I was written up for foul language when I wasn’t even working, interviewing with a cold, and more

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

1. I was written up for foul language when I wasn’t even working

Recently two coworkers and I went to a local fast food place for lunch. Someone overheard our private conversation and complained to corporate about our “foul language.” (They identified us because one coworker had a company shirt on, and the complainant was able to describe me and the other coworker.) We were off the clock, off of company property, and one coworker and I were not wearing our uniforms. The person who was wearing a uniform actually didn’t even say anything bad, yet we were all written up.

My written warning states that I was using foul language while wearing a company uniform. I initially refused to sign the write-up, but was told that if I didn’t, I would face an immediate 3-day suspension followed by termination.

I could understand if I was in uniform, but I wasn’t. How does this not infringe on my constitutional right of freedom of speech? And if someone decides they don’t like me, they can just call my job and complain about me, just to get me into trouble? How is this legal?

Well, it’s legal because your employer can discipline or fire you for pretty much anything they want, as long as it’s not because of your race, gender, religion, national origin, or membership in another protected class and as long as it does violate a handful of other (fairly narrowly) defined protections (for instance, you can’t be fired for organizing around wages and working conditions, or in retaliation for exercising a legally protected workplace right, such as reporting harassment). And while you do indeed have a constitutional right to free speech, it protects speech from being censored by the government; it doesn’t regulate what private entities can do. In private entities, there are no across-the-board free speech protections. So, yes, this is all legal. (Whether it’s reasonable of your employer is a different matter.)

I wouldn’t refuse to sign the write-up; that just makes you look belligerent, as long as the signing is to indicate receipt only (not agreement). I’d sign it but add a note saying “signing to acknowledge receipt, not agreement with facts.” And I’d also tell your manager — politely and calmly — that you were not in a uniform, but understand now that because your coworker was, you needed to be more careful than you normally would be. Which is actually a pretty reasonable conclusion.

2. Explaining attendance issues in a past job

I have a big black mark in my job history. My first serious job, and the one I worked at the longest (7 years) ended because I had severe attendance problems. (When I say severe, I mean that I just stopped going to work.) There were multiple issues – depression, a sudden neurological disorder that affected every part of my life, as well as a very bad reaction to the medications for the disorder. Regardless, the whole thing is inexcusable.

I’m doing much better now and have references to attest to that, but those those references come from jobs that were under the umbrella of a staffing agency, so I didn’t work at any of them for very long – 4 months is the shortest, though I’m going on 2 years at my current position. Unfortunately, that position will never become permanent.

How do I handle this with prospective employers? Should I mention it in an interview? Should I wait to mention it until my references are requested, but risk an employer calling my old boss and finding out about the attendance problem cold? It would be completely justified for an employer to reject me on this basis, but I want to do what I can to mitigate that risk.

I would start by calling your old employer and seeing if you can work something out regarding the reference that they’ll give you. If you haven’t been in touch with them since you stopped showing up (to apologize and explain that it was due to health issues that got out of control), do that first.

You don’t need to bring this up on your own in interviews, but if you’re asked why you left that job, explain that you had a health issue that has since been resolved. That’s going to sound reasonable to most people.

3. I interviewed with a cold

Through the help of this website, I have been successful in getting interviews as I seek a job in a different city. One interview made it to the point where they flew me out to their city (in my industry this is not standard). Right before the interview I got a cold. Nothing truly debilitating, but I definitely qualified as “sick.” I decided that I did not wish to cancel all of the travel arrangements over a cold, but when I showed up to the interview, I knew that it was possibly evident in my voice and that I’d likely need to blow my nose 2-3 times (which was a correct guess).

My judgement of the situation was that I did not want to draw attention to being ill, especially that I had been traveling while sick. Where my question goes is in regards to hand shaking. I opted to just shake hands. However, had any of my interviewers been hardcore germaphobes – I presume that by the time they perhaps figured out that I did have some mild congestion – it might have backfired.

I guess that my decision wasn’t too off as they’ve proceeded to checking my references. However, should a similar situation happen again – is there an easy way out of hand shaking without drawing too much attention to “I’m ILLL.” I know that part of my concern comes from being a woman, and wanting to avoid coming across as weak (particularly in an interview). But in the interest of presenting the overall best impression possible, would there have been another way to go?

In general, if you think you’re contagious, you should reschedule. But if you go anyway — and I can understand why you did in this case, since there were travel arrangements involved (and if the cold wasn’t terrible, I think that was reasonable) — you need to take precautions to avoid infecting others, including not shaking hands. You can simply say, “I’m not going to shake your hand because I’ve had a very mild cold — I feel fine but I don’t want to risk you getting it.” That doesn’t look weak; it looks considerate.

4. How can I follow up with people who didn’t attend a course they signed up for?

At my church, we hosted a course and wrote letters of invitation to over 100 students, one month in advance. Some who responded and confirmed they would be attending did not attend. They did not send a courtesy email in advance or an email of apology after the course date.

As an administrator in my day job, repeat offenders who do not attend and do not let us know are sent a letter a copy of letter to their doctor to say “we have discharged your patient back to your care.” Please advise how I can construct a letter to the students who did not attend the church course, to politely communicate to them that they should have had the courtesy to email us that they would not be attending.

I’d drop the idea of sending this letter at all. It’s pretty common in free courses that some people won’t show up. (Hell, on free webinars, I think the attendance rate is usually something like 50% of everyone who signed up.) If it’s going to inconvenience you or cost you money to have some people not show up after RSVPing that they will, then you might consider how you modify things on your side — for instance, it might make sense to confirm with people a few days before the course, or to plan around the assumption that some particular portion won’t show up, or to stress in the original communication why you need to be alerted if they need to cancel. But chastising people for not attending and not apologizing to you is likely to alienate them, which probably isn’t what a church wants to be doing.

5. Mentioning experiences to an interview that aren’t on my resume

I’ve been at my second job out of college (thanks largely to your advice!) for a few months now, and I’m currently updating my resume. The internships/part-time work during college are taking up quite a bit of space–4 positions at 2-3 lines each adds up! The only value they really demonstrate at this point is that I’ve worked with various unique populations in a human services capacity, and I want to be able to feature this as (I think) it brings significant value to my future applications.

I had considered cutting them out and listing the various populations I have experience working with into the profile section in a denser format. When asked about a particular population during an interview, would it be considered odd or disingenuous to then say that that particular experience was from a job not listed on the resume? Is there some other solution you would suggest?

Nope, that’s not odd. It’s impossible to list every experience you’ve had on your resume (and it would be unwise to try), so it’s normal to have things come up in an interview that aren’t specifically addressed on a resume.

However, another option would be to leave those positions on, but just list them as Title, Employer, Dates, without any further description of what you did there (assuming that you have more substantive descriptions of the two more recent jobs, which of course you do). That way they’d each take up one line each. You could then mention the populations you worked with in your profile section, as you mentioned.

{ 248 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Having a cold doesn’t look weak. Everyone gets them!

    Making someone shake your hand when you’re sick is super gross, though.

    1. AB Normal*

      Yeah — and if an interviewer managed to get a cold right after the interview for whatever reason, that could be enough reason for many to take the candidate out of the running!

      1. Michele*

        I had to interview candidates when I had a nasty cold and I did not shake hands. I even said to them “Sorry I have a cold and do not want to infect you.” I don’t mind interviewing people with colds but do not shake my hand, beyond Gross!

      2. fposte*

        That would be pretty unfair, though, given that colds are everywhere and the interviewer is just as likely to have gotten it from somebody else.

        1. AB Normal*

          fposte, if you shook hands with me, and then I got a cold, I’d consider that “reasonable doubt”, not unfair to assume you gave me the cold :-).

          Like Michelle said, it’s pretty easy to avoid shaking hands, and saying “Sorry I have a cold and do not want to infect you.”

          If a candidate failed to do that, to me it would be a point against him/her.

          And this is coming from someone who is the opposite of a germophobe. I’ve been known to sit next to someone in a meeting just because everybody was being rude and sitting as far as possible from the person just because she happened to have a cold. Just don’t offer to shake hands since it unnecessarily increases the risk of contaminating others.

          1. fposte*

            Actually, rhinoviruses are mostly transmitted through the air anyway (though I think that you should still avoid shaking hands).

            But you really can’t extrapolate that that you got the cold from that person unless you and your colleagues have been stranded on a desert island for a month before the interview. You could get a cold and not even have the same virus as the interviewee, but you won’t even know that. And the interviewee has a cold because she picked it up from the rest of the population, which, absent a desert island, you’re exposed to as well, and who are all contagious before they’re symptomatic. You can’t “patient zero” a cold.

            And I think that there’s a bit of the just-world fallacy underlying some of the suggestion that contagion is solely a result of an individual’s personal practice, and that if only people were thoughtful and stayed home when they were snotty the rest of us would never get sick. It’s not true–you’ve made tons of people sick without ever knowing it, as have the rest of us; heck, it’s likely a third of us reading are carriers of staph and don’t know it.

            If you want to refuse to hire the OP because of her shaking hands when ill, whether or not you got a cold, that’s one thing; that at least has a certain logic to it. But the notion that she’s obviously at fault when you do get a cold despite your sharing space with multiple people every day, and that she’s less strong a candidate if your immune system didn’t fight the cold off than if it did, seems pretty illogical to me.

  2. Anonymous*

    Also, I’m really curious what #1’s coworker said that made some random stranger complain about it to corporate. I’m assuming it was way worse than just an f-bomb? A fast food place isn’t the right venue for this.

    1. The Clerk*

      Not necessarily. Some retail customers are ridiculously diva-ish. The store I work at part time is full of them–it’s one of those places where people come to think they have some kind of relationship with the workers, and they’ll say weird stuff like “Just mention my name to Cashier, she’ll hook you up with a discount” when the discount is actually a sale that everyone gets. Some will get fixated on a certain employee and almost stalk them. We’re just a chain where people make barely above minimum. But we have customers call corporate to report that they saw one of us shopping at a competing store. They’ve called and said “Did you know Cashier has a second job at Business?” (Yes, they know. And it’s not a second job, it’s a first job. Minimum wage at 20 hours a week is not going to be anyone’s “main” job if they have a choice). One of our people got reported for volunteering for a political campaign that the complainant disagreed with. And companies pander to busybodies like this because they don’t have the stones to tell them to mind their own business.

      1. Jen in RO*

        The Not Always Right blog is proof of what The Clerk says… it’s funny to read, but depressing to think about.

        1. fposte*

          Though that site’s also a great example of ConstructionHR’s point that “the internet is full of stories which didn’t happen.”

            1. fposte*

              And I suspect that a lot of them are partially true, in that the bad thing did happen but the narrator didn’t respond quite as awesomely in real life :-).

    2. CAA*

      This is wild speculation (though no wilder than those presuming it was a random curse word in an otherwise innocent conversation), but I wonder if the conversation that was overheard:
      – made it obvious to the listener that the non-uniformed participants were also employees
      – was about the employer or the jobs
      – was about activity that was potentially harmful to the company

      What if it was something like this: “I can’t believe that ***** manager X at **** company Y is making us ***** work Saturday night! That’s so *****. I’m gonna ***** cut out early and ***** go to the party.”

      If I were the supervisor and somebody reported this to me, I’d probably feel I had to do something about it; especially if these employees had been written up in the past or were borderline insubordinate and disrespectful while at work.

      I’d love for the OP to come back and give a few more details about the content of the conversation he got written up for.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I’m wondering if the person asked them to tone down the language at all (maybe because there were kids in there, or their sainted aunt). That would have been my first reaction if the conversation were loud enough to overhear and if it were bothering me, which it probably wouldn’t, unless they were bellowing hate speech or something like that. If I got a belligerent response, THEN I might report them.

    3. Jen*

      I don’t know what the OP does for a living but it reminded me of a similar situation years ago when I worked at a restaurant in the mall. After closing, a lot of us would go over to another restaurant at the other side of the mall that stayed open later. Most of us would take off our ties and we’d just be wearing black pants/white shirts, clearly a uniform to someplace nearby and some folks might have realized “Hey, those are the kids who work at the CPK” but others probably didn’t. Once it was someone’s good-bye party and we all were drinking and silly and the guys started barking at each other like dogs (I don’t know why, it was the 90s, we were weird) and some customers complained to our boss and we weren’t allowed to go there after our shift anymore. And that was just barking like dogs. I can’t imgine what the reaction would have been if someone just said the F word.

      1. annie*

        In the words of the late great nun who was principal of my primary school “whenever you are wearing your uniform, you are representing us, so act like it!” This was mostly directed at kids who would try to steal candy from the 7-11 on the way home from school, but I like to imagine the good sister would have had a second career as an overzealous HR manager. :)

    4. Brett*

      I would not assume it was more than an f-bomb. You would be surprised what gets reported. Drinking in public (off the clock and out of uniform) is by far the most common thing reported for us.

      1. Grace*

        Curious the complainer just couldn’t handle their complaint in an upfront manner. I was at a restaurant for lunch on my work hour. Three (young-men) co-workers were sitting near by me. One was using foul language. I got up, went and stood over their table, looked at him and said, “I know that you don’t really mean anything by it, but your profanity is ruining my lunch. I have a hard work day, just paid $14 to have a nice lunch, and you’re disturbing my peace and quiet.” He turned beet red and stopped. They all looked down in embarrassment at their plates.
        I didn’t need to call corporate on them and yes they had on workplace logos.

  3. EngineerGirl*

    #1 – Even if you’re not in uniform you still may be associated with the company. So yes, it reflects on them (and their reputation) if you misbehave. In this case, it reflected on the company bad enough for someone to complain to them. They are going to react negatively to that.
    Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. That’s true for any freedom.

    1. Jessa*

      The fact that she worked for them and was talking to an employee in uniform does not make it clear to people around her that she is an employee. What would they have done if she was the employee’s sister. No, it’s not reasonable to punish someone who was not repping the company at that point. The one in uniform yes, but unless she was clearly talking about the company, no. Nobody listening to her would think she worked for them just by talking to someone who did.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        If you work for the company, you rep for the company. It doesn’t matter if you do/don’t wear a uniform. The internet is full of stories where someone did something outside of work and was fired for it. This isn’t news to anyone.

        1. The Clerk*

          The internet is full of a lot of stories that shouldn’t have happened.

          If your company fired or wrote you up for cussing off the clock, you’d be writing in to complain, too. So why is someone who wears a uniform (which almost certainly indicates lower pay and fewer benefits than an engineer) expected to just roll over and accept that their life belongs to someone else even when the $7.50 an hour isn’t rolling in?

          1. ConstructionHR*

            “The internet is full of a lot of stories that shouldn’t have happened.”

            The internet is full of stories which didn’t happen. My favorite quote: “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.” by Abraham Lincoln

          2. Anonymous*

            There are a lot of people who work high-paying white collar jobs who wear ID badges, jackets, backpacks, etc., indicating that they work at XCompany.

            1. ExceptionToTheRule*

              There are also people with those items who got them as a gift or who no longer work for the place that give out the awesome-st backpack ever.

              1. Kerry*

                I haven’t worked for Amtrak for twelve years, but their blaze orange hoodie is THE BEST and they will pry it from my cold dead hands.

              2. Jen in RO*

                Haha, maybe I should get my ex-company backpack and do some bad stuff, so that it could come back to haunt them!

        2. Mike C.*

          No, you don’t.

          Just because the internet is full of stories about people being fired for things done outside of work does not mean that each case was legally justified or morally acceptable.

          1. Zillah*

            Well, in most places it was legally justified, in that it’s generally not illegal to fire someone… but yeah, definitely really stupid and not really morally acceptable.

    2. Jen in RO*

      I understand that the company can pretty much do anything it wants, but this is beyond ridiculous.
      a. The person in uniform didn’t use any foul language, yet he got written up. Why?! What if he was talking to his sister, like Jessa pointed out?
      b. The person who did use foul language wasn’t in uniform. How does his language reflect on the company?

      People (both the person who reported this and the person who acted on it) went waaaaay overboard.

      1. Zillah*

        I tend to agree.

        Is it within their rights? Sure. And, if the OP is someone who’s a face for the organization, I can kind of understand where they’re coming from, and I do think the OP should probably be more careful in the future.

        That said, it seems really ridiculous, especially for a first offense committed off the job when the OP wasn’t even in uniform. If anything, a gentle talking to might have been in order. Writing all three of them up, based on second-hand knowledge from someone who, as I read it, wasn’t even part of the company? That seems like a huge overreaction to me.

        Within their rights, yes… but a huge overreaction nonetheless.

        1. Mephyle*

          In this case, something that’s been mentioned but hasn’t been emphasized enough is that the word didn’t come out of the OP’s mouth, but of the mouth of the other person.

          If OP is to be more careful in the future, this means s/he even has to control what people say to him/her.

          1. Zillah*

            As I understood it, the OP actually did say the “bad word” (whatever it was), but was not in uniform, which is the only reason I think it would be remotely appropriate for management to that to them. The other two, not at all… and even with the OP, I think it’s a massive overreaction.

            I completely agree with you in principle, though.

            1. Mephyle*

              You’re right, thanks for the correction. However, OP objects because the write-up is not factual. OP says “My written warning states that I was using foul language while wearing a company uniform”, and adds that s/he were actually not the one wearing the company uniform at the time, while the one who was wearing the uniform was not the one using foul language.
              As others have mentioned, we don’t know whether the un-uniformed ones were accused by association, or whether the complainer did recognize them as employees.

      2. Kerry*

        Yeah, I feel like the person who reported them was the one who seriously overreacted, unless it was more than just swearing (like racial, gendered or homophobic epithets) involved. Not that I think the OP used any, just that that’s the only situation where I would say the reporter wasn’t overreacting.

        1. Jen in RO*

          Even if racial etc epithets were used – it was just a dude on the street wearing regular clothes! Since when does “talking to a McDonalds employee” equal “being a McDonalds employee”?

          1. Jamie*

            If it’s racist and the person in uniform doesn’t seem put out by the conversation people will make the assumptions the views are shared – that can cost a business money.

            Or if it’s disparaging against a group, especially that the company serves. If I had an elderly relative in a nursing home and saw employees out talking (loud enough for me to hear) about the f’ing old people, or if someone worked with the mentally disabled and talked about f’ing retards…yeah, that’s something I’d call over because I’d be concerned the attitude would harm their clients.

            But I’ll be honest, if this was just regular swearing I think it’s beyond ridiculous. Who calls and reports that? Who cares?

            1. Anon Accountant*

              Exactly. If it was conversation in a way that concerned me that their clients would be harmed, I’d contact the organization.

              If it was just some swearing then I’d not give it a 2nd thought.

        2. BCW*

          See, even if they did make any of these comments (which I don’t condone) I just can’t see myself being that angry that I would call up corporate to have that person fired. Things get taken out of context ALL THE TIME, so just because you heard a certain word that you found offensive, to me still comes down to minding your own business. And for a company to threaten to fire an employee over it is crazy

    3. Mike C.*

      It doesn’t stop the consequences from being arbitrary or completely unreasonable.

      And no, just because you work for someone does not mean you are their representative while off the clock. That’s simply a ridiculous proposition to make.

      1. Colette*

        “Teenager mugged by group wearing uniforms from Chocolate Teapots, Inc.”

        “Head of Spout Division of Chocolate Teapots charged with hate crime”

        “VP of Chocolate Teapots accused of bribery”

        If you’re doing something in public that will be associated with the company, the company can take action – and it is in their best interests to do so.

        1. Mike C.*

          Two problems here:

          1. In each case, the people involved are either visibly or publicly connected members of the company in question – in the latter two at a very high level.

          2. They’re committing crimes. Saying a bad word is not, in and of itself, a crime.

          1. Elysian*

            1. You can be connected to a company even if you’re not high up and not wearing insignia. My students knew I was their teacher even when I was at the mall. I occasionally see people who have served me food when I’m walking around town and recognize them as “that guy from the chicken place.”

            2. They’re accused of crimes. They might be acquitted. They could still be fired for being accused or for actions that led to the accusation, even if they’re actually innocent.

            1. Anna*

              I’m with Mike C. Unless I am the VP or P of a company or unless you are paying me 24/7, then what I do and say on my own time is really none of your business. If you want to know what a world where you are absolutely associated with the company you work for at all times is like, I recommend you read Jennifer Government.

              1. Elysian*

                Curious – do you think that, for example, Chick Fil A should continue to employ a cashier who has staged a vigil across the street from their restaurant protesting the restaurant’s stand against gay marriage during all his off-hours?

                He’d be an hourly worker. He’s be on his own time, probably not wearing his uniform. Do you think that Chick Fil A should have no grounds to fire him, even though he’s making a public statement that is diametrically opposed to their corporate policy, right across the street from their business? People would probably figure out he was an employee. He’s not acting in the best interest of their business and their business goals. He’s probably actively harming the business. Should he keep his job, just because he’s on his own time?

                1. Mike C.*

                  No, legal political action should not be grounds for dismissal unless it directly affects the business in question or creates a clear conflict of interest.

                  In your example, there’s nothing a layperson could see to link the two together.

                  If we allow the business to fire that person, we then open up the door to firing any employee who advocates any political position against their employer in any way, signs the wrong petition, donates money to the wrong causes, votes the wrong way (or possibly votes at all, this is a matter of public record) or in this specific case, marries the wrong person.

                  This is too high of a price to pay for the ability to eat, shelter and clothe yourself.

                2. Elysian*

                  I disagree. (Though I do not agree with Chick Fil A’s stance on this issue, it’s just a convenient example.)

                  I think the business should absolutely be able to fire someone who is actively doing things that hurt the business, even in their free time. The law isn’t the right way to help that person. Let the employer fire him, and the business will likely die in the court of public opinion. If they’re firing people for stupid and morally frustrating reasons, either workers will unionize to bargain for workplace grievance procedures or people will stop conducting business with this employer (as many in this thread have said they would do).

                  But to make laws against this is to make a law that forces an employer to keep around an employee would is actively opposing their business – that’s just not not right to me, even if it is during the employee’s free time. I don’t have to like Chick Fil A’s policies to work there, but I shouldn’t be allowed to keep my job if I’m starting a picket line outside their door, even if I’m off duty.

                3. Bea W*

                  If he does his job and refrains from making politcal statements while serving customers absolutely he should be allowed to keep his job and for the very reasons Mike C gives. Serving chicken does not require one to align 100% with the non-business related politics of the CEO. If he’s not disparaging the product and intentionally trying to hurt business, he should be free to exercise his Constitutional right to freedom of assembly when on his own time representing himself (not in uniform or identifying himself as a representative of the company).

                4. Mike C.*


                  That’s great in the long term, but in the short term the person making the political statement now doesn’t have a job or means to care for themselves. That creates a huge chilling effect on legal, public, political speech.

                5. Elysian*

                  @Mike C. – I agree, it would have a chilling effect on speech. And that concerns me, but I don’t think the law should address it when that chilling effect comes from a private individual or corporation.

                  Lots of things have a chilling effect on speech – I have a friend that tells me to shut up every time I bring up immigration policy. He doesn’t want to talk about it, ever. That’s a chilling effect on my right to express my opinions on immigration. But it certainly isn’t something the government needs to be involved in.

                  My hypothetical employee has the right to his speech – he can make it all he wants without getting arrested, etc. (If he’s having a demonstration I presume its appropriate in time, place and manner.) The speech itself he has a right to. But his job is not right.

                  If I am People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and I find out my assistant is trying to legalize dog-fighting and hosts off-shore dog-fighting events whenever she takes vacation time, I shouldn’t have to keep her. Sometimes its just not a good fit, and a company should absolutely be able to fire someone who proves that they don’t align with the company’s vision.

          2. AB*

            Here’s an example: a teacher, on her off time, has a beer with family. She posts that picture on Facebook. Through the wonder of Facebook, a parent of one of the teacher’s students sees the teacher’s picture (please note, the teacher is not connected with the student or the parent, it’s one of those the parent knew someone who knew the teacher and therefore could see a picture the mutual acquaintance commented on). In the picture the teacher was not visibly intoxicated or doing anything illegal or morally repugnant. However, the parent complained and the teacher was fired. It may be complete crap and utterly, morally wrong, but it was completely legal.

            1. Anonymous*

              Yup, a friend of mine is a teacher and there was a candid photo on Facebook where she was eating a small piece of food. However, with the candidness, the angle, and the fact that she was moving her hand when the picture was taken (difficult to explain in type, but bear with me), the photo ended up looking like she had just inhaled and was about to pass along a joint of marijuana. Even though all of the pictures surrounding it confirmed that she was absolutely not smoking weed and it was just an unfortunate candid picture taken at the exact wrong moment, her school reprimanded her and insisted she take down her Facebook, or she would be fired. Oh, and the kicker was that it wasn’t even ON her Facebook. She never allowed any tags on her’s because of the potential for misinterpretation and general privacy concerns. But someone found it through her boyfriend’s and apparently freaked.

              Just how it goes when you have a public facing role.

          3. Colette*

            What if what the employee does is not illegal, but it offends someone who is deciding whether to give the company a million dollar contract? Should that be off limits because she’s off the clock?

      2. Brittany*

        This was my first reaction too. If that were the case, one should assume they are NEVER off the clock and constantly watch every word that comes out of their fear for fear of retaliation? It seems unreasonable and unrealistic for companies to make that assumption. I feel for the OP. I get the whole “is it legal” portion but it does seem incredibly unfair.

      3. Joey*

        Eh, depends. Its different when known employees are hanging around clients/customers during their off time. I’ve seen this in small towns and small circles. This is why when I worked in a small town I lived in another town. Everywhere I went in town A I saw clients, customers, etc and they recognized me from work.

        1. Mike C.*

          Ok, I could see how in a very small town the dynamics would be different. But for anything much larger, I think we’re in agreement here.

          1. Joey*

            Really it all comes down to whether it will or can impact the business. In a smaller circle (like a small town) those chances go up. In a larger city its much more unlikely to happen, but there are times when I run into clients away from work and I become much more deliberate in what I say and how I act.

            It’s not much different in this case. I know I wouldn’t want to be hanging around a co worker who was clearly identifiable and doing something embarrassing.

            1. TL*

              I don’t think dropping the f-bomb or most other cuss words is embarrassing.
              Screaming them out, sure, but just using them while talking to friends in public (especially if the OP is a teenager, when every other word is a curse word), I would just roll my eyes and move on with life.
              I mean, have you been to a mall in the past decade?

    4. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Personally, when I hear about companies that do stuff like this, I want to know who they are so that I avoid giving them my money. I don’t get on Facebook or Twitter and proclaim it to the world, I just stop spending my money at places who try to control their employees personal lives.

      For every complaint you placate, there’s a probability you’re doing as much or more damage the other direction.

      1. BCW*

        I agree. I’m a young, single, childless, professional guy with a good amount of disposable income. I, along with many of my friends are far more likely to stop going somewhere because they would fire someone over something this petty, then because I saw them cursing in public.

        1. April*

          I understand the desire to help the staff who are being treated poorly but is simply not shopping there really an effective approach? Either your boycott will be unnoticed, or if it is extensive enough to impact the business, one of two things will happen. Either the place goes out of business for lack of customers – then the staff whose treatment you are supposedly concerned about are out of jobs one and all. Or maybe the shop doesn’t go out of business, but things are slow, so they cut everyone’s hours or let just some people go. I don’t think in either case the staff members would exactly be thanking you for this ‘gift’. They may not like how they are being treated at work, but it is work, and does bring in a paycheck, which they suddenly won’t have if they are let go or the company goes under.

  4. EngineerGirl*

    #4 – Ouch! People get casual with any free training – it isn’t just churches. But since it is a church you have a greater obligation to act without writing people off. The point is not act judgmentally like a Pharisee but instead take corrective action. “Hey we missed you Saturday? Was everything OK?” “Could you let us know next time?”
    In the end, the offense is against God, not you. If it’s a bad problem He’ll take care of it.
    Galatians 6:1

  5. Ex Mrs Addams*

    #4 – aam is spot on, you need to stress cancellation policies repeatedly before the course not chastise people afterwards. I’ve been involved in running free events and courses on various industries and capacities, and in every instance have overbooked the events by around 50%. In 5 years I can count on one hand how many times I’ve had too many people show up.

    1. Katherine*


      1) Tell people they can’t re-register for the course ever if they don’t show up and don’t notify you. Even a phone call the night before “hey, I’m suddenly ill” will suffice, but no “no call no show” can come the next time.
      2) Charge $20 as a “reservation fee” for the course. Refund when people show up.

      1. Rachel*

        At the church where I work, we sometimes have courses that have a curriculum fee. We usually offer a scholarship if necessary, but most families pay the $20-$80 that it costs. This gets us about 85% attendance rate. Those who don’t attend usually have a small family emergency, are overworked at their job, or get mildly sick. I never worry about who doesn’t come because I know that we are an add-on to their very busy lives.

        I always do emails, phone calls or Facebook messages to remind people of the event in the day or two before. This greatly increases my attendance rates. Some of my coworkers feel like this is babysitting the congregants, but if it is helpful I will continue to do it. It also forces me to be efficient and creative with my communication procedures.

      2. Ex-Mrs Addams*

        Sadly in my case there were few strategies we could implement – they were government-funded courses and the company would get in big trouble if we were found to be preventing people accessing the services without a very good reason, which didn’t include no-call no-shows (although if a client ended up with 3 or more no-call no-shows we may have had a case). Also meant we were prevented from charging, even if it were fully refunded. All we could really do was stress the importance of at least notifying us in good time if they were to cancel, rather than just no-showing, but without any consequences clients just wouldn’t bother.

        Definitely worth looking at employing such tactics in the OPs case though.

        1. thenoiseinspace*

          Honestly, though, the days of people showing up when they say they will or calling to cancel are long gone. When I was still in high school, Facebook made three response categories for people who had been invited for events: “will attend,” “maybe,” and “will not attend.” I always planned for half of the “yes” group and none of the maybes, and it was usually right. You can try all the policies you want, but I think you really need to let it go. If you’re dealing with students, they’ve got a lot on their plate. Yes, it maybe rude by your standards, but it likely isn’t by theirs, and I doubt you’re going to change them.

      3. belle*

        Adding a fee is a good strategy. People would be more likely to show up when they have a financial interest.

        1. Zillah*

          It would also be a bar to participation, especially when you’re talking about a student population – many don’t have $20 to spend, and may be uneasy letting the money out of their sight with only a reassurance that they get it back, provided they do X, Y, and Z.

          IMO, it comes down to this: is it more important to you to be inclusive, or to make sure attendance is high? Given that this is a church, I feel like the default should be the first one, and that the OP needs to let this go and maybe be a little more clear about cancellation policies in the future. Focusing on this rather than on the people who were helped by the workshop seems to me to be missing the forest for the trees.

          There are situations in which I would not feel like this, but for a church? Absolutely.

    2. Aisling*

      In my library, we call or email people the day/evening before a program. We find that because it’s free, people just forget – it’s not usually an issue of being rude. A quick reminder email or phone call helps quite a bit, but you will always have people who wake up late, are sick, have a flat tire (or if they don’t drive – ride falls through), etc. They aren’t doing it to be rude to you.

  6. Ann Furthermore*

    #1: This is not unlike someone getting fired for something they posted on Facebook or Twitter, which happens all the time. For this reason I very rarely vent about work on Facebook, and when I do it’s in very general terms and I don’t use any names.

    And thank you AAM for pointing out that the first amendment protects people from being censored by the government, not anyone else. This is so commonly misunderstood and it is one of my pet peeves.

    My rule for dealings on the internet is that if I’d be embarrassed for my grandmother to see something I put out there, then I just don’t do it. The internet is forever.

    1. Liz*

      The employee with the bad language was out of uniform and off-premises, therefore not recognizable as an employee. The person wearing the uniform was basically an innocent bystander, which makes it more like someone getting fired because a customer accessed an employee’s private page and saw something that another person had posted on their FB wall.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        I don’t necessarily agree with what happened, but it is more and more becoming a reality that people have to deal with. Perhaps in other countries, where the labor laws are more employee-friendly, there could be some limits around stuff like this, but in the US you can be fired for pretty much any reason at all, as long as it’s not for a very specific set of reasons.

        I hear all the time about teachers who upload photos or are tagged in pictures out partying with friends who end up getting fired because they’re behaving “inappropriately” since they’re teachers. I think it’s ridiculous because they’re not with students and they’re on their own time. Nonetheless, it does happen, and it’s becoming more frequent.

        1. Mike C.*

          I think it’s a mistake to simply put up with the unreasonable behavior of employers as simply “[the] reality that people have to deal with”. Employers don’t own their employees and they shouldn’t have control (or responsibility!) of their employees actions while off the clock. They are employees, not indentured servants.

          What happens when the employer starts disapproving of other activities? Drinking in a bar, attending the wrong political rallies, legally gambling, signing the wrong initiative petitions, you name it. Those are all things that people disapprove of, and if simply say “well that’s the new normal”, then where does it end?

          1. ExceptionToTheRule*

            My cousin works at a family-owned manufacturing company in rural fly-over country where the owners actually go to the bar in the small town the company is based in to make sure his employees are not drinking after work on Fridays.

            I agree it is a very, very slippery slope and MHO is that we are about to slide the rest of the way down.

            1. Mike C.*

              This is the sort of thing I’m specifically afraid of.

              Lets face it, there are bosses and owners out there who honestly believe that their employees are to be treated as children on and off the clock simply because they sign the paychecks. It’s not common, but when an employer can take advantage of economic coercion bad things happen!

              It’s one thing to prevent the government from dictating our speech or religious practices, but in these rare cases it’s of little help when there is nothing stopping another party from doing the very same thing.

          2. AB Normal*

            “I think it’s a mistake to simply put up with the unreasonable behavior of employers as simply “[the] reality that people have to deal with”.”

            Mike C., as much as I agree with your view, how do you suggest “not putting up with unreasonable behavior”? I put up with unreasonable behavior from clients / employers all the time, and am in the process of developing my own business just to put a stop to it. But I was lucky to be able to earn good money in my line of work, and save most of it. Most people aren’t as lucky. I’d love to hear how do you suggest “not putting up” with employers that do the sort of thing the OP describe. Sure, finding another job is something you should try, but what if you can’t get any offers, or only get offers from companies with the exact same type of questionable behavior?

            1. Mike C.*

              I agree with you that there aren’t a lot of avenues to take, but something as simple as saying “I don’t think these policies are acceptable” when these situations arise can help. Whether here, other forums, in conversations with friends/family, it doesn’t matter.

              The idea is that you show support for those who are suffering under these practices, and give others who are considering such policies something to consider.

              If it’s happening regularly then you start speaking with your local representatives and letters to the editor and what not, but the fact that so many of here believe that this is wrong says something.

              By saying “well what can you do” or “this is the new normal”, it basically makes this sort of behavior ok, or at the very least discourages others from fighting it.

              If you think you’re the only one who finds something wrong, you’re going to second guess yourself. If you believe something is wrong and plenty of other people support you in that decision, it becomes much easier to act.

          3. Ann Furthermore*

            I don’t disagree with you. But I think it’s the price we pay for having our lives out there for everyone to see now, through Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media. If you’re going to put this kind of thing out there for public consumption, then there’s a chance that someone who sees it will draw conclusions about your character from it.

            I’m as guilty as anyone — I use Facebook and upload pictures just like everyone else does. I love it because it’s allowed me to get back in touch with many old friends I’d lost touch with. But I’m aware that everything I put out there increases my digital footprint, bit by bit, so I’m thoughtful about what I choose to share. Not everyone is.

            As far as employees being penalized for their political beliefs goes, I believe the wheels are already in motion there. During the 2012 election the Koch brothers and other employers sent “informational” packets to their employees hinting that people could or would be laid off if Obama was re-elected. There were also reports of a couple managers at the FAA telling employees there to vote for Democrats in order to preserve the budgets and their jobs.

            I’m not looking to start a political debate here; my point is that no matter what one’s political leanings are, everyone should find that kind of thing outrageous and infuriating, no matter where it comes from. People have the right to vote for whomever they want, without implied threats or pressure from their employers or anyone else.

          4. Emma*

            What happens when the employer starts disapproving of other activities? Drinking in a bar, attending the wrong political rallies, legally gambling, signing the wrong initiative petitions, you name it. Those are all things that people disapprove of, and if simply say “well that’s the new normal”, then where does it end?

            You mean….say…in this completely hypothetical situation that I thought up before even considering Google …if an employer, which disagrees with contraceptives, tries to discipline the user of this legal, clinically-prescribed medicine?

            I’m not talking about employer-provided insurance covering contraceptives (though it’s equally appalling to me that companies are trying to deny coverage) but about the use, by an employee, of a perfectly legal substance that was not purchased with the employer’s insurance policy?

            Well…last year, Arizona’s governor signed H.B. 2625, which would allow employers to discriminate against employees who use birth control. A previous edition of the law protected employees from retaliation for obtaining contraceptives via other means, but the latest version of the bill removed that protective language (it just says that the employer cannot obtain the employee’s health information, which would be a HIPAA violation anyway).

            Now, federal law may trump this law (as discrimination based on sex, perhaps?) but as this bill is written, it allows employers the option of discriminating against employees for using contraceptives simply because the bill doesn’t explicitly state otherwise.

            So, to answer your question, Mike C., …it doesn’t seem to have an ending.

            1. Emma*

              I literally did look up this issue after thinking about it…I thought, “Sure, some employers are trying to block insurance coverage but no way could they go and discipline or fire someone for using them..right?! Because that’s just beyond the beyonds.” And I was sadly mistaken.

        2. Zillah*

          This is not to say that I agree with it, but I do think that teachers are a slightly different situation than most workers. It’s important that their students respect them and defer to them, and that’s less likely to occur if the students have seen pictures of the teacher behaving in a completely different way… and, for high schoolers, potentially even in a way similar to how *they* behave.

          I don’t think that it’s right to get fired over it, and I don’t think teachers should be barred from having a social life. At the same time, I think it is genuinely important for them to either shield their Facebooks, etc, from their students or be careful what they say on them, because they are setting an example.

          1. A Teacher*

            Okay, so I’ve stayed away for quite awhile but comments like this do get to me. I hold my minister, my doctor, an attorney that does my business, my mailman that sees my private mail, my banker, etc…in high regard. We have lives outside of work if people can’t get over that, not my problem. Literally, not my problem–its one of the few reasons I’m still glad I’m in a union because it does give me some protection. A teacher is no different than most any other job, that’s all I’m saying.

            1. Zillah*

              As I said, I don’t think that teachers should be fired over something like some facebook photos, and I agree that people need to accept that people have lives outside of work.

              However, I also think that when your job involves dealing largely with minors, who tend to be immature and impressionable, it’s in your best interests to be a little more careful about what gets out there. That’s not to say that you can’t *do* certain things – it’s just to say that you should keep that in mind when it comes to where you do them and and what you put on the internet.

              That won’t eliminate all potential issues – somebody might put pictures of you up, or a student might bump into you in a random place – but it will help to minimize them.

              And, honestly, I think that those are things that most people should do – I just think that it’s a little more important for teachers, because of the population they work with.

          2. AB*

            Teacher’s have a right to have a life outside of the classroom, and whatever life they choose (barring illegal activities). Firing or disciplining teachers for going to bars, having dates, joining rallies, or otherwise living their life is really none of the concern of anyone but themselves. If a teacher wants to go to the pool in the summer in a bikini, should they be fired because a student or student’s parent might see them in something other than school attire? If a teacher, on his own time, decides to attend a demonstration or rally concerning a political action that you disagree with or are even morally opposed to, should that teacher be fired?
            I have a dear friend who’s a teacher who was so afraid of being fired, she didn’t attend a bridal shower for her sister at a local bar and grill (a bridal shower where the bride’s grandmother and mother attended, not a crazy drunken spree). All this because a local teacher had a picture on her private facebook of her holding a drink (and was not friends with any students or parents).

            1. Elysian*

              Most teachers, since they work for a government employer (the state) would have more protections than private employers. Political rallies would likely fall under those protections.

              1. AB*

                Teachers are not federal government employees. It depends on state law. But the point was that teachers have a right to a life outside of their work and to say they should be held to a subjective “higher standard” is wrong.

                1. Elysian*

                  I pretty clearly said that teachers are state employees (unless they work for a private school). I never said federal.

                  It really doesn’t depend on state law at all, because the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution applies to the states through the 14th amendment. The protections that I mentioned, such as attending a political rally, derive from the 1st amendment.

                  I never suggested that teachers didn’t have a right to a life outside work or that they should be held to a higher standard. Just that they most likely can’t be fired for attending a political rally – it would likely be considered a matter of public concern and therefore protected.

                  I’m pretty sure we’re on the same side on this issue – I agree with you about going to a bar, etc, but you (generaelly) can’t fire or discipline (public school) teachers for attending a political rally. I just wanted to point that out.

            2. annie*

              For a few years when I was young, my mom was a teacher in the area where we lived. Obviously we socialized with neighbors, friends, scout troop, church members, etc who were her students families. She was always very careful to never have a beer, for example, even when we were just at a casual family BBQ at my best friends house. It wasn’t because she thought she would be fired, it was because the thought of dealing with a complaint from a busybody parent just wasn’t worth it. (She was a young mom at that time, and not a huge drinker, so it wasn’t like she was a wild party girl anyway!) I think a lot of teachers have similar policies, when its feasible, just to avoid dealing with nutty parents.

            3. Zillah*

              I didn’t say that teachers don’t have the right to have a life outside the classroom. In fact, I said exactly the opposite:

              “I don’t think that it’s right to get fired over it, and I don’t think teachers should be barred from having a social life. At the same time, I think it is genuinely important for them to either shield their Facebooks, etc, from their students or be careful what they say on them, because they are setting an example.”

              That’s it.

              I didn’t say that teachers should be fired or disciplined for going to bars, going out on dates, joining political rallies/demonstrations, going to the pool/beach, or any other activity. In fact, I didn’t even bring up politics at all, so I’m really not clear on where that came from – I actually think that it’s generally positive for students to see their teachers being politically active.

              All I said was that teachers are in a different position than many people, because they’re in a position of authority over a very specific population which tends to be immature, impressionable, and entirely too tapped into technology. That means that it’s in their and their students’ best interests to *shield* certain aspects of their lives from their students – meaning that if they wouldn’t talk about it in the classroom, they also shouldn’t have it available to the public on facebook.

              That’s not even remotely the same thing as the words you’re putting in my mouth. If teachers didn’t have a life outside work, my childhood would have been pretty stunted, since my mother is a teacher, and my current social life would be pretty depressing, because my partner is a teacher.

      2. Anon*

        No, an innocent bystander would be the unassociated person sitting at the next table. While the employee in uniform may not have used foul language himself, it sounds like it was apparent that he was participating in the foul language laden conversation without any attempt to guide it to less offensive territory. Passive participation implies approval.

        1. Mike C.*

          That’s a load of crap. How many times have you been in an uncomfortable conversation where the easiest thing was to just let it slide rather than risk letting it escalate?

          Furthermore, for all we know, the “swearing” that took place was nothing more than taking a religious figure’s name in vain. We have no idea what was said or how much was said. In either case, do you believe that any amount of swearing off the clock should result in someone being punished at work, up to and including being fired?

          1. Anon*

            Whether you like this or not doesn’t change the fact that it is true. Your chosen associates reflect on your own character. The behavior of the group the uniformed employee was socializing amongst impacts the reputation of the company, especially when it takes place in such a public place as a fast food restaurant full of patrons (demonstrating poor judgment and lack of propriety on the part of the entire group).

            Kudos to the company for emphasizing the importance of appropriate public behavior.

            1. A Dispatcher*

              Please see Winona’s heartbreaking post below as to why perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to give kudos to the moral police who emphasize the importance of public behavior…

            2. Malissa*

              This is exactly why when ever I’ve had a job that required a distinctive uniform. I’ve always had a change of clothes handy. That way if I wanted to get crazy after work I could go out in my civies and nobody would judge my employer.
              And yes people do this all the time. And yes having people behave badly in the company uniform does indeed reflect badly on the company.

        2. BCW*

          Thats absurd. Assuming they are all adults, why does the employee in uniform have to guide conversations somewhere else? Passive participation implies ambivalence at best, but not approval

        3. Cat*

          Yes, heaven forbid an adult demonstrate “passive approval” of another adult saying a naughty word in a non-work setting. What is this world coming to anyway.

          1. Anon*

            Incredible rudeness, apparently. A fast food joint isn’t one’s own living room – why should all the other patrons have to listen to the foul language of this group? When another table’s conversation intrudes on our enjoyment of our meal, I am quite comfortable stepping over and letting them know that those of us at the neighboring table can hear them and don’t appreciate hearing the language they are using. Nearly every time I have done that, the group seems shocked that they could be heard and genuinely apologized. (The one time they became belligerent, other tables joined me in calling for basic courtesy and management escorted the offending party out the door.)

            1. Cat*

              Telling people you don’t like the language they’re using is one thing; calling their employer (which, let’s remember, is not the facility you’re in) to complain is an entirely different thing.

            2. fposte*

              But that’s an objection to the person swearing, not the people not swearing, and it’s one you properly make to that person at the time. You’re not objecting to the person sitting with the swearer by reporting them to their work.

            3. A Dispatcher*

              I think you are forgetting the fact that we don’t even know what the behavior was…

              At any rate, the much more appropriate route to have taken would be to nicely point out that the conversation is loud enough to be heard at other tables. As in your previous experiences, that is usually enough to stop it. If not, then talking with management at the establishment where the behavior is taking place would be the next appropriate step, so on and so forth. Calling their place of employment is (in 99% of cases*) petty and ridiculous.

              The behavior would have to be pretty egregious and/or directly related to his/her job (as in the examples Jamie gave like belittling the elderly and handicapped if it is clear they are employed somewhere that works with such groups)

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I recuse my answer above–I probably would not report them. But you better believe if I were sitting there and they were engaging in hateful, bigoted, nasty speech, I would say something. A few cuss words probably wouldn’t bother me.

    2. Lillie Lane*

      “And thank you AAM for pointing out that the first amendment protects people from being censored by the government, not anyone else. This is so commonly misunderstood and it is one of my pet peeves.”

      Mine too. What I still don’t get is the three day suspension followed by termination. Why bother with the suspension if they were going to fire the employee anyway? I feel bad for the non-swearing employee in the uniform, and wonder what wording was on *his* write-up: “Socializing in uniform outside of work with vulgar coworkers”????

  7. Jen in RO*

    #1 – I think people are too sensitive, really. It’s a cold, not the black plague. I would never cancel an interview over a cold, unless *I* was feeling horrible and felt I couldn’t perform well enough. Imagine how many people with colds you run into on public transportation. Some of those people will cough into their hands or blow their noses and then grab a handhold. Guess what, you are going to come in contact with their germs! (Yes, some people are immuno-compromised etc, but those people still find a way to manage despite the need to interact with people every day.)

    1. Zillah*

      Yeah, this is why I’m a compulsive hand washer. It happens. I wish people would stay home when they’re sick, because my immune system isn’t great, but at the same time, I understand that often, that’s simply not feasible… and there are times that I choose to do the same thing.

      I can’t stand people who brag about how they’ll fight through anything – they’re basically bragging about getting other people sick – and if you work with kids or other vulnerable populations, I think it’s a little unethical to go to work when sick (and wish sick days were awarded accordingly), but otherwise? Yeah, it happens. It sucks, but it is what it is.

      That said, I think it’s a good idea to say that you’re getting over a cold to avoid shaking hands if that’s the case.

      1. Jen in RO*

        I’ve never known of (personally or through friends) an office that encouraged staying home when you’re mildly sick. The general consensus was that, if you’re not too sick to work, you have to come in. And honestly, as long as I’m not too sick to work, I don’t see a reason to stay home…

        I do try to avoid close contact with people if I’m contagious, so I just excuse myself from kissing (birthdays etc) or shaking hands. No reasonable person would hold it against you, OP.

        1. Jen in RO*

          That being said, in my country you can’t take a sick day without a doctor’s note, which is a major deterrent. I’d rather just go to work than have to drag my ass to a doctor… and many doctors won’t even give you medical leave for a common cold.

          1. Zillah*

            Wow. That’s terrible.

            What do people who get migraines do? That’s one of the most common reasons I miss class/work, and going to the doctor would literally only make them worse because it’s loud travel time in bright lights. I have my medication, I know I have migraines, I pretty much just have to take the pill and wait for them to pass.

            (I’m sure there are other similar situations, but that was the first one that jumped into my head.)

            1. Jen in RO*

              Yeah, it sucks… you pretty much have to choose between going to work and crawling to a doctor’s office. Or you can take a day off without pay. Some employers are more understanding and allow unofficial sick days, though.

              (And the law also allows employers/the national health authority to come to your door and check if you are actually at home while on medical leave. In practice, I’ve never heard of this happening, everyone probably realizes how ridiculous it is. But yeah, the attitude around here is that unless you are too sick to get up, you don’t get to stay home.)

              1. Sandrine*

                We probs have similar rules here, Jen in RO, but when I don’t go to work because of a cough, I do actually drag my behind to the doc, say I wasn’t able to go to work because of X (and for me colds and anything throat/speaking related is especially dangerous because my job is basically to talk) and he writes me the note.

                It’s annoying to have to go indeed because sometimes it’s something you KNOW will get better in a day, but rules being rules u_u …

                1. Jen in RO*

                  Yeah, it depends on the job. I could work with a sore throat, but if I sprained a wrist I’d probably need time off, because my job is 90% writing.

                  (The Romanian legal system is based on the French one, so we probably have a lot of things in common.)

            2. HR Annie*

              Migraines may qualify you for FMLA protection if your company meets the FTE threshold for compliance. You can Google ‘migraines and FMLA’ for information.

        2. Sydney Bristow*

          My job isn’t really typical in that I’m one of a large group of long-term temps who work really long hours, but if we think we might be contagious then we are highly encouraged to stay home. They’ll miss out on our 12ish hours of productivity but that is highly preferred when the alternative is getting others sick and missing those hours from multiple people. Since we are paid hourly we don’t get paid if we don’t come in but I haven’t seen any negative treatment of someone who stays home sick.

          I likely would have gone to the interview like the OP did but I think Alison’s advice about not shaking hands and what to say is great.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          My company says if you have a fever, you stay home. Usually, if I have a fever, I don’t feel like working anyway. If I were over the fever but still had the cold or flu remnants, I probably would go in.

          At Exjob, I had to work sick sometimes–if it were bad, I worked until my backup came in and then left. I just made sure I kept my hands clean, didn’t touch anyone or their stuff, used tissues, and used Clorox wipes all over everything on my desk. There were only a few times I was actually sick enough to call in.

          1. Anonymous*

            I hate when people come in to work bragging about their fever of 104. Go home!! I’m glad your workplace encourages that. (Also jealous)

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I hate it too, because I usually catch it. Or I end up feeling like I have to drag myself in because someone else did.

              In this position, since it’s not a butt-in-chair thing, I can work from home if I need to. There have been times when I was too sick to sit up at the desk, but not sick enough not to work at least a little.

      2. Anne*

        “I can’t stand people who brag about how they’ll fight through anything – they’re basically bragging about getting other people sick”

        Yeah, this really bugs me too. Bosslady does this. And unsurprisingly, when she has a bad cold, three or four members of staff will usually take sick days the week after. (Usually including myself, as I work closely with her.)

        I haven’t mentioned it to her, but it’s really annoying. If I had kids or older people at home, I think I’d make a deal of it.

        1. JM in England*

          Had such a person at OldJob. Was working as a contractor in the mid 90s and back then, you didn’t get paid leave of any kind (either for sick or holiday). So one time, I laid right into him, saying that if I got sick, I’d be losing money.

    2. Jamie*

      I don’t think she should have cancelled the interview for a mild cold, and I don’t think people should sequester themselves because of sniffles, but you don’t deliberately touch people.

      Sure, there are cold germs everywhere all the time, but it’s still incumbent upon people to do their part to add to it.

      I wouldn’t freak out over it, but upon noticing she had a cold I would make a mental note that it was rude of her to shake hands. Common courtesy dictates you don’t do that.

      And just a cold to me (which would annoy me to no end) is a much bigger deal to those with compromised immune systems or newborns at home.

      1. fposte*

        I was surprised, last time I went to walk-in care with a hideous virus, that the doctor started the exam by extending her hand to mine to shake. I said, “Oh, you don’t want to do that!” She laughed and said they’re supposed to offer (I guess so people don’t feel like lepers, but I felt bad enough bringing my petri dish self into the outside world without deliberately holding hands).

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Ah, so we go to the doctor to get more viruses and diseases from everyone the doctor saw before us. That’s just another reason to just stay home and get well on my own (in most, not all cases).

          1. fposte*

            I agree with that–I knew it was a virus and had to run its course and wouldn’t have gone in, but the OTC cough syrup was doing nothing so I came begging for codeine.

        2. Windchime*

          My doctor always shakes my hand, and then goes to the sink and washes his hands before the examination. I would hope that most doctors do this.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        If I noticed she had a cold, I would NOT shake hands with her. I would say, “Oh, you appear to have the sniffles. Let me get you a tissue,” and move out of range.

    3. LW #3*

      I definitely got into my head a bit about the situation. At my previous job, my boss had it in her head that I was “always sick” (I never used more than our annual sick days, but it was overseas where you could argue that using near the total amount of days was a sign of not being very healthy).

  8. Chocolate Teapot*

    In a similar vein, I attending a networking event where finger food was on offer. It was the sort of (fried and oily) stuff which you can’t clean off with a paper napkin, and I simply said “I won’t shake hands, they’re a bit greasy.”

  9. FD*

    1. Is it fair? Not entirely. Though you might consider a couple of things. How loud/disruptive were you actually being, and was it only bad language or actually bad content? For example, I have been out to eat with younger siblings in places where people at another table were being extremely loud and foul-mouthed, or loudly talking about things I really didn’t want my siblings to hear. Also, was it racially or sexually charged language? If so, at a minimum, you might consider keeping your private conversations down a little so other people aren’t disturbed. That’s just common courtesy.

    The simple reality of the world we live in is that there just isn’t that much privacy. Image matters to any company, more than ever. A story about a group of workers cursing can spread quite quickly on social media and so on. It used to be said that the average customer with a bad experience tells five people; that number is thought to be as much as tripled now because of social media. As a result, all companies are becoming much more aware of the image they project to others.

    When someone goes out in their uniform, they represent the company they work for, both in what they do and in the company they keep. While it may not be fair, if a group of people goes out and one of them is wearing a company uniform, even if that person is only hanging out with others who are, say, cursing loudly, it still reflects on the company. There’s a reason a lot of places that have uniforms say you can’t wear it when you aren’t on duty. (I’ve never seen that enforced, ever, but it’s usually in the handbook anyway.)

    1. Jamie*

      Good questions. Unless it was disparaging beyond the swearing I think a complaint to their employer was bizarre, but a complaint to the staff of the business where this happened wouldn’t be.

      I have no problem with swearing, but not in public loud enough for people not a part of the conversation to hear you. It is offensive to a lot of people and you should be able to bring your kids to a restaurant without subjecting them to loud cussing.

      1. FD*

        I do agree it was pretty weird unless it was seriously glaring behavior. Like you say, my instinct if I didn’t feel comfortable approaching the group directly would have been to talk to the staff of the place where they were and ask if a manager or someone could speak to them.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      While I agree that the write up shows a lack of spine on the part of the writer- the OP is pretty much stuck because this is what the employer wants.
      Consider it lessons learned. You take a government job or any public facing job and people are going to be watching what you are doing. While I disagree with the pettiness of it all, it would be wrong of me not to say to the OP, “Hey, CYA. Because this is the world we have.”
      I keep waiting for the pendulum to swing back from the current extreme. Retail companies have such a bad reputation for how they treat their employees, I do not see how this can go on much longer before some start to put the brakes on this insanity.

      I doubt any major retail decision makers are reading this blog but my question to these decision makers is why are you catering to these whiners. They will probably complain about any transaction they have with the company. You want their business, WHY?
      If OPs group’s language was sooo offensive why didn’t the complainer report it to the management of the establishment they were in? The manager could have handled it in the moment it was happening. Or why didn’t the complainer move to a different spot? And lastly, if this complainer reports everyone who cusses then s/he must be awfully busy most days.
      I worked for an employer once where a customer made ridiculous X complaint. I went in and talked to my bosses. Yeah, X happened and so did A, B and C. Which the customer managed to forget to mention. (Think of activities that boil down to shoplifting.) My wonderful boss told the customer to take her business elsewhere. “You will not treat my people like that.”

      OP, I hope this whole thing propels you forward to finding an employer who has a spine and who treats employees with basic respect. You should have been told about the uniform rule on day number one of employment. This whole thing never would have happened because you would have been aware. Likewise your company could have said “Okay we will talk with OP, but honestly, we cannot be responsible for every word our employees utter in their off hours.”

      1. Anonymous*

        I think you’re assuming the individual was not told about the uniform rule – we don’t know that.

      2. FD*

        Because you can’t not do business with every single customer who’s a pain in the butt. You can refuse a few of the most egregious, but you can’t afford to refuse all of the ones who are annoying. At least, not unless you’re so insanely much better than everyone else in your market that you can afford to be picky. Not many businesses are in that position.

        1. Lora*

          Lying is wrong and all…but just lie to customers like that. “Oh yes, we disciplined OP! She never should have said that! Fifty lashes with a wet noodle!” counts as a little white lie in my book. It’s right up there with “you look great in those fluorescent orange and pink tiger striped pants! Very retro!” and “thank you and have a nice day!” while you’re fuming and wishing them in the deepest pit of Hades. Tomorrow they’ll think of something else to be grumpy about.

          Also, has anyone considered that this is a really horrible way a stalker or grumpy ex-spouse or some such could try to hurt an employee? By complaining about them over any dumb thing to their workplace and making stuff up? It’s not quite up there with “yes, we allowed your child to be picked up from daycare by a total stranger–I don’t know, he said he was the kid’s uncle. Was that wrong?” But causing someone to maybe lose their job, definitely not something that should happen on the word of random people.

          1. FD*

            There’s some truth in that, yeah. “I’ll check into that” or “I’ll follow up with that” are both very useful when you’re dealing with a PITA customer who’s being unreasonable.

    3. Anonymous*

      Your comment about image mattering to companies reminds me of all those signs on vehicles asking you to tell the company how the drivers are driving. I understand why they do it – I have been known to make a mental note never to engage [Company] after their driver swerved into my lane during a double lane turn and went back to his texting. If I was the owner, I would want to know.

      And yes, I understand that the individual wasn’t driving and there are arguments about the level at which an off-duty non-uniformed employee represents the company – but you are known by the company you keep.

      Never assume your behavior in public is going to stay private.

      1. Zillah*

        The problem with this analogy is that the OP wasn’t doing anything dangerous, which poor driving certainly is, and the OP wasn’t wearing anything identifying them as an employee, which the person in your example would be by having the sticker on the car.

        It’s really apples and oranges. Engaging in dangerous behavior while you’re directly representing your company is much, much different from using bad language when you are wearing nothing to identify you as an employee.

      2. TL*

        Driving for a company is being paid to represent that company, on the clock. Certainly I notice which trucks have better drivers (Wal-Mart’s, honestly) but only when they’re driving a giant truck with the giant Wal-Mart logo on them. If I happened to recognize them on a go-cart range or out mudding on the backroads in a different vehicle, I wouldn’t report them.

    4. Mike C.*

      I hardly believe that a few employees off the clock who let out the occasional naughty word are going to become a huge scandal on social media. Can you think of a single example of a company who has suffered serious harm because employees used a few words you cannot say on the radio?

      It’s one thing for a company to consider it’s image. But it’s quite another to go so far as to police the private behavior of their employees who aren’t identifying themselves as employees of the business. The guy wearing the uniform should get a quick verbal warning about what wearing their uniform means in a public place, but that’s it.

      The company doesn’t own their employees, and they need to stop acting like it.

    5. BCW*

      I think the biggest issue, is as you said, wearing the uniform in public. I know a lot of companies say you shouldn’t do that, for these very reasons. However, it sounds like it may have just been after the shift and the person was just getting some food. There does need to be some leeway there.

      1. tesyaa*

        Put on a sweatshirt or a button-up to cover the logo and the issue disappears. Even if it’s 90 degrees outside, it’s air conditioned in the restaurant. It’s an extremely minor inconvenience.

        1. BCW*

          I’m not arguing that the person shouldn’t have done that, but maybe they didn’t have a sweatshirt with them or something.

          1. Cat*

            Yeah, I think this is one of those situations where we need to remember that making a mistake does not then mean you deserve every single thing that results from that mistake on a cosmic level or something like that. The fact is, based on the facts presented,* both the complainer and the company were unreasonable. They had a legal right to do what they did; and the letter writer probably isn’t a flawless person who made zero mistakes whatsoever who we can hold up as a paragon of virtue until the end of time. Regardless. The company and the complainer were unreasonable.

            * Yeah, they may be much worse than presented but that’s true of every letter here – we have to go on what we’re given.

      2. FD*

        Yep, in general I agree with you. If it were me, hearing this about my employee, I would probably have a chat with them about how they present themselves in public when wearing the uniform, instead of going straight to a write-up. Unless it was completely egregious behavior–really racist or homophobic language, etc.

  10. Bea W*

    #4 – Patients who don’t show for appointments and people who don’t show for a free class at church are two different animals. How you handle no-shows in a medical office where the business doesn’t get paid when they patient doesn’t show can’t really be applied to the situation with some people not showing up for a free class to which they RSVPed. The latter is maybe rude or maybe inconvenient but often not. The former is really problematic because 1) y0u lose money for that appointment slot, and 2) that slot could have been filled by someone else. It is absolutely necessary to take action in that situation both as a service to other patients and so that you don’t lose income.

    I agree with AAM here. Let it go. For future invitations, you might want to write up a clear cancellation policy or a request that if someone finds later they can’t attend, to please notify the host. If there are limited seats or your are ordering food based on head count, you can explain this in the invitation or when acknowledging the RSVP. You can also send out confirmation emails a couple days before the event.

  11. Allison*

    1) is a little crazy, for one thing why assume the other two worked for the company? Unless they were bad-mouthing management or something. And why file a complaint? The only time I’ve ever been tempted to report someone for bad language was when I was in a bathroom at a convention center and heard some employees of said convention center complain about having to “clean up after these crackers all day.” To me it just seemed wicked unprofessional to say on the floor, in uniform. Even then, I didn’t even know how to report them, and I didn’t care enough to figure it out.

    the manager might have been a little unreasonable, but they may have a policy that they take action every time someone complains.

    1. BCW*

      Well, if you are going to take action every time a person complains, that is just a bad policy. Customers complain about such petty things that at some point, you have to trust your employees. IF you don’t trust them, find new ones.

      1. Mike C.*

        This right here. I see so many managers/owners complain about a lack of loyalty in their employees, and that goes both ways. And seriously, if you think your employees are going to act like children, then you need to stop hiring children.

      2. Collarbone High*

        Not to mention, a lot of customers flat-out lie in hopes of getting a discount, or abuse employees and then complain that the employee was rude for attempting to defend themselves or enforce company policy.

        I think part of good management is sticking up for your employees when it’s appropriate. A knee-jerk policy of writing up anyone who is the subject of a complaint gives way too much power to people who think that being a customer entitles them to behave outrageously, or to ridiculous people who take offense at the drop of a hat. Managers need to use some discretion when handling these types of complaints, and hear out the employee’s side of the story.

    2. A Dispatcher*

      “the manager might have been a little unreasonable, but they may have a policy that they take action every time someone complains.”

      Which is an absolutely unreasonable policy that should be addressed ASAP. I had someone ask to talk to my supervisor just this morning actually because I was a “nosy b****” who dared to ask her where she lived and if anyone had any weapons (they did) after she called the police for help. We get “complaints” like this all the time. All complaints are of course reviewed, but many are unfounded and I can’t imagine having to work anywhere where action (beyond a review of the issue) needed to be taken for every single complaint.

  12. Joey*

    #1. Fwiw, most companies don’t rely solely on a customers version of events to write you up. That’s kind of weird unless you have a pattern of similar behavior/complaints. Or unless one of your friends threw you under the bus.

    Nevertheless, in the future if you’re asked about these kinds of things its best to say something like “I really can’t remember the details, but that sure doesn’t sound like something I would say.” Personally I think employers have no right to detailed info about your personal life. If they find out that’s one thing, but I don’t think you have an obligation to “remember.”

  13. BCW*

    #1 – UGH is all I can say. As a former teacher, I’ve made it known that I hate anytime a company wants to punish you for what you do or say outside of work hours. Luckily I live in Chicago, but I couldn’t imagine living in a small town where everything you do can be seen by someone you have professional interactions with.

    I’d also be curious in hearing from the OP about what was said and in what context. That would give an idea of how much the manager was being ridiculous. Short of a complete hateful tirade against a group of people, I can’t really think of anything someone could say in a neutral place that would make me complain to someone’s company, but I know there are some super conservative bible thumpers out there who would think stuff you hear on the radio is horrible.

    This really blows and I’m sorry you are going through it.

    1. Joey*

      There are tons of things I talked to my friends about when I was younger that I wouldn’t dare discuss now in the presence of strangers.

      1. Joey*

        And when I was younger cuss words flowed out of our mouths. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were sentences composed of nothing but.

      2. BCW*

        I understand that there are certain things that probably are best not talked about in public. Even still though, overhearing (or probably eavesdropping on) someone else’s conversations, even if you weren’t a fan of the content or some of the words used, doesn’t mean that you need to go complain about what they were doing in their time off. Its ridiculous.

        1. Joey*

          True, but we all know there are plenty of people out there that will complain about anything. And there are plenty of bosses that will make conclusions off of those complaints merely because theres a complaint.

        2. esra*

          Completely completely agree. I can’t imagine making a complaint in this case. If I was by someone in a restaurant (or wherever) and they were talking loud and offensively and it genuinely bothered me? I would ask them to stop. Not track down their place of work and complain.

  14. Del*

    #4 – I feel like there is some information missing in the question. What does your church course have to do with releasing a patient into their doctor’s care? If this is supposed to augment or substitute for some kind of medical care, then that certainly is a different beast than “Oh, someone who signed up for our free seminar didn’t show.” But AAM’s answer, and the other answers here, aren’t going to reflect that difference if you don’t tell us what it is.

    1. Lillie Lane*

      The OP was trying to relate the situation of a no-show to her day job at a medical facility. In her professional capacity, a letter is drafted for no-shows. She was wondering how to adapt this to the situation at her church.

  15. anon-2*

    #1 – A touchy situation, because one of your number was in uniform, and an employer can expect a certain modicum of behavior, even off the clock, where there is any company connection.

    So AAM had the right advice – sign it, and you do have the right to respond to it.

    NOW – this should be contrasted with an accusation when you WEREN’T there — or, what is known as a “paste up job” — a review or unfair criticism based on opinion. Twice in my career I had those things happen.

    In the first one, I was written up for botching a task. But – I was 2000 miles away from the building. I replied to the reprimand letter — with hotel receipts, restaurant checks, telephone records. I sent my reply to corporate HR — registered mail, return receipt – then gave my reply to the manager. BOY DID IT HIT THE FAN!
    At first middle management rallied around my manager, then turned tail a day later and offered to expunge the affair from my HR file. I said “no – because I’m trying to prove a point.” And that manager never hassled me for the rest of my career at that company.

    Many years later I was subjected to a paste-up job by my manager and director. Since I had received great reviews for three years prior, it was an obvious attempt to get rid of me with a someone bogus review.

    I refused to sign it. Y’see, managers sometime make moves that hurt themselves, and they don’t realize it. I was giving my manager and director the opportunity to back away from this, because “if I have to reply to this (there was a dastardly incident on their part which affected my attitude but it would have gotten them into serious hot water) — it will serve no postitive end for any of us or the company.”

    In other words – “if you go through with this, yeah, I’m goin’ down. SO ARE YOU.” They got scared and backed off, expunged the review, etc., although human resources did get involved, we moved beyond it, somewhat.

    1. Joey*

      You lucked out. Lots of bosses would have found a reason to fire you for that, maybe not immediately, but eventually.

      1. Lindsay J*

        Yeah. When I was fired from my last job they were totally in the wrong. My manager also tried to pick a fight with me while he was firing me (and didn’t tell me he was firing me until 30ish minutes into the conversation).

        As soon as he said he was firing me and whipped out the paperwork I stopped engaging with him altogether other than to ask for the paperwork to sign – I knew I wasn’t going to argue my way out of a termination, and even if I could this time I knew that he wanted/needed me to be gone and would just find something else to fire me for.

        I did appeal to HR, but that was only to get rehire status back for the parent company since they’re a large employer in the hospitality business.

        I don’t think I’ve ever had an employee that I couldn’t have fired if I ran paperwork on them long enough. Even people who are nearly perfect make mistakes and slip up every once in awhile, and a lot of things are subjective.

        1. anon-2*

          If they’ve drawn up termination paperwork, it’s likely already gone through HR. Most companies require that in the firing process – to make sure you’re not in a protected class, you may have a no-layoff contract in writing, etc.

          And also to make sure the manager knows what the hell he/she is doing.

          It serves no purpose to argue. Upper management / executives will almost always back the manager unless he’s walking into a legal nightmare, or – the termination would cost the company a lot of money.

          I saw a firing rescinded once owing to an angry customer ….

      2. anon-2*

        No, I didn’t luck out. It was negotiation.

        First of all – when you refuse to sign a review – human resources gets involved. When good employees reportedly “go bad”, they want to know WHY. Especially if you were put under a new manager.

        The incident that soured my attitude is too long to report here. But it would change anyone’s attitude from good to bad. It was vile.

        And the review was designed to get rid of me so my job could be offered to a director’s buddy.

        It was best for all – that they backed off of it, took a step backwards, thought it over, and I had given them a chance to save the relationship. They did. There was still a contentious situation over a promotion that hadn’t been delivered; we resolved that two months later with the resignation/counter-offer bit. The relationship did end – I went to a company doing work I preferred to do but the relationship ended peacefully – not angrily.

        Giving a manager a chance to back out of something stupid, or to prevent him/her from self-destruction, is one of the nicer things you can do.

  16. Ellie H.*

    #4 We offer free (and expensive to put on!) workshops to students and attrition is a huge problem. We have tried everything, and eventually just plan for about half of the people not to show up. The best attendance we have ever had for a voluntary sign-up is 67% attendance (that is, 33% no-shows – not including people who emailed to cancel). Charging and refunding would be great but so far we think it would be too logistically complicated.

  17. some1*

    The only time I ever complained to an employer was after reading a really racist comment in a local newspaper article. My area has a large refugee population from a certain country and the article was related to the community. You had to log into your FB profile to comment on articles and one commenter really went off about how she couldn’t stand anyone from that group and they needed to go back where they came from.

    Her FB tag on the comment had her as an admin assistant at a local government department, which I found even more disturbing, since I used to work for the govt, too, and I believe govt employees who have citizen-facing positions like that shouldn’t have such public biases like that against people.

  18. winona*

    #1, I feel for you. I greatly wish in situations like this, the employer would take the necessary steps to soothe the complainant and then essentially let the whole thing drop, because it’s petty and ridiculous. Years ago, I worked for a fast food chain in a conservative area and took the bus to work. My girlfriend took the same bus to get to her job, and one morning was upset about something, so I squeezed her hand reassuringly before saying goodbye and getting off at my stop. An hour or so later, a woman barged into the restaurant, got into my line, and when she reached the register, told me she didn’t want me having anything to do with her food and then requested the manager. Essentially, she complained to a manager that I was a lesbian and behaving inappropriately with a woman while in uniform (literally taking a girl’s hand). The manager wrote me up and requested contact info for my previous jobs so that she could call them and “make sure my lifestyle didn’t interfere with my performance on the job.” Naturally, I refused (and refused to sign) and was fired on the spot. Since then, employers’ interference with their employees over “morality” issues has been a hot-button issue for me and honestly, if their standards for employment include policing your language while NOT in uniform and off the clock, they should really write that into your contract so you know exactly what you’re dealing with. Written up for swearing? Ridiculous.

      1. winona*

        Thank you! Though to this day I wonder how those questions would’ve been received by my previous employers (while at those jobs, I was living in a much more liberal area). Surprisingly enough, I had worked at this particular fast food place for several months up til that point and the town had somehow avoided succumbing to an outbreak of sudden lesbianism…

        1. TL*

          Phew! I know when I first made lesbian friends, I was real worried about catching it but then it turned out that I must’ve had a rare immunity or something ’cause after, gosh, now it’s been 6 whole years, I’ve yet to find myself in a compromising position with a woman. I’d be worried about working with food, though, what with all that germ theory going on.


    1. BCW*

      Thats a perfect example. I think even the people trying to somewhat justify the employers reaction to the OP would have a hard time justifying your employers reaction, even though they are essentially the same thing. Someone was morally offended by what you are doing off the clock and took it to your boss.

      On another note, these people really need to find a hobby or something if the best thing they can find to do with their time is to go to someone else’s job with petty issues like this

      1. winona*

        I completely agree with you, people have too much time on their hands (and a really skewed sense of entitlement, I feel?) if this is the kind of stuff they get worked up over enough to the point of complaining to strangers’ workplaces. I’m sure there really are people out there who are THAT scandalized by profanity, along with people who are THAT scandalized by the implication of bi/homosexuality, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to threaten people’s jobs about. People are always, always going to find something to be offended or upset by, and it doesn’t need to be justified by employers, IMO. What’s next, getting on a woman in a business suit because her skirt hem doesn’t precisely hit the knee?

        1. Mike C.*

          It is a really skewed sense of entitlement. I don’t understand why so many people believe that folks who work in food service or retail deserve to be treated like this. I don’t know how to put it into words but it’s a disgusting confluence of “More money = better than you”.

          After all, if you were a neurosurgeon, would this have happened to you? What about a lawyer? I doubt it.

          1. Emma*

            It’s also about visibility, too. Retail, food service, and other front-line workers are vulnerable to accessibility. You can walk right up to them. I certainly don’t miss being called a moron by rude people on the other side of the counter.

            Many workers are a bit harder to get a hold of…whether because we work in multi-floored office buildings or behind security, or simply because we melt into the rich tapestry of biz casual worker bees.

            If some busybody tried to barge into my employer’s office, yelling that I was behaving in some way they found offensive, I would hope they were escorted out tout de frickin’ suite.

        1. BCW*

          In no way am I saying that this is illegal. I completely understand legal ramifications, and in this situation, as Alison said, they are completely within their legal right to do so. Just because something isn’t illegal though doesn’t make it right. I’m arguing that its not right to do it, not that its illegal

        2. Headachey*

          And also that some people believe their personal moral lines should determine ethical and legal lines for all.

      2. Anon Accountant*

        Yes. If people can’t find anything better to do than go to someone else’s job with a petty issue like this, then that’s sad.

        My boss would say they need to go eat more fiber if they’re that uptight about matters such as this. :)

    2. Elizabeth West*


      Please please at least hint as to what company this was, so I can avoid it. If you don’t want to, I understand.

      Or I could just avoid all of them altogether. I don’t need to eat that stuff anyway.

      1. winona*

        I think that comment’s directed at me? Sorry for chiming in if it’s not, I cannae for the life of me figure out what comment’s a reply to another! Anyway, I don’t mind at all, it was a long time ago — it was a McDonald’s in Lafayette, LA. FWIW, I’m pretty sure it’s not a widespread company policy to fire people “suspected” of not being heterosexual, or call previous bosses to inquire about that kind of thing, it was just a “one of those moments in one of those places”-type situation. I looked at my legal options after the fact, honestly, and at that time, in that state, it was illegal to not hire someone based on their orientation, but perfectly legal to fire them based on it. The laws may have changed of course, and I really hope they have. :/

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I suspected McDonald’s, simply because there are so many of them. You’re right; it may have been the franchise owner. Well, I’m right–I DON’T need to be eating that crap!

          I hope they have too. What a dumb thing to fire someone over. I’m sick of all this idiot stuff.

  19. TL*

    #1: While I can understand the boss’s reaction if, say, you worked at a hospital in a major medical complex, were eating at a restaurant in said complex, and using foul language about the patients while someone was in uniform – I can’t really imagine another scenario where anything more than a quick reprimand about what wearing your uniform in public means to the person who was wearing their uniform in public and a suggestion that they take it off when they go out for lunch.
    Otherwise, you’re off company clock and you’re not representing them. Some jobs require that you always represent the job but generally those aren’t jobs with uniforms and hourly wages.

  20. doreen*

    #4 I once read about a store ( Ikea?) that put on free events that required prior registration due to limited capacity. There were, of course, many no shows. Charging a nominal fee ( $5 or less) which was not refunded minimized the problem.

  21. Ask a Manager* Post author

    On question #1, I want to point out that we don’t know what the language was, and it’s hugely relevant.

    If we’re talking simple profanity, this is ridiculous. On the other hand, if the “foul language” was racist or homophobic slurs, I might have called too. I could see placing a call saying, “I think you should know that one of your uniformed employees and two others who wait on me regularly were sitting in public denigrating (demographic group), and I can’t see going back to your business as a result.”

    I don’t have a problem with a customer making that call, or with the business disciplining the employees over it, uniform or no uniform.

    1. Jen in RO*

      Even if it was racist slurs – why write up the guy in uniform who didn’t say them and the guy out of uniform who was not representing your business?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If the guy in uniform was participating in a racist/homophobic conversation, that’s a legit business issue. And if the guy out of uniform was recognized by a customer in the middle of a public racist/homophobic rant, that’s a legit business issue too.

        (Note that I have no idea whether any of this was racist/homophobic. But since we don’t know the nature of the language yet, I’m throwing it out as a possibility.)

        1. ExceptionToTheRule*

          Unless the customer was present & eavesdropping for the entire conversation, there is still the possibility that what was over-heard was out of context and the customer didn’t stick around long enough for the part where the uniformed employee spoke up.

        2. BCW*

          I think “participating” in a conversation is a very subjective term by itself. If I’m talking to someone, and they make a racist, sexist, or homophobic remark, to which I don’t make a reply for whatever reason, then to say I’m participating in hate speech is a bit much. It just becomes then that you are saying I’m responsible for what other people do off the clock. Its a bit ridiculous.

    2. Mike C.*

      How would you feel about a situation where unmarked but recognized employees were participating in a legal political action? Maybe they were at a political rally or a protest of some kind?

      I ask because plenty of businesses suffer from boycotts when the owners decide to take a stand one way or another on controversial political topics, so what happens when a customer does the same thing, while at the same time not acting in the name of the business nor acting in an illegal manner?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Depends on the details. In general, I’d say that it would be unreasonable and bad practice to fire an employee for participating in a political protest. On the other hand, if it were something like the Westboro Baptist Church picketing at a funeral, or something else that most people find highly offensive, I’d be hard pressed to argue that a company wouldn’t have a legitimate business interest in removing that person from its workforce.

        1. Amanda*

          How do you feel about a situation like an employee at Catholic Charities supporting Planned Parenthood (or vice versa)?

        2. Mike C.*

          Yeah, I can’t draw a clear line either. I’m all for someone expressing themselves politically, but if they’re holding the banner at the local and legal klan rally, I’m not so interested in having them work for me either.

          I think I could draw a line at legal activity with groups not recognized by the SPLC as hate groups, but that’s a bit specific for a hypothetical situation.

    3. BCW*

      What if the racist or homophobic slurs were coming from members of that group. Black people use the N-word all the time. But less obvious could be a gay guy using gay slurs. I have plenty of gay friends who throw those terms around all the time. Again, its context, and not really this nosy customers business.

  22. Brett*

    #1 ” And if someone decides they don’t like me, they can just call my job and complain about me, just to get me into trouble? How is this legal?”

    I think this is a separate part of the question that should be addressed. When someone decides to simply make things up about you to get you in trouble, that is defamation. You can go after them for the damage they cause to you, and in a small handful of states that can even be a criminal act.
    But in this situation, the actions really happened and were not simply made up.

  23. Lindsay J*

    I don’t like situations like #1 at all.

    I have no problem with employers policing Facebook to an extent – if you list Employer on your profile and you have a public profile, you are representing the company and should not be complaining about your employer or its patrons on there. I think the reason I am okay with this is that you can kind of curate your Facebook page – you can choose not to post profanity-laden rants on there, you can delete posts your friends make on your wall that you disagree with, and you can just make your whole profile private so that non-friends can’t see your wall or pictures at all.

    I am not okay with companies requesting the password to people’s Facebook pages during the interview process, or with them requiring employees to friend a page or somebody in the organization to be able to monitor their activities (though you could probably get around this with filtering, anyway). I’m talking about publicly posted information (or if the employee is dumb enough to friend their boss and then talk shit about their boss on Facebook through their own volition).

    I am also okay with rules that you can’t wear your uniform in public, and facing disciplinary action if you violate that.

    I am not okay with otherwise policing the behavior of law-abiding adults who are not on the clock (and whose behaviors do not otherwise interfere with their jobs). I thought it was ridiculous when I was in high school that teachers could get into trouble if they were seen out drinking by one of the parents. I think it’s ridiculous that some people believe that since I work in a retail store in a small city that I should not curse in public because one of the customers might remember me, and might overhear my conversation, and they might get offended by my language. Now I curse like a sailor, but what happens when one of my more proper friends slips up and curses once? Or what if the customer overhears us having a conversation about religious beliefs and becomes offended about that?

    I think – if anyone – only the employee in uniform should be in trouble here.

    I would also be hesitant as a manager to write anybody up on this because it is entirely a “he said she said” situation. For all I know this could be somebody with a grudge against the employee calling up and making things up about the employee to get them in trouble. Even in the case of disputes entirely between employees I am not inclined to act if it is just one person’s word against another (unless the behavior is corroborated by my own observations, or those of other employees either before or after I start digging into the issue).

    Also, if this dispute was between two employees (employee X came up to me and said she was offended by employee Y’s language) and the language was run of the mill profanity I would be pretty likely to tell the employees that they needed to solve the issue themselves because I’m not their mother, so I don’t really see why I would be inclined to step in when one of the people involved wasn’t an employee at all.

  24. WIncredible*

    Just because someone “knows” you work for a company does not mean you represent them 24/7. Maybe a CEO, owner, president, etc. but Jon/Jane Doe Employee? Nope. Maybe the reprimand was “legal” but it wasn’t ethical. And the busybody complainer should have minded their own business.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Unfortunately that’s not really the case though. Now, I think a private conversation should get more leeway than, say, posting a racist/homophobic/sexist screed on facebook or twitter, but people can choose not to support a business if they don’t like its employees for whatever reason. If the content was bad enough that it threatens costing the business, then it’s appropriate.

  25. Elle D*

    #4 – OP, by contacting the students who didn’t attend, you run the risk of them feeling reprimanded and subsequently turned off from attending future classes or events at your church which is counterproductive. These students need to feel welcome in order for the next program you offered to have a higher turnout. I wouldn’t recommend saying or doing anything at this point, but if you absolutely must, a friendly “We missed you at the class last week – hope everything was ok!” if you run into one of them at church might not be terrible. If you don’t think you can manage a warm and friendly tone, just leave it be.

    I’ve worked on a number of free seminars and events, and there are always no-shows. It’s disappointing when you’ve prepared for 60 and only 30 show, but that’s the nature of hosting a free event. After you’ve done a few, you get an idea of what the attendance rate will be and adjust your planning accordingly. The events I work on now are aimed at professionals so we typically just sent reminder emails and hope for the best, but when I used to work on student-targeted events if catering or extensive material preparation was required we would call everyone who RSVP’d to confirm. This was really helpful – we typically had a much smaller percentage of no-call no-shows compared to when we didn’t make the confirmation calls.

  26. Jon*

    I am the OP. I’m currently at work and haven’t had the chance yi read all comments. But when I get home, I will, and I will answer any questions, as well as type up the write up so it can be read by you guys. Thanks for the input

  27. Wren*

    This wouldn’t be appropriate for all types of free events, but in my sports league, we pay a deposit for our free season end banquet. You get it back if you show up, and not, obviously, if you don’t.

  28. MaryMary*

    #3 My senior year in college, I did one of those day-long interviews with 20 other candidates for a management trainee program while I had a raging head cold. Not only was I a sneezy sniffly mess (people volunteered not to shake my hand all on their own!), but I was not at my best and brightest either. Unsurprisingly, I did not get an offer. I feel like it was a lose-lose situation: I could have cancelled but there was no chance of rescheduling.

    1. OP #3*

      I definitely got in my head about the situation – it was one of those interviews where I really wanted the job, and got a bit overly tied up with doing “everything right”. Fortunately I have just been offered the job – so any breaches in etiquette regarding hand shaking while ill weren’t too bad!

      The day before, I met up with a few friends who volunteered to hug me after I said that “I was ill – so maybe we shouldn’t get too close”. So I opted to roll the dice that perhaps I didn’t appear all that ill.

  29. Helen*

    #2 – I feel for you. I had a very similar situation as I, too, suffer from depression. I always said that the one thing I wanted people to understand about depression is that in the throws of it, how hard it is to get out of bed or get in the shower or even brush your teeth. It is paralyzing. I did ruin my ‘career’ in one industry but have since managed my depression and am flourishing in another. It took awhile and it is a hard road but if you feel better, you will find a job. And if you don’t feel better, I hope you get the help you need to feel your best soon.

    1. LW 2*

      Thank you very much for your kind words. It means a lot to know that there are people who under how paralyzing it is! And the more paralyzing, the more entrenched it becomes, the harder it is to explain.

      I’m getting there. I’m not there yet, but with luck and more therapy, hopefully I’ll be back to my best self.

  30. The Clerk*

    I was thinking about #3, and here’s my thing: I get a little put off by people who are obsessively germophobic. There are so many germs out there, sometimes from people who don’t even know they’re sick…there was even that post about the coworker who didn’t wash her hands after using the bathroom where everyone said that people do this all the time and you never know who’s touched what with dirty bathroom hands. The way I feel, if I’m so susceptible that someone with a cold shaking my hand is going to make me sick, I shouldn’t be out in public because that person is going to be the least of my germ worries on a given day.

    So in this case I would be that “unreasonable” interviewer who goes against intuition–if someone didn’t shake hands with me because they had a cold, I’m going to get the impression that this is someone who gets paranoid about the wrong things. I’d subconsciously be wondering if they’re the alarmist type who thinks the government is changing the weather and Obama is the Antichrist. If I had another equally qualified candidate who didn’t give me the willies, that could make the final difference. So I don’t know the right answer to this one other than that some people are going to think you’re considerate and others are going to roll their eyes. :/

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But it’s a really common courtesy to decline to shake hands when you have a cold. It’s so common that I can’t see how drawing that conclusion about someone would be warranted; all you could really conclude is that they adhere to common norms of politeness.

    2. Jen in RO*

      I think it’s polite to decline to shake hands (or at least tell the interviewer you have a cold and let him/her decide), but I agree with the germaphobe comments. I’m actually a bit shocked about this thread – is this an US thing or are AAM readers just more careful about germs? If I told someone I want to stay home because I have a cold and I’m afraid I’ll give it to my coworkers, they’d either laugh at me or say I’m trying to skip work! It’s a *cold*, people get them all the time, I’m so confused about all this.

  31. AnonK*

    #1: nothing to add that hasn’t been said, but thank you for explaining “freedom of speech”. This is so misunderstood by some, and if you studied the constitution like we all did WHEN WE WERE 8, you should understand that it is freedom from government persecution, not consequences from your choices. Unrelated to #1, but I had to let go an employee once when she wrote a blog post about our company’s CEO (using choice words like a-hole) and identified herself as an employee of the company. She pulled the first amendment card, and all I told her was that she was welcome to fight it if she found an attorney who would tell her that it is her legal right to retain employment after calling her ultimate boss a dirty word. Shocking, I never heard from her again. Sorry I have no advice for #1, this just hit a sore spot.

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