company has a men-only weekend trip, did employer lie about their interview process, and more

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

1. Company hosts a men-only weekend trip

Our company has grown exponentially since I first joined five years ago and now has over 500 employees. Our owner started hosting a “boys hunting trip” which only male employees from our corporate team attend. At first it was only a few members of our team as we were a smaller company, but now the attendees list is growing.

Only men are invited and are explicitly told to keep quiet about the trip so the women in our office don’t find out about it. I’m not disappointed I don’t get to join in boys weekend. I’m upset that leadership, including HR, thinks it’s okay to leave women out of this event entirely. Our owner doesn’t live anywhere near where our company is based. It’s very rare we get to talk to him, let alone see him for extended periods of time. Now newer male employees will have the chance to speak to him on matters the rest of us don’t get to. I don’t know the best way to address this without the boys club getting angry with me.

Whoa, this isn’t okay. Companies can’t hold events that only men are invited to; it violates federal anti-discrimination law. It’s also profoundly shitty, given that there’s a long history of women being harmed professionally through exactly this kind of all-male socializing, where men get face time and bonding with leadership that the women are left out of (to say nothing of the mentoring, information-sharing, and actual business that often happens at these events). The fact that men are explicitly told to keep women in the company from finding out says someone there knows this isn’t okay.

You and other women in your office should talk to HR and, at a minimum, point out that the company is opening itself to legal liability by holding men-only events. Ideally you’d frame it as an official complaint of discrimination too.

2. Did this employer lie to me about their interview process?

I went through a lengthy interview process that included four rounds of video interviews and two tests that took several hours each. The hiring manager called my references and as far as I heard the calls went well. Then she set me up with a video call with Jane, one of her reports, which she said was for me to ask Jane any questions I had about the team and workplace.

Jane emphasized at the beginning of the call that she had not seen my resume and this wasn’t a job interview, she was just there to be a resource for me. So I asked her a few questions and, when we hit the end of the allotted time, asked if she had any questions for me. Jane repeated that she wasn’t interviewing me and the call was just for my benefit. So I thanked her, she encouraged me to email her if I had any additional questions, and we ended the call. Approximately 45 minutes later, I received a form rejection email from the company’s HR.

While I know that companies can reject people for all kinds of reasons, I am still a bit puzzled about what might have happened here. Given that the manager called my references prior to this conversation with Jane, it seemed like she was very close to hiring me. I’m wondering if Jane/the manager were being dishonest in saying that the conversation was only for my benefit, and if the call was actually an interview that could make or break my hiring. Should you always assume you’re being interviewed when you interact with employees during the hiring process? Additionally, given how long and involved the process was, would I have any standing to reach back out to Jane or the hiring manager and ask what happened? I’m just flabbergasted here and would appreciate any insight you have.

Pretty much every interaction you have with a company during a hiring process counts as part of their assessment process, even if it’s not framed that way. While no one would say that your casual chit chat with receptionist while you wait for your interview to start is an interview, it’s definitely something that could impact your chances if the receptionist passes along particularly good or bad feedback. The same thing goes for how you communicate in emails about scheduling, or with the team member who you chat casually with in the elevator. And so it could be absolutely true that your call with Jane was just to get your questions answered — but Jane still could have impressions from that call that she passed along.

But that doesn’t mean that that’s what happened. It’s possible the rejection was already in the works before you talked with Jane and they decided not to cancel since the call was already scheduled, but HR timed the rejection email weirdly. Or you were their second choice but their first choice accepted the offer that day so rejections went out (again with awkward timing). Or all sorts of other things; it’s impossible to say from the outside. I lean toward thinking a non-Jane explanation is most likely just given the timing — Jane convincing the hiring manager that you were a no and HR sending out the rejection is a lot to happen in the 45 minutes after the call ended (although it’s not impossible).

In any case, you can ask for feedback. Email the hiring manager, not Jane, and don’t frame it as “what happened?” Simply say that you wonder if they have feedback they can share with you about how you could be a stronger candidate in the future. You may or may not get anything useful but, especially after a long hiring process, it’s absolutely okay to ask.

3. Leaving when my contract has a $10,000 penalty for quitting early

I work overnight hours for a media company and I am at the end of my rope.

I signed a contract when I accepted the job in 2020, saying I will stay until September 2022. The unconventional hours, constant negativity, short-staffing and low pay are all contributing to my decision to leave.

I have a few offers on the table, and I am in the headspace to say that quitting really will be in my best interest. The catch is, I have a penalty clause saying I could be fined up to $10,000 and have to cover legal fees if I go before my time is up. Fortunately, I am in the financial place that I can afford to do that, though I would obviously rather not have to pay anything to a company that has so drastically impacted my mental health.

So when I put in my notice, do I say that I’m leaving because of the physical/mental impact this job has had on my life? Or do I say I’ve accepted another offer that I couldn’t turn down?

If you want to maximize the chances that they won’t try to collect on the penalty for breaking the contract, saying that you’re leaving because the job is affecting your health gives you the best shot at that. If you just say you got a better offer, they’re going to rightly feel like … well, you signed a contract agreeing to stay despite that. Health stuff puts it in a different realm and underscores that you don’t have a choice / aren’t just chasing after money. (Not that there’s anything wrong with chasing after money! But it would look like you were being cavalier with a contractual commitment and make them more likely to enforce the remedies the contract gives them.)

4. “Open the kimono”

Can we all agree that the phrase “open the kimono” as a euphemism for providing more transparency should not be used any more? And note that I’ve never heard a woman use that phrase, only men. Keep the kimonos closed, people!

Agreed. It’s problematic on multiple levels and needs to go away.

5. FMLA leave when you work remotely

A comment about the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in another post sent me down a rabbit hole of history. And then I ran across something that concerns me a little bit. The FMLA applies when the company has 50 employees within 75 miles. I fear we’re going to see enough employees go remote only to find that they have spread the geography out so that their company now exceeds the 75 mile radius.

You’re eligible to take up to 12 weeks of leave a year under FMLA if: (1) you’ve been employed with your company for 12 months, (2) you’ve worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of the leave, and (3) your employer employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of your worksite. That last part is what’s concerning you. But here’s the important thing: under the law, home offices are not considered your work site. Instead, FMLA considers your work site to be the physical office location that you report to and receive your work assignments from. So if your company is based in Boston and has 49 employees there plus you working from home in Florida, for FMLA purposes you’re all assigned to that work site, and so the 50-employee threshold is met and you’re eligible.

This doesn’t answer the question of what if there’s no physical location at all, as is becoming more common, or what it means if your boss (the source of your work assignments) is also remote. The only thing I could find on that said, “This predicament isn’t clear and neither the Department of Labor nor case law has given guidance on how to resolve it.”

my coworker keeps saying men only ask me for help because I’m hot

A reader writes:

I work in hospitality, at a front desk where I spend all day interacting with guests. I am usually accompanied by one other coworker. I am a woman in my 20s; most of my coworkers are considerably older, but I have one coworker who is also in her 20s, “Amanda.”

Every time I work a shift with Amanda (usually three or so times a week), around halfway through the shift, she lets out a sigh and says something to the effect of, “All the men here always want to come ask you for help, because you’re so thin and pretty.” It is clear from her tone that this is not a compliment; she is obviously frustrated with me because she sees us as in competition for male attention. She has made a comment like this (including heavily sighing, I kid you not) every shift we have ever worked together.

I have no idea why she says this! Guests of all genders ask me for help exactly as often as they ask her for help. Even if men were flocking to me, I feel like it’s unfair to comment on it constantly. I also dislike the insinuation that people ask me for help because of my looks, rather than because I am good at my job.

I have no clue what to do about this. Amanda is very, very sensitive and does not take criticism well. If I tell her to stop commenting on my body, I worry that it will start weird drama. I have to work long shifts with her, so I don’t want that. There is no HR, and asking my manager to say something feels weirdly confrontational (and will not give me any anonymity, because I am the only person she talks to like this). Help!

Even if Amanda were right that men asked you for help more than they ask her, what does she want you to do about it? What kind of response is she looking for?

If she were attempting to open a conversation about sexism or lookism at work or in society in general, that would be one thing. You could decide if you wanted to participate in that conversation or not, but she wouldn’t be wrong to bring it up. But that doesn’t seem like what she’s doing — she’s just unloading a complaint on to you every time you work together … and in doing so she’s making your appearance a focal point, and that’s not okay.

If you want it stop, you’re going to have to speak with her. You said she’s sensitive and doesn’t take criticism well, but what does that mean exactly? If it means she’ll get defensive or pout or seem upset … those things are okay. You will survive those. Presumably she’ll get over it at some point (and if she doesn’t, you can address that too, because that would be childish and unprofessional).

Some things you could say:

* “I’m really uncomfortable when you talk about my body. Please stop.”

* “I don’t want anyone talking about what I look like at work, even you. Please stop commenting on it.”

* “What are you hoping I’ll say when you say that? You say it a lot and it’s making me uncomfortable.”

* “Sexism does suck — I completely agree. But I’m not cool with you talking about what I look like on every shift and am asking you to stop.”

When you’re worried that calling out a problem like this will make things awkward with the person, sometimes it helps to ensure you have a different conversation with them soon afterwards — to demonstrate that you’re not feeling weird about it and to re-set things between you. Or you can just follow up immediately with something that demonstrates warmth, like saying you’re going to grab a coffee and ask if you can bring her one. (Subtext: “Our relationship is fine and I do not hate you.”) The idea is that you’re matter-of-factly moving the relationship along, and you’re not getting mired in drama or weird feelings. Not every reactive, drama-prone person is defused by that, but a surprising number are. (In part I think that’s because if they had to address something awkward with someone, they assume it would be a big deal. When you demonstrate that it’s not, they’re often willing to go along with that — and can even be outright relieved. Not every time, of course, but a lot of the time.)

how can I avoid business contacts who just want to pitch me?

A reader writes:

I often get requests for phone conversations from people in related industries who want to “ask my opinion” about some aspect of my area of expertise. After 30 minutes of conversation, it always turns into a sales pitch for whatever product they’re working on or company they’re consulting for.

I find this incredibly rude. I get it both from people I’ve met at conferences or networking events as well as complete strangers. I’m less likely to agree to a phone call with a stranger, since I assume it’s more likely to be about selling me something, but find it awkward to decline a call with someone I’ve met, especially if I’m likely to see them again.

How can I agree to a conversation with someone but say at the outset “please don’t make this a sales call” without being rude myself? I know that etiquette advisers say that responding to other people’s rudeness doesn’t make you the rude one, and I’m fine with that in my personal life, but professionally, I don’t want to get a reputation as a jerk (unjust though it might be). These conversations do help establish me in my field as authoritative about my area of expertise and I think they can help me broaden my professional reputation (which then leads to invitations for speaking engagements and so on), so I don’t necessarily want to just outright refuse them — they’re not entirely a waste of time. But I don’t like feeling like I’ve been taken advantage of.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

should I report my abusive former boss to her current employer?

A reader writes:

When I first started my career about a decade ago, I worked under a boss who was totally abusive in very subtle ways. She basically did everything to try to get me fired, including gossiping about me when I was within earshot nearly every evening. She once complained because I wanted my name on something I had created. As a young person in my first full-time job, this was incredibly damaging to me since, like many young people, I lacked confidence in my skills. I’m still dealing with it today.

Now, that office was a pretty toxic place in general. There was no HR to report her to. I just took the abuse. And it’s possible that her behavior was entirely in reaction to that office and an isolated event, but I’m pretty doubtful of that. She never apologized. If I confronted her, I’m sure she’d deny everything.

I’ve been googling her every six months since then, and she’s now about to manage others again. I can tell from a job I found posted online at her current company. My question is an ethical one: Do I contact her boss and let him/her know about this? Or do I let this one go? I’d love to know your take on this issue. I’d hate to see what happened to me happen to another human, but I get that my past boss might come after me again if she finds out. And she might. I also understand that me reporting her might not lead to anything changing/the manager might think I’m nuts, but I could rest easier knowing I said something.

Contacting a company you don’t work at to warn them about someone who was a bad manager to you a decade ago is going to come across very strangely. They’re unlikely to put any stock in it since they don’t know you and “abusive in subtle ways 10 years ago” doesn’t rise to the level of the kind of allegation they’d absolutely need to investigate before moving forward.

The bar for contacting someone’s employer about their behavior years ago is very, very high. Contacting them for something like “she was a bad manager” doesn’t really meet it and would be a weird enough choice that they’d likely dismiss you as someone with bad judgment (thus draining the complaint of much of its impact) and a vendetta.

To be clear, if you worked at the same company as your old boss now — or if she were applying for a job at the company where you work — that would be different. When you work somewhere, you have more standing to offer input on your experience working with someone. But in this case, you’d be contacting a company where you don’t work, and that’s got an exceptionally high bar attached to it — so high that very few situations meet it.

I don’t doubt that your old boss was a bad manager to you. (Although not putting your name on something you created isn’t inherently damning; lots of things created in companies don’t get bylines, or are even written for someone else’s byline — which I realize is not the point of your letter, but it sounds like you might be holding onto details that were upsetting at the time but which don’t warrant this response 10 years later.)

She may or may not still be a bad manager today; many people start out as bad managers and then get better over time. But regardless, there are bad managers everywhere; that fact sucks, and it’s also the reality of the work world. You can’t track them all down and warn all their future employers about them. Ideally those future employers would be doing more due diligence about who they’re hiring into management roles, but that’s not something you can make them do.

You’re 10 years past that job. It would be a kindness to yourself to let it be in your past.*

* Which includes stopping yourself from googling your old manager every six months since that’s just keeping her centered in your brain.

my new coworkers keep saying I’m going to hate my job, parents posting their kids’ resumes on LinkedIn, and more

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

1. My new coworkers keep saying I’m going to hate my job

Two months ago, I started working at a new company. I’m about two years into my career, and this new job is in a different field from my previous work and is on a 24-month contract working on client-facing projects. I knew there would be long days and tight deadlines sometimes, but having worked in a highly stressful and toxic role previously I was confident in my ability to manage it. Plus, the work seemed interesting. This has largely borne out: lots of work, sometimes long days, but I’m managing it well and find it interesting and challenging in a positive way. The money is pretty good and I have a lot of flexibility. In many ways, this is a good place to be.

The trouble is, I keep getting comments from colleagues along the lines of “wait until you’ve been here a bit longer,” “you’re lucky you’re on a two-year contract and then you can get out of here,” and even “you have the worst job ever” whenever I express that I’m enjoying the role! I could put this down to one or even a few people being negative, poorly trying to make jokes, or projecting their own experiences, but these kinds of comments have come from multiple sources across various business areas, including the senior manager I report to, someone more senior but in a different function to me, and one of my peers in the same role.

These comments are freaking me out a bit! I’m a pretty positive person and I tend to just laugh them off, albeit slightly awkwardly, but their frequency has me starting to wonder if they’re right and I should get out of dodge before my probation is up. I wouldn’t say my professional instincts are fully honed yet, and I wonder if I missed any red flags in the interview process. I’m scared I’ll find myself stuck in a toxic work environment again. What’s the best thing to do here?

There are a few possibilities: (1) The stuff that has bothered your colleagues might not bother you that much, and so your experience will be different from theirs. (2) Or you’re all grading on a curve. Your previous job was toxic and stressful and this one is a lot better, so to you this might be a relative cakewalk. Your coworkers might be judging by a different set of standards. That doesn’t necessarily mean any of you are wrong; you’d just be bringing different frames of reference to it. (3) Or the job really is a terrible one, and that’s going to become clear to you as time goes on.

I can see why you’re unsettled — what are they all seeing that you’re not seeing? But why not start asking? Your colleagues sound pretty open about their dislikes, so there’s a lot of room to ask for more information.

Go back to any or all of the people who have made the comments and say, “You and others have commented that I’m in the worst job ever or will want to leave as soon as my contract is up, and I’m wondering what’s behind that! I’m pretty happy here so far, but hearing so many comments has me wondering if there’s something I haven’t picked up on yet or if something awful is lurking down the road.”

2. Parents posting their kids’ resumes on LinkedIn

I recently came across a post from a parent in my professional network who was advertising her kid’s resume on LinkedIn. Her kid was about to graduate college and was looking for internships that could lead to jobs; she tagged about 20 people in the post, including her kid.

I felt really divided about this. While I know it comes from a good place, actions like this seem to privilege the kids of well-connected parents over those of us (I recognize my bias here!) who are breaking fresh into an industry or who do not have any prior connections to speak of. It seems to only reinforce the divide between the have’s and have-not’s. Not only that, but I feel like a recommendation from a parent is generally worthless; the parent hasn’t worked with the kid and cannot provide a true assessment of their kid’s worth.

What do you think about this? Lots of people in the comments of the original post seemed to think it was a laudable move, but I just really feel like it’s not. And is there any way to gently push back (either as a comment to the post or as a DM to the parent) so that bystanders like me can nudge for more inclusive postures? Or is that inappropriate too?

Not a fan. In theory, it’s not that different from parents reaching out to specific contacts on their kids’ behalf, but there’s something about doing it as a mass post that feels different than one-on-one contact. And of course, the parent isn’t really recommending the kid (as you point out, they can’t). Instead, what they’re doing is using the good will of their network — people who might be interested in helping a contact’s kid because they like the parent/want to do the parent a favor/etc. That’s part of why a mass post feels ickier; without that individual connection piece, it’s just laying bare, publicly, that the parent is asking for a leg up for their kid that other people might not get. It’s a little embarrassing for the kid.

I don’t know that it’s worth saying anything to the parent. In theory you could leave a comment encouraging people to use their networks for kids without connections too, but unless you hit on exactly the right wording there’s a high risk that it’ll come across as hijacking the post to virtue-signal.

3. My boss thinks I should drive my new employee home

I supervise a new employee who normally rides the bus home. With it getting dark earlier, my boss implied that I could give her a ride for safety. She lives 20 minutes in the opposite direction of my house (and my commute is already 30 minutes). What do I do?

You’re not obligated to drive employees home, buses are not unusually dangerous, and your employee is presumably an adult who’s comfortable managing her own transportation.

If your boss brings it up again, you could say, “I’ve usually got commitments after work and am not going straight home.”

4. Another team is cc’ing their manager on complaints about my team

I manage a team of five direct reports, and my team works with nearly every other department in the organization. Sometimes managers from one department that works with my team (but does not supervise them) will send a complaint to me about an error. I am very quick to address the errors with my team (within a day if not immediately). Lately I have noticed that the managers from the other department are cc’ing their supervisor on complaint emails to me. This just started within the past couple of weeks, and the emails seem to be more frequent than before. I’m thinking perhaps this group of managers is complaining to their supervisor about the errors and/or me and my team, and he’s asked to be looped in. I’ve never been given any feedback from anyone that the way I handle the complaints isn’t appropriate or doesn’t solve the problem. I always follow up with the managers to see if the problem has been resolved and if not, I will address it again, sometimes with a PIP or discipline depending on the situation.

I would like to know why the number of emails is increasing and why this other supervisor is being cc’d on them. Should I just ask him directly what’s up?

Yes. “I’ve noticed your staff recently started cc’ing you on emails to me about errors from my team, so I wanted to check in with you. If your team has concerns about the work they’re getting from us, I’d want to make sure I know about it and can address it.”

That said … it sounds like your team might be generating a lot of errors and complaints! If that’s the case, the other team might rightly be frustrated that you’re not addressing that pattern. Addressing each complaint individually is fine when they’re occasional, but when they’re frequent, there’s something bigger going on that you need to figure out.

5. My husband’s company has no paternity leave

My husband and I just found out that I’m expecting our second baby! After the first wave of enthusiasm, we’ve started talking logistics and I realized that my husband doesn’t have paternity leave! He didn’t for our first kid, but he’d only been employed for a few months at the time, and we both thought it was because he hadn’t been there long enough. But now it seems like I was just being hopeful.

The way his vacation and sick time works is that it’s five weeks yearly but all unpaid (he works with clients and his company pays him for however many clients he sees). Financially we’re doing fine and he could take those weeks unpaid, but doesn’t it seem a bit archaic, not to mention sexist, that his company doesn’t have a leave policy for non-birthing parents?

“Stodgy” is how I’d describe his company. The leadership is a collection of old white men, and throughout all the turmoil of the past year, they remained noticabley silent. I don’t have high hopes that anything will change, especially because my husband avoids conflict at all costs.

I know I don’t work there, and they don’t want to hear from me, and my husband would hate it if I reached out to them. But is there anything I can do? Or is there something my husband can do that won’t be anxiety inducing?

You definitely can’t contact them yourself! This is your husband’s job and his to manage; you don’t have any standing to contact his company, and you’d undermine your husband terribly if you did. But you can support him in speaking up if he decides he wants to push for better parental leave at his company.

However, at a company that doesn’t even provide paid sick or vacation time (which is pretty unusual for professional jobs), I’m skeptical that they’re going to be open to paid parental leave. In fact, I wonder if they even provide it for women — company-paid parental leave is a far less common offering in the U.S. than paid sick or vacation time is, so if they’re not providing regular PTO, I’m doubtful that they’re providing paid maternity leave.

If the company has at least 50 employees and your husband has worked there for at least a year, he’s eligible for FMLA — which gives him up to 12 weeks a year of leave for family and medical reasons, including the birth of a child. It doesn’t require them to pay him for that time and they can have him use up his sick and vacation leave as part of those 12 weeks, but it might be your most realistic option.

how do I talk to my anti-vaccine coworker?

A reader writes:

I would love some advice on working with people who do not want to get a COVID vaccine. It seems so obvious to me that vaccination is the only way out of this dark age, and I’m really losing patience with one of my teammates who refuses to get the shot.

Before the pandemic we were allowed two WFH days per week, if we wanted them. In March 2020, we went fully remote and the company took good care of us, offering stipends for new home office furniture, etc. In July 2021 (when the vaccine was readily available to all adults in my area) the office building opened in what they are calling “phase 1” to anyone who wants to come back, as often as they please, as long as you wear a mask and sign an attestation saying you got the vaccine.

They just announced at the latest company-wide meeting that starting in mid-January (a solid four months away, plenty of time for stuff to change) they will expect everyone to come to the office at least one day a week, and you will need to show proof of your vaccine to enter the building. The email they sent around after with meeting wrap-up notes said something like, “Here at [Company] we firmly believe vaccination is a necessary step toward a COVID-free world,” and I feel good knowing that I work for a company that believes in that. They also gave us extra PTO to go get the vaccine (up to two hours for each dose) and on top of that, another full day of PTO for vaccine side effects.

However, one of my teammates on my five-person team, “Lara,” keeps saying that no one in her family is vaccinated and never will be. She doesn’t give a reason, just says “no” super nonchalantly whenever it comes up. But after that meeting, she is constantly whining about how she is going to get fired for not getting the shot. She keeps going on rants about how it is so unfair that she will get fired and she is so mad and how could they do this to us and so on. It is getting to the point where I want to scream, “THEN JUST GET VACCINATED AND YOU WON’T NEED TO WORRY ABOUT IT.” For what it’s worth, I don’t think she will actually get fired since we have remote work as an option. And if she can’t get vaccinated for a medical reason, she would just need a note from her doctor (that’s straight from the corporate email communication).

I have gotten so close, so many times, to saying something like “do you mind sharing why you don’t plan to get vaccinated?” or “do you have any questions about vaccines because I have some great sources.” But I’m so scared it isn’t my business and I don’t want to damage our good working relationship. However, I am training her to take over a certain part of my job, and the fact that she refuses to get vaccinated is making me doubt her ability to do her job. If Lara can’t recognize something as obvious as vaccines save lives, how can she recognize if something is off in our system?

I am so tired of this pandemic and I’m really losing my patience with Lara (and other unvaccinated people). But I don’t want to sound like I’m on a soap box or calling her out, so when this comes up I try to just give general pro-vaccine advice. Do you have any suggestions on how to start and have this conversation, if at all? Do you think I have a reason to worry it is affecting her work?

I would love to believe you can change Lara’s mind and maybe you can … but the chances are high that you can’t. Do you have the stomach for that conversation with a coworker if that’s the case?

Maybe I’m overly influenced by my own utter fatigue with the situation, but I would just not be up for taking this on at work. I salute anyone who can do it successfully! But I’m hesitant to suggest that you engage.

If you google “how to talk about vaccine hesitancy,” you’ll find a lot of advice from people with more expertise in this than me if you want to try.

But rather than getting into it with someone who’s shown so little propensity toward logic, reason, or science — and who is clearly being governed by other forces — the other option is to focus on getting her to stop ranting around you.

There’s no reason you should need to listen to Lara’s diatribes, at work or anywhere. The next time she starts in, you could simply shut it down. For example: “I really don’t want to hear more about this. Please stop.” Or, “I disagree strongly with what you’re saying, and I’m not interested in continuing to hear about it. Let’s focus on work.” Or, “Wow. We disagree, so let’s just move on.”

If she continues after that, you’d have my blessing to say, “I think what you’re saying is absurd and I’m not going to keep listening to it. Is there anything work-related we need to cover before we end this call?”

As for whether Lara’s bad judgment in this area should make you doubt her work in general … there’s an argument for yes and if she had a job that involved science or medicine, I’d definitely say yes. But the reality is that because Covid has been so thoroughly politicized, it’s hard to say that decisively. People like Lara have been subjected to a tremendous amount of misinformation from sources they trust, sources that have been in a position to shape public discourse (to say nothing of some communities’ mistrust of the medical establishment given our history of racist public health practices). Lara’s decision is clearly terrible judgment — but she’s also being preyed upon by political forces that are using mass delusion for their own gains. You could argue that plenty of other people have been able to see past that and what does it mean that she can’t … but while Lara is part of the problem, she’s not the root of it.

And of course, what you’re grappling with is the workplace version of what so many people are struggling with right now with family members and others in their communities — the shock of “who are you?” and “how do we move forward when I have learned this devastating thing about who you are and your willingness to inflict harm on others?”

The best you can do in a work situation is probably to look at what you see of Lara’s work and her judgment aside from this and decide accordingly. But you’re not wrong to be struggling with it. I think that struggle is going to reverberate for all of us for a long time.

my boss sucks and there’s nothing I can do

A reader writes:

I work at a large company in marketing. I relocated for this job, but we’ve been remote during my entire year and a half tenure here. I don’t have any social connections here, but I took this job because it was a great opportunity for growth and I really liked the hiring manager and the rest of the team. Four months into my role, my boss moved to a different team, and I got a new manager from another department.

Initially I gave my new manager, “Josh,” the benefit of the doubt and assumed his shortfalls were due to the steep learning curve of the role. He seemed to constantly forget conversations we’d had or things that were discussed in meetings and would rely on me to remind him of things daily. He also repeated ideas I presented to him as his own. At first I assumed he was overwhelmed with his new role. But after a few months, I saw patterns emerge and realized that this was not a temporary problem.

Josh also treats me like his personal assistant. He IM’s me constantly throughout the day, wanting me to remind him of what was discussed in meetings he was in, asking me to find emails that were sent to him because he can’t bother looking in his inbox, you name it.

Then there’s the mansplaining. He lectures me on topics that I know more about than he does and questions my decisions and opinions even when he knows nothing about the matter. He turns down my ideas and makes suggestions that are straight up wrong and impossible to execute within our business. He has continued to take credit for my ideas and other women’s ideas in meetings and in front of senior leadership.

Although he has a lot to say about every project, when it comes to doing the actual work, he disappears, leaving me to figure everything out by myself. He usually makes an appearance towards the end of a project, adding something or demanding a last-minute change so his involvement is visible and he can claim credit.

I’ve had many discussions with him where I politely addressed his behavior. Each time he is very apologetic and says he will make changes. But those changes last for about a week before he reverts back. I’ve also talked with the head of our team, who fully acknowledged the problems and said she has also noticed these patterns. She assured me that she would give Josh feedback and asked me to reduce his involvement in my work, which is not really doable when the guy is my boss.

I’m drained and exhausted. I tried to bring this up again with the head of our team, but she was not open to discussing it again. I feel like I don’t have anyone to go to for help or support. Our projects are interesting and fun, but I am not excited by the work anymore. I dread logging in each day and feel like I am always defensive and annoyed with my interactions with him.

Since I don’t know anyone in this area, all I do is obsess over work and it’s bleeding into the little personal life I do have. I recently decided to start looking for other jobs, but I know finding one will take some time. How do I stop dreading work every day in the meantime? Is there anything I can do to make things more bearable and to hate my boss a little less?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

my employee wasn’t respectful enough after the company messed up her paycheck

A reader writes:

I’m not comfortable with one of my new staff members and how overconfident she is. Her work is great and she needed very little training but she’s got very big britches.

“Jane” has only been with us for two months. Just today she asked for a meeting with me and our payroll manager. It turns out payroll made an error entering her direct deposit information that resulted in Jane not getting paid, not once but two times.

Our company requires potential candidates to complete sample assignments during the interview process and we pay them an hourly contractor rate. It turns out she didn’t get paid for her assignment period, or for the next full pay cycle. The payroll employee apologized directly to Jane in an email, because it was their error in entering her information and not following up/fixing it that resulted in Jane not getting paid. Jane was able to show emails back and forth where she checked in with the payroll employee and asked if it was fixed, which they confirmed it was. Today was payday and Jane didn’t get paid. She checked with the employee again and they acknowledged that they “thought” it was fixed. It’s upsetting for Jane, I understand, but I think she was out of line about the whole thing. People make mistakes.

Neither payroll nor I knew anything about it until today. We both apologized and assured her the issue would be handled. After that, she looked at me and the payroll manager and said, “I appreciate your apology, but I need you both to understand that this can’t happen again. This has put me under financial strain and I can’t continue to work for COMPANY if this isn’t corrected today.”

The payroll manager was heavily in agreement, but I was speechless that she’d speak to management like that.

Payroll handled the whole thing and cut her a check with the okay from HR. Jane had referenced that not being paid put her in financial hardship and unable to pay bills, so HR allowed the use of the employee hardship fund and gave her $500 in gift cards so she can get groceries and gas and catch up on bills. I’m just kind of floored that she’s getting gift cards after speaking to her superiors like that. I’m also uncomfortable because why is our company responsible for her fiscal irresponsibility? Her personal finances or debts are not the company’s responsibility. I just don’t think it’s the company’s responsibility to give her more than what she’s earned (the extra $500 from the employee emergency relief fund) to fix things for her if she overspent or didn’t prioritize her bills or save smartly. We also don’t know if she is actually experiencing a financial hardship or just claiming she was.

HR allowed her paid time to go to the bank today and deposit her check. I told our HR person that while it’s not okay Jane didn’t get paid, the way she approached it was uncalled for. HR told me, “She’s right, it can’t happen again and it shouldn’t have happened at all.”

I’m getting tired of the respect gap I’m seeing with younger staff. I think Jane would be better suited in a different department. I’m not comfortable having her on my team since it’s obvious she doesn’t understand she’s entry-level and not in charge. Should I wait a while before suggesting she transfer to a different department?

I’m going to say this bluntly: you are very, very wrong about this situation, both as a manager and as a human.

Your company didn’t pay Jane money they owed her in the timeframe in which they were legally obligated to pay it. They did this twice.

Your company messed up, and their mistake impacted someone’s income. That’s a very big deal.

The payroll department handled this exactly as they should: they apologized, cut her a check immediately, and helped repair the damage their mistake had caused. Jane shouldn’t have to suffer for their error, and their remedies were appropriate and warranted.

Your objection to this because the company shouldn’t be responsible for Jane’s finances is nonsensical. Your company is responsible for paying the wages they’ve agreed to pay in the timeline they’ve agreed to pay them in. They didn’t meet that obligation, and so they fixed it. That’s not about them being responsible for Jane’s debts; it’s about them being responsible for adhering to a legal wage agreement and treating an employee well after failing at a basic responsibility and causing that person hardship.

Suggesting that someone who needs the paycheck they earned to be delivered to them on time “didn’t prioritize her bills or save smartly” is wildly out of touch with the reality of many people’s finances in this country and how many people live paycheck to paycheck (particularly someone entry-level who just started a job two months ago and may have been unemployed before that). But frankly, even if Jane didn’t save smartly, it’s irrelevant; your company’s mistake is what caused the problem, and it’s what’s at issue here.

Your speculation that Jane might be lying about her financial situation is bizarre and reflects poorly on you. It’s irrelevant and you don’t seem to have any reason for wondering that other than an apparent desire to cast Jane in a bad light.

You’re absolutely right that there’s a respect gap in this situation — but it’s from you toward your employees, not from Jane toward her employer.

There’s nothing disrespectful about Jane advocating for herself and explaining that she’d be unable to stay in the job if the payroll mistakes weren’t corrected. She gets to make that choice for herself, it’s not an unreasonable one, and it’s not disrespectful for her to spell it out. In fact, I’d argue it’s actively respectful since respect requires clear, polite, direct communication and she gave you that.

When you say Jane doesn’t seem to understand she’s entry-level and not in charge … Jane is very much in charge of where she’s willing to work and what she will and won’t tolerate. Every employee is, regardless of how junior or senior they might be.

Corporate power structures require deference in things like decision-making on a project, but not the sort of obeisance in all things that you seem to be looking for.

Somewhere along the way, you picked up a very warped idea of what employees owe their employers, but you don’t seem to have thought much about what employers owe their employees. You urgently need to do some rethinking and recalibration if you’re going to continue managing people.

paratransit is making me look like a slacker, paying back training costs when we leave, and more

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

1. Is paratransit making me look like a slacker?

I take paratransit, which is (rightly) notorious for not being on schedule. I’m given a 20-minute window during which they will pick me up but they frequently come before or after it. Usually, this is just an annoyance that means I get home much later than expected, sometimes it’s a bit more inconvenient like when it came at 8:30 am for a pickup window that I thought started at 8:45 but the driver said actually started at 8:55 (which makes it even more baffling!) on a day I started work at 10 am. But today was the worst of all because they came so early to pick me up from work that I had to LEAVE WORK 10 MINUTES EARLY.

I feel so awful and embarrassed. Everyone at work was nice about it (because they’re nice people) but I feel like it was really wrong of me. I’m trying so hard to show that I’m a good worker even though I’m disabled and stuff like this makes me feel like I have more and more to overcome in order to show that. I’m new to this job and I want people to like me and my work and not worry that doing a task with me (assignments shift each hour) means they’re going to have to pick up a bunch of slack.

Is there anything I can do to reassure my coworkers (and myself, I guess) that I’m not a slacker? I apologized to my supervisors briefly in-person and later in email (it wasn’t an email just to apologize, just a brief mention in one about something else). I don’t want to be the person who makes everyone comfortable by apologizing too much, especially since I can’t guarantee that this sort of thing won’t happen again, and I’m not sure what else to do.

This is almost certainly fine! You’ve explained the situation to your managers, and it’s clear that it’s outside of your control and disability-related.

To be clear, “outside of your control” wouldn’t always be enough on its own. If you drove yourself and were late because you hit traffic every day, it would be reasonable for your boss to tell you to leave for work earlier. But in the vast majority of jobs, some flexibility on arrival/departure times would be a reasonable accommodation for someone with a disability who’s dependent on paratransit — reasonable accommodation in both the legal sense and the common-sense sense. Having to leave 10 minutes early for a reason like this isn’t a big deal!

Assuming you’ve had the big-picture talk with your boss explaining that paratransit’s schedule is unreliable, this should be fine (or they will let you know if it’s ever an issue). You could explain it to coworkers too if you’d like them to have that context. From there, there’s nothing to feel awful or embarrassed about, and you definitely don’t need to keep apologizing. (If paratransit ever causes a real problem — like you’re late for something you really needed to be there for — it would make sense to have a separate conversation about that, but definitely not for routine work days like you described.) You’re not a slacker, and people you work with will see from your work that you’re not a slacker. Please don’t keep worrying!

2. Should we have to pay back training costs when we leave?

I work for a large organization and our CIO is looking into having us pay back training if we leave the company within X amount of time afterwards. The details have not been worked out and she’s in talks with HR and Legal. My view is no, uh uh. Any training that I receive benefits the company while I am working. End stop. If I had received training that benefited myself and my previous organization before I left to come to my new organization, would the new organization pay the old organization back? No, they would not. I’m not sure how often this has happened and I’m sure there are plenty of people who knew they were going to quit but asked for training anyway, but what is that percent? We all know how long a job search can take and it would not be good to stop getting training when you don’t know when/if you will leave.

What are your thoughts on having to pay back training you receive if you leave within a certain amount of time after receiving the training? There’s been no indication that this would only apply to training that we ourselves request; as far as I know, it would apply to training the company asks us to take too.

If this is for all trainings, even trainings your employer asks you to take, this is a ridiculous policy.

Your CIO might be thinking of tuition reimbursement programs, where companies pay for someone’s college or grad school classes but require repayment if the person leaves before X amount of time passes afterwards. But if your company wants to use repayment clauses for  more routine trainings (a half-day class on fundraising, say, or a day on a new software) — and especially for trainings they ask you to take — that’s wildly out of sync with normal business practices. It’s also going to discourage people from getting any training since, even if they have no plans to leave the company, who would want to be on the hook for the costs if their circumstances change and they do end up leaving?

Developing employees’ skills is a normal thing for businesses to invest in because it helps the employer by bringing stronger expertise into the company. Your company is asking for a situation where their workers’ skills stagnate. It’s incredibly short-sighted.

3. I think my team was dishonest while I was away

I’m pretty disappointed. I returned to work last week after a 16-week maternity leave. I stayed pretty disconnected from work issues (especially since this was unpaid FMLA) but stayed in touch with my team on some personal updates.

One of my reports got married at the courthouse during the work week and moved houses later that week. She took NO time off and was even clocked in during her vows. Another one traveled to visit family for a week but only took one sick day. These instances occurred several weeks ago, and I noticed randomly when I was training for our new payroll system. They are both hourly employees in an office environment. They both have several PTO hours in the bank.

How serious is this? Because I was not working at the time, is this something I should bring up? I will admit, I’m taking it personally, maybe more than I should. I feel like a level of trust has been broken, but I’m feeling unprepared with how to handle on my first full week back at work.

If they intentionally logged hours that they weren’t actually working, that’s timecard fraud and very serious. You should bring it up; it doesn’t matter that you were out at the time.

But don’t accuse them right off the bat, since there could be more to it than you know. For example, could your employee who traveled to visit family have been working remotely that week, if her job is one where that’s possible? Or, if your employee who got married actually got stuck with a big project that week and worked awful hours around her wedding, you don’t want to go in accusing her of lying, if that’s not what happened. Or since it’s a new payroll system, it’s possible what you’re seeing is a mistake made by people learning a new system. So start by explaining what you noticed and ask what happened. Listen to what they say before you conclude anything.

But if it does turn out that they intentionally reported hours they didn’t work so they’d get paid for work they didn’t do, that’s a very big deal.

4. Our resigning director wants severance payments

I am on the board of a nonprofit. Our executive director and founder is resigning from the organization. We are in a strong cash position (thankfully). They have communicated with the board that they expect us to offer a severance agreement, including a period of compensation and/or benefits after they stop working. If we had asked for their resignation, that would make sense to me, but the resignation is voluntary (and frankly the board was and still is upset about the decision, even though they gave us about six months’ notice and, given our strategic plan/plans for reorganization, the timing makes sense).

What is the norm here? I am tempted to offer modest financial severance but a more robust benefits severance, i.e. letting them stay on our healthcare for several months but not paying a ton of cash out of pocket. But I also know that if we were a small business (instead of a nonprofit), I would feel differently about how much cash we offered, and it feels wrong to discount the right amount of severance just because we’re in the nonprofit sector — work is work.

Severance is not generally a thing when people resign, only when they’re fired or laid off. When employers offer severance, it’s (a) to help cushion the blow of involuntary job loss and (b) in exchange for signing a legal document agreeing not to disparage the company and releasing them from any future legal claims. (That’s not because the employer necessarily thinks it did something wrong, but they’re providing free money that they have no legal obligation to offer, and it’s generally considered reasonable for them to ask for something in exchange. Legal releases have become standard with severance.)

Offering resigning employees severance isn’t typically done. It’s not about being a nonprofit — for-profit businesses don’t do it either. But being a nonprofit does obligate you to be particularly responsible with your donors’ money, and I’d question this use of it (and your funders might too).

But you could certainly ask your ED what her thinking is and see what she says. If she’s asking for it in exchange for that longer notice period, that would make more sense than just “I should get a goodbye package when I leave.”

5. Should I check in with an employer a week after an interview?

I have just come to what I think is the end of a month-long interview process. There was a phone screen, three-person Zoom panel, writing prompt sample, and finally an interview with a client (the position is in consulting and would be working heavily with this client). The last interview was one week ago, and at the end of the interview they said they were planning on moving quickly with next steps. Since this interview included the client, I didn’t follow up in the moment with questions about what those next steps would be or specifics on timing. I also happened to be doing that interview while on vacation, out of the country. Later that day, I sent an email thanking them for the opportunity to meet with the client and better understand that partnership and explaining that I would still be out of the country for the next few days and the best way to reach me would be by email. I didn’t receive a response to that email and I haven’t heard anything else.

I know there were other candidates in the final round and believe that I was the last to interview. My feeling is that they have probably decided to move forward with another candidate and maybe they are waiting to let me know until the negotiations are complete with their first choice. That’s really hard to admit because I’ve never made it this far in an interview process and not landed the job, talk about a knock to my self esteem! But I’m wondering if there is any value in me reaching out again to check in, although I’m not really sure what there is to gain or what I would even say. Perhaps express my interest again just ask if they have an update? What do you suggest?

I wouldn’t assume you’re not getting an offer just because it’s been a week! A week is nothing at all in hiring. (But I also wouldn’t ever assume you are getting an offer. You can be an excellent finalist who doesn’t get the offer for all kinds of reasons that shouldn’t knock your self esteem.)

It’s also too early to push for some kind of response from the employer. Give it two weeks total — 10 days if you really can’t help yourself — and then it’s fine to email saying something like, “I realized I didn’t know your timeline for next steps and would be grateful if you can give me a sense of it.”

In general, don’t contact an employer just to check in with no real reason or reiterate your interest so soon after an interview (there’s no need for it; they know you’re interested because you just completed a four-step hiring process). But it’s fine to inquire about their timeline after more time has gone by, since they didn’t tell you that earlier. Once you do, though, the ball is in their court and the best thing you can do is to put it out of your mind and let it be a pleasant surprise if they contact you.

did I make a mistake by sharing my salary with a coworker?

A reader writes:

I have always believed that knowledge is power, but when it comes to salaries, is there ever a reason to keep such things quiet?

For my entire career, I have stayed in the dark about what my coworkers were earning and likewise did not share my salary either. This is the unspoken rule of etiquette everywhere I have worked, and my bosses have always been coy about sharing pay ranges/bands, so it’s always been hard to know how I stacked up in terms of compensation.

Last year, many of my colleagues were laid off and, while I survived the cutbacks, the impact on my personal well-being was significant. With our reduced staffing, I took on the workload of an entire team, and the stress and insane hours (which were already high when we were fully staffed) quickly grew unmanageable. A few months ago, I jumped at another opportunity and I am happy with my decision.

Upon leaving my (now former) company, a trusted friend/coworker was offered my job, which should have been a rather large promotion for him. However, recently we were catching up over lunch and he said that his raise had not been very much at all. He did not state his income, and I’ve always suspected that he made much less money than I did, but I was surprised he did not get a hefty raise considering the level of work he assumed by taking on this new position.

So I decided to come right out and tell him what I had been making in that same job. Why not, right? I no longer work there and thought this information might be helpful to him in negotiating additional raises. But, his face when I told him was … ghastly. He expressed that he was making significantly less than that, and the gap seemed so wide that even a huge raise for him would not put him anywhere near my salary.

Did I make a mistake? Is this a case where having this knowledge was (unintentionally) harmful vs. helpful? Obviously what’s done is done, but I worry that his discontent in his job will grow now, because even if he does manage to use the information I gave him to get a (much-needed) bump in pay he’ll still be stuck with all the additional drama and responsibility of this position while knowing he isn’t earning what he could/should be. It made me wonder if I should stay mum about this topic when speaking with other friends in the future. Is salary simply too taboo to discuss in polite company?

Noooo! Don’t conclude that.

You did the right thing by sharing your salary information with your colleague.

It is never to a worker’s advantage to be left in the dark about what a company is willing to pay — and especially what they did pay — for a particular job. It is always better for people to have more information about pay than less.

That doesn’t mean the person you share salary info with will never find it upsetting! It is upsetting to learn that a predecessor was making mountains of money more than you are. Being upset makes sense!

For the sake of thoroughness, I will note that sometimes people have bad reactions to this sort of news that aren’t constructive — like resenting the higher-paid colleague rather than blaming the company. That could happen! It still wouldn’t mean you’d made the wrong choice in sharing the info with them.

Shining light on companies’ pay practices — specific ones, like “in this role I was earning $X,” not just broad salary bands — is how salary inequities get discovered and addressed. They don’t always get fixed — but even when they don’t, people having more info is a good thing because it helps them make better decisions for themselves, whether that decision is “keep pushing” or “sue because this seems linked to race or gender” or “leave for a better job” or “file away this info about the market and the company for a later time.”

Treating salary discussions as taboo benefits employers and hurts workers. Keep talking about it.