terse answer Thursday — 6 short answers to 6 short questions

It’s terse answer Thursday — six short answers to six short questions. Here we go…

1. In trouble for taking extra candy at the Christmas party

I work for a major High Street retailer and recently attended the annual Christmas party at a bar in the city. All workers were entitled to a free gift (jar of sweets, chocolate santa, etc.), but some workers took more than one. (Last year, it was more than one gift and some people opted not to take theirs.) I took three in total (two jars and a santa).

Someone reported the matter and up to five staff have now been suspended pending disciplinary hearings. Could the above be considered gross misconduct and are they within their rights to sack me, as this is the action that appears to be coming? Could I go for unfair dismissal?

P.S. There are also a range of other disciplinary hearings over other conduct by staff (one was found with drugs at the party!) and it appears they are trying to get rid of people.

This is just … dumb. They want to fire people for taking extra candy?

You’re in the UK, and I’m in the U.S. and can’t comment on what might be allowed outside the U.S., but I can tell you that this is ridiculous in any country, and I have to wonder if there’s more to it than what they’ve told you.

In the U.S., however, there would be nothing illegal here, just silly.

2. Bereavement condolences in an interview

I found out the manager hiring for a position I am a finalist for had a death in the family. I was able to get this information from acquaintance who would be a peer if I get the job. He and I are not close, but it’s not uncommon for us to run into each other at church or school events.

I feel bad for her and would like to offer my condolences, but am wondering if that would come off as odd? I know that if I were in a similar situation and someone out of the blue offered condolences it would feel a little strange (but maybe that’s just me). Just curious your thoughts?

I wouldn’t. It’s not information that you got through normal channels. If she’d had to push the interview back and explained it was because of a death in her family, it would be normal and polite to offer condolences. But this is something she doesn’t even know that you know about — I wouldn’t bring it up unless it comes up some other way.

3. Staying on the radar of an employer

I had an interview in early November for a job and sent a thank you note to the recruiter and hiring manager immediately afterward. The preference is for the recruiter to pass along the card to the hiring manager, at this particular company. I then left one voicemail after the time for a decision given during my interview had elapsed, and then I emailed the recruiter’s assistant. I was told that the hiring manager is away on business and that they haven’t forgotten about me and will let me know when something changes. Today I sent the hiring manager a thank you note directly to his address. Was this a bad idea? I want to make sure once a week I am on the mind of someone in the hiring process. When I interviewed, I was told I was the top candidate; I want to make sure that this remains the case. The position starts in January.

Yeah, the second thank-you note was overkill, since you’d already sent the hiring manager an earlier thank-you through the recruiter.

Do not stick with this idea about putting yourself on their minds once a week. That will be annoying, especially after they’ve nicely signaled to you to stop (saying that they’ll be in touch when something changes is likely polite code for “stop contacting us”). I understand that you want to keep yourself on their radar screen, but their minds are likely full with higher priorities and they want to keep it that way. Stop with all the contact, put your focus on other jobs, and let them get back to you when they’re ready. Trying to force it will not end well.

4. Including ending date on your resume

I am currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA, which is a one-year position in an organization doing anti-poverty work. My year of service ends Feb. 8, and I am starting to send out cover letters and resumes now. Do you think I should include my end-of-service date in my cover letters to let employers know I won’t be available to start for two more months, or should I bring that up later in the interview process?

Unless you absolutely won’t start a job earlier than that, even by a week or two, I wouldn’t include it. But if that’s the case, then sure, it’s fine to include.

5. Should work for a friend go on your resume?

I’ve been underemployed (working two unrelated to my degree jobs) for about a year now. At one point, I did bookkeeping for my friend who owns a small business (1 employee) for a couple months. As I’m applying for a junior staff accountant job, should I put that in my resume or my cover letter? I wasn’t using Quickbooks like they ask, it was a different google apps tool for bookkeeping.

Put it on your resume. It’s as legitimately work experience as any other work.

6. Awkwardness over a recommendation

I’ve been searching for a job in NYC to be closer to friends/family. A new opportunity has arisen that is too good to pass up! My predicament is this: my current coworker/superior was a former executive at said dream company and my positive impact at my current place of work leads me to believe he’d be a good advocate for my application. However, I feel he may be uncomfortable with lending me support in this, given that his friend and the president of my current company hopes to keep me here as long as possible.

I was open with my boss when I was hired that my ambitions lie elsewhere (geographically) and I’m lucky that I was acquired for positive reasons (skills/experience). He was happy to have me for the short-term, so I’m not concerned about the timing of my hopeful departure. Rather I’m worried about the sensitive nature surrounding the current office structure….i.e. what’s my best way to gain an upper hand in the application process to the new company, via my coworker’s endorsement, without making him uncomfortable or upsetting my boss?

If you’re confident he knows you’re looking and won’t penalize you for that, then just ask him. Tell him you’re applying and would love his recommendation, but that you don’t want to put him in an awkward position and ask what would be best.

{ 71 comments… read them below }

  1. UK HR Bod*

    Technically, yes it could be considered gross misconduct and you could be sacked. It would be a draconian response, but if it was entirely clear that you could take one jar and one jar only, then it’s technically theft and potentially a breach of trust and confidence. I know – it’s a jar of sweets! Alison’s right of course, it’s a daft response.

    A tribunal might agree with you, but they might not. Your dismissal would not necessarily be unfair if the correct process was followed, as dismissal is within the range of reasonable responses for theft. Personally, I wouldn’t dismiss you for it (unless you’ve already got warnings, you’ve done it before etc), but retailers tend to be a lot harsher in their responses than other employers.

    You could go for unfair dismissal if sacked, but it’s probably not worth the stress and time – don’t believe all those huge payouts you hear about, even if you did win it wouldn’t be much (and could be reinstatement rather than a cash payout). You would need to have over 1 years service if you started before April this year, if you started after, your unfair dismissal rights don’t kick if for two years. Your time would be best spent thinking about how to position yourself to avoid dismissal – you could take more than one last year, you didn’t realise it had changed (don’t try this if they were very clear though), you are very sorry and realise it was wrong etc. The best thing to do is to acknowledge what you did, offer any comment you can to explain why, but don’t be defensive, don’t blame anyone else (although the fact that other people did it can support you) and apologise. And speak to your union if you are in one. Good luck!

    1. Lisa*

      I would think you would only have recourse if you were disciplined / sacked but a co-worker or worse manager who took an extra jar wasn’t disciplined at all.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’m in Canada, which is more similar in terms of employment laws to the UK than the US is. In the US (from what I can tell reading AAM), your employer can immediately dismiss you for any cause (that isn’t discriminatory). In Canada (and the UK I’m pretty sure), your employer needs sufficient cause (a good enough reason) to dismiss you on the spot, or they can give you a notice period in which case they do not need sufficient cause. The notice period though is quiet a significant chunk of time. This really only applies if you’ve been working somewhere 2+ years.

        This may or may not be considered sufficient cause. With that said though, there is basically no point in pursuing this. OP, you are expected to look and find another job, and would only be compensated for the amount of time it would be reasonable for you to find said job. Conversely, as UK HR Bod mentioned, they may just give you your job back. Do you want it back? Is that worth lawyer fees and potentially years of court?

        1. Pierre*

          I would tend to believe that OP #1 situation may be considered theft and, therefore, be sufficient cause for dismissal, even here in Canada.

          But yes, it would also be important that everyone get the same discipline (for equal disciplinary history of course) .

          1. Anonymous*

            I think the issue would be if it is really considered theft though. If it wasn’t communicated that staff was to only take one, and if the previous year, taking more was acceptable, then OP could argue it’s not theft (especially since the items were being gifted to employees). Considering this, and that courts want to see progressive discipline, I can see the court judging there was not sufficient cause for immediate dismissal (dismissal with notice = yes; immediate dismissal = no).

            I’m just arguing for the sake of arguing at this point since I don’t think OP should pursue it. *IF* OP wins, she’ll still get practically nothing. If she loses, she loses a lot in terms of lawyer fees and time.

        2. Canuck*

          Actually, our laws are similar in Canada, in that you can actually be dismissed immediately for no reason. However, if there is not a justifiable reason (ie, theft), then they need to provide you with severance pay. Although companies usually offer a few weeks up to a few months, the reason they do this is because if your case is taken to court, the amount awarded can be significant – it is based on things like how long you have worked with the company, and how likely it is you will be able to find similar work.

          This doesn’t apply to unionized staff, of course, as their working terms are based on a collective bargaining process. But we can indeed be fired “for anything” in Canada as well, with appropriate notice and or severance pay.

  2. Anonymous*

    Re: VISTA position- I manage a VISTA program (12 total), and most people don’t understand that it’s a 365 day commitment (they could not start earlier or they would lose their education award). That said, I would wait until an interview to include it. Seeing that right up front might put people off. With the holidays and such, hiring this time of year is likely to take longer anyway.

    1. Victoria*

      Agreed (as another former VISTA program manager). Except I’ll add that plenty of VISTAs leave early anyway. Landing a great job can outweigh the loss of the education benefit.

    2. Amber BL*

      Agreed- I’ve done Americorps as well and even if they can’t Force you to stay, it’s super bad form. If Mme. Manager could answer with that in mind, that would be cool.

    3. KayDay*

      With the holidays and such, hiring this time of year is likely to take longer anyway.

      I’d agree that the hiring around this time will probably take long enough that it’s not that strange that you can’t start until February. I think putting it on your resume might confuse some people–if you want to mention it in your application, I think it would be better to mention your availability in your cover letter instead.

      1. COT*

        When I was finishing my AmeriCorps term, I mentioned my availability in one sentence at the end of my cover letter (which also helped explain why I was seeking new employment after just one year). In certain sectors AmeriCorps is so well-known that your hiring manager will likely understand the logistics of your program.

        1. Anonymous*

          I finished a VISTA term in July and I started job hunting well before my term ended. I had many interviews, all of which ended with them saying they needed me to start immediately. I loved my sponsoring organization so I did not want to leave early and ended up withdrawing my candidacy. After that, I mentioned my necessary start date in my cover letters and didn’t get any interviews. So really it comes down to whether or not you’re willing to leave early and lose your Ed award. For me it just wasn’t.

          Good luck!

          1. Alyssa*

            I’m the VISTA that submitted this question! Thanks for answering, Allison. I am not going to leave my position early, both out of respect for the group I’ve committed to for a year and to keep my ed award. I’m hoping to continue working in the nonprofit sector so ideally anyone looking at my cover letter would understand the set availability date I have. Thanks everyone for the comments as well – I think I’ll start with it in my cover letters and see what response I get. Maybe if I’m not getting interviews, I’ll take it out and test that as well.

  3. SAN*

    For #5, definitely put down your bookkeeping experience. Should be helpful to any small or medium sized public accounting firm. If you’ve done anything else in the role like payroll, tax forms(sales, income, etc…), creating the gl, etc… list those as well. Should make you a better candidate.

  4. Anonymous*

    I’m finding myself irritated at OP#1’s feeling that an extra jar of candy is “no big deal”. We aren’t being given a lot of details about the gifts, so perhaps I’m offbase, but the post makes it sound as though the OP walked up to the table of candy and just helped themselves to 2-3 of the gifts. Sure, because there was a choice, there very well might have been extra of each choice, but nowhere does the OP say that he/she asked about taking an extra jar or that organizers were just going to leave the leftovers there. I’ve been at a number of events where people taking more than their fair share at the start means that someone at the end is shorted. If you asked and were given permission to take extra, then boo on the company all day long. But if you just took extras without asking, it really doesn’t matter to me the value of the gift– I think that action shows a disregard towards your coworkers. As for firing? Your post does make it sound like the company is looking for excuses to trim staff, and I personally wouldn’t fire an otherwise good employee for one lapse in consideration.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’m glad you said that cause I was wondering if it was just me who found Alison’s response surprising in that there was no mention that it might be unwise to be greedy and take 3 of something your employer told you to take one of. Company supplied a party and a certain number of gifts, one for each employee and then got mad when some people took 2, 3 or more gifts. I totally understand that.

      Should someone be fired over that if they are otherwise a good worker? Of course not! But by the same token, why not just take your fair share? If everyone took 3, a lot of employees would be sans sweets.

      It’s petty on the part of the company but it’s also petty on the part of the folks who scooped up extras.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        I agree as well, UNLESS OP waited until the very end of the party, many other coworkers had left without taking their gifts, and it was clear that there would be lots of gifts to split among the few people still left. Even then, I would have asked first in this situation — maybe the boss wanted to pack up the unclaimed gifts and distribute them at the office to coworkers who couldn’t attend the party, or to a charity program, etc.

        If OP did this earlier in the course of the party and I were the boss, I would be upset about the disregard for OP’s coworkers. Probably not upset enough to fire an otherwise good worker, but if it were an underperformer and I were just looking for an excuse, maybe.

        1. KayDay*

          yeah–I’ve never had this type of situation at work, but I was thinking of it like a wedding. If you collect extra favors before the party is over, that’s really tacky; but if you want until the end it’s completely normal for the remaining guests to take the extra favors that had been left behind (and the extra wine, and the extra flowers….)

          1. Jamie*

            Exactly like a wedding. If you’re one of the last to leave and the mother of the bride is encouraging everyone left to take as many centerpieces as they can carry you’re doing the clean-up crew a favor.

            If the reception is in full swing and you start pulling them off tables because you’re leaving – that’s unconscionable and happens all the time.

            How rude this was really depends on the timing and circumstances – but either way firing is over the top for an otherwise good employee.

          2. Ellie H.*

            Yeah, I think the OP was implying that it was this kind of situation by saying “Last year, it was more than one gift and some people opted not to take theirs” which to me suggests that not everyone takes theirs, there are usually gifts left over, and in the past it’s been common for someone to take more than one.

            1. A Bug!*

              See, I’m a little unsure here, because by the wording in the letter, I can’t quite decide if the meaning is “Last year, quite a few presents went unclaimed, so when the party wound down this year and there were still many presents on the table, I took a couple more for myself,” or “Last year, quite a few presents went unclaimed, so I figured this year would be the same and took three presents for myself at the outset so I could make sure I got presents that I wanted.”

              Although regardless of which it is, at most it’s a relatively minor etiquette issue, and certainly not a disciplinary issue.

              1. Jamie*

                I don’t know – if it’s the latter I could see how it could potentially be a discipline issue (meaning a conversation about it with the manager and a warning) if they were higher end candy jars (some of those are really pricey) and taking more meant that there weren’t enough for everyone.

                Considering it’s retail, I would imagine a help yourself (if that’s what it was) philosophy would be more problematic than in some other industries. So you might want to address it.

                1. A Bug!*

                  I see where you’re coming from, but I look at it more as a problem created by the party organizers that would be best addressed by changing the present-distribution process the next year.

                  By having a table with a pile of gifts on it that aren’t meant for anybody specifically, it’s easy to look at it the same way you might look at a plate of cookies left in the breakroom with “please help yourself”. Of course, you don’t want to deprive anybody else of their cookie, if they want one, but if it’s 4:30 and there are still a dozen cookies on the table, you probably wouldn’t feel bad about taking a second one because it doesn’t feel like you’re depriving someone else of a desired cookie. Well, maybe you would – I don’t want to tell you how you’d feel. But I wouldn’t feel bad about taking a second cookie, if they were yummy.

                  Anyway, instead of disciplining employees, I’d treat it as a lesson learned, and next year put a tag on each of the gifts with employee names on them. If people want to swap gifts, or give their gifts to someone else, then that’s fine. The decision ultimately lies in the hand of the originally-intended recipient, as it should, and nobody gets to unilaterally decide that any gifts are “unwanted” and claim them for themselves. And any gifts left truly unclaimed by the end of the night can be either gathered up and distributed the next business day to the employees who didn’t collect theirs, or just given to the food bank.

              2. Ellie H.*

                Yeah, my impression is that it’s the latter case (“figured this year would be the same, took at outset”) which is, honestly, not that “cool,” but still beyond absurd to make a fireable offense.

        2. Anonymous*

          This is what I’m imagining– there’s a big pile of stuff left over at the end, so a bunch of people take what’ left over. That seems entirely normal to me.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        Coming into the conversation late, but there are several things that bother me.
        First, OP states that they work at a high end retailer. They must know that theft severely cuts into profits and that small petty theft (such as sweets) must add up.
        Next is the question of taking more than your fair share. As others said, it depends on when this occured. I remember going to one party where we were supposed to get program mugs as a nice “thank you for your hard work”. Several of us didn’t get ours because they ran out. It turns out that some of the younger workers had taken several – to give to their friends that weren’t even on the program and hadn’t “earned” them! So taking extra can be a big deal.
        But the thing that bothers me the very most is the fact that the OP mentioned that others were doing drugs. What does that have to do with your argument? Were you trying to divert blame by saying the behavior of others was worse? The fact is that **both** behaviors were wrong and **both** could be fireable offenses.
        The extra prizes do not belong to you so you don’t get to decide what to do with them without asking.

    2. Frances*

      Yeah, we certainly wouldn’t fire (or even discipline) anyone for it at my work, but we have a number of meetings for which refreshments/treats are provided and have had issues with people helping themselves to extras — even when said refreshments are in storage waiting for the *next* meeting. It’s extremely frustrating for the (generally low-level) staff in charge of organizing the meetings who look like they planned poorly and unfair to the attendees who abide by the rules and then don’t get anything because there isn’t enough to go around.

      I would suggest the employer do as we often do and just cut their losses this year — while making sure next year there is a very polite sign near the gifts that clearly states what the expectations are. But it’s clear that someone in upper management is pretty upset about this (or taking advantage of the situation) so you may be out of luck.

      1. Cassie*

        Wasn’t there a news article a while back about a worker who was fired because he ate some hotdogs or hamburgers that were left over from the 4th of July party? The food was left in the work fridge/freezer because they were going to be used for Labor Day or something.

        I’ve seen cases of soda in the fridge in our break room labeled “Do not touch this” – I assume they are for upcoming meetings and such.

    3. Lisa*

      Unless OP took 3 BEFORE others declined to take theirs, then I don’t see it as a big deal. For all we know, there were 50 extra jars and everyone was leaving the party. Someone might have said people please take the jars, and so since no one wants to carry extra items back to the office, then I can see the jar grabbers as helping out by taking the unwanted extras. Something tells me, that the OP is focused on last year since he/she mentioned it so assumed you could take more based on last year, but clearly did it at the beginning of the party or at least before others could opt out THIS year.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I agree that taking that second jar of sweets was unwise. But I do not think it is the end of the world. I think that people make missteps from time to time. Reasonable people try to reconcile the situation. “OH, I really was not thinking. I understand now and it will not happen again.” A reasonable boss can live with that answer.

      Additionally, I am having a little trouble with taking an extra jar of candy is on the same level as doing illegal drugs at a company party. REALLY?
      What is next? You accidentally take a pen home from work and get canned for it?
      Suppose these 5 workers get fired. What kind of a working environment has this company created? I am picturing the remaining employees walking on eggshells trying to get through their work day. “I need to blow my nose, is it okay to use this tissue?”
      The company does not seem to have a sense of proportion- the punishment is way larger than the crime. Management is sending out a confusing and harsh message. This will definitely impact employee retention.

      1. Jen in RO*

        Pretty much this. Someone took extra candy – apologize and be done with it! Make them buy candy for their coworkers the following week or something. Firing someone over this is ridiculous.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I’m wondering if it was a prototype candy that’s not out yet, and they’re worried someone is selling secrets to the competition. Or if there’s something more valuable tucked inside the jars. Otherwise, this is overkill! LOL

    5. mj*

      I work for a large non-profit that serves, among others, a large homeless population. Every year we have an employee picnic and the left over food (provided by a local restaurant) goes to our homeless programs. Two years ago, one of our employees brought food containers with her and she and her family started filling up all her many food containers as soon as everyone had been through the line. She was never in danger of being fired but there were a lot of unhappy people and we made sure the next year to advertise that all leftovers were for our clients.

      1. Forrest*

        How tacky even if the left overs didn’t go to homeless people! Who just rolls up with their own take away bags?

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This is a very reasonable way to handle this situation.

        You know- I could see myself taking that second jar of candy
        (“Oh, look there are too many jars left over, would you like an extra?”)
        But I cannot see myself bringing containers to load up when the party is over. wth.

  5. fposte*

    On #3: sane hiring managers are not going to move their top candidate down for not being in touch every week. Sane hiring managers are not going to move somebody up *for* being in touch every week. The only possible change a weekly call can produce with a sane hiring manager is to hurt your candidacy by making it look like you don’t respect professional schedules and limitations. Regardless of what advice you’ve gotten, you do not want to be somebody who insists they need to be in somebody’s mind when they’re not working on anything to do with you.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Staying in touch once a week sounds like more of that antique advice that Alison warns us about on a routine basis. A long time ago, that worked.

      Keep reading AAM, OP.

      Personally, I am enjoying hearing the posts where people followed Alison’s advice and landed a great job. This is the kind of help we working folks need!

  6. Pierre*

    About #1

    I think the key is when OP wrote: “There are also a range of other disciplinary hearings over other conduct by staff”

    It seems to me that the party might have run out of control and that it might be possible the company felt that strong disciplinary actions were required to make sure the next Christmas party will be correct.

    I think it’s important that people remember that you should always remember that behaving well is as important in this kind of party just as it is in everyday work.

    It’s not always easy because there usually is alcohol involved, but if you know you have difficulties to control yourself while drinking alchohol, you should stay at water (of juice) for that party. There are 51 other weekends in the year to get drunk if you really need it ;)

  7. Seal*

    Re: #4 – Perhaps you could put something in your cover letter to the effect of “As I near the end of my year of service to VISTA…” or “my year-long service to VISTA ends in early February, 2013”. That would be at least a partial explanation as to why you are applying for a job with a particular company (the other part is of course why you want to work for the company beyond “I need a job”).

    It will also most likely come up naturally in an interview – i.e. if they’re asking about your previous work experience or current job, or why you want to leave your current position, etc. That would give you an opening to say something like “I’ve been working for VISTA for almost a year and love it, but my obligation to them ends in early February.” You could go on to tell them what you learned during your time with the program. As others have pointed out, with the holidays coming, chances are your not being available until early February is more than likely a non-issue.

  8. Malissa*

    #2–No, do not offer your condolences.
    After 5 months when I talk to random creditors of my late father-in-law I find it just wrong for these people who have probably never even seen his name before they pull it up on the screen to offer their condolences. Never mind the fact that all of the condolences from day one have sounded scripted and fake. IMO that was just two minutes of conversation that really didn’t need to happen.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I hang on to what my father said about people sounding “fake/force/scripted”. He said that the person knew they should say something to show respect toward a fellow human being. He encouraged me to try to over look the delivery method (fake sounding etc) and understand that * on some level* the speaker knew s/he needed to say something as opposed to not acknowledging the situation.

      For OP, no, do not mention the loss unless she mentions it first. Because you were not in a direct relationship with her at the time of the loss.

      I am chuckling, Malissa- differences in people. I have had to deal with family members’ creditors, etc, too. And for me if the person cannot take one second to say “I am sorry for your loss.” I am less impressed with the person/company. In some instances the person I was speaking with seemed so oblivious, I had to point blank say “I am speaking with you because your customer passed away.” In many cases that tidbit of information is relevant because special procedures need to be followed because of the death.
      I am less inclined to be annoyed if the creditor/vendor indicates early on in the conversation that they understand their customer has passed. “Oh, yes, and I see a note on the file that this person has passed away and there is a contact number for a family member.” A statement similar to this is okay with me. What I really need to know is that the matter is being handled correctly for estate laws and purposes.

      To be fair- most people that I have spoken with have been very good- to the point of over-the-top supportive.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          What my dad said has helped in a few areas. Like the empty greeting “hello. How are you?”
          Sometimes the person is on automatic pilot and I seriously doubt they are hearing my answer. I could reply the house burned down, the dog ran away and a moose totaled my car. I would get the same response. “oh that is nice.”

          So I pull out what my dad said and leave it at -the person knew that they should give me some type of greeting- they have enough left of their presence of mind to realize “this is a fellow human being, I need to say something polite.”
          It does help- otherwise I would be kind of growling…

      1. Malissa*

        Oh I realize it’s just my curmudgeonly ways that probably got the better of me. But after the 100th time of hearing it and hearing they didn’t really mean it, it got old. But then Dad died owning just about everybody who issues credit cards.
        I will give props to Bank of America, as they were they only ones I had to call once. One call and everything was settled.
        I chuckled at your response too. I’ve had a few that really seemed to think that I was saying he was dead as a way to get out of the bill. They just didn’t believe me.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Wow. That is incredible- the person(s) who did not believe you had no idea of what company procedures are in the case of death. (Typically, an initial phone call, with follow up snail mail that includes a DC or copy of a DC.) If I was on the business end of the convo, I would figure that the company would get a death certificate and that would be proof. No need for me to get involved in questioning the caller about the actual demise of the family member. I would only look foolish– as the employee did in your experience.
          What is really funny in your example is that being dead is not an excuse for not settling a bill. This is (in part) we have the whole area of estate law. Foolish employee/company!!
          Am shaking my head….

  9. Victoria*

    My father died recently also, Malissa, and I too got very tired of the “I’m sorry for your loss.” It’s just so canned and sounds like an actor in “Law & Order SVU.” If I need to express condolences, I just say “I’m sorry to hear that” or “I’m so sorry” so at least I don’t sound fake like everyone else. I wish “I’m sorry for your loss” would be retired for good. OTOH I am grateful for people offering condolences at all.

    1. Jamie*

      Conversely, I like “I’m sorry for your loss” because I’ve found when people deviate from the script and try to wing it they make it much, much worse.

      I lost both of my parents (and had a late miscarriage – 20 weeks) within 4 months in 1994 and I can’t tell you how many people should have just said they were sorry and then stopped talking.

      Too many people fail at the stop talking part.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Right on, Jamie.
        Every death is different. It is up to others to take their cues from the one suffering the loss. If the grieving person is not talking about their loss then those around them need to follow that lead.

        Personally, I like it though when people offer specific helps. “When you are ready to do X, call me, I will help.” Or “May I bring you a home cooked meal next week?” Something specific.

        1. Jamie*

          Offers of concrete things are great – from people who take no for an answer.

          Because someone people really do want to be surrounded by people while grieving so offering to sit with them or go out to dinner means so much. Others? It’s the kind words or more specific help things (watch the kids, bring a meal, etc.) that helped.

          Worst offer of help ever. When my mom died she had been living in the house she moved into at 20 as a young bride and raised her family there. 38 years in the same house, she knew the neighbors. One showed up – who was never close to my mom and while they might wave if they passed each other, certainly didn’t talk and weren’t friends.

          As we’re walking into the sanctuary for the memorial service this woman pulls my brother aside and hands him her card. She’s a real estate agent now and she knew my mom would want the house sold by someone who cares about the neighborhood.

          I don’t think the English language has a word for the shade of purple my brother turned as he silently crumbled her card and dropped it on the floor…stepping on it as he walked into church.

          Note to sales people: there is a time and a place and the service before someone buries their mom…really not it.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            To me that is a predatory business practice. Absolutely soulless and heartless. That woman would have lost my business permanently.

        2. Malissa*

          Concrete promises are always good. Showing up to run a vacuum cleaner before the funeral or helping out with what ever with out being asked is even better.

          1. Jamie*

            The without being asked thing is awesome if the relationship allows that.

            I’ll never forget one of my sisters showing up while our mom was really sick (my mom lived with my family during the last year on hospice) and just started loading the dishwasher, doing laundry, changing mom’s sheets…and me being me got all pissy and she told me to go lay down and take a nap and she didn’t need my permission t0 take care of me. And she said if I think there is implied criticism to get over my touchy self and if I wouldn’t nap I should take a bubble bath but get out of her way.

            My other sister would show up and “kidnap” my eldest who was 2.5 at the time when I was wildly pregnant with #2 and taking care of my mom. They’d go to the park, out for ice cream…have a fabulous time without me. It was good for all of us.

            In a strong relationship the unasked for things mean a lot.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              On the other end, if a surprise gift is welcomed, that completes the circle. The person recieving the gift holds a lot of power. If they decline- ooohh that can be sad….
              The giver knows they can’t fix the main problem. By allowing the giver to do little helps, the giver is allowed to participate in grieving and healing too.

              (Actually, I prefer, “reweaving” over the term “healing”. We never stop missing our person, but we do reweave our lives and march forward in spite of it all.)

              1. FreeThinkerTX*

                When my next-door neighbor’s dad died (age 91) last September, her far-flung siblings were offering to come home immediately to help with arrangements, cook food, clean the house, etc. She told them all, “No. We were planning on getting-together over Thanksgiving. Dad’s death hasn’t changed that, and you spending money on plane tickets and time off from work isn’t going to bring him back.” She thought they were making way too big of a deal over a death that everyone had known was coming.

                I sat her down and explained that those siblings had lost a dad, too, and they likely wanted to be with family to grieve. Thus, letting them fly down and invade her house was actually a gift to them. It ended up being good for her, too.

                (Oh, and she’s more than just a neighbor, she’s my best friend and her family is my second family. We have a long history together. I wasn’t just being a nosy neighbor!)

    2. Canadian mom*

      I see this as a “da*ned if they do, and d*ned if they don’t” kind of situation.

      If they say “I am sorry for your loss”, they get negative reviews for script-answers. If they say nothing – worse. Honestly – in 99% of cases they did not know this customer personally, therefore cannot make any kind of comments as to “he was a wonderful human being, was dedicated to his grandchildren and had spent many hours as a community volunteer”.

      I had to deal with this during the last year when settling my late Dh’s issues and I honestly can’t understand why “I’m sorry to hear that” is “better” than “I am so sorry for your loss”. Overall, I was most grateful for customer-service-reps who knew how to handle death-issues. I was amazed as to how many were completely perplexed, though most were polite enough to explain that they’d have to get a supervisor (all I was asking about was whether I had to simply send/email the death certificate). Never mind the local auto-insurance place who was trying to convince me that I needed probate-documents (even though everything was jointly-owned) and then said “sorry for your loss” in place of an apology when she found out that she was wrong.

      “Sorry for your loss” might sound canned but really, keep in mind that you are likely hearing this multiple times each day. That’s not their fault, they are saying it once, to you.

  10. The Other Dawn*

    RE #3: Anything more than one call and one thank you note would be highly annoying to me as a hiring manager. Anything more than that is likely going to make me think of the applicant as a pain in the ass.

    Recently one of my Facebook friends posted that she had just had an interview and asked how often she should contact the hiring manager. I was surprised how many people said she should call at least once a week to make sure that she is “on their mind”. I immediately posted pretty much what I said above and that it might actually decrease her chances of being called back.

  11. Jennifer*

    As ridiculous as it is to fire someone for taking extra candy, it is equally as ridiculous to risk your job for an extra chocolate santa.

    1. Anonymous*

      They probably didn’t realize taking an extra chocolate santa would be risky to their job. It’s easy to say it was stupid to do in hindsight, but it’s the type of thing that probably wouldn’t seem risky at all while doing it.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Exactly. It’s arguably bad manners depending on the circumstances, but not a fireable offense in most sane contexts.

  12. c Johnson*

    Is going into an open room where i work and spending a matter of two minutes in this office looking for a pen result a fair dismissal for gross misconduct. The manager who dismissed me coincidently has left the company.

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