clothes in my car this halloween, just in case, even though my costume was office acceptable and not super extreme.

            Reply
          3. Say what, now?

            True, being prepared for many different scenarios is a great thing. Takes a lot of the guesswork and what-ifs out of life. This reminds me I need to trade out the summer outfit in my trunk for a winter-appropriate one. Thanks!

            Reply
        2. oranges & lemons

          Well, I have to think at least part of the issue is that she had the bad judgement to wear this costume, with no change of clothes, on a day when presumably she knew she’d be attending an important meeting. I can see myself misjudging the culture and wearing a costume when I was just out of school, but I think most recent grads would have known better than to do that when they knew clients would be there. I suppose it is possible that she didn’t know she would be attending until the last minute, in which case I think the response was pretty harsh.

          Reply
          1. Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way!

            I agree. I was going to wear a cowboy hat, jeans, shirt with bandanna and boots for Halloween but then remembered I had a client presentation so I decided that wouldn’t be the best option. Sometimes it’s better to err on the side of caution.

            Reply
      2. Snark

        Absolutely. Most folks in my office dress very casually, and if you barged into a meeting with clients trick-or-treating, you’d be chivvied out like an unruly drunk. It’s not a stuffy culture thing. It’s a “who is this muppet playing Manic Pixie Dream Girl in my meeting about the $5 million GuanaCorp account and how soon can I fire her?”

        Reply
        1. Samiratou

          Yes, this. My company even has a costume contest, but the only person “trick or treating” was handing out candy. And if I had a meeting that involved clients or executives? No way.

          Although, now that I think of it, I did have an informal lunch meeting with two of our execs on Tuesday, and one (jokingly) asked why we weren’t dressed up so that would have been fine, but I would consider that a definite exception.

          Reply
        2. Slow Gin Lizz

          I wouldn’t even barge into a meeting with clients at all, never mind for an immature reason. I’d make an exception for reporting a fire in the building, maybe.

          It’s likely the bosses had to fire her to save face with the clients. “Oh, that woman who showed up at the meeting to go trick or treating? She’s no longer working with us, so you don’t need to worry about her anymore.”

          Reply
          1. Susan

            Agree. From the letter, I don’t think she was part of the meeting. Who” we” are is unclear. So she probably did barge in.

            Reply
        3. Tuxedo Cat

          I work in academia and my office is super casual to the point people go somewhat costumey on normal days.

          The trick-or-treating part of this story would at least warrant being taken aside and reprimanded in among people in our office. I think if outsiders, particularly outsiders with power, were present, there would be worse consequences.

          Reply
        4. Specialk9

          Ok actually, pointing out the Manic Pixie Dream Girl element is valid. They totally overreacted, but that’s a valid criticism of her.

          Reply
      3. Amber T

        Definitely. Showing up in *full* costume to a “stuffy” job shows a dumb lack of judgement, but I think a write up and a warning would have sufficed there. But going into a meeting that (presumably) she wasn’t invited to with C level AND important clients AND demanding candy? I think that’s enough bad decisions to warrant a pink slip.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          That’s not at all clear from the letter. The costume lady’s manager said “we” had a meeting scheduled. It could have included costume lady or not. I read it as costume lady being invited to the meeting, but dressed wrong, compounded it by trying to brazen it out, and then fainting couches and pearl clutching of crazy magnitude ensued.

          Reply
    2. Anon Accountant

      This covers it.

      Also when she said the culture was “stuffy” that would raise questions if she used poor judgment before to add fun and this was the last straw.

      I’ll agree if she had only worn a costume maybe management would’ve sent her home to change.

      Reply
      1. Jen S. 2.0

        I seriously wonder whether this lady lost a bet. I mean, this was going down in a hail of bullets.

        If not, she probably should have tested the waters with, like, some skull earrings or a bunny ears headband or something.

        Reply
      2. Collarbone High

        It almost sounds like she’s watched too many movies where the Manic Pixie Dream Girl shakes up the stuffy office and shows everyone that there’s more to life than work, and everyone is delighted and the boring CEO leaves his shrill wife who only cares about money and marries the MPDG, the end! (/eyeroll)

        Reply
      3. LKW

        I’ve seen younger employees attempt to liven up a dress code with bright colors, newer fashions, maybe interesting hair cuts or hair color. But this seems like a 0 – 60 approach with little understanding of how flexible her company might be (or might not be). I mean, if a peep-toed shoe is too scandalous, why would you think a full costume would not cause raised eyebrows?

        Reply
      4. Jesmlet

        Yeah like even if she thought it was stuffy, she had the poor judgment to say it out loud and use it as an excuse for her bad decision. It’s so out of left field stupid that I can’t shake the feeling that she was doing this to get fired. It’s just multiple bad decisions in a row so I would’ve made the same call. Seems like a perfectly normal reaction to a combination of bad judgment and potentially damaging the firm’s reputation. New grads looking for work at a financial firm are a dime a dozen, no reason to hold onto this one.

        Reply
      1. CoffeeLover

        Part of me wonders if she was trying to get fired. Or at least didn’t care if she did. It’s one thing to show up at your office being the only one dressed up (must be super awkward), but then to draw attention to herself in such an elaborate and obviously bad-idea way? Maybe she was trying to go out in a blaze of glory. Maybe she decided she didn’t want to fit onto that culture anymore. She wouldn’t be the first. I studied finance and a lot of people jump ship after awhile. Because it IS a stuffy environment. You’d think heart surgery was being performed in these offices.

        Reply
        1. Libora

          This is exactly what I was thinking. I just can’t believe that such a major misjudgment could be the first one in five months (five months!). To me this screams “I’m tired of the stuffy(!) office, I’m just going to do that and if they fire me, great, I’ll be free.”

          Reply
          1. babblemouth

            This “going out in a blaze of glory” theory would make more sense if when asked about it, she had frankly replied “yes, I knew you’d think this was wrong, that’s because you’re too uptight” and then spectacularly burned her bridges. But she indicated she didn’t think she did anything wrong… so I’m still of the opinion she completely misjudged the situation…

            Reply
            1. Libora

              I don’t know, I think IMO it would take a bit more guts to be that disrespectful to someone, to their face (someone that you might even like apart from the environment they evolve in) than “””just””” do the stupid/funny thing, play dumb and then getting out of there with a story to tell at parties. I do believe that it would be the case for me but again I’m pretty sure I’ll never ever ever be the “out with a blaze of glory” type (I’m mortified just reading the letter) soooooo I don’t know.

              Reply
              1. Myrin

                I agree completely – I think actually confessing such a thing to your supervisor’s face would be particularly brazen; it’s much safer to play dumb and still sneak a remark of the office being too stuffy in there.

                Reply
          2. AndersonDarling

            It’s possible that the Princess thought that everyone celebrates Halloween big time. After coming out of University where its a huge deal on campuses and I’m sure a good percent of instructors wear some level of costume, she may have had a skewed view of the celebration. This may have been a one time spectacular misjudgment.

            Reply
            1. Libora

              I agree with you for the costume part, but the rest of the story seems so over the top. If the story had been “A five months in, out of college employee completly misjudged the culture and came in costume for Halloween and wasn’t able to change clothes without being sent home. Obviously when we talked she was mortified”, it probably would have ended there.

              Reply
            2. Lynxa

              But it sounds like the LW is in the UK (“just after she had completed her studies at university”) where Halloween REALLY isn’t as big a deal as it is in the US. There’s not really trick or treating or costumes etc. MAYBE a themed party. Which makes the whole thing weirder to me.

              I was blown away when I lived there because I LOVE Halloween :(

              Reply
                1. Mary

                  Yes – sweets and chocolate. To me, candy exclusively means something sweet and chalky, kind of like Edinburgh rock (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edinburgh_rock), and as a kid reading US books I was very confused why Americans were so obsessed with it that they seemed to eat it all the time to the exclusion of all other sweets!

                1. Lissa

                  Yeah, I’m Canadian and almost any time there’s a letter where people say “Oh, I thought she was American from these 3 phrases, but these other 2 indicate maybe UK” I think, “Canada!” because we’re a strange mishmash of both when it comes to culture and language …

                2. Viva

                  Yep, could be. Agree with Lissa, we’re a mishmash of both.

                  And boy, did I miss Halloween so much when I lived in the UK! It was hardly on anyone’s radar. That was disappointing because I adore Halloween.

              1. Koko

                Hm, my UK friends have always told me that they mostly only do scary dress-up like monsters and ghouls on Halloween, not play-pretend dress-up like Disney princesses, so there’s conflicting hints in the letter about where this might have taken place.

                Reply
              2. The Strand

                I had the same thought. I can’t ever get over the Fry and Laurie sketch about Halloween (google “How to Deal with Trick or Treaters”) my Australian ex made me watch one year. The only two places I can imagine people wearing costumes to a financial firm, outside of a party, are the US and Canada.

                Reply
              3. Static

                I disagree, I’m UK born and bred and still living here and Halloween is huge! Especially in the past decade or so, when lots of culturally US things are becoming the norm here (prom for example, sweet sixteens, even heard of nurseries doing graduations for toddlers now). This Halloween almost everyone at my hospital other than the medics were dressed in costumes, the whole cafeteria was decked out in Halloween stuff, the supermarket I went to on the way home had most of its staff in costumes. And from September we have Halloween costumes and decorations and sweets shoved down our throats by shops.

                Maybe a regional thing but I spend a lot of time down south as well as living up north and I’ve not noticed a difference. So just wanted to chime in that Halloween is definitely a big deal in England.

                Reply
                1. Viva

                  I guess this is really recent then. 20 years ago I lived in Yorkshire and it just didn’t register, it was hardly a blip except for neighbours giving a few sweets to the very little kids, like toddler age. When I explained Halloween to my coworkers (how we dressed up at school, made Halloween themed crafts, went trick or treating into our teen years, decorating our lawns, sometimes dressing up at work, etc) they thought we Canadians were absolute nutters. It was disappointing.

                2. Anion

                  We had more Trick-or-Treaters last year in our small rural English town than we did this year in the suburbs of a major US city.

                3. Floundering Mander

                  Perhaps it is regional. I first arrived at a northern university at the beginning of October and the first weekend there were loads of students going around town in costume. I figured it was early Halloween parties but soon realized it was like that almost every weekend and for many occasions. Not just students and young people, either: stag/hen parties, cricket and football matches, birthday parties, etc etc. Maybe it’s just the city I live in but I’m sure that if I go to town this evening I’ll see at least one group of people wearing costumes.

                4. Floundering Mander

                  I mean that I arrived at a northern university 13 years ago, not just this year! I have noticed less of it in London but many of the staff in the shops and train station were wearing costumes, or at least face paint, on Tuesday.

              4. Christopher

                There’s no way they could fire her for this if it was the UK without inviting a lawsuit (unless she was in probation and they told her they could do it)

                Reply
            3. Tuxedo Cat

              I don’t know much about the financial sector or the OP’s location, but most folks I know in other fields have done internships where they learn very quickly what is acceptable and was not.

              Reply
        2. MsMorlowe

          It sounds a lot more like Legally Blonde 2, tbh. That she wanted to “shake up these stuffed shirts” and make them appreciate their inner child or something. I think she was probably fantasising that people would compliment her on her costume, and she’d make them all laugh and remember being children and would be publically praised for bringing a sense of fun to such a stuffy office atmosphere.

          I don’t think someone who dresses up like a princess to go to work is someone who is expecting to be fired.

          Reply
        3. LKW

          I doubt it was that purposeful. I expect she thought it would be perceived as cute or silly. Not fire-worthy.

          Clearly she did not read the room.

          Reply
          1. CoffeeLover

            I guess part of me is hoping it was purposeful. In which case this is a funny story she will tell instead of just being well… sad.

            The reason I think “blaze of glory” is because we’re talking about the finance industry. It’s such a “proper” place. It’s like law. Imagine someone showing up in a princess costume to discuss serious legal matters in a big law firm. This kind of behaviour is down-right mortifying in that environment (as her director said “she’s never been more embarrassed”… kind of dramatic but w/e). I just can’t imagine anyone going through 5months (and probably having internships in finance before that), not knowing this would not be okay. I mean there’s all kinds of people, but if this lady was competent enough to get and keep the job for 5 months, I think she kind of knew this would not go well.

            Anyway though, I hope she finds work somewhere else that suits her better. This environment clearly doesn’t suit her. And I think she was kind of making a point of that.

            Reply
            1. North Dakota Jones

              This is my line of thinking too – I work in a fairly casual part of the finance industry – daily wear is usually blazer or blouses for women and men may or may not wear ties and we wear jeans on Fridays – but even here, the most anyone does for Halloween are a pair of pumpkin earrings or wearing an orange shirt. It’s just not done.

              Reply
            2. LKW

              I work in a less conservative but still corporate environment. We have a no open toed shoes, no bare arms, no capri pants dress code. I’ve had to have discussions with young women that coming to work on a Friday and dressed ready for the club (sandals, sequined tube-top with a jacket over said top) is not appropriate and taking “casual Friday” too far.

              I’ve also had to send a guy home to change because they came to work in the expected button down but visible underneath was his t-shirt that clearly said “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor”.

              In short – sometimes the younger simply don’t know the norms, don’t think through the impressions, or aren’t patient enough to observe before acting thinking that their youth, exuberance or cuteness excuses missteps.

              Reply
            3. Nita

              “someone showing up in a princess costume to discuss serious legal matters” – now I can’t get that divorcing couple scene in “Enchanted” out of my head!

              Reply
          1. Soon to be former fed

            Why? Just out of college, probably lots of debt. If she wanted to go she could have just quit. No need for all the foolishness, damaging her reputation in the process.

            Reply
    3. Zip12

      Exactly. Just wearing a costume probably would have resulted in a stern reprimand and an instruction to go home to change clothes. Going into a meeting attended by company management and important clients, and TRICK OR TREATING, asking these folks to give you candy (!) is just flat-out bizarre. Even someone brand new to the work world should have had better common sense and judgment than to do that. I think this young woman was being fired for her spectacularly bad judgment, not for wearing a costume on Halloween.

      Reply
      1. Ramona Flowers

        Doesn’t she know the rules? You look for a pumpkin. No pumpkin, no trick or treating. I’m willing to bet nobody brought a pumpkin into the meeting. So not even following correct procedure as used in appropriate trick or treating scenarios.

        Reply
        1. periwinkle

          Maybe she thought that since the lights were all on, they had candy?

          (our porch light is off every October 31 – any candy in the house is strictly for us)

          Reply
          1. Thursday Next

            But it’s not reasonable to expect a full catalog of the rules. At a certain point, we’re all responsible to for sussing out what’s appropriate in our workplaces, based on context. Let’s say nobody explicitly announced that Halloween costumes aren’t allowed at this firm. If I’m a new graduate in my fifth month at a job, and I show up in costume on Halloween, it’s my responsibility to take note of the fact that no one else in my firm is in costume. That would be an important indicator that persisting in the Halloween spirit by trick-or-treating at the firm would be further out of sync with office culture. And doing so in front of C-suite folks and clients is tripling down on the original misstep.

            My ten-year-old can sometimes get away with saying, “But you didn’t tell me I couldn’t do that particular thing.” Sometimes. Increasingly, though, it’s his responsibility to draw conclusions from previous experiences and known rules in order to figure out what’s appropriate.

            Reply
            1. Q

              I just started a new job in June. I like dressing up for Halloween, but I asked back in September if it was okay to dress up.

              Reply
            2. babblemouth

              Yes, part of growing up is learning the skill to read a room. Not all rules are spelled out for people’s benefits, some of them need to be figured out.

              Reply
            3. Mike C.

              People aren’t mind readers and if employers aren’t willing to define their culture and their standards then others will do it for them.

              Reply
              1. Jessie the First (or second)

                But it’s really hard to argue here that the culture was not defined. It is a very rigid wear-a-complete-suit-every-single-day culture. Are you saying that every conceivable variation of life has to be spelled out for people – all the possible ways someone could theoretically “break” the culture rules? That’s not feasible in any way.

                Seriously, exactly how specific do you think an employer has to be in order to satisfy “defining the culture”?

                Reply
                1. Snark

                  And even if you totally misread the cues and come to work in costume – that’s not the mistake that got her fired. It was dumb, but understandable. If you do show up to work in costume and nobody else is wearing one and you’re getting weird looks, you haul ass to the nearest Banana Republic or home, change, and come back hoping nobody gives you crap about it.

                  But if you walk in wearing a costume, and then decide, nope, I’m just fine, these people are just stuffy, it’s time to go trick or treat in a client meeting? That is what I maintain nobody needs telling about.

              2. Someone else

                But OP said there was a strict dress code in the handbook. So the employee took it upon herself to assume the established rules on dress do not apply on Halloween. That’s not asking her to be a mindreader. She knew the everyday rules; nobody told her there was an exception to those rules for traditional-in-some-places dress up holidays, and she did it anyway. That’s part of the reason why I kind of agree that the handbook change is sort of overkill: it explicitly says what dress is allowed and makes no mention of exceptions for Halloween, so to need to say “this dress code applies 365, no exceptions” is sort of redundant. Since there was a misunderstanding, ok fine, extra clarity is good, but it also really shouldn’t be necessary and her not knowing because the handbook didn’t already say “no Halloween costumes in the office” is not a great defense.

                Reply
                1. Tuxedo Cat

                  Even if the employee were truly ignorant of all the signs that people in this company don’t dress up for Halloween, it’s a bit surprising that grasp that she did something wrong or felt embarrassed…. Being asked to leave the meeting, the OP hinting at it in the conversation with the employee.

                2. Specialk9

                  My dress codes have always been mum in the dress code about Halloween costumes, and yet they’ve had varying rules. Expecting someone to extrapolate Halloween and other holiday attire from the dress code is nuts.

                  I’m pretty surprised by how judgy and dogmatic people are being on this! Yeah, the kid messed up, a bit, but the managers have a serious missing link in their emotional resilience over this!

              3. Half-Caf Latte

                I don’t think there’s anything in the letter to suggest they didn’t “define their culture and their standards.” In fact, the letter says the employee acknowledges trying to change the established “stuffy” culture.

                I read the rewriting of the handbook to be in keeping with the outsized reaction of the director, not out of any sort of logical review of the situation which concluded that if this line had existed the whole embarrassment could have been avoided. I imagined a one-liner in the (already-existing) dress code section: NO HALLOWEEN COSTUMES, AND NO TRICK-OR-TREATING.
                This will cause future generations of new employees to secretly wonder what on earth could have prompted that inclusion.

                Reply
                1. the gold digger

                  This will cause future generations of new employees to secretly wonder what on earth could have prompted that inclusion.

                  That’s the question I have every time I see a notice like “Don’t pee here” (on a wall in a public place) or “Do not use hairdryer while standing in a full bathtub.”

                2. Specialk9

                  My company switched from Halloween costume virtually mandatory, to verboten, in one year, with nothing said. Like I literally saw green Oompa Loompas last year and they just fit in. This year, nothing, not one word. Honestly it was really weird, but somehow we all figured it out or planned costumes that could pass or easily be removed.

                  So I don’t assume that anything was said! Companies can be weird.

              4. Observer

                But the company most definitely DID spell out it’s culture. The OP spells out some fairly strict dress code rules that ARE explicit.

                Also, there are some “rules” that should not need to be spelled out. Trick or treating in the office?! Come on, by the time you are finished college and 5 months into a corporate job, you should know that you DO NOT trick or treat in the office unless specifically told otherwise. Please don’t blame the company for not telling people who are supposed to be competent adults that they are expected to ACT like competent adults not children!

                Reply
              5. Katherine

                Really? An adult has *no* responsibility to read a room/use professional judgment?

                Also, if you want to rules-lawyer this: there was a dress code, it said you have to wear a suit every day, a princess costume is not a suit. Unless the rules stated “October 31 is an exception- you may wear a holiday costume” then there was, in fact, a rule governing this situation. If the company is responsible for micromanaging employees’ behavior with a rule to govern every eventuality, then the employee is equally responsible for not inventing exceptions to the rules and not even bothering to run them up the flagpole ahead of time.

                Reply
              6. LBK

                Come on. There’s generally no rule on the books that says don’t piss on the lobby floor but most adults can gather that that would be inappropriate. It’s not unreasonable to expect adults to draw conclusions based on evidence rather than trying to write a rule for every single situation.

                We’re not talking about someone who work a low cut shirt that was questionably appropriate for the dress code – if you’re in an office where everyone dresses in suits every day, I think you should be able to infer that showing up with more than a festive tie for Halloween is going to be out of bounds.

                Reply
                1. ket

                  But I gotta say — it’s more clear to me that you don’t wear a shirt that shows a lot of cleavage than costume on Halloween = fired! Lots of places give leeway on Halloween.

                2. LBK

                  I dunno…I think most places wouldn’t bat an eye at you wearing festive earrings or a necklace something, but I still think wearing a full-on costume would be pretty out of place in most offices, especially one that hasn’t explicitly/actively encouraged it.

                  I made the low cut shirt comparison because that’s an area where dress codes can sometimes be a little nebulous and whether something is deemed appropriate can vary depending on someone’s body type, the rest of the outfit, etc. I’d be more miffed at being fired on the spot for someone who could have believably tried to follow the dress code and missed the mark than someone who blatantly disregarded it thinking it would be fine to make an exception.

            4. Samiratou

              Or, yanno, asking people in the office or her boss if dressing up for Halloween is OK. I wouldn’t assume it in a casual office and definitely wouldn’t in an office with an all-formal, all-the-time dress code.

              Even in my first office job, when I was 23.

              Reply
            5. LKW

              Agreed. My experience is that in corporate life your company will give you one big sign if costumes are acceptable on Halloween. They will sponsor a costume contest. No contest = no costume.

              One of our local offices had a costume contest. About 10 people out of 60 dressed up. One of the winners dressed as ET’s Elliot with ET in the bike basket. Luckily there were no sexy costumes like “sexy copy machine” or “sexy car mechanic”.

              Reply
              1. starsaphire

                Right? I’ve worked in a *lot* of offices in my time. If the culture involves dressing up, there’s almost always a costume contest — or a potluck, or a “costume parade” in the atrium, or *something*.

                If you’re not getting emails or seeing flyers or the admin isn’t asking you what your department group costume is… chances are, your office doesn’t dress up.

                And if you’re not sure… ASK.

                I can’t imagine that she didn’t have this conversation with at least one of her co-workers. I mean, “What are you doing for Halloween?” is usually a water-cooler standard by the first week in October.

                Reply
            6. Half-Caf Latte

              “But you didn’t tell me I couldn’t do that particular thing.”

              I’ve had employees with this attitude, and who fail to connect the dots between Behavior A in Situation B, and Behavior A’ in Situation C.

              “But how was I supposed to know A’ wasn’t acceptable?”

              “Last week when A happened, we discussed how to handle these situations going forward. You agreed to X”

              “But, *inconsequential reasons* why these situations are different!”

              No, they never make the exact same mistake twice, but the inappropriate behavior can persist.

              I went through a lot to ultimately fire someone who was persistently rude. Every conversation was: “But you said before that I was yelling/aggressive/swearing/insubordinate. I’ve been so focused on not yelling, and I don’t think I snapped at IT.” She was so focused on naming specific behaviors that she failed to connect the dots to willfully ignored in order to persist in being rude.

              Reply
          2. Anastasia Beaverhausen

            Huh?? That seems like the kind of bizarre behavior you shouldn’t have to tell people not to engage in, in a professional position! Shows a total lack of judgement. I can kind of excuse the costume, but asking for candy in a meeting with C-levels, directors, and clients?? She acknowledges the stuffiness of the environment, which should have been a tip off. This just seems to have come out of nowhere.

            Reply
          3. Allison

            Normally I’d agree, but I also think it’s common sense to be cautious about Halloween costumes at a new job, especially when you’re young. You ask around, you ask your peers who’ve been there for at least a year, you ask your boss “hey, do people dress up on Halloween?” It’s also common sense to figure “hey, this office is very strict about attire, and somber and serious in general, I’ll bet Halloween isn’t much of a thing here.” You take note of a lack of Hallowen pictures from previous years, and lack of email notifying you about a Halloween party that day or costume contest.

            In general, clear and well communicated rules are best. In this case, she could have figured this out on her own. She was either willfully ignorant of office norms, or she thought it would be cute to shake things up.

            Reply
          4. fposte

            I’m with you on “common sense” being a term that can be unfortunately applied, but I’m with other people in thinking that doesn’t make the firing unfair. I’m thinking of the OP who offended the boss’s wife and who wished she’d been told she was supposed to be nice to lower-power people, or the intern who told a 9/11 joke in front of a bereaved relative. Those are also behaviors that they could have been told not to do at some point, but I think those were still legitimate reasons to affect their candidacy and job.

            I think this one is a harder sell because it’s so outside of my job experience for somebody to care as much as the director even if behavior wasn’t appropriate; I’d think that was a weird followup to just about any firing reason, in fact, in that either you need a broader investigation or to let it go. But that doesn’t mean the original reason isn’t industry-valid. (That being said, the fact that it was, of all princesses, Tiana makes me hope there wasn’t something discriminatory–or, for that matter, more offensive on the costume-wearer’s part–going on.)

            Reply
            1. Jesca

              Yeah, I am not too worried about the discriminatory aspect of this. I work in a very casual office setting where a lot of people wear jeans and nice shirts most of the days. Doing something like this even here would likely get you fired, because you are specifically embarrassing the company. In many for-profit business settings, showing a certain level of seriousness and decorum around VPs and CEOs is required even in smaller to mid-size companies. And in front of clients who have this expectation as well? It would get you fired. And keep in mind, we have had people even fall asleep during meetings and not get terminated the first time, but if someone did something like this, they would be packing their stuff up that day. Cultural expectations aren’t always just the company itself. It can be the industry and its customers as well. This sounds like a place where that is expected. The firing was because they felt they could no longer trust her even in her low level position to not do things that would embarrass them and cause them to lose clients.

              Reply
              1. Jesca

                I would also like to add that yesterday the entire first floor here dressed in very elaborate costumes. They would have still been fired for behaving this way in front of clients. So to be clear, it wasn’t the costume itself. It was the behavior after walking in with a full costume that cost her the job. She didn’t read the room, and that is what did her in.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  The behavior after being told it was wrong was pretty egregious, too. If I had been her boss, that would have tipped me strongly toward firing if I hadn’t been.

              2. CMart

                Agreed. I work in a casual office as well, but the C-Suite works on my floor (they even have a fishbowl of fancy cubicles smack in the middle of our cube farm, in addition to their nice offices) and we are slightly dressier than other departments because of it. Engineering wears t-shirt/polos with their jeans but we wear blouses and button ups. Sales has all kinds of fun things decorating their cubes, we have family photos and the occasional birthday streamer.

                Reply
              3. LBK

                Totally agreed – we can wear jeans for our normal dress code but it’s expected that you’ll put on a suit if you have a meeting with the bigwigs, and our salespeople all still have to wear suits when they meet with clients. At a bare minimum she should’ve had a change of clothes ready for this meeting. I think it would still probably come across as totally tone deaf to show up in a costume at all but may not have been as big of a deal if she weren’t trying to sit in what sounds like a pretty serious and important meeting in a tiara.

                Reply
              4. Plague of frogs

                Agreed. I work in an office where the dress code is, “Wear clothes.” Many of us go around barefoot. We still dress up (without having to be told) when a client is coming…and none of us would trick-or-treat in a client meeting.

                Reply
            2. Mike C.

              The difference here is that I can think of lots of workplaces where dressing up for halloween is fine, but I can’t think of any where telling 9/11 jokes in front of grieving family is fine.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                But that’s because *you know that*. That intern came from places where it *was* okay, and he didn’t have the information to know that that doesn’t translate to the workplace–and nobody told him that. You’re basically trying to use an “it’s common sense” argument for the intern case.

                Nobody knows everything they need to know for their job, but we hire people who know most of what they need to know because we don’t have time to tell them everything about Excel and timely arrival and hygiene. And yes, absolutely there are class/experiential influences at play about what knowledge people, especially young people, bring to their workplace, but that doesn’t change the fact that workplaces often can’t afford to be experiential tutors at the expense of the work, whether it be because clients were disturbed by an unrepentant candy-beggar in a meeting or because somebody told an offensive joke. (Or because somebody claims to have grown up in a time when it was okay to do bad stuff.)

                The broad rule I’d teach youngsters from this: when you’re on somebody else’s dime, assume stuffiness until it’s explicitly told or demonstrated to you that loosening up, and in your particular way of loosening up, is okay. When told you got it wrong, admit error and apologize.

                Reply
                1. Jesca

                  And yeah, in some institutions, particularly ones who handle large sums of money, it can be just as offensive to a client to tell a tasteless 9/11 joke as it is to barge into a meeting and “trick or treat” to huge clients and execs. To a lot of firms, they can be equal in scope, as it shows you cannot read room and can pretty insensitive to people’s needs. While sure one is a lot more emotionally insensitive, the bottom line is the same. Bad judgement that can be shocking enough to cost clients.

              2. Jesmlet

                It’s not just dressing up though. It’s dressing up, walking into an important meeting with clients and upper management, asking for candy, then not feeling any sort of remorse or understanding of why the behavior was inappropriate. Even if I wasn’t planning on firing her up until that point, if she told me she “didn’t see what the problem was and wanted to bring fun into to our stuffy office”, that attitude would’ve gotten her fired immediately.

                Reply
              3. Kate 2

                But there are lots of workplaces where dressing up isn’t fine. I should think that a workplace that requires full suits every day and bans something as minor as open-toed shoes, shouldn’t have to tell employees they can’t come to work in silly costumes and demand candy from the CEO and major clients.

                Reply
              4. aebhel

                There are plenty of places where showing up in jeans and a t-shirt is fine, too, but that doesn’t make it appropriate in a business formal environment where it’s explicitly prohibited by the dress code.

                Reply
            3. yasmara

              @fposte, I wondered that too because both Michonne and Tiana are Black women. I really hope “doesn’t fit into our corporate culture” isn’t some kind of code for “she’s a minority woman.”

              That said, I have never dressed up at work ever and my offices haven’t even been that formal – business casual 99% of the time except in direct F2F client interactions.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                To be clear, I think the employee’s actions went from off-key, to seriously wrong-footing, to bad. A costume in my office would be fine, but doubling down when told you shouldn’t have invaded a meeting would have me thinking about firing as well–if I can’t trust my staff to accept feedback and correction, that’s a big thing.

                But it’s in the OP, it didn’t have to be in the OP, so I’m not closing the door just yet on that factor.

                Reply
              2. Koko

                I wondered, too, if this was a case where a white woman would have gotten a write-up/probation/discipline of some kind but a black woman just got the ax. It wouldn’t be the first time that a POC got less leniency than a white person doing the same thing.

                Reply
                1. AMPG

                  I wondered this, as well. I think her behavior was clearly WAY out of line, but I do wonder if they brought the hammer down because they were less willing to give her the benefit of the doubt than someone in a different demographic.

                2. Dankar

                  Same. I hesitate to dwell on that angle, since it’s kind of immaterial to the OP’s question (it’s likely she was fired for her behavior, rather than the costume itself), but this is another instance where it might behoove everyone involved to question what their reaction would have been to the same situation with a white employee.

                  All that being said, the whole situation does read as an overreaction.

                3. Observer

                  Well, as someone who did not know who Princess Tian is before I read this, I can say that I thought that firing was NOT an over-reaction as soon as I read the entire thing.

                4. Jesmlet

                  No, as a minority myself, I would’ve fired her if she’d dressed up as Mulan, Moana, Belle, Jasmine, or whatever Disney princess corresponded to her race.

                5. LBK

                  I don’t think you can necessarily rule it out, but I think being young was probably also a strong contributor to not being given a second chance – someone 5 months out of college probably isn’t too hard to replace, so there’s less thought put into whether it’s worth cutting her over something like this.

                6. Specialk9

                  I didn’t know those two characters were black, and I thought the hysterical director who had NEVER BEEN SOoOoOo EMBARASSED IN MY LIIIIIFE!!!!!11!!!!!! was a wacko. Other people seem to have known they were black characters, AND thought the reaction was reasonable. I think it’s worth asking the question about subtle bias.

                7. MillersSpring

                  Personally, I would be inclined to look out for and support a direct report who’s a POC so that they can avoid wrong footing. Office cultural issues can be particularly confusing or unclear if you and those close to you do not have experience in conservative offices. This has come up in comments to other posts.

                8. LBK

                  @MillersSpring – There’s a pretty interesting episode from the first season of Insecure that address that topic, one of the characters (a black female lawyer) tries to coach a new black female employee on her professionalism and there’s all kinds of nuanced racial elements to it.

              3. Nita

                Maybe this is why they’re planning to write the “no costumes” thing into the employee handbook, so acting on it doesn’t open them to discrimination accusations in the future. Not that it seems likely they’ll have to act on it ever again, considering that no one has dressed up in 15 years before the Princess Incident.

                Reply
          5. ClownBaby

            My company’s handbook would be 500+ pages if we had to include a rule about everything.

            At OP’s company, I would assume if there is a strict, business professional dress code, that I am expected to follow that. If the company allowed for costumes at Halloween, or if they allowed for ugly Holiday Sweaters in December, someone would send a memo the week before saying “Hey guys, wear your favorite costume/ugliest sweater!). I don’t need a rule in the handbook saying “This is the dress code. And remember, it sticks even on Halloween.”

            It’s probably just poor judgment, immaturity, or lack of common sense on her part. Or she was trying to cause a scene.

            If someone from my company decides to pick his nose and flick boogers at our VP’s window, I don’t think him saying “It’s not in the handbook that I can’t do that” would be much of a defense.

            Reply
            1. AKchic

              At my last company, one of the upper managers tried to get written in “no funky earrings” because he saw me wearing my dragon cuff earring on a weekend outside of work hours and was mortified that I might actually wear it to the office some day.
              He kept trying to get us to look very corporate and stuffy. It never did get into the handbook, but whenever we had a special event going on, I was reminded by both him and my direct supervisor (as if I’d wear it) about appropriate attire. In the 8 years I’d been there, I never once dressed inappropriately, so I’m not sure why they thought I’d come to work dressed like some kind of Pretty Woman wannabe, but there you go.

              Reply
                1. AKchic

                  It would have been a great laugh, to be sure! The two men in C-suite roles were very stuffed-shirt to the point that if they could have dictated that all women wear high-collared shirts or turtlenecks to avoid any hint of cleavage, they would have (many of us were very well-endowed).
                  I was specifically banned from dying my hair any “odd” color, but one of the ladies in the finance department dyed her hair crayon red and nobody batted an eye. I think it was just MY particular boss at the time just didn’t want to see it, so he made a bunch of ridiculous dress code rules specifically for me since I am a volunteer actor.
                  The CEO loved my League of Evil Exes t-shirt. We both had been married 3 times.

          6. Anony

            For wearing the costume, maybe. Going into a meeting to trick or treat is not normal in most offices. Her explanation that she was trying to make the stuffy office more fun makes it clear that she knew that it was out of place in that office. The fact that after her boss talked to her she still didn’t understand that she was out of line makes it even worse. She was told and still didn’t see it as a problem.

            Reply
          7. paul

            There’s some rules you generally accept that people understand; things like “no punching the wall” and “no pooping in the potted plants.” Trick or treating in a work meeting isn’t as extreme as those but it’s getting up there.

            Reply
          8. Karo

            But, as someone else pointed out, she did this with the stated intention of “shaking things up” because the firm was “stuffy.” That means she DID know the rules and ignored them.

            Reply
            1. JulieBulie

              I think the words “shaking things up” were the final nail in her coffin. “Shaking things up” is really not within the worker bees’ purview. If you’re not a manager, then shaking things up is insubordination. In fact, I once had a coworker who tried to “shake things up” by attempting to organize a mutiny against his managers. (He was unsuccessful.)

              Reply
          9. AKchic

            She’s had 20+ years of watching her parents, and seeing others commute on October 31st and seeing the majority of adults NOT dress up to go to work, I’m sure.

            I love Halloween, but not everyone else dresses up, some because they don’t want to, some because they aren’t allowed to. It’s up to the adults to figure out why the other adults in the building aren’t dressing up on a specific dress-up day. She’s not so special that she should have required a special memo in her lunch box for Mommy and Daddy.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Though one point worth remembering is that not everybody has had years of watching their parents and others commute into an office on October 31.

              Reply
          10. Susanne

            She clearly knew the rules about the dress code — there’s nothing suggesting that (until this incident) she was wearing clothing inappropriate for this company’s dress code. C’mon. I know you like to be devil’s advocate and always look to Stick It To The Man, but this is a clear-cut case of someone making an extremely poor judgment call and then doubling down on it when challenged.

            Reply
          11. aebhel

            If it’s in the employee handbook, and she got a copy of the handbook, then someone did tell her.

            Anyway ‘anything not explicitly banned is acceptable’ is a pretty bad approach to take in… most aspects of life, honestly, but especially conservative work environments.

            Reply
      2. Karo

        What bothered me more than any of that was her adamant refusal that she had done NOTHING wrong. I can’t get over that.

        Reply
    4. KarenT

      I agree, although firing still seems like an overreaction to me. The trick or treating is just bizarre, and even those brand new to the workforce would know not to do it. After five months she must have been able to pick up on how seriously the company takes client meetings. And I think there’s a bit of entitlement in an employee of five months (new grad or no) taking it upon themselves to change a company’s culture.

      Reply
      1. eplawyer

        It kinda reminds me of the interns who didn’t like the dress code so started a petition after being told no. This office is quite clear on the dress code. LW says it is strictly enforced. Anyone with an ounce of common sense would look around and KNOW any deviation would not be met kindly. But she did it anyway because she knows best.

        Also like the guy who broke the keyboard to get his co-worker to type the way he thought. It is not new employees job to change the work culture, unless they have been hired specifically to do so.

        Reply
        1. eplawyer

          Hit send too soon.

          Both of those examples got fired for the same reason — not the specific thing they did but the spectacular lack of good judgment in doing what they did. Same here. It’s not so much the costume, it’s the thinking that trick or treating at an office meeting is acceptable. Even unstuffy office would not be amused at this lack of professionalism.

          Reply
    5. Kate

      I was iffy on the firing because of all the reasons you mentioned. If she was an otherwise stellar employee, I’d say maybe the firing was a little harsh, but if she was even just average, their culture seems uptight enough that this was a BIG deal.

      The director’s reaction still baffles me though. It’s not like she did dress up as Michonne, katanas and all. She wore a Halloween costume on Halloween. Is that really so out there that he can’t wrap his head around it? Send a notice out next Halloween reminding people they are not allowed to wear costumes and be done with it.

      Reply
        1. periwinkle

          The director no doubt really wanted to also placate her boss AND the C-suite, all of whom were apparently pressuring her for some reason why this new employee behaved like this (which explains why the director is pressuring the OP for some reasons).

          The new employee’s behavior would have raised a ton of concerns at my org. We are not hugely uptight about dress codes – and I saw co-workers in low-key costumes – but that doesn’t mean I would wear a Halloween costume on a day when I’m scheduled to meet with senior management, let alone with executives AND important customers.

          Reply
          1. Anion

            At one of my old jobs, an employee made a slightly inappropriate comment during a meeting with the higher-ups; nothing ribald or offensive, just a tad rebellious. It was a huge deal for a couple of weeks, because it made the higher-ups (who were pretty stiff) wonder what exactly was going on with that team/on that shift, that said employee thought that was an okay thing to say. Managers got called to the carpet and everything.

            Nobody got fired–it wasn’t as big a misstep as the person in the letter–but yeah, there are definitely places where the behavior of an employee raises alarms about the whole team.

            Reply
        2. Caro in the UK

          The director’s reaction screams of extreme humiliation to me. She sounds seriously, mortifyingly embarassed, and is desperate for it not to happen again. And how can you stop something happening again if you don’t know why it happened in the first place? So she’s panicking and pressuring the LW for the employee’s reasons, which she can then try to control in future.

          Whether or not the director’s level of embarassment is proportional to the employee’s actions, I’m not entirely sure. It really depends on the office culture, the pressure from above and the clients’ reactions.

          Reply
          1. One of the Sarahs

            Yeah, I bet she feels somehow responsible because it was someone in her line of management. She could be thinking it reflects badly on her, but in a “how did I fail to make it clear this is not ok?” way.

            Reply
            1. overly produced bears

              Yeah, my initial reaction was “wow, something was going on behind the scenes, possibly not even involving this employee but just involving this structure, and this was the Last Straw”.

              Reply
          2. Important Moi

            Just because the director’s reaction screams of extreme humiliation and she’s understandingly wanting answers, I’m don’t think that there’s really anything the OP could say that would allow “controlling the prevention of this happening in the future.” I think OP can apologize, offer to speak to C-level folks (director will probably decline that), promise to thoroughly review the dress code when onboarding new employees. OP should keep doing this until director settles down. At some point, crap just happens and everything can’t be “controlled” in that way.

            Reply
            1. Tuxedo Cat

              I second this. I was in a workplace where literally 2 employees did some really blatantly obvious no-nos. These are things like not doing any work, sharing research notes that they were explicitly told to share, losing paperwork, and so on. The director went above and beyond (and then some) to try to prevent these situations from happening again.

              We were working professionals who several years of experience. Everyone felt micromanaged and offended, because the office had years of good work without constantly being check on. Before leaving, I used to joke how one or two people really can make a difference.

              Reply
            2. Caro in the UK

              Oh yeah, I should have been clearer about that. I totally agree. There’s no point in the director repeatedly asking this question, you can’t foresee (and control) everything! I was just thinking about why she might be behaving in this way in the first place, which could be helpful info for the LW.

              Reply
      1. Sara smile

        I worked in financial services for nearly a decade. My mouth is hanging open here. I am not baffled by the director’s reaction at all. Dressing up for Halloween is so far out of those professional norms, it isn’t on the same planet. It would never even occur to me to state this wasn’t allowed because it is so far out of those norms. It is just not. done.

        I actually disagree with Alison in her answer. I don’t think it is weird she was fired, even if there were no other signs. I don’t think the outrage is strange or overreacting. I think it would be super odd to specifically communicate to other employees that you don’t dress up — it’s like saying don’t come to work in only your underwear. I think the industry is everything here and to compare financial services to other offices where dressing up is ok just totally misses the culture.

        Reply
        1. Martina Marprelate

          Even in financial services there is a spectrum however. I used to work for a rather stuffy financial services firm, dealing with the wealthy clients of a major bank, and people did dress up for Halloween if they wanted to. Sometimes very elaboratively.

          Reply
          1. Gen

            Same. We full on decorated for every holiday. High level managers tended to wear subtle costumes (80s suit and Patrick Bateman business cards for example) or stuff they could take off easily for meetings so a ball gown might have been a bit off but since she’s lower level probably not.

            Different managers can have strong views on clothes though, I know one who wanted to discipline his high level staff for taking part in the xmas sweater charity event that the *CEO* had set up. They’re financial services too and he’s forbidden ties for men in his department unless they’re in a client meeting.

            Reply
              1. Teacher

                I’m thinking the CEO who set up the sweater party also forbade ties, not the boss who disciplined for the sweaters. That’s the only way I can make sense of it, although the ascots are another good guess.

                Reply
              2. Gen

                His (bizarre) reasoning is that ties make you look too self-important but xmas sweaters look too silly and informal like you don’t take the job seriously. He’s one of those odd British men who wants to pretend he’s still working class

                Reply
            1. Amber T

              I also work in financial services with a much more lenient dress code but Halloween costumes are not allowed. My first year I think I wore cat ears and drew a little nose on my face while wearing all black (appropriate) clothing and was told immediately to take it off. Agree that it varies both ways, which is why it’s important to check with your coworkers on the culture.

              Reply
              1. Specialk9

                BUT WHY AMBER T?! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? I’VE NEVER BEEN SO HUMILIATED IN MY LIFE!! (breaks down sobbing brokenly on the floor)

                Reply
          2. Cloud 9 Sandra

            I also work in financial services and we were allowed to wear costumes. Granted, it’s California. However, the director said in a meeting a week before that costumes were allowed, and the operations manager let everyone know through email there would be a contest. I never would have dressed up if I didn’t know it was okay.

            Reply
          3. Sunshine on a cloudy day

            Yeah – I work in financial services. Last place I worked had a pretty informal dress code, but dressing up on Halloween would really be looked down on (we had a lot of meetings with foreign, particularly Asian investors or ocmpanies, so something that stood out – like a princess costume – would be a huge no-no). My current firm is much more formal in our everyday dress code, but for whatever reason the company goes ALL OUT on Halloween. They do a huge thing where each floor decorates (this year we had a Wizard of Oz themed floor, and Emoji-land floor and one floor with a working carousel), employees rent legit costumes and everyone brings their kids.

            It’s super cool, but not at all what I expected on my first year here.

            Obviously the employee should have asked and probably should have sensed that this was a bad idea, but I have sympathy for her. She months out of school.

            Reply
            1. CBH

              Sunshine on a cloudy day. I totally agree with everything you said. I’ve worked in very conservative companies and very relaxed ones too. What gets me, if this office is “stuffy” year round, did she really think that people were going to full out in costumes on Halloween? Especially one where important clients seem to have a similar stuffy dress code. Even months out of school, it kind of baffles me that she would not have even considered this a “maybe I should ask someone what holiday dress consists of” question.

              Reply
              1. Sunshine on a cloudy day

                Well that was kind of my point – if I (someone with 10+ years of office experience and 2-3 years in that industry already) was suprised by my firm’s take on Halloween (in my case it was way more pro-costume than I would have ever imagined for being pretty stuffy in its day-to-day), I can totally get how someone with months of experience would struggle with this.

                Yeah – she should have erred on the side of caution, paid closer attention to the culture/dress code and definitely run it by someone, anyone! I’m just not really agreeing with the idea that she definitely, 100%, totally should have know better.

                Reply
            2. Koko

              Months out of school, and if she’s first-generation college, may not have had the same exposure to white-collar office norms that even straight-out-of-college children of white-collar workers do.

              Reply
              1. AMPG

                Yes, this. The idea that “everyone knows” X or Y about corporate culture assumes some familiarity with the culture before taking a job there.

                Reply
              2. Myrin

                I’d argue that she doesn’t need any kind of exposure to white-collar office norms to conclude from her emplyoer’s regular dresscode – which dictates wearing a full suit every day! – that it maybe wouldn’t be the best idea to show up in a Disney gown. Or to at least realise upon arrival that no one but her is dressed up and to then discreetly ask a coworker about it or to excuse herself to go get new clothes or similar.

                Reply
                1. AMPG

                  No, I definitely agree with you that this was extremely poor judgment on her part, especially doubling down to argue that she didn’t do anything wrong. I was just trying to push back a bit on the idea that this is the type of thing “everyone knows,” because that’s just not true.

                2. Koko

                  Maybe, but I think also maybe not. For instance, if her primary exposure to office norms was through television, it’s very common for TV characters to wear costumes to work on Halloween, even the lawyers and other serious professions. Shows do it because it’s entertaining television, but it’s not that far-fetched that someone might not realize it’s not as common as TV makes it look if they never had a dad who came home from work in a suit every day or talking about how hard his boss was on him for this and that little thing. And what someone said above about the asking for candy being a nervous reaction to embarrassment seems plausible. Not saying that this definitely explains what happened, but it’s a possible explanation.

              3. Observer

                My parents were not white collar workers either, but I still would have known better at that stage.

                You don’t need white collar experience to understand that if the daily dress code is this strict, holiday dress up is probably not ok. And you CERTAINLY don’t need that background to get that trick or treating is a totally No-No.

                Reply
              4. Jesmlet

                Dress code is suit every day… wouldn’t a normal person at least ask before showing up in an elaborate costume?

                Reply
              5. Kate 2

                My parents didn’t have white collar jobs, no one in my family has ever graduated from college, and I knew better! It’s not an excuse. Especially not for everything she did after she showed up and saw no one else was in Halloween costumes.

                Reply
        2. Hey Karma, Over Here

          My experience in a financial org is like this. To the point if it being legendary in my city. “Oh, you are interviewing THERE? They are so uptight. Dress code, dress code, dress code.”
          A Halloween costume? Nope. Not Done. Including company wide emails reminding people it’s Not Done. Now I know why.

          Reply
        3. The Other Dawn

          I’m in banking and I find it varies. My previous bank was fairly formal and it would have been out of the norm to dress up, while my current one (and another I worked at) is much more laid back. The tellers are allowed to dress up for Halloween as long as they don’t wear anything that would prohibit movement or cover their face. Even in the admin offices/departments we’re allowed to dress up. Some dress up and others don’t.

          Reply
        4. ClownBaby

          I agree. My office is mostly business-casual (upper management must dress more professionally) and I can’t fathom someone showing up in a costume, though there is no rule in our handbook barring it. The most halloween-y I saw anyone, was our “kooky” accountant wearing pumpkin-shaped earrings.

          Reply
        5. AndersonDarling

          “it’s like saying don’t come to work in only your underwear.”
          I was thinking along these lines, you don’t need to tell your staff not to come to work in sexy lingerie on Valentines Day. There are some things you expect your staff to pick up on their own regarding the office culture. In this case, it seems the Princess’s enthusiasm overruled any logical observations.

          Reply
        6. JayneCobb

          Agreed, from my perspective working in another financial services office. Alison’s reaction demonstrates extreme naivete regarding our industry. I could see something like a personal banking branch being open to tellers wearing costumes, but absolutely not at an office that deals with private funds and high net worth clients. And the fact that this employee burst into a C-suite meeting (!) with clients (!!) to which she was not invited (!!!) for anything less than a warning of imminent danger is absolutely unthinkable. And to do so in costume (!!!!) to ask for candy (!!!!!)??? OMG, of course this employee was fired.

          Reply
          1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws

            Yeah, this is my impression. Every industry will have variations in culture from office to office, of course there are some more casual/hip/fun finance offices, but OP1’s office doesn’t sound “unusually uptight” at all. It sounds very normal for finance.

            Reply
          2. Specialk9

            It’s really ambiguous whether she was invited to the meeting or crashed it. That makes a big difference.

            Invited, walk in “oh fudge, nobody else is in costume, I feel like an idiot, ok just try to brazen it out” and then later hoping to argue out of being in trouble rather than groveling.

            Burst in uninvited, ok, I got no defense of her.

            Reply
          1. Matilda Jefferies

            Yeah, the director needs to let it go. Obviously OP has no idea what her employee was thinking, and she has made that clear. And the employee is gone, so there’s really no further action to take here – it’s not like OP is running around the office authorizing secret Halloween parties or anything.

            On the other hand, this letter was probably written later in the day on Tuesday, or certainly no later than Wednesday – so really only a day or so after the incident. Chances are the director has already settled down a bit. I’d give her until the end of the week, and then if she’s still talking about it on Monday, maybe the OP could ask her if there’s anything else that needs to be done “to wrap this up” (or some other polite way of saying “can we drop the subject already?”)

            Reply
        7. LQ

          I agree. There is a dress code that says everyone has to wear a suit. You don’t have to negatively say every thing thing that people are not allowed to wear to have it be clear that you have to wear a suit because it says you have to wear a suit.
          Should I wear this to work? It is a suit? –Yes–> Wear it to work
          —No–> Don’t wear it to work

          End.
          You don’t have to say don’t wear a dress made of post its to work because that’s not a suit.

          And if your environment is such that people are not allowed to wear any other kind of not suit then why would you think an off the shoulder princess halloween costume is acceptable? That’s such a vast, vast lack of judgement that it would be like showing up to work in only your underwear at a business casual environment. Baffling.

          Reply
        8. Kate

          I’ll admit that when I first read this letter, I was imagining the director harping on this for days, which is why I thought it was weird, but given that Halloween was only 2 days ago, obviously that was not the case. So, that was my bad. FWIW, I agree that the firing was not over the top. I understand why the director was upset. I’m a contractor that works at sites with varying degrees of stuffiness, and I was shocked to see people dressed in full costumes on Tuesday. Typically, I’ve seen people wear more low key holiday accessories (scarves, earrings, ties, etc.), but I would have assumed costumes were not OK. But is still doesn’t seem like the type of thing that requires you to get to the “root cause” of the problem before you can fix it. A simple reminder saying, “This is not OK” before the holiday next year should do. If someone shows up in costume after that, it’s not that the directors didn’t do their part to prevent it. It that you have a insubordinate employee.

          Reply
        9. JulieBulie

          The only reason I don’t disagree with the firing is because the employee said she was trying to shake things up. It is not her place to shake things up. That attitude smacks of insubordination.

          What I don’t get is why the director seems to be losing sleep over why the employee did this. From the letter, it sounds as though the director didn’t do the firing personally… therefore she wasn’t able to ask this for herself. But if you really want to know this kind of thing about someone, you can’t ask a third party to find out for you. So I think the director should let it go. (And in all fairness, I think this is what is really bugging OP, that the director is still obsessing over it.)

          Reply
          1. Shandon

            If she is the director of that division of the company then ultimately the actions of those below her reflect on her and that part of the company. The letter says that it was one of the C-suite who immediately told the employee to leave, so she’s probably catching considerable heat from them, and possibly from irate clients as well. She’s likely desperately trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

            Reply
        10. Cringing 24/7

          Agreed. I’ve worked in several different institutions within financial services and only in one was it ever okay to dress up (I didn’t – not my thing), but there, it was talked about beforehand because people wanted to share costume ideas or just have something to talk about.
          Even in the strict, no-dressing up institutions, a year never went by that someone new didn’t ask if it’s okay and have everyone tell them, ‘no.’ I just can’t imagine that she didn’t ask and then decide to do it anyway to bring “fun” to the “stuffy office.”

          Reply
        11. Kate 2

          Yep! You really have to be able to trust the people handling your money. You want them to be serious, honest, trustworthy, smart (if not brilliant), and on the ball. Fair or not, one slip up can ruin a client relationship. And this was a huge lack of judgement, a very big embarrassment. Do you really want this person to be anywhere near your life savings? Anywhere near your retirement money?

          Reply
            1. Michael

              And if she was working corporate finance on Wall Street, chances are the accounts being discussed are closer to the order of tens to hundreds of millions.

              My girlfriend does international M&A and is working on a $1.2 billion acquisition at the moment. You don’t want the person leading that effort to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl wanna-be.

              Reply
              1. Glass Houses

                Not to put a fine point on it, but you also don’t want the person leading that effort to be slipping her significant other major details of transactions/deal sizes.

                Reply
      2. BethRA

        Eh, she wore a Halloween costume on Halloween…at a firm with a strict dress code where even she knew they gave no leeway (Tiana herself found the place “stuffy” and wanted to shake it up)…and showed up at a client meeting and asked for candy.

        We’re a pretty casual non-profit, and people have dressed up at Halloween, but if soemone walked into a donor meeting or the like, there would be Much Consternation in the land.

        Reply
      3. Clewgarnet

        My office is very casual, and strongly encourages dressing up for Halloween. (Most people don’t, but there are some who do.)

        If somebody tried to go trick-or-treating in a meeting with C-suite, directors and clients, they’d be out the door. And this is the UK where firing is more difficult. (They’d maybe get away with it if they were reverse trick-or-treating by handing out sweets. Even so, they’d have a come-to-Jesus talk with their manager, head of department and HR.)

        Reply
      4. Kate 2

        In an office where open toed shoes are banned and full suits are required of every employee every day???!!! You bet it’s out there.

        Not to mention the fact that, after she showed up at work and saw no one else was dressed up, she walked into a meeting (where she may or may not have been supposed to be) with the CEO and other C-levels, important clients, and demanded candy!

        Then, when her outrageous actions were addressed, not only didn’t she apologize or explain she called the office “stuffy” and said she wanted to change the culture.

        Honest question, why are you surprised she got fired?

        Reply
    6. Susan Calvin

      Agreed. I was really surprised that Alison though the firing was overboard – the other internal fall-out is strange, but getting rid of someone who *deliberately crashed a high level client meeting*? Totally expected. I’d expect that even from my employer, and we’re very much a jeans-and-geeky-graphic-tee kind of place.

      Maybe she thought it was an internal-only meeting..? Which would’ve still been bad, but maybe a hair below fireable in my book – otherwise, I’ve got nothing.

      Reply
      1. Snowglobe

        One thing I wasn’t clear on in the letter-was she supposed to be at that meeting, or did she crash a meeting she wasn’t even invited to? Because it’s bad enough to show up at a client meeting dressed like that, asking for candy(!), but if she intentionally crashed someone else’s meeting, that’s practically sabotage.

        Reply
        1. Jesmlet

          5 months out of college… odds are pretty high that she crashed. Not likely that a lower level employee would’ve been invited to a meeting like that.

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            We have all-group meetings with C-levels and directors. We don’t really have clients on-site, so I don’t have an equivalent, but a meeting with a wide range of levels isn’t implausible to me.

            Reply
      2. Lora

        Yeah, I work in a field where the higher up you are, the more likely you are to be wearing jeans and a sweatshirt to work – but NEVER in a financial or client meeting. If you are presenting to clients, you put on at least a nice shirt and jacket. And NOBODY goes into the big conference rooms reserved for client meetings, unless they are the client host, the meeting presenters, the clients or the caterer. Nobody. If the projector isn’t working and they have to let the IT guy in, they want him gone immediately.

        +1000 that if she’d crashed the client meeting in regular clothes it still would have been a firing offense.

        Reply
    7. The Other Dawn

      I completely agree. Absent the executive level, major client meeting, she likely would have been reprimanded and sent home to change. But going into a meeting, especially THAT kind of meeting, is really, really bad; to be honest, I might have fired someone over that, too.

      This is just a side rant: “The director keeps on asking me why my employee would do this and what she was thinking…”

      This is probably one of the things I despise most about being a manager. I get that I’m responsible for my team and I take the heat when things go wrong, but it drove me bonkers when a former boss would ask me questions like this. How the F should I know?? Sure, sometimes you can explain what you think is going on, or why someone might have done something a particular way (depending on what happened), but sometimes you just can’t because the team member just spontaneously takes it upon themselves to do something so off the wall there’s just no way to know WTH they were thinking. (Yes, it’s happened before.)

      Reply
      1. The Other Dawn

        Also, I agree with Alison that OP really should make sure new hires know the culture. I work in financial services, also. My previous bank was more formal, while my current one is much more laid back and does “business casual” (though to some that seems to mean weekend casual…). Financial services is still one of those industries that tends to be quite conservative and is slow to change, in my experience, so I think it’s important that the OP makes sure new hires know that, especially if they are new to the industry/just out of school.

        Reply
        1. Kris

          I’m also in a conservative field (legal) where expectations are sometimes unspoken and can vary between workplaces (and even within workplaces). Halloween and casual Friday can be a minefield. I regularly manage student interns and externs and I make sure to give them candid, specific advice about how to manage expectations in our office.

          Reply
      2. Queen of the File

        > This is just a side rant: “The director keeps on asking me why my employee would do this and what she was thinking…”

        This triggered me too. I hate wasting energy trying to formally explain/justify mistakes like this. Of course it’s a good idea to check to make sure there isn’t a larger issue that needs to be addressed, but sometimes people just mess up and it’s out of our control. Asked and answered, let’s move on please.

        Reply
      3. Robin Sparkles

        Oh god yes -I caught onto that as well. I had a boss like this who would go on and on and on- never seem satisfied with my responses. It’s really frustrating and my only advice to the LW is to keep reiterating that based on her past behavior and actions there was nothing to indicate she would do this. Reassure her that you are taking the steps to make sure you didn’t miss anything so that you can be on the lookout for the future. Perhaps emphasize the culture and dress code when interviewing new employees. Perhaps remind her that it is just 5 months and really -how much can you know about someone in that short of a time.

        Make sure you really do your due diligence before you say that you absolutely had no clue because I have to be honest, the mistake of showing up dressed up is innocent enough but it’s the trick or treating in an executive and client meeting that goes beyond the boundaries of office culture that make me wonder if you really didn’t have any other signs.

        Reply
    8. a Gen X manager

      YES, THIS, periwinkle. The trick-or-treating?! omg. the costume could be chalked up to a misunderstanding, but the t&t’g and not understanding the audience is the real issue.

      Isn’t it likely that the employee saw other people on her way to the meeting room? No one asked her WTF? Not even a receptionist or desk mate, someone?

      Reply
    9. Matilda Jefferies

      Yeah, it was like a series of pennies dropping as I read through the post.

      (Headline) Oh, she was fired for wearing a costume to work? Huh, must read more.
      (Subhead) Oh, she was fired for wearing a costume, and also trick or treating in a meeting. Okay, still reading…
      (Body) Financial services, with a formal dress code? Yeah, this is becoming a problem.
      (Body continues) Wait, she was trick or treating in a meeting with the C-suite?? Yikes.
      (Body continues) AND CLIENTS?!?!?!

      And then she didn’t even understand why what she did was so wrong. I agree that under other circumstances, firing her would probably have been an over-reaction. But this was just layer upon layer of bad judgement, which ended with the CEO being embarrassed in front of clients. I mean, maaaaybe there’s a way to come back from that, but I can totally get why they might have wanted her gone right away.

      The good news, I imagine, is that she’ll only make this mistake once. What a learning experience for her.

      Reply
        1. SoCalHR

          I actually thought I would get reprimanded once for taking of my suit jacket in a client meeting (when I had a work-appropriate shirt underneath). I knew my boss probably thought it was unprofessional, but I also didn’t thing that sweating profusely in the steaming office was professional either.

          Reply
        1. Lissa

          hopefully at least that this type of “stuffy” workplace is not going to tolerate the behavior, even if her takeaway is “they should have been fine with it”, maybe she’ll realize it’s not the environment for her…

          Reply
    10. Kelly O

      I was hoping I wasn’t the only one thinking this was a serious case of tone-deafness. It sounds like not only is this very thing addressed in the handbook, which the employee should read and understand, but instead of realizing there was an important meeting and staying hidden, she made herself more visible than would be appropriate.

      Companies show you their culture, and those cultures can be changed, but just a few months on the job is not the time to press those issues. I saw many people in work-appropriate “costumes” that mainly involved something that could easily be removed or something that was simply regular clothes framed differently.

      Our office is conservative. No one here dressed up. It’s not explicitly forbidden in the handbook but is more a matter of our office culture. I agree with the decision to let her go, and I sincerely hope this young woman learns from her experience so her next job has a happier ending.

      Reply
    11. aebhel

      Yeah, I suspect that the personal embarrassment to the director was a big aspect of it. Just wearing the costume was a piece of bad professional judgement, but not a fireable offense in itself, IMO. But wearing the costume to a meeting with important clients, the line about trick-or-treating, and her total lack of remorse about it… I can see why she was fired.

      I’m actually surprised that this was the first questionable thing she’s done, just because it seems so outside the norm. And I’m speaking as a librarian; wearing costumes to work is totally normal and acceptable behavior in my office. If you work in a stuffy office and you want to celebrate Halloween, get a Halloween-themed pin, or something.

      Reply
    12. Artemesia

      I’m guessing if she had passed out candy treats to everyone, she might also just have gotten a reprimand; begging for treats from people who obviously have no treats to give sort of triples the awkward.

      Reply
  2. KatieKate

    I am an under 30 who always uses “reaches out.” I think I like it because it’s softer and friendlier than “contact” and most of my emails go to community partners or donors.

    Reply
    1. Ted Mosby

      Me too. I also work for a prestigious professional services firm and many over 35 people use it there. Don’t correct people on this. It’s not a mistake, and would be largely seen as obnoxious. I don’t know anyone under 35 trying to save three key strokes. We’re fast typers.

      Reply
          1. Jen S. 2.0

            I’m not as bothered by “reach out,” but the aggressive overuse of “impact” these days has my teeth on edge. People usually mean affect, effect, result, change, or influence. And when did “impactful” become a word?

            Sorry, off topic. Carry on.

            Reply
            1. You're Not My Supervisor

              For me it’s “optics.” Drives me crazy. Isn’t it strange how an innocuous use of an inoffensive word can bother us so much?

              Reply
              1. Nico m

                I don’t like it because if you are not doing/ doing something just for appearances sake then have the guts to admit it

                Reply
              2. Beancounter Eric

                Optics is the study of the properties and behavior of light………better word would be “appearance”.

                And “reach out”……grrrrr!!!

                Reply
              3. Koko

                These threads always used to fascinate me because I can honestly say that for 30+ years of my life, I couldn’t think of a single word or phrase that bothered me this way. If I understand you and you’re not being rude, I have a really wide open range of how I’ll accept you communicating to me. I often find linguistic quirks charming, even.

                Until this year. I now hate a word, and that word is nothingburger. I can’t explain why it gets under my skin so viscerally. I could try to explain that the word burger seeems to come out of nowhere and why isn’t it nothingcouch or nothingpencil, but logic doesn’t really explain why I hate that word so much.

                That said, I reach out all the time ;)

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  That is entirely hilarious to me :-). I find that as I get older neologisms bug me less, probably because of seeing some of them come and go and others get normalized (and also because I like a little novelty). But I may yet find a “nothingburger” of my own.

                2. Queen of the File

                  Yes! I have one of those too. “Easy peasy, lemon squeezy”. There is no reason this should bother me more than ‘awesomesauce’ or any other trendy little blip on the language radar, but it drives me up the wall.

                3. crookedfinger

                  Huh, I’ve never heard of “nothingburger” before. Without looking it up, it sounds like a plain burger with no condiments or toppings. lol

                  The only word that bothers me these days is “irregardless” because why would you add an additional syllable to a word that doesn’t change the meaning in any way??

                4. Koko

                  @crookedfinger

                  “Nothingburger” is a new political/media buzzword that I think was first used by Jared Kushner, but has now been repeatedly used by commentators on the news to mean something like, “this is a big ado about nothing,” and downplay the significance of a story because they don’t like its contents.

                5. Specialk9

                  I really don’t like how mainstream the feminine cleansing product, do*che, has become as an insult. It feels super vulgar to me (why are we suddenly taking about female genitalia? I was talking about this report.) and also I’m pretty opposed to that product for being harmful to a woman’s chemistry while pathologizing the fact of being a woman.

                  Even so, I do admit that I died laughing at hearing a client referred to as a do*che-canoe. He really was a do*che-canoe.

              4. Lissa

                For me it’s often the context in which I’ve heard the phrase has been annoying, so I kind of irrationally blame the phrase. Right now it’s “I’m going to push back on that” or even worse “I’m going to gently push back on that.” Aaaaaghhhh.

                Reply
            2. Demon Llama

              Just chiming in to say that I also loathe this! I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen “impacted” used when the presenter means “affected”.

              To me, the word impacted is associated with bowels, teeth, ear wax and other medical issues. It isn’t the right word to use when explaining why you haven’t met your quarterly sales target.

              Anyway, thank you for listening to my rant, chiming out now.

              Reply
              1. Samiratou

                Do you get the feeling people started using “impacted” because they couldn’t remember whether to use “affected” or “effected”?

                Hear, hear on the impacted = painful TMI medical conditions one really doesn’t need to talk about at work…

                Reply
                1. Specialk9

                  I so prefer people not to even try with “affect” or “effect”! They will almost surely get it wrong, and I’ll grit my teeth and have to mentally tell myself they can still be intelligent decent people even if they use their words wrong.

                  And impact can also refer to non-medical contexts: a meteorite hitting the earth, a fist hitting a face, or more positively an anonymous donation for a poor kid to go to school. Actually, I think those are more common usages by far than impacted bowels

                2. Cherith Ponsonby

                  In the late 1990s I made a throwaway comment to a colleague along the lines of “if you can’t remember whether it’s affect or effect, you can always put ‘impact'”. I have been regretting that for years now.

            3. JustaCPA

              omg if I hear “take it to the next level” or “reach the next level” one more time, I might come in as a fairy to see if I could get fired!!

              Reply
            4. Fabulous

              I actually heard the word “synergy” used in our team meeting yesterday. I’ve heard that it’s a dumb jargon word, but I’ve never heard its use before. I still don’t know what it means. LOL

              Reply
              1. Coalea

                Synergy is the computer who helps Jerrica Benton transform into Jem so she can perform with Jem and the Holograms, of course! :)

                Reply
              2. Koko

                It’s basically when two things work together really well.

                In pharmacology it has a more concrete meaning, where two drugs working synergistically means that the effect of both of them together is more than just the effect of each of them, or the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

                In corporate vernacular it more often just means “these two things work well together!”

                Reply
              3. Artemesia

                There are lots of words that have subtle meanings but these have been lost because they are overused to apply to many other things Synergy is one of these; brutalize is another — it does not mean to treat someone brutally but that is the way it is now used in the media and thus a subtle word has been destroyed. Reaching out has nuances that contact doesn’t have but not so much any more.

                Reply
            5. Applesauced

              ugh SYNERGY
              I get the concept, which is… nice, but it’s definitely a buzzword I’d be happy to never hear again.

              Reply
            6. CM

              “Choiceful” too! And “choicefulness.”

              I say “reach out,” but I try to limit it to once per communication. Usually replacing it with “talk to” or “ask” works. “Contact” seems more jargony to me than “reach out.”

              Reply
              1. Elizabeth H.

                Good grief. CHOICEFUL is too much!!! I have fortunately never heard it before.

                I don’t like “reach out” and am vaguely annoyed by it, but I definitely find myself saying it from time to time just because it’s an acceptable building block in the typical work email lexicon that surrounds me.

                Reply
            7. overly produced bears

              I honestly feel like “impact” got the boost from people being v. v. sensitive about getting affect vs. effect wrong. I’m about 95% successful on getting affect vs. effect right and I still have had e-mails where I’ve been like “I’m second-guessing things and I don’t have the energy to deal, I’ll just change it to impact” and sent it off.

              Reply
            8. madge

              Thaaaaaank you. Also, I *refuse* to “circle back”. It’s “follow up”. There is nothing offensive or aggressive about following up with someone and as a woman who has been on the receiving end of sexual harassment multiple times, I.will.not “soften” the message. /rant

              Reply
            9. Mockingjay

              I lost the war on “impact.” I fought battles over that word for two decades.

              But “impactful?” Gah!

              I don’t mind using “contact” though. “Please contact me if you have any questions.” To me it implies multiple means of communication, especially since this sentence is usually above my email signature block with all my info: email addresses, desk phone number, and office address.

              Reply
              1. Jen S. 2.0

                I am still holding down the fort. I work in communications, and I change it every. single. time. I. encounter. it. Unless the sentence really is about, say, the point where two cars crashed into each other, or someone’s molars or ear wax. And I know the difference between affect and effect, so the rest of the world can learn it, too.

                Reply
                1. Cherith Ponsonby

                  I’m still fighting this one too, along with “comprises of” and “begs the question”. Although that last one is so euphonious and such a useful concept, I might have to let it go and deploy “petitio principii” when I’m talking about the logical fallacy.

                2. impactfulhater

                  Same! I will forever argue for the correct use of this word. I had a professor years back who put it best – the only thing that can have an impact are physical things crashing into each other. Ideas can not have a physical impact, but they can affect or effect!

        1. Queen of Cans & Jars

          “Circle back around” and “loop in” drive. me. crazy. Probably doesn’t help that I hear them all the time from my boss, who could be Bill Lumbergh’s cousin.

          Reply
        2. Fiennes

          Disliking something doesn’t make it “a mistake.” I loathe several commonplace words & phrases (“impactful,” ugh), but that’s not the same as declaring they’re actually wrong.

          Reply
        3. whistle

          Ramona, just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it a mistake. There is nothing ungrammatical about the phrase, and it’s been in use for a century, with increasing frequency starting in the 70s. (See, e.g.: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=33150). You have every right to your pet peeves about language, but please don’t treat language you don’t like as incorrect.

          Reply
          1. Ramona Flowers

            Erm, I wasn’t actually saying it was incorrect. It was a tongue in cheek comment about how I dislike the phrase.

            Reply
        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          It’s not a mistake—hewing to the idea that you’re right and someone else is wrong about this phrase just encourages folks to stew in their annoyance/hatred.

          To be sure, you can still be irked by it! But approaching people as if they’re making a mistake when they’re not is not going to engender good will.

          Reply
      1. Sparky

        I prefer “reach out” to “touch base” which was overused at a former job. It made me picture kicking someone in the shins every time someone said it. But, any version works, and I know what they mean. I figure not liking “touch base” is my own issue. And, I never did kick anyone.

        Reply
        1. Jadelyn

          “Touch base”, to me, brings up tabletop gaming memories and I start picturing people as attached to round plastic bases that are either touching or not touching, where you can only talk to people you’re in base-to-base contact with.

          Reply
        2. JulieBulie

          Well, “reach out” makes me think of reaching for someone who’s drowning. (I don’t know why.) But I don’t like “touch base” either. Bases are on the ground. I’m not dressed for touching bases.

          Reply
    2. KarenT

      I like it too, and I work for a corporation. I was actually just discussing this with someone the other day as we’d observed in meetings that people generally say “reach out” or “connect with.” Our theory was that there are a number of ways to contact someone, and gone are the days we’d say “phone Bob” or “send Janet a letter.” There’s something a bit clinical about contact, though people definitely still use it.

      Reply
        1. MicroManagered

          That’s a really good point. If my boss asks me for a status update on something, and I say “I need to know X before I proceed, so I’ve reached out to Y department” but I don’t have a “and they said” following, it’s obvious that I’m waiting to hear from Y department about X.

          Reply
          1. a1

            I don’t get it. You can say “contact” the same way w/o adding anything more, too. “I need to know X before I proceed, so I’ve contacted to Y department…” and still be obvious you don’t have an answer yet in the same way it is with “reached out”. If you had an answer you would just give it, regardless of which word you used.

            Reply
            1. Perse's Mom

              ‘Contacted’ in this context would suggest to me that you’d actually spoken with someone, and I would be staring at you, waiting for the result of this contact.

              ‘Reached out to’ suggests a reach, not necessarily a connection.

              Reply
        2. Opalescent Tree Shark

          I was about to say something similar. To me reach out and contact mean different things. I would contact another department if I needed an answer about something to move forward on a project. I would reach out to a community partner to see if they would be interested in doing a project with us

          Reply
        3. Kelly O

          Exactly.

          I may “reach out” to Joe’s assistant, but she may not answer me, therefore I have technically not made contact. The effort is on my part. That’s why I appreciate the phrase.

          Reply
      1. Kelly L.

        Yeah, this is a good point. I dislike it, but it serves a purpose when it really doesn’t matter how you contact them. I’m an admin assistant and if you say “Call Wakeen” or “Email Jane,” I’m likely going to assume the method of communication actually matters–i.e. Wakeen never checks his email, or Jane hates the phone, and you know that and I don’t–but if you say “reach out” I know it’s not really important.

        Reply
      2. Coalea

        My dad is a staunch opponent of “reach out,” and his explanation for this is that it’s not specific enough. He wants to know whether you will be emailing, calling, sending a raven, or whatever.

        Reply
          1. overly produced bears

            And if it arrives by owl, I’ll certainly have owl treats on hand, so I guess that would solve the trick or treat issue as well. ;)

            Reply
        1. Specialk9

          From the linked article, I loved this 1960s explanation of how generationally offensive the term “contact” can be:

          “If in doubt, contact your physician — this locution is as natural to the American of thirty as it is grotesque to the American of sixty, for whom the idea of surfaces touching is the essence of contact. The elderly can therefore see no fitness and no use for the word in its new sense, when the vocabulary already provides consult, ask, approach, get in touch with, confer with, and simply see.”

          Kind of hits home with the idea that language is determined by usage, that usage changes over time, and that us old people hate change.

          Reply
      3. overly produced bears

        A few months ago, I was having regular meetings with someone who kept saying “let’s backchannel about this” for “let’s talk about it in a one-on-one or have an e-mail thread”. That was a new one and caused me actual confusion until I figured out what she meant.

        Reply
        1. Samiratou

          That’s very weird construction. In larger meetings we’ll use “let’s take this offline” for things that are tangents or require more detail and fewer people than are in the larger meeting, but “let’s backchannel about this” is confusing and takes the noun-as-verb thing to an even more irritating level.

          Reply
    3. Triplestep

      I am in the Northeast US and I have been hearing it since 2010; I actually remember really clearly when I first started hearing it because it sounded over-solicitous as the OP indicates. But I am used to it now and use it on occasion alternating with “contact.” And for what it’s worth, I am over 50.

      Reply
    4. This Daydreamer

      Yeah. I’m well over, I mean slightly past thirty, but I don’t have a problem with “reaching out”. I did cringe a bit that it was used so many times in such a short document, though. Either way it’s a pretty minor thing.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        It is one of those trendy smarmy phrases unless used with precision that tends to grate on me. Reminds me of ‘our journey’ or ‘my journey’. It might have been fresh once, but not it seems cloying and cliched.

        Reply
          1. Djuna

            I have that song as an earworm every time I see that phrase used. Sometimes it gets replaced with a Diana Ross song instead, which is nice.

            At my job it tends to get used instead of “ask” a lot of the time, “reach out to your supervisor” instead of “ask your supervisor”, for example. I read that and have mental pictures of people leaning forward in their chairs and physically reaching out in desperation for an answer to their question.

            It used to bug me, the same way “impacted” (are you a wisdom tooth? did a meteor land on you?) did, but I’ve grown immune to both over time.

            Reply
            1. SarahKay

              I’m with you on impacted! Well, technically I guess I’m behind you on “impacted” in that I haven’t got immune to it yet :(

              Reply
            2. MsMorlowe

              I’ve got “Personal Jesus” stuck in my head now from this thread (REACH OUT TOUCH BASE).

              Actually, ‘touch base’ annoys me. Mostly because I think it comes from baseball, which is not a thing where I live, and my father uses it incessently when speaking to me (“I just wanted to touch base with you on how your week was” / “YOU’RE MY FATHER, AND THIS IS NOT A CORPORATE SHINDIG”).

              I’m right there on ‘impact’ as well!

              Reply
          2. Cherith Ponsonby

            I’ve got the song “Touch” by (80s Australian band) Noiseworks, which has the chorus “Reach out and / reach out and / reach out and touch somebody”. Every time without fail.

            Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          What makes “reach out” smarmy? Is it that it suggests greater familiarity or informality between people?

          (Isn’t all business jargon cloying and cliche? But I do tend to feel eye-rolly when “journey” language is deployed.)

          Reply
          1. fposte

            For me “reach out” leads me to internally sing the AT&T jingle “Reach out and touch someone.” But I don’t hold that against it. (And that’s 1979, so I think it probably predates the pastoral use.)

            Reply
      2. MicroManagered

        I think you hit the problem right there. Nothing is wrong with “reach out” but it’s odd to use a phrase–any phrase–multiple times like that. You’re either taking 3 sentences to say something that only needs 1 sentence, or you need a different word.

        Reply
    5. e271828

      I associate “reach out” with pastoral care and condolences, which is where it started. Its connotations of comfort and mollification aren’t suitable for, say, a news organization trying to get a quote or reaction from a politician’s office. The current use of it instead of “contact” (or “call” or even “ask”) rings utterly false, like phony concern trolling.

      Language evolves, we cannot prescribe, but this is a boundary-pushing, borderline creepy usage shift that I will never be comfortable with.

      Reply
      1. Akcipitrokulo

        Exactly. You would “reach out” to someone who had suffered a bereavement. You’d “contact” or “call” someone you wanted to ask about a stationary order.

        I’ve learned to ignore a lot of jargon over the years though :) it’s not worth it.

        Reply
      2. Squeeble

        Oooh, maybe that’s why I’ve never liked it! I didn’t make that connection before, but it does feel like a very personal and intimate phrase that doesn’t quite work in business contexts.

        Reply
        1. Ramblin' Ma'am

          This is the same reason I dislike “Hi there” or “Hey there” as a greeting in business emails. It just seems so cutesy.

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            oh yeah, I know someone who always started emails that way, either hi there or hey there. I was never sure if I disliked the phrase inherently, or just was generally irked by the person.

            Reply
      3. Koko

        I don’t think it’s possible to know someone is being phony based on only their language. Phoniness is when a person’s language doesn’t match their intent or true feelings. Maybe you have only heard the phrase used by phony people, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who uses it is being fake. Some people are just more emotive and warm than others. It’s not fakeness, it’s their natural disposition.

        Reply
      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I’m not sure that “reach out” started with pastoral care and condolences. At least the OED suggests that it’s been used in non-intimate contexts for quite some time. I know that might not change your feelings, but calling it “boundary-pushing” and “borderline creepy” is kind of extreme!

        When I hear news organizations use it, I usually interpret them to be saying “we made an effort to connect with [concerned person who may have a reaction], but were unable to reach them.” That doesn’t seem particularly phony, false, or concern trolling. It just sounds colloquial to me.

        Reply
      5. JulieBulie

        It makes me think of someone who is drowning and reaching out to people on the boat, who are reaching out to the drowner.

        Why I have such a specific mental image, I don’t know. But I’m not crazy about “reach out” unless someone is drowning, literally or figuratively.

        I don’t mind “reach out” as much if it’s being done to someone who is totally not expecting to hear from you, has never even heard of you.

        Reply
        1. Koko

          Yeah, I tend to use it that way–to express that I’m going to be trying to get a hold of someone who I’m not closely connected to. I would never say I’d reach out to my counterpart who I work with every day. I would use it if I needed to get approval for something from the finance department who works in another city’s office, or email an acquaintance at another company to ask for insight on a vendor of theirs we’re considering, or solicit a VIP for a favor.

          Reply
    6. Misc

      I would use ‘reach out’ for something like email where I send out an email but may not *actually* make contact, and I’d use contact for a phone call or something where I definitely can confirm contact was made. If I send an email and say I contacted so and so, that implies I know so and so got it and that they responded. If I say I reached out by phone, it’s ambiguous about whether the call went anywhere.

      Reaching out is the action, contact is the goal. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s far more accurate to use in an environment more heavily dominated by email communications.

      Reply
      1. hbc

        Ooh, that’s a really good point. I tend not to use the phrase much, but when I do, I’m usually “reaching out” to the really unresponsive contact or just checking a box so I can say that we tried to support a whiny customer (as in, maybe even calling during lunch and hoping they don’t pick up the phone). If I think I’ll achieve something substantive or need to, I’ll be contacting them or discussing with them or chasing them down.

        Reply
      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        Agreed. We tend to use it a lot at my company because it’s very common to call a client, get their voicemail, and leave a message asking them to call us back. We didn’t actually have contact with the client, we don’t have a response from them, but we’ve taken action and the ball is now (presumably) in the client’s court.

        Reply
      3. oranges & lemons

        I usually use “reach out” to mean that I’m going to try to get in touch with someone, but I’m not sure if they’ll get back to me. Like if I’m reaching out to a famous author for a book endorsement.

        Reply
    7. Kali

      I’ve never ever thought about, so it was really interesting to see how much it jumps out to some people. I was also surprised that some people don’t like the word “moist” though, so I think I’m the odd one.

      Reply
      1. JulieBulie

        I first encountered the aversion to “moist” a few years ago and was bewildered by it. We were talking about a birthday cake and saying that it was “moist.” I think it ruined his day. :-( The guy was Australian, so I wondered if it was an Australian thing (I think I would have heard about it sooner), or just a personal quirk.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Yeah I don’t get it either. But I know so many people who shudder and cover their ears in horror at the word moist.

          I mean, I have a similar reaction to the word “pus” and “wound” but that seems less bizarre than reacting to the word “moist”. But it’s a thing!

          Reply
          1. Kali

            I study genetics (which comes with a big helping of general biology at this level), so I’m pretty much inured to those words. I am trypophobic though, so I enjoy the anatomy slides much less. :/

            Reply
        2. BetterInGreen

          I am Australian, and an Australian guy of my (thankfully long-ended) acquaintance often used the term (I apologise in advance) “moisty” to refer to a woman.
          Yeah. I never had a problem with the word moist until then, but now it gives me full-body shudders because I can only think of his grossness.

          Reply
    8. Kathleen Adams

      I’m way over 30 but I also like “reach out to.” But then I dislike “contact” (in most contexts) partly because it sounds so officious and bland but also because I can remember the days when using “contact” as a verb was very strongly disliked.

      But the other advantage of “reach out to” is that it sounds friendlier. That’s probably why it annoys me when, say, a salesperson uses it.

      Reply
      1. JB (not in Houston)

        Yes, I dislike ‘contact’ as a verb (although I use it because it’s so common, and in some contexts you sound unnecessarily wordy or specific if you don’t use it). I like “reach out” just fine.

        Reply
        1. Kathleen Adams

          Exactly. “Call, email or text me” isn’t something I want to write all that often. So I do use “contact” sometimes, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. :-)

          Reply
    9. Maya Elena

      Also, it is stylistically weird to uae the same word over and over, and “I’m sending you my contact info so feel free to contact me” sounds repetitive and redundant :p

      Reply
      1. Cherith Ponsonby

        That’s why I go with “I’m sending you my contact info so feel free to get in touch” :)

        I’ll reluctantly concede that “reach out” has its place, but I still hate it – I always think of all the people I’ve known over the years who have felt the need to touch (or worse, grab) my arm when they’re talking to me. Stop reaching out for me, just stand there and I’ll stand here and we can have a perfectly cordial conversation with no touching.

        Reply
    10. FD

      I use it in different contexts myself. I tend to use ‘reach out’ for people I don’t know or who won’t be expecting it (because ‘reach out’ indicates that the other person may not reach back). For example, “Let’s reach out to the team at Lannister Corp and see if they’re interested in doing a joint event.

      I would be more prone to use ‘contact’ where it might be more expected. For instance, “I’ll contact tech support and see what I can find out.”

      Reply
    11. Anna

      I’m an over-40 that uses reach out or touch base or whatever feels appropriate in the email I’m sending because who the hell cares.

      Reply
    12. Gloucesterina

      A mix of thoughts on “reach out” – I’m in an academic setting, and I feel like I see it used most often as a synonym for “initiate a conversation with someone who isn’t here and might not know about what we’re doing, usually over email.” I agree with you, KatieKate, that I see it used used to create a more collegial and deferential feel around contacting someone outside of your immediate/everyday professional circle, in other words, speaking to someone who’s at a remove or at a “reach” from where you are.

      In other words, in my context the use isn’t as all-purposes as in the sentence OP quoted!

      Reply
    13. Sled dog mama

      I usually am not bothered by others use or misuse of words or phrases until…..
      I had a co-worker who would enter notes with the phrase “the physician preferred” when he meant “the physician requested” after 2 years I nearly screamed every time I read that

      Reply
    14. Vegan Atheist Weirdo

      I see others have already mentioned additional peeving word usage, but I’ll throw in my vote against “reach out” in almost every context. Other dumb business-isms that make me feel stabby:

      “leverage” instead of use (and generally in a sense of take advantage of)
      “ask” instead of request or favor

      And this isn’t in the same category exactly, but it gives me the same reaction: the media use of “speak(s) out” instead of speaks. In most cases, they use it when someone’s talking about something that wasn’t hidden or being suppressed to begin with. Can’t anyone just talk anymore? No, it always has to be some kind of dramatic moment of revelation. Ugh.

      Reply
    15. SusanIvanova

      I’m with Nero Wolfe – “contact” is not a verb. Sentences that try to use it that way almost always look clunky.

      Also, after all this discussion of “reach out”, I can’t be the only one earwormed with Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” – “reach out, touch faith” :)

      Reply
  3. Lady Phoenix

    I think the fire was too much. It is obvious the decision was made on impulse instead of logical procedure. The fact they keep harping on you about it when all is said and done is beyond ridiculous.

    I get that this was embaressing but come on bosses, use your heads!

    Reply
    1. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms

      Yeah, they keep asking OP why she would do that, and it’s like “I don’t know!? You fired her before I could talk to her about it!”

      Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      I thought it was interesting that both the employee and the Big Boss have difficulty knowing when to stop.

      Reply
  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#3, “contact” sometimes sounds clinical to me in email. The example you provided has far too many “reach outs” in far too little space—in that context, you’re understandably irked! But I think folks use “reach out” for any number of non-solicitous reasons. E.g., I tend to use that phrase when referring to someone with whom I have a professional/friend relationship, or when I’m gauging someone’s position on an issue. I use “contact” to refer to communication with strangers, administrators and bureaucrats.

    Reply
    1. Amey

      I don’t like ‘reach out’ – it sounds salesy to me (I see it a lot in mass emails from corporations trying to claim that they appreciate me), but I agree that ‘contact’ can be too stand offish. I’m trying to think what I use instead, ‘get in touch’ maybe? But that wouldn’t work in all contexts.

      Reply
      1. FCJ

        I agree that it sounds salesy. It makes me think of retail managers I’ve had who’d drunk a little too much of the corporate kool-aid. I just use “talk to” or “email.” It’s not like those aren’t appropriately formal.

        Reply
    2. Marthooh

      I’m with OP#3. “Reach out” reminds me of songs that are either annoyingly cloying [https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yt6DvapiK-w] or just not appropriate for business correspondence [https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2EaflX0MWRo]. But, of course, I’m an Old.

      Reply
    1. Ted Mosby

      I was going to say this seemed less obnoxious and pushy and more generally clueless, but telling people in a finance office they’re too stuffy… is pretty bad. Overall I don’t feel that bad that she got fired, because if she felt that way finance is not for her and better to find out sooner than later.

      Reply
        1. Decima Dewey

          Yeah, some fields are stuffy. But, as far as I know, these fields aren’t pressganging people off the street to fill vacancies.

          Reply
  5. MommyMD

    I’m with your office. I don’t know what she was thinking either. Prancing around in a Halloween costume in a clearly formal office and basically trick or treating in an important executive meeting? She showed zero common sense. She also insulted the office culture. Firing was not unjustified. I hoped she learned something from this. And she really wanted to come as The Walking Dead.

    Reply
      1. Overeducated

        This is the saddest detail here – she DID think about what was appropriate for the office, she was just horribly, terribly wrong.

        Reply
    1. Scarlet

      Yeah, trick-or-treating during a meeting with executives and clients is just beyond the pale. Nobody is THAT clueless, even right out of college.

      The director is overreacting though. I don’t see the point of asking OP repeatedly “what the employee was thinking”. OP said employee didn’t talk about it beforehand, employee was fired, end of story. Are they waiting for OP to become a psychic or something? That’s not beating a dead horse, it’s bludgeoning it to death, resurrecting it and putting it on fire.

      Reply
      1. Escapee from Corporate Management

        I see why the Director is acting this way: HER job may also be under threat. An employee within her department embarrassed the C-level executives of a very formal firm in front of clients. These executives are likely very angry and the Director is feeling the heat. She is probably in severe damage-control mode right now because she perceives her role to be at risk.

        Reply
        1. Fiennes

          If people that far up the food chain are so outraged that they’d fire a director with no direct oversight of the costumed employee over one lone weird incident like this? That is NOT a healthy company. That is not how good or even merely rational management works.

          Tiana, you messed up, but you may be just as well out of that place.

          Reply
        2. Kelly O

          Not even her role, but her judgment is what may be the larger problem for the director. If a team member is so clueless to do something like this, then how are they going to handle my data/teacups/finances/etc.?

          And the Director may also see heat coming down on the LW since it’s her direct report. If team culture is not jiving with company culture, and it scares off clients or potential clients, that’s a big deal. It’s something many companies would want to nip in the bud.

          Reply
          1. No Green No Haze

            Yes — this is the thing it seems to me people are missing. The LW is getting heat from her director, who is getting heat from *her* boss *and* the C-suite. If you count Princess Tiana, that’s five levels of stuff rolling downhill.

            Whether or not it’s just, it seems that this office culture is not only conservative (“stuffy,” if you like) but also extremely hierarchical. The amount of stress the LW’s director is under is being dictated by how shockingly out of the norms this was and the embarrassment it caused, not only the LW’s director, but the C-suite, given it was in front of clients. It’s probably all they can talk about — or at least, all they’ve been talking about for the all of two days since it happened.

            Reprinting the dress code and all materials is pretty over-the-top, but so do they sound. If it simmers down the director, accept that silliness equably and enjoy the thought of all the future employees speculating about why that line’s in there.

            Reply
      2. Indoor Cat

        “Nobody is THAT clueless…” Seems like, every time I think this (or it’s cousins, “nobody’s that stupid” and “nobody’s that petty”) I’m immediately proven wrong. Every time.

        Reply
      3. Ann O. Nymous

        Honestly, even if she was “trick or treating” at her coworkers’ offices, not in the presence of clients, it would still be bonkers and way out-of-touch. I hope to god that she was saying “trick or treat” in jest, as I’ve NEVER seen an adult do that to other adults. Like, are they supposed to have bought some fun-size Snickers? I would have been like “Tiana, I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you, but here’s a pen for your jack-o-lantern bucket. Now go away.”

        Reply
      4. As Close As Breakfast

        I wonder if it’s possible that the OP is misinterpreting the “what was she thinking” question? When I read that phrase I just kept hearing it in my head in that head-shaking, eye-rolling, exasperated, rhetorical sort of way. Granted, it’s totally possible that they are staring OP dead in the eye and seriously asking her to provide a psychic-worthy answer to what the employee was thinking. But maybe not?

        Reply
  6. Pineapple Goddess of Doom

    I’d say #1 is spot on. I think it shows lack of professional judgement and immaturity. Cute costume idea but not professional.

    Reply
  7. MommyMD

    I’ve never heard of anyone killing a ladybug. They are completely benign. Just saying. I can kind of see his horror though he should have not put it in a plant next to you.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      Actually, some ladybugs aren’t benign. In the UK some areas have a problem with harlequin ladybirds, which infest (they basically settle in and invite all their friends to join) and eat native ladybirds. Had a huge problem with them when we lived in London – at one point we had an issue with our phone/ADSL line and when they opened the box thing it was full of ladybirds. Couldn’t open the windows as they’d keep coming in in droves. Bad times.

      They are common in the US but considered an invasive species over here. I don’t like to kill things, but they’re not always benign!

      Reply
        1. MidwestRoads

          These are the WORRRRST. I live in southern MN and from the start of harvest until the first hard freeze, they are everywhere. They have no natural predators (too gross for birds even), they bite, and they release a terrible-smelling orange pee. Death to Asian lady beetles!!!

          Reply
      1. Liz T

        That is horrifying.

        I love ladybugs (and would freak out slightly if someone told me they killed one) but those copycat versions are creepy AF. An infestation sounds skincrawling.

        (To be clear I wouldn’t want a phone full of the real ones, either.)

        Reply
      2. Andraste's Knicker Weasels (formerly ancolie)

        My first year of college, our whole campus had a bizarre infestation of the Asian lady bugs. The classrooms were decently contained (meaning they usually only had up to a couple dozen in them), but the stairwells, oh my god. Dozens on each stair, and literally piles in the corners of each landing, like snowdrifts.

        Reply
    2. Dinosaur

      After experiencing a swarm of thousands of them on/in my house one summer, I kill them. They give me the heeby-jeebies and I don’t want them near me. I’m cool with spiders, though.

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        Yup. New England here. Late October you notice one on a wall: so cute! Then there are 100 of them swarmed over your stove, and it is less cute.

        Reply
        1. Jesca

          This happened to my brother-in-law in college. All the dorms were infested. They would sleep with their whole bodies under the blankets, because they would wake up covered in the them!

          Also, they can also congregate in the roof of animals’ mouths for warmth, which is totally gross.

          I kill them if I cannot set them free!

          Reply
        2. JulieBulie

          We get ladybug infestations here too. It’s not big a problem except when their dead bodies litter the windowsills and carpet. There aren’t enough potted plants (or aphids) to keep them alive. We don’t know why there are so many of them or why they come in here.

          Reply
    3. tink

      Asian Lady Beetles look very similar to native US ladybug species but are aggressive biters that smell bad. They secrete a yellow fluid when disturbed that can stain almost anything it comes into contact with, and they love infesting places. They can also cause allergic reactions, so if I saw one inside my office, killing it would probably be my first thought, especially if I hated insects and had told someone not to put it near me.

      Reply
      1. Tiny Soprano

        This has sent me on a very pleasant google-spiral. Just what I needed in the quiet half an hour before closing time! Thank you lady-beetle commenters!

        Reply
        1. Mike C.

          Invasive species are among the most harmful environmental issues we face on this planet. Please don’t spread bad scientific information.

          Reply
        2. Purplesaurus

          Crickets creep me right hell out. Rationally I know it is just a cricket, but that doesn’t do anything to suppress my aversion to them. Given how common this is, I’d guess there’s something instinctual about being insect averse, as plenty of them do bite or sting.

          Reply
          1. Peetaann

            I’m okay with regular crickets but, when I was a child, our garage was infested with camel crickets. I HATE those things. Give me the heebie-jeebies.

            Reply
            1. Purplesaurus

              I didn’t want to even mention those hellspawn because it seems like stating their name summons them to my location. Ugh. Shudder.

              Reply
        3. bearing

          Lady beetle = ladybird = ladybug, and the OP did not specify which species. It could well have been the offensive-smelling Asian lady beetle. I would kill it too.

          Reply
        4. Samiratou

          Very likely not. As others have pointed out, the invasive ladybug lookalikes are very common–way more common than actual ladybugs around here. I can’t remember the last time I saw an actual ladybugs but the invasive variety inhabits my house year round.

          Reply
        5. Opalescent Tree Shark

          Let me tell you, 99% of people can’t tell Asian lady beetles apart from native ladybugs. Behaviorally and based on how common they are, it is much more likely that it wasn’t a native ladybug.

          Also, as someone who is allergic to Asian lady beetles, I would be pissed if someone put one near me and then said “it’s just a ladybug”

          Reply
      2. CC

        This is almost certainly what the ladybug was—I haven’t seen a non-Asian ladybug since I was a child.

        Also almost all bugs are benign if you’re not working in a kitchen! That doesn’t mean I want you to bring me a centipede or spider just because I have a random plant in my office. Let it outside—it’s cold but it’s where the bug belongs.

        Reply
        1. MCL

          Yeah, I was also thinking that this was probably an invasive Asian beetle. They look very similar and this is the time of year they move inside to hibernate. Kill on sight in my house. I love native ladybug species, too.

          Reply
        2. Antilles

          Right. The fact they’re benign isn’t the issue.
          After all, most spiders in the US are completely safe. And since spiders eat basically every insect, having a few spiders in your office is a very effective strategy to keep other insects out. But if you walked into your office tomorrow and saw a giant spider hanging in the corner, most people would be seriously worried.

          Reply
        3. oranges & lemons

          Depends on the region–in the Pacific Northwest, seven-spots are very common (they are also not native, but not unpleasant otherwise).

          Reply
        4. Falling Diphthong

          After a couple of years’ reprieve, the fall stink bugs are back. I don’t kill them because of their defense mechanisms, but I sure don’t want them in the house even if they don’t bite.

          Reply
      3. Adlib

        Yes, Asian lady beetles are horrible. I love native ladybugs (natural predators of harmful [to plants] aphids), and once you do some research, it’s pretty easy to distinguish between the two. They infest my parents’ house out in the country every year, and they have to break out the vacuum cleaner to get them. Side effect: the smell brings in the spiders. Ick.

        It also sounds like the OP just said she killed it but hadn’t actually, just to get her point across.

        Reply
      4. Artemesia

        This. All things that look like ladybugs are not the benign little red things we love; those orange ones bite and swarm and infest and are awful.

        Reply
    4. Ladybug-Hatin' LW

      Really? I always kill them. (Not like, I specifically go find ladybugs to kill like some kind of insect serial murderer, but if they’re in my house I do.)

      I guess I don’t find killing a bug that weird. Just because it’s benign doesn’t mean I want it to crawl on me or fly in my face.

      Reply
      1. N.J.

        I agree with you here. I personally like lady bugs, I think they are cute and harmless. I have at least one close relative however, who is legitimately creeped out by all bugs. This person doesn’t suffer from a phobia or disfunction related to insects, but the amount of horror and disgust felt is a real thing for a lot of people. There are enough people who legitimately hate all bugs that I would say the burden is on your coworker not to go around placing bugs near other people. He was being an ass. I wouldn’t go to anybody about it or anything if I were you, but saying you killed it is not an overreaction. I’m surprised there are as many responses as there are that think killing it or saying you killed it is too much.

        Reply
      2. hypernatural

        I agree with you (and would not look down upon anyone who was some kind of insect serial murderer). I also disagree with Alison and think you were correct to tell the coworker you killed it. Did your coworker think that putting the bug near you would make you suddenly like them? Assuming he can ignore your explicit request and have things work out well for him was a poor decision on his part and he should suffer consequences for it. It’d probably be best to have laid out the consequences in advance (“If you put the bug near me, I will kill it. If you’d like it to live, you should do something other than that.”), but you had no reason to believe you’d need to be so explicit.

        Reply
      3. PersephoneUnderground

        Funny, I thought a ladybug would actually be a good idea in an office plant since they eat other bugs (and aren’t as icky as spiders). So the single ladybug could help prevent you from having more other bugs come in and infest the plants (since you said they were coming in from outside) or eat gnats that sometimes end up breeding in office plants. At first that was why I thought he was doing it, to be helpful by giving you an anti-pest measure, rather than what Alison assumed in her answer.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          I did, too. I have seen ladybugs used as pest control in greenhouses. I released a bunch of lady bugs here to deal with some mite infestation.
          In some cultures ladybugs are a symbol of good luck. OP, he is probably wondering why you don’t want any good luck.
          However, this is one of those time where two people look at something and have opposite impressions of what that is.
          The part of the story that bothers me is that he did not respect your NO, OP. That’s not good. We shouldn’t give people things that they have said they do not want. I hope you just shrug and say to him, “I said no. I really meant that. I was not joking.”

          Reply
      4. Samiratou

        I’m with you, LW. Don’t put bugs in my plants, particularly since it’s very possibly not an actual ladybug but more invasive variety (at least around here it would be, not sure about your area). I’ve also lost plants to fungi and such, and I would assume it’s possible for bugs to carry such things from plant to plant if moved around.

        Reply
      5. Southern Ladybug

        Somehow given my username I feel like I should comment. I am glad you didn’t actually kill the ladybug, but he was way out of line putting it there when you specifically asked him not to. I don’t know why he didn’t put it outside.

        As invasive species and when they swarm an area (like in my old office)…yeah, sometimes you have to do what you have to do. A Southern Ladybug would never be so rude as to invade and cause such issues. And would come with food and booze (if it enjoyed by the host….).

        Reply
      6. DontWantNoBugs

        I agree. I would not be cool with a coworker rescuing bugs and leaving them in any plant in any part of the building. That is not the purpose of indoor plants.

        If he wanted to save it so badly, he should have taken it home. I love dogs, but I am not permitted to keep strays I might find in the office, so I’d say the same should go for bugs.

        Reply
      7. Lissa

        I’m pretty bug killin’ neutral but I don’t understand why people react worse to killing a ladybug than a spider or a (shudder shudder my waking nightmare) crane fly. though I have a friend who for religious reasons won’t kill anything even fruit flies, and really hates having others kill bugs around him, once freaked out at someone for being about to stomp a spider…

        Reply
        1. Plague of frogs

          I’m with your friend. But for that reason, I would never put a bug near someone like OP. It’s unkind to all parties.

          Reply
          1. Lissa

            I actually understand it more when it’s a blanket thing like you or my friend. What baffles me is people like my old roommate who would flip out about killing some types of bugs but make exceptions for others that were gross, like…ok, I get if you have a personal reaction to some stuff but not others but then wouldn’t you get that others might “make exceptions” for ones you don’t . . .?

            Reply
            1. Plague of frogs

              Oh, I totally agree. I fear spiders but of course I don’t kill them. The nice thing about that is that feeling empathy for the spiders has largely overcome my fear of them. I used to experience such anxiety when I saw one that I would get nauseated; now I can happily coexist for weeks knowing that there is one living in my bathroom.

              I hate the fact that many people are only willing to treat cute animals well. I saw someone on TV boiling a lobster to death in a competition so that she could win money for a cat shelter, and it just about made my head explode from the hypocrisy. I had just read David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster,” which perhaps did not help.

              Reply
        2. K, Esq.

          I don’t kill things on principle either, unless there’s an infestation of bugs, they all get put outside. I do make an exception for mosquitoes though. And if someone kills something in front of me, I get very sad and it stays with me.

          Reply
          1. Lissa

            Out of curiosity, does it stay with you when you kill a mosquito or have an infestation where you can’t put them outside, or is the emotional reaction overridden in those cases?

            Reply
    5. Lilo

      I did once do a gardening thing where we got to distribute lady bugs from boxes and the sensation of having tons all over your hands is actually pretty tickly. But I am not remotely bug phobic.

      I kind if think everyone over reacted here. A single bug isn’t a big deal (even if there was a breeding pair, there isn’t enough food source inside to support a swarm), but at the same time bringing a bug inside to likely starve to death is also silly.

      Reply
    6. Temperance

      I’ve killed them. I hate them. If a big touches me, or invades my home, I consider it fair game.

      My FIL’s girlfriend lives in a really old house, and there are hundreds of ladybugs in swarms. It’s disgusting, and now I feel that it would destroy my house, too, if I let one in.

      Reply
    7. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Back when I used to ride horses regularly, we had a superstition that ladybugs were lucky and you were never to even brush one off if it landed on you or your horse. I’ve found that’s translated into an aversion to disturbing them in other areas of my life.

      That said, putting one on or near someone after they’ve specifically said not to? That’s pretty jerkish.

      Reply
    8. SKA

      For a few years when I was a kid, we would get SO MANY ladybugs in our house. Any lighting fixture that had a base below a lightbulb would quickly accumulate dozens of gross-smelling ladybug corpses. I know they likely weren’t multiplying in our home (but rather just crawling in from some crack or door that didn’t get shut all the way), but trust me, we killed a LOT of those things. (And even if we didn’t, they were all going to end up dead in a light fixture anyway.)

      Reply
      1. Emi.

        Yeah, I just don’t think “I don’t like it” or “I feel scared” are good enough reasons to kill a living thing.

        Reply
        1. Vegan Atheist Weirdo

          That’s my position, too. Now, mosquitoes that have bitten me? Those are very much on my hit list. And I don’t consider it avoidable to kill an outbreak of ants in my apartment. One? I’ll scoop onto a piece of paper and flick outside. But a conga line of the little suckers leading from the tiny gap in the wall in my kitchen to my cat’s food bowl definitely merits a call to the exterminator.

          Reply
          1. Keto Atheist Weirdo

            I’m with you that it’s generally crappy, but I don’t freak out about eradicating an unavoidable infestation. Just the thought of cockroaches makes my skin crawl.
            I had an ant issue one and by pure coincidence planted some basil in a window garden. Ants just disappeared. Just an idea if you have the issue in the future, and if it doesn’t work you can console yourself with a caprese salad.

            Reply
      1. Kathleen Adams

        I can’t tell the difference between a ladybug and an Asian lady beetle, so when I find one in the house, I put it outside. If it’s a ladybug, it knows what to do before winter, and if it’s not, it’s gonna die, which is fine with me.

        Now, that’s if I find one. If I find several, I assume they’re Asian lady beetles, and I get rid of them however I can without having to touch the icky, stinky little things.

        Reply
      1. Kathleen Adams

        Ladybugs do. Asian lady beetles do, too, but they also bite and stink and swarm indoors (where there aren’t all that many aphids!) in a very alarming way.

        The way I look at it, it’s just not sustainable to have them inside. I hope I have no aphids, but in any case, I know I don’t have many, so if they stay inside, they’re just going to starve anyway.

        Reply
  8. Ted Mosby

    OP #2 clearly stated she didn’t want the bug there. Coworker didn’t listen. OP is being advised to do exactly what she already did that didn’t work. At all. This is one of the first times Alison has really missed the mark for me.

    I would also be really annoyed if someone asked for something they thought was gross to just be moved closer to me instead. Weird all around.

    Reply
    1. MommyMD

      Yes, he was wrong to annoy her. But Ladybug Killer is realistically going to trump that in most offices. I’d cease to speak of it anymore if I were her.

      Reply
      1. Gingerblue

        I can’t see killing a bug realistically trumping being a guy who carried a bug around and inflicted it on a coworker despite her very upset objections in any place I’ve worked, honestly. I’m sure some people would react that way, but not the majority of ones I’ve worked with.

        Also, dude: ladybug is not going to respect your office seating chart. It’s not going to stay on the plant. Take it outside if you actually care before it suicides in my coffee.

        Reply
      2. Temperance

        I really don’t agree. My office has had problems with bugs breeding in someone’s potted plants, and we also have a gross insect in my area that looks like a ladybug, but is not.

        The weirdo trying to “save” insects would be in the wrong in my office, especially for using someone else’s plants.

        Reply
        1. EddieSherbert

          Oh yes, we have an annual problem with those box elder bugs and the woman who was moving them to an empty cube and setting them free got chewed out big time and (I do think this is harsh, because she just seemed naive to me) told by at least two people the bugs will be killed if they enter their (nearby) cube.

          (But I also don’t blame the bugkillers because I am a bugkiller too)

          Reply
      3. BPT

        In what world is killing a bug a huge offense? I can’t imagine people being more upset with the LW for killing a bug than the coworker for spreading bugs in the office. Like killing a bug is such a non-thing to most people. At the very least if he cared about it he would have released it outside.

        Reply
        1. Vegan Atheist Weirdo

          To those of us who are bothered by the killing of bugs, the fact that it is a non-thing to most people is part of why it’s upsetting. In most cases, with most (individual) insects, there’s no reason to kill it as long as it can be removed to outside. Obviously this doesn’t apply to an infestation.

          I think about it like this: I wouldn’t want to be indiscriminately smashed or swatted by a larger, more advanced species simply because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I’m not inclined to be the smasher/swatter, either.

          Reply
        2. Plague of frogs

          Well, since you ask–my world. But I wouldn’t put the bug next to a co-worker who clearly did not want her there.

          When people kill things that were not harming them, it changes my opinion of those people permanently. I try not to treat them differently, but I definitely view them differently. So, yeah, LW might not want to trumpet the fact that he killed something for no reason. (But his coworker is a total jerk).

          Reply
      4. As Close As Breakfast

        I completely disagree. I am always going to think less of a coworker that does a non-essential and non-work related thing to another employee after that employee has specifically asked them not to do said thing, than a coworker that killed an insect.

        Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m suggesting she take a different tone and approach next time (although I very much doubt there will be a next time) than the one it sounds like she took the first time. And I don’t think he was moving the ladybug because he thought she was gross; it sounds like he was looking for a plant to put her in.

      Reply
      1. Tassie Tiger

        It makes me so happy that you call the ladybug a “her” and not an “it”. As a bug-rescuer myself, it just makes me happy. :)

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth H.

          Yes! I am a bug rescuer too. I even rescued a cockroach out of the bathroom of my yoga studio the other day. :/ (It was a small cockroach)

          Reply
        2. Julia

          My mother used to put ladybugs or butterflies she found in winter on the windowsill with tiny pots of water and honey. I’m not big on spiders, but I never kill them, I just try to (usually have them) put somewhere far away from me.

          Reply
          1. Temperance

            On this blog, we follow the convention where people of unknown gender are referred to as “she” or “her” rather than “he” or “him”.

            Reply
      2. Elizabeth West

        A ladybug would die if you put it in an indoor plant alone anyway. They eat aphids, and unless the plant had some on it, it would slowly starve. It might have been better to point this out to Fergus instead.

        Reply
        1. One of the Sarahs

          I thought they hibernated for winter, and did that insect thing of shutting down, and that’s why people find sheds full of them? Though of course, that might not happen in a heated office.

          Reply
        2. Falling Diphthong

          This! Unless he pre-infected that plant with a massive amount of aphids, he wasn’t helping the bug at all.

          It wanted to hibernate. The correct bug-rescuer move would have been to leave it in a quiet corner of his office.

          Supporting evidence: The bug fled.

          Reply
        3. Allison

          I had aphids on an indoor plant. I hear they eat spider mites too, which I’ve definitely had on an indoor plant and are in fact WHY I no longer bother with indoor plants. If I did have an indoor plant and someone asked to put a ladybug there, I might accept because the bug could protect it, but that’s me. OP doesn’t liike bugs, OP had every right to tell coworker to rehome the bug somewhere else.

          Reply
        4. Nita

          Exactly! A ladybug can’t live on an indoor plant. Even if it was looking for a place to hibernate, an office is much worse than some random attic because of the potential of being stepped on, or being vacuumed up.

          Reply
    3. Female

      I disagree, and I think Alison’s response was perfect. Trying to kill (or convincing others that you have killed) a benign, culturally accepted animal for simply being next to you because you as an individual dislike it does not come across well. Similarly, killing a pigeon, which probably has fewer fans in our society than ladybugs, because it perched on your window balcony and you really didn’t like it there also won’t endear you to the rest of the office.

      Reply
      1. lokilaufeysanon

        Then he can take it elsewhere or put it in a plant in his office space. Someone clearly told him not to put it in the plant near their desk and he did it anyway.

        Also: birds and their droppings carry disease. A lot of buildings/companies actually do take measures to keep pidgeons and other such birds away from/off of their buildings. There actually jobs dedicated to keeping birds off of buildings/areas where they are unwanted (although, most of the ones I can think of don’t involve killing them).

        Reply
        1. Female

          I’m not saying he did the right thing, nor am I saying that I wouldn’t want pigeons gone too. However, in most industries, you don’t want to have the reputation of someone who kills animals that many others may be sympathetic to. I’m not going to whack a pigeon or a squirrel in front of a coworker unless it’s clearly dangerous, and I don’t think LW should be telling her coworkers that she deliberately killed a cute animal another coworker tried to save- why would you deliberately want to help spread rumors that you’re a sadist?

          Reply
      2. (Different) Rebecca

        Off topic, but I accidentally whapped a pigeon with my cane once. I thought it would move. It did not. My companion mercilessly mocked me for the rest of our time together.

        Reply
      3. Falling Diphthong

        I’m kinda torn, because while “I’m a bug killer” is an overly aggressive stance when you are just glad the bug wandered off, it will dissuade him from moving in all the other bugs he finds.

        Probably more than “Dude, they eat aphids, not live plants. The plant receives antipest spray that wouldn’t be good for the bug, unlike the corner of your office where it was trying to hibernate. The responsible bug rescuer move is to leave any bugs you find in your office right there.”

        (Reminds me of a beach in Hawaii that had DO NOT RESCUE THE SEA TURTLES. THEY ARE FINE. THEY WILL SWIM OFF WHEN READY signs.)

        Reply
        1. Ted Mosby

          Very true. If he hadn’t made a big deal about putting it near her to save it, someone just killing a bug randomly wouldn’t even register for most people.

          Reply
      4. Ted Mosby

        This isn’t really relevant to what I posted. I didn’t defend OP saying she had killed the bug. I just don’t think the advice is likely to be useful.

        Reply
      5. As Close As Breakfast

        What doesn’t come across well is different for everyone though, isn’t it? I wouldn’t think twice about a coworker killing a insect. To me however, a coworker saying that another coworker killing an insect made that coworker a sadist and likening it to whacking a pigeon or a squirrel definitely would not come across well. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

        Reply
    4. Jenny

      But Coworker didn’t think it was gross (just the opposite) and wasn’t moving it near OP to get it away from him. He was trying to save it, and he moved it near OP because that’s where the only plant was.

      Reply
      1. Tiny Soprano

        If I were Coworker I would buy myself a small desk-plant. It sounds like the issue was that the only plant in the office was near OP, who hates bugs. If Coworker got an alternative plant – or even moved the original plant if that’s an option – then he could release them somewhere that was a) not going to be horrible for OP, and b) be safe for the bug.

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          Well, also, coworker knows nothing about actually saving ladybugs. Like someone who finds a tortoise and helpfully throws it in the middle of a lake, because turtles look similar and he’s seen turtles there.

          Reply
      2. lokilaufeysanon

        It doesn’t matter, he should have found somewhere else to put it once he was asked not to put the bug there.

        Reply
      3. Temperance

        There’s actually nothing to suggest that right near LW was the “only” plant available. He sounds like a tool.

        Reply
        1. Marillenbaum

          Precisely. She mentioned telling him where other plants were that he could put it, and he didn’t feel like going to another floor.

          Reply
      4. Ted Mosby

        That’s not relevant to my point OP didn’t want the bug near her because she doesn’t like them. Alison’s advice was to have Coworker go put it somewhere else. So she would be advising OP to say “I don’t want that near me, why don’t you go put it next to Jane’s office instead.” I would personally find that really obnoxious.

        Reply
    5. lokilaufeysanon

      I agree with you. Allison really missed the mark on this one. It’s nice he wanted to save a bug, but that FFS, he was asked not to put it in the plant by LW’s desk.

      Reply
    6. Ladybug-Hatin' LW

      I didn’t include the conversation for brevity but it went something like this:

      Coworker: I have a ladybug!
      Me: (nonplussed but unworried) Ew.
      Coworker: I brought it down here to put in the plant!
      Me: Ew, don’t put it in the plant.
      Coworker: I’m saving it!!
      Me: It’s gross, don’t put it in the plant. I don’t want a bug near me.
      Coworker: I’m doing it!
      Me: (this is where I was quite emphatic and obviously beginning to get upset) COWORKER, do not put it in the plant! I do not want bugs around here! I will kill it if you do that!
      Coworker: Pfft, no you won’t, I’m doing it anyway.

      Then later when he came back and I said I killed it, he said he didn’t believe me several times and then called me a monster.

      I get where Allison’s coming from, I just don’t see how much more clear I could have been! I come from office cultures where if someone is like “GET THAT AWAY FROM ME” you get it away from them. Not that it’s ever come up before because putting bugs outside is a thing!

      Reply
      1. Pickles

        I really question whether this answer would have been different if it was a different bug or crawly thing. Bedbug, spider, fly, centipede, flea…

        Reply
        1. Pickles

          Ladybug-Hatin’ LW , you can also suggest he get his own plant to colonize, on his own floor. Or you can develop a newfound passion for carnivorous plants (which are surprisingly sensitive).

          Reply
        2. JamieS

          I doubt it. Alison’s answer came from the POV of “this is something the co-worker wants to save” so it doesn’t matter what it actually was.

          Reply
        3. Alton

          Well, in an objective level, some bugs are more harmful than others. Ladybugs aren’t known for hitching a ride on people and causing massive infestations in their homes like bedbugs are, for example. But centipedes seem pretty harmless.

          I think the co-worker was wrong not to listen to the OP, but I can sympathize with his desire to save the bug, and I’d feel the same way about any bug as long as it wasn’t posing a problem beyond just being present. Things like bedbugs and fleas suck (literally) because they bite people and infest homes, not just because they’re bugs.

          Reply
          1. Temperance

            Have you ever been inside a building with a ladybug infestation? It’s disgusting. So while not as objectively bad as a bedbug or a cockroach, it’s still not something you want in your building.

            Reply
          2. paul

            Scolependra are *not* harmless. We get S. hero in my area and those things are flipping huge and I find at least a couple per year in my yard and sometimes my house.

            I’m usually all onboard the leave alone or move outside train but I’m not even trying to catch one of those in a bottle or box.

            Reply
          3. Jesca

            Here is the thing. I think people who rescue dogs are great. I wouldn’t think they were so great if they walked over to my house, dropped a dog after I told them no, and then left – leaving with said dog. I would have no choice but to take to the only (kill-shelter) in the area as I cannot care for a dog.

            The point of the analogy is that its great if YOU are all for taking care of bugs – I will support you as far as not judging you and even offering you money from time to time, but you cannot, under any circumstances, volunteer anyone else to take on your cause. Sorry.

            Reply
            1. Kate 2

              Except a dog is a huge responsibility that requires a great deal of time, care and money. All the coworker did was expect OP to exist a few feet away from a totally harmless bug. Coworker wasn’t right, but expecting someone to breathe the same roomful of air as another being isn’t a huge deal. OP’s reaction, to tell Coworker she killed the totally harmless and actually beneficial animal kind of scares me.

              Reply
              1. Lissa

                Scares you how? I mean, I don’t think telling the guy she killed the bug was helpful (well maybe, he wont’ do it again!) or kind, but why scary?

                Reply
              2. Temperance

                Scares you? Really?

                I’m annoyed with men who think that they can do whatever they want, even when a woman tells them not to do something. He felt it appropriate to violate her totally reasonable boundary. He has no right to act shocked when a person follows up and does what they say they were going to do.

                Calling the bug an “animal” seems kind of like a deliberate way to lump LW in with people who kill kittens for fun.

                Reply
                1. Kate 2

                  Bugs are animals. That’s a fact, not an opinion. Also she didn’t tell him that she was going to kill it, she said “bugs are gross”.

                2. Temperance

                  Actually yes, she did tell him that she would kill it if he put it in the plants near her. She commented with the dialogue.

                  So if she had actually killed this bug, it would have been on him, not her.

              3. Not So NewReader

                I think that OP matched what was coming at her. Coworker basically said, “I don’t give a crap about what you think/want” and she said “Back at ya!” In general we should match or be only one step down from what we hear coming at us.

                At some point the story stopped being about the bug and started being about respecting other people.

                Reply
        4. Antilles

          The answer absolutely would have been different.
          If it was a bedbug, the co-worker’s desire to “save the bug from the cold” (or whatever) could legitimately cost the company thousands of dollars to replace furniture or shut down the office for fumigation. If it was a venomous spider and bites a co-worker, the company could potentially be liable for not providing a safe work space. These are real and direct costs to the company.
          So no, there’s no way that Alison would have responded with “…but it’s just a bug, don’t make a hassle about it” if it was a different/more dangerous bug.

          Reply
      2. Myrin

        This guy sounds hugely obnoxious. So obnoxious, in fact, that I’m not even sure there’s anything you could say or do to dissuade him of his mission other than placing the plant next to his desk and pooping in it.
        (And now that you’ve mentioned it, it sounds like there would be opportunity for him to just bring any bugs outside? That makes the whole scenario even weirder, like he wants to create a bug army with eternal loyalty to him or something.)

        Reply
        1. Ted Mosby

          Agree, that’s why I don’t think this advice would work. He blatantly does not give a ship if OP is annoyed or doesn’t want it near her. Asking again isn’t going to change how he feels.

          Reply
      3. MsMorlowe

        He sounds very irritating. I think some variation of “Next time, listen to me and trust me when I tell you I’m going to do something.” to be repeated ad nauseum will hopefully get it through to him. If he calls you bug-killer or whatever, you can just calmly say “Yes, I don’t like bugs, like lots of people. I don’t know why you’re still talking about this.” and change the subject.

        Reply
      4. Falling Diphthong

        I can so, so, so easily picture that cheery ‘ha ha I’m doing it’ tone of “You’re saying absolutely no, but I’m going to ignore you and do it anyway because I am sure will realize I am right.” It’s an inability to take anyone else’s point of view.

        If he comes back, tell him ladybugs don’t eat plants, they eat aphids, and it was trying to not starve in the food desert where he cruelly moved it. Since he coldly, callously wouldn’t let it hibernate in his office as it was trying to do.

        Reply
      5. CM

        I guess what you’re saying, OP#2, is “I’m setting a clear boundary” and what Alison is saying is “Saying you killed a living creature (even if you didn’t really) is not a good way to set a boundary.” Both of which are reasonable but I’m with the OP here. If the coworker continues to bring it up, I would just repeat, “I don’t understand why you would put a bug near me when I told you in advance that I will kill bugs near me.” He can call you a monster all he wants, but you were very clear and he ignored you. I’d look out for other boundary-crossing behaviors with this guy.

        Reply
        1. Another person

          This. Having engaged in variations of:
          ‘Person: I’m gonna do a thing
          Me: No you aren’t
          Person: I’m gonna do a thing
          Me: No you aren’t
          Person: I’m really gonna do a thing
          Me: No you aren’t
          Person: I’m so totally gonna do a thing
          Me: So help me I will end you
          Person: *Backs down*’
          way too many times I can’t fault the OP for a less than perfect reaction because the OP did her job, she put up the boundary. The guy just streamrolled right over it. CM is right, keep an eye on your interactions with this guy. Especially combined with the calling you a monster stuff this guy is trying to get a reaction from you.

          Reply
        2. Bug Saver

          This. I think the boundary crossing is being written off a little too easily. For that reason I don’t think it would even be too unreasonable to talk to the boss. A conversation about how inappropriate it was to ignore LW’s express wishes like that seems in order, since even if it was only a bug this time it could cause big problems next time. And given the way he’s been acting it doesn’t sound like it would be too effective coming from LW.

          Reply
        3. Not So NewReader

          CW left OP no choice really. OP had to put it in terms that CW would understand. He did not understand, “no don’t do that”, so OP had to find something that he would relate to. This happens sometimes when people do not allow us to communicate with them.

          Reply
      6. BPT

        I’m with you. If anybody purposefully puts a bug near me (or I just see one) I’m killing it. No question. Ladybugs are the worst too – I hate them so much. They cling to you even when you try to brush them off. Coworker was obnoxious and Alison was unfortunately off the mark here. I can’t even go to sleep in my apartment when I know there’s a bug in there, so I definitely can’t do work when I know there’s one near me. It’s not even a phobia, it’s just a regular fear of bugs. I don’t care if it’s not rational, but I’m not going to accommodate someone trying to start a bug colony in my office near me.

        Reply
      7. stej

        Well, I agree with your approach and think the coworker is in the wrong here. Your plant is in your space and that is your domain. Bug-killer or not bug-killer, he overstepped and that’s the main issue here.

        Reply
      8. Elizabeth H.

        This sounds like a really dumb exchange. I love bugs and am horrified at the idea of killing a ladybug, but yes your coworker sounds annoying. But it also kind of sounds like a miscommunication in terms of tone/intent. The fact that the conversation started out pretty casually sort of belied how strongly you felt and it seemed like it was hard for it to switch to a serious mode even when you were so emphatic. Maybe if you had tried to explain how strongly you felt in a serious but less energetic way, without referencing that you would kill it, which sounds dramatic and so he might not have taken seriously that you would actually do that. Once again, he was clearly being really annoying and not listening to you but it could be more of a misunderstanding than deliberately defying what he understood to be your strong wishes.

        I love spiders and would probably not take someone seriously when they’re like “Ew, get it away from me.” I would probably be like “No! Spiders are harmless and so interesting and fantastic!” I know some people have spider phobias, like I witnessed one of my friends have a panic reaction and felt very sympathetic, but if someone were just like “Ew, they are so gross” I probably wouldn’t take them seriously at first. I would worry that they would kill the spider though so I wouldn’t put it near them! I have a really low opinion of people who kill spiders, even if you have a phobia you can ask someone else to remove them.

        Reply
      9. Tuxedo Cat

        It was like he wasn’t even listening to you.

        I don’t blame you for what you said. I hope he learned that he shouldn’t put bugs in your plant when you repeatedly said no.

        Reply
      10. Close Bracket

        I almost wish you had killed it in front of him as soon as he left it in your plant. I love ladybugs, and would not mind having one in my plant at all (less thrilled about the aphids it would need to eat). I can’t stand obnoxious people who ignore you when you say you don’t like something.

        Reply
      11. Nanani

        I think the response was pretty-victim blamey and I’m sorry you got let down.

        Seriously? “Are you sure you said NO the right way?”

        LW got their consent trampled on, over something they are 100% entitled to have (a bug-free workspace).
        I’m not going to argue the merits of this particular bug, but I am very disappointed that the consent issue and personal space issue are ignored.

        What even the hell. I expect better.

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth H.

          It’s a ladybug. Are we really getting into consent and personal space over something that is smaller than your fingernail?

          Reply
    7. Greg M.

      honestly this sounds deliberate to me. he used to work with her but currently isn’t even on her floor so he knows her. he made a big production of doing it and blatantly ignored her protests to do it. Cheery person boundary stomping trend.

      “I’m a hugger” “I was just trying to be friendly”

      “what do you mean you don’t like chocolate, here try some, no try some, come on” “I was just trying to be nice”

      “what do you mean you don’t like bugs, it’s jsut a lady bug I’ll leave it here” “why would you do that to the ladybug”

      gets to look “nice” gets to play the victim, gets attention all while getting away with refusing to respect boundaries.

      if he cared so much, he already was going to a different floor he could have put it outside or at an open window.

      Reply
      1. lokilaufeysanon

        This, this so much. You put it so much better than I did. Yeah, It’s a ladybug, but he was asked not to do it and then went ahead and did it anyway. He could have saved it in any other way, but deliberately chose to do something someone asked him not to do – and he went way out of his way to do it, too.

        Reply
      2. Lora

        This.

        I actually LIKE bugs. When I was working in New Mexico my colleagues used to bring me errant tarantulas. The day my dog fetched me a freshly-hatched praying mantis egg case with two tiny mantises still attached was one of the most delightful memories of this year, and I adore the stick insects I find on the side of my house. I let parts of my vegetable garden get overrun with milkweed for the monarch butterflies.

        But you TOLD your co-worker. He had been told. He blew you off. This is not good.

        At the same time it doesn’t rise to the level of something to tell your boss. But keep an eye out for it becoming a pattern. Maybe co-worker learned his lesson about not taking you at your word and that’s the end of it. Hopefully he did.

        Caveat, I may be overly sensitive about people who blow off other people’s clearly stated concerns.

        Reply
      3. Slow Gin Lizz

        If he likes ladybugs so much, he could have just brought it home and taken good care of it there. (I have several in my apt right now and they’re annoying when they buzz around but mostly they are just chilling so I’ve been ignoring them and hoping they go away.)

        OP, though, should probably have told the truth that it just left on its own accord instead of telling him she’d killed it. She would have been warranted in killing it, for sure, but there wasn’t anything to be gained by making up a story that makes her seem mean to him, Saver of Ladybugs.

        I agree that she shouldn’t say anything unless this comes up again.

        Reply
    8. JulieBulie

      IMO the only thing #2’s coworker did wrong was announce the ladybug’s presence. If he hadn’t mentioned it, I don’t think OP#2 would ever have seen it.

      But since he did mention it, he should have been open to OP’s objection and not at all surprised when she killed the bug. (As for whether or not it was “wrong” to kill it, that is OP’s business.)

      Reply
  9. Woman

    I don’t understand what happened with #1. There are comments suggesting her firing was justified, but I think more details are required. If she got dressed up and jokingly asked for candy, that’s one thing. Dressed up and seriously asked for candy, another. Disregard the stuffy comment- if said directly to her manager in private, that’s merely a conversation about culture and inappropriate language to use in professional settings. The first situation- send her home to change. The second- send her home to change. Was she seen by clients? I just don’t see how this is a fireable offense unless she was truly rude and embarrassing to clients. Who are your clients? Most people are forgiving of a misunderstand and wouldn’t demand immediate retribution for a faux pas.

    Reply
    1. Ted Mosby

      If she got dressed up and jokingly asked for candy, that’s one thing.

      Not in finance.

      Disregard the stuffy comment- if said directly to her manager in private, that’s merely a conversation about culture and inappropriate language to use in professional settings.

      Not in finance.

      I’m not saying it was justified per say. But finance is a very formal, cut throat environment. A week in a financial services firm is enough for anyone with basic common sense to know you don’t dress up for halloween, and you definitely don’t ask for candy. Doing so shows a major lapse in judgement. In a lot of jobs, one major judgement lapse when you’re new to the working world is ok, but not in most financial firms. It’s just the reality of that environment, right or wrong.

      Reply
      1. Lilo

        It is also a “read the room” thing. She walked into a meeting where she was the only person dressed up and proceeded to ask the room, that included clients, for candy? That is really poor judgment. There are plenty officer ways to reference while still being acceptable, whole blog for Disney characters. Just really poor judgment at multiple points.

        Reply
        1. Tuxedo Cat

          I can’t think of any job where an adult professional would go around asking for candy and that be acceptable.

          Reply
      2. Ellen

        I worked at *mcdonalds* and knew that I had to clear any “awesome costume ideas” with them first. I knew this when I was 16 years old. Even if the whole entire idea involved a pair of antennae on a hairband and a pair of fairy wings on elastics. I’m not a professional like many if you, I’m a food service/customer service/direct care/substitute teacher level of employee. I can see being fired for her costumed trick or treating, arrogant talking back debacle. And that is from any of the entry level, low pay, no respect positions I have held.

        Reply
        1. The Strand

          Ellen, if you work in food service, customer service, direct care, or are a substitute teacher, it doesn’t make you any less a professional. Certain fields have certain requirements, but I think after reading so many letters for so many years – and working with occasional bozos who have a lot of letters after their name – being a professional is far more about demeanor and attitude than it is about job title or level.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            I agree with you that true professionalism has nothing to do with how “high” or well paid your position is. But Ellen’s point is that even in her non-white collar jobs it was clear that you don’t pull this stuff. Princess’ background just isn’t all that relevant here.

            Reply
        2. Birdie

          I agree with you Ellen! In all of my jobs the Halloween/Holidays in general were treated differently. One restaurant I worked at required costumes, another it was strictly a ‘no no’. Regardless it’s always good even if you are absolutely sure!

          I can’t decide on whether or not I personally think it was a fire able offense.

          Reply
      3. One of the Sarahs

        And not just finance. I know every field has its own spectrum, but I can’t see this flying in law, police, government, hospitals etc etc.
        And especially if there are meetings with external attendees!
        To me, the fact she didn’t check it out with a manager first is what makes it egregious. No one will reprimand a new, fresh out of uni hire for asking something like that!

        Reply
      4. Mike C.

        Quit throwing around this “basic common sense” stuff. Take little more than an excuse not to teach people, especially new people, cultural norms and standards.

        People sometimes have to be told things. Not every environment is the same. She was new and she caused no harm. These firms are just acting in a self important manner, nothing more.

        Reply
        1. Myrin

          It does sound like Tiana dealt well with the cultural norms and standards up until this point, though.

          Yes, OP says she’s “sure [Tiana] was still figuring out how things work in office and finance environments” but that does seem to be more of a guess on the OP’s part based on her employee being young and new-ish to the office, not an any particular instance of similar misjudgment. She doesn’t give any examples of Tiana previously not adhering to the quite strict and very formal standards and in fact says that “[t]here were no red flags from her at any time and this came out of left field”.

          And I think that’s what people are reacting to – five months was sufficiently long enough for her to figure out that the atmosphere is “stuffy” so surely she couldn’t have thought this would go over well? Of course sometimes people need to be explicitly told things, but I don’t think it’s weird for OP’s place of work to not even think about needing to spell out that employees aren’t allowed to dress up when a) this has never happend before in the firm’s history and b) they don’t even allow open-toed shoes and require wearing suits every day.

          Reply
        2. eplawyer

          The office manual spells out the dress code. If the dress code says you must wear a suit every day, it’s fairly obvious you don’t wear a halloween costume. A princess costume is not a suit. Therefore it is not to be worn.

          Presumably this is someone who got a degree in finance and had done internships in the field. She knew the field she was getting into before being hired. She knew it was stuffy. I’m reminded when I was in law school and the first year moot court argument required that we wear suits. Some complained that they didn’t want to buy a suit or wear one. I told them they better find another profession because lawyers wear suits.

          Reply
          1. Allison

            Possibly, but finance stretches beyond financial firms. She could have done her internships at “fun” companies and startup-y software companies, lots of companies have in-house finance teams. But you’re right, you don’t major in finance without learning about the typical culture for a financial firm.

            Reply
          2. Mike C.

            If it’s spelled out, why are the employee manuals being reprinted?

            Even then, you’re completely ignoring my greater point about “common sense”. It’s something that’s taught, not something you’re born with.

            Reply
            1. Been there

              The director wants it reprinted because apparently one person didn’t understand that the dress code is enforced every day. Princess wrongly inferred that every day doesn’t include halloween and costumes. Therefore the director now wants it explicitly stated in case they hire another princess.

              Let me ask a question… we all read a drivers manual at some point in our lives, right? The drivers manual states that the speed limit in a residential zone is 35 mph. Do you really think you’d be able to argue successfully that you know that it says that’s the speed limit, but it’s indy 500 day so I assumed we all get to drive faster?

              Reply
            2. Jesca

              Because she potentially could have done damage. Like it or not, some industries need a certain level of sense (reading the room, picking up on industry social norms on one’s own, etc.) than what this person had shown. They can’t have mistakes like that. Why? Because there is a big difference between running some numbers for a couple hundred thou and handling clients with accounts in the multi-millions to billions. People don’t want to see mistakes, at all – ever, like this in those arenas. They want people who look serious. That is pretty standard in any industry handling large sums of money. The more money you handle, the more serious you need to look. I mean look at a bank. A bank teller with a many banks dress more business casual where as the personal/business/financial bankers will look more traditional business. Do you understand now? It may not make sense to you, because you do not understand the nuance, but yes she could have absolutely lost them huge clients if the clients felt the company did not take their roles seriously or felt they hired people who acted so childish.

              We sometimes need to recognize that we don’t always understand the context of something. We don;t always understand that in some industries, fair or not from the outside, there are fireable offenses that may seem extreme.

              Reply
            3. Katherine

              The employee manuals are being reprinted because of people like you, who are unfamiliar with (or averse to) such concepts as “the spirit of the law,” “reading the room,” and, yes, “common sense.” The powers-that-be assumed that with such a strict dress code, a person would not (a) decide there was probably an implicit exception for Halloween and (b) not even get confirmation before showing up to work in a princess costume. They were proven wrong, for the first time in the OP’s decade-long tenure. So they’re revising the manual. Should they also put it in the manual that employees may not clip their toenails at their desks, just in case an unforeseeable situation arises in which a person decides to do so, and then argues that they shouldn’t be criticized because there’s no rule against it?

              And I disagree that common sense is taught, but even if it is, it’s not the company’s job to teach it to someone who made essentially no effort to obtain it on her own (didn’t ask before wearing a costume, didn’t apologize to her supervisor or seek clarification on why the costume was a problem).

              Reply
        3. Falling Diphthong

          Honestly, if I were a client? And one of your staff came into our serious, long-planned meeting of people in business formal, with a plastic pumpkin, and went around trying to get us to give her candy? I can see that causing harm. Maybe the client brushes it off; maybe they privately note they don’t want to put weirdly on the spot like that again, given that they don’t carry Reeses Cups with them everywhere, and avoid your firm in future.

          Being “the place with that really weird employee who ignores boundaries” isn’t usually a good thing. Even if the behavior would be unexceptional in a different context. If it’s really weird in this context, people don’t enjoy having to explain to the large princess that they are not carrying M&Ms.

          Reply
          1. Cat

            You’re picturing the trick-or-treating as being a lot more formal than I am. I assumed she just said “trick or treat,” which seems like a way of acknowledging that she’s in costume as much as anything else. I can see trying to brazen your way out of an awkward situation you got yourself into that way.

            Reply
            1. Coalea

              I imagined that she had a plastic pumpkin (or some other receptacle to put candy in), and pictured her going up to each of the meeting attendees, saying “trick or treat,” and holding out the pumpkin expectantly.

              Reply
              1. Kelly L.

                I have trouble imagining her drawing it out that long–I pictured her just ducking her head in and going “Trick or treat,” hoping for a laugh, and then leaving.

                Reply
                1. Falling Diphthong

                  Why?

                  Seriously, if you have noticed that you are the only person in the office wearing a costume, then I get trying to discreetly climb down the outside of the building. I don’t get casting about for the most “do not annoy these people, at risk of your job” office inhabitants that you can find–clients and senior execs, together in one confined space–and running in to be sure that they notice you. Assuming some minimal business ability to notice and abide by social norms–i.e. I understand her wearing the costume as an honest oops–this is a weird thing to do.

                2. Kelly L.

                  I mean, I don’t know why?? Maybe she was just walking by? I have no idea. But I can picture that more easily than walking around the room trick-or-treating each person individually.

                3. Observer

                  That clearly did NOT happen – the OP says that one of the C-Suite people asked her to leave. That means that she came in and STAYED, not ducking in and then leaving.

              1. Teacher

                I was replying to Cat. I also suspect the trick or treat was an awkward attempt at a joke once she realized her error.

                Reply
        4. mst13

          After five months, I don’t consider someone new enough to be making this kind of mistake. My first week in at my company, I looked up the dress code in the handbook. With a dress code this strict, she should have at least asked someone (direct manager or peer) about Halloween costumes, given the culture.

          Reply
        5. Snark

          No, dude, this really is basic common sense. No functional person should have to be told not to do this. It’s so obviously not A Thing that if you need to be told it’s not A Thing, you have no business being there because your judgment is fatally flawed.

          And how do you know she did no harm?

          You side with the employee most of the time, but c’mon.

          Reply
            1. Snark

              Sorry, but I think you’re fundamentally off base here, regardless of the detail level. This is the definition of common sense. This is something that someone with five months, five days, five hours on the job should be able to put together without being told. And if they don’t, they lack a certain combination of observation, judgement, and processing of the world around them that lets most people read a room, err on the side of caution, put two and two together, pick your cliche. That is what common sense is and how it works. The finer points of workplace etiquette and conduct might need to be taught, this is an example of what should not have to be.

              Reply
              1. Falling Diphthong

                One aspect of common sense is being attuned to the social norms around you, and adjusting your behavior if you’re out of sync.

                “Woops, I’m out of sync with the people around me” –> adjusting your behavior toward that norm, or at least toward not sticking out too much. Not repeatedly doubling down on the thing that’s out of sync.

                Reply
        6. Helpful

          There was a dress code!!!!! This was not a suit. For heavens sake, you’re doubling down on this issue without good reason.

          Reply
          1. Mike C.

            I never said she didn’t screw up. I’m just tired of experienced people bragging about how much more they know than someone who’s five months on the job.

            Reply
            1. Snark

              I can tell you that I would have known not to do this with five hours on the job, if not five minutes, and so would you, and Helpful, and 99.5% of posters here. Guaranteed. This is not arcana.

              Reply
            2. moirabanana

              I’m in my early 20s, only worked retail jobs, but even I would’ve known not to do this. Hell, I wouldn’t have dressed up at my current job before asking and it’s the complete opposite of a stuffy work environment.

              Reply
            3. Kelly O

              Mike, I appreciate your playing devil’s advocate, but this is just ridiculous.

              In a financial firm, with a handbook that clearly states their dress code, this person chose to not only come in full Disney princess regalia because it was what she wanted, she interrupted a client meeting with a juvenile “trick or treat” for whatever reason. She had been there five months, and was aware of the conservative nature of her workplace (“stuffy” she called it) and decided to take it upon herself to change that.

              And not with a simple to remove “costume” – she didn’t have a backup plan. There are ways to be festive without being tone-deaf. Most people understand this, and the fact she didn’t is a sign she’s probably not a good fit for this company.

              I don’t understand why you are taking this one so personally. This isn’t experienced people bragging. This is basic understanding of the workplace.

              Reply
              1. Mike C.

                I’m not, nor do I ever play devil’s advocate. I’m not telling these personal stories as an intellectual exercise, I’m telling them because this is what I believe.

                I agree that she really screwed up, but when there are hundreds of comments that say “I’m so much better than she is, I know more than she does and I would have never screwed up like this” it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There are likely ten thousand things we could group together as “common sense” and no one is aware of them all. It just turns out in this case that it blew up in this woman’s face.

                Reply
                1. Snark

                  You persist in representing the wearing of the costume as the screwup. The screwup was crashing the meeting and insisting she did nothing wrong, not wearing the costume.

                  And yes, my dude, I would never have done that, whether my saying so leaves a bad taste or not.

        7. The Strand

          I have to agree with Mike to a degree.

          There are some people coming out of school right now that have been overtly spoon-fed to not fail, to get to a certain level. This is NOT about them being young. They have poor judgment, because they’re hothouse flowers who have received extensive coaching to get where they are. They think that there is one proper answer, and that they just need to find it out, ace the test, and they’ll be successful.

          A friend of mine teaches in an extremely competitive graduate program. It’s only the second month and a number of students have approached the professors and chair, demanding that they be taught more “relevant” material, and given more “answers” (one student said, “I’m really busy, and I’m tired. Just tell me what answers I need for the next test so I can pass it.”).

          These are not high schoolers. These are kids with bachelor’s degrees, who are bitching and moaning over the expectation of reading book chapters. And it is precisely the high flyers who are struggling with this – who need help gauging the norms and standards, a la the “dress code” interns.

          This is exactly the kind of graduate pool we deserve, though having passed over the teaching of common sense (qualitative knowledge, reflection), because quantitative measures like testing scores are easier to understand, and relatively “cheap”.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            But….”has poor judgment because of lack of reflection and qualitative knowledge” is as good a definition of “lacks common sense” as any other.

            Reply
            1. Snark

              That said, I understand and agree with your assessment of a lot of recent grads, I just think that background is not incompatible with saying “this is a problem with basic common sense.”

              Reply
          2. Not So NewReader

            It could be my experience but I am thinking that many people are seeing the same thing. I started getting my degree decades ago. I finished up a little bit more than ten years ago. The amount of nightly reading required for courses went up by a huge multiplier. The first time I went we might do 50-100 pages per night per course. When I went back it was pretty normal to have to read 400-500 pages per night per course. Sorry, I am not able to read 2000-2500 pages per night. That will not happen. Most people I spoke with did not complete the readings. Since TPTB were deaf in regard to hearing this problem, students reacted in kind by not caring. Thus, “let me pass the test”.
            Grad school is worse. I met docs who admitted the only way they could get through med school was with speed.
            “I’m really busy, I am tired.” is a wild understatement of the actual problem.

            Reply
        8. Susanne

          “Quit throwing around this “basic common sense” stuff. Take little more than an excuse not to teach people, especially new people, cultural norms and standards.”

          People who are going to get ahead in this world — regardless of what kind of background they come from — watch, observe, listen, ask questions if need be. They don’t make this kind of mistake because they have the self-awareness to know that they are in a new environment.

          People who are going to stay at low-level jobs all their lives don’t watch, observe, listen, ask questions. They just do, and say “don’t like it? too bad!”

          Now, you may want to characterize the former as “white collar / professional norms” and the latter as “blue collar norms.” I, however, don’t; I see absolutely no linkage between one’s ability to observe one’s environment, and the type of environment one is raised in. There are plenty of blue collar people who would get this in a heartbeat, and it’s insulting to them to suggest otherwise.

          (Likewise, there are plenty of white collar people who can transition to / work effectively in environments with blue collar people. These are not separate Orbs of Life that require special training to navigate.)

          Reply
          1. fposte

            I disagree with Mike in this particular situation, but I agree that “common sense” is too often a phrase that dismisses how much is common *experience*, not innate logic, and I generally reserve it for stuff like sticking your hand back into a fire that’s burned you.

            Reply
            1. Not So NewReader

              I have seen the term common sense used as a crutch for not giving proper training. I think that assuming something is common sense is on a par with assuming that everyone is the same as the speaker. And that is not true at all.

              Reply
          2. EmilyAnn

            I have a good family friend who in his early 20s got into a work-study type program with a major financial firm in the U.K. His parents were/are government workers so solidly middle class, not used to high finance office culture. In his first few months he was in a bar talking to a co-worker at a work HH and mentioned the name of a client. A more senior collegue took him aside and told him to never talk about clients in public because it’s indiscreet. He apologized, came home and talked to us about how mortified he was and how glad he was to be taken aside quietly instead of public embarassed for a mistake. That’s a person who is willing to learn, despite not being educated on the specific norms of how to act. The topic of this letter is going to struggle until they’re willing to read norms and take advice.

            Reply
        9. AKchic

          From a client’s viewpoint: If I am paying a company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to safeguard my millions (possibly billions) of dollars of assets (properties, stocks, taxes, banking, the whole shebang) and after spending a lot of time organizing a face-to-face group meeting with everyone for a major meeting to handle something very important (let’s say I’m creating a grant for underprivileged youth, or maybe buying more property, who knows, who cares – but it’s still worth millions of dollars, and I’m paying *YOUR* firm $1500 an hour for this, plus at least 4 other people in the room are billing at least $300/hr for their time for the clients they represent as well). And here comes one of your junior staffers in a costume. And then, whether joking or not, wastes our time with “Trick or Treat”.
          Yes, as a client paying a lot of money, who entrusts you and your company with my money, I’m going to judge you. Both as the person handling my financial affairs, and as a person who hires someone so monumentally bereft of “common sense”, who fails to realize the gravitas of the situation before her. Who has no timing, no sense of decorum, and would rather play kiddie games than act responsibly and be an adult at a meeting about MY money.

          And I say this as a cosplayer and an actor. Timing is everything. This was not the time to dress up, nor the time to double down. This was the time to know your audience, read the room and above all else – play the part she was assigned and no ad lib.

          Reply
        10. Ted Mosby

          I didn’t say anything about basic common sense. Basic common sense is not enough to cut it in financial services and never will be. If you need to be told not to wear a costume into a meeting at 22, then financial services aren’t for you. No one in that industry is going to coach you on those kinds of norms.

          Reply
          1. Ted Mosby

            Actually maybe I did in first level comment. Either way, she wasn’t an intern, and the argument holds 0 water with me. A company isn’t going to teach you this kind of thing at 22. If you can’t read the room, don’t know when to ask for permission, and think people are too stuffy, you’re not going to make it in FS long term. There are tons of industries where people won’t hold your hand and hug you after a bad day.

            Reply
        11. Kate 2

          Um, no. An environment in which *open-toed shoes* are forbidden and *actual suits* are required every day for every employee is not one where anyone should have to be told not to dress up for Halloween. It’s on the same level as expecting female employees to wear bras, and male employees not to wear shorts.

          Reply
        12. Turtle Candle

          Mike, for one thing, it’s kind of grating to hear you tell people to quit doing X or Y when you’re not the owner of this site. I get that you’re a long-term commenter, but it’s weird to see you acting as if you’re a moderator. It frankly reads to me as condescending in a sexist way, as if Alison can’t manage her own website without you banging all over the comments repeatedly demanding that people reply the way you prefer. I have to say, as a queer woman, it often feels as if you’re white-knighting for your own benefit, and I think you should seriously consider that–and especially be careful when you tell other people, especially women, to shut up because they don’t fit you ideas of how they ‘should’ talk in public spaces. I am a queer woman of lower-class origin, and I feel as if you’re kind of trying to take over my voice when you say things like that. You have a right to your own voice, but not to stomp on mine.

          For another thing, your point seems to be that the Tiana cosplayer didn’t know that what she was doing was wrong, and thus deserved an explanation–but that’s expressly contradicted in the LW’s letter itself, where she says that Tiana said that she “wanted to bring fun to our “stuffy” office.” Had she said “oh crud, I misread the situation, I’m sorry,” that would be one thing. But her own words indicate that she knew that it was outside the bounds of the culture, and did it anyway. Education can’t fix a problem that is “I know this isn’t how things work but I’m doing it anyway.”

          Reply
    2. Renamis

      She went into an important client meeting, with C-Suite execs there, and asked for candy. You don’t show up to an important meeting in costume without making sure everyone is on board with it. And you certainly don’t hit everyone up for candy while you’re at it.

      Reply
      1. Daria Grace

        I work in an office of a financial services firm that is very relaxed compared to many in the industry (we can usually wear jeans). Even so, when leadership a level or two down from the C-suite comes to visit, we’re asked to dress nicely and be careful of how we behave.

        Reply
      2. AKchic

        I still have to marvel at the audacity and tenacity of the entire situation.

        She came to work wearing this costume. She *had* to have been seen by at least one person while going to her desk space. Yet not one person thought to say anything to her about changing her clothes, nor did it dawn on her that she was the only one dressed up and maybe she was improperly attired. Nobody mentions it to supervisors.
        She continues on her way because nobody HAS called her out on her costume (tacit approval by silence?). She brazenly marches into the meeting. Again, nobody in costume except her. All eyes on her. Whether she is embarrassed or basking in the glow of the attention, we have no idea. But then “Trick or Treat” falls from her lips. Again, whether this was a face-saving joke, or a planned joke is moot because it doesn’t matter. It was said and that’s all that matters. She is asked to leave and does so. She is spoken to and instead of apologizing for anything, she doubles down. This whole day seems to be one cataclysmic abomination of abstract could-haves and should-haves. There were so many failed opportunities to catch this dumpster fire of an idea before she ever got to the client interaction stage.

        Am I blaming anyone who didn’t speak up, either directly to her or to a supervisor? No, not at all. For all we know, someone DID speak directly to her and she brushed that person off. Everyone may have mistakenly thought she received permission to dress like that, because why else would someone dress so outside of the office cultural norm. She may have purposely avoided all supervisory staff and meant to shake that meeting up. Again – we don’t know.

        Tiana – I need answers. You are an immature enigma and I want to know! *swoon*

        Reply
    3. The New Wanderer

      It sounds like she went around a room filled with the top executives and important clients, wearing a princess getup and asking for candy. Bizarre and disruptive. At 5 months, she definitely wouldn’t have enough value to the company to compensate for that ridiculousness. I think a formal warning and time off without pay (or similar Big Deal punishment) would be more fitting, but I’m not surprised she got fired.

      Reply
      1. Jen S. 2.0

        This is a critical part to me. She was a new-ish junior employee, and thus expendable. Much like, ahem, axing interns, also for clothing issues.

        Reply
    4. MK

      I absolutely would not disregard the “stuffy” comment, to me that’s the worst thing. A conversation with your manager about why you did something that was has gotten you into trouble with higher-ups is not a private chat about culture; you are basically in the position of defending your actions, and further offending your boss during it is a big deal.

      Reply
      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        Yes, this is a conversation in which your boss is trying to ensure that you understand why not to do this again, so not the time to stubbornly insist that the company’s “stuffiness” is the real problem.

        Reply
          1. Lora

            No, Mike is right here: this should have been addressed in some kind of new employee orientation within the first week or two.

            At every large company that had New Employee Orientation as multiple days, the company culture on these points was spelled out in little words. Along with explanations of why you can’t say racist or sexist or otherwise bigoted things. And there’s always going to be at least one person in the room who has to be told explicitly that they are being racist/sexist/whatever. I’m not even talking subtle things, I’m talking there’s ALWAYS one dude who has to be told not to touch people’s butts. There’s always one dude who has to be told not to make unfunny “jokes” about Asian names. First week orientation is for that. That’s the time for explaining the company holiday party vs Secret Santa, the time for giving everyone the Help desk phone number, the time for telling people not to be a-holes, the time for telling the peasants not to EVER go in the board room without an invitation, and the time for telling people that Halloween is not celebrated. They need to revise their new hire orientation, is what they can do.

            Reply
            1. Fictional Butt

              I used to work in training development. My experience was, if someone really doesn’t get something, putting a bullet point on a slide in orientation is not going to help them. People learn through experience, and I think that was happening correctly here. Tiana made a mistake, and her boss told her she’d messed up. The fact that she reacted badly (saying the firm was too stuffy) instead of accepting the criticism makes me think this is not a problem that could be solved by training.

              But my memory is that Mike C also works in training, and has a lot more experience than me, so I’m genuinely curious to know what his training solution would be in this situation.

              Reply
                1. Lora

                  Agree. Things I’ve seen solved by orientation training slide decks:

                  -Do not throw toxic waste down the drain. We have a special container for that, which will be emptied by staff hired for the purpose of handling toxic waste. Putting it in the drain will result in 1. massive fines for the company 2. you getting fired 3. dozens of poisoned children dying because of your carelessness. (Academic chemists: but we did that all the time at Famous University!)
                  -Generally, do not make things blow up. If you must make something go boom, let it at least be a small boom. (Academic chemists or occasionally older guys from Texas: Wow, you Yankees really overrreact to a little explosion and a few dead bodies!)
                  -Do not touch people other than a handshake. Especially do not touch people’s private parts of their body. Ever. You have no legitimate reason to touch someone’s butt. (Jerks: She misunderstood! It was a compliment! She’s making a big deal out of nothing!)
                  -When doing a dangerous thing, wear personal protective equipment. We will buy you the personal protective equipment you need. Here is the form to fill out. (Employees recently hired from India, Bangladesh, parts of China: Wow, we never had that at Union Carbide/American Cyanamid/BASF/Binhai/CUFL!)
                  -Do not say or do racist or sexist things at work. Here is a list of examples. If you do that here, we will fire you. Your jokes are not funny. (A depressing number of people: That’s not really (whatever), my uncle says it all the time! I’ve always said that! It’s really a compliment! I was misunderstood! I didn’t mean to be (whatever)!)
                  -Do not download porn on work computers. (A bunch of people will invariably try to have a poker face and fail.)

                2. fposte

                  @Lora–you’re making me curious. What’s the metric that makes you say this solved the problem? Did you guys have those problems and then institute this training with new hires, at which point the problems went away? How do you decide what gets added to the “don’ts” as the years roll on?

                3. Lora