my boss slapped my hand, I was fired and then invited back, and more

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

1. My boss slapped my hand

I’ve been at my job for a couple months now. I made a minor reporting mistake and quickly corrected it, no big deal. My supervisor, who sits next to me, slid his chair next to me, said “give me your hand” and then lightly/jokingly slapped it, as if he was disciplining a child. I know I shouldn’t have offered my hand, but in the moment I just laughed it off because I was so taken aback by this creepy gesture, when what I really wanted to do was tell him I don’t want him touching me and that this was not appropriate or funny. I also thought it was a pretty embarrassing thing to do to an employee.

I didn’t say anything to him about it, but if it happens again I will say something along the lines of “I don’t want you touching me, please” (he touches my arm/shoulder occasionally sometimes too, which I hate). He is otherwise a nice person but sometimes gives me a weird vibe. Does this just sound like bad judgment (which everyone has occasionally) or an indicator of behaviors that need to be addressed sooner rather than later?

Yes, it was bad judgment. It sounds like he meant it entirely in jest — but it’s not a good idea to even jokingly do that kind of thing at work, especially when you’re the boss. In this case, it sounds like he did it lightly enough and jokingly enough that he didn’t actually HIT you — but play-slapping your hand as if he’s your disciplinarian isn’t appropriate.

Ideally you would have addressed it in the moment; even just a “did you really just slap my hand?” probably would have gotten your point across. It’s not your fault you didn’t — few of us could figure out how to respond well to that in the moment. But I think you’re right not to go back and address it now, unless something like it happens again.

As for occasional arm/shoulder touching, “I don’t want you touching me” is a pretty adversarial thing to say, and it’s hard to deliver without causing some tension in the relationship. It’s absolutely your prerogative to say it, but you might get a better outcome with a softened version of it. For instance: “Hey Bob, I’m weird about being touched on the arm or shoulder — I know you mean it warmly, but I’m just not a touchy-feely person. Thanks for understanding.”

2. Explaining my daily phone call to my kids to a new employer

I have a question on how and when to bring up a real-life problem I worked through this last year – which is that the only way I can keep my two learning-disabled kids on track during the school year is to call and have a 5-15 minute conversation with them about their assignments when they get home at 4 pm. (I can’t emphasize enough how hard I’ve worked to find non-work-day solutions and this really truly is the only right answer for my kids right now and quite possibly for the next few years.)

Currently my office is very flexible and I drop over to the break room to make the call and come back to my desk without any issues, so this question is more related to anxiety about the new school year and having a new job. I want to be proactive (assuming I get the job) since the job I’m interviewing for has an open floor plan. I know not to bring this up in an interview, but to discuss sometime after I actually get the job. I’d love to hear how a manager would like to have me broach this subject.

Having a 5-15 minute conversation once a day shouldn’t be an issue, particularly assuming you’re in an exempt position. That said, you don’t want to take the job and then discover that it is, so I’d bring it up once you receive an offer. Not as a major negotiation item (because I wouldn’t expect it to an issue), but in a pretty casual, “by the way, I want to let you know I do this and make sure it won’t be a problem” type of way toward the end of finalizing the offer details.

3. I was fired for a false reason and then offered my job back

I was terminated two weeks ago and was simply told that it was because I made derogatory comments to and about coworkers. No other information was given to me, at regional or HR level. I am an on-site property manager, which means my apartment is part of my salary, and I had two weeks to move. I tried to contact several superiors in the company to explain that the reason they gave was not true at all, but no one would speak to me. This was a very hard situation for me emotionally, as I have never had any negative interaction with anyone in the company.

I received a call today from HR apologizing and offering my job back, but they still will not give me any information pertaining to my termination. Is this typical practice and should I be leery?

No, that’s not typical at all. I’d say something like, “I really appreciate the apology and the offer of my job back, but can you help me understand what happened? I’d love to come back, but I’m still completely in the dark about why I was let go in the first place and why no one would explain it to me. Before thinking about coming back, I’d want to understand what happened.”

4. Asking for time off for a funeral when starting a new job

I’m starting a new job in three days. I received word last night that my mentor is receiving hospice care and is not expected to live much longer (it sounded like it is a matter of days). He and I are very close and I’m devastated. One of his final requests is that I speak at his funeral, which would be an honor. However, he lives 3000 miles away from me and I would likely have to miss at least a day of work.

What’s the proper protocol here given that it’s my first week? Is it acceptable to ask, very apologetically, for a day off to attend to this issue if needed? Or would that be unreasonable given that I’m brand new? To add to my concerns I’m not sure precisely when the travel would be, which makes it hard to know exactly what to ask for.

Be straightforward with your new manager: “My long-time mentor, to whom I’m very close, isn’t expected to live much longer. I’ve been asked to speak at his funeral. The timing is uncertain, but it’s likely to be soon. Would it be possible for me to take a day off work when it happens, in order to travel to X to attend?”

Unless it would cause a serious problem, most managers are likely to want to try to work with you to make this happen.

5. Should I apply for a more junior position after applying for a stretch position?

I applied to a “stretch” position at a small company that I’m really interested in. I met the majority of the requirements they listed, but I knew I was likely competing with candidates who were more qualified. I haven’t heard back regarding this position, but I’m still interested in working for this company. Recently I saw a posting for a similar job that had lower requirements (1-2 years instead of 3-5 years of experience; I have 3). Should I reapply to the newer position? Or would the hiring manager already have contacted me about this position if they thought I were a good fit since they have my resume on file? Alternatively, would it be okay to just apply to the new job with an updated resume/application?

How long has it been since you applied to the first position? If it was very recent and you might still be under consideration, you risk undercutting that application with the second one to someone more junior. But if it’s been a while and/or you’re confident you’re no longer being considered, you don’t have anything to lose by applying for the second one. It’s possible that the hiring manager would have contacted you if she thought you were a good fit for it, but it’s just as possible that she’s not someone who looks back through recent applications to reach out to people. Either way, there’s no reason not to give it a shot. Make sure you write a new cover letter that explains why you’re so interested in them, and make sure it’s awesome (personalized, conversational, doesn’t summarize your resume) so that you increase your chances of being called this time.

{ 206 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    OP #1 – it may not be a creepy sexual thing, but it could very well be a creepy dominance thing. I once had to work with a guy who had a habit of touching my arm or shoulder every time we had to, say, review a document together. I was starting to wonder if I needed to deck him, and then I saw him doing the same thing to a report of his who was male. It wasn’t hitting on me; it was just a way of using body language to establish he was (in his mind) In Charge. Your boss may not be consciously aware he’s doing it. Still, he needs to cut it the hell out.

    OP #4 – absent a true crisis I can’t think of many workplaces that would refuse in this circumstances. I’m so sorry.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t assume it’s sexual or a dominance thing. I mean, it could be, but it could also just be that the boss is touchy-feely and doesn’t mean anything by it. Some people are shoulder-touchers without it being anything beyond that.

      If it really bugs you, you’ve got to find a polite way to communicate that (like the wording I suggested in the post), but I wouldn’t attach motives to it absent some other reason to think that.

      1. neverjaunty*

        OP #1 mentioned that this guy gives off a weird vibe and used the term ‘creepy’, and says the supervisor is repeatedly touchy (including the hand slapping thing) after only a couple months on the job. It certainly could be a lot of things, including just terrible personal boundaries, none of which change the appropriate way to (initially) approach it.

        1. fposte*

          She felt the gesture of slapping her hand was creepy, and she’s somebody who doesn’t like being socially touched working with somebody who likes to socially touch. I don’t think we have a read on him being disturbing beyond that. Decking somebody before you even talk to them seems a short-cut to the hard road to me.

          1. neverjaunty*

            I was going off “otherwise gives me a weird vibe”, which adds a dimension beyond the guy simply being touchy-feely – plus the hand-slapping is a whole level of WTF.

            (Regarding my own Mr. Handsy, no, I wasn’t seriously planning on hitting him, but after the zillionth time of it happening in situations where it would have been extremely awkward to tell him to cut it out, it was a comforting mental image.)

            1. Vicki*

              ” after the zillionth time of it happening in situations where it would have been extremely awkward to tell him to cut it out,”

              I had a co-worker like that. It was one of those problems that crept up slowly, each time being slightly more annoying than the last time but awkward to say anything about and over quickly, but building over time. Eventually, you get to the point where you just want to scream but you think “I never said anything before and this is going to seem like I’m suddenly crazy.”

    2. Angora*

      Is your boss from the South? Southerners can be touchy feely. I had a co-worker that was bad about it years ago when I was in the military. I told him that I didn’t like it, told our supervisor, he talked to him about it … he still kept up with the touching .. than I totally blew up on him.

      We both got in trouble. Me for over the top response and him continuing to do something he had been ordered to quit. It was a tongue lashing.

      Just tell him you are not a touchy feeling person and it makes you uncomfortable. And if he continues, you can just glare at the offending hand ….. give the hand the look like you would a child. He may pick up than. Or shrug it off or pull your arm away. Tell him verbally; than follow-up with body language. I do not like it myself.

      1. JB*

        We certainly can be, but even we Southerners don’t make a habit of touching people who don’t want to be touched. That person had more going on than being from the South.

  2. Anon*

    #3 I wouldn’t go back no matter what they say (although I would ask, just to see what their response is).

    False accusations and firing without any chance to explain what happened or didn’t happen? That’s super toxic.

    Would you get back together with someone who falsely accused you and broke up with you, wouldn’t listen to anything you had to say, threw you out of your home and then said two weeks later, ” Uh, wanna come back?”

    1. CoffeeLover*

      Ya! I mean did they accidentally fire the wrong Jessica or something. That’s really bizarre, and if you can afford to do it, I would look elsewhere OP. Or at the very least, accept the job while trying to find a better one.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I lost my paycheck because someone accidentally closed out my employment with my company. I guess the other person’s name was right near mine in the computer. But the company was straightforward about it. They offered to cover my bank fees (a direct deposit that I had written checks against).

        I stayed with the company because I was satisfied with the support I had on the matter and with how they explained and fixed the problem.

    2. Bea W*

      The kink in the hose here is the OP would lose her apartment leaving the job since that is part of the compensation. This must be an onsite maintenence / building manager job. It’s not as easy as just walking away.

    3. kac*

      I would take the job back–because it’s both the OP’s job and living situation and because it’s easier to find a job when you’re already employed–and then I’d immediately start looking for a new job.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Agreed. Their answer to Alison’s suggested question will be very telling. If it were me, and they aren’t sharing ANY information about why I was fired, I would ride the Nope train all the way to I-Don’t-Think-So-ville.

    4. Eileen*

      Yes, this was an extremely uneasy situation for me. I did accept my position back last week Tuesday. It has been very awkward to say the least. I am currently looking for a new position. I figured this way I would be leaving on my terms, and with a clean personal file.
      If I could give advice to anyone else in my situation, do not go back! It is not the same, and I feel like I’m under a constant microscope.

  3. Dan*


    Some people are of the touchy-feely variety. I’m not. It weirds me out when anybody but my SO does it, regardless of gender. Unless I’m being hit on, which hopefully isn’t at work. ‘Cause if it was at work, I wouldn’t know the difference.

  4. Dan*


    Not to be nitpicky, but… if you meet the majority of requirements, and have 3 years of experience for a job looking for 3-5, you’re applying for a job that you’re qualified for. You’ve certainly met the stated years of experience requirement.

    For the job you’re talking about with 1-2 years experience, you may find yourself in the “over qualified” pile. Basically, these guys only want to pay entry level wages, but would prefer to get someone they don’t have to train. At three years, you should be looking to step up in your career, this job wouldn’t be it.

    IMHO, a stretch job is one with more than a few responsibilities that you’ve never filled before. To me, the line between “stretch” and “not qualified” is very fine.

    All that said, if your goal is to just get into this company, you should think long and hard about why you want to do it. Companies aren’t the name on your paycheck, they’re your coworkers and managers you see everyday. “Moving up” is hard to do and doesn’t happen every day. So, think about why you want a job that is probably below you, as you will be stuck with it for awhile. You can’t know from the outside whether or not you will be happy there unless you have inside connections. And even then, you need connections in the department you will be working for, because different bosses may have different rules.

    I know at my company, if someone applied for “entry level” with several years of experience, and their reasoning was “I always wanted to work for you and will take any job available.” Um, no. I’m just really going to wonder what’s up. At my place, there’s plenty of IC roles for experienced employees, so if the excuse is “I don’t want to be in management and deal with that BS” there are other more senior roles more aligned with goal.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I super see what you’re saying, and *mostly* agree. But I think what you’re talking about would be more the case for someone with 5 or more years of experience applying for the 1-2 year position. In this case, she’s so close to the initial range that I’d feel she was within it and not over-qualified. (Especially considering that she is at the low end of the spectrum for the other job, as she mentions, and is competing against people with much more experience. In this other pool, SHE gets to be the person the truly entry-level people are competing against.)

      I am extremely reluctant to hire people that are “overqualified” for roles I’m hiring for, but I would definitely not consider 3 years of experience overqualified for a position wanting 1-2 years.

    2. Rose*

      I think in a better economy this would be true for SURE. I work for a prestige employer in the northeast, and it’s understood that if they ask for a BA and 3-5 years experience, the job WILL go to someone with a masters and 5-6 years of experience. My friends in other competitive fields (publishing, nonprofits that actually pay well, etc.) say it’s about the same. I have three years of experience, and I’ve found that if I meet most of the requirements well, someone else out there meets them all perfectly. (Applying internally, HR is awesome about giving feed back).

    3. Bwmn*

      While the years of experience was mentioned as one part – the OP also mentioned meeting the “majority” of requirements. Whatever the requirements are that aren’t met by the OP’s resume (beyond the years of experience) may be what made the OP feel that the candidacy wasn’t as strong.

      For instance, if the position lists management or supervisory experience as a requirement – despite meeting all the other qualifications – having never supervised someone could legitimately give someone a weaker application compared to who else applies.

      1. Stretching*

        Thanks for the comments! To clarify, as some of you mentioned, it’s not just the number of years that I feel is a stretch, but also some other requirements that I don’t fulfill. It’s also a small company, so I do feel conflicted about the growth opportunities if I do go for the more entry level job. It’s been about a month since I applied to the first position, but the position is still listed as “open” on their job page. How much longer should I wait to go for #2?

  5. CoffeeLover*

    I was living abroad for a while in a country where touching wasn’t a big deal. Honestly, after coming back I find the large bubbles we have in North America a little cold :(. I’m not trying to undermine what OP is feeling, but just saying we have an unusually large comfort bubble than the rest of the world. It’s a cultural thing so nothing to be done I suppose.

    1. Dan*

      We’re just a “bigger” or “more” country in general.

      We have more space than most countries. We have less population density. We’re bigger people. We have bigger portion sizes. We really do have more space to ourselves. So I guess it’s no surprise that the space bubble is bigger too.

      1. Sara*

        I can see that. I’m big on personal space (and what a coincidence I’m big too). I’m not sure what bugs me more, invading my physical space or personal.. (where I’m from, people being very intrusive about your personal life is very common).

      2. MK*

        No, you ‘re not. Even countries where population density creates housing problems have enough actual space for their citizens to maintain personal space, if they so choose. The reason they don’t choose to do so is because they have internalised physical contact, even with relative strangers, as warm/wellcoming/inclusive, not as rude/oppresive/potentially threatening. That being said, I wouldn’t call it coldness, just a different culture.

      3. Brazilian in the U.S.*

        I’m from Brazil, which is larger than the continental U.S. We have a lot of space and large areas of low population density (my house there, in the capital city, had a ridiculously large backyard, and all my neighbors had the same). But I have to keep reminding myself not to touch Americans in the shoulder, or even hug them before making sure it’s OK.

        It would never cross my mind that some people don’t like to be hugged — I only learned the term “personal space” after moving to the U.S., so I definitely think it’s more of a cultural thing than a “we have less population density” thing.

    2. Raine*

      Honestly, my first thought was that the boss is the classic Gay Uncle type, which is sort of a cultural thing but I mean more a pop cultural thing.

    3. JB*

      That’s a little overbroad. There are countries out there that have a larger comfort bubble than we do, and even in this country, it depends on the part of the country you live in. I see us as more in the middle range. I’m sorry you now find that we leave you with a cold feeling–could you look for that warmth in pe0ple in some way other than touch? Because touch doesn’t always mean warmth, and touch isn’t the only way to convey that warm, friendly feeling.

      1. Kelly L.*

        +1. If that’s cold, call me Elsa. ;)

        I’ve read that people tend to have bigger space bubbles (and talk to strangers less, and other things like that) in areas where the population is denser–basically, creating an imaginary space where there isn’t much physical, literal space. I always wonder how I ended up with this disposition when I grew up in a relatively small town.

      2. Natalie*

        Indeed, I’ve always heard the explanation for “Minnesota Nice” (cordial and friendly but ultimately a very insular society) is our Scandinavian ancestors.

      3. CoffeeLover*

        I know there are countries with larger bubbles (been there too). This is more of a commentary of my experience of where I recently was and when I got home. I’m from here so I wouldn’t say I’m struggling with a cold feeling or anything. It was just something I noticed when I got back. To be honest, I felt uncomfortable when I went abroad and people had small bubbles, but I guess I got used to it. I feel like the touching thing is a physical apparition of other cultural differences that involve an uncomfortableness when interacting with people we don’t know well. People are less likely to talk to strangers and things like that. Again though, it’s my personal experience.

    4. aebhel*

      I find cultures where it’s normal to touch or stand close to people you don’t know very well stifling and upsetting, and I mostly go about interactions in those contexts with my shoulders up around my ears. To each their own, I guess.

      I think Americans generally like more personal space than a lot of countries, but we certainly aren’t alone.

  6. Chris*

    Whatever happens, for the love of god, make sure you tell us, because I’m dying to know what the hell was going on

  7. Sara*

    #1. I had a guy like that at one of my jobs, lovely guy, great in every way, except he’d sometimes come up behind me and say goodmorning and touch my shoulder. He did the touching with nearly everyone, male or female, so it wasn’t exactly sexually creepy but on a personal level, I’m not comfortable touching/being touched by other males (beyond handshakes of course). I wasn’t sure how to handle it, esp since he was a great cowroker, nor did I even think about complaining to my manager about it, but a few times, I’d get startled. He eventually stopped, and never had a problem wtih him again.

    1. Sarahnova*

      Displaying a very elaborate and sudden startle response when someone does this is one way to condition them out of it. Basically, if you’re comfortable with playing it slightly theatrically, pass the freaked-out from you back to them by jumping and maybe even letting out a little gasp or squeak. Most people who simply don’t realise that many people don’t like to be touched unexpectedly will be startled and unsettled, and will quickly stop. That said, this will not work with people who actively enjoy discomfiting you and/or unrepentant a**holes.

      1. Not an IT Guy*

        I can attest to that…our company’s unrepentant a**hole stuck his finger in my ear the other day (twice). Sadly, because of the way he is and his position had I said something or filed a complaint I would have been the one to lose my job.

          1. Not an IT Guy*

            Apparently someone reenacting a scene from We’re the Millers…which he saw the night before

            1. neverjaunty*

              I hope you can get out of that job soon. A company that would fire somebody for complaining about that behavior sounds like a hellhole.

              1. Not an IT Guy*

                Well I wouldn’t be fired for complaining…this person had ways of retaliating that could cause me to lose my job (including falsifying data to make me look bad). And trust me, if I felt I was hireable anywhere else I’d be long gone.

          1. Chinook*

            Sorry, but a finger in the ear would not result in a hand slap but in an elbow in your direction. That is invading a hole in my body, which is much worse than invading my personal bubble space.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          He stuck his finger in your ear? Twice? ugggh.

          I have had a looong history of ear problems. Very painful, very money-intense problems. Someone sticks their finger in my ear, they will be receiving the inevitable medical bill that follows. I can be almost 100% that I would end up with an ear infection if someone did that to me. This person would end up hearing exactly how ear problems take away your ability to drive, and even standing/walking/sitting in a chair can become huge challenges.
          I hope that you find consolation in the fact that Mr AH will eventually cross paths with someone like me who has had ear problems most of their life. It will not be pretty. (I would not care if I lost my job, I don’t want anyone messing with my ears. No way.)

    2. Traveler*

      I had someone that used to touch my hair/face, not every day but enough. It never came across as sexual, but I hated it so much and it feels like such a difficult conversation to have without sounding adversarial. I became an expert at deflecting it when I saw it coming.

      1. tt*

        One of my former bosses (and he was already a “former” boss at the time this was going on) used to touch me just to antagonize me. It wasn’t sexual, it was more like a brother aggravating his sister type of thing (and possibly a bit of exerting his “authority”), but I didn’t like it and asked him to stop. He kept doing it. I kept telling him to stop. One day when he did it, in front of witnesses, I stated “I’ve told you to stop touching me. Do it again and I’m talking to HR.” It’s not what I would recommend, but at the time I didn’t know what else to do because he clearly wasn’t taking me seriously, and I couldn’t take it anymore. He did stop after that.

        1. Traveler*

          Yeah the guy that did this to me was just socially tone deaf. He could not pick up on cues, or subtle language for him to stop. I was young and afraid to just be blunt about it. If I had been overt about it and he kept doing it, I would have been having a conversation with my boss.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Once in a while you have to say it in front of other people. Just my opinion but I think you handled the situation very well. He left you no other recourse, really.

        3. LJL*

          I had that happen once. A friend’s (male) co-worker kept poking me in the arm. I told him to quit it a few times to no effect. Finally, I pulled out my 7th grade teacher voice and said “Stop it now.” Of course, he yelled and asked what was the matter with me, but he stopped. And he never touched me in any way again.

  8. Kiwi*

    #3 I might go back to “rehabilitate” my references (and officially logged reason for leaving – resignation rather than termination for cause) … then would quickly start looking for new employment.

  9. Lamb*

    Re:OP #2 If part of your concern is the potential employer hearing “two learning-disabled kids” and assuming your life is too complicated for you to fully commit to the job (or if you think they might have a bias against or misunderstanding of learning disabilities) you can leave that detail out and frame it as a check in with your kids. If they’re young you can cite making sure they got home safe and/or staying aware of the stuff they might forget to mention if they waited until you got home, and if they are teens or tweens if can be making sure they are where they are supposed to be or maybe something about their accountability for their schoolwork? Encouraging them to make a plan for their assignments? I don’t have teenagers.
    Basically, it would be perfectly acceptable to frame it as a daily check in to keep your kids on track without mentioning their learning disabilities if that is something you (or they) would rather keep private.

    1. KJR*

      This. FWIW, I have done this for years with my two children, neither of whom is learning disabled. I just like to check in with them and make sure the homework situation is under control. I did this more when they were in elementary and middle school, but I do still check in with them via text after school.

      1. LBK*

        FWIW, I find it super annoying when my coworkers have daily calls with their kids/family. I don’t want to get into a whole debate about it but my siblings and I all grew up perfectly fine without our parents checking in when we got home from school. I think the OP would be better off adding the learning disability part so it’s not just framed as “I’d like to make personal calls on work time,” which may not be well received depending on the manager.

        (I will add the caveat that people making special requests due to having kids grates on me strongly so I know my view is somewhat irrationally skewed as a result.)

        1. Cat*

          Taking a 5-15 minute break at some point during the workday is not really that much of a special request though. In some places, it might even be a legal entitlement. What she does with those breaks is her business. (The question is going to be whether a particular workplace can accommodate the scheduling and that it’ll just depend. Mine could, oh, 80% of the time, but there’d have to be some flexibility for days where stuff came up at 4pm.)

          1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            I think you’re last sentence is exactly why it’s important to make the reason clear. It sounds like the efficacy of these calls would go down, or perhaps be destroyed, by being at a different time (as OP is pretty precise).

            If it were a matter of “I need to take 15 minutes each day at some point to call my kids,” that would be a different question. “I need to take 15 minutes AT 4:15 every day” is a specific request that is totally reasonable to accommodate, but you’d want to be clear that the timing is as important as the call itself.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Totally agree with this. In this case, the fact that it’s because her kids are learning-disabled is really relevant to what she’s asking for — she’s asking to do it at a specific time each day, which will likely seem overly rigid on days when they’d otherwise want her in a meeting at that time, unless she explains more about the situation.

        2. fposte*

          Whereas I don’t think a five-to-fifteen-minute daily call is even a special request; if you’re non-exempt, you do it on a break, and if you’re exempt, it doesn’t matter. Make sure you’re not disturbing your officemates, but other than that, it’s really not an indulgence given to a particular class of people. I’m not a parent, and I wouldn’t care if my staff wanted a five to fifteen minute daily phone check-in with a spouse, a parent, a pet, whatever.

          1. LBK*

            I totally agree – I don’t have any problem with people doing some personal stuff during work time as long as they’re getting done what needs to be done. It’s really specific to child-related things that bother me, probably because I have bad experience with the I Am A Parent So My Problems Are More Important Than Yours crowd. Which, again, I totally understand that the OP doesn’t fall into, and if I were the manager in the case I might find it off-putting but I’m also aware of my bias enough to take that into account and not take it out on the OP for making a completely reasonable request.

            My point is that any request related to children, reasonable or not, has the potential to be extremely contentious depending on the manager (and depending how aware they are of their bias, if they have one). So I’d advise the OP to err on the side of framing this as something that’s basically a medical necessity for her kids, not just something she likes to do.

          2. Chinook*

            “I wouldn’t care if my staff wanted a five to fifteen minute daily phone check-in with a spouse, a parent, a pet, whatever.”

            What – have you figured out a way to get your cat or dog to pick up the phone? If so, please relay your secret and then I will actually get a landline so I can ensure my cat is behaving himself and not tellling the dog that I have abandoned them and, as a result, the cat must now drink all the water eat all the dog’s food (because my cat actually likes the dog’s food and will eyeball him until he moves away from the food dish).

            1. LiteralGirl*

              My office mate and his wife have 3 cats, and 5 or 6 cat-cams placed throughout the house so they can see what they’re doing whenever they want.

            2. Bea W*

              I only know you can’t do this with rabbits. They just bite the cord in half to keep you from annoying them during prime napping / trouble making time. I went cordless about 20 years ago for this reason, but then they chew the buttons off the handsets. Touch screen smart phone? I’m pretty sure it would end up in a water bowl.

        3. Monodon monoceros*

          I also usually bristle at parents requesting special things just because they are parents, but this one I wouldn’t care about (unless there was some horrible task that had to be done around 4pm, and all the parents wanted to go talk to their kids then, so only the non-parent types ended up doing it).

        4. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          I am on this page. If someone told me that they needed to do this because their kids have a learning disability, it would be no problem. If they told me they needed to check in with their kids by phone every day just to check in… I mean, it’s 5-15 minutes, super not a big deal, so I would obviously allow it, but I would think it was weird.

          I would also assume that it was flexible in a way that this situation doesn’t seem to be. Like, oh, we have a meeting at 4:15 today, so Jamar can call his kids at 4:30 or skip the call today and that will be fine. Which obviously isn’t the case in this situation, and OP might find themselves having to explain it all anyway, only from a position of distress (the meeting is scheduled and now OP is being a “problem”).

          (And I totally find kid requests irrationally grating too; it’s fortunate that this accommodation is so very small that I just can’t imagine any reasonable employer having a problem with it.)

          1. neverjaunty*

            I can. Plenty of employers would roll their eyes and take this as a sign that OP is Not A Serious Employee and a total slacker, because she’s asking for an accommodation related to her kids, even if it’s a tiny one and even if it doesn’t affect her work in any real way. And if she mentions learning-disabled children, that can make the situation worse, because you will be seen as playing the guilt card.

            OP, you know whether you have a reasonable employer or not; you may need to be very circumspect. Can you phrase it as “moving my break”?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I mean, yeah, there are those employers out there, but they’re not the majority. Assuming we’re talking about an office-type setting, the majority aren’t going to care.

              I wouldn’t phrase it as “moving my break” because (a) exempt employees don’t have set breaks and (b) it will seem oddly rigid.

              1. neverjaunty*

                The majority aren’t, but some are, and even in workplaces that are generally good about such accommodations, there will be individual managers who Have Issues. Having BTDT as a parent sometimes you have to be verrry careful about exactly how you present these things to a supervisor.

                1. Sarah (OP)*

                  Yea- that’s a bit of my concern as well, which is why I wanted to be upfront about it (as opposed to sneaking off to make the call) and I suppose if it doesn’t work out well I would be back at trying to find a good fit. Though- to combat that in jobs I’ve had previously I’ve made sure that I’m not taking lots of time off, or at least communicating it as a “me” need instead of a “kid” need. No one needs to know who the doctor appointment is for or that I’m taking time off to spend with my kids. (though that’s really only in situations where the manager is obviously anti-kid time)

          2. plain jane*

            To help with this, if you’re going into a job with a publicly accessible calendar, please block off this time on yours so that people won’t see you as free from 4-430. For meetings that are supposed to end at 4, let the participants know you have a “hard stop” so they aren’t surprised when you have to drop off or leave.

            I’m another of those “kid requests can get a bit much”, but once a day at a set time when they get home makes perfect sense. It’s the ones where there are 3+ calls a day (ditto partners actually) that seem to be social things that would work better over the kitchen table which are most irritating. Thankfully most of my co-workers have switched to texting for these things, so I don’t notice it as much as I used to.

            1. Sarah*

              OP here- thanks for that insight about the calendar, I hadn’t thought of it and I think that would help repel unnecessary problems!

            2. Arjay*

              I was just going to say this too. I put my breaks and lunch on my calendar because my work schedule is slightly offset from what most people work. If I don’t schedule a lunch break around 2pm on my calendar, people who ate lunch at noon will attempt to book up my whole afternoon.

        5. Kate*

          Every family works differently. Different kids, different adults, different temperaments, different strategies.

          And if you can find me an employee in any white-collar office job who claims not once ever to spend 15 minutes per day on non-purely-work-related tasks, I can find you a liar. ;)

          1. JB*

            Right? My parents–who were great–didn’t need to check in on me or my sister at all. But my brother? He needed to be checked on.

            1. fposte*

              And you know, I didn’t need to be checked on, but I would really have liked a few minutes connection with a parent when I got home. It’s not always about monitoring.

              1. KJR*

                Exactly. I spoke to them for 3-5 minutes tops, just to check in, from my office, where I work independently. I could make the call whenever. It just wasn’t a big deal in my environment, but I can see now how it might cause issues for others. Different perspective I suppose. It’s not like I was leaving work undone at the end of the day because of it, or was in any way a “slacker” as someone put it.

                1. LBK*

                  Like I said, I know my view is kind of irrational because I have bad experience with slacker coworkers who make multiple unnecessary personal calls to kids a day and then complain that they’re too busy/don’t have time to get to everything in a day/have to work such long hours to catch up. Well, if you devoted the hour you spent on the phone to doing your work…maybe you wouldn’t have to work an extra hour at the end of the day.

                  I probably do have coworkers who do it in a perfectly reasonable way that doesn’t interfere with business needs and I don’t even notice it because they’re still productive.

            2. Sarah*

              Yes- exactly! (I’m the OP) If these were kids that didn’t need it I would be fine with the “I’m home” text most of my mom friends in similar situations use. The root here is that without this check-in they struggle. It took us a while to finally land on this solution and when we did there was a dramatic up-tick in their grades and making sure things were getting completed and handed in. (We also recap once I get home and go over any trouble spots- homework usually takes a few hours in our home)

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I think you are a very cool parent. As others have said I get a bit concerned when I see parents on the phone numerous times per day. But clearly you have a plan that you are using and it’s working. I think if you explain it the way you have here any sane employer would say “That is all your asking for??” and tell you that it was certainly NOT a problem at all.

        6. Lily in NYC*

          I get it, and agree in some cases (like the guy in my office who goes to every single little thing going on at his 5 year old’s school – not things like plays that most parents would go to – I’m talking at least once a week during the workday). But this one is not a big deal to me. It’s less disruptive than someone taking multiple smoke breaks during the day.

        7. Elizabeth West*

          If they’re not doing it when you’re supposed to be in a meeting with them/working on something, etc., then what’s the problem? A phone call on their break doesn’t really affect you. I’m not trying to be sarcastic; I just don’t understand the animosity. It’s not like they’re bringing them to work or anything that we’ve mostly agreed is obnoxious.

          1. deedee*

            Not animosity exactly, but it is annoying if the coworker a) calls from their desk in an open-space/cubicle environment, or b) leaves the room every day at a critical time in the work process to make their call leaving coworkers to cover on a regular basis. I did actually work with a woman who checked in with her middle school kids every day in a very loud disruptive way. She would ask them questions and then yell at them because they were not doing what they were supposed to be doing or doing what they weren’t supposed to be doing. Basically mothering her kids remotely every day from 3:30 – 5:00. When she got spoken to a few times then dinged on her annual review for this she was furious! Like, how can she take care of her family if she actually has to do work while at work? The nerve!

        8. Mike C.*

          Children are individuals. Just because you don’t need X growing up doesn’t mean they don’t.

          1. LBK*

            Well, duh. I don’t disagree that kids need different things growing up, but in my completely non-scientific observation, parents do often over-communicate with their kids nowadays because they can, not because they need to. I also (again, completely non-scientifically) see parents frequently getting a free pass to weigh their personal needs more heavily than non-parents in the name of taking care of their kids, because anything that’s related to your kid must be necessary. There’s a huge taboo around a manager saying “No, you can’t take time out of your workday to do something for your child.”

            Does this particular example cross the line? I don’t think so, and if the OP’s call didn’t need to be at a specific time I don’t think it would even be worth bringing up to the manager.

            Surely you agree that there’s a line between what a child needs and what’s appropriate for a parent to do during work hours. It seems our lines are just in different places.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Well, I understand your line about parents who take advantage of the fact that they have kids, but this doesn’t strike me as one of those things.

              Since most people get breaks a couple of times a day, if she calls her kids on one of her breaks then it’s a non-issue. Unless she has to be in a certain place each day at that particular time and is trying to get out of it, it falls under nobody else’s business. I would be pretty disgusted if anyone got all judgmental about what I do on my break.

    2. Sarah*

      OP for #2 here! Thanks for all your input! (I’m addressing everyone as I only just sat down to read through these and will try to respond to some of the more pertinent questions.) I wasn’t sure about including the LD bit in there as both of their disabilities have some stigma to them (ADHD and dyslexia) which for some reason people always want to pry into. (I don’t mind advocating or explaining their disabilities, but I occasionally run into people that bristle or are into the latest miracle snake oil) I’m hoping I can get away with “learning disabled” and not have to get into the finer details as a few of you pointed out that it comes off as helicopter-ish. I’m not that mom that’s secretly harboring dreams of being a SAHM- I love working and I’m a single mom so my emphasis on work is paramount- I don’t take time off for field trips, kids have to be super sick to warrant me to stay home with them, etc. I probably *could* do a different time if it was necessary (like a big client meeting or similar) but I’ve found the 4pm time to be the absolute sweet spot of catching them while some of the school day is still in their head. Thanks again for all your input! Reading that most of you thought this was reasonable in an office setting helped calm my nerves and make sure I will be talking to the right points when the opportunity arises. Thanks!

      1. AB Normal*


        I think it’s great that you *could* do a different time if necessary. As long as you can have some flexibility (or your job is very unlikely to require weekly meetings that could end up happening at 4pm), you should be totally fine with your request. The only problem I could see happening (based on my 15 years of experience in 4 different organizations) is your manager saying “oh, that’s perfectly fine!”, only for things to change a few months down the road because of a new weekly meeting that a higher up decided to schedule precisely at 4pm. It wouldn’t look good to ask to be accommodated if for the other 11 participants 4pm is the best slot because of scheduling conflicts. My meeting schedule changes all the time. It could be because the CEO created a new a recurring meeting at the time we previously used for our team’s weekly meeting, or my boss has now to divide time between two offices and has to move our 1:1. Unless your type of job rarely requires you to be in meetings, I’d be prepared (regardless of which company you end up working for) to make adjustments in your routine, perhaps one or two days of the week, as things change.

  10. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-Allison’s advice is great as always. Nothing really to add there but more a general comment on our (U.S.) culture. Why do “we” seem to immediately equate physical touching with creepy/sexual/dominance and especially with men. You wouldn’t see the same relationship with women or at least not as often. What caused that shift that men can’t touch a shoulder without it coming across wrong? I come from an office where we hug each other on a regular basis. Even my male bosses.

    #2-I would wait till the offer stage or honestly even after you got the job. A 15 minute phone call once a day, unless you work in a call center, isn’t a big deal or it shouldn’t be. I would hope that most bosses would appreciate a heads up regarding your kids and be understanding.

    #3-OMG. RUN AWAY. OR at least run away after you’ve gotten the record with this company fixed in your favor. That’s super shady.

    1. fposte*

      To be fair, I wouldn’t want to be regularly touched by female supervisors either–I’m not a big toucher and work-level intimacy isn’t enough for me to be happy with it. But I agree that there’s nothing inherently creepy or dominant about physical touching–it’s just an idiom, really.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I’m male and I had a female coworker who had a habit of coming up behind me while I was working on my computer and rubbing my shoulders. It was super weird and uncomfortable for me. Fortunately she stopped pretty quickly once she realized it wasn’t appropriate for our department’s culture.

        1. Judy*

          I generally don’t have an issue with someone touching on my arm or shoulders, more like a tap on the shoulders to get my attention. I’d be concerned about any rubbing though.

          My only at-work inappropriate touching experience was when I was pregnant. It was a female co-worker, someone I didn’t even know well. What is it about the baby belly that makes some people want to touch?

          (I did have two other occurrences while pregnant of COMPLETE STRANGERS coming up to me in stores and touching the belly. )

          I’ve only been hugged or given hugs at work under certain situations – going aways, one co-worker went for heart surgery, before leaving on maternity leave, etc. Oh, and those Mexicans, Brazilians and Italians, whenever they come and go.

    2. alma*

      I hate it when strange men touch me because it’s been happening since I hit puberty. Not all men are equivalent to the men who grabbed my breasts and thighs when I was at my first restaurant job. However, later on at my first office job, I had a male manager who was just touchy-feely by nature, and I still hated it. Regardless of his intentions, the fact that he was in a position of authority and felt entitled to put his hands on me dredged up some bad memories.

      In OP #1’s case, the slapping was definitely condescending (I associate hand-slapping with something teachers used to do to elementary schools tudents), and I’m willing to bet it also fails the test of “Would you have done that to a male employee and/or one was equal to you in authority?” So regardless of her personal history, I think that alone is enough to warrant a general “hey, I prefer not to be touched” conversation with the supervisor.

      The cultural shift is that it’s now more acceptable for people (not just women, btw) to speak up when they feel uncomfortable with someone else touching them, whereas in the “good old days” they were expected to shut up and take it.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Yes, this. Would this person have touched or hugged their boss in that situation? If no (and usually the answer is no) then, yeah, not buying the argument that this person is just warm and touchy-feely.

        I really hate this narrative that deliberate touching without permission makes people “warm” and that it’s “cold and unfriendly” not to indulge a co-worker’s need to put their hands on you., or to speak up and say you don’t like it.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think that’s the narrative being offered here, though. It’s absolutely true that touching is a common intimacy that’s part of friendly discourse for some people; that doesn’t mean other people are obliged to accept it or can’t say they don’t like it.

          1. neverjaunty*

            But that’s the whole point. It’s an intimacy. Intimacies that are not obviously welcome can be a sign of cluelessness – but they are also very much a sign of the power dynamics between two people. If Bob always touches co-workers or subordinates on the shoulder, but never his boss or the CEO, then Bob is not really just “touchy-feely”; at least unconsciously, he understands that touching other people is a presumption of intimacy.

            1. fposte*

              That’s not really a response to my comment, though. I was noting that nobody here seems to be saying people are obliged to accept these.

              1. alma*

                But pushing back on presumed intimacy, when you are the subordinate and the presume-r is your boss/supervisor, can be difficult. I’m not saying it can never be done, but you run the risk of being labeled uptight/bitchy/mean, or having your boss go into “Why are you rejecting my friendliness????” mode.

                If you avoid similarly intimate touches with people who have the power to push back (if not outright punish you, such as the CEO), then you kind of are relying on people feeling obliged, by the power differential you hold over them, to accept. I don’t think people always consciously realize they’re doing this, but it’s still messed up.

        1. Traveler*

          I’ve seen similar actions slapping of hands/shoulders/elbowing happen in all combinations. I’ve even seen a guy bump the back of another guys head lightly in a “duh!!” moment at work. I think our experiences are really coloring the lens we’re looking through on this incident.

      2. OP#1*

        Thank you for your response. Alma, I agree with your statement “I’m willing to bet it also fails the test of “Would you have done that to a male employee and/or one was equal to you in authority?”.

    3. MousyNon*

      Well, I don’t particularly like anybody touching me in a professional environment (male or female), and I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I do however, agree that generally women are more aware/uncomfortable with male tactile responses in the workplace than female, and there’s a pretty basic reason for it–because we (general we–not every woman may feel this way, but in the aggregate yes) have to be. Society puts an enormous amount of pressure on women to keep ourselves from getting assaulted (as opposed to putting the onus on the assaulter not to assault), so our day to day life is filled with a (usually low grade) awareness that we have to protect ourselves at all times. Add that awareness to the statistical likelihood that men will generally be in a position of authority over women, and that makes for a situation where women are both uncomfortable and too afraid to say anything about it. So I think the best bet is to err on the side of handshakes and distance in the professional sphere.

      That being said, I think it’s great your office has an environment where people feel close enough to each other for this not to be an issue! Just recognize there’s another perspective here.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        I don’t think I’m not recognizing another perspective. I know there are people who don’t like being touched. I have no issues with that. It was just a question about US culture in general not an indictment of people who don’t like being touched.

      2. Scott M*

        As a man, I recognize that I have no idea the pressure women are under regarding this. I read an article once where a teacher in a high school illustrated this difference between men and women. The teacher asked the boys in the class to raise their hand if they had done anything so far that day to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted. Of course there were no hands raised and a lot of chuckles. Then he asked the girls in the class, and almost every hand was raised. So many times, females must be constantly vigilant to protect themselves, so it’s understandable that they might react to touching in a different way.

        1. Traveler*

          Yes this was also illustrated really well on Jon Stewart the other night where he had two of his “correspondents” describe college to incoming freshman. Did anyone see that?

          1. fposte*

            Yup, that was great. God, I love Jessica Williams. Her fake-innocent face is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on a human.

    4. Katie the Fed*

      “Why do “we” seem to immediately equate physical touching with creepy/sexual/dominance and especially with men. ”

      I don’t want to get too much into the subject of rape culture here, but there is still a feeling among women in the US that many men feel entitled to our bodies – to comment on them, to touch them, to tell us to smile, etc. Touching someone without their permission can be perceived that someone feels entitled to enter your personal space. I think it’s inappropriate, and I wouldn’t appreciate it from a colleague (of any gender), but I especially wouldn’t like it from a man.

      It’s not just us either. There are many cultures where touching a woman you are unrelated to is EXTREMELY untoward, and can get you in a heap of trouble.

      1. Sarahnova*

        Yes, this.

        Also, there are men who do this as a way of exerting power or sexual dominance. #Notallmen, no, but enough, and the vibe you get from the situation and your relationship with the individual man is really your only guide to whether it’s sinister or merely clueless. As Gavin deBecker would enforce, respect a woman’s intuition about a man’s intention towards her; it is, by necessity, constantly honed.

    5. Waiting Patiently*

      Either male or female I don’t want to be touched. I work with mostly women and we may give a hug here or there (celebrations – expecting a baby, getting engaged, new job, goodbye for year or welcome back stuff like that) But for me putting your hand on my shoulder to get my attention or convey a meaning is not needed – say my name or make eye contact. And playfully slapping my hand isn’t appreciated either. It just seems childish and high schoolish behavior. To me it’s just like when people call you hun, sweetie, and baby at work.

    6. Kai*

      To me, it’s not so much that touching is always equated with being creepily, inappropriately sexual. It was the little hand-slap that was so weird and off-base. Gender aside, that IS creepy.

      When I was in college, a supervisor at my work study job rapped me on the head with a pencil once for a mistake I made, and the OP’s experience strikes me as very similar: it’s patronizing and awkward for someone to fake-hit you.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        He rapped you with a pencil?! So inappropriate! 0_0

        I had a restaurant vendor come up behind me once and start massaging my shoulders. He had never done that before (and didn’t do it again after). It freaked me out because I had NO idea how to take it. Plus, I was alone in the place with him in the morning, even though it happened when I was outside smoking before my shift. I was often the first to arrive and had a habit of carrying this huge aluminum tool we used to open pickle buckets around with me, just in case. Lucky for him, he didn’t sneak up on me.

        What’s the TV show where the boss smacks people in the head? CSI? We had a discussion about that on here once, I think. As Judge Judy likes to say, keep your hands to yourself.

          1. Simonthegrey*

            My in-laws do the Gibbs-slap thing every once in a while, usually the MIL to my husband or my FIL. I’ve gotten it a time or two. The thing is, I really hate anyone touching my head who was not explicitly invited to do so (I have long hair, and so many people seem to think they have the right to stroke it or play with it. What the hell???). I try not to overreact when she does it – because she is a good mother in law and we have a good relationship – but it’s annoying as hell.

  11. The Cosmic Avenger*

    It sounds to me like OP3′s employer realized after the fact that whatever reason they had used to fire her/him was made up or grossly misinterpreted, and now they’re trying to backpedal. My guess is that they’re trying to avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit by hiring her back. Either way, I agree with the earlier comments; if you need the job, take it back and get the hell out as soon as possible. If you can get by without it, demand an explanation before you come back.

  12. Loose Seal*

    #3 — If you do go back to your job, it might be worthwhile to ask if the grievance policy is going to change in the future since the current one was handled really oddly. Of course, people are going to have complaints periodically but, since your housing is tied up in the job, you need to know how the complaints will be handled. At minimum, I would suggest that you are made aware of the specifics of the complaint and are given an opportunity to address it. Have them create a policy if they don’t already have one and make sure you get a copy.

  13. One of the Annes*

    Alison, if OP3 were to ask for backpay for the time (s)he was out of a job because of the false accusations, do you think (s)he’d be likely to get it?

    If it were me, and I planned to accept the offer to come back, that would be the first thing I’d ask for as a condition of coming back.

    Also, OP, have you already vacated the employer-provided housing? If you have and you do plan to go back to working for this employer, I’d also ask them to pay for all your moving expenses.

    1. Eileen*

      I was offered back pay for the 19 days off. I was offered a small raise and accrued PTO while “off”. I was still not given a reason, or a who said what. I was told that I will no longer report to my regional, but to her supervisor; VP of operations.
      I had given up on asking what was said and just rested on the knowledge that I did nothing wrong…. complete false allegations.
      I had not vacated my housing at the time of our call. Head of HR told me to stay put.
      I was told that I was wronged and that he wanted to make it right. That the company was reactive, which is not how he likes to operate.
      But, know that I am back no one is speaking to. Not my coworkers, or superiors. I am actively seeking a new position. I wanted to ensure that my personal file was clean, and I can now leave on my terms; without the termination scaring my record.

  14. AnonymousOne*

    Regarding OP #1, it seems to me like the specific problem wasn’t necessarily just the touching (although I agree that I don’t like it when people touch me), but that he slapped her hand. That’s just a weird thing to do. It does give off a creepy vibe, like a parent/child or principal/schoolgirl fetish-y thing in my opinion. That kind of behavior is too “comfortable” for a boss/employee relationship, and general touching might come off as too “comfortable” for a lot of people as well.

    I don’t feel like the cross-cultural comparisons are really relevant here since it seems like OP and her boss are in the United States. Yes, other countries can have their different norms (I, myself, am from another country where personal space doesn’t really exist), but it doesn’t matter if in *this case* OP feels uneasy.

    1. Traveler*

      There’s a lot of different cultural norms within the United States though, even just regionally speaking. I’ve had plenty of coworkers playfully reprimand me or jokingly punch me in the arm. I don’t think the behavior in and of itself is inherently creepy or sexual. If OP has other reasons to believe this, that’s another story.

      1. AnonymousOne*

        Well if she gets a creepy vibe from her boss in the first place, him doing that hand slapping gesture (which I still believe is weird) just magnifies that. He probably made her feel even more uncomfortable than she already was.

        1. Traveler*

          Right, and I can understand that. I’m just going off the “otherwise a nice person but gives me a weird vibe”. I wouldn’t describe someone that I thought was playing out some sort of weird fetish or thought was about to assault me in some way as an “otherwise nice person”. To me that sounds like OP was unsure (as they asked in the question) whether this was weird to them because of their dislike of touch, or if this was inherently weird. I get that the OP is uncomfortable, and should address that because they need to feel comfortable at work, but I don’t think we should villainize the boss either – this might be normal behavior to him and other coworkers.

          1. fposte*

            That’s where I fell. All the identified behavior was based on physical contact practices, which, as we’re discussing, has a lot of factors behind it that would mean something other than “creepy.” And if you’re not familiar with that practice and one of your thoughts is that it might be a fetish, that’s going to tinge your read.

            1. AnonymousOne*

              You say “not familiar with the practice” as if it’s common for male bosses to slap their female employees’ hands. I’ve never seen anyone do that in a professional setting, and if I did I would find it inappropriate.

              Also, when I mentioned the “fetish,” I was referring to the schoolgirl thing, and saying it could give off a “fetish-y vibe” to have a man slap a woman as a “disciplinary” measure. I’m not trying to villainize the boss, or even suggest that his mind was in that “fetish-y” state. All I’m saying is that certain people may perceive it that way, and it clearly made OP uncomfortable.

              I don’t understand why unnecessary physical contact is even going on at all. Can’t people just keep their hands to themselves? If you’re not sure how others feel about physical contact, it’s better to back off everyone equally, than touch everyone equally.

              1. fposte*

                Actually, I misremembered and thought the OP had used the “fetish” term. My apologies for the confusion.

                As noted in this thread, various jokey disciplines aren’t hugely uncommon, and many of us have heard of them. That doesn’t make it automatically appropriate, but it does mean it’s not the incontrovertible sign of a freak with no boundaries. I think that might be useful for the OP to know.

                No disagreement that it’s better to avoid touching unless you know it’s welcome.

          2. neverjaunty*

            It’s not really about villainizing the boss; it’s the context. She’s been there two months and Boss already feels comfortable touching her hand/arm and fake-hitting her, and she gets a weird vibe off him. To me that sounds less like OP is asking whether this is inherently strange than not being sure whether one’s instincts are correct. The solution is the same, in any case – politely explain OP doesn’t want him to do that again – but I’m a little surprised at all the pushback OP is getting about cold US cultural norms and how in some workplaces this is A-OK.

            1. fposte*

              Huh, I’m really not seeing the discussion the same way. I think the thread may be replicating some of the differences it discusses :-).

              I don’t think anybody’s actually saying that the US is colder and should touch more; the only person who referred to a personal feeling about coldness noted that it was perceived in transition from a culture that had more personal contact, so it was a contrast felt as a loss.

              I totally agree that nobody has to be touched if they don’t want it.
              I totally agree that somebody who doesn’t want to be touched has the right to convey that preference.
              I totally agree that that the notion women’s bodies have to be available for touching and appraisal is a plague upon the land, and that this may be relevant here.

              But I also totally agree that people are often touchy-feely and physically playful without it being mean-spirited or intended as oppressive. And I think this may also be relevant here, and that it’s useful for the OP to know that such behaviors can occur without their being suggestive of a darker intent or larger problem. That may give her context to identify more clearly for herself whether there are other things going on that make this supervisor untrustworthy, or whether she can work with him comfortably if she’s conveyed that she doesn’t like to be touched and he abides by her wishes.

              1. AnonymousOne*

                Touchy-feely and playfully physical are just not, in my opinion, professional ways to act at work. I’m willing to bet more people are turned off and uncomfortable with that kind of behavior than not. It doesn’t have to be mean-spirited, surely, but people need to check themselves in a workplace environment.

                1. fposte*

                  I think it’s like dogs and pranks, which have also been discussed here and drawn a variety of opinions on their workplace appropriateness. It can be okay in an office or with colleagues where it’s okay. That doesn’t mean the OP has to accept it if she’s not comfortable with it, but it also doesn’t mean that the supervisor has indicated himself to be a loose cannon by engaging in it.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I was just coming here to say what fposte said — that whether it’s okay or not varies by office and the people involved. There’s no blanket “this is the one right way” for this stuff, other than you need to make sure it’s welcome.

                3. Us, Too*

                  Touching, whether you believe it to be professional or not, is very common and accepted in many workplaces. I worked at a job on the same team for 7 years and when I left, I didn’t even shake hands with these folks. On the day I started my new job three days later, I got hugged about 10 times by my new colleagues. This was in the same city so this isn’t a regional thing. It’s a work culture thing. Also, some industries are more touchy-feely than others as well. The no-touching job was in manufacturing. The hugging on the job work was in a disease non-profit. We hugged a LOT in that business. (Horrible diseases tend to unite people in strange ways).

              2. neverjaunty*

                Sure. But it seems like people are dismissing OP’s feelings that this guy is weird or creepy beyond the hand-slap.

            2. AnonymousOne*

              +1. I’m also pretty surprised to see that people are rationalizing this behavior. Again, playful slapping at work is unprofessional and unnecessary.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I don’t think people are rationalizing it. They’re pointing out a range of possible explanations for it and pushing back against the idea that there’s only one way to look at it.

                Also, what’s unprofessional varies from office to office and from relationship to relationship. If Jane and Jill joke around with each other like that and it’s not disruptive, who cares? (Obviously, you need to know if it will be welcome or not, which wasn’t the case here.)

                1. AnonymousOne*

                  I definitely understand that people are trying to give other perspectives on the issue, but I still find it baffling that a male boss slapping a female employee’s hand as “discipline” isn’t generally agreed upon to be weird.

                  Yes, different offices have different standards for professional behavior, but men in positions of power should not be making unnecessary physical contact with their female subsidiaries (really nobody should, but men/women have a different dynamic). Even in your own example you used “Jane and Jill,” which is still not the same as “Jack and Jill.”

                2. LBK*

                  I disagree, honestly, as long as both people are truly comfortable with it. I think treating a male/female relationship so sensitively can be more harmful to gender roles etc. in the long run – it reinforces the idea that men and women can’t have a friendly, playful relationship that doesn’t revolve around sex or romance.

                  It completely depends on the workplace, but I’ve absolutely had relationships like that with my managers and with my employees, regardless of gender (or sexual interest, I guess, as a gay man). This was in retail, where I find in general the expectations for professionalism and manager/employee relationships are less strict, but that’s not to say a similar culture couldn’t exist in an office.

            3. Traveler*

              My comment on the villainizing is not about what the OP said, but about what followup comments have said about this being a schoolgirl fetish or dominance or whatever else. Reading that much into his actions when we don’t know the culture at this office, or anything about this boss besides “weird vibe, otherwise nice, occasionally touches and once jokingly slapped my hand” is a huge leap.

              I agree though, that the solution is the same. Alison’s advice was spot on.

    2. Scott M*

      I posted about these elsewhere, but I’ve seen this done quite often in jest. It’s not odd/creepy in my experience. It’s just a joking-around moment between coworkers (or boss/employee). I understand that some people might not like it (and should certainly say so), but I’m surprised so many commenters here haven’t heard of this.

      1. AnonymousOne*

        I’m quite aware that people do this in jest, but I feel like it’s something that should be done between friends or family, not with your boss. I’m basing this off of my personal work experience, and in all my years working, I’ve never seen anyone slap another person’s hand. I still think it’s creepy lol.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I had a female boss threaten to spank me. I don’t think that just because the two of us are female that lets her off the hook and a different set of rules apply.

          I did not say anything to her. I STILL regret that. And if a similar situation ever happens again, I will speak up.

          She was not a good boss nor was she a good manager. HOWEVER, I have had bad bosses/coworkers before and none of them ever threatened to spank me. That should have jumped out at me in the moment, but it did not. I guess I was too surprised by her comment.

          OP, here is my take on this: It bothered you enough to write AAM. So that means, yeah, you should do something. I think I would talk to the boss. “You know the other day when you slapped my hand? I wanted to let you know that I was not comfortable with that and please don’t do it again. I just wanted to say this so we can get it in the open and move on.”

          What I like about this is that the complaint is your discomfort. No one gets to tell anyone to be comfortable. That is your call only.

          It could be that he blurts out “You know, I was thinking about that and that was a stupid thing for me to do. I am sorry.”

          Just thumbing through my memory banks here, I have had some excellent bosses that I could kid around with and play little jokes on. NONE of them ever slapped my hand, nor did I ever slap theirs. It just never happened.

          1. OP#1*

            That is good advice, thank you. Unfortunately more than a week has gone by so it would be weird of me to address it now. If anything similar happens again I will (hopefully) have the courage to say something. I do not enjoy embarrassing people, so that is what it so difficult for me to address this in the moment.

  15. Waiting Patiently*

    #1 next time just say “I don’t like that. I’m so not a touchy feely person.” Make this about you, because it is, and not about his supposed intentions. This has worked for me in similar situation. You don’t want to make him feel like he’s a creep especially if he is doing this innocently.

  16. Noel*

    OP #1: Honestly, if I screwed up at work and all that happened was that the boss slapped my hand, I’d be pretty relieved. I’d rather have my hand slapped than be fired. That said, with the way the world is today I do think it’s really risky for men to physically touch women who are their subordinates, other than for a reason like pulling her out of the way of danger or something. I would guess that the vast majority of people who are touchy-feely genuinely don’t mean any harm by it, but it’s way too easy for stuff to get misinterpreted. Better to keep your hands to yourself and show friendliness in other ways.

  17. Scott M*

    #1 – I’m kind of surprised at the responses here about this one. This is a pretty common gesture, made in jest, in my experience. I’ve done this to co-workers and had it done to me. I can understand where it might be seen as odd when it’s a boss doing it, and the employee is new. And there is always the added dynamic of male and female touching to consider. I, for one, would never do this to someone unless I was friendly enough with them to know they would get the joke.
    But it seems like many people haven’t even heard of this ‘joking hand slap’ gesture and that surprised me. I guess it just illustrates that everyone has differing experiences.

    1. Waiting Patiently*

      I know for me we did this in high school. It just seems like behavior not appropriate for work unless both people are comfortable with it. Actually we mimic the behavior without physically touching. Like omg, you forgot xyz “air ruler” slap..slap” In my work environment don’t actually cross the line of physically slapping a coworker’s hand jokingly.

      1. Waiting Patiently*

        Typing on my phone this morning.
        In my work environment we pretend to do a “air ruler” slap. We’d never cross the line of physically slapping a coworker’s hand even in a joking way.

      2. Anonathon*

        Right. The gesture is fine, but do the fake/air version if that’s what you want to communicate. I wouldn’t be too freaked if my boss actually slapped my hand … but I’d be kinda taken aback.

        (Related story: most of my co-workers are hug-types. Not in a creepy way, but a “hugs on your birthday or at completion of the big project” way. I am a curmudgeon who does not like such things. I dealt with it by having a comically annoyed faux-panic response. Everyone got the picture and now air hugs me, which I quite like.)

    2. Kelly L.*

      I had it happen to me once at a job, and it was not in jest. It wasn’t sexual either; I’m a woman and the slapper was a heterosexual woman. She just got really mad at me and lost her temper and slapped my hand. I was a little shocked by it, because you just don’t. I think I just kind of stared dumbfounded.

      I also know the joking-slap gesture, but you don’t usually make actual contact doing that, in my experience. You kind of slap the air over the other person’s hand and maybe make vocal sound effects (“thwap! thwap!”). And it’s not something I’ve really seen in the workplace much.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, with the joking slap, my main objection is that it’s too awkwardly dorky even for me. But a real slap? Oh, hell, no.

    3. MousyNon*

      Well (setting aside the gender issue), I think the point here is that the OP does NOT have that kind of relationship with her boss. I’d stretch that to add that no subordinate should have that kind of relationship with their boss (meaning the kind of relationship where someone could playfully ‘discipline’ someone for an error with a slap on the hand), because it crosses the boundaries of acceptable professionalism and, with the power disparity, turns a joke into mean-spirited humor at the expense of a colleague.

      1. fposte*

        Why is it mean-spirited, though? Would it be mean-spirited if it were just the “air-ruler” gag people are talking about and there were no physical contact? (I’ve also encountered the “lashing with a wet noodle” thing.) It’s pretty common for offices to have ongoing jokes about errors, and while I don’t love this one, I also don’t see it as automatically mean-spirited, either.

        1. MousyNon*

          Because we’re adults, not children meriting discipline, and a boss slapping a subordinate’s hand for an error not only makes that error a public spectacle, but bespeaks a lack of respect for the colleague and the work they’re hired to do. While I would look less harshly at the “air ruler” than actual physical contact, I still don’t think it’s appropriate behavior coming from a manager.

          1. fposte*

            But inappropriate isn’t the same thing as mean-spirited. That’s a specific read on intent that I don’t think is borne out.

            1. MousyNon*

              I personally consider the lack of respect I feel the action implies to be mean-spirited. We’ll just have to agree to disagree!

          2. OP#1*

            Agreed. I’m a new employee and every mistake already weighs heavily on me, and I know that the people around me can here when a mistake is discussed.

    4. HR Manager*

      I’m with you. If this was clearly in jest, I would not think much of this. I don’t do this to anyone I don’t know well, but I have on occasion made joking slapping gesture to a coworker who has made me the butt of his/her (innocent) joke. The issue seems to be less about the slap and the meaning of this gesture, but that the supervisor seems to have a habit of touching the person.

    5. Laura*

      I’ve never seen a hand slap as a joking thing, other than in one very small circle of friends in college (and there, it was always ‘slap the naughty thoughts out of me’ and initiated by the person to be slapped deliberately extending their hand toward someone else, basically to make them pick up on the double entendre the person was reacting to).

      I got my hand smacked in primary school if the teacher thought I needed it, and it hurt.

      As a joke between friends or coworkers, other than that one context, no. And given that context, that would make it *more* creepy to me, not *less*, but I’d probably assume the ‘school’ context and take it as a power trip, and a nasty one, not a ‘creepy’ thing.

      1. anonness*

        Probably just a culture thing … hand slap to me was taken as an “Oh, you!” or “You’re being silly” smile smile. Not like a power trip, even though I have had a teacher smack my hands.

        1. Laura*

          Yeah, that’s the only context I have for it – if a teacher does it to a young student, it’s necessarily corrective. Since that’s basically the only time I’ve seen it used except the one oddball other case, an adult slapping another adult’s hand over a mistake would ‘read’ to me like “I am the teacher, you are the child, and you are as beneath me in knowledge and power as an elementary child is their teacher” – which is how it would get to ‘power trip’ because really, no adult should be viewed that way relative to another adult.

          I should add “would have taken”. This thread is edifying! Now I would start to think this way, remember this thread, and think, “Maybe they are just doing it in a joking or friendly way like was said.”

          And then I would ask them to please not, but I think I would handle it better and feel better about it, knowing there _are_ contexts where it’s not meant how I would normally read it.

    6. Mints*

      Yeah, I’m definitely not touchy feely, but I don’t think every uncomfortable touch is creepy or sexual. Sometimes it’s just friendly in a way I don’t want.

      I used to have very long hair (waist/hip length) and wore it in a braid for most school days, and I would have near-strangers pet me, essentially, and touch my hair. Which was maybe race-related, but not at all sexual.

      It’s totally understandable if the OP is uncomfortable with touching, but I don’t think it’s necessarily inappropriate beyond that

  18. JMegan*

    #5, it’s also possible that it’s an organization that is not allowed to consider applications submitted for Job A when trying to fill Job B (government is the first one that comes to mind.) So in order to be considered for Job B, you specifically have to apply to Job B, quoting the job numbers and all the rest. As Alison says, don’t assume that she would have called you already because your application is on file – lots of places don’t do that. So go ahead and customize your cover letter, and apply to Job B.

    1. anonymous*

      I have a similar situation to OP#5 (I was just about to submit this very question before reading today’s entry), except I have an interview scheduled in two weeks for a management-level position, however, like the OP, there is another lower level position that was recently posted within the same department that I am thinking of applying for in case I do not get offered the first position. Both are government jobs that require separate applications and different supplemental documents in order to be considered. It gets a little more complicated: the lower-level position would be reporting to the position for which I am currently being considered. I should add that I will not hear final word on the first position before the job posting expires for the other job (hope this isn’t confusing). I just finished a master’s program and am currently unemployed, so I would happily accept either position were they offered to me, even though the lesser of the two opportunities would be a lateral move. Can someone please advise me on whether or not it would negatively effect my first application if I applied for the lower-level job in the same department?

  19. Ann O'Nemity*

    #3 says the letter writer was fired 2 weeks ago and was given 2 weeks to move, and is now being offered the job back. I’m wondering if the LW has already moved. Did they incur moving expenses, sign a new lease, etc? Has the company trying to hire the LW back offered any compensation for all that trouble?

  20. Colorado*

    #1. I’m a woman and a manager, and a hugger and shoulder/arm toucher kind of person. Although I wouldn’t slap someone’s hand or hug them without consent or invitation. But reading this commentary is really making me think back on my behaviors. I sure wouldn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or think I was weird. If anything, I’ve always thought of this sort of thing as a gesture of warmth and sincerity. Huh, you just never know, we all think/act/react so differently.

    1. Frances*

      I’m not intending the following as a criticism, I just wanted to offer a story that helped shape my thinking on the issue:

      Once I had a boss who broke her arm but her doctors decided it was best that she not have a cast while it healed. She did have a sling for awhile, but one morning she forgot it at her desk when she came to welcome a new coworker. While they were talking, the woman reached out in a friendly arm touching gesture — and placed her hand right on the broken part of the arm. There was no way the new woman could have known that the arm was injured, and my boss handled it well by stepping backwards and explaining (although I knew her well enough to know how hard she was trying not to cry from the pain) — but it has always stuck with me as an example of why you should not touch someone you don’t know well without their consent, even if the impulse is a friendly one.

      1. CC*

        Or the time I had a nasty sunburn across my back and shoulders and was barely tolerating the shirt I was wearing.

        I got a friendly clap on the shoulder.

        I may have yelled in pain.

      2. caraytid*

        …and the extremely enthusiastic hugs i received after my son was born.

        people, please be very careful about smashing a new mom’s chest with a congratulatory hug! ouch!

      3. smilingswan*

        The one time my dad playfully punched me in the shoulder I had just gotten a tetanus shot. Excruciating!

  21. HR Girl*

    #5 – Depending on the organization, they may even talk to you about the more lateral position. When I applied for my current job, I only saw a manager opening. I barely qualified and also viewed as a stretch position. However, when the recruiter contacted me, they asked if I would be interested in the non-manager position as the manager position was likely to be filled internally. I said I would and he asked that I add my application to that posting as well. I ended up in a position I love, making more money than I thought I would today, and a great team. If you’d truly be happy with either position, I would say post for both.

  22. Brett*

    One thing I have seen in government to be wary of…
    If a quality candidate applies for two positions in the same job series, they will get hired for the lower position and then promoted to the higher position within the first year without an increase in pay. It happens pretty regularly, and short of quitting your job (and losing a lot of unvested benefits since you are in your first year) there is nothing you can do about it once you are in that trap.
    You can avoid that by making sure the higher position was hired if you are offered the lower position. Though I have one co-worker who had a no-raise promotion to a higher position she applied for initially, because the person in that position quit 2 months into the job!

    1. Stretching*

      Whew, glad it is not a government job! Another complication is that the job is in a different state (which I’m hoping to move to – but I know there are whole threads on that). I wonder if I should settle and seem like the best option for the lower position since I’m geographically disadvantaged…

  23. anon-2*

    #3 – seen that happen — employee is fired – then brought back, “it’s all a mistake”…. usually the firing company realizes something went wrong, and there’s a potential lawsuit on the horizon. And it’s a way to call it off.

    Or – someone higher-up got wind of the firing, and did his/her own investigation, got to the truth, and decided to do the right thing. Be advised, that stuff usually only happens in the movies.

    It would be interesting to know what form the apology took. Was it an HR person doing it verbally? Or was a letter issued? Or what? And – the HR file. Will there be a record of a rescinding of a firing? No firing at all? Retraction and written apology? ??? That can be important, otherwise the fired-not really-sort of-fired guy may become a target again. And his management team “bring him back, we’ll finish it off the RIGHT way”…

    1. smilingswan*

      Yeah, I’d get everything in writing in case of a lawsuit or future unemployment dispute.

      1. Eileen*

        The apology was over the phone first, then in person several days later. I did receive an email offering my position back, and that they are all “happy” to have me as part of the team again.
        There was a definite lawsuit possibility because the regional who did the firing told fellow coworkers and property residents, why I was fired. I did not do any threatening, in fact no would from corporate would even address me long enough to say the allegations were false.

  24. amaranth16*

    I am really not a fan of AAM’s suggested language “I’m weird about being touched.” I don’t think there’s anything weird about not wanting to be touched by a colleague and although I don’t think the LW should be confrontational about it, I don’t think it’s necessary to apologize or make excuses for expecting a professional distance. I’d suggest “Bob, sometimes you touch me on the arm or shoulder, and I’d prefer it if you didn’t. I’m sure you don’t mean anything by it, but I need personal space.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m sure that’s fine too. I can’t picture myself saying it — I’d feel way too awkward. But I can totally picture myself saying “I’m weird about being touched.” I like language that makes people feel like they can imagine themselves saying it, which I think isn’t always the case with more straightforward “don’t do this” sentences in some cases.

  25. kobayashi*

    In a place I worked years ago, a woman playfully hit a coworker on the head with a file to chastise him for a mistake. Of course, she didn’t hit him hard, it was a light/playful hit. Not appropriate. She was fired, as I recall (I am getting this second hand, though). The punishment seemed a BIT excessive, but then I don’t know what other discipline she might have had prior to that.

  26. OP#1*

    I sent in question #1. Thank you all for your discussion. (I am female, by the way, and my boss is male).

    Question for men: are you conscious about not touching female coworkers? Is that common sense for most people? Where I used to work, I can’t imagine that my bosses would have ever touched me, even in a harmless way. I just always thought that was a boundary that most people were aware of, and were cautious about not crossing because of how they could be perceived to others. Even just to get my attention, my boss has touched my arm. It doesn’t bother me at all when female coworkers touch my arm or do anything similar. It bothers me coming from a man because I feel like its such an obvious boundary to not cross, that deliberately crossing it indicates that you either have poor judgement, or you simply don’t care.

    1. Op#1*

      I should add, I’m not freaked out by a tap on my shoulder or an innocent pat on the back. I know that within reason, physical contact with your coworkers is ok. But to repeatedly do it when it’s not at all necessary….blegh.

  27. Cassie*

    #1: There have been a couple of times where one of my bosses (a guy) will pat my shoulder (while saying “good job on the project”) or if we’re walking through a doorway and he (gently) pushes me forward so I’ll walk through first. It’s a little awkward but I know he doesn’t mean anything skeevy by it.

    And there are times where I and some coworker friends would nudge each other – for example, if we’re at lunch and someone sees something funny. But other than that, I do not like being touched and would never voluntarily touch someone. The other day, a coworker reach out to fan me (it was hot) and I recoiled just by his hand moving towards my general vicinity. Maybe it’s because my family is not touchy-feely at all – it’s a little sad (when you think about it). Sharp contrast to being part of a ballet studio/company where teens are constantly hugging each other like they’re long lost relatives, and some of the teachers/choreographers would hug students occasionally. I even had one guest teacher kiss me on the cheek – I was 17, he was 50-something, it was kind of creepy.

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