fast answer Friday — 6 short answers to 6 short questions

It’s fast answer Friday — six short answers to six short questions. Here we go…

1. Workplace doesn’t have hot water or heat in the bathroom

Can a business owner turn off the hot water and heat in a public/business bathroom to save money? My boyfriend is working in a huge empty theater with just a few employees, it is literally freezing outside and the owner of the building had them turn the bathroom heat and hot water off. I know he is paying for an empty building but this is just not right.

Probably. OSHA regulations require that each workplace bathroom be provided with “hot and cold running water, or tepid running water,” so this would probably fall under “tepid.” OSHA doesn’t have a regulation on office temperatures, noting that office temperature is “generally a matter of human comfort rather than hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm.”

Your boyfriend and his coworkers’ best bet is to talk to their employer about the situation and see if something can be worked out.

2. Unscheduled phone interviews at inconvenient times

I’ve been temping for a company for about 6 months, and have been searching for a job the whole time so I sometimes receive calls asking to conduct a phone interview with me, without any advance warning.

I do inventory for my company, which means I can be in the office, driving, or in a lab. These places either have no privacy, poor reception, or distractions. Currently I just don’t pick up numbers I don’t recognize, thinking that if it is about a job, they will leave a message, and then I try to call back later. The problem is that I get called by MANY unknown numbers for my job, and I do not have a work phone. If by accident, I pick up on a call that is for a job, and I am not in a place I can answer it, what do I do? Will it seem like I’m not interested if I try to reschedule? There are times that I’m even in my boss’s office! I can’t discuss job details there! Should I keep screening my calls as I do now, or is there a better way? (None of these calls are scheduled).

With a reasonable employer, it’s completely fine to explain that it’s not a good time for you and ask to schedule a time to talk later. However, be aware that some employers will then never call you back because they’re disorganized and rude, so you have to decide if you’re willing to risk that.

3. I don’t want a prospective employer to contact the place that fired me

After an interview, I received this email from the hiring manager: “I received very positive feedback on your interview with the team. They’ve asked that I contact you to check a couple of references. Specifically, do you have a reference or 2 from ___ I could call?”

I told them that I left that employer back in August because my duties had become dull and repetitive. I also told them that I left because of management issues. However, to make a long story short, I was in a start up with 5 other 25-year-olds who were running their first company. Everything went very loose, and I wasn’t comfortable with it. I was technically fired. But I couldn’t wait to get out of there, and was hoping they would fire me so I could claim unemployment. In that sense, it was a mutual separation.

I am currently in a legal battle with my previous employer since they are denying my unemployment insurance benefits. Knowing them, they would try to ruin other opportunities I have. So what should I tell the hiring manager?

I have a letter of recommendation written shortly after leaving my last employer, but since the email above specifically states “talk to” it might not suffice. Should I suggest talking to other professional contacts?

Uh oh. This is why it’s not a good idea to misrepresent this stuff. You can’t even cite the dispute over unemployment benefits in explaining why you don’t want to connect them, because that’ll make it clear that you were fired (not a mutual separation), since you wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment if you had quit. I suppose you could say that there’s been tension since you left, and that you’d rather put them in touch with others as a result … but since they’re specifically asking to talk to someone at this company, it’s sticky.

The reality is that you lied here (you didn’t even claim mutual separation — you said you left because you were bored and there were management issues), and so I don’t have a good answer for you.

4. Withdrawing from a hiring process after an interview

You and your readers helpfully answered my question a few weeks ago when I asked about a company that offered only one week of vacation and no 401K. I had a second interview today, and have decided — because of the benefits, some of the focus of the work, and some other reasons — that this isn’t the right fit. I would like to send a thank-you note to the people who interviewed me, however, to thank them for them for their time and consideration. Should I mention in the note that I have come to the conclusion that this wouldn’t be a great fit?

I don’t want to sound presumptuous or offend anyone, but I also can’t say that I am still interested in the position and here’s why I’m perfect for it, etc. like I normally would in a thank-you note.

If you’re absolutely sure you wouldn’t accept the job if it was offered to you, yes, you should tell them now. You can either go with vague (“I really appreciate your time, but I’ve decided to focus on other opportunities that I think will be a better fit”) or you can be more candid and explain more (“After thinking it through, I’ve concluded that the benefits package is less than I need, and I’m really looking for work more focused on X”). I generally think that candor is the better way to go; after all, you might be doing their current and future employees a favor by pushing the benefits issue, and there’s no harm in letting them know the other reasons the fit wasn’t right, because it might help them connect you with something else in the future. (For instance, if I interviewed a great candidate who told me she wanted to do more X than the Y-focused job I was hiring for, and a few weeks later a friend told me she was hiring for Y, I’d probably refer the person.)

As for your concern about doing it in a thank-you note, keep in mind that this is not a thank-you note; it’s a follow-up note. You’re following up with them post-interview to let them know that you appreciate the time they spent with you but are withdrawing because of ___. You’re not confined to a structure that doesn’t fit your situation.

5. Manager accused me of trying to pull a fast one when I called in sick

I have a four-day weekend coming up and I’m sick. I went to work yesterday feeling a little under the weather, but by this morning I was full blown sick. I called my manager. He didn’t answer but I left him a voicemail that I wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t sure what to do because we are already short staffed during the holiday week. He texted me back to not come in. Then about 10 minutes later, he texted me again that he hoped I could come in tomorrow, which is my first day of vacation.

I thought he was threatening to take away my vacation time if I called in sick. So I told him I’d suck it up and recover over the long weekend. He finally decided to call me. He told me that my texts “reeked of trying to pull a fast one and screw the team over.” He also told me that I would need a doctor’s note per company policy because my vacation starts tomorrow and we would “figure this out when I get back.” I’m heading to the doctor this morning, but I’m totally freaked out. Can he take back my vacation time because I called in sick? I feel like what he’s doing is harrassing. Is it legal? How should I handle the situation when I return to work Tuesday?

Yes, it’s legal. Many companies have policies that require you to have a doctor’s note if you take sick leave right before or after vacation (to prevent people from extending their vacation using sick days). I think requiring a doctor’s note in any situation is a dumb policy, but if that’s what your company requires — or what your manager is requiring in this situation — then that’s what you have to comply with.

My bigger concern here is that that you have a manager willing to accuse you of “trying to pull a fast one and screw the team over.” Personally, I’d return to work, ask to meet with him first thing, hand him the doctor’s note, and say, “I’m really concerned about what you said to me last week because that’s not the way I operate, I’ve never given you reason to think I operate that way, and I’m alarmed that you’d think it.” And I would stay aggressively alarmed until that was settled in some way — although it’s hard for me to imagine ever being able to have a good working relationship again with this guy again, after he revealed himself to be such an ass.

6. Following up with a professor when I haven’t heard back about working with him

I am an undergrad student and I did a volunteer summer research position for a research competition. Now that the competition is over, I talked with my adviser/employer about continuing to work in his lab, and he said he could maybe have me do a side project with another one of his students and to remind him via email. I was really happy and emailed him a week later on a Monday. He said to email him on Friday because he was really busy. So I did. But he never emailed me back. Then, I emailed him about a week and half later, and he still didnt reply back (which I understand because it was during finals and he has deadlines to get grades in). What is crucial to know is that he is really busy and has other students that he helps out as well, along with the research he does and grant writing, so I know he is overwhelmed.

Now that it’s been holiday break, I would really like to email him again, but I feel as if it would be too pushy of me to ask, especially when all our conversations have just been about me asking him if I can continue working. I don’t want it to seem as if I’m always asking him for something or seem pushy, and I feel like this is analogous to many following-up situations. Should I email him? And if so, should I ask about work or just send him a holiday card?

Don’t send a holiday card, at least not if you’re expecting it to be code for “hey, get back to me about that project.” Be direct: “I don’t want to bother you because I know that you’re busy, but I’d really love to talk with you about the work you mentioned I might be able to do for you. Is there a good time we could talk by phone or in person about it? I’d be glad to make myself available to talk in the evening or over the weekend or holiday break if that’s easier for you.”

But after that, if you again get no response, I’d assume it’s probably not happening and move on. (Anyone in academia want to give different advice?)

{ 146 comments… read them below }

  1. Higher Ed*

    #6 Many faculty members and those of us who are professional staff members at universities go off the radar after the grades are submitted and students are gone. I’d circle back with him a week or so before classes start.

    1. clobbered*

      … and remind him who you are. Some folks deal with too many students to keep straight.

      Also, if he went as far as talking to you about what the project might be, do some background work and see if you can ask an intelligent question about it in the same email.

      1. J*

        Yep agree with everyone; ask him after break (try for 2-3 days after break is over because he’ll be too busy catching up on work in the first few days).

        I would email something like “Hi Professor A, I really enjoyed working in the lab on xxxxxx and I really learned a lot about yyy. Before break, we talked briefly about me returning to work with student B on project Z, and I am writing to follow up since I am still very interested. I can come by lab if you have time to meet this week.”

        my qualifications: just finished a PhD so I’ve lived academia for many many many years.

  2. Tina*

    #6. And “go off the radar”, in many cases, means the University literally shuts down and people leave. As of close of business the Friday before Christmas, my university shut down and won’t reopen until the Wed after New Year’s. So I would check your school’s schedule to see when they re-open and when classes resume (it’s only a couple days difference for us), to get a better idea for time frame to follow up. As Alison said, if you don’t hear at that point, you should drop it.

  3. EJ*

    #5 – I can see how it would look like you were ‘trying to pull a fast one’. If you seemed fine the day before, then called in sick, and then offered to come in after all when confronted, you would look guilty. He’s still rude, but I see where the manager is coming from here.

    The approach to vacation is always a suspicious time for sick days. Hence silly doctor’s note policies. Did you let anyone know you weren’t feeling well the day before? Colleagues or your manager? I find that helps. It also helps to work on being perceived as a team player and hard worker, to avoid suspicion. Your manager jumping to this conclusion might be an indicator that you need to work on how you’re perceived at work. Or he might just be a jerk.

    But in the end, this is just about how it ‘looks’, not whether you’re really sick or not. People get petty when they’re overwhelmed, and taking on your workload that day might have tipped them over the edge. It’s not fair but it’s true. In the past I’ve also offered to work a few hours for home on a sick day near vacation, just to ease the blow.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I always get sick right after vacation (just stepping on an airplane seems to do it for me) so I’ve started just building in an extra day for planning purposes. Then if I’m miraculously healthy I show up, but otherwise they’ve planned accordingly.

    2. K*

      But she did offer to work while sick, and you also pointed that out as one of the things that made her look suspicious. I don’t know, you either trust your co-workers and employees or you don’t. If you do, then you need to give them the benefit of the doubt about being sick. If you don’t, then you have bigger problems then someone taking a sick day before a four-day weekend.

      Yeah, building up a bank of credibility helps. But if you have a manager who’s going to fly off the handle like hers did, I’m not sure it would ever be enough.

      1. Twentymilehike*

        I used to be the only employee of a husband and wife team. I worked four hours a day. Once, the day before our thanksgiving break I came down with a horrible flu–fever, dizzy, vomit,the whole nine yards. I called my boss and she screamed at me telling me I was just trying to get more time off (4 hours!?), and wouldn’t believe me that I couldn’t even stand up (I got the flu from her,no less). I came back after thanksgiving and gave her my notice (a promise I made when hired because she told me all of her previous assistants walked off the no with no notice… A red flag perhaps?). She paid me and told me to leave. It was a great day.

        OP, listen to Alison’s advice, and don’t feel guilty for being sick. I used to get in that mindset and beat myself up for it. If your boss is unreasonable and won’t talk to you about it like a reasonable human being its not your fault. I know now that I shouldn’t have felt guilty for not working with the flu when I worked for someone who would randomly get mad and throw phones.

    3. Kou*

      Great googly moogly I hate when people decide whether or not you’re sick by how they looked last time they saw you or how they look the next time they see you after. “You were fine yesterday, how can you be sick today?” As if no one ever goes downhill over an evening/night. I’m pretty sure that’s happened to literally everyone at least a few times.

      And I would not say it’s usually a good idea to parade around your workplace announcing any time you feel vaguely under the weather juuust in case you get more sick and one of them decides to be a judgmental ass about it and accuse you of intentional sabotage like this guy did. That would make people even less likely to believe you because it would sound like you were crying wolf every time anything bothered you at all, for starters, and second I don’t think there’s much you can do to talk reason into someone who does this.

      1. N.*

        Thank you Kou! Mary Mallon showed up faithfully to her job, didn’t appear under the weather and she killed… hmm what was it? Three people and infected 51 total? Because she would not give up her job as a cook? You have to admire “Typhoid Mary” for her you can’t keep me from working attitude. How about the dude a few years back who had a drug resistant strain of tuberculosis and boarded a plane for his honeymoon?

        I am sorry for you OP#5, document EVERYTHING from now on, and you might have to complain that your boss is invading your privacy. You shouldn’t have to explain yourself, but you should have as much evidence as possible in case your conduct gets called into question, because if he does it once, it will happen again.

        One of my subordinates had to leave for an emergency dentist appointment mid-morning once; his tooth had broken in half the night before (it was obvious), and he came to work because he didn’t know if I would let him have a same day appointment. I advised him that because it was an emergency *of course* he should take the rest of the day off and schedule what he could, and left it for him to decide if he should take PTO, or work later in the week. I asked him to get a note for the records, and in case there were questions from the higher ups.

        An hour later, my boss asked me where he was, and I told him “Terrance had emergency appointment” and I got a look that heard something more like “Terrance threatened to burn the building down.” I was accused of allowing people to take “frivolous” PTO (though in this instance, everyone in the office had seen the freshly broken tooth, not that it mattered, I still would have let him go), and my boss demanded I show him the attendence records for my subordinates. When I showed him they were in order (and barring any blatant forgeries, completely legit), he was still fuming.

        A few days later I received notification that information had been added to my performance review file; when I logged on I found all my good scores had been changed to neutral and unacceptable, and that I was “resisting corrective actions and all efforts and feedback to help improve [my] performance” and “[failed] to keep accurate time and attendance records of direct reports.”

        We wound up seeing HR, who had called the meeting because she was “concerned” about the requests she was getting from my boss, and wanted to address my performance issues before they became any more “alarming.” After hearing my side of the story, she agreed there was no grounds for an official warning (two steps before someone could be fired) and assured me that I was allowed to let a worker go home for an emergency; however, in the same breath I was advised that my boss was “correct”. Regarding my file, it was not “…HR’s policy to dictate what is included in an employee’s review.”

        When I protested that I had no reason to believe anyone was milking the system and shouldn’t be subject to punitive action for approving legitimate PTO requests, she dispensed this invaluable pearl of wisdom: “whenever you have a problem the best thing is to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why.” She concluded the meeting with: “I hope you will consider taking your responsibilities for this company seriously in the future.”

        According to her, people (especially hourly workers) just did not like being held accountable, and that if my boss said I needed to be suspicious of my workers (even if their time off was accounted for) then darn it, I needed to be suspicious.

        Keep good records when battling the boss…

        1. Camellia*

          Wow! Just…wow. You have my sympathy. I too have worked for this type of bad management in the past and it sucks because it can’t be changed. It makes me feel like, screw karma, I want to beat them up now!

    4. Esra*

      Lots of people get sick before vacation, because they’ve been super stressed leading up to it. Given the relatively small amounts of vacation time in North America compared to other places, and the limits on when you can take it, lots of people are approaching burnout by the time they actually get to their time off.

      Here’s an article about the relationship between stress, sickness, and vacation:

      1. Jamie*

        I have a family member who sees a specialist for migraines and was told that the reason we almost always get them on weekends in something about the body suppressing the major symptoms during the week because of adrenaline or something due to work stress.

        I don’t remember the specifics – but I still think it’s patently unfair that I get way more migraines when trying to relax then working.

        1. LA*

          This. I had to explain this to my father countless times when I lived at home. I tend to have migraines Saturday night/Sunday and he would strongly suggest every single time that it was either all in my head or I needed to see a doctor because there must be something to the pattern. Well, there is something to the pattern – i like to think that my body knows that that is literally the only time during the week where I’d be able ot have adequate time to recover from an attack. As much as I hate having migraines on my days odd, I am grateful that I normally get them when I actually treat them guilt-free rather than having to miss work

  4. Anonymous*

    #5 – if the vacation didn’t involved specific plans and you can use the vacation time in another way, perhaps going to work wouldn’t be so bad. You’ll be miserable and ineffective on company time, which will serve that manager right. And feeling well on your own time.

    Only do this if you’re not infectious.

    1. Natalie*

      If I were the LW, I’d be worried doing this would undermine my credibility, so to speak. Maybe if it was at the end of the vacation and thus the LW had enough time to recover… But in my experience the sort of manager that distrusts someone calling in sick (without having a good reason to distrust them) is the sort of manager that will only remember that the LW called in sick and then came in when confronted.

  5. Anonymous*

    #1– This is pretty whiny of your boyfriend! Would he prefer that his pay be cut to pay for steamy water when he washes his hands?

    1. K*

      I agree that the hot water isn’t a big deal; but depending on where they live (and what the uniform requirements are) the heat really could be.

    2. Becky*

      Oddly enough, I also work in a big old empty theater, with just a few coworkers (however my boss hasn’t turned off the heat). If you live in a Northern climate (we are in Norther MN) having no heat and no hot water isn’t just an inconvenience. Our building has heat, but it is still cold enough that we need shawls at work (or blankets), and I have worn gloves at my desk. I think this is a legitimate complaint, and I agree completely that he and his coworkers should approach the boss about it.

      1. Jamie*

        Why am I picturing Bob Cratchit warming his gloved hands over a candle?

        I know there is no law on this – but if gloves and blankets are needed then the heat needs to be kicked up a notch or ten. I really find that unconscionable.

        I had to work like that for an hour or so once, when I came in when the office was empty and I couldn’t figure out how to work the thermostat…and it’s no fun and there is no way this doesn’t hurt productivity.

        1. Anonymous*

          I don’t understand the lack of law on this either. Of course we can’t all have the temp set to our individual preference, but a basic rule defining what is safe is reasonable. Warehouse workers shouldn’t have to freeze in the winter or boil in the summer. And just how well can you do your job if you have to wear mittens?

          I had a software programming job once in a crappy building with an overacting heater. I measured it at 85 degrees one week, and brought in a humidistat because the dry air was giving me headaches. Because the heater was running so much, the humidity would get down to 20 percent in the afternoons. That’s Sahara desert dry. This isn’t as bad as warehouse workers, but it still made our jobs hard to do. Do you think they’d let us strip down to bathing suits? Lol

      2. Chinook*

        I am thinking the law doesn’t exist because those in warmer areas (which seems to be where the laws are made) don’t see it as a safety issue and those of is in colder climates know it is common sense and a matter of life or limb.

        I have a rule of thumb (or in my case, index finger) that states “if my finger changes colour due to lack of heat, the employer either needs to turn up the heat or allow me to do my job wearing gloves (and sympathetic customers have been known to complain on my behalf). I suffered 2nd degree frostbite 20 years ago and the one finger literally changes to pasty yellow (and grosses people out) when it is too cold (basically all blood rushes to warm other body parts that haven’t already been damaged). The only time an employer couldn’t turn up the heat, I was working a drive thru in -25 and I pointed out that they could either deal with worker’s comp or let me wear gloves.

        1. Anonymous*

          I’m lucky: my workplace keeps the heat turned up to sane levels, even if we can’t adjust our own thermostats. However, I threatened to mutiny on my Christmas visit home because my family has an odd conception of “heat.” My fingers were turning purple and then white while inside the house, and I was shivering under a coat and sweater. It’s definitely a productivity issue, and sometimes a safety one. (If you can’t feel your hands while chopping vegetables, it’s necessary to be *very* alert.)

        2. Laura L*

          “I am thinking the law doesn’t exist because those in warmer areas (which seems to be where the laws are made) don’t see it as a safety issue.”

          Hmm.. I always wondered why some people didn’t understand that cold weather is a safety hazard. But this would explain that.

          1. -X-*

            What is unsafe?

            On the cold side, what is safe may be far lower than what is comfortable. We know people can work outside in winter in many climates by dressing appropriately. And there are productive places in the world (I was just in one) where there is no heat and little or no hot running water even if temperatures are in the low 50s inside and outside, for months at a time.

            Literally freezing (32F or colder) is a bit much. But 45F, which most of us would find very uncomfortable is not itself unsafe.

            Also, I think the pipes comment suggests it is not freezing in the building, just outside.

              1. -X-*

                @Jamie, not if the person is otherwise healthy, is dry and is wearing sufficient clothing. That doesn’t cover everyone, but it surely covers most people who are working full-time.

                That article talks about wet and windy weather. Not the case indoors.

                1. -X-*

                  @Jazzy Red

                  I’m not saying it is not so bad. I’m saying it is not unsafe. Those are not the same thing. Do you understand THAT?

                  I’ve worked outside in 35F weather ( and lived for weeks in an unheated apartment in 55F weather while working in an unheated building in the same weather). Lot of people do.

            1. Chinook*

              What is unsafe? Cold weather where I am from can kill you. If you are dry and dressed properly, you can survive outside to -30 Celsius and below, but that requires proper clothing and the opportunity to go in to warm up when necessary. If you are damp (whether from outside factors or from working up a sweat from doing labour), even -5 with a wind can cause problems. Plus the proper clothing weather-wise can impair hearing and sight lines as well as dexterity.

              As for comfort, that too can depend on the time of year up here. Those of us in cold climates can either bundle up or go around in t-shirts at -5 depending on whether it is fall or spring and where the sun is (i.e. is it a sign of it getting warmer or colder) and I can see why that could never be mandated by law. But, spending all day inside at anything below 10 C could easily affect dexterity and alertness if you are not dressed properly because you never have the opportunity to stand in the sun and thaw out.

      3. RG*

        You also have to start worrying about pipes freezing if the heat is completely off (in the northern climates), which is partly why having the heat off, and not just low, doesn’t make sense if it’s really cold out.

        Unless the building has been winterized, and that usually means the water has been drained out of the pipes, and instead you have employees in a building with no running water…

    3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I tend to agree that it’s kinda whiny. If he were having to work in a building with no heat, that would possibly be different, but the OP states pretty clearly that the heat *in the bathroom* is turned off. Which tells me that the rest of the building still has heat? In which case, I say do your thing and get out!

  6. Katie the Fed*

    #3 – I think you really have two options here.

    One is to contact your former employer and ask if they’ll give you a good recommendation (they wrote you a letter, correct?). Maybe you could offer to drop your unemployment claim as well?

    My preferable option is that you just fess up and tell the truth. To me it’s really the only right thing to do in a situation like this, and as a manager I’d have a lot more respect for someone who came clean than continued to perpetuate a lie. Either way, it’s not a good situation. I value honesty above all else in my employees and I don’t know how I’d feel about hiring someone under those circumstances.

    1. Brooke*

      +1 to all of this! However, as a hiring manager, I would be extremely cautious about hiring someone, even if they did come clean about their situation. I would probably consider that possibly if they lied to me in their interview (when people are the best that they can be), then they may not hesistate to lie about other things when they become comfortable and more at ease at their job.

  7. Cytokine*

    #6 – Speaking as a post-doc and an adjunct lecturer, don’t worry about it and try contacting the professor again (better yet, stop by his office – perhaps you could ambush the PI before/after lab meeting). This isn’t unusual, even if you’re currently in the professor’s lab, which is why we typically just poke our head in the door (many PIs also ignore the phone as well). If you remain in academia, you’ll encounter this over and over again (letters of rec, applying to post-doc positions, asking for reagents) so get comfortable with aggressively making face-to-face time. As a side note, aggressiveness is a positive trait that most PIs view favorably.

    1. Sam*

      Yes, this.

      Also, please note that the weeks leading up to the end of the semester are a very busy time for a prof. The OP should not take it personally that the prof was forgetful and unresponsive during this time period. If it were me, I’d wait until after the holidays before reaching out again. A lab or office-hours ambush isn’t a bad strategy in academia.

      1. fposte*

        I was hoping somebody would mention office hours. If this person is in residence as faculty and not just research, he should have office hours posted on his door and/or website and/or available in the department office. It’s absolutely kosher to drop by during those–that’s what they’re for. They won’t exist until the new semester starts, but you’re not going to get an answer in the meantime anyway.

        So drop by, be willing to acknowledge the possibility that the opportunity didn’t work out, but politely ask if it still might.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I hope this is true. I’m supposed to meet with an adviser before I can even register, and have to deal with Vocational Rehabilitation at the same time, and the adviser and I can’t seem to connect. Classes start on the 14th. I am panicking.

        Wondering if this whole thing is even worth the trouble.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I was planning to call on Wednesday and see if he was in. I need to get my parking thingy too, and was planning to do so the same day.

            I had emailed him on the 20th, and let him know I was not going to be available after 3 pm (my friend and I went to see The Hobbit, and didn’t get out until after 6 pm). While I was in there and my phone was off, someone called me from the school (argh!) but there was no message. I emailed him back the next day, but got no reply.

            BTW The Hobbit was awesome. :)

            1. Rana*

              Don’t panic! Keep in mind that even if you’re waiting until the last minute, there’s usually a bit of class-shuffling the first few weeks. It’s not ideal if you need Teapot Senior Seminar to graduate, but for the early stuff (Teapot 101, Chocolate Tempering 100) there’s often a lot of people who drop in the firs couple of weeks, freeing up openings in other classes.

              But, yes, dropping by office hours works well (for some professors, I’d even say it works best). That’s what they’re there for.

              That said, the beginning of semester is also often a bit hectic, so keep trying. (If it’s any comfort, I never felt angry at a student who kept politely contacting me to set up an appointment If anything I was the one feeling guilty that I hadn’t responded in a timely fashion.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I’ll keep trying. I don’t need any of the gen ed stuff- my prior degree took care of that. Hopefully classes I need won’t be full.

                LOL I didn’t even notice the typos. Of course, that could be that I’m reading your answer before my coffee has fully kicked in.

    2. Ellie H.*

      I concur as well. I work in academia and both my parents are professors. It is really common that professors will just not get back to students in a timely fashion (unfortunately, I even know of students who have not graduated on time because of this) and a lot of the stereotypes are true about being absent minded and unresponsive to communication are true. The fact that he hasn’t replied to you definitely doesn’t indicate that it’s a no go (of course it might, but it’s probably less likely). Especially if grades haven’t been due yet he’s probably especially busy with that. I think stopping by his office or lab is the best bet, or wait to email again when classes have started and you know he’s back on campus- and make it as easy as possible for him to respond.

  8. Brooke*

    #3 – I really do not like hearing about people wanting to be fired so they can get unemployment. We have had that happen to our company where people obviously hate the job and don’t want to even put forth effort at work, only to leave and go straight to the unemployment office. Just in my opinion, I think you should put your best efforts into whatever you do at least until you can find a job that you enjoy. That way, when you do switch jobs, you don’t have to worry about getting a bad reference in the first place!

    #5 – Nothing that I noticed in the email mentioned anything about this not happening in the past. I’m not saying that it has happened before, but I wouldn’t say that it hasn’t. Anyway, if you were feeling well enough to “suck it up” for that day to save your vacation time, you probably should have gone in, in my opinion. I work for a small office and when one person is out, it leaves everyone in a bind. If the person is truly very sick, that’s one thing. But for the most part, most of the people in my office work even when they are pretty sick, just to not leave their team mates in a bind. What I usually do is, if I well enough to get up and get ready and go to work, I do…then I let my boss send me home. If you are that sick, people will notice and will probably tell you it’s okay to go home and they will take care of the rest. If you’re not that sick, people probably will not feel all that sorry for you. Although I think it was unprofessional of your boss to call you out like that, I can see why he would have concerns.

    1. Jamie*

      I cannot agree with your first paragraph more. If your job sucks either quit or work to the best of your ability until you find something else. By the same token if an employee should be fired the employer shouldn’t drag their feet on that either. I really hate these standoffs where the employer wants the employee gone, the employee wants to leave but one side is waiting for a quit and the other waiting to get fired.

      It’s like pulling a band-aid of a mm at a time. Just rip it off, it’s cleaner for everyone.

      1. some1*

        In my state if you get dismissed for cause (or fired) you don’t get unemployment anyway, so it’s a pretty self-defeating strategy.

        1. Jamie*

          It works in some states. In mine only gross misconduct disqualifies you, if you’re fired. Incompetence, absenteeism, whathaveyou typically qualifies unless it’s really beyond the pale. The default is to approve UI.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I agree with your first point, but the bit about working sick is something companies need to find a way around. Every single time I have gotten sick and missed work, it’s because some damn martyr comes in and hacks germs all over the office. Every. Single. Time. Stay home and keep your germs to yourself!

  9. Jamie*

    I’m confused about #5. Is the vacation separate from the long weekend and does suck it up and recover over the long weekend mean she was offering to come in or not?

    Maybe it’s the flu – but I’m confused.

    1. Josh S*

      This is a retail environment, call center, or something where there’s people working every day and schedules aren’t 9-5, M-F.

      OP was scheduled for Thursday and Friday, and had Sat/Sun/Mon/Tue off. She was under the weather on Thu, but went to work anyway. Fri she is feeling really bad, but when it felt like the manager was potentially going to make her work some or all of Sat/Sun/Mon/Tue, she offered to come in, be miserable, and then get well over her ‘long weekend’ (which is really just the vacation time she had arranged to take these days).

      Of course, this offer just raised flags with the manager, since you’re either too sick to work or you aren’t. So manager called OP to get clarification. Which is probably what OP should have done as soon as she felt the 4 vacation days were ‘threatened’– call the manager and say, “Look. I hate taking an unscheduled sick day right before my scheduled vacation. But I’m really sick. If I can’t have vacation if I’m out sick today, I’ll try to come in, but it won’t be pretty. I’d prefer to stay home sick. What do you need me to do?”

      It’s clear, up front, gives the manager the option while making the OPs preference clear, and shows some respect. Ideally, the manager would already have enough respect to trust the OP, but in retail/call center situations, there’s often a default environment of mistrust.

  10. Janet*

    I hate the whole idea of bringing in doctor’s notes. To me, it reeks of punishing everyone for the crimes of one or two people. I worked with a guy who would always call in sick after his parents visited. Now, either his parents made him sick or he needed a mental health day or something but he did it every damn time. Every time. But instead of confronting him about it, they started this rule that you had to bring in a doctor’s note. I’ll never forget the look on the ER doctor’s face when I went for a massive asthma attack and after I could breathe again I asked him if he could please write me a note for my boss. He was like “What?! You’re kidding me! You’re an adult, doesn’t he trust you?”

    1. Jamie*

      This 1000x.

      I’m working with the flu right now – but I’m alone in the office with the exception of one other person in a different part of the building who is giving me wide berth. If the office were open I’d be working from home sick – but I wouldn’t go to the doctor for this.

      I’m achy, I’m congested, and my throat hurts. Unless my fever spikes or I develop a deep cough what is the doctor going to do? Tell me to rest and drink plenty of fluids? If I didn’t figure that out by the time I hit adulthood it doesn’t say much for my ability to learn.

      Seriously, these draconian policies requiring doctor’s notes drive up insurance as well. If I had to go in for no reason other than needing a note they will charge my insurance what – about $275 for those 5 minutes? It’s silly to drive premiums up for unnecessary appointments and then people who really need to see the doctor need to wait.

      It’s ridiculous.

      1. KellyK*

        I didn’t think of the insurance angle, but you’re right. I’m sure that’s a definite contributor to driving costs up.

      2. K*

        Absolutely. I can’t tell you how glad I am I didn’t have to drag myself into the doctor’s office last time I had the flu. I can’t imagine that sitting in an office waiting room for an hour to get a note would do anything other than make me sicker, waste the doctor’s time, and possibly infect the other patients. I feel like I should thank my bosses for being reasonable people. (I like to think I repay them by only calling out sick when I’m truly sick, and by working diligently when I’m not.)

        1. Rana*

          No kidding. I recently had a flu-like thing (I’ve been calling it The Crud) that completely wiped me out for several days. As in, was barely able to traverse the distance between bedroom and bathroom, I was so weak and exhausted. The thought of struggling to the doctor’s office (which would have involved a walk and a bus ride or trying to drive a car when I was so feverish it was at times hard to focus) at that time is dire.

          Plus our insurance isn’t good, and my primary doctor is an OB-GYN who frequently has small children and babies in the waiting room.

          (It sucked the next week having to work double-time on a project while recovering, but I was so, so grateful for the time flexibility being self-employed can bring otherwise.)

      3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        Dr. note policies are often used in retail, food, etc, for a totally different reason: most people who work in those places don’t have insurance at all, and there’s no way in hell they’re paying out of pocket for a Dr. to tell them they have a cold. These are people that will often skip the doctor when something serious is happening, so a cold or flu won’t cut it. So they can’t get the note, and they have to come in. Managers at these places know this and exploit it; there is no desire to get people to stay home when they are sick.

    2. Apostrophina*

      Funny you should mention parental visits, because I did call in sick one day after my parents visited, early in my work life.

      My mom smokes: neither I nor anyone I spend time with in my city does. After a weekend spent mostly in a smoke-filled car, I felt really ill and threw up repeatedly the day my parents left. At the time, I didn’t immediately connect these events (Mom has smoked my whole life, so I guess I didn’t realize I’d lost my tolerance for it), and so I called in sick.

      The difference is that the next time this happened, I put two and two together, realized it wasn’t the beginning of a real illness, and came in to work.

        1. Jamie*

          I have a really easily tripped gag reflex – anyone at work vomiting and might as well hand me an emisis basin as well.

          A good rule of thumb is that if anything inside of you is violently trying to come out please stay home. That’s what your bathroom is for.

    3. CH*

      Last year I had to bring in a doctor’s note to be allowed to work! I had a bad cough that lingered for weeks (I get this every 3-4 years). I had already seen the doctor and was assured that although I sounded bad, I was in no health danger nor was I contagious anymore. About a week later, my boss asked if I should be home, and when I told him what the doctor had said, he asked me to bring in a note. So it was back to the doctor for me and a $25 co-pay because the boss could not take my word for it.

      1. Anonymous*

        To be fair, this sounds like a liability issue. Had you been trying to work through something contagious, and the boss let it go on, and then people got infected…

        1. Jamie*

          That’s what I was thinking. In manufacturing we do require a release to work whenever someone has something that limited their workload – because we want to make sure they aren’t going to re-injure themselves. I can see why they would want external verification that something wasn’t contagious.

          People do still get TB in this day and age.

        2. KellyK*

          Yeah, that’s a fair point. It’s still crappy to send you back to the doctor for a note when you’ve already been. Though I would also hope that if you called up the office and said “Hey, I didn’t realize I needed a doctor’s note to come back to work with this cough, but my boss wants confirmation that you don’t think I’m contagious,” your doctor would write that without having you come back in again.

          1. Anonymous*

            How do they know the doctor’s note wasn’t fake? Did they check. Could be a liability issue there too.

          2. CH*

            In retrospect, I probably could have called and had the medical practice send a note, but it had been a week since they’d seen me and in fairness to my doctor, I could have caught something else in that time. What bothered me was the implication that my word on the matter (that I had been cleared by the doctor ) was not good enough. Of course, by the time the boss brought it up, I’d been coughing for 3 weeks so it seems like if I were contagious the horse would have already left the barn.

      2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        Ah, it’s times like this when I love my boutique medical practice even more. I can send my doc an email saying I need a note, and they can send one back with the note. No appt or co-pay or anything needed. :) Ah, modern medicine…

        1. Anonymous*

          Is this boutique practice called Kaiser Permanente by any chance? :-)

          I think I can do this with my doc at Kaiser, but I’ve never had to, so I’m not sure.

    4. Elizabeth West*


      Getting a doctor’s note can also be difficult because in some cases, it takes DAYS to get an appointment. If you don’t have insurance and have to go to urgent care or God forbid, the ER, that is expensive and you typically have to sit there, sick, for hours until you are seen. And many people can’t afford those options without insurance, so forget it.

      1. KellyK*

        Yeah, that’s another issue (no doubt made worse by people who need doctor’s notes for *their* jobs taking up some appointment slots). How do you get a doctor’s note if you can’t even get seen?

        I’ve been waiting more than a week to get an appointment for a backache, and my husband wasn’t even able to get in the same day with bronchitis (they did get him in the next morning). Granted, the office has a couple providers out sick, which doesn’t help.

    5. Kou*

      It bothers me because most illnesses don’t freaking require medical attention, and going to the doctor eliminates most of the rest I would have gotten. If I run a fever or have food poisoning or whatever for ONE day, I would never go to the doctor. Going to the doctor is just as much effort as going to work for a half day, especially if you bus it like I do and it also means walking many blocks.

  11. Anonymous*

    5. Sorry you’re dealing with that. I’m at work right now with a cold and my baby is at home sick because I only have 2 days of work this week and a long weekend due to the holidays. A lot of people are on vacation and I didn’t want to look like a flake or leave my other coworker alone :( I miss my baby.

    1. Jamie*

      Can I suggest mango tea with honey?

      I don’t like either mango or honey, but I’m also working sick and HR suggested this when I emailed her this am whining about not feeling well (we’re friends – I was whining in a friend capacity and not an official HR capacity). It’s fabulous and has gotten me through the day so far. And it takes the edge of the lovely Vick’s and Lysol smell permeating my office right now.

      1. Anonymous*

        Thanks. I can make a dash to CVS on my lunch break. I didn’t want to take any medicine just in case of any side effects and this breakroom tea is not cutting it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I generally avoid medicine too, but Theraflu Daytime and Dayquil are both pretty good at making you feel temporarily human without many side effects.

          But I second the tea with honey recommendation as well.

          Feel better!

          1. Twentymilehike*

            Black elderberry extract!! It’s like an overnight miracle cold cure. If you have a health food store nearby I highly recommend it!

            1. Jamie*

              I’ll stop at GNC on the way home – thanks for the tip. I can’t take OTC cold/flu remedies due to adverse reaction so love the idea of something I can take without my pulse heading up to 150+.

              1. Twentymilehike*

                Glad I could help :). I rarely get sick, but my hubby couldn’t shake a cold for about a month and was at wits end when we were turned on to it. Literally felt better the next day and normal in three. I hope it works just as well for you. Feel better soon!!

            2. FreeThinkerTX*

              I’ll also recommend Cold-Eeze lozenges. They’re made with a special form of zinc that kills / neutralizes the rhinovirus (the main cause of the common cold). Basically, the rhinovirus is a spiky ball, and the zinc is a ball with holes that fit the spikes, so the rhinovirus ends up “stuck” to the zinc which renders it ineffective, and also allows you to swallow it where your stomach acid kills it off.

              Throw in some “Clear” nasal spray (the C looks like an X), and you’ll be over your cold in just a few days, not an entire week (or weeks). Clear is a saline solution with xylitol in it. Xylitol kills bacteria, which will help prevent a possible sinus infection. It’s also great for allergies. It was created after research showed that children who chew gum made with xylitol have less ear infections and allergy symptoms than those who chewed gum made with sugar or one of the other sugar alcohols (malitol, sorbitol, etc.).

              So my cold regimen is Sambucol (elderberry extract), Cold-Eeze lozenges, Clear nasal spray, and tulsi tea made with cinnamon and honey. (Cinnamon and honey are antibacterials).

              1. Jamie*

                Thanks, just added to the list. My husband is heading to Walgreens now to clean them out of everything mentioned here before I go to work.

                If this were any other time I’d stay home, but need to finish the numbers for the end of year audit before I let the system go live again next week.

                Stupid time crunch and I completely lost my voice for the first time. I always thought when Carol lost her voice and Cindy asked Santa to bring it back so she could sing the solo in church that it was hyperbole…but apparently it happens. I try to talk and it’s just a little croak.

                As soon as my office is open again on Wednesday my time off begins and i may just bury the phone, iPad, etc in the backyard and fall completely off the grid.

                1. Anonymous*

                  How would you come here if you bury the tech? You know you’re addicted as addicted to AAM as the rest of us are! :)

  12. Victoria HR*

    #2 – as someone who schedules phone screens on a daily basis, it’s 100% fine to ask the caller to schedule a time when you’ll be available.

    #3 – in for a penny, in for a pound, I guess. Since you’ve already lied (shame!), you can lie again and say that your former employer has a strict policy that no one there is allowed to give former employees references at all. That’s what happened to me when I was fired, thankfully, so I could just explain it in interviews rather than explain why I didn’t have any references from there (and several of my coworkers there were happy to give me a reference if that restriction hadn’t been in place).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      He risks that making it worse though — if I were told that, I’d call anyway to verify it (because of exactly this possibility)! And at that point, there would be no salvaging it, because the lie would be clear.

  13. COT*

    #4–I just had that situation last week. Make sure to do your followup via email or phone. Postal mail will take too long in this situation. In my case, I called the HR rep and then also emailed the hiring manager. I didn’t want them to spend time considering me, checking my references, etc. when they could be spending that time on other candidates who would be a better fit.

  14. Anonymous*

    For #2, check out Google Voice. It’s free. You can route it to various phones. Set it up to route to your home phone while you’re at work. Use the Google voice number for prospective employers.

  15. Cruella DaBoss*

    #5 -I agree with EJ (above) Your manager is there to make sure that the days work gets done. If the team is already working short-handed, your absence puts added strain on the team and your manager probably reacted to that.

    I have to ask myself, why would a manager say something like this? Being a jerk, yes, but what if there is more to the story that we, the readers, aren’t getting?

    Now please excuse me for being skeptical, because I am only reading your side of the situation (and AAM may not have posted your complete letter, so some facts may have been removed). I don’t read anything in your letter that would indicate that this was out of line. You don’t say anything like “I’m rarely ever sick” or “this has never happened before a vacation before” or “he has never asked for a doctor’s note before.” AAM always gives the OP the benefit of the doubt, a quality that I do admire, but some letters leave me thinking that there is more left unsaid.

    Have you ever given your manager any reason to think that you would abuse your sick time?

    Like suddenly “becoming sick” on a day that one originally wanted to schedule a vacation day but, for whatever reason, it was denied. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s also pretty common.

    A company may allow a set amount of days for sick time and some employees actually feel they have the right to use them as extra vacation days.

    Sounds as if someone on your team is abusing the sick leave policy and the manager is now suspicious.

    It’s unfortunate for those are truly sick, to go through these extra steps to prove that they are indeed sick. But it happens enough that companies have had to put the “doctor’s note” policies in place.

    Sorry if this offends, I’m just presenting another view

  16. Anon*

    #1–Wait, how would cutting the hot water leave them with tepid water? Wouldn’t it just leave them with cold water? In other contexts, OSHA defines tepid as between 60 and 100 degrees F. I doubt cold running water in a NE winter is that warm.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, then there might be something here. I’d still start by just talking to the employer, but it could be useful to cite the regulation on tepid water (although I imagine what they really want is the heat!).

      1. Chinook*

        But, if given a choice, I would take the hot water! It would guarantee sanitary conditions and nothing warms you up like running warm water over your wrists. Plus, you can make tea with hot water,w arming your insides .

        And, yes, I do have a thing with heat today. It has been -30 C with the windchill for the last 4 days, I have a bad cold and no one I can call in sick too, so I am at work pretending to work.

      2. July*

        Just an FYI, my boyfriend is allowed to control the heat in the area of the building he is working in, but the rest of the building is shut down. The last time I was in the restroom I walked through pitch darkness to get there but was able to turn the light on in the bathroom. The toilet seats were freezing and the water was so cold it hurt my hands. This recent action goes along with the owners desire to make/save as much money as possible, which is understandable, except everyone involved already knows that he is extremely financially stable and does not invest in his employees well-being.

      1. Ellie H.*

        Wow, really? I never knew that. I even brush my teeth with warm water because I read once that it is more hygienic than brushing with cold.

          1. Jamie*

            Yep. My mom was a nurse and always stressed it was how long you washed as opposed to the temp of the water.

            But there is a correlation behaviorally, since people are less likely to soap and run for a full 30-60 seconds in freezing water.

            1. Camellia*

              This! I sometimes wonder at all the people who get incensed that someone “doesn’t wash their hands after using the restroom!” I have seen some of these same people do a three-second squirt-rinse-done and call that “washing their hands”. Or even a two-second rinse with water only. Sheesh! Why bother?

              And since I’m allergic to those bathroom soap products I don’t wash there, but use a cleansing cloth at my desk. My reply to the occasional, indignant, “Aren’t you going to wash your hands?” is “Nah, I just lick’em clean.”

              1. Cathy*

                Friction, the presence of the soap and then water to flush bacteria away is all that’s needed (and the soap isn’t all that necessary). Timing is essential: when I teach my class on Office Hygiene, I remind everyone one way to assure you wash your hands the proper length of time is to sing either Happy Birthday or the ABC song while scrubbing. I also suggest doing this quietly to yourself, or people will look at you strangely and tend to run out of the bathroom :)

                1. Editor*

                  The hand-washing song recommended to me was “Row, row, row your boat.” I like it much better than the birthday song, and it seems cheerier.

                2. FreeThinkerTX*

                  This reply is to Editor, below, but I had to post it up here:

                  “Scrub, scrub, scrub your germs,
                  Gently down the sink.
                  Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
                  My hands are oh so clean!”

                3. FreeThinkerTX*


                  So, apparently, my comment showed up where it was supposed to, regardless of what it looked like when I was posting it. ::sigh::

  17. Natalie*

    OP #1, even if OSHA has no rules on temperature your state or municipal building code might, particularly if you live in a cold part of the country. If you have 311 in your area, try calling them. If not, you can probably find the state and city codes online.

    And if you do live in a cold part of the country, the theater owner may be setting themselves up for a much bigger problem if they leave the heat off – most people up north heat vacant buildings to around 45-50 all winter long, lest the pipes freeze and burst.

    1. Jamie*

      That’s what I was thinking. Our furnace died a couple of days before Christmas and I was freaking out about getting someone in ASAP because even though the space heaters were working temporarily we were worried about the pipes.

      Freezing plumbing is nothing to play around with – but I don’t know the specifics if cutting the heat to certain rooms would matter.

      1. Natalie*

        Large buildings might have specific systems set up for plumbing, but most small buildings seem to use the radiant heat from the occupied portions and possibly some insulation on the pipes.

        My neighbor’s pipes burst once while they were on vacation. It was insane – the entire first floor of the house had to be gutted. Thankfully someone had noticed the huge ice dam coming out of the middle of their wall, so the damage was minimized, but it still cost their insurance company an awful lot of money, and the neighbors had to live in an apartment for close to a year.

  18. nyxalinth*

    #4 I turned down an offer recently after giving things a lot of thought. Where I would be working had two flights of stairs and no elevator (I have a bad knee and no insurance and knowing my luck, it would blow before my benefits kicked in.) It was also almost 90 minutes by bus one way which is really just too far. The final deciding factor was the snotty response I got from the lady at the temp agency when I explained my reasons. If I get an attitude, it always tells me I made the right choice.

  19. mel*

    If I remember grade 8 science correctly, water temperature does have an effect on bacteria, but it really is all about the soap. No one did the experiment with the petri dishes?

    soap + hotwater = no bacteria
    soap + warm water = no black bacteria, some healthy
    soap + cold water = some black bacteria, some healthy
    water only = an awful lot of scary stuff

    Though hopefully those working in the food area in the theater have their own sinks…

    1. Waiting Patiently*

      I was thinking along these lines too. Especially considering steam. I prefer to clean using steam because it’s safer than chemicals and kills a lot bacteria.
      Then on the other hand the water has to be pretty hot (around 110 degrees) to kill off the bacteria. So unless you use hot water and/or wash your hands for atleast 30 seconds -you’re not really killing anything.

      1. Jamie*

        I LOVE my steam cleaner. Its so cathartic to just aim a little steam at the gunk on the stove burners or soap residue in the shower and wipe it all away without chemicals.

        Absolutely he best cleaning device I’ve ever bought, just wish it held more water because refilling is a pain.

        1. Waiting Patiently*

          Yes, I love my Shark floor steamer. I love the gush of steam so much so, I find myself getting carried away while steaming my floors.

  20. Amanda*

    #1 – Depending on how cold the climate is, it sounds like the manager is asking for frozen pipes. Perhaps your boyfriend could point that out? Otherwise, I’ve worked places (horse barns) where the only bathroom was a port-a-potty. Outside. In New England winters. You move quickly and you deal with it.

  21. Vicki*

    #5: “I would stay aggressively alarmed until that was settled…”

    I love this phrase. I love the idea. I’m going to try very hard to remember this.

    Not angry. Not annoyed. Not upset.
    “Aggressively alarmed.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I like it because people often go into defensive/angry/freaked out mode in this situation, when it’s often much more effective to simply deal with the facts — and the facts are that it’s totally alarming to have someone responding to you like that if you’ve done nothing wrong, and it makes sense to respond with an attitude of “this is very concerning, clearly we have A Situation here, and what’s up and how can we resolve it?” (And, “and no, we cannot act like that conversation didn’t happen yesterday just because now you’re calm, because clearly something isn’t right if you felt you needed to say that to me.”)

      1. Lily*

        The alliteration makes it very memorable, but I’m having a hard time imagining it, so please allow me to figure it out. What is aggressive about the alarm?

        I was flabbergasted when my manager accused me of repeated unprofessional behavior. I knew I wouldn’t have forgotten any such conversations, but I decided I wasn’t going to argue with him about whether we had discussed it before or not. I decided I needed to know what he was thinking. To prepare for the conversation, I reviewed all my emails to him. I couldn’t find any that I thought were unprofessional, but I picked out the likeliest suspects anyway, in order to show that I was taking his criticism seriously. I went in and asked him what he had meant and whether he had meant the emails I had picked out.

        I was aggressive in the sense of taking the initiative: deciding to bring up the subject the next day, preparing for it and showing up at his office, but I wasn’t the least bit aggressive during the conversation. I was submissive and ready to accept his judgment … because I was alarmed? In hindsight, I wish I had shown more self-confidence even while asking him for his judgment of my behavior.

  22. Another Reader*

    Some bosses just don’t deal well with employee illnesses affecting their operation. My boss yelled at me over the phone when I called to give him an update on my broken ankle. My best guess is that his reaction was because he didn’t want to hear I would be out of work for 4-6 weeks per the doctor. That was a couple years ago. I just came back to work after being out miserably sick with flu/bronchitis for a week, and literally, the first thing he wanted to do was to talk to me about what a problem it had been that I was out sick, but couched in terms of how I didn’t do this that was needed while I was out, other people on my team didn’t do that, etc. After the time with my ankle, I wasn’t surprised.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow. Would you ever consider saying to him, “I get the sense that you’re really bothered when I’m out sick. Are there things I could be doing differently to manage my work when that happens, since obviously I’m going to get sick from time to time?”

      Sometimes something like that can help the person see that they’re being unreasonable and that there isn’t actually anything you could do differently.

    2. Jamie*

      I think this is an unfortunate side effect of businesses running so lean these days.

      Fewer people wearing more hats and totally necessary and understandable absences affect operations more than they should.

      It will be nice once we get back to the levels of staffing that allow for back-up/redundancy for more things.

            1. Rana*

              And, sadly, if Jamie burns out, there are many, many more desperate people to take her place.

              It’s a horrible mentality.

              1. Editor*

                When I worked in a larger department, a lot of people (pre-layoffs) had a lot of seniority. We could earn up to four weeks of vacation, and some people could earn a comp time on holidays.

                I figured out that the accumulated vacation and predictable comp time came to 47 weeks a year. That meant we were virtually never at full strength, so when a VP complained we were always griping about being overextended, I pointed out that we were pretty much always down one FTE and listed the evidence.

                The VP just sort of blustered about us being prepared to back each other up and said the new software should make work easier. We’d gone from being a dozen people with four support staff to being a dozen people coping with additional work assigned to the department, and only one support staffer.

                I wish some of those jobs would come back, but what I see is companies “investing” in software or robotics instead of increasing headcount. People seem to have gone from being an investment to being an expense, and somehow CEOs don’t seem to be able to connect the dots between decreased demand for products and unemployment.

              2. Jamie*

                Heeeeeyyy….don’t give people any ideas.

                Rama is right, though…there is always someone else to pick up my keyboard and carry on. Sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder if that would be such a bad thing…letting someone else take over and moving into a less stressful more 9-5 position for myself.

                Thing is this treadmill I’m on now isn’t uncomfortable enough, as of yet, for me to jump off of my own volition. I guess if I stumble and fall off, or get pushed, I’ll deal with that but I’d feel too guilty to jump at this point.

                1. Jamie*

                  Sorry…Rana is right…I hate when I typo people’s names. Why I still try to type without glasses on is just a testimony to my lack of ability to learn.

                2. Rana*

                  No worries. I certainly was the typo queen myself today. ;)

                  I hope you get a break soon; that sounds exhausting.

  23. Anony*

    5. Manager accused me of trying to pull a fast one when I called in sick

    I got sick over the holidays and was worried about calling out this week since we are already short-staffed as well. My manager didn’t ask me for a note but I am thinking of just asking her if she needs one just to be safe.

  24. Crystal*

    I worked with a guy years ago who used to pull this stunt. He accused one employee who called in sick of having “brown bottle fever” (hangover) in a really public way when the sick employee actually had walking pneumonia… and never apologized or an any way acknowledged his error / paranoia / jerkitude. I hadn’t worked with this manager for very long at that point, but it should have been a Big Red Flag. He was an awful manager.

    1. FreeThinkerTX*

      I once worked at Home Depot in Customer Service. I had the flu, but we were short-staffed and I kept coming in. I ended up with walking pneumonia and pleurisy. I could barely speak, could barely breathe. And my boss wanted a doctor’s note. Every. Single. Day. I. Was. Out.

      Yes. A new note for every single day.

      If I didn’t have a cool doctor, it would have (A) Cost me a fortune, and (B) Made me even more sick. My doc gave me a stack of notes (about 30, if I remember correctly) and told me to sign his name to as many as I needed.

      Yeah, retail is a whole non-professional world unto itself.

    2. anon-2*

      I once sent an employee home — and got chewed out by the manager — and while he was chewing me out the next day — the guy’s wife called in and said that her husband had walking pneumonia, blood clots in his lungs, and was in intensive care – would be out for two months.

      So I said “need I ask what that was about?”

  25. Womble*

    #5: I think AAM’s advice is unwise. If you go in with an attitude of “stay aggressively alarmed until that was settled in some way”, the chances are you will come off as confrontational and uncooperative. As someone whose natural mode of communication could be reasonably described as “confrontational and uncooperative”, I can say with some degree of authority that it doesn’t work nearly as well as a calm and reasonable agreement and discussion of the facts at hand.

    However, if you *do* decide to go down the path of aggrieved party, I would strongly advise that you make sure that “I’ve never given you reason to think I operate that way” is really, *REALLY* true. I’ve seen an employee really drop themselves in it when they did much the same thing (called in sick in circumstances that gave rise to reasonable suspicions of dodgyness). When she rolled out a similar line when she returned to work, the manager involved took a rather unhealthy delight (I thought) in enumerating in great detail the myriad well-documented ways in which the employee *had* given reason to think that she operated that way. Still, she wonders why she hasn’t gotten promoted to a more senior team…

    That isn’t to say that I agree with the way the manager in the question acted. I certainly don’t operate that way, and I wouldn’t recommend it. When I had an employee in a similar situation, I thanked him for calling in, wished him a rapid recovery, and made a note to discuss the situation with him when he returned to work. There were no more suspicious instances of calling in sick after that discussion. On the other hand, he lacked the professional maturity to lay off the disco biscuits at the mid-week rave parties he was very fond of, so he got canned for not showing up (no call, no nothing) for two days when he was already on a written final warning… but at least he didn’t call in sick suspiciously.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, you definitely don’t want to be confrontational or aggrieved — it’s just about being genuinely confused and concerned about what misunderstanding has led to a place that’s so obviously alarming. Because it SHOULD be alarming to have someone accuse you of what the OP’s manager accused you of, and it’s perfectly appropriate to be extremely concerned by it, and to say that. I can’t imagine working with someone who would treat me that way and not needing to get it resolved, and that’s the point here — if you’re a good employee, and someone responds to you that way, you need to find out what’s going on. You can that do quite professionally and without without being abrasive.

      1. Lily*

        oops! I should have read all the comments first, before I added my example above.

        Womble and others who have a confrontational communication style, may I ask how you like your boss to respond?

  26. Maria*

    Wish I’d seen #5 in the past. I had an issue at a firm once because, as a part-timer during law school, I emailed an attorney to let her know where I’d left the file in case it was needed before I was back in the office a few days later (this happened to be over xmas). The next day I received a nasty email from the office manager saying the attorney said I’d emailed her to say I was not going to complete an assignment and left for vacation… It was so not the case, and I forwarded her the email chain to show what had actually occurred. I felt my reputation, which had always been very good to that point as far as I knew, was damaged thereafter and I did not know how to approach them afterwards in a professional way to discuss it. I think saying you would like to discuss the reaction because you’ve never given them reason to think you would conduct business in that way is perfect.

  27. Cassie*

    #1: Our univ shuts down during winter break and to save energy/money, central heat and the hot water in the restrooms are shut off. I live in California, so ice-cold water is not probable. The instructions to staff that do have to work during that time is to “dress appropriately”. We can also use space heaters but some offices might frown upon that.

    #6: Find out when the prof’s office hours are for the next semester. Or find out when the prof’s group meetings are scheduled and stop by afterwards. Just don’t try to talk to the prof before a scheduled class (some profs get very agitated). I wouldn’t take it personally – many profs are notoriously bad at checking and responding to email.

    Also, if you know which one of his students he was going to have you work with – you could go directly to the student. For us, it’s not uncommon for undergrads and master’s students to be working primarily with the PhD students in the group (and not the prof him/herself).

  28. Waiting Patiently*

    #2 slightly off topic…
    I missed several phone calls on both my cell and home phone from one potential employer because I didnt recognize the number. Once at work, when she called I mistakenly pressed answer instead of ignore then I just hung up because I didn’t recognize the number. The next time I was on my home phone when my caller id screened Department of S and I told my friend “what is the Dept of S, im not answering that.” And I didn’t. Then at the end of the week literally a Friday around 4:50, I had a epithany to check my voicemail. To say I felt silly
    about ALL the missed voicemails she left is an understatement.
    I called her at 4:55ish I left her an apologetic voicemail. I was horrified that I was being such a dunce. Anyway after a few minutes minutes of phone tag that day (she was actually still in the office) she set up an interview in another office (which was closer for me) because her site was full. I was literally the last
    person to schedule an interview. She expressed regret not being able to interview me. She was so friendly. She really helped put me at ease about the interview.
    In my defense defended it had been months since I had applied.

  29. anon-2*

    #4 – I was in interview cycles – and had two job offers in hand. There was a third place I applied and had two interviews. They had not yet extended me an offer – but they called me back for a third, and that’s usually “game time”.

    I called them- to tell them I was taking another job, and thanked them for their time, and indicated that I didn’t want to waste their time. They were appreciative — I only wish some managers would do the same for applicants they have no intention of hiring.

  30. Anon*

    People here have commented that the doctor’s note is required in retail and other low-wage jobs, but those aren’t the only places that demand them.

    I was working in a professional job at a senior level for a vicious manager who felt threatened by the fact that I had more experience than her. She told everyone I was faking pneumonia, even though I had never done such a thing and rarely called in sick, and required that I bring in a doctor’s note. She then accused me of forging it — even after I had HR verify it. Then she insisted on more doctor’s notes, etc. She repeatedly told the entire office I was faking it.

    She did this only to me.

    How could she require a doctor’s note from 1 employee and not all?

      1. Lily*

        It seems unfair, but there was a recent case in Germany about the same thing. The court ruled that the employer is legally able to require a doctor’s note starting from the first day of illness without justifying why they require this of one particular person and not anyone else. The article is below; please correct me if my translation is off.

        Krankmeldung: Attestpflicht ab erstem Tag bleibt die Ausnahme | Karriere | ZEIT ONLINE

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