required to read a self-help book, manager calls us “old,” and more

It’s seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Did we waste money flying a fired employee back home?

I work for a company that justly terminated an employee while that employee was out of town on company business (for a company policy violation). Is the company obligated to provide that employee with transportation to get back to his home base?

The manager who did the firing wanted to leave the employee stranded, but I insisted we fly him home – and we did. However, now this continues to be a complaint of how money was “wasted” on this flight. What would be the correct answer in this case?

Of course you’re obligated to provide transportation back. Why should the employee have to pay to return himself home when he was there on business? The correct answer to that manager is: “We are not going to leave employees stranded when they’ve left town on business, both because that’s incredibly unethical and unkind and because other employees who hear about it will never want to go on business travel for us again, and quite rightly.”

2. Can my company make us ineligible for unemployment benefits?

I work for a company in California. That just sent an email alerting all employees today that there was a high likeliness we would not have jobs by the end of the year with company layoffs the first two weeks of December. Alarming, yes! Even more alarming is that they are suggesting that there is a law protecting them from us getting unemployment benefits because they are giving us notice. Is this possible?

No. If you’re being laid off, you should be eligible for unemployment. The only real law around advance notice of layoffs is the WARN Act, which requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide notification 60 days in advance of plant closings and mass layoffs. If an employer fails to give that required notice, they must pay the laid-off employees for those 60 days (so it’s basically severance in lieu of notice). So I wonder if what your company meant is that they’re not planning to pay out severance since they’re giving you the required notice. This would be totally different from unemployment benefits, though, which you should be eligible for.

3. Required to read a self-help book — and take a test on it

An employee of mine works for another dentist part-time.The dentist is requiring her and all of his staff to read a 292-page self-help book not related to her position or dentistry. He said they have to write a report and take a test on this book. They are not being paid to do this. They must read it on their own time and finish by a certain date. Is this legal for him to do?

It’s certainly legal for him to require them to read the book and test them on it (although the testing part of this is really weird and he should rethink at least that part of it). If they’re exempt employees, he does not have to pay them for the time they spend reading it. If they’re non-exempt and the book is required work, he does need to pay them for that time — since non-exempt employees must be paid for all their time.

4. Should you always email your thanks to people for answering questions, or will it clutter their in-box?

When you ask someone a question via email and they answer you, is it considered polite to email them back to thank them for answering your question? On the one hand, I sometimes feel rude not acknowledging when someone has taken the time to answer a question I’ve had. On the other hand, I don’t want to clutter their inbox with an email which might be considered unnecessary.

Depends on what is it. I don’t think constant thank-you’s are necessary for routine internal emails from coworkers (although they’re still gracious), but you should absolutely be thanking (a) coworkers who go out of their way for you and do something that isn’t part of the normal routine of their job and (b) any non-coworkers who answer anything for you.

5. Talking to an employee about inappropriate cell phone use

I am the principal for a small juvenile justice facility. I am on my cell a lot; my boss texts me, especially since my minutes have run out. We don’t have a long distance line yet as we are a new program and really just getting set up and severely technologically challenged.

I noticed that recently (the last 2 weeks) my assistant is on her cell more than I am. I’ve seen her playing games on her phone and having personal conversations…more than I’m really comfortable with. There were some transportation issues, and her child was sick. Those types of situations, I don’t really mind. However, chatting with a friend over what to buy a child for a birthday is unnecessary at work. But what I’m expecting when I tell her that we have a problem with her cell usage is that she will most likely throw it up in my face that I’m on my cell too. So I’m seeking advice before I get bent and say some things I probably shouldn’t.

She does a good job with paperwork and all that, but other people have said things to me about the cell use. She will also go MIA at times. She is also related to some of the other people who work in this building. So there is a PR issue on both sides. I’ve got to formulate a plan of action to deal with her because saying one or two things about the cell will most likely cause conflict that I’m hoping to avoid if possible.

You can’t avoid conflict as a manager; you will need to have tough conversations and give difficult feedback. This one is actually pretty straightforward though: “Jane, I don’t mind you using your cell phone for personal matters when it’s an emergency, like a sick child. But other than that, please don’t use it for personal conversations during the work day or play games on it.” If she responds that she sees you on your cell, then say, “I use my cell primarily for business, but we’re talking about you now, and I’m letting you know what I need from you.”

It’s really not her business how or why you use your cell phone. If she continues bringing it up after this, then you have an insubordination issue that’s probably bigger than the cell phone usage.

6. How can I thank my boss for taking me on this business trip?

I just returned from a work trip to Las Vegas with my boss, the managing director, and one other director. We had a conference for 3 days and stayed on an extra few days. We did so many cool things after the conference, like a helicopter tour to the Grand Canyon and a famous show. I really appreciate this and would never be able to thank my boss enough for taking me with them.

The question is, how do I show them my appreciation, other than working hard (as I always do)? Would a small gift be appropriate, and what if I do give them?

Don’t give a gift; that would be overkill. This was a business trip, first and foremost, and a gift wouldn’t seem quite right. Instead, just tell your boss how much you appreciated being able to go, and explain what you got out of the conference, and then add that you were thrilled to be able to stay those few extra days and you had a great time. That’s it. Make it sincere and heartfelt, and that will have far more meaning than a gift could.

7. Manager keeps calling employees “old”

I’m writing in to ask about a situation that my mother is in at work. She has been with the same company for the past 15 years or so. She’s in her early 60s and loves her job and does it well.

Her new supervisor has never managed people before and has had several slip-ups with her direct reports. These slip-ups mostly revolve around my mother and another seasoned coworker of hers. Namely, the supervisor has called them “old” in meetings and in individual encounters. Yesterday she called them “old” in a meeting of the whole staff. When my mother interrupted her and said that was inappropriate, the supervisor said “Would you rather I call you elderly?” She said this completely seriously and with a straight face!

I told my mother she should be documenting these instances and writing to her HR representative. She’s hesitant, though, because she’s approached the HR representative in the past about other issues and had no response. What do you suggest?

Just because she hasn’t had a response from HR in the past doesn’t mean she won’t now. She should talk to them in person and then follow up with an email summarizing her concerns, and she should be specific that she’s concerned that the manager is demonstrating an age-based biased “which could get us into trouble because of federal laws against age discrimination.”

Notice the “us” in that sentence. That’s intentional, because it’s far easier to have this conversation when you put yourself on the same side as the company than when you position yourself as an adversary.

Any competent HR department will hear about this and take action, because that manager is laying the grounds for a reasonably strong age discrimination lawsuit if any of the older staff happen to get laid off, fired, or demoted. (In other words, the comments on their own probably don’t provide grounds for a lawsuit, but combined with actual adverse action, they could.)

{ 254 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    #1) Of course you should fly someone back, but if it was a pretty egregious violation of policy, I don’t think other employees would lose trust, they’d just think “man, I would NEVER murder a man while on a business trip,” or whatever it was that the employee did.

    1. WWWONKA*

      Not bringing a former employee back from a business trip is low and would probably cause Santa to skip your house this year.

      1. Elsa*

        Here’s what I don’t get: How is it even possible to NOT bring someone back? Unless this company throws money around on expensive oneway tickets really? in this economy?) I travel all the time and I’ve only every had round-trip tickets. Once a ticket is booked and paid for, the company can’t do a thing about it as it’s in my name. If an employer wanted to fire me while i was on a biz trip, it couldn’t rescind a paid ticket. Even if they cancelled the flight, I’d still have that half of the ticket in my name and could rebook—or tell the airline to note in the record that I won’t be changing it and to prevent any changes. End of story.

        1. Travels for Work*

          I know of plenty of reasons that the ticket may be one way:

          Amount of days needed on site is not known, so you buy one way tickets each way.

          Member of a team that drove to work location but this guy was fired before team was ready to drive all the way back.

          Team drove out to site and then had to reposition vehicle to a different city so that next team would be able to fly in to that city.

          Person has to fly in to one city but is going to multiple cities and the last city is much closer to a different airport than is the first.

          1. TychaBrahe*

            Last minute bookings.

            I once flew to Charlotte, NC, Sunday to teach a class Monday and Tuesday, flew Wednesday to Chicago and spent the night at my mother’s house, flew Thursday to Sacramento to teach a class Friday and Saturday, and flew home to Los Angeles Saturday night.

            The training Monday and Tuesday had finally been approved the prior Friday, so all of this was booked with no notice. I had four one-way tickets on four different carriers.

            Now, this is the fun part. This happened in October of 2001. At that time, you had to present ID at the gate. Leaving Charlotte I did, slipped it in my pocket, and couldn’t find it when we landed. Imagine trying to board those last two flights carrying one-way tickets and no photo IDs six weeks after 9/11.

              1. the gold digger*

                They have a special process. My friend thought she lost her ID a few years ago when she was visiting me. They used her work ID and gave her a special patdown.

                A few weeks later, my husband’s mother realized – as he was about to drive her and my father in law to the airport – that she had lost her wallet a few days before. (That’s what happens when you get drunk at a restaurant.)

                She wanted to hunt all over the house for it. I was blocking the back door, telling her, “They will let you board without it! We will find it for you!” (And they did.)

                She also lost her watch when she was visiting us. I turned the house upside down and couldn’t find it. She is still ticked off and convinced that I stole her watch. I don’t ever wear a watch and sure wouldn’t want hers.

                1. AdAgencyChick*

                  I learn something new every day. Thanks for sharing! I once lost my wallet at SFO getting out of a taxi and almost crapped my pants when I realized it, but fortunately one of the curbside airline workers spotted it and flagged me down.

                  Good to know that even if that nice man hadn’t been there, I could still have gotten home!

                2. Ornery PR*

                  I love your in-law stories. They seem like a very special breed of crazy. How lucky for you :)

              2. Cathy*

                You can fly without ID. Several reporters have done it and written about it in the past few years. Basically TSA will ask you a lot of questions and search you more thoroughly.

                When I was flying last week, the guy in front of me didn’t have his DL, but he had credit cards, a Costco card, a library card and they let him through into the normal screening line.

                As an employee of a government contractor, I have an HSPD12 card, which is a government issued photo ID, but it’s technically not on the TSA list. I show it at airports anyway and it’s always been accepted without comment.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  I got searched once; well, my backpack did. I had an ankle weight in there (full of lead shot) and it alarmed. I had specifically warned them about it when I put the backpack in the bin, but they pulled me out of line anyway and went through it. They were very professional about it and it only took a couple of minutes.
                  This was in Tucson, btw.

                2. fposte*

                  Hmm, I must look suspicious–I’ve had my bag hand-searched a few times.

                  One of my favorites was when I was bringing back a gift of a beautiful crystal paperweight. And what is that made from? That’s right, lead. Didn’t even occur to me that that’s kind of an x-ray issue.

              3. Schnauz*

                I once flew to Vegas and back on an expired ID. I switched wallets but forgot my new ID. I had to go through a special security line, pat downs and my carry on luggage was hand checked. Honestly, I am “randomly” selected for extra security most times I fly anyway, so it wasn’t that much extra attention but it took twice as long to go through. Oh, and on the Vegas side, I had to step into this archway/machine that puffed air at me from head to toe. I have no idea what it was testing for, but I assume it was a bigger bomb sniffing method.

              4. TychaBrahe*

                I had a wallet full of other ID: credit cards, library cards, membership cards like United and Delta’s frequent flyer programs (fortunately the two airlines I would be flying with), Hertz and Avis. Just nothing with a picture. I went to the airport expecting to spend at least an extra hour going through security. My bags were searched, and I was magnetometered, wanded, and patted down.

    2. Cat*

      I think there’s a reasonable exemption if flying the employee back would cause a parole violation. :-)

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I once had my handbag stolen with my purse and passport inside. I had reported the theft to the police and been given a stamped form which I showed at the gate to get on the plane. Admittedly, I was flying back, so the airline already had a record that I should be on board, but it took several attempts to explain that whilst I would love to be able to show them some photo ID, unfortunately it wasn’t possible.

  2. Kate*

    At my previous company when there were business trips to new locations the people going would often bring back stuff for the office that was significant to that location (chocolate/cheese/magnets etc.) and for the owner maybe a mug or a bigger chocolate bar. Do you think that was okay and should it fall in to the never give a gift to the boss category?

    1. WWWONKA*

      I remember a co-worker bringing bagels back from New York. I have never had a better bagel. They say it’s the water.

      1. Laufey*

        I think the thing I miss the most about my brief time in the north is the bagels. They just don’t make them the same outside of the tri-state area.

        1. AP*

          They don’t even really make bagels outside of the Tri-state area – just round roles with holes in them!

          1. Natalie*

            They make real bagels all over the US – it’s just that in some regions people unfortunately don’t know the difference between a proper bagel and round-shaped break with a hole in it. (The difference is boiling)

            They’re actually not that hard to make at home, but the dough is a PITA to work with because it’s so thick.

          2. Vicki*

            We have a bagel shop (small franchise) in the SF/Silicon Valley area that makes “real” bagels (boiled, not perfectly round, not fluffy.)

            1. llamathatducks*

              Ooh, would you mind sharing what shop that is? I’m in the area too and would love to have some good bagels.

        2. Lindsay J*

          I miss bagels so badly. I would trade all the kolaches in Texas for all the bagels in New Jersey any day.

      2. Anna (and lay off the bananas!)*

        We have good water in New York City, even without its implications for bagel quality. (We pipe it in from the Catskills, which is why fracking potentially has such dire consequences for NYC.)

    2. Elise*

      The boss actually went on this trip with the OP, so they could have bought their own souvenirs. But, bringing back things to share with the whole office seems okay.

      Actually, the magnetic thing could be fun if everyone tried to pick one up from wherever they travel. The office refrigerator could be an interesting display of their adventures. Magnets are usually easy to find in airports or gift shops, they are inexpensive, and you could put it on the expense bill anyway.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Bringing back something edible always seems to go down well. The ability of certain of my colleagues to hoover up an entire box of chocolate truffles is legendary.

      2. Bea W*

        At one job I worked at where people were traveling at least once a month, we’d sometimes send postcards back to the office, often with our project logo cleverly stuck somewhere in the image. We had a whole collection of these which we hung on the outside of the cubes chronicling the team’s adventures.

        Then the meany mean woman who was the VP of another department and fancied herself Queen of the Office Space, decided no one should be allowed to display anything anywhere and told us to take them down. :(

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          Srsly? Someone should have displayed a picture of the Grinch prominently in her office.

          Okay, not really, but it’s fun to think about when dealing with such people.

          1. Bea W*

            She probably already had a picture of the Grinch in her office displayed as one of her personal heros.

          2. tcookson*

            Or photo-shop a special picture of the Grinch merged with her features. My husband did one of those with our wedding picture; he looked very effeminate and made-up, and I looked like a hairy little monkey. It was hilarious.

    3. majigail*

      Bringing back candies etc for coworkers is a nice gesture, but as a boss, the best thing you could do for me is to get energized at the conference and bring that enthusiasm back to the office and give THAT to everyone else. Then take some of the concepts you learned at the conference and look for ways to improve our operations.

        1. Bea W*

          Giving chocolate is pretty much the same thing as giving enthusiasm. The end result is the same, but it tastes much better.

    4. Cat*

      My boss collects snow globes – people in the office bring him snow globes when we travel. I think we all feel okay with it; it’s in no way mandatory and mostly what it does is build up a fun display of snow globes in the office that is somewhat amusing to everyone.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t like the “one present for the staff and a bigger thing for the boss” plan — that rubs me the wrong way (and I’d definitely be uncomfortable about it if I were the manager). Bringing back food for everyone is good though.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      I think that would be appreciated, but I would bring it back to the office rather than singling out the boss.

      At Exjob, the owners once brought back some fresh pineapple from a personal trip to Hawaii and shared it with us. Like, so fresh it had been growing a couple of days before. It was soooooo good…light years ahead of that canned crap.

    7. Mike C.*

      There’s an interesting thing one of my managers likes to do. Anytime he has to travel and he’s scheduled to fly one of our planes, he buys a bunch of company pins and what not for the crew. They always love them!

  3. A Teacher*

    #1, sometimes people deserve to be fired…I get that. I don’t get the carrying on by the manager that wanted to leave someone stranded. That makes the manager seem unethical and kind of pathetic, like “yes, we finally got rid of him now let’s show him how tough we are.” He was already fired the rest would’ve been overkill

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Yes. The managers need for retaliation would send good employees scrambling for the door.

    1. PPK*

      I think the OP should remind the coworkers that the cost of the return fair saves them either a lawsuit and/or some really bad PR. I’m sure the news would love to run a story about someone being stranded by their company (even if it was their now former company).


    #7 This is proof that idiots run companies, manage people, and do not give any appreciation to a diverse work group. Due to past experience and observations I do not think HR is more than the companies protector and will most likely try to brush this off. I WOULD in fact take notes on any recurrence of this situation and report the activity to HR. In the event of need, all documentation will be helpful if it ever needs to go to the EEOC.

    1. straws*

      This such a negative, blanket statement, and it makes me sad. Sure, there are idiots in management and HR. There are idiots below them, and idiots who are unemployed. There are also plenty of brilliant, compassionate people in those roles. The world is diverse – for better or worse – and you’re going to encounter all types in all areas of your life. If you approach every situation with a negative spin on it though, that’s only going to reflect back on you when you do encounter the good people.

        1. Forrest*

          Except we don’t know what the other issues are that the OP’s mom went to HR about.

          Its also important to keep in mind that this is all second hand. One person’s senior employee comment is another person’s old comment.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I thought the OP said the manager actually used the word “old.” When confronted, she said “Would you prefer I say elderly?” Seems pretty unambiguous to me. And yeah, she’s a tool (the manager, not the OP).

            1. Forrest*

              This is my comment from below explaining how it could of happened:


              Manager: And here’s our senior staff.
              Mom: We don’t like being called senior, due to our age.
              Manager: *Horrible joke about them preferring elderly staff*

              But I always take second hand accounts with a grain of salt.”

              1. Elizabeth West*

                It could have happened that way, although I’m pretty sure they might have chalked that up to a misunderstanding rather than writing here about it. If the manager actually said “elderly,” then she wasn’t talking about experience.

                1. Forrest*

                  But the mom didn’t write in here – the daughter did. That’s my point about second hand accounts.

                  Then again, my mom is kind of dramatic, so my bias may be coming through.

          2. Min*

            I thought maybe “senior employee”, too. Then I got to the “elderly” part. That’s just plain calling her old, methinks, and that’s not right.

      1. KJR*

        Agree with straws. This is an unfair statement. Even if you believe HR is only the “company’s protector,” it would stand to reason that it is in the company’s best interest not to support or allow discriminatory practices. No trained HR person is going to “brush this off.”

    2. Colette*

      HR’s role is absolutely to protect the company, which means, in part, preventing lawsuits. If they don’t act on this, they are not acting in the company’s best interest.

      1. MrsKDD*

        Exactly. Thank you Collete, I was just about to post that. As someone who works in HR, if an employee came to me with that complaint it would be immediately addressed. I have no interest in standing in front of the Human Rights board in my province trying to explain why my organization tolerated comments like this. So many things wrong with that manager’s complete lack of awareness it makes my head hurt.

      2. Max H.*

        And what exactly is “the company” anyway? The building? The company officers? (Let them try to operate without anyone below them, see how that works.) It’s everyone who works there, from officers to entry-level. That’s why I <3 my company, my HR peeps are on my side. I've actually had the head of HR come down and harangue a building maintenance manager who was giving us grief about fixing something in our break room.

        1. Colette*

          In my mind, it’s the financial organization that runs at a profit or loss. Ideally, that includes supporting employees, because they are critical to the company’s success.

  5. Mike C.*

    OP #2 – This appears to be nothing more than a scare tactic to prevent you and your fellow coworkers from applying for something that would be rightfully yours.


    They are penalized when they lay off lots of workers at once and I’m willing to bet that they’re trying to save a bit of money on a very dishonest fashion.

      1. Becca*

        That happened to me too! My previous employer told me I wasn’t eligible for unemployment because she was laying me off during maternity leave. I think she was trying to CYA because she documented “problems”** which were WHY I was getting laid off, but then I should be fired not laid off, but if I was “fired” on maternity leave that opens her up to maternity firing lawsuits stuff. She bungled the whole thing, AND she tried having me sign paperwork that stated I was quitting, not being laid off. It kind of got beyond ridiculous, I’m just happy not to work with her anymore.

        1. Becca*

          Forgot to mention, no one probably cares but my pride won’t let this go** she “documented” issues that mainly arose while I was on maternity leave by either the person doing my job wrong, or because she forgot she had emailed me to do something a certain way. I even had the emails to prove it!

          1. Ruffingit*

            What ended up happening there? I hope you were able to get the unemployment with no problem and that your former manager died in a four-alarm fire that someone used her as the starter for. OK, so that’s harsh, but seriously…bosses who do this shit piss me off.

            1. LJL*

              Precisely. Actually, I was kind of hoping that she’d be fired while traveling for business and stranded in a strange city with no way home…. ;-)

              1. Becca*

                Lol! No, she’s still there, but I did get unemployment. She wasn’t a terrible boss, she just …. Um… Yeah. Idk why she did all that, she could be a little unpredictable at times. I think the main issue was that she’d never had to deal with my particular situation before and she mishandled it.

        2. tcookson*

          My previous employer tried to keep me from drawing short-term disability for my maternity leave. The HR rep kept calling me into his office for meetings in which he would try to get me to say that I wasn’t returning to work after my leave; my guess is that he was trying to get me to say something that he could construe as notice of my intention to quit, thus rendering myself ineligible for the benefit.

          I just kept insisting that I was returning after the leave. At the time, I wasn’t sure whether I would return or not, but as it was a manufacturing job working 12 hours per day/ 4 days on, 4 days off/ a month of days, then a month of nights, reality dictated that I could not keep that up with a baby.

          1. Cruella Da Boss*

            Why do employees do that? That creates such a hardship on the company. Before I rile the Angry Mothers Brigade, don’t forget that I am a mother myself. I have four children, two singlets and a set of twins. I’ve been on maternity leave two out of three times with my company. Over the time I’ve been here, only me and one other employee have ever come back to work after their maternity leave.

            We’ve started hiring temps a few months before any employee goes on maternity leave. This gives us time, while the employee is still here, to train the temp on the basic job functions, iron out any glitches, answer any questions, etc…

            So far, it’s worked out great! On our last maternity leave, the employee called on the very last day to tell us that she was quitting. We were able to offer that temp the open position. We had a fully trained operator to fill the open position, and we were not left in a lurch!

            1. Elkay*

              Shouldn’t that be standard operating practice for anyone with staff who are going to be off for any planned period of time?

              1. Cruella Da Boss*

                You would think that it would be, but it’s not always approved by the upper management. Especially during this economy.

            2. KellyK*

              For the same reason that you don’t give notice until you have a job offer in hand. If you don’t know that you’re quitting, it’s not in your best interest to announce that you’re quitting.

              I think that if you’re flat-out certain that you won’t come back, then it’s dishonest to take the short-term disability, and in a good work situation, you would be able to be up-front about “maybes” so that you and the company can plan accordingly.

              But in this situation, the company was trying to get them to say they weren’t coming back, in order to get out of paying disability, when they hadn’t given any indication that that was their plan.

              1. Jamie*

                If someone is not sure I have no problem with them stating their intentions toward coming back if they are working with an employer where they can’t be honest.

                But if one really has no intention of coming back and they know their last day before maternity leave is their last day period…then I don’t see how taking short term disability is any different than stealing.

                Things change…plans, feelings, logistics…and it’s part of the cost of doing business in the world with no guarantees. But to deliberately deceive just to keep the payments coming as long as possible? Even if you can’t prove intent it’s still fraud and it’s still unethical.

                1. KellyK*

                  Oh, yeah, I totally agree. If you’ve made up your mind to be finished, it’s dishonest to say otherwise. tcookson wasn’t sure whether she’d return or not, so I see nothing wrong with saying she was staying.

                  Part of what I was getting at, which may not have been totally clear, is that in a good work environment, you should be able to be upfront about it if you aren’t certain you’re coming back, so they can plan accordingly and you can let them know what’s going on when you have a better idea. But in a situation where they’re already trying to claim you plan not to come back, admitting that uncertainty is not in your best interest.

                  I also think, at least if it’s at all possible, that if you change your mind while you’re out on maternity leave, you should offer a real working notice, not just “I’m not coming back” two weeks before your maternity leave would end.

                2. Jamie*

                  I’d have done the exact same thing in tcookson’s shoes. Her employer wasn’t making it safe or smart to have an honest and forthright conversation. And in everything, be it maternity or medical the unspoken understanding should be “unless things change.”

                  In the rare instances where people know unequivocolly they aren’t coming back they have made plans to be a SAHM for X number of years and where they know that “maternity leave” is actually a quit…that’s where it crosses the line. I would think that’s such a small percentage of cases though.

                  If you’re uncertain absolutely proceed as you need to to keep the protections you have under the law.

                3. tcookson*

                  At the time, I actually did plan to return to work. It was my first child, and neither my spouse nor I had any concept of how incompatible that job would be with me caring for an infant; we were kind of naïve and deluded in thinking that we could continue with me working there.

                  If I had known for sure that I wasn’t coming back, I would have said so, so there was no deliberate deception.

              2. tcookson*

                And, as Jamie said, my employer was not making it safe for me to express uncertainty and/or ambiguity.

            3. Meredith*

              They do it because the system incentivizes it. The only way to get paid for any part of your maternity leave is to plan to come back, so that’s what employees say. Some companies require that employees return for a specific amount of time in order to not have to return benefits paid, but IME that just results in unmotivated people showing up and going through the motions until they can quit.

              Perhaps if those benefits were paid regardless of whether the employee is returning people would be more forthcoming about their intentions. But as long as those are the rules of the game that employers have set up, don’t expect employees not to play along.

              1. KJR*

                Personally I think it would be dishonest to collect disability payments when you know for certain you will not be returning. It’s disability for being unable to work while recuperating from childbirth, so why would you collect a payment for being unable to work, if you have no plans to return?

                1. Meredith*

                  But who knows anything “for certain?” If circumstances were to change while someone is on leave- spouse loses their job, for example- their plans would likely change, too. It’s just prudent to not resign your job before you need to resign.

                  In addition, if your insurance through your current job is covering your maternity care, you could really shoot yourself in the foot by losing it before you have the baby.

                2. TychaBrahe*

                  Suppose you plan to become a SAHM mom, but something happens. Your husband loses his job or is in an accident and partially disabled, and it suddenly makes more sense for him to be a SAHD and for you to go back to work.

                  Suppose after two months the mom is going stir crazy and knows she won’t survive mentally being home with a child all day. (My mother and my father’s mother were like this. They never should have been parents.)

                  Suppose, although we hope not, the baby dies and there’s no longer a reason for the mother to stay home.

                3. Elaine*

                  Easy, Tycha! I went stir crazy staying at home full-time with my baby. He’s happy, healthy, and thinks I’m an excellent mom.

                  If your mother and your father’s mother didn’t have babies, you wouldn’t be here. :)

                4. Amy*

                  Easy, Elaine! If my father and my father’s father hadn’t had babies, I wouldn’t be here. And if my father had recognized that my mother was going stir crazy staying home with a baby, and had encouraged her to go back to work, and had changed his own work schedule to support that, my childhood would have been much happier.

                  Tycha was not insulting motherhood by pointing out that not every woman can be happy or sane staying home with a baby. And saying that fathers can sometimes be stay-at-home dads if that’s what’s best for their families doesn’t say anything about your decision to be a stay-at-home mom. No one is doubting that you’re an excellent mom by saying that for some moms, being excellent means making a different choice from the one you made.

            4. Cat*

              And every woman I’ve worked with who had gone on maternity leave has returned so . . . I’m not really sure what use anecdotes are in this situation.

              1. Judy*

                Yes, anyone I’ve worked with who ended up staying home, seemed to came back for at least a year after the child, and at some point realized it wasn’t working for their family.

                Several did even try going to part time, but they were still given the same amount of work as a full time engineer.

                I can’t think of anyone who said they were coming back who didn’t and the majority stayed employed long term after having kids.

              2. KellyK*

                Same here. I’ve had several coworkers and my boss leave on maternity leave, and everyone has come back.

            5. Mike C.*

              Oh noes! Heaven forbid a woman find her situation changed and make a decision that might cause the slightest bit of inconvenience to the company!

              This isn’t 1950, employers know quite well that employees can leave at any time for any reason, and it’s inexcusable to blame a pregnant woman specifically for this when a non-pregnant woman or even a man could and do leave with as little as no notice at all!

              Posts like these make it difficult for younger women to be treated seriously in the workplace.

              1. tcookson*

                If this had been my second child, I would have known better than to think I could have worked that job. I would have had a better handle on what raising an infant requires, and have known that the long hours, and odd shift (plus the switching back and forth from days to nights on a monthly basis) would be unworkable.

                With that particular pregnancy having been with my first child, I was really just clueless that I couldn’t just carry on with a job like that. I genuinely thought that I could, until it began to dawn on me that babies take lots of time, and that it would be next to impossible to find childcare for the weird shiftwork required by that job.

            6. Elizabeth West*

              That’s a good practice, but you can’t condemn everyone for thinking they may be back, because they might have to come back. Not everyone can afford to quit after they have a baby.

            7. Bea W*

              That’s interesting. I think I knew one person in near 14 years in my career that didn’t come back from maternity leave, and she worked in HR. I worked at my first job long enough to see the same women out multiple times. They always came back.

            8. JC*

              That’s how my mom got her position – she was the temp hired for someone who went on maternity, and at the end of the leave time, the gal she temped in for decided to go to part time only.

              1. tcookson*

                That’s how I got my position, too. I was temping for someone on maternity leave, and she decided not to come back. At the time, I was thinking, “All I have to do is hold everything together for 6 weeks until FTE comes back”, and now here I am, 6 years later, still holding it together.

  6. Jessa*

    #5, the cell phone thing is bad enough, but the “she goes AWOL” thing seems worse to me, I’d address that too.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I bet the cell calls have something to do with the AWOLs. I hope OP goes into this with eyes wide open. I hope there is not more to this story…. but I am wondering what the heck is so important to the employee.

  7. Seal*

    #7 – Where is the supervisor’s boss in all this? If they’re not aware that this new supervisor is an insensitive idiot who is setting the company up for an age discrimination suit, they need to be told, pronto. I have supervised staff members both older and younger than me for years and can’t imagine a circumstance where I would EVER feel compelled to call an employee old or elderly, in public or at a staff meeting.

    1. BausLady (OP#7)*

      The supervisor’s boss just started within the last couple of weeks. He was at the latest staff meeting when the “old or elderly” incident happened. My mother said he made a face at it, but didn’t do anything about it.

      1. GeH*

        To be fair, a good manager wouldn’t have called her out in front of everyone. He may have pulled her aside and said something to her in private after the meeting, and your mother wouldn’t be privy to that.

        1. Construction HR*

          If the supe did subsequently address it, then he needs to complete the loop and advise the OP that: 1) the behavior was noted and unacceptable; 2) it was addressed; and 3) to advise him if there were any recurrences or retaliation.

    2. Ruffingit*

      That’s my question – in what context are these comments coming up? I cannot imagine any context where it would be appropriate to mention the ages of the employees. So weird.

      1. Forrest*


        Manager: And here’s our senior staff.
        Mom: We don’t like being called senior, due to our age.
        Manager: *Horrible joke about them preferring elderly staff*

        But I always take second hand accounts with a grain of salt.

        1. Anonymous*

          I wonder if they really are the senior staff and that may be what started it. Forrest’s scenario is so spot on, that I really wonder if the jokes originate from a misunderstanding. If they really are the senior staff then perhaps they could come up with another way to reference themselves? Nothing that comes to my mind sounds right or professional while conveying the experience.

          My staff and I have fun with being the senior staff, and have occasionally had some wordplay – ” We put the senior in staff!” but our work culture involves a lot of punning and wordplay. We also put the non in profit!

          1. BausLady (OP#7)*

            They are not senior staff in the sense that they are higher-ups in the organization. They are merely seasoned employees, individual contributors.

              1. Anna*

                I’ve never worked for an organization that refers to long time employees as “senior staff”, only higher ups/management. So, even if it were a joke about how long the employees had been there, it was in poor taste and did more to highlight the age of the employees, rather than their experience.

    3. Judy*

      I once sat in a meeting when a manager from another department walked in and said that he’d just been on the phone with his elderly parents, and would need to make a trip out of town to help them next weekend. He then looked at the (female) engineer next to me and said “I think you’re about 5 years older than my mom.” Apparently that was caused by a personal style issue. I was actually called into HR to hear my account of that and several shouting episodes I had witnessed. The HR guy was not interested in the language or the threats, only that this guy never touched anyone. He did manage to take an engineering department that was 4 females and 5 males down to all male within 2 years.

      1. Elkay*

        I once attended a meeting where an unfortunate choice of image led to an older member of staff bursting into tears and running out of the room. The image was about life long learning and had the buzz word “gray matter” meaning brains but the model had grey hair. The person who’d put together the presentation was mortified that she’d caused offence but nothing she said could convince the staff member that the presentation wasn’t aiming to pigeon hole all people over the age of 50 in a derogatory way.

        The only good thing about that meeting was they gave us cheese.

        1. khilde*

          So….curious what the others think, but do you think that employee that burst into tears and ran out of the room was…a wee bit sensitive? I know context is everything, but I’m wondering if this particular incident there was too much oversensitivity on the part of the employee? Especially when the presenter who was sorry she’d caused offense tried to talk to the upset employee and coudn’t convince the employee?

          1. Rana*

            That seems really weird to me, too. I can, if I stretch, see getting offended (if one decided to interpret the message really ungenerously), but bursting into tears? That’s really bizarre, unless there’s been an ongoing problem with harassment or something.

            1. khilde*

              Yeah, it certainly seems like there could be more to the story. Either at work or something the employee is dealing with personally. I actually don’t think the reaction itself is so bad. Some people are very sensitive and bothered by going gray. I think what’s a bit unreasonable is the fact that the Upset Employee still won’t budge even after the presenter apologized and offered perspective. Would love to know more on this one.

              1. Elkay*

                I wish I could tell you more but I never did work out what the heck was going on and why she got quite so upset by it (she’d been there 25+ years but so had many other employees). It was definitely connected to “gray matter” being paired with a picture of an older person but it was never clear exactly what the problem was, she just got really angry then started crying and flew out of the room. It was a strange place to work, I lasted a year.

                The cheese was good though.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah. Really. I am 50 something and I would find that to be an amusing twist of words. I am what I am- a 50 something person. What causes me amusement is that no one has figured out yet how to stop the aging process and some day everyone will reach 50 or 60 years old. Well, hopefully they will because the alternative sucks. (The part that amuses me is visualizing the speaker at 55-60 years old.)
            Age is very hard to gauge- is it possible the boss thinks Mom is in the same age bracket as him? Therefore he is poking fun at himself, too? I had a fill-in job a while ago where I had to ID people that I believed where 30 years or younger. Omg. I was so bad at guessing. I asked one guy for ID and he laughed. He said “Come on… you and I are in the same age bracket.” I looked at his ID- he was 35. I said “I am 13 years older than you.” He jaw dropped. I had just gotten done explaining it is very hard to guess age. He then agreed, yes it is harder than it seems at first.
            It depends on an individual’s personality- but Mom could take the boss to one side and say “What is up with the age jokes these last few weeks?”
            But either way, Mom should stand tall, be proud of her life and her experiences. If she wants HR to assist her then she should get there and tell them what is going on pronto.

            1. khilde*

              I am so bad at guessing age, too. When I was 20 I was introduced to my (now) husband’s family friend. For some reason the friend and my MIL asked me how old I thought Friend was. I had no clue so I said 40. That was twenty years older than me; it made sense in my mind! They hooted and hollered and thought it was grand fun. Based on that reaction I obviously guessed wrong but they never did tell me her age. Now I have pieced together that she was actually in her late 50s at the time. So I am a sucky judge of age and continue to be!

              I can more accurately look at small children and guess their age if it’s younger than my oldest. Cause we’ve been through it and I recognize certain things. But I can never guess older kids’ ages very well.

              So maybe it’s easier to guess someone younger than it is older?

              1. ThursdaysGeek*

                I don’t usually think about age — coworkers are all adults, so what does the particular age matter? But I had a coworker at LastJob who was lamenting that he was so old, going to be turning 25. Another coworker overheard and gently mocked him, said he had 50 years on him. I had to express my surprise, and he really was 75!

            2. Judy*

              As far as the age thing, managers at that company had the information. And he was around 30, while the older engineer was about to turn 60. It was actually amazing she stayed that long, that company would start marking engineers who had 10-15-20 years of “strong performance” to “meets expectations” and then “needs improvement” as they passed the 50 year old mark. That way they’d be ready for a PIP at the point they turned 55 and eligible for retirement.

          3. Ruffingit*

            Yes, I would totally go with over sensitive in this scenario. In fact, I’d tack on bizarre. This seems like a weird reaction given the facts.

    4. Lora*

      My ExBoss informed me, as part of a performance review, that he felt I was full of creative and fresh ideas, but that these were inappropriate for older staff, and that creative ideas were something only young people should have, so older people could shoot them down with our experience.

      Yep, those were his words, documented, on paper, which his boss saw and signed off on, then sent to HR, who was promptly horrified and apologetic.

      When layoff time came around, I got a Settlement rather than a layoff package. It was pretty generous, largely because HR knew what a mess the managers had made and involved Legal when they couldn’t get the managers in question to behave like decent people even after special week-long trainings.

        1. Lora*

          He was not the sharpest crayon in the box, in many ways, although he definitely thought he was. I was far from the only person to encounter his…special personality.

          Whenever someone asks, “why don’t they fire these managers instead?” the answer can be a lot of things, but in this case it was that the VP had made a big deal out of hiring this individual and the director both, with much fanfare about how together they would change the whole department and how the entire commercial division operated, and promoted them both very, very quickly, and it would have made him look bad to admit that the reason the department had something like 70% turnover was because of the two *cough*geniuses*cough* he’d hired. Especially since the metrics were to have no more than 5% annual turnover.

      1. HR Anon*

        This is why HR at my company insist on seeing the written performance reviews before they are discussed with the employee. It happens several times a year that we tell a manager to change a phrase like, “help the younger employees learn…” to “help the newer/less experienced employees learn…”. Unless a manager wants help setting goals for the employee, or whatever, they can write their own review. We just want to make sure that the choice of language can’t get the company into any legal trouble.

  8. Anonymous*

    Regarding question #2)

    I live and work in San Francisco, CA and I got a WARN Act notice a few months back. Of course I can’t speak to the OP’s particular situation, but when I was ultimately laidoff from my position and applied for unemployment, I got unemployment very easily BECAUSE I had received a WARN Act notice. A well-documented layoff is, well, a well-documented layoff. There were almost no questions asked of me.

    I also started job hunting immediately upon receiving the notice and found that most employers were very understanding about potential mass layoffs. OP, if you have in fact gotten a WARN notice, thank your lucky stars for the heads up and get moving! (Even if you survive this round of layoffs, this isn’t a good sign for a company or organization.)

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This. And if you actually got one and they told you it meant you couldn’t apply for unemployment, spread the word quietly among your coworkers that yes, you can apply and will most likely get it. But you ALL should be job hunting; Anonymous has a point.


    #3 The last job I was at gave all 5-10 thousand employees a book to read. Most went to the trash which ticked me off because they should have been recycled. The upper management continuously came up with the latest trendy concept of management and never followed through. That’s what happens when you have people that really don’t know how to manage.

    1. Sydney Bristow*

      My first post-college career required us to read books on various business topics and things like “emotional intelligence.” I cant remember if we were tested on those, but we may have been. We also had reading and tests on specifics for our company and line of business.

      As a new college grad, I actually really liked this. It was part of a very specific training program. It made the transition from school to career easier (for me at least).

    2. Lanya*

      We were required to do a book club every month with a self-help book that my boss thought would be very helpful to all of us personally. Everyone had to take turns presenting the next chapter. It was painful. And since there were 8 or 9 chapters, this went on for a loooong time.

      1. Vicki*

        Were you the person who wrote the letter about the book club with the self-help book and the reports?

        Or are there two managers out there doing this?

    3. Jen*

      My ex-boss decided that, because morale in our team was low, he should send the team lead a self-help book that she could “apply” to us. It did bolster morale a bit – she read us the stupidest bits and we laughed our asses off. (We are not the kind of people who enjoy self-help books on the best of days, and definitely did not appreciate the unwritten message of “stop whining, your problems aren’t real”.)

  10. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

    Just a quick note on the whole WARN thing–an email saying that there might be a closing and you might lose your job won’t satisfy WARN. That said, if they have no money to pay the 60 days, they have no money and you’ll just be in line behind all their other creditors.

    But, they cannot take away unemployment eligibility.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      This! I believe that WARN triggers at 50 employees in California. I don’t believe a mass email is sufficient for it. I believe that they need to give you explicit notification of the date and it needs to be at least 60 days notice.

      I would raise my concern to HR – there seems to be evidence that they’re bungling it which could get them sued (Solyndra). I’d raise this as a “this could harm the company” issue.

      But start looking now anyway – it can’t hurt. And yes you do get unemployment. They can’t stop that.

    2. Chinook*

      Wait a minute – employees are in line BEHIND creditors for payment when a place goes bankrupt? Shouldn’t they be at the head of the line for their wages since it is illegal for companies not to pay a promised salary?

      1. Ruffingit*

        You are somewhat correct. According to the SHRM: With the exception of secured creditors, which are typically given the highest priority for repayment, creditors that are owed wages, salaries or commissions are given a higher priority for repayment than other creditors. Each individual employee of a bankrupt employer is given a priority of $10,000 (adjusted to inflation every 36 months) of all wages, salaries or commissions he or she earned up to 180 days prior to the organization filing for bankruptcy. In some cases, there will be sufficient assets to satisfy employee claims in full; in others, employees may be compensated for only a portion of their claims or receive nothing at all.

      2. Colette*

        Based on the Canadian Nortel situation, wages are protected but severance is not. I assume the 60 days falls into the severance category.

      1. Judy*

        Every one I’ve ever seen (at 3 companies) states that “on or about x date, the company will be laying off at least 10% of it’s workforce at Y location. This serves as your notice under the WARN act.”

        One of them actually said something like”The company does not acknowledge that the WARN act is applies in this situation, but is sending this notice in case it is determined otherwise.”

        Each company would WARN all employees, so no one got any work done for that time. It seems like it could have been better to give the ones laid off 2 months of pay and be done, instead of everyone panicking for 2 months.

  11. TamiToo*

    #2 – The State determines unemployment eligibility, not your employer. I cannot overstate this enough: just because your employer tells you that you are not eligible for unemployment does not make it true. It is not up to the employer to make this determination. Always, always, always check with the State in which you live. Each state has their own unemployment laws. While the employer may protest your eligibility, the State is who makes the final determination.

    PS – Another example is that when people are forced to resign rather than be terminated…many people believe, or are told by their employer. that they are not eligible for unemployment. This is not true. In most states, this is considered a constructive discharge, and you will be eligible for unemployment. Always, always, ALWAYS check with your State regarding their individual rules and laws.

    1. Cathy*

      You actually need to check with the state in which you work, not the one in which you live. E.g. if you live in NJ, work in NY, and lose your job, then you apply for unemployment in NY.

    2. Loose Seal*

      Also, in my state (and probably others), you can collect unemployment if you are dropped below a certain number of hours a week. You can still work at your job while your hours are reduced and you collect a portion of unemployment. However, it doesn’t bring your salary up to where it was prior to getting your hours cut. But it helps if you have an employer who would rather just cut your schedule until you quit rather than firing you/laying you off.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, Exjob did that during the recession for the manufacturing personnel–it was called Shared Work or something like that. It let us keep already-trained machine operators and custom widget makers on hand rather than laying everyone off and starting over, which would have seriously delayed orders.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Here in NY, my friend had a two week wait before collecting unemployment after firing.
      Always go to the source for information- never take a third party’s word for something.
      OP, I hope you print out that email.

    4. holly*

      always apply. i was at a limited term position, applied for another one at the same place, wasn’t hired, my job ended, i still qualified for unemployment even though i wasn’t sure it would count. always apply.

  12. Ruffingit*

    “I use my cell primarily for business, but we’re talking about you now, and I’m letting you know what I need from you.”

    The only thing I would change here is to take out the “but we’re talking about you now” portion of this because it makes it sound like the manager is saying “I can use my phone all day for personal stuff, but you can’t” and while that may actually be true, it is not going to bode well for future harmony with this person. I think the better thing to say is “I use my cell primarily for business and that is what I expect from you as well.” I think that makes it look more like the boss is also applying the same standards to herself that she applies to her subordinates.

    1. John*

      I think AAM is suggesting that important phrase as a way of reminding the employee of how the relationship works — it’s not up to the employee to manage the boss. She’s politely telling the employee, “Here is why my phone usage is different but, by the way, I don’t need to defend myself to you.”

      And in this situation it sounds like the manager is in danger of allowing this employee to have all the power in the relationship (the concerns about the “PR” aspects since she knows others in the building). Can’t let that happen. It will lead to problems.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Agreed that there is a power differential and the employee needs to know the manager is in charge, but I also think it breeds problems just the same when you make statements like “but we’re talking about you now…” I think that can muddy the message because, at that point, the employee is hearing “So you’re a hypocrite who uses your phone any way you want to, but I can’t?” I can see how phrasing it in such a way could cause the employee to miss the real message because she’s concentrating on the hypocrisy (real or perceived), that’s all I’m saying.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’re right — that’s better wording. (That said, if the employee pushes this, the manager will need to make it clear that it’s not the employee’s job to monitor what the manager does and that this feedback conversation is about the employee.)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        ” it’s not the employee’s job to monitor what the manager does and that this feedback conversation is about the employee.”
        This. I have seen managers say exactly this. OP, keep this wording as a back up. You can use the softer wording first and if that does not sink in then pull out this wording.

      2. tcookson*

        “it’s not the employee’s job to monitor what the manager does”

        This is the key concept here. I have a job in which I definitely should not be playing angry birds (for example) on my phone while working; my boss has one where the type of work he is doing doesn’t necessarily preclude that he can play angry birds and still be doing a great job. And it is not my business to monitor or judge that; he is responsible for himself and to his supervisor, not to me.

        1. Ruffingit*

          I get that. I’m simply saying that the way the boss phrases things here will make a huge difference in how the employee hears what he has to say. It’s not the job of the employee to monitor the manager, certainly. However, if the manager couches this in such a way as to convey that he can do whatever he wants, but the employee cannot, even though that is true, his message may be lost in the employee now feeling like he’s a hypocrite. Whether he has a right to be a hypocrite (real or perceived one) doesn’t matter. That is how the employee will see it and his message of “Get off your phone at work” will be drowned out by the employee’s feelings of “Screw you, you do this all the time…” Better to soften up the approach IMO and go with what I said below, which is “I primarily use my cell for business and that is what I expect of you as well.”

  13. Juni*

    #6: If you want to make a really great impression, offer to put together everyone’s notes from the conference into something that can be shared with your department for the benefit of those who did not attend. Obviously don’t put things in there related to your time at Cirque du Soleil, but for the things you learned at the conference, that would be a great way to recap what you did actually learn, show your boss that you have some initiative, and it will benefit your whole team.

  14. The IT Manager*

    #4 – Yes!

    One of my co-workers was so annoying about this. I suspect there might have been a job in the past where she was required to respond to all email within a certain timeframe because I would get some, “I’m going to look at this in a few minutes” which is unnecessary if she is going to respond within a few hours and lots and lots of reply all thank yous so even the people who did not provide the help get thanked. One time she even thanked an automatic reply saying someone was out of the office.

    She cluttered my inbox with so much uninformative, extraneous email that made it harder for me to manage my inbox. You don’t have to respond to every single email.

    1. Ruffingit*

      And you know, I’d even argue that saying thanks via e-mail might not be necessary. To me, it’s cluttering the box to receive an e-mail that says “Thanks!” and that’s it. It’s akin to the “OK” text messages that some people like to send. It’s an unnecessary response in other words. I’d much rather someone catch me in the hall and say “Hey, thanks for the help with the Wakeen Account” and be done with it, but no big deal if they didn’t do that either. I have a lot of email to sort through on a daily basis so maybe I’m more sensitive to this, but I just don’t need the one-word reply of thanks or whatever. It’s just another email to delete.

      1. Colette*

        I think a thank you is appropriate when going above and beyond, or when doing something quickly because it’s higher priority than usual. Thank yous for things that are a regular part of my job are clutter.

          1. Ruffingit*

            If it’s an email where you’re concerned that the person has seen it, you can always call and ensure they saw it. But for regular, everyday emails, sending a thank you for everything/most things probably isn’t necessary. Depends on office culture I suppose, but I just find it clutter when someone sends such emails for general tasks.

            1. Cat*

              But calling to say “Hey, I sent that, you got it right???” is way more intrusive to the person on the other end of the line than me just marking a thanks as read and moving on.

              I’m not saying it’s critical, but it does serve a function other than thanking someone for something that’s already their job.

              1. Ruffingit*

                I get what you’re saying. I just meant that thank yous aren’t necessary even as an indication that something was received and if you’re worried that someone got a very important email, then you could call to ensure that. Otherwise, I will assume they received it, I don’t need to hear thanks or any other unnecessary reply. That’s just me, other people have their own preferences.

          2. Bea W*


            Some I delete. Some I file with whatever documentation of an important discussion or question. The culture in my present job seems to dictate sending “Thank you!” emails. So I just deal with it. Getting emails that say “Thank you” is the least of my Inbox woes.

            1. Jamie*

              I agree – too many thank yous is the least of my mail issues.

              I have a couple of people who send out thanks for routine stuff…I don’t notice when people don’t do it, but it certainly doesn’t bother me if they do. Having a conversation where I ask people to be less courteous and appreciative of me isn’t high on my list of tasks to get to today. :)

              1. CEMgr*

                You folks are lucky…at my workplace, many people will “Reply All” with a message of “Thanks!” or “Good luck!” (to those fortunate enough to be leaving). We have a big company and many mailing lists have 50+ people on them. So a single question answered that triggers 5 global TYs can result in 5*50 = 250 email events.

                Can anyone explain what goes through the head of someone sending a TY to 50 people, only one of whom did the thankable deed?

                1. Jamie*

                  I have worked in places where people were very fast and loose with the reply alls. I’m lucky in that here people do use them judiciously and it’s a rare occasion where I get an email to which I’m just an extraneous bystander.

                  I do remember the days of wading through mail and trying to figure out why the heck I was included …I should thank my co-workers for knowing that reply all is to be used sparingly.

                2. Bea W*

                  It helps that in my company no one emails a group of 50 people with a single question in the first place. I can’t even imagine. Other than that, it seems my co-workers are well trained in the proper use of “Reply All”.

                  When mass emails go out that require a response, the writer includes explicit instructions on contacting them privately because chances are that list is much larger than 50 people.

                3. Ruffingit*

                  Yup, been a victim of that too, which is another reason I just don’t care about getting the thank you because it can end up with a huge email chain that I am deleting all day long.

            2. themmases*

              I also file them. All correspondence about some of the projects I’m on (drug trials) has to be saved, so it’s a habit for me with everything. Even in areas where I’m not required to save email, I do and it comes in handy.

              I help out on lots of people’s self-directed research projects too, so it’s not unusual for someone to get busy and then suddenly want help again with a project we haven’t discussed in months. By that time, I need those emails to see if I ever did/was asked to do something on that project, and what the result was. I’ve also used them to train people since a folder of all the email on a project basically gives you a timeline of the request and what you did about it.

              I don’t really notice if someone doesn’t thank me, but if I need to dig out their project next year it’s really helpful to have evidence that I did what they asked and there were no more questions. Otherwise I wouldn’t know if I somehow neglected their project or just never heard back.

              1. Bea W*

                I left my first drug trial with about 2 gigs worth of archives accumulated over 9 years, and that was not including all the extraneous stuff that didn’t need saving, and I would usually just keep the most recent reply with the entire thread in the body not each individual email reply.

        1. Ruffingit*

          I agree with that. I’m fine with thank yous where it’s really warranted. Not OK with it where it’s for mundane, everyday things.

          1. Cat*

            My reaction to this is more or less the same as my reaction to the post about leaving documents on people’s chairs last week. If you’re going to spend your workday not being “ok” with things like being given documents in your less-preferred manner or being thanked when you don’t think you should get a thank you, it’s going to make the 40-45 years of your working life feel REALLY long.

            1. Ruffingit*

              It depends on your definition of “not OK.” For me, I would prefer people not do this, but that doesn’t mean I’ll make a stink about it if people do it. In discussing things here, we share our viewpoints. Doesn’t mean we make those things our hills to die on at work.

              1. Bea W*

                My definition of “not OK” is restricted to things worth making a stink over.

                Sending porn = Not OK
                Sending thank yous = OK if that’s what floats your boat.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  I use Not OK a little more liberally than that myself. Being Not OK with something means it wouldn’t be something I would do or like to be done, but it doesn’t mean I’ll make a stink about it.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      When I worked at the home office of the world’s largest retailer, that WAS one of the office rules. We were required to respond by the end of the day to every email we received, even if was to just say that we’d have an answer tomorrow (or whenever).

      I think at work, if the issue is critical, then it’s good to respond so the sender knows you’ve received the email. If it’s an ordinary email, don’t respond.

      1. Frieda*

        So if someone sent you an email that was just an FYI, and you responded with a “Thanks” because you were required to send a response of some sort, was the other person then required to send a “Thanks” for your “Thanks”? And on and on until your whole day is just sending “Thanks” emails? :P

        1. Jazzy Red*

          Most people have enough sense to understand that the emails stop after the first “got your email, will take care of it tomorrow”.

    3. fposte*

      And I’d differ slightly and say org culture plays in here. We’re a big thank you place, so if you regularly don’t say thank you that’s going to be noticeable. Keep an eye on what you get incoming on the thanks front and draw conclusions about norms from that. (It’s probably better to over-thank early anyway.)

      1. Bea W*

        +1 Great advice. I went from a barely any “Thank you” workplace to one where everyone sends “Thank you” replies. It was noticed, and my new supervisor brought it to my attention how it was perceived. I feel silly sometimes, but the thank you emails are important and positive to the people I work with. So I go with the flow.

    4. Anonymous*

      “She cluttered my inbox with so much uninformative, extraneous email that made it harder for me to manage my inbox.”

      Not to be flip, but perhaps you need a better strategy for managing your inbox? I have received over 100 e-mails a day, managing an inbox is a required skill in today’s world. A thank you e-mail doesn’t throw me off. I just smile for a half-second and delete it.

      1. Judy*

        I don’t care if someone sends thank you for me doing my job.

        I certainly dislike when the site gets an email from the admin saying “The custodial vendor has changed as of 10/1.” and then someone replies to all with “Thanks for letting us know.” Not that I’ve seen that this week, or anything. :)

        But I know that’s just me being annoyed.

      2. Amy*

        I have received more than 1,000 emails in a day, and I know how to manage my inbox, but that doesn’t mean I’m not slightly irritated every time I have to deal with something unnecessary, especially when I have to do it dozens of times a day. Perhaps I’m just less cheerful than most people, but I really do find it irritating, and I think it’s reasonable for people who send a lot of “thank-you” emails to know that they might be annoying people, so that they can make informed decisions about what to send out.

    5. HR Gorilla*

      My issue is *much* more with people who don’t understand how/when/why to cc someone, or when to ‘reply all’ vs just ‘reply.’

      For example: someone emails me (in HR) asking about something that is handled by a completely separate department. I respond saying ‘Wakeen handles IT hardware issues; I’ve copied him on this email so he can assist.” The requester then–wait for it–replies ONLY TO ME, asking further questions about something I CANNOT HELP HIM WITH, or to ask when he will get an answer to his question.

      Often, even after Wakeen has ‘replied all’ and answered the question, the original requester will continue to reply only to me, with multiple follow-up questions. Grrrrr.

  15. Bea W*

    Presumably, the company had already paid for a round trip flight for this person. What did the manager think he would do? Cancel the return ticket? Seriously? If it were just a matter of “wasting money”, the employer could attempt to recover the cost of the return trip from the employee after the fact. Leaving someone stranded is just vindictive and nasty.

    I can’t imagine this guy will have an easy time getting reimbursed for the expenses he incurred before he was fired if the supervisor has that kind of attitude. Firing someone for cause is punishment enough. There is no need to go above and beyond to screw ’em over. You did the right thing insisting on bringing the guy home as planned. What’s done is done, and the pissy manager needs to stop ruminating on the relatively small amount spent on a plane ticket he was going to pay for anyway, and move on.

    1. Lisa*

      That is a good point, that this guy pays out of pocket then gets reimbursed.

      AAM – Any laws about this in the great HR state of California? I am assuming they are the only ones that would force companies to pay up for expenses incurred prior to termination IE the flight to the business event, but not the flight back.

      1. Cathy*

        Here is the CA law on expense reimbursements:

        2802. (a) An employer shall indemnify his or her employee for all
        necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct
        consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her
        obedience to the directions of the employer, even though unlawful,
        unless the employee, at the time of obeying the directions, believed
        them to be unlawful.
        (b) All awards made by a court or by the Division of Labor
        Standards Enforcement for reimbursement of necessary expenditures
        under this section shall carry interest at the same rate as judgments
        in civil actions. Interest shall accrue from the date on which the
        employee incurred the necessary expenditure or loss.
        (c) For purposes of this section, the term “necessary expenditures
        or losses” shall include all reasonable costs, including, but not
        limited to, attorney’s fees incurred by the employee enforcing the
        rights granted by this section.

        1. HR Competent*

          FWIW- State of Alaska requires return return transportation if company provided the transportation to AK unless EE quit or was termed “for cause”.

  16. Anonymous*

    Read the book at work. Put your feet even. If they want you to read it, then they should be ok with you doing it while at work. And not on your lunch break. The dentist prob has no-shows enough to make this happen so you are not stealing time, just do it then.

    1. Del*

      This dentist has control issues and a temper. He goes through employees like crazy. I know in the last month he has had 3 employess walk out on him. In the last year, there has been a total of 12. He and his wife run the office together and think that the problems are all with the employees and not him or his wife. He yells , screams and treats everyone like idiots, But in front of his patients he is “just wonderful”.

  17. Max*

    #1: Are you LEGALLY obligated to fly the worker back? I don’t think so. Morally and ethically? Absolutely. If you fire a worker without warning and then strand them just to save an extra hundred bucks, what kind of message is that going to send to other employees? You may not be legally liable for violating basic morals and ethics, but your employees are going to remember this manager as the person who’d happily screw them over to save the cost of a plane ticket and doesn’t even understand what might be wrong with that, and it’s going to affect morale and retention.

    #2: Unemployment eligibility is determined entirely by the state, and your employer cannot make you ineligible for unemployment, except by lying to the state (and that usually fails if you’re willing to fight for it). However, since unemployment tax rates are influenced by the number of ex-employees claiming unemployment, companies have a financial incentive to make you THINK you won’t be eligible for unemployment in order to discourage you from applying in the first place. Of course, that isn’t exactly ethical behavior, but as #1’s situation illustrates, not all managers and employers are ethical. Besides, I’m pretty sure nice people don’t schedule mass layoffs two weeks before Christmas.

    1. anon-2*

      There are consulting companies out there that specialize in instructing other companies as to how to evade paying unemployment benefits, using obstruction tactics.

      I had a friend (not in Massachusetts, where you can’t get away with that, uh, “bad stuff”) — who was let go “due to cutbacks”. So he goes to file unemployment – claim denied. The company said “he was released for cause”.

      He — and the state – fought the employer for three months, who adamantly refused to document a “cause” in writing, and finally the company weaseled out of it, claiming “clerical error, uh, we were only kidding, hahahaha”. They still had to pay up, of course.

      The objective is (I guess) – if you delay, stall, obstruct, etc. the discharged employee may give up his efforts and you’ve saved money.

      Perhaps the OPs company has engaged such a sleaz-, uh “tactical management firm” to assist them in blocking unemployment claims. Who can say?

        1. Max*

          Absolutely, at least when it comes to unemployment. Other labor services in the US might not be very responsive, but unemployment boards are wise to this sort of thing and generally rule in the employee’s favor unless the employer can provide evidence for their claim. If you fight, it usually pays off.

          1. anon-2*

            He did – but it still took several months.

            He finally got his money but it put his family through extreme hardship.

            People often criticize overly-regulated Massachusetts, but this is one place these things don’t happen, because the state would come down on any company that attempted to pull stunts like this.

            Different subject, but non-payment of wages due here in Massachusetts is not “a matter between an employer and employee” — here, it’s a FELONY.

        2. Natalie*

          In my experience, this is generally true, particularly if there is a fairly straightforward process to appeal and you don’t need to engage an attorney.

          The last large ticket I got (for having my tabs in the wrong spot – the car came that way!) was waived entirely when I spoke nicely to a judge for 5 minutes. Some friends just had a home inspection and got a long list of fix-its from the city – a 2 minutes phone call extended the deadline by months.

    2. anonymous*

      “Besides, I’m pretty sure nice people don’t schedule mass layoffs two weeks before Christmas.”

      I worked for a company that did exactly that. In the round of layoffs was a cancer patient and a woman who was 8 & 1/2 months pregnant.

  18. Ruffingit*

    Anyone else wonder what exactly the guy did on a business trip to get fired? Totally curious over here. :)

    1. Gjest*

      And where did they want to strand him? It would be bad enough if it was domestically (which can still be expensive last minute if he had to buy a ticket home) but I sure hope it wasn’t internationally- that would be horrible. But it is horrible to think that it would have been OK to strand him anywhere.

      Even though they didn’t end up stranding this guy, if I worked there and heard about this, I’d already be spiffing up my CV. The damage is already done- I would not want to work for someone who even remotely thinks this would be OK.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Totally agreed. You don’t strand people anywhere regardless of what they’ve done. OK, murder is an exception, but since they’d likely be in jail for that, you don’t have to worry about stranding them, they’ve done it themselves ;) Seriously though, it’s insane that anyone would ever think it’s OK to just leave someone far from home like this.

    2. rlm*

      Yes, I am also very curious. It’s pretty unusual to fire people while they’re still out on the business trip. Yikes!

    3. Judy*

      We had someone who was visiting one of our other manufacturing plants. He tripped over something and split his head so it was bleeding. It’s policy that if someone has an accident on site that requires medical attention, they’re tested for drugs. He refused testing.

      Thing was, if he tested positive and had agreed to treatment, he wouldn’t have lost his job.

      1. Cat*

        You can’t imagine why someone would have objected to having their blood tested for drugs because they tripped and were injured? Really? I wouldn’t test positive but I would sure be angry about the policy and if I could afford to tell the job to shove it, I’d be pretty tempted to.

        1. Jamie*

          Drug testing is an incredibly flawed concept and I’m not going to argue it’s merits …but I’ve never worked at a manufacturing facility where it wasn’t made explicitly clear that there is drug testing after every single injury.

          I work in the front office, but if I were to trip over my own shoelace in the way to the ladies room if I needed medical treatment I’d be getting tested.

          There are deep discounts from many insurance carriers for running a “drug free workplace.” And they stipulate the criteria which has always ime included drug tests upon hire and after every injury serious enough to merit medical attention.

          You can refuse to put your employees through that but for a mid sized manufacturer you could be looking at paying extra to the tune of high 5 low 6 figures and that’s a lot of money.

          So while I agree that I’d resent being tested because I tripped, I can’t imagine anyone working in manufacturing more than 5 minutes and not knowing refusing the test will be automatic dismissal.

          1. Cat*

            Fair enough; I still wouldn’t assume that someone refusing was on necessarily on drugs, though.

          2. FreeThinkerTX*

            I once worked at Home Depot, and employees were required to get drug tested if there were injuries of any kind, even if it didn’t rise to the level of needing medical attention. And even if there weren’t any injuries, but the accident involved motorized equipment (accidentally backing the forklift into a display, for example) warranted a drug test for the driver.

          3. anon-2*

            “Drug testing is an incredibly flawed concept and I’m not going to argue it’s merits ….”

            But you can speak to any employee who has won a massive judgement because their testing processes were flawed — if they use a professional lab, that’s one thing – but if they use one of these “check your kids for drugs test kits” they picked up at the corner drug store —

            Two words
            FALSE POSITIVE

            Followed by

            Followed by

            Followed by
            “You will have to talk with my attorney.”

  19. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    #7) Yes, if your mother were to be let go for any reason at all, she would have one heck of an age discrimination lawsuit, and she would win. This manager is a huge liability for the company. If one of our managers acted this way, I am quite certain that they would be let go, or at the very least, written up and put on a performance improvement plan and asked to attend interpersonal skills or diversity training. Manager’s should stick to referring to an employee’s level of experience (and not their age) and should refer to an employee who has been with the company for many years as “experienced” or “seasoned”. Calling someone a “seasoned professional” is a compliment whereas “old” is kind of an insult.

  20. Anon for this*

    Re #5: we have someone like that here too. Not only are they constantly on their cell conducting personal calls (easy to tell because they are LOUD), they also often use the company lines to conduct personal business – and let the company phones ring unanswered while they’re doing that. They are routinely MIA at work – when they show up. Come in late, leave early. The kicker? It’s our receptionist. We’ve all talked to the boss about it and it’s well documented. But this person is the boss’s buddy, so nothing is going to change. Asking for the boss’ assistance only gets the asker in trouble. Boss is very vindictive, but looking to retire in the next couple of years. Since I love everything else about my job, my plan is to wait it out. But yes, OP, please talk to your employee.

  21. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    #5) It also might be a good idea to roll out a company, or department-wide policy, that states that employees cannot use their cell phones to play games, or text, during work hours. Another suggestion is that you could give the employee examples of how her excessive personal calls and game playing are hurting her productivity. “Yesterday, X and Y didn’t get taken care of by the end of your shift and this caused Z to happen. This department is extremely busy and we have a lot of responsibility to make sure that Z runs smoothly, so if there are any distractions going on, we need to limit them”. Good luck, we have a few people here who are always on their phones for non-business use and it can be really distracting at times. Not to mention I have learned way too much about 1 particular co-workers personal life through her very loud phone calls with friends and family.

    1. Mike C.*

      No, a new company wide policy is a terrible idea. Why can’t the manager just do her job and take care of the one problem employee?

      1. AnonHR*

        Generally I would agree that new policies for one problem is a bad idea, but this seems like a good one to have on the books for the future as well, maybe just keep in mind for the next handbook revision?

        1. Cat*

          No, because there are plenty of circumstances where it’s actually fine that an employee is messing around on their phone at work.

        2. Mike C.*

          If I’m getting everything I need to done without disrupting anyone else, then leave me the hell alone. I’m an adult, and the only other places I’ve seen policies like that are middle school classrooms.

          Why add rules when they clearly aren’t needed? Do you regularly micromanage the down time of your employees?

        3. Mike C.*

          Look, let me put it another way:

          Do your employees perform well? Do they make you, your department and your company look good? Do they work hard, and do what they can to improve things when they are able? Do they shower regularly, don’t sexually creep out other coworkers and are generally semi-decent human beings?

          If so, do you really begrudge them a few minutes of Angry Birds when things are slow? A little bit of texting here and there? The errant YouTube video filled with kittens and joy?

          1. fposte*

            Seriously. I bet some of your best employees would be affected by such a rule. Is it really better to tick them off than just to tell yappy Jane to put the phone away until closing hours?

          2. Jen in RO*

            It seems like the place I’ve worked are more lenient than the norm*, but I’ve always had unrestricted internet access, no complaints about being on FB as long as I got my stuff done and certainly nothing as ridiculous as “no texting”. I would decline a job if these were the conditions, and I would think long and hard if I wanted to stay in a job if they were imposed while I was employed there. A “no texting” rule is ridiculous once you’re out of middle school, like Mike C. so eloquently put it.

            *The norm, in this case, being my understanding of US workplaces as expressed in AAM comments.

  22. Jamie*

    Anyone else curious about what book the dentist found so life changing that he’s making this bizarre requirement?

    1. CEMgr*

      TBH…no. It’s almost inevitably some schlock….I could invent a likely title for it right now. But it might put us all to sleep.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I am a bit curious but mostly because I expect it to be silly, gimmicky schlock and then we can make fun of it.

      1. Anonymous*

        The book title is ” Start with Why ” and another employee quit yesterday that #4 in 3 weeks. Yes they will be fired if they refuse to read the book.

    2. Mike C.*

      You know, I’ve been thinking about this boss and her request and the more I think about it, the more irrationally angry I get over it.

      Look, it’s one thing if the boss found a book that was mentioned on Oprah or CNBC and it changed their life. They’re more than welcome to spend their life being taken for a ride by the latest life or business altering woo-woo bullshit. It’s dumb, but it’s their life.

      Force your employees to partake it in? What the hell? I don’t want to waste my time reading the inane ramblings of the latest simpleton or snake oil salesperson! I could be spending that time taking an online class, getting work done or slacking off and posting here.

      Anyway, I just had to get that out. I despise the self-help/business lit world.

    3. Ellie H.*

      I definitely have a book I would require everyone I know to read, if requiring people to do something didn’t automatically mean they will loathe it.

  23. JDR*

    #5 “… but we’re talking about you now…”

    Isn’t that practically the same as “because I said so”, which is remarkably similar to “because those are the rules”, which I recently saw Alison explicitly advising against?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s the manager’s job to give feedback and set performance/behaviorial standards for an employee, not the other way around. It’s good not to use “because I said so” as your default and instead explain why you need the person to do what you’re asking, but if an employee starts arguing but “you do X” or “but Bob does X,” you really need to point out that that’s not relevant to the conversation at hand (nor is it their job to manage the manager). You can certainly explain why you, the manager, do X — but the point is to refocus the employee on their own behavior and what you need from them.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      It’s a means of containing the conversation. These types of conversations can be very labor intensive and involve discussing how Jane called in because of a snow storm THREE years ago.
      People can broaden the scope of a conversation to the point the subject is so unwieldy that nothing gets resolved.

      However, I do feel that a boss should role model the behavior she wants from her employees. I think that if a boss is hit with the phrase “well YOU do X, so why I am I not allowed to?” that is a cue for the boss to start thinking a little bit about how she appears to the employees. Some of these things can be handled preemptively.
      In OPs case, it sounds like a very reasonable request. She understands that crap happens and people have to make a few phone calls. She’s got a double whammy of too much phone time PLUS disappearing act. OP anticipates an argument.
      The first thing I thought of was “is this person selling drugs from her work place?”
      I hope that I am totally wrong. But I have learned I think something is a little issue and should be resolved shortly that is when I step in crap big time. Am shaking my head….

  24. coconutwater*

    #3 If the OP is reading this, can you share the title of the self-help book? I’m just curious….

    1. A-cita*

      The Reluctant Healer: One Dentist’s Accidental Path to Enlightenment through Shamanic Gum Healing Ritual.

  25. sapphire*

    #2: I’ve been in a mass layoff in which the exec imported to do the exit “interviews” informed us that, due to the “generous” size of our severance packages, we were ineligible for unemployment.

    He was lying; the manager who was sitting in pulled each of us aside later and told us that “we should probably check with the state just to make sure,” in a way that let us know something was up, without endangering his own position. (The severance packages, despite the overblown language of “generous” and “sizable,” were pretty skimpy besides.)

    You should always, always double-check, no matter what they tell you.

  26. Anon this time*

    Ugh, #3, I sympathize. Two jobs ago, every single employee (~250 at the time, I think) came in one day to find copies of “The E Myth Revisited” (about entrepreneurship and making small businesses franchizable) on their desks. We were told that we all had to read it, make notes in the book about which parts were relevant to our roles, and leave our copy on our desks at all times so the owner could come round whenever he wanted to read everyone’s notes. The thing is, this was absolutely not a franchizable business – it was a biotech company making products to sell to research labs – and I had a really hard time finding anything in the book that was directly relevant to my role.

    At least we could read it on work time, and there was no test… I think I might email this post to some former colleagues from that job to point out that it could have been worse!

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