employee opened everyone’s paychecks to see what they make, asking why it took so long to be interviewed, and more

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

1. Employee opened everyone’s paychecks to see how much money they make

We had a recent event at our workplace and I’m wondering what repercussions we can place, if any, to the offending employee. One person wanted to know what everyone else was making, so late in the day when very few others were present in the office, she went to the mailbox area (in a different room than where the others were), went through the mailboxes, and opened peoples paychecks/paycheck stubs. The checks/stubs are in closed envelopes with the person’s name typed on the front of the envelope.

Another employee came and told me what she did — she apparently looked at all the paychecks, then went to the staff room and announced to the few people there what everyone’s pay was. When the others asked her how she knew, she stated that she had just looked through everyone’s paychecks. The employee who told was upset about it and didn’t quite know how to “break the news” at first. It took a little bit before she said what had occurred.

I understand that she is free to ask others what they are making, but I find this underhanded as she waited until the end of the day and looked into everyone’s mailboxes, instead of just asking her coworkers. (Aside from this, she is great with the clients and well liked by her coworkers. But she is an average employee — needs reminders to complete paperwork on time and needs to have someone “watch her” with regards to timeliness of completion of projects.)

Wow. Honestly, I think you have to fire her, because that’s such a huge and deliberate breach of trust. What other boundaries is she going to violate / lines is she going to cross the next time she feels like it? And I don’t like the signals you’d be sending if you let her stay on your staff after this; it tells your other staff members that you don’t take violations of trust and privacy very seriously and that there aren’t consequences for people who throw integrity out the window. If she were a super star and you were convinced that this was a one-time lapse in judgment that was unlikely to be repeated, I could see going another way (along with a very stern warning), but she’s not.

2. Should I really put up flyers at local spots advertising our job openings?

I love your advice to job seekers about not cold calling companies and not just showing up to apply for jobs. My company is a medium-sized company outside of Philadelphia. The owners of my company have tasked me with trying to find local talent (for non-medical home health aides for elderly clients). They feel that I should be going out into the community and “cold calling” local businesses, churches, libraries, etc. to see if we can put hiring flyers for people looking for jobs and develop relationships with these people to get referrals. I can remember years ago all of the local groceries stores having bulletin boards for this very reason. However, with the internet becoming the primary place to advertise, billboards in stores have become obsolete and people don’t want to be bothered with solicitation.

While I feel going out and “cold calling” these places is a waste time and can become annoying to these other businesses, my bosses feel that there must be a corner of the market we are missing (i.e. they think churches would be a great place to go to). I do understand their thinking, but there has to be a better way to market that we are looking to hire local besides soliciting places that don’t want to be bothered.

You know what, I’d actually give this a try. While I agree with you that this tactic wouldn’t be useful for most professional jobs, I do think there’s a place for it other types of jobs — where many of your prospective candidates might not be regular Internet users (20% of Americans aren’t!) or even have computers at home. We tend to forget that, but it makes sense to include that demographic in your targeting for this type of work. That said, I don’t think I’d call other local businesses about this, but focusing on libraries and churches makes a lot of sense. Your local unemployment agency or local career center could also be good places to reach out to.

3. Can I ask why it took so long to be contacted for an interview?

I applied for a job in February and was just contacted for an interview. During the interview, it it appropriate to ask why it took so long (in a polite way, of course)?

Sure. But you need to sound like you’re asking to better understand the role and its context in their organization, not like you’re just annoyed that you had to wait so long. I’d say it this way: “I noticed the job has been open since February, or at least that’s when I applied. Can I ask what’s been going on with the role since then?”

4. Telling a recruiter I’m withdrawing from consideration because I just found out I’m pregnant

Yesterday morning, I had an interview with a recruiter regarding a position I am very interested in. I actually love my job and was not looking for another opportunity. The recruiter approached me himself with a position that is basically the same position I am at now, but in large company with significant pay increase. Interview went very well, and last night I agreed my resume to be shared with his client.

Well, this morning I discovered I am 13 weeks pregnant! With this new discovery, I am rethinking the interview — my current company and my boss are very flexible and generous with maternity leave and I am thinking it may be better if I stay for the time being. As a new hire, I do not think this large company would be very understanding to a new mom. However, I would love to stay in touch with this recruiter for potential opportunities down the road, and am not sure how to communicate this new fact to him. I believe the honesty is the right policy and would like to disclose the fact I am interested but pregnant; however, I am not sure how to. Do you have any suggestions?

Congratulations! I’d just be direct: “I just learned that I’m pregnant and due late this year. Because of that, I think it makes sense to stay where I am for now, but I so appreciate you reaching out to me about this role, and I’d love to get back in touch when things are more settled down for me.”

(That said, large companies sometimes have great maternity leave policies — if you’d be open to the switch if they did, it might be worth hearing them out.)

5. Connecting my sister with colleagues for volunteer work

My sister is looking for volunteer work while she searches for a new job. I’d like to put her in touch with some of my previous colleagues, as I know they are often keen to take on volunteers but rarely advertise. Obviously I have no experience of working with her, but I think her background would fit well. How should I approach this? Should I send a quick email letting them know to expect my sister to contact them? Or should I forward her CV directly, and let them follow up if they are interested?

Email them to let them know you suggested your sister contact them, and then have her reach out directly with her resume. The reason you do it this way is so that it’s clear that she’s really interested (rather than you just being interested on her behalf) and so that she’s managing her contact with them herself. (Also, coordinate with her so that she’s reaching out relatively soon after you do — you don’t want a long time lag in between.)

{ 380 comments… read them below }

  1. Anx*

    #2- It seems as though you’re looking to get a lot of applicants. As someone who is currently applying for another job, that sounds surreal compared to the world of applicant tracking systems where the goal seems to be to narrow down the pool as best as possible.

    Have you thought about what kind of experience and interests you want your employees to have?

    In addition to the unemployment office and libraries, what about campuses? Do you offer some flexible hours? Because that could be student friendly. If your local school has a nursing, medical, public health, allied health, or health administration programs, I would think there would be many students who are desperate for a part-time job that requires minimal experience and could help their long-term education or career goals. And if a traditional student doesn’t sound like a good fit, remember that a lot of students are part-timers who are trying to get new skills to augment their degrees.

    1. BB*

      I would second this. Universities are a great place to start and career centers are often interested in finding any opportunities for their students to gain experience.

      1. voluptuousfire*

        ^ Agreed. Home health aides are an excellent way to gain experience when studying to be a nurse.

        1. Angora*

          Agreed. Be sure to reach out the the admistrative assistants for the nursing programs at your local university. Also the local community colleges may have CNA training programs.

          If you want to stick in someone’s mind. I recommend having fliers prepared and take cookies, etc to the admin assistant. They are probably requesting this done in person because people are more apt to remember you as well as being willing to assist when they have a face versus a voice on the phone.

    2. OhNo*

      Exactly this. The college I attend has a lot of health-related degrees, and there are frequently fliers and posted information for aide jobs on campus.

      Plus some colleges will let you set up a table/booth on certain days to advertise. Every time a home health provider tables at my campus, they have lines out the door of nursing students wanting to get information and apply.

      1. SilverRadicand*

        +1 to what everyone else has said.

        I would also consider the online job boards of local colleges. I get a large minority of my hires from the local college and the online job board is very helpful with that.

  2. Feed the Ducks*

    Alison, sometimes your advice is just such wonderfully logical common sense, I’m surprised you stay in business.

    Keep spreading the sense!

    1. Matteus*

      Isn’t that the truth.
      It’s basic supply-and-demand.
      Common sense is a rare commodity in the wild.

  3. Artemesia*

    #2 I love the idea of going to local churches, as well as unemployment offices for a search for eldercare personnel. Some of the best people I know in this field have been recruited informally in church settings. While flyers are fine, I would actually try to form a connection with pastors and their staff who might be aware of worshippers who are in need of work but who also have a family history of being caregivers. It would be good to have referrals rather than just people responding to flyers. My grandmother did this kind of work and this is how she made the connections that resulted in her placements — through word of mouth through her religious community. The best caregivers are often women who have been widowed or divorced or whose kids are grown or older and in school who don’t have a profession but have been kind and patient caregivers for their own aging family members and who have need of income.

    #1 I don’t understand why this woman was not fired the day her behavior was discovered. This is not an ambiguous situation; this is a total failure of integrity.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Yup. #2 is good idea. Our HR manager is active in a large church. We’ve only hired one person so far from that pool but in her previous positions she’s been able to place some folks otherwise marginalized into new starts. The pastor knows who to call her about to take a look at, where a resume would look like any other sparse resume coming through.

      Would have broken my land speed record for termination from act to out the door.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        My previous record is 4.5 hours from egregious act to out the door. This is no small feat because of sign offs, papers prepared, right people in the termination, etc. Let’s just say I was motivated.

        1. Anon Accountant*

          Can I just say you are awesome for such swift action when it was warranted? Because that was definitely was awesome quick action.

        2. Kate*

          I had a guy very openly sexually harass me one day. He had just started. I told my direct boss when the guy went to lunch. His desk was packed and he was gone before he returned. They stopped him at the door. Less than 30 minutes.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Hats off!

            I will never beat that record, unless it is a temp.

            I need two sign offs (HR and the CFO), termination papers prepared including severance if applicable + an HR rep to sit in on the termination.

            I would have had to settle for sending him home immediately while making arrangements.

            1. Melly*

              Oh god. Coming from a union environment, I so envy this. We had a situation a couple years ago where two people straight up broke confidentiality law. We got them out the door in a few weeks. But then the union fought it and 6 months later one was allowed to resign and the other came back AND GOT BACK PAY!

              There are clear benefits to unions but defending poor performers makes me ill.

              1. LBK*

                Ugh. I know that the intention of unions is good and I believe they can work, but I never hear anything but horror stories from people who work for them. That sounds like a complete nightmare for anyone who was actually a good performer and…y’know, followed the law.

                1. AVP*

                  It also depends on the particular union. I work with unionized freelancers occasionally, and some of their unions have reps who are a joy to work with, and others make me want to hide under my desk and never come out.

                2. stellanor*

                  The graduate student employees were unionized where I did my graduate work, and it was a pretty good gig. Our contracts were for 20 hours a week, and all GSEs made the same stipend no matter what, but pre-union some of them got 5 hours/week of work and some got 50. You were at the mercy of your department, and the department could pull your funding if you objected. The union cleared THAT right up, and gave people a resource if they started being abused.

                  The union also cleared up some issues re: GSE healthcare being mishandled, and played hardball with the administration when they tried to do unreasonable things.

                3. Bea W*

                  It’s like anything, you only hear about all the really awful things because those are the things that make news or compel people to complain.

            2. Kate*

              We were a small company. My boss called the owner and said I am firing this guy. No HR and definitely no severance. I was the only woman in the office with several guys and they weren’t messing around.

            1. anon-2*

              Typically in a harassment case they offer the offender a chance to resign quietly.

              If he’s guilty as hell, it will go better for him. And the company. But he is entitled to due process. I know of a man who was accused – and his accuser was stunned when he said the allegations aren’t true, he wants an HR hearing and he’s bringing his attorney.

              The complainer balked on going through that process – and was immediately fired. The man (suspended) was immediately reinstated.

              The problem now is that no one knows if he was guilty or not. For those of you planning to launch a harassment case – you better think before signing a complaint – because if you don’t follow through – or, you made the allegation up – YOU’RE in trouble.

              It’s no different than accusing someone of a crime.

              1. Green*

                Most policies say that you are protected from retaliation unless you had no good faith basis in making the original claim (i.e., not just that they find that no sexual harassment occurred but that you flat out made stuff up). You also typically have an obligation to your employer to participate in any investigation you initiated, and it sounds as though she was fired for refusing to comply with her employer’s request to participate in the investigation, not for making the initial complaint.

                The other party is not always (and, in fact, rarely) allowed to have an attorney and a hearing. But you should always read your sexual harassment policy and whistleblower policy before making a complaint.

          1. Kate*

            He decided it would be a good idea to show me photos of porn on his phone “as a joke”. I didn’t think it was funny.

            1. Cath in Canada*

              And he’d just started?! I mean, that’s completely out of bounds for anyone in a workplace – but the fact that he was so new makes it even more astounding.

              Alison, I think we need that “most astounding first impression made by a new coworker” thread that was mentioned a little while ago!

        3. anon-2*

          I saw a woman fired and out the door in 25 minutes. On a Thursday – she misinterpreted someone’s action, had her husband come in from a nearby construction site, who attempted to get to a 58 year old employee. He was blocked by computer center access.

          Paperwork done the next day. But any employee who commits (or generates) a violent act can be hauled out immediately.

    2. Katie*

      OP #2 here. Thanks for the advice so far. I agree that making the connections instead if just flyers is a great idea. Surprisingly, I have reached out to both local churches and libraries and have not gotten a positive response. I always assumed a pastor would love to help people find a job. Most of the time, I have a hard time even getting to the pastor. Alas, I will keep on trying. I am determined to find local candidates 😊

      1. Annie*

        OP#2 (Katie) Starbucks (and other local coffee shops) have boards that usually let you post jobs and other notices.

        1. Katie*

          Not the starbuck’s in my area. I’ve been there and tried that already. Most place won’t let you put up flyers unless you are a non-profit. I try to explain that I am not advertising our services but looking to help people find jobs and that doesn’t help.

          1. Artemesia*

            I am having a hard time imagining that Starbucks would be a good pool for this type of worker. And although it may be hard to reach the main Pastor of a congregation, there may be people in the church who are particularly charged with assisting parishioners with problems like unemployment.

            I worked in a residential institution for the developmentally disabled one summer when I was in college. These were the days of giant institutions out in the sticks (out of sight, out of mind). There were quite a few middle aged and older women who worked there who didn’t have educations or many employment options who were just lovely. The thing you most need in such a role is kindness and gentleness and I was in awe of how caring and gentle many of these women were. My grandmother was also like this in caring for elderly disabled people.

      2. LQ*

        I’d definitely reach out to your local job centers (careeronestop should be able to guide you to something local), sometimes they have training programs too so they’ve trained people and are working on placing them.
        Also check out other local nonprofits doing career training.

        1. Katie*

          I’ve done the local career centers too. The issue we have is that we require people to have a car and a lot of people who are going to career centers rely on public transportation.

          1. VictoriaHR*

            I do a lot of flyer advertising because I recruit for a call center with high turnover.
            Check out indie bookstores and craft stores for bulletin boards.
            My public libraries won’t let me put up flyers unless they’re for a nonprofit, which we are not.
            Check veterans centers and a local DHS or social services office, if you have one.
            Our biggest way of getting referrals through flyers is apartment complexes. Check with the landlords first. If they balk, ask them if they have any marketing materials that you can put in the break room for your employees to look at. Often the offer of a quid pro quo will sway them. Obviously don’t put up flyers if they say no, and only put them where they give the ok.

            1. Artemesia*

              The library policy seems very wrong headed at a time when so many people are out of work. They would be doing a major public service to post job openings. (I suppose they are concerned about scammers)

              1. BOMA*

                I think she meant that she would put marketing materials advertising the apartment complex in her company’s break room.

            2. Katie*

              VictoriaHR, I remember reading something you posted about no call no shows and very high turnover rates. We deal with the same thing here. We should chat :-) We are trying to work on retention but that is another story for another day.

              1. Joey*

                For most call center jobs though its sort of like fighting a forest fire with your backyard water hoses. It’s just not going result in a whole lot of success.

          2. AnotherAlison*

            Not sure if you were the same person who posted in a thread a few weeks back about having trouble recruiting for home health aids, but if you are, it seemed like your company was paying minimum wage or something close?

            I know it wouldn’t likely be your job to do this, but have your owners really looked at your business model? Can the people you want to hire afford to work at the wages you’re offering? Have you exit-interviewed people to learn why they quit?

            Gas, insurance, and maintenance on a car costs at least $3,000/yr. Buy a $5000 car and own it for 5 years, and that’s $4000/yr. People making minimum wage at a f/t job gross $15,000/yr, and it would be difficult to swing a car, rent, and food. Lots of f/t minimum wage earners in my city take the bus, walk, or catch a ride to work. They don’t have their own cars. Do your competitors require cars? Do they pay more?

            It really does seem like a tall order to find people who have clean records, good credit, cars, and are willing to do difficult work for low wages.

            1. Celeste*

              I agree with this, although the OP is not in a situation where she can correct anything such as the wage structure or the location of the facility so it’s on the bus line. She is just trying to do her own job the best she can. PBS has some great documentaries about the working poor and their hard, hard struggles. Our society makes it easy to fall down and hard to get up.

              1. AnotherAlison*

                I’m definitely not blaming the OP. It sounds like she’s already tried every suggestion that the commenters are throwing out there and has gone above and beyond what a recruiter or hiring manager would normally have to do to find people.

                1. Katie*

                  Thanks Alison. I have really tried all of the suggestions that people are throwing out there.

                2. Celeste*

                  I didn’t think you were blaming her, I just felt that she’s stuck in a hard spot. The industry itself is a bad one. The most recent PBS documentary I watched on this showed a young single mother trying to make it in this job. After all she went through just to show up and work, after a year she got a raise. Her approx $9/hr pay went up by 7 cents/hr. Okay then. She was getting several different kinds of short term assistance from the state, so the costs of her low wages were most definitely passed on to the collective. I hope she makes it out of poverty, but not many can.

              2. Katie*

                And I wish I had control over the salary of our workers. We do pay above min wage at around $10-$12/hour. We can even be flexible if people have great experience and live in a good location in regards to our clients. Our clients do require the car because they drive our clients. Other competitors have the same requirements as we do. We actually pay a lot more then our competitors and offer great office support.

                1. Celeste*

                  That sounds better than a lot of nursing homes. Best of luck to you! I don’t think you have an easy job at all.

                2. dawbs*

                  Depending on level of knowledge, also consider the career planning and placement offices of local colleges–Community Colleges especially often have students who are experienced, awesome, employable and just need to be connected to the right job.

                  Even without that, my campus allows such fliers to be posted–just have to get it OKed by the events office.
                  (heck, when I was in high school, the counselor sometimes connected students to jobs/jobs to students. )

            2. Joey*

              Plenty of companies have proven that low wages/high turnover is a profitable and successful business model, especially low skills jobs…at least for a while.

              It’s pretty easy to suggest to spend more to solve high turnover, but it’s really not that simple as I’m sure you’re aware.

            3. krm*

              This is so true. I did non-medical home health care one summer during college, and while I loved the job, I couldn’t afford to keep working there-it was actually costing me money. It paid slightly above minimum wage, and i was required to service a 2 county area. I was required to have a car/reliable transporation to the job site. There were some jobs that I would stay with the same client for 8 hours, but there were many more that I would only be there for 2 hours, and of course, those were always the jobs that were furthest from my home. That 2 hour shift may be the only client I would be scheduled with for the day. The agency did not pay mileage to and from job sites either. I kno w it isn’t the OP’s job to fix this, but it is definitely something to consider when you have a lack of candidates.

      3. Bea W*

        It totally depends on the personality and workload on the pastor and the population they serve. My pastor tries to at least respond to inquiries one way or the other. If it’s not something he can help with, he will usually have suggestions on where else to try.

        If there are social service orgs in the area that assist people in need of jobs, training, and financial assistance, those can be good places to try because they are actively working with people who are unemployed or in need of work.

      4. Celeste*

        I second Alison’s recommendation for vocational school. I interviewed for a teaching position at one, and I honestly felt that they were most interested in what hiring contacts I could bring to the table. I had a lot of experience but not much of it in the local area, so it didn’t work out. They really need names for conduits for their students INTO jobs, and I think they will very much want to talk to you. Good luck!

      5. Celeste*

        Does your area have a welfare-to-work program? I know that my child’s daycare was staffed by a lot of ladies coming off of assistance.

          1. Celeste*

            They might, you never know. Some of ours did, or their family member did and could transport them.

            1. fposte*

              And plenty of people take public transit to work anyway. I did, during my very brief career as a home health aid.

        1. Katie*

          I actually worked at a welfare to work program out of college so have a connection with our local career transition center. Candidates there are hit or miss.

      6. AVP*

        This might not be something you have time to do, but if you can, just drive over there and ask in person. My company has movie postcards we like to leave at coffee shops and places like that – if I call ahead of time they have no idea what I’m talking about. But if I show up with a stack and find the place where other people have left theirs, and sort of wave at a barista and ask if I can leave them, they usually say yes. As long as you’re nice about it! (which I’m sure you would be…but it bears repeating.)

        1. Katie*

          This is what I might start doing. Block out 2 hours in my day and just drive to various places. If they say no, then I move on and don’t try there again.

      7. Toothless*

        Former church admin here: the pastor is almost certainly the wrong person to approach; I’ve supported five pastors, and four of them wouldn’t have known what to do with something like this. (And the fifth would have brought it to me and said, “you take care of these, right?”)

        Start with the secretary/administrator, and ask if she has church publications she could use to share your info, and if she has any other ideas about getting the word out. Some churches have support groups for unemployed people, some have retirees’ groups (most of the hard work at our church was done by “young” retirees in the 55-70 age group), etc.

        Also, try to call early in the week. On Fridays our church office was more stressful than a daily newspaper office.

        1. Bea W*

          Great advice. My current pastor is great with things like this, but I can imagine many aren’t. I don’t think people realize how much of church business is actually conducted by lay staff, especially the day to day stuff. Church secretaries are like corporate admin assistants. That’s the best bet for just about most questions, even when it’s an issue you know for sure you want the pastor. The church secretary will make sure the pastor gets back to you or can get you an appointment.

      8. fposte*

        What about places like women in transition shelters? We’ve got one that’s got exactly the sort of clientele who might be interested.

        (Sorry, I know we’re all going to pelt you with ideas you’ve already had, but maybe something in there will be new.)

      9. The Real Ash*

        Have you looked at other places of worship besides churches (e.g. synagogues, mosques, Buddhist temples, etc.)?

        1. Cath in Canada*

          I was just about to say the same thing, although I guess some people might use the word “church” as a generic term for “place of worship”?

          Would there be any legal liabilities to targeting the job ads Christian churches but not synagogues, mosques, and temples?

      10. Celeste*

        Here’s an idea. What about an incentive of some kind for your employees who refer a person to the company? It could be a gas card, for example. If they are the kind of person who would do the job, they might know others like themselves. You wouldn’t have to give out the incentive unless the person got hired. Sort of like networking from within.

        1. Katie*

          We already have this in place. They can get a cash bonus if we hire a referral from them.

      11. Celeste*

        Another idea: find out about local job fairs and set up there for the day to get your information out. Sometimes they have ones that are field-specific, so health care would be an obvious fit. Your chamber of commerce might have a calendar for these events that you use for a start.

        My only other idea is to find a way to approach people who already do this work for other companies, like a recruiter would do, and see if you can offer them a better deal for the same work. Maybe run a radio ad talking about how competitive you are in this field?

      12. Anx*

        Perhaps one reason they are hesitant to post is that the field does not have a good reputation for treating employees well. Also, it does put workers in a position where they go to other people’s home where there might not be any accountability for abuse or poor treatment (either by or to the employee). Perhaps they treat it as a possible scam. I don’t know how much you can do about that. Do you have a main office that is easily accessible to the public.

        I know I’ve been trying to get a home health aide job, but I do get nervous about scams or really shady business practices.

        Without going back to school (I can’t afford that), how does someone break into this field?

        I have a public health and life science background (bachelors and certificate), 2 years experience volunteering at a hospital, and 4 years experience in student services (which I think requires a lot of similar skills). I’ve seen throughout this post that it’s considered a ‘low-skill’ job but clearly I’m still under-qualified. I don’t know if my cover letters aren’t very strong or what, but I’m running out of ideas on how to make myself a better candidate (without spending any money).

        1. OhNo*

          Hopefully someone with actual experience in the field (like OP Katie) will provide more info, but I have the impression that many health aide jobs require (or just really really want) a certain certification. If you don’t have it, it might be nigh impossible to get the job with a decent company.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          My family employed two women with no certifications as home health aides for my grandparents, so you might find some options for word-of-mouth referrals for private placement. It looks like you have an above-average background that would help people trust you without the formal credentials.

          My grandparents were in a small town, where they were well-known and very active in a church, so it was easy for them to connect with people. That might be the type of place to hang out if you’re looking to meet older people, or even the sons/daughters of the people needing home care.

          1. Anx*

            I should think of places to meet older people. I am very interested in aging populations and public policy, but I don’t really spend a lot of time with older people now that my grandparents have passed.

            As an atheist, I don’t think church would work.

        3. Anon333*

          Post your resume on Care.com. My family uses a caregiver and we looked for people there. We use an agency currently and the caregivers do seem to have some kinds of certifications. If it’s a PCA role you’d like, as a user of these services, I’d emphasize you’re personable, able to get along with lots of personalities, organized, able to drive for errands, no task is below you, and *reliable*.

  4. CanadianWriter*

    #1 is really bad. I would be concerned that this nosy person now knew my address.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      I’d be more concerned about my social security number (taxpayer ID) which is also on the check.
      This is a data security breach.

      1. NylaW*

        Exactly what I was thinking. It’s one thing to be legally allowed to discuss pay with your coworkers but they should be voluntarily participating not having their trust violated.

      2. FiveNine*

        Our deposit advice subs do not have our SSNs on them but in addition to home address and pay amount there is the breakdown of vacation and sick time off used and accumulated, and other things that might have been negotiated or are not her business.

      3. Celeste*

        YES. The one person is certainly bad enough, but the idea that the paychecks are sitting out so that somebody can touch them…that’s bad. I realize that most people would have the morals and good sense not to, but as we just saw it’s not 100%.

        I can’t even imagine what it’s like to see that your paycheck envelope is opened. I would need the employer to fire that person just to show that the rest of us are valued for behaving properly.

        1. Artemesia*

          The fact that she bragged about it openly makes firing easy. And it should have happened that day.

        2. Jazzy Red*

          When I was an executive secretary, one of my duties was to hand the paychecks/stubs to each person directly. If anyone was out of the office, I had to keep their envelopes in my locked desk drawer until they came in.

          My last employer just left the paychecks in everyone’s in boxes. I was there 8 years, and only one person was ever caught looking at another’s paycheck. He was immediately dismissed for that.

    2. Enjay*

      In my job (federal government) that would be considered a major privacy breach and we’d have to contact the Department and start notifications to the employees who were affected. Our salaries are public record so we all know what everyone makes, but our addresses and other financial information are as private as they are anywhere else.

    3. holly*

      i would be concerned that they are so dense/lacking in integrity as to think going through someone else’s mailbox and opening their mail is okay. on purpose. they had a plan to do this to everyone. and then announce it. wtf was going through their brain???

    4. A Bug!*

      Just based on the letter, I doubt that the busybody actually took note of any information beyond the pay rate and any other such “hot” details. It sounds like she’s obliviously unethical, not maliciously so.

      Unless the pay stubs contained enough information to allow a successful identity theft (and they shouldn’t, because that’s an unnecessary risk), I don’t think the OP needs to have any personal safety concerns. Not in the absence of more damning information, anyway.

  5. ThursdaysGeek*

    #1 – Were the paychecks in sealed envelopes and she ripped them open, or were they unsealed? Because if they weren’t sealed, it’s time to start sealing them too.

    1. Nina*

      I understand what you’re saying, but it feels moot to me. The checks being in an envelope already implies that their contents are confidential, even if the envelopes aren’t sealed. She was intent on finding out the salaries, so she could have simply broken the seal, or removed the tape, whatever.

      I’m sure mgmt will start sealing the envelopes, if they weren’t doing so already. My point is that everyone knows you’re not supposed to go through them, sealed or otherwise.

      1. Mallory*

        Yeah, you’re not supposed to go through anything that’s in some one else’s mailbox, much less a paycheck’ sealed or not.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, as somebody who works in a place where salaries are public, I’m much less concerned with knowing what’s on my paycheck than the fact somebody was going into private mailboxes and reading private material in there.

          1. Mallory*

            We’re the same — anybody can look up any of our salaries because we’re a public university, but nobody — that we know of — would dream of scrounging through someone else’s private mailbox.

    2. Sunflower*

      Many offices have envelope sealing machines and many have mailing machines that seal and stamp them. It’s possible she saw the envelopes being ready to be processed through the machine and saw her chance.

      1. The Real Ash*

        Except that the OP specifically stated that she went through the mailboxes and took the envelopes out. So they were already distributed to the employees, and it doesn’t matter whether or not they were sealed.

    3. LBK*

      I suppose that would’ve made it more obvious that someone had opened them if they were trying to do it secretly, but I doubt it would’ve prevented this situation. Clearly she wasn’t trying to hide it if she marched into the breakroom and started announcing it.

  6. PEBCAK*

    2) I’m curious why AAM says not to go to local businesses…I see stuff like this on the boards at my local coffee shop and my Y all of the time. Or do you just mean not to cold call places where this isn’t already a sort of established thing?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I meant not cold-calling them — although I suppose it would be fine to call and ask if they have a bulletin board for this kind of thing.

  7. Kara Ayako*


    “I’m wondering what repercussions we can place, if any, to the offending employee”

    OP, you’re being unnecessarily timid here. Fire her. Fire her immediately. Even if she were a superstar, I wouldn’t keep her around. This is a breathtaking breach of trust. And for her to be so flippant about it (walking into the break room and talking about what she did) shows a complete lack of rational thinking or understanding of boundaries.

    1. Asha*

      Yup. I’m not really sure what there is to wonder about here. She should have been fired ASAP. Delaying and dithering is not sending a good message to your other employees!

      1. Jessa*

        Exactly. Out the door post haste. Because not only was it salary, but benefits, possible 401k contributions, if they have child support being subtracted, or garnishments, etc. This is far more potentially personal information than just the amount someone gets paid.

        1. madge*

          +infinity. Also, one of the two reasons that OP#1 gave for keeping the employee is that the employee is well-liked by her co-workers. I’m thinking that’s no longer a reason.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Hmm, it’s my fault that it sounds like that. We had an email exchange and I cobbled a couple of emails together into one, but that came up because I asked about performance (because if she’d said “she’s my best employee and responsible for our biggest account,” that’s relevant information).

    2. nep*

      Exactly what I was thinking — how nonchalant she was about it, coming back to talk about it with co-workers. Shows an utter lack of respect and judgment — at best. Can’t imagine wanting to keep a person like this in the workplace.

    3. Katie the Fed*

      In OP#1’s defense, I think her timidity was related more to the legality of firing someone for this. Since employees can legally discuss their salaries, then there MIGHT be some argument to be made that they can do this.

      Probably best to make sure your all your ducks are in a row before you fire someone, ya know? And if it’s a small business they might not have in-house legal counsel.

      1. Red Librarian*

        Employee A voluntarily telling Employee B what they make is in no way shape or form the same thing as Employee B opening Employee A’s pay stub envelope on the sly to see what they make. They can attempt to argue it all the way but I suspect that’s an argument they will lose.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Right…I get that. I was explaining why the OP probably didn’t fire the person on the spot.

          1. Jazzy Red*

            There is not one good reason for the OP to delay firing this person on the spot.

            If I were the OP’s boss, I would be asking her why this employee is still here.

            1. fposte*

              And if some people were the OP’s boss, they’d be asking her if she checked with the lawyers. The OP knows better than we do which kind she’s got.

            2. Katie the Fed*

              and there is rarely any harm in taking a deep breath and checking to make sure everything’s kosher because you make a big decision, especially if you’re new to the wonderful world of management. Let’s not criticize the OP for checking – management is hard and full of all kinds of landmines.

              1. JessB*

                Not to make light of a pretty serious issue, and it’s probably because I’ve just had a Game of Thrones season 3 marathon, but Katie, your last line had me thinking of a repeated phrase from the show “the night is dark and full of terrors.” I had to laugh.

    4. Puddin*

      During the termination discussion, I would add that her actions could be construed as attempted identity theft. As the employer I would document the heck out of this. If any of the effected employees become victims of ID theft, for any reason, the company has to prove that they were not complicit or in any way responsible or condoned what the letter intruder did.

      Really she should be lucky if they don’t call the police.

  8. Nina*

    #1: I would be furious if I learned my coworker was reading my paycheck. Not to excuse it, but I’m wondering if she even realized that what she did was wrong, since she had no issue announcing it to everyone. That said, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a clear violation of trust.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Some people don’t think there’s anything wrong with behavior like this. I knew someone (let’s call her Beth) who worked at a company and was friends with “Jane.” Jane did payroll and various other functions involved in paying company bills as well as processing last checks for those fired, etc. Beth told me that Jane would tell her what everyone was making, what the company owners were purchasing on company credit cards, what personal expenses they had, who got fired and why, etc. I just looked at Beth and said “You do realize that is totally NOT OK don’t you??” Beth seemed to think it was all cool because she and Jane were friends.

      So yeah. Those people do exist and think it’s no problem to be privy to information that is none of their business at all.

  9. KarenT*


    I just can’t imagine a scenario that doesn’t end in this woman being fired. Are you her manager? I’m not clear on why you think you might not be able to place repercussions on her?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I had an email exchange with the OP. It turns out they’re in California, and she wanted to make sure there wasn’t some weird legal reason she couldn’t fire the person.

      For anyone wondering: California has at-will employment just like every other state (except Montana, which requires cause — although this would be cause even in Montana).

      1. KarenT*

        Ah, makes sense. I had wondered if perhaps the OP was a co-worker not a manager.

        I’m a pretty softhearted person (I’m often advocating for second chances) but I would fire someone instantly for this. It’s such a huge breach of trust, and not just to the company but to the snooper’s peers. It’s so deliberate, entitled (My need to know my co workers salary is greater than their right to privacy!), dishonest, and violating. I don’t think I could ever move past it!

        1. Mallory*

          I was thinking the OP was perhaps in a situation with supervisory authority but limited ability to hire/fire (as in maybe there is a bigger boss than she who has that authority). But then, that person would ostensibly do the immediate firing.

      2. Risa*

        I fired an employee for a very similar offense in California, and did it in less than a day after the breach was discovered. I had a supervisor who went into my office (which was locked, but a key was available to supervisor s if they needed to access certain items over the weekend when I wasn’t there). He went through the files in my desk, including one that discussed the salaries of the managers between me and him in the hierarchy. He went out and promptly told the other supervisors what the managers made. I fired him, and then obtained a separate locking cabinet I could put out in the main room for any items they might need on weekends. (Things like personnel files for their team members, petty cash box, etc.)

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      From the OP’s letter, it sounded like maybe there was a concern that, because employers can’t prevent employees from discussing salary, it was somehow legal for this employee to investigate on her own to discover others’ salaries. Which is not the case, but as Alison said the OP is in California, I can see why the OP might want to check… CA does indeed have some weird laws.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        Even if it wasn’t salary information, I’d strongly consider disciplinary action for someone who took items out of other employees’ mail slots, read them, then discussed them in an open setting. This person is a data breach waiting to happen.

        The fact that it was something so personal only makes the action that more unforgivable.

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        Yes. I read this post and thought, “Of course you SHOULD fire her, but I wonder whether she could sue.”

        1. fposte*

          The problem of starting to think that way is anybody can sue at any time over anything. She can file suit because she thought God was on her side, because she feels her shoes were being discriminated against, or because she feels like she’s owed a puppy for her work. There’s nothing you can do to make sure you’re never sued as an employer or a human being.

          However, that doesn’t mean the suits will be heard, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they’ll prevail. She has no employment law grounds for suing (absent a contract we haven’t heard about or some other wrinkle that hasn’t come up). And if you keep somebody like this on, it’s likely to hurt your organization a lot more than the slender possibility of a lawsuit.

          1. Contessa*

            I’m constantly saying this to people–even if you’re right, it doesn’t mean no one will sue you anyway.

            1. LBK*

              Exactly – and I always find myself reminding people that there’s a difference between being sued and being successfully sued. Most times when people threaten to sue, they’re going to fall into the first category.

              1. Ethyl*

                Yeah, I suspect people who threaten to sue rely a lot on the idea that the other person will settle rather than face the time/money/effort needed to deal with the lawsuit.

          2. Lily in NYC*

            Our eccentric neighbor tried to sue my parents because she decided they were putting ants in her garden. I miss that crazy old bat.

            1. Anon*

              *whispering* Well, were they putting ants in her garden? You can tell us, we won’t tell anyone.

              P.S. Snoopy McEnvelopeopener def needs to be fired asap.

          3. Sarahnova*

            Hey, *I* feel like I’m owed a puppy for my work. Anyone got a good lawyer’s number?

    3. Purple Dragon*

      Even in Australia, where it’s often hard to fire someone, this would result in immediate firing and the employee being frog-marched out of the building.

      I’m just speechless that anyone would even think to do that.

        1. C.C.*

          As another fellow Aussie – and having worked all over Europe as well – I can’t think of anywhere that this isn’t cause for immediate dismissal.

      1. Mallory*

        I know — it makes me wonder WTF is wrong with the employee that she would even do such a thing. I don’t know what it is, but something is wrong with her. Maybe she thinks she’s safe from firing bc she’s in California?

  10. Anon Accountant*

    #1- Why wasn’t she fired that day? Is there any confidential info she has access to that she may disclose to others that she shouldn’t?

    Not that it changes the fact that her behavior was wrong but did she say why she opened peoples pay envelopes?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I think OP was checking on the legality of firing someone for this. Since employees can legally discuss their salaries, then there MIGHT be some argument to be made that they can do this.

      Luckily there is not.

  11. Shell*


    Wow. If I were the OP, the only way to resolve this is firing the coworker. This is such a blatant disregard for privacy, integrity, and professional behaviour. And if for some bizarre reason the company doesn’t see fit to fire the coworker over this, I’d take that as a sign to leave because management obviously has their collective heads shoved somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      Exactly. If my salary was discovered by a peer and then shared to other peers, I can promise you that I would be looking that very day. Beyond the unforgivable breach of privacy, I’d feel like I was being judged by those around me that I was making too much or too little. The only thing that would settle me down would be swift and firm action by management.

      Also, I notice that the OP suggested that the employee could have simply asked. What company would that have even been OK at? Every company I have ever been at, from small startups to one of the largest employers in the United States, has urged employees to keep compensation matters confidential. If someone asked, I wouldn’t feel violated as the employees who had their paystubs open must feel, but I would quickly address the issue of a busybody getting in my personal business with the offender, my boss, and HR if need be.

      1. Shell*

        I’ve worked at places where everyone roughly knew where everyone else was on the payscale, due to very rigid pay bands, so there was rarely a need to ask. That said, while people generally don’t ask (since they have an idea), it wasn’t against any rule to ask for specifics. The boss and/or HR would be very unlikely to intervene if the offense was as innocuous as asking for your salary.

      2. NW Cat Lady*

        Why would HR get involved in this? Or even your boss? It’s not illegal to ask about co-workers’ salaries; in fact, it’s one of the few things protected by law. You might not want to share, and that’s certainly your prerogative, but getting your boss and HR involved seems way out of proportion.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          It may seem like an overreaction but I feel it necessary to let my management and HR know whenever someone is behaving in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

          This is a NYOB question that ranks up there with “why don’t you have children” or other personal questions. If telling the offender to knock it off doesn’t work, you better believe I’m telling my manager or HR that someone is overstepping.

          1. KerryOwl*

            You would alert HR if someone asked if you were planning to have children? Or just if they kept pestering you about it?

            1. GrumpyBoss*

              Pestering. A single innocuous comment wouldn’t warrant anything more than, “I prefer not to discuss such things”. But again, if it continued (and for me this is a soft spot because it got out of hand once where a coworker would leave brochures about adoption on my desk when I refused to engage her in these conversations), you better believe I’d let someone know that a coworker was creating an unprofessional situation that was making me uncomfortable.

              I put financial, religious, and political conversations in the same bucket. It isn’t appropriate to discuss with me unless we are very close and I would always try to resolve myself before escalating.

              1. Joey*

                Why though does discussing pay make you uncomfortable? There’s really no reason that it should. Isn’t comparing the terms of employment something that helps employees ultimately?

                1. fposte*

                  My salary’s public, and I still don’t really want to hash it out with random co-workers. And I think regardless of the subject, a co-worker who won’t let an inquiry drop is asking for trouble.

                2. Nichole*

                  I can see your point in theory, but in practice it’s not really GrumpyBoss’ responsibility to help other employees compare their employment terms. There are resources available for general comparison. I agree with fposte that if you ask and get rebuffed, it means you don’t have that type of relationship and you back off. As a general practice, I’m also pro-transparency if it might be helpful to someone, but I get that not every person is like that in general, and no one is like that with every issue.

                3. Joey*

                  Still doesn’t answer why its uncomfortable. Just because?

                  And I’m not suggesting he do it for the benefit of other co workers. I’m suggesting it for his own benefit.

                4. LD*

                  Lots of things make people uncomfortable. Just because knowing the information might be helpful doesn’t necessarily make it “comfortable” to discuss. Different strokes for different folks. If the non-work-related topic makes Grumpyboss uncomfortable and Grumpyboss says I prefer not to discuss, then stop discussing with Grumpyboss. Simple and respectful.

                5. Barney Stinson*

                  I’ve worked in compensation analysis/management for thirty years, and I do not believe in pay transparency.

                  I believe in pay translucence, I guess: post the grades for everyone’s position, and the salary ranges. A good compensation manager can show why one job is graded higher than another with survey data.

                  But individual pay within that range is based on the employee’s ability to negotiate a starting rate, the need of the company when filling the position, but more importantly, your pay can only be understood completely by knowing performance appraisals and merit or other increases. Those are items that must never be shared.

                  So yeah: talking about my own pay (or yours, if someone other than your boss asked me) would certainly make me uncomfortable. If asked, I wouldn’t share.

                6. fposte*

                  @Joey–I think it’s considered pretty personal for a lot of people. I think the fact that openness might be helpful doesn’t make a subject less uncomfortable, because discomfort isn’t just because of the belief that sharing will cause injury, it’s because it’s not to personal taste.

                  I mean, I’m also not discussing my colonoscopies with co-workers.

                7. KrisL*

                  Maybe GrumpyBoss’s pay is none of anyone’s business, and GB doesn’t like getting hassled about it? Seems reasonable to me.

      3. A Dispatcher*

        I guess they can “urge” or suggest that employees don’t discuss salary, but they can’t outright forbid it or punish employees for discussing it (I believe they can regulate you don’t discuss it on work time though). It’s protected by the FLSA.

        That said, what the coworker in #1s letter is ridiculous and absolutely not any kind of protected action. I agree with those who are saying this is probably just too much of an offense to not fire her, or at least have very serious ramifications.

        1. Jeff*

          Just clarifying- it is the NLRA which prohibits employers stifling this sort of discussion of working conditions among employees. The FLSA does not address this.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, technically it’s illegal for companies to forbid (most, but not all) workers from discussing pay with each other. (That law is violated all the time, obviously; loads of companies have policies preventing those discussions, but they’re illegal policies. Which the companies generally don’t realize.)

        1. Rebecca*

          That’s why I love this blog. I’ve been told that I could be fired for discussing my compensation with a coworker, from day 1. My boss points this out over and over. One of these days, when she returns from vacation, there’s going to be a copy of the federal guidelines sitting on her chair.

        2. Steve*

          May I ask why the “most, but not all” qualifier? There are some situations where they really CAN prohibit it?

          1. LBK*

            Yes, there are certain employers and roles that are exempt from the NLRA. From their website:

            Who is covered?

            Most employees in the private sector are covered by the NLRA. However, the Act specifically excludes individuals who are:

            ■employed by Federal, state, or local government
            ■employed as agricultural laborers
            ■employed in the domestic service of any person or family in a home
            ■employed by a parent or spouse
            ■employed as an independent contractor
            ■employed as a supervisor (supervisors who have been discriminated against for refusing to violate the NLRA may be covered)
            ■employed by an employer subject to the Railway Labor Act, such as railroads and airlines
            ■employed by any other person who is not an employer as defined in the NLRA

            1. Rainy Day*

              That supervisor exception seems pretty broad — does that mean that anybody who officially supervises any other employees cannot discuss salary? That’s a huge number of employees.

              1. Natalie*

                It’s a shifting definition, but generally it’s not interpreted that broadly. One of the clear lines is hiring/firing – if you have that authority you’re not covered.

                1. Rainy Day*

                  Maybe my organization is especially management-heavy, but with the hiring/firing definition that’s still about 1/3 of the workforce — a lot of people that could be treated unfairly in terms of salary and not be permitted to discuss it (including myself!).

              2. Big Tom*

                In addition to what Natalie said already, even if someone is classified as a supervisor it doesn’t mean that they CAN’T discuss salary, just that they aren’t covered by the same protection under the NLRA. So a company could have a legal policy for those employees that prohibits them from discussing salary, whereas for NLRA-covered employees such a policy would not be legal.

      5. Mike C*

        Whoa, whoa whoa.

        While the actions of the employee in #1 are the actions of a crazy person who should be fired right now, there are really, really good reasons why pay should be internally known.

        Look up Lily Ledbetter if you don’t believe me.

        1. Ethyl*

          Yup. I understand it’s uncomfortable and not something people usually discuss, but the protection of that discussion is there for a reason. (If someone is pestering you or making you feel uncomfortable with asking about it, that’s a whole other thing.)

        2. JCC*

          Would people’s opinions change from, “what a terrible breach of trust”, I wonder, if her snooping found that people were being underpaid due to their gender (or race, or other protected class)?

      6. LQ*

        I work for the government (in the US you can find any government employee’s salary so NO there isn’t a law against having that be public) so all my salary data is public, before this I worked for nonprofits, again public. I don’t care that people know how much I make. I personally prefer it.

        Keeping it confidential is just so that the company doesn’t have to worry about Sally being mad that her salary is less than Joe’s and if Sally finds out that her and Sue’s salaries are less than Joe and John and Jacks that Sally and Sue might sue for discrimination.

        (I would however be completely horrified of the total breach of privacy, ssn, medical, garnishment, etc etc on the paystub ALL private data and if this happened at my organization this would be one of the only things someone could be fired for on the spot.)

        1. Anonalicious*

          Keeping it confidential is just so that the company doesn’t have to worry about Sally being mad that her salary is less than Joe’s and if Sally finds out that her and Sue’s salaries are less than Joe and John and Jacks that Sally and Sue might sue for discrimination.

          This. The law wants people to be able to talk about their pay so that things can be fair, but most of my experience shows it just ends up being drama over why Jane is paid more than me.

        2. AVP*

          Egads, garnishment information would be particularly mortifying to me. When I was very young and had only been working for a year or two, the IRS tried to garnish the wages of a freelancer that I was working with and I had to handle it – I felt so bad and cringed through the entire process.

      7. Concerned*

        What about with company morale? I’m assuming that this woman’s co-workers are going to give her the cold shoulder or their attitudes toward her would never be the same. Has she apologized or shown any regret over what she’s done?

      8. Observer*

        If HR knew their business, they would sent you packing – it is illegal for any workplace to prevent people from discussing pay.

        The only issue would be is someone is harassing you – or as in this case, violating your privacy.

      9. Artemesia*

        Policies to prevent sharing of this information are largely in place so businesses can prevent workers from working together to request more adequate compensation. And of course as Lilly Ledbetter found, they are in place so businesses can discriminate against women. There is no virtue in a business requiring people to keep salaries confidential.

        Of course individuals are entitled to not share what they don’t want to share.

  12. Ann Furthermore*

    #1: If I were the paycheck snooper’s co-worker, and watched her NOT get fired after violating everyone’s privacy, I’d start wondering exactly what it would take to get fired by this company. Good god.

    A few years ago I worked on an implementation of a new HR system. As the only dedicated IT person on the team, I was authorized to access confidential information. But I NEVER snooped through anyone’s information, and only looked at it when I was trying to figure something out. I used my own record for testing in almost all cases, and when that wouldn’t suffice I went out of my way to use the record of someone I didn’t know.

    My reasons for this were that there’s some information I’m happier not knowing, and my co-workers’ salaries are definitely on that list, and also, I’d be pretty pissed off if someone was snooping through my confidential information, so I owed everyone the courtesy of not doing the same. Plus it’s insanely unethical.

    I still have access to all that information, and I still never access it unless there’s a need. Never even peeked at the termination reason for the Worst Boss Ever.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      You have a stronger sense of self-control than I do (re: termination reason.)

      I did have a boss leave his W2 tax form sitting out while he was gone on extended leave (for non-US people – this has lots of personal and salary info on it). I actually surprised myself by being able to shred it* without looking at his pay.

      I’m very curious by nature – I don’t ever actively snoop but I do catch myself reading things that are visible to me, but not intended for me, all the time. It’s an instinctive habit I really need to break.

      *He could access it online/print it out at any time, so I wasn’t depriving him of a crucial tax document.

      1. Brittany*

        At OldJob, I was in the process of buying my current home with my husband. I had to fax something to my lender, so I used the company fax machine to do so, with permission. I took the fax confirmation and copy of what I was faxing, which included lots of personal information about myself and my husband. Unbeknownst to me, the fax machine had printed out a rare 2nd confirmation, which was then given to me by someone in HR. At first, I was thankful she was the one who had discovered it, since she was in HR and deals with confidential info all the time…until she said something about my how much my husband made and other inappropriate comments to which I then realized that she read the *entire* thing. My name was at the very top so it would have been easy for her to slip it in a folder and leave it on my desk without rooting through everything.

        After that, I never trusted HR again and there is a reason that it’s OldJob.

      2. Ann Furthermore*

        Believe me, the temptation is sometimes overwhelming. Most of the time though, I don’t think about the fact that I have it, and like I said above, I’d be pretty steamed if I found out someone was doing that with my information, and that everyone is entitled to that expectation of privacy.

        Also, I’m a big believer in karma, so I’m pretty sure if I was a snooper, there would be some kind of payback for that transgression down the road.

        1. Artemesia*

          I’d probably read something that fell into my hands like this — snoopy and all — but I sure as heck wouldn’t discuss it with the person involved or the world at large.

          1. SherryD*

            Maybe you wouldn’t though. :) My boss’s boss once accidentally printed my boss’s annual performance review to my work station. She emailed me right away to shred it, and I did so without reading a word. Was I curious? Very! I’m human. But any information in those pages wouldn’t have done me any good. Not to mention it would be a major betrayal of my boss and my boss’s boss.

    2. Anonalicious*


      I was involved the exact same kind of project and did the exact same things. I used myself for the majority of testing by just changing my job and statuses a lot. I see that information every day and my brain just treats like any other data. I don’t care how much my coworkers make because their money doesn’t go in my bank account or affect my life.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I handled personnel and financial records at two different jobs and frankly, anything past what I had to deal with (filing documents, tracking work-related physical testing) wasn’t any of my business. I didn’t care, either. It just boggles my mind why the employee felt the need to open all those envelopes.

    4. SherryD*

      Good for you, Ann Furthermore. I’m probably preaching to the converted, but, people, don’t snoop ! It’s understandable to be CURIOUS about coworkers’ pay, benefits, and performance reviews — surely we all are, to an extent. But not only is seeking this information a violation of THEIR privacy, you might stumble across something you would have been happier not knowing. What if you found out your idiot coworker made more than you, or received a more laudatory performance review? You’d be pissed, and there would be jack squat you could do about it.

    5. Agile Phalanges*

      I trained in and helped run payroll as the backup person, which sometimes meant spot-checking to make sure things were right, and sometimes (first payroll run after benefits changed, bonus runs, etc.) meant checking every single figure on every single paycheck. But I tried to keep my brain as open and sieve-like as possible during that sort of scrutiny so I wouldn’t retain much of the knowledge from those tasks. It worked–I had a pretty good sense of who made more/less than who, which I had even before I had access to those numbers, just from job title, etc., but didn’t remember specific data.

      I also learned that not all garnishments mean someone went really into default and therefore sucks at personal finance–some people had them set up voluntarily, such as child support just paid person-to-person, not through the state, and of course even the state/IRS-mandated ones have a backstory I don’t know (and is none of my business).

  13. kas*

    #1. This is upsetting, I cannot stand nosy people. I would’ve lost it (while trying to remain professional) if I found out she opened my paycheque and then had the nerve to announce it. She can no longer be trusted, clearly does not know right from wrong and should be fired.

  14. Kiwi*

    #1: Another concern is that this boundary-lacking struggling employee (soon to be unemployed) potentially has a gold-mine of personal information – and knows who the best earners are! Do these payslips include the employee’s SS#?

    As the employer, I’d be firing her immediately and would look into offering a period of complementary credit monitoring to those affected. As the employee, I’d be getting myself some credit monitoring even if I had to pay for it myself.

    1. CK*

      This. Absolutely. Given the potential for this snoopy person (or anyone else with access to the mail room that is perhaps more covert) to become an identity thief – she now has people’s names, addresses, social security numbers – a lot of damage can happen with that information in the wrong hands.

    2. Stephanie*

      Oof, bank account numbers as well (if the company does direct deposit). Tell employees to monitor their bank accounts!

  15. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. I think I once accidently opened somebody’s personal bank statement when I was doing the post, but then I gave a horrified apology, and made sure to pay more attention the next time.

    2. The period between March and April can be pretty hectic in companies (year end tax forms, AGMs, approval of annual accounts) so perhaps this might account for the delay. Also, the time around Easter is when people might be on holiday.

    1. Anonymint*

      I used to be responsible for the mail at OldJob and had to open up every envelope that didn’t have a name on it in order to know who to pass it on to, and BOY did I see a lot of interesting information (some financial, some legal – my OldJob had lots of lawsuits against them that somehow they were able to keep quiet!). I could never imagine blabbing about what I saw and still keeping my job!

      Although, I did have a coworker who would go through the mail before I got in and open up anything he thought might be a check and take it to his office (he was in fundraising) not matter what the check was for or who it was addressed to. He kept a detailed spreadsheet of the information on the check (again, not matter what the check was for or who it was made out to) and sometimes hold onto them for weeks before passing them along for processing.

  16. Stephanie*

    #1: Ok, wow. Crazy Town. OldJob’s HR Manager accidentally left some people’s salary information in the copier tray once. Some people were displeased, to put it mildly.

    #2: Actually, I glanced at the bulletin board of a coffee shop today to see if there was anything of interest. I wouldn’t say I’d look for a CFO job there, but I do see extra money-making gigs on occasion. Try campus career center bulletin boards as well, perhaps at a health center campus? I found a personal assistant job one summer in college that way.

    #5: I wonder why they’d need volunteers, but not advertise? Just to keep the potential pool small?

    1. majigail*

      Some nonprofits don’t have volunteer coordinators, but need volunteers so they don’t advertise. Or they need them, but don’t actually want to deal with them. Other places simply rely solely on word of mouth. Others only take volunteers certain times of year. It could be that OP5 doesn’t know that they do advertise on places like volunteermatch.com or idealist or once a year in church bulletins, it’s just that she doesn’t see them.

      1. OP #5*

        I worked with academics, not at a charity. We never advertised for volunteers, partly because it wasn’t anyone’s job to coordinate this. No-one had the time to read multiple applications and interview candidates, never mind supervise volunteers who need training in database management. Also because the jobs that needed doing were incredibly dull and didn’t teach any useful skills (data entry/database management, etc.), so it seemed slightly unethical to ask people to do them for free. My sister already has the training. It just so happens that she needs some low pressure work right now, to build up her confidence and references while she job hunts.

    2. Mallory*

      #1 — The juiciest thing I ever found left in a copier tray was an email from my boss’ counterpart (head of another of our school’s three departments) outlining a plan to demand the replacement of the director of our department’s outreach unit with someone with a degree from his (the other dept. head’s) degree/profession. I just left it there and thought, “Knock yourself out” and “good luck with that.”

    3. Red Librarian*

      Several organizations in my city, including where I volunteer, have information on their website but don’t actively recruit. I wonder if it’s a way to filter and be sure to get someone who really wants to volunteer there in that the person has to do the work of going to the website and contacting the non-profit directly.

      1. OP #5*

        We had a similar setup. It wasn’t really to filter applicants, just that no-one had the time or resources to recruit in the traditional manner. If someone applied, we’d forward their CV around the department, and see if anyone thought they could use this particular person on a project. If you advertise for a volunteer, you have to read through lots of applications, probably hold interviews, etc. If the volunteers contact you, saying what they’d like to work on, when they are free, and what there skills are, you can quickly decide whether there is anything they could help you with. We had no need for general volunteers, but if someone turned up with a specialist background, such as being able to translate articles into a particular language, or technical expertise, we might ask them to work on a specific project for a while. I’d guess this is common in academia and non-profits where resources are often stretched incredibly tight.

  17. Weasel007*

    #1 not only would I fire her immediately, I’d do it with cause. No unemployment for her. She has to understand what she has done is absolutely unacceptable. In fact, if she had done this to mail that had been processed by the postal service, there would be crimes involved!!

  18. Chris*

    What’s most fascinating about this, and is further reason you should fire her immediately, is that she was so nonchalant about it. The fact that she didn’t realize this was an absolutely insane breach of privacy and common sense raises huge alarm bells. I can see someone sneaking around for their own weird nosiness. Still fireable, but at least it would be a vaguely human attitude. But to calmly announce everyone’s salaries, and then explain that she had opened everyones stubs…. wow. That’s just bonkers.

    I don’t care how good of an employee she is. The lack of awareness and common sense shows that she isn’t someone you want sticking around the company, even without considering the unethical actions.

    1. Jen RO*

      Exactly. I am usually less harsh than the average AAM commenter, but in this case I have to say that she should be fired yesterday!

    2. FiveNine*

      I am trying to imagine what on earth was going through her mind. She almost had to be in some strange mode where she felt aggrieved and on a mission to be able to justify everything she did with no thought of the consequences.

      1. Kiwi*

        She may be the type of person who offends openly, takes the consequences each time and just waits for the perfect environment where people say nothing … then think everyone else thinks it’s fine … then no one ever says anything. Over time it becomes “oh, that’s just the way she is”. Grooming. Eventually she’ll find the perfect victims and go to town.

        Possibly. She may just be an idiot.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          I worked with someone once that just seemed to feel everyone’s financial business should be public. She would ask in a public setting what you paid for your outfit, your car, your house. I mentioned once that I had a nephew in a prestigious private school and she decided that my sister-in-law was loaded and asked during a meeting what her net worth was. She had serious boundary and jealousy issues. The employee in #1 reminds me of her.

      2. Diet Coke Addict*

        I don’t even think she was necessarily aggrieved–I’ve known people who just had no sense of boundaries whatsoever, and would not balk at looking into other people’s employment files, salary records, etc., if the chance presented itself. No reason–not like they were going to do anything with it–just pure idle curiosity.

      3. Sydney Bristow*

        Do you think she saw that employees cannot be prohibited from discussing their salary and took it way too far thinking that meant she had a right to know what everyone made and the fastest way to do that was to look at everyone’s paystubs? I’m completely dumbfounded by the entire situation.

        1. Maggie*

          I thought the same thing. Someone came here, read an article then took it upon herself to get the info. My other thought was that she is new to the workforce and has a role in which she regularly goes through the mail or other confidential documentation and her direct leader never taught her about confidentiality. It she’s just a jerk.

    3. Sunflower*

      I completely agree. This is totally mind baffling. I can also understand nosiness and while this person would be fired regardless of how I found out, her not trying to defend herself or anything just shocks me. If I had done something as sneaky as this, I would make sure NO ONE knew so the fact that she went around announcing it is so incredibly bizarre. Do you even think she realizes her job is in major jeopardy???

    4. AVP*

      I know somebody like this and it doesn’t surprise me at all. I don’t have to work with her though, luckily.

  19. Sharm*

    The comments so far for #1 make me wonder — was it really so bad for the OP to check legality concerns before firing the employee? This seems like a case that warrants it, as others have said, but unless you’re well-versed in employment law, wouldn’t it be better to wait? Genuine question — as someone who wants to be a manager someday, I worry about situations like these where I’m not good in the moment but decisive action may be needed.

    This situation reminds me of a time when I had received my paycheck at a new job. I was reviewing it, and put it under my keyboard while looking at something on my screen. It is possible part of it was visible, but I thought I was being discreet. A member of my team walked by, saying hi. I don’t know how she did this, but apparently, she got upset and told my colleague she was mad about my flaunting my paycheck (and presumably higher wage?) around. It was utterly bizarre. Our mutual colleague came over to me and very condescendingly said I should be more careful about my check.

    I get that I could have looked at it in private. But I was at my cube! And it was on my desk as I worked over it! I wasn’t being blatant about it. I learned my lesson, but such an overreaction.

    1. Jen RO*

      I think that the OP was right in waiting before firing the employee. (But I would have gone to HR, not AAM! As cool as Alison is, a company’s HR department is probably more suited to advise in an issue such as this).

      Sharm, your coworkers were nuts.

      1. Sharm*

        Tell me about it. That was the only job I left after 6 months. They had three rounds of layoffs, the CEO resigned, and there was all kinds of executive management turnover. A colleague of mine told me the execs were telling her to fudge the numbers (i.e. revenues, margins, etc.) and that’s when I knew I had to get out, even if it meant having to deal with questions as to why I left them so soon.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think it’s because so many employers are small enough that they don’t have HR (it might even be the majority of employers, when you consider how many small businesses there are). They should still have a relationship with an employment lawyer, but many (again, I’d guess the majority) don’t.

        1. AVP*

          Thinking back, out of maybe 10 total freelance / long-term / temp jobs I’ve had in my career, I think maybe 2 had an HR department. Right now we don’t have HR, and while we have relationships with several lawyers, none of them do employment law (although I’d guess they could refer us to someone if needed).

          Honestly I end up sort of functioning as my company’s HR out of default, and everything I know about it I’ve learned from this blog. I really hope we don’t do something accidentally egregious and get sued!

          1. AVP*

            PS, you all would have been very proud of me the day that I pointed out that our non-exempt receptionist needed to be paid overtime. It was sort of a crowning achievement, since no one had ever heard of exempt or non-exempt and I got to explain that too!

        2. Chinook*

          I have to agree – most of my jobs have never had a an HR department and 1 of them had HR centralized out of the US to deal with Canadians (atleast theyw ere in California, so they were used to exceptions). Right now, technically my cat is the HR of my company since I am a contractor and I have decided the cat needs to work for his food (and the dog is senile, so he would make very poor decisions).

          1. Vancouver Reader*

            Your dog might make some better decisions than some managers out there. At least your dog wouldn’t be pounding on people’s doors after they’ve already had a long shift at work.

    2. Nina*

      I definitely don’t see a problem in checking first. I would rather be certain that this employee doesn’t have some legal technicality to fall back on to keep from being fired.

      1. Sharm*

        Exactly! Good to know. Even with at-will employment, it seems like sometimes there are loopholes.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      To answer your question, absolutely yes, 100% of the time you should believe you are legally clear to fire somebody before you do.

      A company needs to either have internal resources (good HR dept) or external resources (an employment lawyer on retainer whom you can call for an all clear if you are in doubt).

      If a company lacks those resources 1 or 2 (or both) of these things happen – 1) firing someone under circumstances that leaves the company legitimately open to suit, 2) not firing someone who should be fired because of uncertainty over legality.

      Responsibility to have these resources available to managers is at the very top of the corp.

      1. Joey*

        I don’t think there’s ever a time where you’re 100% sure. There are always potential risks. It’s about minimizing the risks and weight the cost/benefit. For example I might fire someone knowing that there’s the potential legal exposure because the drain they’re putting on the business outweighs the potential costs.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Agreed. 100% of the time you should believe you are legally clear (of having done something that violates a law).

          You can’t hire an employee let alone fire one without legal exposure.

          If you term someone who is over 50, example, they could absolutely sue you (or writer lawyers letters re) age discrimination. Jersey is a trial lawyer favorable state and we get lots of cards and letters.

          That doesn’t mean that you don’t term someone who needs to be termed but you make sure, to the best of your ability and the resources that you have, you aren’t doing something in the process to give grounds to the suit. If the last four people you fired were over 50, and everybody else in the office is 30 and under, it is *not* a good idea and you don’t term this guy until you get some good counsel.

          That’s what I mean.

    4. Amanda*

      I don’t think there’s anything bad about checking legality of firing someone, but that wasn’t the OPs question. They seemed to be concerned about whether they should do ANYTHING at all (“and I’m wondering what repercussions we can place, if any, to the offending employee”), and given how egregious an action this offence was, that seems very odd to me. If their question had been “this employee did this and we want to fire them for it, is that legal?” I think the comments would have been very different. It’s the tentativeness and the implication that maybe they shouldn’t do anything that bothers me.

      And I would have gone straight to HR to check the legality and then deal with this FAST, rather than emailing AAM. The delay in dealing with this is not sending a good message to the rest of the employees.

      1. Jeff*

        I think the OP is being rational, given the location. Writing to AAM does not necessarily mean delay. She said there has been an email exchange. Once I wrote with a question, and had a reply within hours. I don’t think the question ever made the blog, though- it was pretty mundane. Quite likely, action could have been taken against the employee before this question was even posted.

        1. Amanda*

          Well, yes, it might have been. And I would hope it was. But there is no guarantee that the letter to AAM will receive a response at all. Let alone a swift one. And in the meantime? Given how unsure the OP is in the letter, I have no reason to think they acted promptly. I do hope things were handled IRL in a more decisive and effective manner than the letter here implies, but I very much doubt it.

          1. Kelly L.*

            But if she didn’t hear back from Alison right away, how do we know she wouldn’t have just proceeded without Alison? We don’t know if AAM is the only person she consulted before making a decision.

            1. Tinker*

              I actually think it falls under nitpicking OPs rather a lot — although I don’t think that’s anyone’s intent, it basically reduces to criticizing the person for not knowing the very thing they wrote in to ask.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I think it started as a kind of interesting discussion of the mechanics of submitting a letter here, but it seems to have devolved into criticizing the OP for submitting a question, so yeah, we should leave this be.

        2. Kelly L.*

          This. My guess is that Alison responded quickly in private and then posted the question and answer publicly, later, to help others who might be in the same situation.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        eh, it depends on the structures in place and your previous experience. Smaller companies often don’t have good support systems for managers and larger companies may have obstructionist systems rather than supportive ones.

        It’s not odd to me that a manager with little previous firing experience and a not great support system would pause in a situation this outlandish.

        1. Amanda*

          Pause, sure. Check, ask for clarification, consult a lawyer, talk to HR, escalate it to a higher-up, OK.

          Write to AAM to ask if they should do ANYTHING? That seems very odd to me.

        2. GrumpyBoss*

          I once worked for a Fortune 100 that would take months to fire someone. I had an employee do something very similar to #1, but it was at the electronic level. He then put salary data for a thousand employees in a spreadsheet and put it on a public file sharing website account. By the time I went through all of HR and Legal’s checks and balances, it was nearly 10 weeks even though I addressed it within hours. Hell, we got a cease and desist order to the website to have the info removed before the guy was walked out.

          I’m no lawyer, but I always wondered how easy it would be to argue wrongful termination on this one. If it was such an egregious offense, why was he allowed to remain at the company for nearly another quarter?

          1. Lora*

            One of my clients never fires ANYONE. Ever. For anything. They just shuffle them into a department they can easily staff with contractors to do the actual work, and all the dysfunctional people end up in one place. They churned through five people a year in one low-level management position. My employer got called in to help because the department had screwed up their legal obligations so badly that the company got fined a LOT of money, forfeited their profits from two products, thereby dropping the stock price low enough that they had a hostile takeover from some very angry investors.

            1. Chinook*

              “They just shuffle them into a department they can easily staff with contractors to do the actual work, and all the dysfunctional people end up in one place. ”

              There was a theory in the Canadian military that they did the same thing – officers were very difficult to fire (they had warrants from the Queen that would have to be pulled) but they could assign you to a job so boring/useless in a place where you do little damage so you would eventually quit (think being told to scan all the old files in a file room – it is a necessary job but a very, very low priority one). This theory went a long way to explain some of the officers DH met as a clerk in Headquarters and some of the jobs they were assigned to do.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Wrongful termination doesn’t mean you were fired unfairly, though. It means you were fired for an illegal reason — something discriminatory, or so forth.

      3. StarHopper*

        In addition to what Jeff and Wakeen have mentioned, I also think that there are certain situations that are just so beyond the pale, some people don’t know how to react properly.

    5. majigail*

      Agree with the other posters, it’s cheaper and less time consuming to consult a lawyer on the specifics and be sure than be hit with a lawsuit… even if you win.
      That said, in this case, the call and investigation should happen pretty quickly. It’s very easy to let these things drag out and then all of the sudden that person’s back to being an ok employee who did something bad 5 months ago and it’s very difficult to do any discipline that far out.

    6. BB*

      Firing on the spot seems the same as quitting on the spot- it’s one of those things that feels amazing to think about doing but you would never actually do it because it’s just better to not. Even if I caught an employee stealing red handed, I would still check with HR or a higher up. Working in food service, I’ve seen more than a few coworkers get fired for stealing and, IME, they are rarely fired after the first time. It’s often only after some time of watching them and maintaining a record that I’ve seen the hammer finally come down. As long as the process isn’t a long investigation and the issue is handled relatively quickly, I don’t see any downside in waiting.

      1. BB*

        Of course, these incidents are not as blatant as ‘I saw Shane take $60 out of register’. It’s dealing more with cheating the internal system/not ringing in proper prices

  20. Chloe*

    I was once sent an excel spreadsheet that including, among information I needed, the pay of every single person in the company. I printed it out without realising, and when I went to collect it off the printer, nearly fell over. It had just been sitting on the printer, for 10 mins or so, completely available for anyone to see.


    1. H. Rawr*

      I once sent a spreadsheet to a C level employee which included SSN and pay info for everyone under him, which he sent (without looking) to all of his direct reports. Somehow I ended up in the hot seat for that one though…

    2. annie*

      A friend of mine once got an attachment that instead of being the info he needed, was a list of the names of people who were being considered for layoffs, ranked. His name was on there too as a “maybe layoff”! He knew it was a terrible error and immediately went to his supervisor to try to contain it because he is a good-hearted ethical guy, but it turned out it was sent to everyone on his team (about 10 people) so it caused total chaos. The company basically stopped operating for the last quarter of the year because everyone was looking for new jobs or feeling demoralized. The person who sent it and the owners/managers were horrified and apologetic, but there’s not much that can be done in that situation, especially since the layoffs were in limbo for about two more months.

  21. bullyfree*

    1. If the employee is not fired, it will surely embolden her. Sometimes when employees do something shocking like this, no one wants to say anything to them, manager or otherwise – that’s been my experience. To be silent equals agreement or approval in the minds of people like that. Their behavior most likely will continue and get worse. Whether she is fired or not, I’m concerned about her motivation for doing what she did and if she will use that information to cause problems for people.

  22. Proud Socialist*

    #1 – Even though I think firing someone should be a last resort, what this employee did was completely unacceptable and she needs to be fired immediately.
    On a more practical level, this situation shouldn’t have been allowed to happen in the first place. This employee ought not to have had the opportunity to do this; either the paycheques need to be handed to people personally, or posted to their home address. Depending on the size of the company, it’s possible to have them on the intranet with employees having their own password to access them.

    1. kas*

      I agree, the paycheques should not be so easily accessible. My work hands it to you directly and I immediately put it away. I could see someone going to their mailbox to get their cheque only for it to be “missing.” Definitely not a good idea.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        In my experience, the payslips have been posted straight to my home address.

        1. Kelly L.*

          In my experience, you can choose: work mailbox, or home address. In recent years everything’s direct deposit, so you choose where the stub goes.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            We got ours handed out at Exjob, until the parent company did away with the paper stubs (we had direct deposit, but BossWife liked to give them out). At NewJob, they’re electronic and you have to log in to get them. No one else has access to them.

            1. AVP*

              I like this image you’re giving me of a paystub ceremony, with BossWife showing up only to hand them out formally with flowers and music in the background.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  Oh man, I worked for someone like that once. Handing out paychecks was like the queen visiting her subjects and bestowing upon them great favors. It was ridiculous.

                2. Stephanie*


                  HA. CEOWife at OldJob was exactly like that. Her handing out the pay stubs was an Bimonthly Event.

        2. Judy*

          I haven’t received payslips at work since maybe 1992. But even then the manager walked around and handed them to us. And that company started mailing them before I left.

        3. Sydney Bristow*

          In my professional jobs they have either been handed to the employee directly, mailed to our homes, or available online with your personal username and password (my favorite option).

          When I worked fast food though, they were all just in envelopes taped to the fridge in the back where you could just go grab it yourself. I was 16 though and didn’t think anything of it at the time. I wonder if they still do it.

  23. BRR*

    #1 now that’s a wtf wednesday

    #3 We’ve had a similar situation at my company, posted a job in march, haven’t even phone screened. It’s a new position so they aren’t in a rush to hire (I’m not sure why they’re taking this long though). Maybe you could phrase it in a way in how are this position’s duties being completed? But I think the reason you want to ask is because it feels rude of the employer to wait this long. What are you hoping to get from it?

    1. OP #3*

      It’s a high middle management/relatively senior position (or at least appears to be, the job description had very little information about the pre-requisites . . . ). I don’t feel offended, but I do wonder if they just started interviewing, if they interviewed and then had someone they offered the job to not work out really quickly, etc. I do also wonder if it says something about the organziation as a whole, so I think Alison’s suggestion would work.

  24. GVT*

    #3 Sometimes it depends on what industry and company the person is interview for. I work at a university and have been on search committees so this kind of thing happens all the time.

    For example, a job is posted on January, the deadline to apply is February and interviews won’t start until March or April (depending on the urgency of the department to fill the position), then the offer and the actual hiring. Sometimes it could take as long a May for everything to be completed. By that time, the candidate or candidates may have found another job elsewhere. I understand where this person is coming from and it wouldn’t hurt to ask them in the manner like Alison suggested.

    The reason for this? Our university Equal Opportunity Department has rules as to the way departments job advertising, selection process, interviewing procedure and hiring should be. It’s a pain, yes yet the university wants to make sure the department selects the “best qualified person” for the job. And most of the time this is NOT always the case.

    1. BRR*

      I applied for a job at a public university. I got a phone screen right away. Then 3 months later a call asking if I was still interested, no further timeline, just wanted to know if I was still looking (they said the state held them up). Then another call a month later asking the same. I had accepted another offer at that point. 5 months into my new job I got an email saying I was rejected and they had filled the position. I had a good laugh at that one.

      1. GVT*

        @BRR, it is quite comical!

        Although, “the state held them up” comment, has some validity to it. I worked at a public university equal opportunity office as a graduate assistant and there are state and federal rules and regs that most universities have to abide by to make sure all individuals, who apply, are given equal consideration. Why? As weird as this may sound, they don’t want to get sued for discrimination, basically.

        When I worked there, you wouldn’t believe the number of forms that had to be reviewed, signed by various directors and department heads, and filed during the course of the interview and hiring process. I’ve been on several search committees where an offer was made and the candidate has found another job. And I don’t blame them at all! “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” lol!

  25. Brittany*

    I don’t have much to say other than what has already been covered except to echo that for #1, there is no way anyone in that company will have any kind of trust or sense of security if that person is not fired immediately. If she had done so by accident and been mortified after, that’s a situation for pause and thought process. But this was deliberate and then gloating after, almost like a petulant child who knows they did something bad and then tauntingly talk about it. This person clearly has no boundaries or ethical compass and they need to be let go.

    That being said, please update us on what happens!

  26. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #1

    As a manager, I would fire this person immediately. No ifs, ands, or buts. Not only did she look at everyone’s paystubs, she then TOLD people she did it! That’s a huge breach of trust and it shows she really doesn’t know right from wrong, or if she does, she just doesn’t care. This would make me wonder what else she’s doing.

    As an employee, if OP doesn’t fire this person I would be really upset and it would be a huge red flag about the employer. Also, I’d be pretty worried that the employee now has my SSN and would be worried as to what she’s going to do with it. I really think the empoyer needs to find a way to get those paystubs out of an easily accessible area and either make them available electronically or hand-deliver them to employees. Heck , mail them if you have to.

    I’m wondering if the employer should offer ID theft monitoring for a period of time to its employees. It was a security breach, afterall. I guess it depends on whether employees’ full SSNs are printed on the paystub. (I really hope not!)

  27. Brett*

    #1 I may be the only one, but I am wondering why the employee did this. As a public employee, I have access to enormous amounts of information about my co-workers. Other than SSN, if it was on your job application, I can get a copy of it. Every detail of your pay is available: your initial salary, every raise you received, which assignments you have worked, how many vacation days and sick hours you get and how many you have pooled (even which days you took in our state).

    While just may just seem like a vehicle for snooping, nosiness, and identity theft, one of the most important uses of this information is to build and support discrimination claims. Once you can actually see everyone’s salaries, work experience, education, and performance record, you start realizing just how common and widespread discrimination in pay can be. When you hide this information, pay discrimination becomes much more difficult to find.

    So, what was the employee’s motivation, especially considering she announced the pay too? Yes, you fire the employee because of the way she went about discovering this information. But I think you also look at what led to this happening and see if the perception of pay discrimination, or worse, a reality of pay discrimination, is what motivated her.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      This was just nosiness, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter if there is a huge pay discrepancy there – this was not some Norma Rae hero act. This was an employee who wanted to see what other coworkers made, was unable to resist temptation when she saw the paystubs, and then ran to tattle to other employees.

      1. Brett*

        We don’t know that was the motivation. Likely not even the OP knows what that employee’s motivations were.

        Had an incident happen in our workplace where an employee discovered discrimination (not pay discrimination) and then illegally released confidential information to the press on what he had discovered. His boss retaliated against him, fired him, and continued after he was fired to try to ruin his career. That employee’s motivations were branded in many ways, and none of them were “hero”.

        And so he filed a federal lawsuit, and his boss was fired, and my employer ended up under federal injunction. Our community reputation was permanently damaged because the employee’s actions were ignored, and ignored because of questions about his motivations.

        1. Observer*

          Here is the thing. If he had been fired but the company had also taken action on the information he uncovered, they probably would not have wound up under injunction.

          In both respects, his motivation doesn’t matter. He could be a hero, but still need to be fired. On the other hand, he could also be the biggest jerk out there, but his information is STILL actionable.

      2. Brett*

        ” It doesn’t matter if there is a huge pay discrepancy there”
        I just wanted to add… this does matter.

        It doesn’t matter as far as the employee goes. They should be fired either way. But if there is some huge discriminatory pay discrepancy, you cannot just ignore it because it was discovered in an incredibly unethical way.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          But that’s what we are talking about – her motivation does not matter. What she did was highly unethical and a whistleblower would not go about things in this immature manner.
          Think about it – what if I rob you because I like your necklace? Or what if I rob you because I am hungry and poor? One might have a better motivation but I am still a criminal and deserve to get punished. If I am hungry and poor there are other ways to get food than robbing people.

          1. Anna*

            Her motivation does matter (even in your example the court would take motivation in to consideration when deciding on punishment), however it’s what she did with the information that is more telling. If it were about discrimination, she probably wouldn’t have shared it with a few coworkers sitting in a break room. It seemed to have been just morbid curiosity or actually confirmation that her anger was justified.

    2. Stephanie*

      You’re not the only one. I was wondering if the employee had some legitimate pay inquiry, but went about it in an insane way.

    3. Allison*

      I don’t deny there are some very legitimate concerns about pay equality and discrimination issues these days, and it’s difficult to determine whether something like that is going on in someone’s company while operating within the bounds of normal behavior. But even if she did have legitimate reasons for being curious, you’d think she would’ve been more discreet about it and tried to cover her tracks. Even then, how would you reveal your findings without totally screwing yourself over? Even if someone was willing to sacrifice their career for the greater good, one would think their methods would overshadow their findings if the information became public.

      1. Brett*

        Like I mentioned above, when another employee in our organization did actions that were far worse than this (actions that were actually illegal), the findings greatly outweighed the actions.

        That employee’s career is still probably over, but he ended up taking down everyone responsible with him.

    4. Observer*

      It’s really not relevant what motivated her. She has the right to ask, and the company cannot stop her from dong that, or anyone from answering her. But, she has no right to information that people are not interested in giving her. In the case that she actually has a fairly solid case, she can, of course force the company to provide the relevant information (ie salary history, but not anything else such as deductions etc. that do show up on pay stubs, but are no one’s business.)

      In other words, she had no legitimate reason to want that information that she could not have satisfied appropriately.

    5. Mints*

      It doesn’t sound that way to me; in this case it sounds like nosiness.

      Brett, aren’t you the commenter who did a statistical analysis to find discrimination at your job? If she was actually looking for pay discrimination, I think it would have been more systematic, and sneaky. And she would have gone home to do math, and then come back with “B group is getting $X more than A group.” Since she just walked into the break room after and talked about it, it sounds like plain nosiness.

      Although the manager should definitely talk to her and ask why, I’d bet there’s no good reason

      1. Brett*

        Yep, I did exactly that, through the correct channels for a public sector employee.

        And I don’t think the employee’s actions here can be defended, but I also think the employer has to take a serious look at why an employee would do something like this, especially announcing the salaries to other employees.

  28. Technical Editor*

    #1 – I had a coworker open my stub that was ON MY DESK and then went around the company complaining that I made more than him. He thought engineers should make more than anyone else — UH NO. I complained to management, but all they did was promote him.

    Please fire this person. It’s a very serious offense.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      That sucks! I know common advice says not to use the tactic you mention when asking for a raise. I don’t mean opening a paystub. But at every place I’ve worked, going and complaining that “X” makes more than you gets you a raise. I’ve never done it myself, but I see it over and over again.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I would be mortified if someone opened my paycheck and saw my income. It’s not about the amount, it’s just because it is very private. Geez, its like looking to see what color underwear everyone is wearing.

      1. Joey*

        This makes no sense if you think about it. Isn’t it important for employees to know that they are compensated appropriately compared to their peers. Wouldn’t it be useful and helpful to know that they your company is rewarding employees fairly? I know people frequently have this kind of “I need to keep up with the Joneses” mentality or a I’m happy currently and don’t want to chance being unhappy, but if a company is showing you they’re doing it right it’s much better for you in the long term.

        1. Colette*

          “Fair” is subjective, though. Pay can be influenced by whether you negotiated when you were hired, whether you were hired when jobs were scarce or plentiful, and how hard your manager fought to get you a raise – most of which have nothing to do with your performance.

          1. Joey*

            Absolutely it is. That why it so important to know that your company shares a similar definition.

            1. Colette*

              My issue with that is that the data is useful in the aggregate (are minorities paid less, for example), but less useful in specific cases, because individual circumstances can affect an individual’s pay. In the specific case, the most likely outcome is unhappy employees.

              1. Joey*

                Actually its better to compare when the details more closely match each other. Aggregate numbers only tell you the story on the surface. There can and will be legitimate reasons why other people get paid more that you can never deduce from aggregate figures.

                1. Colette*

                  If you’re trying to figure out whether the employer is fair (i.e. compensates based on factors other than sex/race), aggregate data will be more useful.

                  I don’t understand what you’d gain from knowing what your coworkers individually make – if they make more or less than you, you won’t know whether it’s because they got hired at a higher salary, they are the boss’s favourite, they accepted a counteroffer instead of leaving, or a hundred other possibilities.

              2. ThursdaysGeek*

                I’m going to have to agree with Joey, in my specific case. I worked at a place where I knew I was paid less than a co-worker doing the same work. And that was fine: it was a little less, he’d been there longer.

                When management changed, and suddenly he was being paid 15-20% more than me, we all were able to realize that management no longer shared a similar definition of ‘fair’, and we all were able to leave and work for a place where being male or female didn’t have such a direct influence on our pay.

        2. The Real Ash*

          It doesn’t sound like Technical Editor was a peer though, note that they said “He thought engineers should make more than anyone else”, implying that they were not an engineer, but the snooping coworker was. So while they’re a co-worker, they weren’t a peer in terms of having a similar position.

          1. Technical Editor*

            This is correct — totally different job duties. Even if we had the same job, he was just out of undergrad and I already had my master’s degree for several years, which would have warranted a higher pay grade in that company anyway.

      2. Poohbear McGriddles*

        Re: looking to see what color underwear everyone is wearing.

        Doesn’t everybody do that? It’s all fun and games ’til you see who’s going commando.

        1. Judy*

          I was doing a 4 month long training once, we met for a week a month for 4 months. One of the guys in his late 30s had remarried, and went through a vasectomy reversal in between class weeks. I learned a lot of TMI that next week.

  29. Bea W*

    #1 Wow. That is just so over the top messed up that firing seems like an appropriate response. What other personal info is she rifling through? If it had been me as her co-worker in the room with her i’m not sure if i would have been stunned speechless or ripped her a new orafice right on the spot.

  30. Allison*

    #1 Good Lord, I figured it was common sense not to do something like that! Maybe it’s not explicitly prohibited or covered in the onboarding process, but you’d figure it wouldn’t need to be! This can’t be some misstep or “honest mistake,” this person had to know what they were doing was 100% not okay, and if they don’t, they’re in for a rude awakening.

    Honestly, keeping her around would be a huge slap in the face for everyone whose privacy was seriously invaded.

    I also want to echo something others have said upthread, it may be worthwhile for the company to make paychecks a little more secure, either locking them up until they can be handed out directly, have people pick them up, or mail them out. I know I wouldn’t want my paycheck (or even pay stub) to be left where anyone could just pick it up and open it if they wanted; it was bad enough when paystubs were left on people’s desks at my first job. In this day and age, direct deposit and online, password-protected paystubs are becoming increasingly commonplace, if the company can afford the service it’s definitely worth it, and especially in this situation would give people a little more piece of mind.

    1. Celeste*

      It’s probably a small employer. The larger ones have direct deposit and online stubs. But when you think about the opportunity for identity theft, it begins to seem worth it to spend the money on technology.

      1. Stephanie*

        My last small employer had diect deposit, but physical pay stubs. It was a quirk of the payroll processing software. In theory, there was a way to get an online version, but I never could get it to work.

        At my fed job, my pay stub was administered through an entirely different agency in an entirely different city and was mailed to me. In retrospect, given how unsecure my mail was, this was probably a bad idea.

      2. Allison*

        Definitely, I was really putting it forth as the ideal solution, but if an employer can’t do that there are still ways to make the process at least a little more secure. Putting paychecks/stubs in people’s easily-accessed mailboxes may be the most convenient way to do it, but I can’t imagine a less secure way to do it.

      3. Amy C*

        I work for a very large company, and although most people in my department do the online pay stubs, a few still get paper stubs, and those are in the employee mailboxes from payday until whenever the person feels like fetching them. They are sealed.

        It’s never occurred to me to go check to see what everyone’s paychecks say. (Of course, I already have access to the info, but you know, not all the tax & benefit details!)

        So it’s not necessarily a company size issue. However, if this incident did happen where I worked, it might prompt a change in how it’s handled. (And if it was a union employee who did it, it would be a minimum of 10 business days before I could fire them unless it was a blatantly, egregiously illegal act.)

    2. Rebecca*

      We have a small office, and everyone has direct deposit but not everyone has access to a private printer, so our pay stubs are handed out in sealed envelopes. Everyone is personally handed their envelope on payday. If you’re not in the office, it’s locked up in the manager’s desk until you return, not left on your desk.

      I also wondered why paychecks were being left out in the open like that.

      1. Anna*

        I wouldn’t call it out in the open. Mailboxes are pretty much like a desk. You would NEVER consider just randomly searching through someone’s mailbox or desk. I wouldn’t dream of going through any of my coworkers’ mailboxes because it’s a huge violation of boundaries.

  31. AndersonDarling*

    #2 We have had great success with open interviews. We advertise in craigslist and put up flyers in the libraries and such, and say we will be at ____ on __ date doing open interviews. Candidates are recommended to bring their resume.
    We set up a table at one of our job locations, or at another spot in the community. (not at a “job fair”) People walk up and you get to talk to them right there and do an initial interview.

  32. Joey*

    #1. There’s no way in hell this person is an all star so I wouldn’t even let that possibility creep into your mind. All stars just don’t do this kind of crap. Although before Id fire her Id call her in, tell her this is a serious breach and ask for her side of the story. I know, I know, there’s probably no excusable explanation, but just in case. It’s always a good idea to do this so you don’t get blindsided after the fact with some crazy explanation that might have changed things.

    1. louise*

      I was thinking I’d want the explanation just so I could rest assured that “now I’ve heard *everything*” because there’s no way the reason is plausible. I would, in fact, be sort of disappointed if the individual said “I have no idea what I was thinking. I understand why I’m being fired.” I’d be hoping for a way out-there story!

      Pretty sure that makes me a terrible person.

      1. Joey*

        I know this is out there, but what if she says something like “but, Mike (a white guy) did it too and he didn’t get in trouble, so I (a minority female) thought it was okay.”

        Again, just a small amount of effort to mitigate nearly all risks.

        1. Mike C.*

          That, and there’s no real harm to find out what the hell was going on. I’d just be insanely curious if nothing else.

        2. Us, Too*

          I agree. Plus, you really never know. I’ve had to control my “jaw drop” response on more than once when I asked an employee to explain something that sounded absurd. And sometimes the explanation is pretty interesting and useful to me. It may or may not influence the outcome, but having all the information can only help you make a better decision.

        3. Laura*

          Or, what if she says, “Uh…what? I never did anything like that!” So far the story only explicitly says one co-worker reported it; while I can’t imagine why you’d make up a story like this, I also can’t imagine why you’d do something like this either. (And since “coworkers” plural were in the lunch room, it should be really easy to clear up if needed.)

  33. Poofeybug*

    #1 — I work at a place where we use the CLEAR search to track down possible beneficiaries. One lady used it to look up several celebrities’ info, including their addresses (past and present). Management can easily track who is making these searches and the names they are searching for. When this was discovered she was fired on the spot, even though she pleaded for another chance. This was before my time but she’s still referred to as “The Beyonce Girl.”

  34. Anna*

    #2 – If you live in an area with a Job Corps center, give them a call and find out if they have a CNA program. There are students who don’t pass the certification test, but will make great home health aides. They are also in the job of placing students in positions when they graduate and this would be a windfall for them.

  35. Concerned*

    And definitely for the company to change how it delivers paychecks. My last job handed them out to each employee at his/her desk. If he/she wasn’t there, the person would put it in the desk drawer and then notify the recipient right away.

  36. Crow T. Robot*

    #1 – That is a fireable offense if there ever was one. Especially because this person isn’t even a stellar employee.

    1. Angora*

      Fire the individual. I interviewed a candidate for a job; and a co-worker down the hall (equal position to me; but different dept) saw one of the candidates come in.

      She informed me later that day that she wouldn’t work with that individual if I hired her. This woman had opened up her paystub when they worked together at the Graduate College.

      This person looked so good on paper and I had a good working relationship with her. The position would have been a promotion out of the Graduate School. Didn’t hire her after being told that. Myself and the interview committee were leaning towards her until we were told that. We are handling confidential material and if someone would snoop like that and be so stupid to be that obvious … forget it. The state system has a website out there were you can learn peoples salaries it just takes a bit of an effort to locate it; and do the search. It’s public record.

      Lazy, stupid and no sense of boundaries.

        1. fposte*

          I wouldn’t feel obliged to, if my source was somebody I knew and found reliable, any more than I’d feel obliged to corroborate a bad reference before I was allowed to not hire somebody. The default for hiring isn’t believing in their wonderfulness and hoping the negative comments are wrong.

    2. Laura*

      I don’t care if they _are_ a stellar employee. The only type of person I can imagine not being fired over that would be someone who was the _only_ person with a certification or skill required to remain open – and only until you hired someone else with it. If then.

      I have been with my present company a long time, know the work we do like the back of my hand, and have very good reviews.

      And if I pulled something like this, I think I’d be in the parking lot in 60 seconds flat, locked out, waiting for them to bring me my purse from my desk. (My other stuff would either be boxed and brought out to me, or boxed and shipped.) Seriously, I don’t think I’d be in the building long enough for anyone to pack my stuff up.

      1. Poohbear McGriddles*

        Yeah, it begs the question just how bad does a stellar employee have to screw up to get the boot. Is a little sexual harassment okay as long as Ralph keeps the big client? Does Jane get a pass on stealing her coworker’s iPad because she is the only one who can sign the TPS reports?
        It’s always good to have alternates who can step in when the primary is gone, because you never know when they’ll be gone.

      2. Chinook*

        I am beginning to wonder about what the one Admin Assistant I replaced on short notice did because that is pretty much what happenned. She was all happy and fine when Is aw her leave for lunch at noon. I was receptionist, so mine was after hers and, when I came back at 1:30, the office manager asked if I wanted to be AA to her department because she will no longer be working there but I had to decide today because they would like me to start tomorrow (because they thought it would be easier to find a temp receptionist – they went through 6 before I was able to not get regular calls to cover and/or train the front desk). Considering what I saw some of her friends get away with (it was an office going through detoxification), it must have been unforgiveable to get the boot so fast.

  37. Crow T. Robot*

    I don’t think I’ve seen anyone commenting on #4, so I’m going to take a stab at it:

    I agree with Alison about being direct about it, but I don’t necessarily think that you should drop yourself out of the running. I have a friend who found out she was pregnant while she was in the process of interviewing for a great job at a well-regarded arts organization. She told them up-front about the pregnancy and that she would need to take maternity leave soon into her employment. They hired her.

    I’m not saying that’s likely to happen to everyone, or even most people, but I think you are in a unique situation where you already have a secure job, so what’s the harm of telling this other company that you’re pregnant and seeing if they want to continue with the process with you. As Alison said, they may have a great maternity leave policy.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I think OP meant she would have more flexibility at her current job after she returns from leave. It’s a lot easier to take a day off with your sick baby or work from home at a place that already knows you are a good employee than if you are trying to prove yourself in your new position.

    2. anonyMOOSE*

      Didn’t see this until I posted mine. Personally, I don’t think she even needs to tell them anything at this point. Even though employers aren’t supposed to discriminate, they do. I told potential employers upfront when I was pregnant when I was early in my pregnancy and that’s where communication ended.

      I didn’t mention it when I was applying for that job when I was eight months pregnant. Mentioned in when they were scheduling interviews because they wanted to schedule it on my due date. They said to call them on Monday if I hadn’t gone into labor. I hadn’t. Went in for the interview. Went into labor that night.

      It’s unfortunate, but I think being direct about it, even though it might be the ethical answer, might give the employers a reason to write her off even though they shouldn’t.

      1. Joline*

        I think she’s saying she wants to be written off though, no?

        I understood that she was thinking that she was going to take herself out of the running for the position because she didn’t want the extra stress of switching jobs especially since she knows that current job is good about mat leave, etc. And was just looking for advice on how to tell the recruiter this.

        Though a good point is made that it doesn’t hurt to hear them out and find out what their mat leave, benefits, flexibility, etc. look like.

        1. Crow T. Robot*

          Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. She doesn’t seem particularly concerned with losing out on the job (and she already has a job she likes) so my point was that there is not much harm in telling them and seeing where it goes.

          1. ABRA*

            Exactly! I love my current job, and I know that I will have at least 4 months off for the birth of the baby-but would like to keep the door open for future opportunities with this employer. They are 100,000 employees, and they can afford to pay at least 27K more than my current job (according to the recruiter), so I would definitely like to keep my options open for down the road! Thanks for your comments!

    3. Angora*

      True … tell them that you are interested in the job but just found out you are pregnant. Their response will tell you everything. Plus you’ll need the higher salary with children. But look into their FMLA policy before switching.

      My employer requires you to be there for one year before being eligible for FMLA. Doesn’t any good to start a new job; than be off without pay for two – three months. We may want to do the best for our employers, etc …. but when it comes down to it we need to protect ourselves.

      I have gotten a bit harder about this. As a contrator I could be told to leave at the end of the day; or get the call once I get home not to return; but my contract required me to give two week notice.

      1. Diane*

        FMLA requires a year, but some states have their own programs that kick in after six months.

  38. anonyMOOSE*

    #4 – I disagree with Alison on this one. I would take the interview anyway, get a feel for the culture, then make a decision. I applied for a job when I was 8 months pregnant. Interviewed three days past my due date. Got the job a week after my son was born. Started six weeks later.

    You aren’t signing a contract by taking an interview. I would get more information before withdrawing your application.

    1. ABRA*

      I phoned to someone inside the company-the hiring manager is not flexible at all to working hours (leaving earlier for doctor’s appointments etc) and according to this person, there is high turnover at the department. But they are huge, and I’d love to join them sometimes in 2015/ 2016 LOL!

  39. Diane*

    Re #1: If someone had gone through a USPS mailbox and opened mail, it would be a serious crime.

        1. fposte*

          But I also think people aren’t aware that the USPS regs for office mail aren’t the same even if it is delivered to a USPS mailbox. I can open your personal email at the office all I want, as long as the office is good with it.

    1. Diane*

      Aaaand that’s nitpicking and not reading particularly closely.

      I’m trying to succinctly point out that had this taken place in a USPS post box, it would be criminal. That fact can be used to impress upon the original offender that opening other people’s mail is a Very Big Deal.

      1. fposte*

        I think the problem with that line is exactly what happens here–the points out that it wasn’t a USPS mailbox, and if it were, she never would have done such a thing.

        It’s a bad thing to do because it’s a bad thing to do, not because of what it might have been if it were different.

  40. EmmBee*


    I was offered a job in my first trimester but ended up turning it down (for several reasons, one of which was that my current company has amazing maternity leave, and another of which was that I felt so crappy in my first tri that I knew I would not have the energy/drive I needed to really make a mark at the new place). They did not seem at all concerned about my being pregnant — meaning if I had wanted the job it would have been mine — which is a good sign. I do plan on reaching out to that company when I get back from leave to see if there are other possibilities.

    So, I would say, be honest. “I’d love to pursue this further, but the timing is off — I’m pregnant and would prefer to stay where I am for the time being. But I’d love to follow up with you next year and have another conversation!”

    Good luck!

    1. ABRA*

      Thank you for your comment-that was my line of thinking also! I would like to leave the door open for future opportunities, both with the recruiter and with the company. Thanks again!

  41. Elinor*

    Re #1, I can understand why a small company might need to take a little bit of time to check the legality/process for terminating, but surely this is such gross misconduct that the manager ought to have said, “Go home NOW and stay there until we contact you”? And then paying them for staying home for a day or two until there is time to do the termination process.

    Is there a reason no one has suggested this?

    1. fposte*

      A manager who isn’t sure what she’s allowed to fire people for isn’t likely to be sure what she can put people on leave for.

  42. Letters to Paystubs*

    #1 It sounds like this employee committed a felony- Obstruction of Mail is definitely considered a felony. These paystubs were in closed (hopefully) sealed envelops addressed with the name/address of the intended person. She may have returned the envelope immediately to the mailbox after look at it, but in the minute(s) she spent opening/looking at it, she technically obstructed the recipient’s ability to collect their mail. Furthermore, it could be considered mail theft: she took something that belonged to someone else into her possession and control without the other person’s (and company’s!) permission, regardless of the duration.

      1. Letter to Paystubs*

        Section 1708, a federal statute governing mail theft, states:
        “Theft or Receipt of Stolen Mail

        Whoever steals, takes, or abstracts, or by fraud or deception obtains, or attempts so to obtain, from or out of any mail, post office, or station thereof, letter box, mail receptacle, or any mail route or other authorized depository for mail matter, or from a letter or mail carrier, any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or abstracts or removes from any such letter, package, bag, or mail, any article or thing contained therein, or secretes, embezzles, or destroys any such letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein; or

        Whoever steals, takes, or abstracts, or by fraud or deception obtains any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein which has been left for collection upon or adjacent to a collection box or other authorized depository of mail matter; or

        Whoever buys, receives, or conceals, or unlawfully has in his possession, any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein, which has been so stolen, taken, embezzled, or abstracted, as herein described, knowing the same to have been stolen, taken, embezzled, or abstracted—
        Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

        So, although these envelopes may not be stamped, a stamp is only evidence of payment as postage. It doesn’t define a piece of mail. Furthermore, if these office mail boxes are considered an “authorized depositary” and workers are receiving mail in these boxes, I believe her actions could be considered mail theft. As commenters have mentioned above, paychecks often contain information like the employee’s social security number, address, etc. which could provide this employee with the information necessary to commit identify theft. This is the kind of interest that the government was looking to protect when it created the penal mail theft statute.

        This employee went through these envelopes with the intent of prying. I think the OP should be less concerned with a wrongful termination suit from the employee (probably would be thrown out of court as California is at-will employment, and a violation of privacy like this would probably provide grounds for a for-cause firing in a state that doesn’t recognize at-will employment). It seems more prudent to focus on the issues it may cause between other employees and the company if this co-worker continues to work there and commits another questionable action. If the employer does not fire this employee, it may provide grounds for another employee to claim in the future that the employer abided criminal activity by employees at its place of business.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t think so, because these are envelopes that were never intended for USPS. Otherwise it would be illegal to intercept a note your roommate left for your other roommate, and it’s not. It’s interoffice mail, but it’s not U.S. Mail.

  43. Maureen P.*

    #4 – Do the interview. If this is the kind of place you want to work someday, you’ll find out a lot about them by the way they handle news of your pregnancy. There’s a lot more to being a parent than maternity leave! Random school closures, field trips, school Halloween parades – you’ll want an employer who is flexible enough to allow you to participate in your child’s life, even after the first few weeks/months.

    I was in this position before, and waited until the interview stage to let them know. They were very appreciative that I shared, and the interview process was great and fair. Never pass up the opportunity to practice your interview skills!

    1. Analyst*

      Oh yes, you can definitely use your pregnancy news to suss out how they handle parents in the workplace. Ideally they will immediately try to woo you with specifics about their flex leave policy, lactation rooms, etc. And you can negotiate a 3mo leave as though you were there the full year before FMLA kicks in (BUT GET THAT IN WRITING).

  44. Jane*

    Of course this employee was wrong- violated privacy etc. Should be fired.

    BUT what is worse is that Americans in most industries collude with each other to allow wage discrimination to go on.

    Employees should share salary information- once it is transparent, fewer folks will be discriminated against.

  45. anon-2*

    #1 – yes, that’s a terminable offense. Way back , a company I worked for processed its payroll internally – and the computer operators knew what everyone made. Discussion of such matters could be a terminable offense. Most companies today aren’t so dumb as to process their own payroll – they farm it out.

    #2 – yes, but consider you’re going to have to wade through ten times the number of applicants, most of whom will not have the skill set you’re seeking.

    #3 – It’s reasonable to ask why there was such a long time frame. I once was called into an interview, and they were honest – they had an internal candidate at the time of the posting. I don’t recall if he went through the interview cycle and the management changed their minds (if one management doesn’t want to promote someone, but other managers want to hire him, it gums up the process) or the guy just left after accepting the job.

  46. Dmented Kitty*

    Jeez — #1 just got me bristling all over. Salary info is deemed highly confidential information for employees in my company, as well as pay grade classification. While you can voluntarily tell anyone how much you make, no one is obliged to answer the question of how many $ you make, even if they ask nicely.

    What are the privacy policies of the company? As far as I know, for the places I’ve worked in, salary info is treated very confidential, and if an employee did something as pry into someone else’s personal info, it constitutes a violation of privacy policy. Pay stubs may contain SSN or bank information, so the idea that an employee went around and snooped into these, and if the employee was not disciplined for it — well, that would just breach my trust with the company. So I agree that that employee should be fired.

    She must have had a very persistent itch to satisfy her curiosity for finding out everyone else’s salary, to have gathered that much guts to actually open the envelopes and look at each pay stub. Wow.

  47. Jess*

    #2: Yes, do this! I work for a homecare provider (like you – non-medical home-based support for older people and people with disabilities) and part of my role is advertising when we need new workers.

    While we do have some luck with advertising on websites, we also have good results from advertising in local newspapers, community newsletters and word of mouth. We have some of our best new workers referred to us by existing employees, clients, or other people who we deal with who sent potential employees our way. However, we don’t go out of our way to “network” with churches or professional organisations.

    I find that having a strong screening process is very important for this kind of recruitment – we need employees to have their own car, a licence, the right to work in the country, and be available for certain hours. If this kind of thing is a factor for you, try to set up your recruitment so that these questions are asked as early as possible in the process – it will save a lot of time.

    1. Jess*

      I should clarify that I meant, advertise at places like churches and libraries, community noticeboards. I don’t think that cold-calling local businesses is a good idea unless you know they have a noticeboard they welcome advertising on.

  48. Eudora Wealthy*

    #4 Question for anyone: Shouldn’t the OP email the pregnancy news to the recruiter rather than presenting the info in person to the people at the hiring company? Gauging by reactions I’ve seen, I imagine some of the people in the company might see the pregnancy as a disability while others might see it as something to celebrate (while other people might see it some other way). Emailing the info lets their hiring manager get everybody on the same page about how they’re supposed to treat pregnant people. Otherwise, there could be awkward moments and awkward things said. Me, personally, if a candidate appeared at an interview and announced that she was pregnant, I would probably just smile broadly and say, “Best wishes,” and move on. But I think a lot of people would have different reactions.

    1. ABRA*

      This is exactly what I did-I let the recruiter know when he called for face-to-face interview with the comany. He offered me to continue with the process, but I declined-After comparing my current company’s benefits with what I learned, I decided that it is in my best interest to remain where I am for the time being.
      Recruiter was great, thanked me for being forthcoming and said we’ll stay in touch for future opportunities. so, we’ll see…

  49. Sara*

    #1 has me speechless.

    Stupid, idiotic and pretty much batshit insane.

    Being nosy about someone’s income or pay is something that’s been drilled into me (and I imagine nearly everyone I know) since God knows how long; I’ve held a number of jobs and while I’ve had my fair share of strange people, I’ve never come across something like this. It’s one thing to willingly share your information but for someone to actually go into the mailbox, open up envelopes, look at it, and then ANNOUNCE it as if it’s something to brag about>?!!!!

    And I’m shocked that anyone is even trying to defend her actions. Your salary is a private thing, no one’s business. No one has any right to snoop and look at it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This is lacking in boundaries and respect and so much, I wonder how this person ever even managed to get a job.

    It pisses me off that people can behave so idiotically and NOT get fired when there are so many great employees who are currently unemployed looking for something.

  50. Nethwen*

    #1 Please, please post these fliers, hopefully with pull-tabs with your contact information. I work in a library (and previously as a non-medical care companion) and people, even those who use computers, like looking at the fliers on our board. Fliers are there to be seen with a casual glance. Online ads have to be sought out and that will limit your number of applicants.

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