my coworker wants me to goof off so she doesn’t look bad, peanut allergies when interviewing, and more

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

1. My coworker wants me to goof off so she doesn’t look bad

I just started a new job about a month ago. It’s a job that requires both speed and accuracy, and I came in with a lot of experience, so I’m doing well so far and my manager has told me that she is impressed.

My department only consists of me, my manager, and another coworker (who I’ll call Carol). Carol is friendly to me but keeps making comments about how I need to “goof off on the internet more” and how I should purposefully work more slowly because I’m making her look bad. We’re at a time of year that’s slow for our business, so I’ve already worked through my entire backlog of work and am now doing some other projects that had been stalled during busier times. Carol told me today that she’s deliberately working as slowly as possible because she doesn’t want to do any additional work like I’m doing. Some of our work is time-sensitive and our clients are getting annoyed with her slowness, but she doesn’t seem to notice/care.

This seems so strange to me, and I don’t know how to react. Carol is known for being slow and not the best at her job, but my manager lets a lot of things slide because she’s generally conflict-avoidant. I can live with that. But how do I respond to Carol’s repeated requests for me to goof off at work and do a crummy job just to make her feel better?

Ignore her. Or laugh and pretend you think she’s joking. Or say, “I’m actually happier when I’m keeping busy.”

Also, your manager is committing a pretty egregious act of negligence and incompetence in not dealing with Carol.

2. Asking an older intern applicant about age issues

I’m hoping you can give me some advice on the best way to ask a potentially touchy question in an upcoming interview. My office offers an internship program for undergraduate students. In total, there are about a dozen interns who work for our office during the academic year. While some of the work is done individually, there is a lot of opportunity for the interns to work together and interact with one another. We are currently recruiting one intern to complete this year’s cohort. The internship is open to any currently enrolled undergraduate, including non-traditional students, though all of our existing undergraduates are within the typical 18-22 age range.

One of the candidates we are bringing in for an interview is significantly older than the rest of the intern staff. I would never discount her application based on age (and I believe doing so would be illegal), but I want to make sure that she will be comfortable working alongside a group of traditionally-aged sophomores and juniors. Is there a way I could bring this up during the interview that both (a) lets her know about the make up of our existing intern body, and (b) assesses whether or not she might have a problem doing the same work and working alongside students who are 15 or 20 years her junior? I want to make sure it’s a good cultural fit for everyone.

She’s a non-traditional student going back to school 15 or 20 years after most people; she’s used to being in classes with 18-22-years-old, and I’m sure that it’s not lost on her that other interns are likely to be in that age range as well. You’re not going to be telling her anything that hasn’t already figured out on her own, by virtue of being a later-in-life student.

I also wouldn’t ask directly how she feels about working alongside younger interns; there’s a high probability of awkwardness from that question and a low probability of getting you anything useful. But you could certainly asking things like “what made you decide to return to school?” and “how are you finding the experience of being a non-traditional student?” Her answers to those might give you some insight into how comfortable she is being in a crowd of 19-year-olds.

3. Do I have to disclose a life-threatening peanut allergy when I’m interviewing?

I have a life-threatening allergy to peanuts. The last 7 ER trips have been caused by me touching something contaminated with peanut residue or being touched by someone eating something with peanuts. I am currently applying to teach in several private schools. Several of these schools have community lunch where teachers and students eat together. Sometimes family style, sometimes with each person bringing their lunch.

I can do this. My family never took the ban peanuts approach. I grew up with my little sister and cousins eating things with peanuts around me. I’ve taught in public schools for 12 years. I have found a simple explanation was all the students needed. They had no problem washing their hands and cleaning the area, and actually were quite protective.

My current plan is to not mention this unless I am given an offer, then explain the condition and easy solutions to kids having peanut products in their lunch. For example, using newspaper as a place mat, then wrapping the trash in the newspaper for disposal, the children washing their hands after finishing eating, and keeping vinyl* first aid gloves in the room for me to wear while cleaning up any messes (you guessed it; I’m also allergic to latex). Do you have any other ideas?

Yep, it’s perfectly appropriate to wait until you have an offer to mention this, just like with any other medical condition. That removes the chance of your allergy becoming a factor in their hiring decision, and raises it at the appropriate time: when they’ve decided they want to hire you and you’re working out the details. (And really, given how common peanut restrictions are in schools now, they’re probably well-equipped to deal with this.)

4. Can company make me pay for a required medical exam and take sick leave to get it?

I work for a company that requires a medical exam every year. I would like to know if the company can require an employee to take sick leave to deal with these exams and to pay for them out of pocket, without reimbursement. This may seem petty, but I really think that if the employee requires me to do this, I should not have to pay for it, neither should I lose personal time off work. I’ve never had to have an annual exam for work before. I have had pre-employment drug tests, but they were always paid for by the company I had applied with.

I have never received reimbursement for an exam from this company, not even the pre-employment exam, but other managers I’ve worked for here have allowed me to leave from work to get my physical and not use sick leave. My current manager does not want to allow this, and wants me to use my sick leave to fulfill the employer mandate. This means losing nearly a full day of sick leave because I have to go back three days after the exam to have my TB test evaluated. I believe the TB test is the only thing that costs me out of pocket now, other than travel to get there twice, because of the Wellness mandate (thanks ACA!), but the company does not reimburse for that, either.

Can companies legally require that we pay for any portion of a mandatory exam? And is completing this exam under an employer directive not considered time at work, to be paid as work time, not sick time?

it depends on what state you’re in. Some states forbid employers from pushing the cost of required medical exams on to employees; other states are silent on the issue. Google the name of your state and “employer required medical exam cost” and you’ll probably find the answer for your state.

The sick time question is more complicated. Because sick days aren’t required by law (except for in a small number of localities), employers can make all kinds of crazy rules about it. (If you happen to be in one of those small number of localities that do require it, I don’t know how this would play out and you’d be better off talking to a lawyer in your state.)

Do you have an HR department? This is the perfect sort of thing to take to them, as they (a) probably want all managers handling it the same way and (b) probably will agree you shouldn’t have to take a sick day to fulfill your job requirements.

5. When employees don’t have phones to call in late/sick with

I direct a customer service-oriented department of about 60 part-timers at a nonprofit cultural organization. These part-time employees make between $9-$10 per hour, but many only work about 20 hours per week, so they aren’t taking home much money especially for an East coast city. Recently, a few employees have been unable to follow procedures about calling out for a shift or calling to say that they’ll be running late because they don’t have a phone currently or their service has been cut. For instance, one employee was nearly an hour late because she missed a bus and wasn’t able to call to let us know because she doesn’t have a phone. Another employee needed to call out, but did so an hour late because she had to go use her neighbor’s phone and her neighbor wasn’t awake yet when she first tried to use her phone. I’m very aware that bills are tough to pay with a $9/hour job, and in low-income communities, it’s somewhat common for adults to have sporadic phone access, so I feel conflicted about holding these employees accountable for failure to follow procedure that is directly related to their tight financial circumstances.

I know that increasing our rate of pay significantly would minimize this problem, but unfortunately our company is just not in a position to do that right now. What is the best way of treating these employees fairly while still enforcing our attendance policies?

I’ve been racking my brain for an answer for you and don’t have one. All I can come up with is issuing people cheap cell phones with pre-paid calling cards, but for 60 people I’m betting it’s not realistic. But maybe a reader will have an idea?

{ 490 comments… read them below }

  1. kas*

    1. My coworkers joke about the same thing and I just laugh it off. She has serious issues if she doesn’t see how her behaviour/slowness is hurting her.

    2. If I was an older intern, it would not be a surprise to me that the other interns were much younger. I don’t see why this needs to be brought up.

    5. If they somehow have access to email they could email to say they’re sick but for lates, I’m stuck.

    1. Purr purr purr*

      I agree on point 2. It’s a non-issue for the applicant because they’ll already know. It’s similar to applying to a job that would require relocation and then being asked, ‘Are you OK with relocating to xyz?’ If they’ve applied, they’re interested and they know what is involved.

    2. Anonymous*

      Yeah, I was an older intern recently and the questions seem pointless.

      This sort of question in interviewing for regular employment might even be taken as a sign of age discrimination. I’m not saying it actually is age discrimination – that depends on who gets hired – but it’s not a good line of questioning.

      1. De Minimis*

        I agree, I applied as an older person in a predominantly young organization and it’s something an older student gets accustomed to when they are in school. Generally by the end of the first semester you forget all about the age difference and don’t even think about it anymore unless someone brings it up.

      2. ella*

        Yeah. I was an older undergrad, and being older than my classmates didn’t come into it during class time or while we were working on group projects or when I was working for articles on the school newspaper (working for an editor who was ten years younger than me). I didn’t have anyone to eat with at mealtimes, because everyone ate with their friends from the dorms, but that’s about it.

        I appreciate that the OP isn’t immediately discounting the possibility of an older intern, as I’m sure a lot of employers do. Shutting down options for somebody because of something as nebulous as “culture fit” is potentially problematic to me.

        1. neverjaunty*

          “Culture fit” has kind of become a joke out here – it’s a Silicon Valley-ism for “I only want to work with people just like me and my friends.”

          OP #2, are you really concerned about whether the older intern is going to fit in, or are you projecting your own feelings or discomfort here? If you are really concerned about an older working having trouble talking to the young’uns, then you can just mention in passing that you tend to have a lot of younger/college-age interns when you’re describing the workplace, just as you would anything else about the company.

        2. TrainerGirl*

          Very true. I completed a certificate program two years ago, and I was one of two older students. Other than a professor once accusing me of plagiarizing an essay because he thought I was the same age as the other students and thought I “wrote too well for my age” (which is an idiotic idea in the first place), it was no big deal.

    3. Bea W*

      I was actually asked a similar question when applying to 4 year schools as a full time day student. I wasn’t even that much older, 24. I was kind of annoyed. The non-traditional student programs didn’t qualify for school financial aid and scholarships though and there was no way i could I finish my 4 year degree without aid for most of the expenses.

      Um…i know how old I am, and I am fully aware I didn’t take a traditional path. There are stupid questions, and i think this is one of them.

    4. Karin*

      I can understand where the OP is coming from regarding the age question. Our organization hired an intern who was significantly older than the traditional intern age range and it turned out to be problematic, not so much in regard to their relationship with other interns, but in regard to the hierarchy within the organization. The internship consisted of largely doing support work for a staff member who was rather junior, which meant that the intern was being managed on a day-to-day basis by someone nearer to the traditional intern age than their own. This resulted in the intern pushing back against tasks assigned by my colleague, often going over my colleague’s head to the director of the organization with questions/complaints about tasks. It definitely added a lot of tension into the office.

      My point: It’s quite a different dynamic to be sitting in a classroom with 20-somethings being taught by a professor than to having your tasks assigned and managed by a 20-something. I think it is definitely worth asking the questions suggested above to gauge how comfortable/uncomfortable the candidate would be in this situation.

      1. OP #2*

        Thanks, Karin. To add to the letter I sent Alison, this intern candidate is in a school that’s mostly populated by non-traditional students. She might take a few classes here and there with students from other schools within the university that are of traditional college age, but much of her classroom experience is with other non-traditional students.

        1. Laura*

          In that case, it might be worth bringing it up – but I would just offer it as a piece of information and let that person do with it what they will.

          Also, I know it’s painful to get to the offer stage and be rejected, but the offer stage might even be the time to bring it up. That way, there’s _no_ question it factored into your decision, only whether it factors into the candidate’s decision.

          Maybe, “We would love to have you on board, and here’s the offer: (details). Please be aware that you would be in a group of interns, most of whom are traditional college age; we hope you’ll be comfortable with that, but wanted you to be able to factor it in your decisions.” (Disclaimer: I am not a non-traditional student, nor have I ever hired one. That phrasing may stink!)

          1. Seattlejo*

            Non-Traditional student here , had my first internship at 36. I have to say your wording would annoy me a little. If you flipped the situation to gender, would you say: ” Please be aware that you would be in a group of interns, most of whom are male; we hope you’ll be comfortable with that”

            Unless you’re one of those organizations that treats internships like summer camps with heavy team building, lack of peer bonding should not impact the interns ability to get the work done. After all, it’s about getting the work done right? Not about having a new social group.

        2. ella*

          Do you mean she’s in a school within a university? If so, I wouldn’t assume that her classes are with other non-traditional students. I went to the School of General Studies, which is Columbia University’s school for non-traditional students, and I was almost always mixed in with the Columbia College students for classes (CC being the usual undergrad school for 18-22 y.o.’s). Occasionally I’d find myself in an upper-level sociology class that was primarily populated by GS students, but not often.

          It sounds like you’re familiar with the structure of the university she’s in, and I have no idea if Columbia’s way of organizing things is typical or not. But just because she’s in a different school doesn’t mean she’s not in the same classes.

        3. Observer*

          It’s still not a valid question. If the person has any sense s/he will know that the rst of the school is not composed of non-traditional students.

          As for Karin’s point I would say a few things. One is that working WITH people younger than you is different than working FOR people significantly younger. And, it’s also something that people are less likely to expect. Nevertheless, the intern’s behavior was NOT appropriate – and NOT what I would expect from someone used to the work world. The problem here was not one that you should expect whenever you have someone who is not young – and making that assumptions is EXACTLY the kind of age discrimination that the law is intended to prevent. Lastly, the real issue is why no one pushed back on the misbehaving intern. Unless the person really was being poorly managed, this behavior should have been shut down immediately. This kind of poor management is going to come back to haunt you even if you refuse to ever hire an old person ever again.

          1. Karin*

            Thanks for your comments, Observer. I should have been clearer: we certainly recognized the intern’s behavior as an anomaly and that it doesn’t apply to every older intern. In trying to keep it brief, I left out how the director was always clear that the points being brought to him rather than my colleague were to be addressed with the colleague. Because the behavior continued, the internship was terminated early.

            Since, we have worked with other older interns (generally mid-to-late-20s) and have had none of the same problems. My point with my comment was just to say that being managed by someone 5 years (or so) younger is a different experience than being grouped with them. For some people, likely a minority, this comes with real issues. That said, I’m not really sure if this is something that can be screened for, with the exception of just being really clear during the process about the types of tasks and management structure.

            1. Anonymous*

              “Since, we have worked with other older interns (generally mid-to-late-20s) a”

              That’s old?

              I had two internships as part of a career shift while in my late 40s. My supervisor at one was perhaps 8 or 10 years younger than me.

      2. De Minimis*

        That may not be about age, though, they might just have trouble dealing with hierarchy and sticking to the chain of command. It seems like it can be a common obstacle for junior managers–I think we’ve had at least a few questions on here dealing with that.

        1. DeadQuoteOlympics*

          Yes, it seems problematic to single out problems that *might* be related to a particular intern’s age, when intern cluelessness is generally endless and diverse. More traditional interns may present a different set of problems that may or may not be age-related, like calling the CEO “dude bro” or wearing flip flops to work. And part of the point of internships is to teach them to handle the business environment, no matter how their cluelessness manifests itself.

        2. Mints*

          Agreed. Some people care more about age and feel strongly that age dictates respect. But that’s definitely not the case with everyone.
          I transfered from a community college and had lots of classes with older students, and some were really condescending to me and younger students, and some were totally friendly and collegial. It really depends on the individual, and how much they interact with younger adults generally
          (Surprising to me at the time: one woman who has a daughter about the same age as me ended up being one of the friendliest classmates. She treated her daughter like an adult, and was never condescending to me. It really depends)

          1. anon attorney*

            I changed careers in my late thirties. Qualifying as a lawyer where I live means doing a two year internship equivalent. Basically on the job learning. When I was interviewing, one guy did ask me how I would feel about being entry level again at my age and taking direction from younger people. I was actually glad he asked as it gave me a chance to make clear that I had reflected on it and it wouldn’t be a problem. I was offered the job, so it must have worked! I ended up taking another offer from a firm who never mentioned it, and in fact hired several other nontrad candidates. (Still there! ) If you ask, I would suggest you focus on the management aspect because it can be a real issue on both sides and it gives you a chance to evaluate the extent to which the candidate has reflected on how she would feel about doing the job day to day.

      3. jag*

        “but in regard to the hierarchy within the organization. ”

        This is a separate question than age. It’s about asking someone if they’re willing and interested in doing work that seems more entry-level than what they’d done in other jobs/professions in the past and also to accept they might not have a lot of autonomy or decision-making opportunities as an intern. Very valid question.

        That said, if your organization is flexible, the tasks assigned to interns should take into account the skills and knowledge of the intern. I’ve had interns ranging from high school students to mid-career, and while I can’t always give the mid-career ones stuff that fully takes advantage of their skills, I try.

        1. Lamb*

          While I can see how using the mid-career interns’ preexisting skills would be useful to you, an internship is supposed to be a learning experience. Are your younger interns missing out on doing certain aspects of the internship when there is an older intern in the mix? Would it normally be that all interns do W and X and get an introduction to doing Y and Z, but if there’s an intern with Y and Z background they get those tasks and everyone else is only doing W and X?
          It’s not that I’m just saying “That’s not fair!” (Although I think “the world is unfair” is an excuse used by the lazy and the biased to avoid justifying their behavior) my point is that one should be careful not to gut the internship experience for younger/less experienced interns, both in terms of learning and resume building, in favor of older intern(s). If an employer is familiar with your internships and gets an applicant who didn’t get an intro to Y or Z with you, they would probably assume it reflected on that intern’s shortcomings, in which case that internship would be hurting their chances rather than helping them.
          Conversely, are older interns whose preexisting skills are being used missing out on things they would normally learn in your internship? For example, if they were doing a more skilled task rather than a bunch of data entry, are they not getting real-world experience in a software popular in your industry? They are interning to learn too, and they already have those old skills on their resume.

          1. jag*

            “my point is that one should be careful not to gut”

            You’re building a whole set of advice for me out of thin air. It’s not actually wrong, but I haven’t said anything to provoke it or show a need for it.

            And to be clear – an effective internship has to take into account the interns skills and knowledge. If it doesn’t, they may learn stuff they already know or be given tasks that are so hard they don’t learn.

            But I’ll watch out to not guy people’e internships because of whatever. Whatever.

      4. LibrarianJ*

        My sister had a similar problem at her organization. She was in her very early 20s in a position responsible for supervising interns who are primarily of traditional college age. A couple of years ago they hired an intern in his early 30s, a PhD candidate. This guy has been nothing but trouble — he has no issue reporting to others in the hierarchy appropriately, but refuses to accept her authority as a much-younger female and either ignores her or goes over her head to the next level, and is unfortunately often humored. After going over her head to demand more responsibility, he was given a paid position and a promotion. She was also promoted after awhile and is still his immediate supervisor, but the tension is still there — he refuses to accept her authority, pretty much ignores her except to give sass in response to instructions/tasks, and goes over her head for anything he wants. I think in this case, the difference in educational levels was also an issue, but from comments he had made to her I think age is a major factor in his disrespecting her. I agree that it would be worthwhile trying to gauge if a non-traditional student would be comfortable answering to someone younger than them, if this is something the position might require.

        1. Observer*

          And of course the fact that she is female could have nothing to do with it.

          The real issue is not his age vs hers – if the organization didn’t humor him, he would either change his behavior or find another job. Sexist snobs will treat women older than them as though they are children, and I hate to say it, but that’s what this guy sounds like.

        2. krisl*

          I think this is more about the company that lets him get away with it. I agree that he might be doing this because she’s young and/or because she’s female, but to me, his behavior is not OK and needs to be dealt with.

          I think this guy is a jerk, and the company is not managing effectively.

    5. Bea W*

      #5 – when you are already out of the house and don’t have a cell, you are not going to be able to email about delays caused by missing a bus or traffic.

      For the person at home who had to use a neighbor’s phone, if they can’t afford to have phone service at home, they likely can’t afford home internet.

      I’m sure this is probably not a problem for all 60 employees. Maybe the employer could offer assistance on a case-by-case basis. If an employee fails to call in due to not having phone service, maybe they could offer to help the employee get a basic pre-paid cell. They could also research assistance programs. Maybe some of these employees would qualify LifeLine assistance which used to be landline only, but now people who qualify can choose a cell phone (it is either or – you can’t use assistance for both). People derogatorily refer to it as the “Obama phone”, but it’s a public assistance program that has been around long before Obama or the invention of cell phones.

      1. Cheryl Becker*

        Totally agree. I think they might be able to help those that have this problem (which, as you say, is probably not all 60 people.) Also think the LifeLine could be the answer for some of these folks.

      2. Anon*

        We used LifeLine a few years ago (when it was landline only) and it was a) really helpful and b) really easy to set up and maintain. We had never heard of it before we went to meet with a social worker about changes to our Medicaid provider and he suggested we sign up to it when we said we didn’t have a currently working phone number to give. So, may be worth sending an e-mail round to employees or putting up a couple of flyers with the info on to let people know it exists.

        1. Bea W*

          There are discounted rates for electric and natural gas as well these employees could benefit from. Electric was a 1/3 discount when I qualified (back in landline days) which is quite substantial. I don’t recall what the gas rate was.

      3. kas*

        Yeah that’s why I said I was stuck for lates, I couldn’t think of a way around that. For the email, I suggested it as I know of someone who doesn’t have a phone but has internet at home so he always requested for communication to be via email. I know this is probably highly unlikely for others though.

        An assistance program is a great idea.

  2. Levois*

    For question 5. Surely these workers know someone with a landline although they seem to be surely or slowly becoming obsolete. Also email is a good idea and better yet if they have devices that can take on applications such as skype I would propose that as well.

    1. Raine*

      Why do you say this? I’m hard pressed to think of anyone with a landline, and I’m 47; I know it’s even more unusual for my nieces and nephews one generation younger.

    2. Jennifer M.*

      I don’t think knowing a neighbor with a landline is the solution. As mentioned in the OP’s letter, someone did use a neighbor’s phone, but had to wait until the neighbor woke up thus making the call an hour later than the policy required. And if you don’t have the means to afford a pre paid cell phone, you are probably not going to have internet access either.

      1. en pointe*

        Yes, knowing someone with a landline doesn’t equal having immediate access to a landline – and part of the OP’s problem is that these notifications aren’t happening immediately.

      2. Bea W*

        Also if you’re really flat on your back ill, you’re just not going to go looking for a neighbor to ask to use the phone.

    3. Sigrid*

      If they can’t afford a phone, do you really think they are going to have immediate access to email? And honestly, I don’t know a single person with a landline; even my parents got rid of theirs a couple years ago.

    4. YaH*

      If they “have devices that can take on applications such as skype” or access to email, then they probably have a cell phone. Internet access that is a luxury that usually comes way after phone bills.

    5. K.*

      Low-income households and low-income communities are actually even less likely to have landlines than the general population, in my experience (of working in low-income affordable housing). When you move a lot and don’t have much money and may or may not have a really solid proof of residence then keeping the cheapest mobile phone you can get in your pocket makes a lot more sense than having any kind of wired connection.

      (Low-income populations also tend overwhelmingly to use phones for internet access, and not computers — again in my experience. This may well vary regionally and by age. But if the phone’s cut off for nonpayment this month, that takes out the e-mail too.)

      1. Natalie*

        It’s been a while since I checked, but my telecom used to require a frankly insane upfront deposit (I think $300) if you had never had an account before, moved too often, or had prior issues with bill payment. It wasn’t remotely surprising that my poorest friends switched to cell phones first.

      2. Bea W*

        Landlines are stupid expensive compared to cell phones. That’s part of the reason they are going the way of the dinosaur. Wired internet is also expensive, not to mention you also need to have a computer and equipment to use it. That’s why you see more reliance on cell phones for internet access in low income communities. These people are less likely to be able to afford a computer and in-home internet.

        I live in a community with a lot of low income households. Many of them don’t have internet or email or home computers, especially older residents who didn’t grow up with that technology and never learned to used it.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, prepaid dumbphones are absurdly cheap and they do have rudimentary internet access. Even the smartphones are dropping or there are cheaper, more basic models for kids or someone’s first smartphone, etc. I was looking for a cheapo British mobile to use on holiday, and Carphone Warehouse has these really basic smartphones that I’m finding veeeerrry tempting. I’m starting to see them here too. With prepaid plans, they’re not as out of reach as they once were.

          When I was first looking for a phone, I only made $9 an hour and a smartphone was out of the question. Now I could afford a contract phone, but I don’t have one–unless I need the international plan or some other bell and whistle it has, my prepaid Galaxy S2 is perfectly fine.

          1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

            The other thing is that due to everyone having a cellphone, there are fewer pay phones on the street. So even if you could make it to the corner store, there may not be a phone available there, whereas back in the early 90s every gas station, grocery store or pharmacy had one nearby. Yay income inequality and loss of public facilities!

            AND, even if you get a cell phone and a pay as you go option, the fee may not be a flat 25 cents per minute–mine is $1 for the first use and then 25 cents/min to a non-Verizon user. (I did some complicated math to figure out my cheapest phone option since I hate the phone and have trained everyone not to call me.) So someone on the street might be less willing to loan out their phone because it’s not free–not eveyone has unlimited calls and data, which is an assumption I run into a lot.

            1. Bea W*

              And back in the day they were only a dime for a local call. There are not only fewer of them, but they are pretty expensive to use.

      3. Lisa*

        The reality is that we no longer have pay phones even in community spaces like libraries or city halls anymore. So even giving a calling card isn’t going to work without access to a phone. Pre-paid phones sound like a nice perk for employees that are having this issue, especially for those they want to keep. But you can’t supply them with money to keep it going so maybe the free phones are a good option. Get some applications and give them to some of the employees that are having this issue. See if they can apply for it at work too, since they can’t call or do it online on their own.

    6. Cheryl Becker*

      No, they probably don’t know someone with a landline. Who has them anymore? And as others have said, a neighbor’s landline won’t help you if your bus is late, or if you’re too sick to get out of bed, or if it’s too early for the neighbor to be awake, or if they’re not home!

    7. Observer*

      Obviously some of them DON’T – in at least one case the LW mentioned that the worker had to wait for the only neighbor she could ask to wake up.

      Also, as others have mentioned, people who can’t afford land lines generally can’t afford a computer with internet access (otherwise they could use skype or google voice with no on e the wiser). And, they CERTAINLY are highly unlikely to be able to afford a smart phone or the like. (Otherwise the the whole question would be moot.)

      Sorry this sounds like a classic “Let them eat cake” response.

  3. Abby D.*

    As far as #5 goes, I’m not sure there’s a solution that’s feasible for you to implement yourself. There might be programs available for your employees, however, and you could make the effort to make information available about options like the Federal Lifeline program ( or the possibility of discounts available through wireless providers for employees of registered nonprofits.

    1. Elysian*

      That was going to be exactly my suggestion. I think you still need to hold them to the policy, but provide them information that can help them meet your expectations. There’s the federal phone program for low income individuals. There are also other options if they don’t qualify for that – I did a quick look at the Walmart website and it looks like you can get a phone AND 3 months of pre-paid service for about $30 total. People should really be able to either (1) qualify for the free service or (2) pay the small amount required to have a phone to call in sick on. It’s possible that they just don’t know about these options.

      1. LadyTL*

        Those prepaid phones from Wal-mart aren’t always an option though. Sometimes Wal-marts can be extremely hard to get to depending on public transit and locations. In the city I used to live in if you lived int he city, Walmart was an hour away on two different buses and could take longer depending on route conditions. Also you have to activate them online or it can cost you more to activate over the phone (I used to have one of those phones btw). In the city I live in now, depending on where you live it can take up to three hours to get to a Wal-mart or Target by bus and even then they may not have those phones (The Walmart’s here have been sold out of them for a couple months now and still haven’t restocked.)

        It also doesn’t take into the cost of constantly having to top off the phone so this is a reoccurring expense of $30 every three months which depending on how close to the border your budget is still could seem a luxury for something you barely use.

        1. Elysian*

          I understand it isn’t a perfect solution. It doesn’t have to be Walmart – I didn’t do an exhaustive search of all the prepaid phone options. It could be through a cell phone provider that has brick and mortar stores (like T-mobile or Verizon) or one of the many providers that are marketed as “low cost” or “no contract”, etc (is Cricket still around? I have no idea.). Either way, my suggestion to the OP is to do some research on behalf of his or her employees so that they can be presented with a few different choices about how to meet the requirement that they call in if they’re going to be late or sick.

          Since its actually $10 for the phone and then $20 for every three months, its really a $6-7 a month cost for the phone. I know that that might be difficult for some people – that’s why I also suggested a free option – but losing your job because you can’t call in when you’re sick would also be a hardship. There’s really no perfect choice here. That’s why I think the OP should stick with the policy they have, and do some legwork to give the employees a few different options regarding how to meet it. The employees can then chose the one that’s best for them. Of course anything other than the status quo is going to be some kind of difficulty, but right now the status quo really isn’t meeting the business’s needs and that will ultimately be a bigger problem in the long run.

          1. Jamie*

            Since its actually $10 for the phone and then $20 for every three months, its really a $6-7 a month cost for the phone. I know that that might be difficult for some people – that’s why I also suggested a free option – but losing your job because you can’t call in when you’re sick would also be a hardship.

            I agree with this. Unfortunately when money is tight, but there are certain expenses that come along with having a job. For instance you can’t keep a job if you didn’t spend money on soap for yourself and laundry detergent. Or transportation to get there – this is in that same vein.

            1. jag*

              If they’re working part-time, a phone like that would be a tremendous asset to them in coordinating other work.

              Not everyone knows about how to get cheap phones, and the OP helping staff with that either in terms of providing information or a small subsidy is a win-win. A phone is empowering.

              1. Jamie*

                Yes. Not to mention that if you work p/t for little money I assume you’re looking for another job – which I don’t know how you do without a phone.

                1. Editor*

                  Recently there’s been some research showing that stressed, exhausted poor employees have a much more difficult time making financial decisions because the stress of poverty makes their working intelligence decline, and this applies even to people who were middle class and had some financial disaster or layoff. They probably don’t have much if any time to do a lot of research or shopping around.

                  If the employer can research the options, present them simply, and allow employees to use the Internet at work to top off or activate phones (perhaps out of work hours, but still provide access), then the employees may get some kind of prepaid or lifeline phone because they don’t have to figure it out.

        2. Observer*

          It doesn’t have to be Walmart, and it doesn’t have to be $30. Granted, even $15 every three months might be too much, but definitely more doable for someone on a tough budget. And, considering that sometimes part of the problems is that people don’t even have the time and mental energy to find these types of deals, providing that information can be useful as well. (Google Bandwidth poverty.)

    2. MG*

      OP for question #5 here!
      Thanks so much for linking to the FCC’s Lifeline site. I think this could appeal to some of our employees and I’m fairly confident that some of the ones who’ve had phone issues would qualify. I’ll run this by HR and will also see if we could look into any discounts for non-profit employees. This could actually be a small but meaningful benefit for employees who don’t really have other benefits.

      1. ella*

        I don’t have a solution to offer, unfortunately, but I appreciate that you’re looking for ways to work with your employees and seem willing to keep them on, even when they technically violate policy, because you understand that they’re working with their circumstances the best that they can.

        Also in the “small but meaningful” category–the transit service in my city has a program in which it shares the cost of monthly/annual bus passes with employers who participate. The transit company and the employer share part of the cost of the pass, with the employee shouldering the rest (for me, it ends up being about $30/mo, less than half the cost of a full-price monthly pass). I don’t know if something like that would also be a possibility. Even freeing up $30 a month for employees might mean that some who currently can’t get phones would be able to get them.

        1. AVP*

          In NYC, this is called TransitChek and it’s amazing. It takes your public transit costs out of your pre-tax dollars, so you end up saving like $30/month. It costs the employer about an hour per month to manage and a very small admin fee ($1/month/employee, or something like that?)

          I am a bit of a TransitChek evangelist because all of my friends who work at major companies have this, but many of small owner-operated companies and non-profits don’t (which is a shame, because those are often the people who could benefit the most!)

          OP, this also helps your direct problem somewhat because it means that you KNOW people have Metrocards, aren’t stuck waiting for them or buying daily cards because they can’t afford the monthly outlay, etc.

          1. Natalie*

            I think that might be a different program, also very cool – a Transit Spending Account, which is essentially an FSA for transit. They were a new addition to the tax code a couple of years ago. Some transit agencies also have employer pass options, which I think ella is referring to. Those are monthly or annual passes discounted if an employer buys them, and usually require the employer to buy a minimum amount.

            1. Bea W*

              I’ve had a commuter debit card for 3 years. My employer pays part of the monthly cost of public transportation but they have offices in different parts of the state and country so they can’t just bulk buy passes from one provider. So they use the program you talk about. My portion is deducted from my pay pre-tax and the amount of money needed to purchase a monthly pass is deposited into my account on a certain day of the month, and I use the debit card to buy it. The card only works for purchases from the service provider. When I wasn’t using commuter rail I just had it attatched to a recurring order on my Charlie account, and I’d get a new monthly pass loaded on my card automatically at the end of each month. I love it. I only wish I could set up a recurring purchase for a zone pass the same way. Sometimes I miss the online order deadline and have to remember to make a stop at the ticket counter before the end of the month. The mailed passes are on better coated stock that’s more like plastic and don’t need a dozen passes through the machine before the gate opens. Hate using the standard issue ones printed at the ticket counter!

        2. Meg*

          DC metro area has a program like that for SmarTrip cards called SmartBenefit. I’d have pre-tax dollars loaded onto my SmarTrip card every paycheck.

      2. Meg Murry*

        Also as a thought – one of my employers used to give small Holiday Bonuses of gift cards, and also for if you submitted an idea into the suggestion box that was implemented. If you have any kind of incentive program or give any kind of small bonuses or gifts for events like 1 year anniversaries, etc it might be a nice idea to offer a choice of gift card to places like grocery stores, Walmart/Target or pre-paid phone cards. Or possibly something like a “perfect attendance” bonus? By all means, use your policies to give warnings/punishments/terminations to people that aren’t adhering to the attendance and call-in policies, but in a situation like yours you might also want to do small recognitions for people that ARE following the policies and showing up.

  4. Golden Yeti*

    For #5, my only thought would be a pay as you go phone. Maybe a plan with only texting, if that’s possible? Or, if you could somehow get free local texting, or like a “Top 10 Contacts Unlimited” with your managers, that’d be even better. That’s all the access you’d really need just to say, “I’m running late” or something similar.

    1. Another J*

      I have a pay as you go phone. It is $15.00 (plus taxes) per month plus the original cost of the phone.

      1. Another J*

        Also, these minutes expire at the end of the month, even if they are unused. There is no roll over or banking them.

        1. Nina*

          T-Mobile does that, too. It’s stupid because it’s not really pay-as-you-go; you’re still forced to buy new minutes every month regardless of using the ones you have. But I guess they have to have some way to lock you in every month since they banished official contracts.

          1. jersey anon*

            We used to have tracfones. The minutes rolled over if not used. The phones themselves are cheap ($10-15).

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              Yeah, my tracfone has minutes that are good for a year, and any existing minutes will roll over when I add time. I figure it ends up costing me about $10/month. (I’m also one of those rare birds that still has a landline, which at $46/month is way cheaper than what all of the cell phone advocates I know end up paying.)

            2. KellyK*

              I’ve got Tracfone too for exactly that reason (the minutes actually roll over). Tracfone also has a bring your own phone option, so someone who has an existing phone but cancelled service might be able to switch.

              One thing to note with Tracfone is that the quality of signal can be an issue. (If I recall correctly, they use other providers’ cell towers, but what network they use depends on which phone you have. So if you’ve got a T-Mobile phone and T-Mobile’s coverage is lousy in your area, that’s an issue too.)

      2. Anon*

        You might look into Tracfone if you don’t use your phone very much or primarily text. Text/data uses fractions of the minutes you’ve pre-purchased (0.30 per text, 0.50 for data like an image/video text), and you keep your minutes until they run out. The phone was $20 (with a full keyboard and limited web capability, but they do carry smartphones) and buying one of their phones gets you a lifetime double minute bonus for anything you buy. The lowest tier is 30 minutes for $10, so you can get an hour’s worth of time and 60 service days for about $11 with tax. I typically run through those 60 minutes over several months before I need to replenish (and stacked up eight months of service time to carry me over in the beginning when I needed to use it a bit more and bought minutes several times).

        If you’re someone like me who pretty much never even turns on the phone unless you need to wait for a call, it’s been hugely useful to just be able to have a number to hand out.

  5. Pneia*

    For question 5, would the employees qualify for government subsidized cell phones? The ideas about email and skype would work if they have the internet connection and equipment, but if they lack even basic cell phones, then I doubt they have more advanced tech and can pay for the internet service. Maybe you could help them look into the government cell phones and see if they qualify.

    1. Nina*

      I considered that, too. Unless they have access to a relative’s or a neighbor’s, I don’t think these employees would have tablets/computers at home to Skype or email. The main problem is that there’s no feasible way for the employee to contact the office in case of an emergency, and vice versa.

  6. SW*

    #5 – Perhaps offer a rebate or company discount on cheap cellphones? Then they can have the phone for personal use, and you can offer to reimburse them for work-related calls.

    1. LBK*

      Piggybacking on this – see if your company can partner with any cell phone providers to get a corporate/group discount. I’ve worked for a few companies that had company discounts on various providers, and you might be able to specifically find some pay-as-you-go providers that would give discounts on top of their already low prices.

      1. Ethyl*

        This is a bit late so I don’t know if OP will see it, but I used to work in environmental consulting, which meant lots of time out of the office on job sites. One company I worked for had a stable of four or five cheap phones with all the project managers’ phone numbers programmed in. Junior staff would sign one out for the week and use it for all office-related calls. This way, the company didn’t have to pay for all junior staff to have a phone, or reimburse us for our personal cell (SUCH a pain in the butt), and didn’t have any issues if we happened to damage or break our own phones while on a job site. I wonder if the OP could do something like that — buy a couple of cheap pay-as-you-go phones, load them up with maybe 30 minutes each, and have employees with no phone access sign them out for the week. That way the employee has no out-of-pocket expenses and can get in touch if needed. They could sign the phones out each evening or for a whole week, or however you wanted to handle it.

  7. julesaddiction*

    Ooh, #1 would frustrate the hell out of me. I’d probably end up saying something snide. “Perhaps you should learn to keep up.”

      1. Sadsack*

        Actually, why not just turn to the coworker next time she says something and ask, “Do you have any plans to move ahead in your career?” Then just sit there looking at her while she comes up with something. I bet she’ll knock it off after that..

  8. Jonathon*

    5) There are myriads of options available for phone service. Skype is one, as a couple of readers above have mentioned. Magic Jack is cheap, and my dad uses it as a second phone line in his home. There are also a few places that offer cell phones for $10 a month. Magic Jack and Skype both require technology, and the cell service costs some money, but if they’re truly struggling the government has some subsidized options available. If you can, counsel your employees to contact their local branch of the Department of Human Resources (it may be titled differently in your area, but similar).

    They might be able to help your employees while their phone service is out.

    Also, consider this as a solution for your attendance issue. Perhaps instead of taking a hardline stance with everyone, offer an absence policy similar to college classes. Any absence not excused (even if after the fact) should probably remain a serious violation. If they can prove to you afterward that it was serious enough to miss work, I would take them at their word.

    It’s apparent enough to me that you trust them, anyway, and that you understand their situation. Just continue to do so and if possible, mention the government assistance and the cheap cell programs to them in passing. Heck, I would even contact a few local communications companies and ask them about getting a group discount. They would probably kill for your business.

    1. Raine*

      I like the suggestion of reconsidering the attendance policy approach, which you are the first to suggest, when the company can’t or won’t pay more or offer more than 20 hours; even the cheap Target suggestion is 15 percent of a week’s take home pay before taxes.

      1. MJ*

        I’m not sure the problem the OP is asking is disciplinary as much as it is operational. If you have employees not at work, you have to cover for them. You need to know if they are just late, how late they are going to be, and if they are coming in at all.

        1. Jonathon*

          Sure, but the OP also sounds conflicted about whether to enforce the policy to the fullest extent. Many corporations would terminate an employee for so many unexcused absences.

          If I were in the OP’s shoes, I would just call someone else in to cover the shift and if the offender arrives I would counsel them about the phone situation and ask about the feasibility of other options (like cheap cells and Skype). If it’s not an option, I’d tell them about government assistance that is available.

          I’d rather treat my employees like human beings before I treat them like a cog in a machine. While I get that the operational facet is an important one, the OP did specifically ask about how to treat his employee fairly. I happen to think that they have been treated very fairly so far, because the OP didn’t mention that they’ve been terminated — at least not yet.

          I was voicing my opinion in that respect.

    2. Bea W*

      Skype and Magic Jack require high speed internet. These are not people who are going to have home internet or a device to support using it.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Skype works fine on DSL, but you have to have a landline to have that. I use it for long distance because it’s cheap and will call overseas. So yeah, internet or a landline.

        1. Bea W*

          DSL is a high speed internet service. :) – Skype would probably be really awful on dial-up, but if you could use dial-up you wouldn’t need Skype.

          I did have a dry loop (no voice service) for a while, but the install/set-up price is prohibitive, and when I asked to move the service to an existing jack in another room (because they only allowed internet-only on one jack in the whole house!) they wanted to charge me $110. I switched to cable internet after that. Pretty sure the phone company just hated people who tried to get away with internet and no phone. They loved me as a customer when I had both, but then when I moved and decided to not have landline phone service (because I could use things like Skype)….not so much. :-/

          1. De Minimis*

            On the other side, the cable company hates people who have internet but no tv subscription.

            1. Pennalynn Lott*

              Yep, TWC wanted to charge us hundreds for our internet service when we dropped TV and went to satellite. Their solution for a lower price was to bundle phone service in with the internet. So now I pay ~$100/mos for their highest speed internet service. . . and an IP phone modem/unit that has never been removed from its shipping box.

            2. Bea W*

              True, and they charge outrageous money for it. People usually end up adding basic cable because the bundle is less than internet alone. Verizon does the same thing with their monthly price for DSL but it was less outrageous…except for the part about needing to have it automatically charged to a credit card every month. They would not bill for it.

            3. afiendishthingy*

              Yeah, there was a week where they were calling me every day to try to get me to get cable. It still wasn’t quite less than what I was paying, I don’t need cable when I have hulu and netflix, but yeah, they don’t like it.

  9. Suzanne Lucas --Evil HR Lady*

    This summer, when I was in the US, I got a prepaid phone for $5 at Target. Minutes were kind of pricey, I think$25 for 140 minutes, but that should be sufficient for being able to text the boss every time they need to call in.

    1. tesyaa*

      Generally the minutes on a prepaid phone expire within a few months, though, even if unused. You then need to buy more minutes to keep the phone operational. The only way to keep the minutes longer (up to a year) is to buy more upfront, which is probably beyond the reach of these employees.

    2. AVP*

      I wonder if they make text-only phones?

      Also, OP, if you aren’t giving them the option to text you, that might get you some results.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        If they could text, that would mean they have a cell phone, which would also mean they could call.

        1. Loose Seal*

          You can get text minutes sold separately from phone minutes on some devices; texting is considerably cheaper if you have to choose between the two. My clients (mostly very low-income) typically have a text-only phone and appreciate it when they can make or cancel appointments via text.

        2. AVP*

          Well, that was my point – it would be nice if someone made a cheap device through which you could only send texts – say, 50 for $1/month. Thus you wouldn’t have to worry about minimum number of minutes.

  10. Nina*

    #5: A prepaid phone might be the only option here. Most phone companies offer them now, and you can buy the minimal amount of minutes. Retailers sell them pretty cheap if you’re not looking for the newest smartphone. A flip phone might go for $15-20, since it’s not the current trend anymore.

    1. Who are you?*

      Two years ago my family was living 1000 miles from any of our family, Iwasn’t working (not by choice, mind you!) , my husband was working 3 jobs, and we were struggling to stay afloat. My mother paid my $30 phone bill so that I had a phone at home while with my kids. My husband didn’t have a phone. We literally could not afford to pay for the minutes on a pre-paid model, never mind the $15-$20 for the phone itself. We couldn’t afford a landline. We didn’t even have internet. We had one cell phone that we shared and the majority of the time it was with me because I had the kids. Sometimes people really cannot afford the things that a lot of people take for granted and that $15-$20 really is the difference between eating or not.
      And I must say that 20 years ago when I first started working there were no cell phones. If I was running late, I was running late. I could try to call from a payphone if I missed a bus or train, but sometimes that wasn’t an option. In this age of having to stay connected all the damn time I think people forget that it wasn’t that long ago that people just dealt with it. If I was consistently late my manager addressed it. If it was one time my manager wouldn’t be happy but always seemed to understand.

      1. Nikki T*

        True. I know people who can only afford to turn the phone on every other month. $15 or $20 is a lot of money to a lot of people. If they could afford phones/plans/minutes, they probably would have them.

        1. Kelly L.*

          This. People want to have phones, in general; they’re not going to just go without them unless they have to.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        I’ll cosign a good chunk of this.

        I left home when I was still in high school and was dirt poor until stabilizing a bit around 22. I worked the whole time but often lacked money for basic necessities. If I didn’t have bus fare, I had to walk to work. Sometimes I didn’t *have* the dime for the pay phone. There were no dimes left. I have literally been hungry with no money to buy food.

        I don’t mean to snipe at people but “let them use Skype” sounds a lot like “let them eat cake”. People who live on the edge don’t have the options that you have and I think some folks have a hard time conceiving that.

        One of the ways you help people out is with jobs. And compassion. And sounds like, phones.

        (Advice to the OP, echoing seeing how you can hook your folks up with some social programs that can help them get phones, and keep to a standard for communication so they can move onto full time jobs that will have those standard expectations.)

        1. Oryx*

          Yes, the Skype comments are clearly coming from a place of privilege. If they don’t have a cell phone, even a basic one, chances are they don’t have regular access to the internet. Plus, what good does Skype on the computer back home do if they’ve walked the mile or whatever to the bus stop and missed the bus?

        2. Lora*


          Thank you!!!

          Socioeconomic class differences are one of the most difficult conversations I have with my colleagues and managers. The vast majority of them came from at least middle-class if not upper-class backgrounds (my family consists of mainly working class farmers), and there’s a lot of “let them eat cake” type nonsense I have to explain in little words for them.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I still remember a conversation I had in college with an acquaintance. We were talking about someone we mutually knew, who had gone out with some people and hadn’t been able to eat when they unexpectedly stopped for fast food, because he didn’t have the money. My acquaintance first couldn’t figure out why he didn’t just buy food with the money in his wallet because “who doesn’t have $5 in their wallet.” Well….not everyone always does, and he didn’t.

            (She might well have asked about credit cards too if it were today, but fast food places generally didn’t take CCs back then.)

            1. the gold digger*

              I grew up on military bases where everyone is pretty much at the same income level. I got to college and made friends with kids I found out were rich. One friend wrote me a letter one summer and told me her mom was taking her to Europe for a month but wasn’t going to tell her which countries so it would be a surprise. She lived in a very different world from mine.

              1. Kelly L.*

                I remember taking a personal finance class in college where we were supposed to calculate our net worth. I quickly realized mine was negative at that time, due to student loans and not really owning anything of value, and one of my classmates raised her hand to ask if she should count her heirloom diamond jewelry. It’s not that it’s even a bad question, it just wasn’t from my world and it surprised me.

            2. Bea W*

              This is why I had cable TV for a while. I couldn’t afford it, and my Dad was so dumbfounded by the fact I didn’t have it he paid for me to have cable TV, because “who doesn’t have cable?” Sure, I could barely afford to eat, but by god there was no way he was letting me live without cable TV. Oh the horror!

          2. Anonsie*

            Socioeconomic class differences are one of the most difficult conversations I have with my colleagues and managers.

            You said it. I grew up in a community of immigrants from Central America. Now my peer group is full of people from wealthy families who only ever knew other people from wealthy families, and it can be really exhausting to talk to them. Sometimes (*coughlikerightnowcough*) I avoid going out with these folks because I’m having a rough time with money and they are so pure-heartedly oblivious to what life is like for average people that they end up saying some things that get under my skin.

            1. Lora*

              Oh, man. I know the feeling. Last week there was a food critic’s review of a new hipster restaurant in NYC that is Appalachian-themed. I’m from Pennsyltucky and a friend from a very wealthy family thought I would be interested in such things. I thought, hmm, I could go for some dilly beans, venison, shoofly pie and apple stack cake. Then I read more about the place and it was downright offensive. If hipsters had opened a juke joint and were serving watermelon and fried chicken and 40-oz. malt liquor, everyone would be offended at how racist it was, but for whatever reason it’s OK to have the same caricatures of working class people. My friend and I had a long talk about it and I sent him a link to John Scalzi’s Being Poor, but I don’t know if he bothered to actually read it. :/

              1. Anonsie*

                I was just talking* about this in the last week. I’ve been feeling like some homey food so I’ve looked at a ton (and gone to a few) of these Southern and soul food places, and they are just strange. The food is usually great and all, but the atmosphere they are trying to create and their idea of what a typical Southern person might eat or make is even weirder. They remind me of when I went to some American-style restaurants in Japan just to see the weird, alien version of myself they were presenting there.


                1. the gold digger*

                  Stephanie and I were talking about this. I was complaining that kale is crazy expensive, as are so many foods that my mom ate as a kid on a farm because they were poor. She had a great term for it that now I cannot remember – something about the gentrification of food.

                  I laugh every time I see trotters or collards or organ meats on a fancy menu at a high price. These are the foods my mom ate as a kid because she did not have a choice. And when I see collards and kale costing several dollars a pound at the grocery store, I wonder what on earth people are thinking. More power to the grocery store for making money, but I will just go to the farmers market in the poor part of town and pay a lot less for this stuff.

        3. Juni*

          … and security. Because I have had employees whose phones have been stolen in part due to their living situations were unstable. (Couch surfing, transitional shelters, etc.) If you supply a phone, be prepared with a plan for if/when the phone is lost or stolen.

          If you’re going to continue to employ people who are too poor to have regular phone access, you need to look at the whole picture, not just that piece. If you’re too poor for a phone, you probably have all sorts of other things working against you. Take another look at your late/absentee policy to see if it’s arbitrarily punitive, ASK THE EMPLOYEES what they think would work, change the system from within.

          1. Lora*

            Another thought: Could your organization subsidize carpools or van-pools, set up a system where anyone who carpools gets a gift card for gas and rockstar parking or something? One place where I worked simply did not have enough parking for everybody who worked there, so they set up van-pools. The driver got, I forget, it was like $50 in gas money, and that way people always had a ride. Someone took on the job of organizing people by region to suggest who could easily be in a carpool together.

        4. Clever Name*

          Thank you so much for this post. I agree, many of the comments have reeked with privilege, but I didn’t feel comfortable saying that as I myself grew up quite privileged, and I’m (sometimes painfully aware) that I’m even more privileged now. I felt it would be disingenuous for me to say “check your privilege” when I’m sure I’ve done the same thing without realizing it.

          1. Bea W*

            I don’t feel it would be disingenuous at all, just the opposite, because while you have privilege, you also get that not everyone is in the same place.

        5. Observer*

          I agree with you. I would note, though, that sometimes people might have enough for a really cheap pre-paid cell phone plan, but they simply don’t know how to access them, and don’t have the ability to find that information. It’s a phenomenon that has been known for some time, although rarely acknowledged, but it finally has a name.

          This is not about poor people being stupid or lacking skills. It’s about lacking access to information and limits on time and energy. In those case, providing the information can make a huge difference.

        6. afiendishthingy*

          I don’t mean to snipe at people but “let them use Skype” sounds a lot like “let them eat cake”.

          Well said.

          Glad I read this thread – I didn’t know about Lifeline before and in my new job I’m overseeing homebased therapy, and many of our families are chronically difficult for us to reach because of limited phone access. I hope some of them will be able to take advantage of this program.

      3. Bea W*

        Oh payphones! There aren’t many around anymore, but the employer could give employees in need pre-paid phone cards that could be used at a payphone in case someone misses a bus or something happens along the way.

        1. Observer*

          You’re better off with the tracfone type phones. Working payphones are so rare that in some cities they booths are being turned into art projects, mini libraries etc. And that is where there are booths. The last time I saw a pay phone booth was in an airport – and only one of the phones was possibly working. In low income neighborhoods? Forget it. This was a problem even before cell phones became almost ubiquitous.

    2. Lia S*

      I know Virgin Mobile PayLo has a $12 flip phone and a plan where $20 a month will get you 400 minutes (texts at $0.15 each). I’m assuming that not every employee would need help with a phone, but if the company paid half that bill for the employees who needed it, it could do a lot of good, and cut back on the attendance issues.

      1. Natalie*

        Any kind of recurring payment, like a cell plan, can be an unnecessary headache when you’re living on the margins. If you have any drop, or even a delay, in your income it starts a domino effect on all your bills – you start prioritizing based on a completely different set of criteria – who will cut off service, who will send you to collections, and so on.

        I know $20 doesn’t seem like a lot, but it can be.

        1. Bea W*

          $20 used to be what I had leftover to spend on groceries each week after I payed my rent and bills for the month. Even $5 seemed like a lot of money to me back then. I didn’t have anything extra, not even cable TV. My cheap local landline service (back in the day) would have been the next thing to go if I had to make more cuts, because the only other options would have been cutting electric, gas (cooking, hot water), or not eating.

  11. Letters to Paystubs*

    #5: (I’m assuming the OP is in the US) Although it’s been met with some criticism over the past couple years, the federal government offers a Lifeline Assistance Program that provides free cell phones and monthly service (I think it’s 1000 texts and 250 minutes) to Americans in need of financial help. You can find lots of info on SafeLink:, but it looks like Virgin also offers their own Lifelin Assistance Program:

  12. Nina*

    #1: Allison is right; I would ignore that or just laugh it off. You are there to do a job, not appease Carol. For whatever reason she’s working slow, that’s her issue, not yours.

    Your new boss may be passive, but she’s still watching, even when you think she’s not. And she already knows that you have experience and can work at a good speed, so going slow isn’t going to do you any favors at all. Work at your own speed, and let Carol do her own thing.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      +1. It always irks me how everyone here assumes a boss isn’t taking action on a low performing peer, just because they don’t see it. You want to know what makes a terrible manager? The one who will share with peers who has a poor performance rating, who is under a PIP, etc. I’ve worked for that guy. Trust me, you don’t want to.

      I personally don’t mind coworkers like the one in the OP. They make you look good. Shake off the comments, and let your manager do her thing, which will manifest itself in ways not necessarily visible to you.

      1. Kelly L.*

        And if Carol’s slacking ways haven’t been discovered yet, they’re about to. This is why she wants OP to start slacking–the boss might have previously thought Carol’s pace was just the amount of time the work takes, and OP’s work is about to make it obvious that’s not true.

      2. Cat*

        I think it’s important for managers to demonstrate that they are (generically) addressing these problems without getting into specifics though. And sometimes it will be appropriate to get into more specifics than the slacking employee would like. Employees should know there will be consequences whether for them and another employees and they should know problems will be dealt with without festering eternally. It sounds like the OP’s manager has given her the opposite impression and, moreover, it is kind of a bad sign that the coworker’s work just languishes while clients ask for it and the OP does other unrelated things. If the manager was addressing it at the least I would expect OP to have been pulled onto some of that.

      3. Lauren*

        I think it is important for a manager to strike a balance. I don’t need to know the specifics, but as a hard-working employee following the rules who is working with someone that shirks responsibility or demonstrates other bad behavior, it is important to acknowledge that there are very real morale implications at play. I once had a situation a couple years ago where one coworker was being particularly awful to the rest of our team and it was seriously impacting our dynamic and ability to get things done. I thought our manager handled it well with the rest of us. She had 1:1 meetings with us, explaining that she was aware of the behavior, it was unacceptable, and it would be addressed. That’s all she said, she didn’t even mention the specific person or describe the behavior, but it was enough to let us know it wasn’t going unnoticed or unaddressed. I have no idea what she ultimately did to address it, but within a few weeks, this coworker had made a very definite change in their behavior, and the whole thing felt like a distant memory. Morale picked up because it was handled swiftly and no one felt like this person was getting unfair treatment while the rest of suffered. At the same time, we weren’t inappropriately made aware of specific details, etc. – we could simply focus on doing our work while knowing our manager was (appropriately) taking on the burden of addressing the situation.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Exactly this. Employees don’t need to know the details of workplace ratings or discipline, but they do need to know it actually exists. Otherwise it just looks like inaction, poor maanagement and/or favoritism.

          Lazy co-workers can make you look good, but they can also make your job a lot harder when you have to pick up their slack. There are workplaces wherre managers don’t deal with problem employees such much as route around them, which of course means heavier traffic on the harder workers.

      4. MR*

        I agree with most of what you said here, but I think where most people have problems with low performers, is when the problems are permitted to drag on and on for months on end.

        If issues drag on for six or eight months (or longer), it’s pretty obvious that the manager isn’t doing anything about the problem.

        1. Windchime*

          Yep. Months or years of bad behavior or poor performance doesn’t usually indicate a manager who is working behind the scenes to deal with the situation; it’s more often a manager who is either burying their head in the sand and hoping the situation will resolve itself, or a manager who just can’t be bothered to….y’know, manage.

          1. Jennifer*

            I know of somebody who’s been yelled at for slacking off–but she doesn’t give a shit about it, really. It’s hard to motivate someone who doesn’t care and is just waiting until retirement kicks in. There may only be so much the manager can do if they aren’t willing to go to the point of firing.

            1. Lauren*

              This is a good point. Sometimes, people just don’t care. And if there is no path to let someone go who doesn’t care that their work is sub-par (or their behavior is toxic, or whatever the problem is), and doesn’t care that their boss is unhappy with them, then essentially the manager may have to deal with the possibility that their “good” employees may simply choose to leave or find other ways to cope. Not all employees have the option of leaving for various reasons, but there has been quite a bit of research over the last decade or so that shows there are very real financial effects of toxic employees and work environments, including turnover of the good employees, as well as the “turning” of good employees who can’t leave and feel trapped. Instead of leaving, they find other ways to get back at the company for putting them in such a negative environment (i.e., slacking off, calling in sick more often, even stealing office supplies). I know I know, good employees wouldn’t steal, etc… But really these are meant to explain how good employees get pushed to their breaking points and find (costly and inappropriate) outlets for their frustration.

      5. krisl*

        As long as the co-worker’s pace isn’t so slow that you have to cover for her, shrug off what she says and say “I like to keep busy.”

  13. en pointe*

    #2 –Given that studying the same degree as 18-22 year olds involves doing much of the same coursework as them, I think it’s unlikely this candidate would have a problem with shared tasks in an internship setting. Also, in addition to being in class with younger people, this candidate probably has experience working directly with them in groups/teams. I suspect it depends on the particular degree, but many involve working in groups for projects or classwork to prepare students for the workplace, where the ability to work in teams is often expected. (At least I assume that’s the reason?)

    Personally, I’ve had to do at least one group project for uni every semester so far, and a few of my groups have had a mature age student in them. I’ve never seen any indication that those students were uncomfortable working with us, (and if they secretly were, they didn’t let it impact the work environment – I assume someone in that position would just get used to it.) I’ve also never seen anyone explicitly acknowledge the fact that one group member was 20 years older than everybody else; that would just make things awkward. We just start from an assumption that nobody has a problem with anybody else or why would they be there?*

    OP, that’s what I think you should do – just recognise that this candidate is probably used to working with younger people, and treat them like all the other applicants / interns. (I think they’d probably appreciate that the most too.)

    *Personally, age is one of the least notable things to me with regard to my group mates. Whether you’re 18 or 80, I will have a problem with you if you decide to be that one f*cker who doesn’t do any work… there’s always one.

    1. Poohbear McGriddles*

      “*Personally, age is one of the least notable things to me with regard to my group mates. Whether you’re 18 or 80, I will have a problem with you if you decide to be that one f*cker who doesn’t do any work… there’s always one.”


  14. UK Bod*

    #5 My company has a policy that you need to phone in within an hour of the expected start time. Would a policy like this help those who genuinely make the effort to call in? The examples you give would have fallen within our policy and not need to be treated as an attendance issue unless there was a pattern.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I’m not sure what your company environment is, but an hour is a really, really short amount of time to try to find coverage. Most places I’ve worked that would have to cover people who call out required at least 3 hours notice (it didn’t always happen, because stuff comes up, but that was the policy).

  15. Amber*

    #5. basic cell phones plans are very cheap, even pre-paid phones. Yes its an extra bill but I see it as a cost of being a working adult. Clothes and shoes are an extra bill but are required for the job. Personally I think if they are late or miss a shift then treat them the same you would for anyone that does have a phone. It is not your fault they don’t have a cell phone (they don’t need an expensive iPhone, the just need something that dials).

    1. Wren*

      Yes, they can be super-cheap, but if you’re only making 9-10 bucks an hour, for 20 hours of work a week, and living in an area where food, rent, and utilities take up the majority of your paycheck, then any extra bill is too much. And even a cheap cell phone becomes a nice to have, instead of a need to have.

      No, it’s not the OP’s fault that they don’t have cell phones, or can’t afford them, but the OP can keep in mind that not everyone can afford even the cheapest solution, and adjust the policy accordingly. I think someone suggested an extended call-in period, which would cover every one of the instances that were noted in #5, and seems to really make the most sense, if possible. Along with a suggestion to steer the employees in need towards the lifeline program (if in the US).

      A tiny bit of flexibility can buy you more goodwill and loyalty than strict adherence to a policy like this, and that suggestion isn’t even that much of a stretch.

    2. Gina*

      Clothes and shoes are another thing that sometimes have to go when you’re grossing $180 a week and trying to decide between “heating and eating.” Difference is, you can wear the clothes you had before.

      It’s not the OP’s fault they don’t have a phone, but she’s one of those rare people who can look at someone who has less and feel compassion instead of disgust.

      1. Elysian*

        I don’t think anyone here has reacted with disgust. People here might have different thresholds for that they think is tolerable for the employer require, but I don’t think any of that implies disgust.

        I’m with Amber on this one – there are free options for low-income people, and you can get cell phone service for less than $10 a month with a pre-paid phone. There are certain costs to being employed – clothes that meet the dress code, transportation to get there – and here, a reliable means to communicate with work when you can’t make it in is just going to be one of them.

        1. Bea W*

          It came across to me as having an air of disgust or at the least no understanding or experience of what it’s really like to be in a position where you are forced to pick and choose which basic needs of living you can and can’t go without. When it comes down to phone vs. food/shelter/clothing/transportation to work to make the money you need to pay for those things, phone service is the likely cut. Someone who has no phone service through no fault of their own should not be treated the same as someone who just chooses to not follow a policy but has the means to do so. It is not the equal behavior, and it is unfair to treat it as equal behavior.

          1. Elysian*

            “Someone who has no phone service through no fault of their own should not be treated the same as someone who just chooses to not follow a policy but has the means to do so.”

            I think I disagree with your on this statement, because the impact on the department is the same. I agree in as much as the OP should try to be accommodating (and it sounds like the OP is trying very hard), but reliability of your employees is important. I actually think transportation is the same way – its really, really hard for some people to get reliable transportation to work. I’m sympathetic toward that. But in the end, if they’re an hour late regularly because of transportation problems, eventually I think they will (and probably should) get disciplined exactly like the person who is an hour late regularly because they sleep in, etc. As a hypothetical manager, my attitude about the situation and with the employee would be different, but the outcome I think should still be the same.

            1. Elysian*

              Expanding on this thought, we were talking the other day about how businesses shouldn’t take employee’s personal finances into account when setting pay. I think this situation is the same but in reverse. The employer shouldn’t pay an employee less just because they “need it” less; but the employer also shouldn’t cut one employee more slack than another on rule violations just because one employee “needs it” more.

            2. illini02*

              That was my point below. The end result is the same, no matter the cause. If its laziness or lack of planning or income level, they really do need to all be disciplined the same. You can approach it with a more sympathetic tone if its because of income level, but how you handle it should be the same

              1. KellyK*

                There’s something awfully catch-22 about paying people 9-10 dollars an hour, part-time, then disciplining them for being broke.

                1. Elysian*

                  They’re not being disciplined for being broke – they’re being disciplined for failing to give notice when they’re out sick or are going to be late. There are ways that they could do that involve no money (borrowing a phone, calling from a public phone, using a public computer to email, etc). However those things clearly aren’t working in this situation and the resulting solutions involve spending a small amount of money. It’s not like they’re being fired for failing to wear the diamond-crusted uniform they’re required to pay for out of pocket. Your argument (they’re not paid enough to comply with the rule) would apply equally to people who can’t afford the bus to get to work – are we just supposed to pay them even though they never show up? Because doing otherwise would punish their lack of funds? Giving notice when you’re not showing up is a really reasonable requirement at any income level.

                2. illini02*

                  I really think this is an oversimplification. They are being disciplined for not being able to do the duties they were hired for i.e. being to work on time. It has nothing to do with them being broke. As others said, there are people who want part time work like that. Should the people who can afford a phone be held to a different standard in attendance?

                3. Anonsie*

                  borrowing a phone, calling from a public phone, using a public computer to email, etc

                  But you understand that those things take longer than what is normally considered an acceptable length of time, right? And that they are doing that but the time involved is part of the problem?

                  This is an awfully rose-tinted characterization– it’s not possible to just pop over to a free open computer with internet five minutes from every bus stop or apartment building. The last time I was out and my cell phone died, I was on my community college campus and none of the offices would allow me to use their phones to call my ride and let them know where I could meet them. I pay tuition there!

                4. Observer*

                  Elysian, that’s one thing you seem to be missing – most of the options you are mentioning don’t really work. Pay phones almost don’t exist. Emailing works during hours IF your library is close by AND it has computer availability WHEN YOU NEED IT – an unlikely scenario in this situation. There is often NOT a phone available to borrow when it’s needed. “etc.”

                  And, yes, it IS something that the organization needs to take into account. It’s their policies (ie paying close to minimum wage, and not allowing more than 20 hours a week) that is a major factor in the issue. Presence is generally an inherent part of a job structure. A package of short hours, minimal pay and strict call in policies are generally not. So, the organization needs to look at how they can ameliorate the issue.

                5. Elysian*

                  Observer – pretty sure I’m not missing it. I said explicitly “However those things clearly aren’t working in this situation and the resulting solutions involve spending a small amount of money.” I’m not saying they’re acceptable alternatives – I’m saying that the employee isn’t being disciplined simply for being poor. If they CAN make a free solution work, more power too them. If not, they may have to pay a small amount.

              2. Anonsie*

                I’m used to a no-call no-show being an automatic firing, and in that case it would be not only silly but extremely detrimental to the business to start canning people for calling you as soon as they could because they can’t afford a cell phone on the wage you pay them. You don’t toss out a good employee for doing everything they can.

    3. Waiting Patiently*

      I’m leaning towards agreeing with you. I don’t know whether these people can afford to have a cell phone though, there was a time where being instantly available was non existent and your job cut you some slack because stuff happens on your way to work. I’d be more concerned about how often they are late and how much of their shift was missed. Is this person missing the same bus and being an hour late each day.
      When my beloved Buick overheated and put me down and I was without a car for almost 2 weeks, I went into do what I gotta do to get to work on time. That included me talking with my boss about the situation–here’s what happen, I might be late a few days because I got do xyz, and I may have to leave early for xyz.
      It sounds like op is understanding of her employee needs, I would be a little more lenient on them not calling in every single time they are late esp if not having a cell phone is the real issue. However, coming in 30 min to an hour late with no phone call would be acceptable only once possibly twice (like you’re in the hospital not that you couldn’t get to a phone) Being that late on a regular basis comes down to time management..

    4. Last time again*

      It’s not the OP’s fault, exactly, but it is a consequence of the OP’s choice not to pay any of her workers anything even close to a living wage. If you want to pay your employees a very low wage and give them limited hours, it’s pretty crappy to then turn around and be upset that they can’t afford basic items like phones. It’s good that the OP is at least not doing that, and I’m surprised anybody would encourage him/her to.

      1. Elysian*

        I don’t think its really the OP’s choice. OP said s/he directs the department, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that s/he directs the budget or sets wages. It doesn’t sound like the OP has room to move regarding wages or hours.

        1. Josie*

          Yes, but as a manager, she needs to recognize that the company has chosen a business model that means they employ poor people. Who have poor people problems. It’s like opening a teen clothing store, hiring teens to sell to teens, and asking how you can make your employees more like 30-year-olds.

          1. Natalie*

            I don’t think the OP has that attitude at all. From the letter they sound pretty aware that these are recurring poor people problems and is looking for fair ways to handle attendance that don’t ignore the reality of their employees lives.

            “I’m very aware that bills are tough to pay with a $9/hour job, and in low-income communities, it’s somewhat common for adults to have sporadic phone access, so I feel conflicted about holding these employees accountable for failure to follow procedure that is directly related to their tight financial circumstances.”

          2. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

            Exactly–these situations don’t exist in a vaccuum. They are the result of deliberate governmental and business decisions that rely on low pay to run things, and at the same time raise the bar to participate, like de facto requiring a cell phone or a car because the job is unreachable by public transportation.

            1. Anonymous*

              Thank you. I feel like the OP’s company is causing its own problems here. If they can’t/won’t pay their employees a decent wage or allow them to work full-time, well, there are are consequences to that, and it shouldn’t be on the employees to try to ameliorate them.

          3. Last time again*

            I actually don’t think that’s the OP’s attitude (sorry if that wasn’t clear); OP seems like they want to be flexible and indicated an awareness of their company’s role in their employees’ financial circumstances.

            It does seem to be commenter Amber’s attitude though, so that’s what I was responding to.

        2. Last time again*

          Right, OP seems aware of the company’s responsibility in what its employees can and can’t afford. I was just responding to what I thought was a harsh comment (the last line was supposed to make that clear, but now I see it’s worded sort of strangely),

  16. nep*

    #1 — Ignore. There’s absolutely no reason you should spend the least time or energy on this. You are a competent worker who thrives on working well and demonstrating integrity. She’s got issues. Full stop.

  17. denise*

    #5 – I’ll date myself here by asking, Is calling collect not a thing that can be done anymore? I remember when I was young and didn’t have any money and needed to call home, I’d just find a pay phone and call home collect. I suppose the employees could reimburse the charges at some later point.

    1. VintageLydia USA*

      Well you’d have to find a pay phone. I haven’t seen one in years, including in airports.

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        About 7 years ago, I lost my cell and got off a train at the wrong stop. I couldn’t find a pay phone anywhere until I walked 3 miles to a police station.

        I cannot imagine that the pay phone situation is any better today.

        1. Bea W*

          Wow. That’s bad. We still have them at most train stops within the city. You may be SOL though if you’re at the wrong stop in West Leftbuttcheek.

        1. Natalie*

          A friend of mine actually did a whole photo series on old payphone boxes and alcoves. I’m going to the opening on Saturday.

        2. Cari*

          I wondered why 2600 had a payphone photo feature… :P They don’t seem to be rare at all here though there’s one near me (classic red phone box) that’s been turned into a teeny village library.

          1. salad fingers*

            My boyfriend and I were just talking about the back cover of 2600 yesterday …because we saw two apparently functional payphones and were stunned. They’re definitely rare in my city.

      2. Audiophile*

        I was watching a newscast some months back and saw two pay phones behind the reporter, on location in NYC. I took a picture.

        On my travels in Manhattan, I have yet to encounter a pay phone.

        1. TK*

          I’ve seen news reports on how NYC is taking out most of its pay phones (or has already done so) but is leaving enough, strategically placed, for emergency purposes. Hurricane Sandy showed the value of this– during a natural disaster you can easily have so many people without electricity that no one can charge their cell phones, or the towers themselves may go down, completely removing phone service.

    2. Hannah*

      I don’t live in the US so I don’t know if this applies but in New Zealand we have freephone 0800 numbers that anyone can ring for free. Your company could get and pay for a freephone number and ask your staff to call that line when they are sick. This means even if they have no credit on their phone they can still call.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I don’t think this works in the US. Minutes on a cell phone cost the same no matter what number you are dailing. If you do not have pre-paid or a plan with minutes, the only thing you can dial is 911. It means that there’s no distinction between local and national long distance costs for someone using a cell phone, but it also means that 1 toll free (1-800) number is not “free” on a cell phone.

          1. Judy*

            I know that some local radio stations have a “*123 is a free call to report traffic issues”, but I’ve never known if you could dial that without service.

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          Yes, I think this doesn’t work in the US, but if you’re able to find a payphone, you can call 1-800 numbers for free from the payphone. When I didn’t have a cell phone, I had a 1-800 calling card (which I paid for, but OP or her employer could probably get calling cards in bulk for a low cost and distribute them to employees) and used at payphones around campus. Actually, there were quite a few payphones in my former city (major city, downtown area)…but that’s highly location-dependent.

    3. Last time again*

      I wondered this too. There may be a very good reason; I’m curious about what it is.

      Although it would really suck to be one of the part-timers that had to be let go to accommodate a change like this.

    4. MisterPickle*

      Have any of you attempted to actually *use* a payphone recently? Quality of service varies wildly, and some of them are out-and-out rip-offs. I used one in Denver a few years ago that wanted $2.50 for the first minute – and then cut me off after 10 seconds. The payphone was owned and managed by some shady fly-by-night outfit.

      I guess I’d just like to suggest that however you go in implementing a fix, you test it yourself to make sure it actually works passably well. Giving someone a $5 phone credit card that, it turns out, isn’t accepted by the payphones in the employee’s neighborhood (or where they want something scandalous like $8 to make a call) isn’t going to help anyone :/

  18. soitgoes*

    I think OP5 is misdirecting the issue a bit. Phone access is a moot point if people are always on time. The problem is that she’s managing 60 part-time employees instead of 30 full-time ones, and I’m inferring that a lot of them have to depend on public transportation. Is there a reason why there can’t be a gradual move toward full-time employees? Don’t hire new ones after people quit, and retain the ones that stay. If you’re not willing to pay them more, they’re not going to get phones.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      You’re making a lot of assumptions that are most likely out of the OP’s control. Maybe she needs 60 bodies to perform the work. That doesn’t always translate to 40 hours a week of work that exists for each of those people. Think like a call center for instance. 30 full timers may mean 1/2 the people answering phones. And even she could condense to 1/2 the head count, it’s unlikely she has the budget and approval for the added overhead (i.e. benefits) that comes with full time.

      I see two options here and neither of them are great. The company provides some type of cell service, which is doubtful will happen. If it can be done, look into some type of restricted plan where a phone can call work or 911 (I have no idea if such a thing exists, it just seems that providing cell phones for many people who don’t have alternate forms of communication would be a very expensive subsidy). Or make having a phone a requirement for the job. It will piss people off. It will limit the people who qualify for openings.

      1. en pointe*

        Agreed, an inbound call centre is a great example of where the OP may need more bodies at peak times / days, so halving numbers and transitioning workers to full-time wouldn’t be the best use of resources. There are plenty of solid possible business reasons why a company may need part-timers.

        1. Living Wage*

          I sure bet they could transition part of the workforce to full time. I doubt the call center is only open 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. Even if they took the 60 part timers and made 20 full timers and 20 part timers wouldn’t be a big deal for staffing.

          1. Colette*

            There are scheduling implications to doing that, though. For example, if you have 60 part timers, 10 people can be off (vacation, sick, whatever) and you can still have 50 people working at one time. If you have 40 people (20 full time, 20 part time) and you have 10 people off, you only have 30 people available.

            1. Living Wage*

              the same is true with the 60 part timers. 20 could be off due to sick/vacation/whatever.

              1. Colette*

                But if you have 30 full timers (instead of 60 part timers), 20 being off could cause your business to go under.

                It’s also important to remember that not everyone wants to (or is able to) work full time. Many do, but that’s not the same as everyone.

                If you believe that full time work & higher wages are the answer, the best way to make that happen is to do business with companies who hire people full time at wages you believe are fair, refuse to do business with companies who do not, and encourage others to do the same.

      2. Diet Coke Addict*

        Additionally, creating full-time employees won’t solve the problem of people being late–if instead of the usual 60 people you have at 9:30, you’ve transitioned to 30 employees, and 6 of them are late–then you’re really stuck, more so than you would be if you had 60 people, 6 of whom hadn’t shown up.

      3. Pennalynn Lott*

        I have worked for companies that purposefully never hired anyone (other than a couple of managers) full-time. That way they wouldn’t have to pay benefits and other expenses that come with a full-time employee.

      1. soitgoes*

        People who have to depend on public transportation are late more often than people who have their own cars. I don’t think this is a controversial statement.

        1. Natalie*

          I’m actually really curious if that’s true. In my office, the only person who was never late was the guy who walked 3 blocks to the office. All of the drivers ended up being late periodically because of traffic, weather, or car problems, about the same rate as us bus folk.

          I wonder if anyone’s researched this.

          1. Laura*

            The buses are also vulnerable to traffic. If you had an employee whose entire commute was train/light rail (which admittedly means a fairly privileged housing location and business location, relative to mass transit), I suspect they’d be on time *more* often than car commuters.

            But buses, like cars, are vulnerable to traffic (and breakdowns, and…).

            1. Natalie*

              I suppose it depends on the city – the buses in my city often use bus-only lanes. There are even a few bus-only streets with signal priority. It’s entirely possible to fly by a traffic jam in the bus here.

              And again, I’m not suggesting they’re superior, just questioning the wisdom that someone transit dependent is *necessarily* less reliable than a driver, all other factors being equal.

              1. Bea W*

                I wish we had bus only lanes! I take the subway, and I’m probably in trouble just as often as people driving and getting stuck in traffic. Rush hour on a bus can be pretty slow and miserable. You not only have the traffic, but you are constantly stopping to let people on and off. Some busses I have ridden during rush hour are SRO, and it take times to offload passengers and board new ones, even with people exiting out both doors.

              2. Kelly L.*

                Around here, there aren’t any dedicated lanes and the buses also sometimes get caught by trains (and of course, so do cars). They generally run on time, though, and I’m pretty much never late for work–I lived in a town with much worse buses for a while and so I got into the habit of padding extra time into my schedule. I’m usually more like 30 minutes early. (It’s handy for getting the office Keurig warmed up and the reservoir filled and all that!)

              3. Simonthegrey*

                Around here, they just cut the early bus service that used to start at 5:30 or 6am so the morning busses don’t start running until after 7am. Great, unless you have to be at work by 8am across town, because you will never make it. The last bus leaves where I work at 4:10 in the afternoon. Also fine, unless you do not get off work until 5:00pm. I would take the bus – I have lived in cities with excellent bus service and have taken the bus exclusively in the past – but it is a 10 minute drive vs. a 30-40 minute bus ride, so you can imagine which choice I make. Luckily, I can, because I have a car….but that’s not the case for everyone.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  Do you live in the same area I do? Oh, and let’s only run the buses every 30 minutes to 2 hours, so if you do miss a bus, you’re really out of luck.

                2. Observer*

                  Are the decision makers the same ones complaining about why people insist on keeping their cars?

            2. Elsajeni*

              I commuted to school by light rail for a couple of years, and my experience was that I was late less often than folks who drove or walked to campus, but when I was late, I was more late — if I missed a train, even if only by a few seconds, I’d have the delay multiplier of having to wait 20-30 minutes for the next one, and if the train itself broke down or there was an issue on the tracks, I might as well just go back home. I think buses will tend to have the same issues as trains (if you miss one you have to wait a while, once you’re on you can’t do anything to route around problems, etc.), plus the risk of getting caught in regular slow traffic that creates shorter but more frequent delays — that combination is probably why buses have such a bad reputation for timeliness in many cities.

              1. Mander*

                Indeed, I find this to be the case here in the UK. Depending on where I’m going the service is usually frequent enough that it’s not really an issue if I miss one bus or a metro train is a minute or two late. But sometimes there are strange gaps in inter-city services. I used to travel fairly frequently between two cities that are only about 15 minutes by train but if I missed the 10:30 I’d have to wait until 11:45 for the next one, and the bus took an hour so even if I backtracked to the bus station I wouldn’t get there any faster. Bus drivers are usually not allowed to let passengers off unless they are at an actual stop, so if the bus gets stuck in traffic you are stuck too, even if it would be quicker to get out and walk. And if there is some kind of issue involving the train you are also stuck.

                I wish the US had proper pay-as-you-go cell phones like you can get in Europe. Last year I was finally able to get an affordable TracFone when I went to visit my family, but in previous years it was pretty much impossible to get a phone for temporary use. Here in the UK I just top up my phone whenever I’m running low on credit, and it lasts pretty much indefinitely. I probably average less than £10/month because I hardly ever make calls. Every 6 months I buy a £20 internet “booster” which gives me unlimited data, and even before I had a smart phone using the internet was capped at £1/day. You can get basic phones for less than £20, and you can even get a smart phone for £50 — unlocked, and with no contract. Incoming calls are free. It does cost you to call 0800 numbers, but it’s often cheaper to call a regular number (even overseas) from your cell phone than from a land line.

                I have spent several months going back and forth to Spain for research over the past 10 years and was always able to get a similar deal.

                1. Amy*

                  I’m currently travelling to work by bus in the UK and it’s a pain in the arse. Sometimes my journey takes 25 minutes, sometimes an hour. Which means I have to allocate an hour, and on around 50% of the days I’m ridiculously early for work (I work on an isolated business park where there’s nowhere to kill the time, and it’s not the kind of job I can start early and finish early, or be compensated for the extra half hour).

                  I don’t really think PAYG options in the UK are that great either. They sound better than the US, but they’re only any good if you literally use a phone once in a blue moon. You can get a contract in the UK for £15-20 a month for a slightly older iPhone (4S or 5C), but I’ve had to use a PAYG because I couldn’t ensure I could pay that every single month. Yet my PAYG has actually ended up costing me more than the contract would have. It would solve No5’s employees’ issues, but in general PAYG in the UK is still not good.

          2. Turanga Leela*

            I’d love to see research on it too. I bet it varies based on location. If you live in a city with a large, reliable transit system, like New York or Boston, I doubt that there’s a disadvantage to relying on public transit. But where I live now, most people have cars and drive to work. Public transit exists, but it runs rarely. If you miss your bus, you can’t just catch the next one a few minutes later—you’re going to be an hour late to work. The margin for error is much smaller.

            1. Lora*

              Hah. I have three words for you: MBTA Red Line.

              Weather, messed-up transit issues and I-90 traffic are such common issues that every job I’ve had in the Greater Boston Area have been VERY flexible on coming in late, leaving early, and working from home. There are a few (insane) jobs where this is not the case, but I’ve found it’s more often than not.

              A couple of jobs ago I had a flat tire and walked into work at 9:45, apologizing profusely to my boss. He gave me a blank look, “what are you sorry for?” Well, for being late, I had a flat tire. I’m really sorry. “Is there something in the lab you need me to do?” Um. No. “You’re just TELLING me? *tch* Whatever, don’t worry about it.”

              1. Bea W*

                <blockquote:Hah. I have three words for you: MBTA Red Line.

                LOL that was my immediate thought too! I’m pretty sure my lateness frequency is on par with drivers at work. Some weeks though…not so much. My co-worker who used to do either Amtrak or CR from RI had a pretty raw deal some days, because when there are issues on those lines, there are ISSUES. If he was late, he was usually 90+ min late. There was never any in between. There was one morning it took him 4 hours to get here. :-/

              2. Hous*

                Man, I do Red Line to silver line every day, and I’ve been late because of Red Line antics I believe once in the last two years? Silver Line causes me a lot more problems. And I used to live on the Green Line, which was just nightmareish. Red Line is a dream come true by comparison.

                1. tt*

                  I HATE the red line. I wish someone warned me about that before I moved to Quincy. Bah. On the days when the delay is REALLY bad coming home, I zip over to South Station to take the commuter rail home. It’s so much faster, but just too expensive for me to do on a daily basis.

                2. Bea W*

                  Once in 2 years? In the evening in particular the Red Line has been responsible for missed connection to CR twice this month alone. I hardly have issues in the morning since switching to CR and only having to ride from South Station to Cambridge, but there have been 2 times in less than a year I’ve abandoned it. It’s about a 30 min walk between south station and work if I’m going at a good clip.

                  I had to adandon an OB trip from Cambridge yesterday trying to get to an appt. One dead train at Andrew had NB service paralyzed :/ When the MBTA starts announcing “moderate delays” it’s a euphamism for “Turn back now before it’s too late!”

                  It’s still better than driving and the B line.

                3. Bea W*

                  Oh to illustrate the fickleness of the Red Line – my commute into work is 30-35 min door to door, but it’s an hour coming home just due to the 30 min window I have to allot to the Red Line for what is normally a 10 min trip between South Station and my desk. My CR train is low drama and does not wait for the Red Line to pull itself together.

              3. Turanga Leela*

                Okay, I’m showing my ignorance here. I was basing my comments on NYC and assuming that Boston was similar, based on the times I’ve visited. Busted. :)

                1. books*

                  Ahhh, they’re just being whiners. It works just fine and about one a day there’s a sick passenger or disabled train. If it happens during rush hour, it can double your commute in, but unless you’re going from one end of the red line to the other, that’s like a 30 minute delay.

                  *All comments about the T do not apply to the green line and especially no the B or the C.

                2. Lora*

                  Yeah, that was my problem when I did commuter rail to South Station to Alewife and back: Longfellow bridge construction, police action, backup where there were no trains for like 30 minutes then five at once around Park St. Every. Damn. Week. And our commuter rail tracks are so fragile that the trains have to travel super slow on a particularly sunny day, lest they warp from overheating. It can turn a 45 minute commute into 3 hours. I wish I was kidding about this.

            2. fposte*

              That’s what I was thinking–that the advantage will depend on where you are. I did hunt to see if I could find any studies, but nothing popped up on a quick search and I’m not up for scholarly diving today.

            3. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

              It gets worse when you take multiple buses that have different route schedules–it’s easier to minimize your lateness if you have buses on the half hour (plus a small layover) that connect with buses on the half, but a half hour conecting to an every 45 minutes bus–forget it.

          3. neverjaunty*

            Likely this is heavily dependent on where you live. Some cities have great public transit, others don’t. And in a lot of places how good the transit is depends on where in the city you are. I used to live in a big city with a good bus sytem – but “good” meant the buses on the main commuter artery, and that serviced the urban hipster district, were frequent and reliable, while the buses that ran through the low-income areas were routinely late and sometimes didn’t show up at all.

          4. ella*

            I think it’s a matter of scale. I take the bus or ride my bike, and don’t have a car. When I had a job that I had to take the bus to because biking wasn’t practical, I was always on time–but if I was late, because I’d missed the bus or whatever, I was going to be 30 mins or an hour late. “Late” for me meant “really effing late.” Whereas employees with cars, if they were late, it might be 5 or 10 minutes, because they had a lot more wiggle room in when they left the house, or being able to drive faster than usual if they were just a little behind, or whatever.

            1. Elsajeni*

              This, exactly — in a car, you have more control over what time you show up. So, assuming that most people want to be on time to work and will only arrive late if it’s out of their control, it makes sense that public transit commuters would tend to be late more often than car commuters.

              1. ella*

                I don’t think transit commuters are late more often, I just think it’s more noticeable when they are. There’s also the argument that transit commuters are late less often, because the consequences are more drastic; a car commuter might be late more often because he either thinks he can make up the time driving, or that his lateness won’t be noticed since it’s more likely to be +/- 10 or 15 minutes, rather than 30 or 60.

                1. Bea W*

                  That’s exactly it. When you hit traffic you might be able to find an alternate route especially if you’ve caught a traffic report. If you’re on a bus or train, there normally isn’t anywhere else you can go or way you can go around the delay even if you hear about it before hand. The best you can do then is call and warn your employer you’ll be late.

          5. Oryx*

            It’s going to depend entirely on location. I live in a major city with a public transportation option but most people drive with a few cyclists. My job has me working with low income individuals who often are forced to take the bus because they can’t afford a car and are frequently late. I’d also guess most of the people who rely on the bus fit that demographic and while we have a small rail system, it’s mostly used by those in an income bracket that allows them to have a house in the suburbs.

            My sister, OTOH, lives in a city with a more well maintained public transportation system and she and the majority of the city take the bus and subway into work. Cars are very rare there and given the traffic in that city I bet people who drive into work arrive late more often than those who take public transportation.

            I think the real question is one of public transportation reliability and usage in cities where public transportation is used out of necessity versus used out of convenience.

          6. Mints*

            This varies so much. I’ve never missed the train (knock on wood) but have occasionally had system failures so I was like two hours late. The train causes lateness where you’re just like “maybe I should just take a sick day.” Meanwhile my old drive varied from like 20-35 minutes so I usually left early then checked email in my car while I waited to clock in.
            And another data point: my mom used to have a commute that was like a 20 minute drive on the freeway at 7 am or so, and the traffic was nearly nonexistent at that time, but if there was an accident, it took forever to clear, because the freeway was narrow so she was occasionally like half an hour late.

            Like others, my gut says public transit commuters are late less often, but more likely to be hugely late while drivers are more likely to be ten minutes late fairly often, but it really varies

            1. afiendishthingy*

              I’m kind of in awe of you never missing the train.

              I was definitely late less often as a public transit commuter than I am as a driver, for the reasons others have said. Mercifully new job is the first flexible schedule one I’ve ever had, in addition to being a shorter commute than the last two — I’ve always worked jobs where we needed coverage/substitutes; sometimes an organization really can’t be too flexible on calling in. I really applaud the OP for reconizing the difficulties the employees face and trying to address them.

        2. LQ*

          I would say it is. I take public transportation and it is almost never late. In the rare cases (twice in the 10 years I’ve been taking public transit in a not public transit friendly city) that there has been a bus break down a new one is there within 10 minutes. When traffic is bad or weather is bad I’m far less likely to be late than my coworkers.

          People who own cars are late all the time at my office, complaining about traffic, weather, spouses, children, whatever that made them late.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I WISH we had good public transport here. I’d much rather do that than fight the stupid industrial traffic in my area of town. The earlier I leave, the worse it is. I need to move.

          2. Lizzy May*

            I feel like people who tend to be late are the people who are frequently late regardless of how they get to work. It snows often where I live and I take public transit to work. On days when I know that weather is going to impact my commute, I go to bed early, get up early the next morning and take an earlier bus. If I was driving, I’d still leave early in bad weather. I check for detours and cancelled routes as soon as I get up every morning to make sure I don’t need to rush out the door, just like I’d listen to a traffic report if I was driving. I leave at a time that gives me a cushion so that if there is unexpected traffic I’m not late. I’d do the same thing if I ws driving. Stuff still goes wrong every so often, but that’s true of my coworkers who do drive. Even the most responsible person has things happen now and then, but mostly people who make the effort to be puctual will succeed however they commute to work and those who don’t wont be.

          3. Waiting Patiently*

            I tend to agree. If you have to catch the 8:15 bus to get to work on time, it sort of puts everything else in priority regardless of how you feel about it.

            1. Amy*

              But there’s no reason a car driver can’t have the same discipline and simply say “I have to leave at 8.15am to get to work on time”. And at least with a car, if you have the discipline then 90% of your commute is in your hands. At worst, traffic will hold you up and even then it’s possible that you might be able to change your route to avoid anything really bad.

              Whereas for those on public transport, their journey is essentially out of their hands. Even if they’re at the bus stop for 8.15, their bus might be delayed, the driver might ignore them flagging it down, or it just plain might never materialise (all things that have happened to me in the past fortnight). And even if the bus turns up on time, it doesn’t have the ability to divert if there’s severe traffic or some kind of accident.

              So really, unless you’re saying “cars make people shoddy timekeepers”, I don’t see how someone with a car can be late more often than someone taking public transport.

    2. the_scientist*

      Yes, this. I understand that this is out of the OP’s control, but low-income employers (Walmart, call centres, large retailers) are absolutely notorious for doing everything in their power to avoid hiring full-time employees, because, of course, full-time employees might be entitled to benefits. From a social justice perspective, this is yet another way corporations and the 1% ensure people stay trapped in poverty without access to adequate preventative health care (nevermind adequate food and shelter, which a person working 20 hours per week at $9-10 an hour in an expensive city certainly can’t afford). This is where collective bargaining works the best- by ensuring employees have stable hours and regular shifts. An interesting look at the difficulties of part-time, ever-changing shift work can be found here:

      Again, this is out of the OPs control although I’m sure a cost-benefit analysis would show that hiring a limited number of full-time staff (supplemented by part-time) would actually be better for the company in the long run. I don’t want to rag on the OP because she appears to be compassionate and fair towards her employees (more than many managers would be, I think) but this issue is emblematic of a much larger, systemic problem.

    3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      Turning 60 part-time employees into 30 full time ones not only decreases coverage options, as others have pointed out, but very probably has ACA implications (meaning they’d need to have all those people on a health plan, which for 30 people adds tens of thousands of dollars of additional cost per year).

      1. Living Wage*

        Poor employers, having to pay their workers a living wage. I would rather have the employer footing the bills for their employees vs the government aka the tax payers.

        1. fposte*

          Though that would also mean 30 employees who aren’t getting paid by the company at all any more.

          1. Living Wage*

            Then question is, why should a non-profit get a pass, and a business shouldn’t? Most people would say that a non-profit is there to benefit the community. If it only benefits a community by paying a non-living wage to its employees, is it really serving its community?

              1. jag*

                I hear you on the need for a living wage, but it’s not always possible for single small- or mid-sized organization to do the right thing. If they try, they collapse, because others that pay less are their competition for customers or funding.

                In other words, don’t hate the player, hate the game.

                And improving the game requires broader changes, perhaps minimum wage laws, cheaper or better access to health care, etc. Or even big employers taking the lead on raising wages, which has broader affects on wage levels. Things that raise the situation for employees across the board.

              2. Kobayashi*

                Have you ever tried to run a small business and pay an employee and stay afloat? $9 / hour is a lot better than zero.

              3. BRR*

                You seem to be searching for a reason to be upset. We all want people to earn livable wages and have good jobs. Unfortunately the fact is nonprofits aren’t often flush with extra cash and even if they are right now, donations could easily dry up next year (“it’s a grant-funded position, we only have funding for one year but we are sure we can get it for the next year”). Also, if you raise the hourly rate for 60 employees it adds up very fast. The fact is yes, if a nonprofit is paying a low salary it can still be fulfilling its mission (many people work at nonprofits for a lower salary because of its mission). If an organization increased its wages for 60 employees they might earn a better salary for a couple years but the organization would have to close putting everybody there out of work and no longer providing a service.

            1. Kobayashi*

              Because nonprofits often run close to the red many years, and they exist to help the community so the government doesn’t have to. If nonprofits had to pay people a starting wage of $15/hour, then the vast majority of nonprofits just wouldn’t exist, and either communities would go without those services (homeless shelters, etc.) or our tax rate would be 60% of take home pay (which would negate any $15/hour wage).

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yep. You’d be saying goodbye to loads of animal shelters, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, domestic violence shelters, after-school programs, crisis hotlines, small arts programs, and tons more.

                1. anon-2*

                  But then again, some of those services would no longer be necessary for the government to subsidize, if higher wages were paid.

                  There would be more tax dollars, more economic stimulus, and less need for these government-sponsored programs. If the real unemployment rate in an area drops to below 5 percent, and there are fewer under-employed people, there’s less of a need for homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

          2. Observer*

            Either they are poor managers or bad at PR. I know that many funders have ridiculous attitudes about personnel costs (my boss used to quite that funders think that people who work for poverty programs should live at poverty wages.) But you know what? If you budget right, you can manage to pay decent salaries / take on the ACA related costs. Not munificent, but still, not $200 a week. It’s like the nonprofits I’ve seen who wouldn’t spend $50 – 100 for an ADA accommodation (different keyboard and / or monitor).

            You don’t do good in the world by starving people.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              If you budget right, you can manage to pay decent salaries / take on the ACA related costs.

              Nonprofits of a certain size, absolutely. But skin-of-their-teeth, tiny, community-based organizations often truly can’t.

              1. Observer*

                And they are often terribly managed as well – the two are co-related. I mean not being able to manage their costs, not being small. There are many small places that run lean and pay on the low end of the scale, but they are small for good reasons that have nothing to do with poor management.

                The kinds of places that “truly can’t” afford to pay reasonable salaries / ACA (and other legitimate) costs also tend to find themselves “truly unable to afford” other required costs, such as basic safety, proper pay (thing “required volunteer time” and not paying for overtime) etc.

                And, any organization with 60 par time workers most definitely doesn’t qualify for this description.

      2. Ezri*

        This is a big factor, especially if the company is a nonprofit. Last year (when the ACA restrictions hit) I was still in school, and it hit our college town hard. I knew a lot of people (students mostly) who got their hours slashed by 1/3 (or in extreme cases, 1/2) because their employers would rather hire more employees than pay health care. Which is more jobs, technically, but more jobs at less than 30 hours a week with no benefits…. College ain’t cheap, people!

    4. jersey anon*

      Full timers usually receive more benefits and overtime which cost the company money. Not saying if this is why the OP’s organization only has part-timers but we have a similar issue where I work. It’s a low paying non-profit and we cannot raise pay because we are largely government funded and they set the funding for payroll.

  19. Lore*

    Would the company be able to purchase, say, 5 or 10 inexpensive prepaids that could be made available on a loaner basis to employees? It looks like for $200 you could get 10 phones with enough credit on them to last a while if they were being used for a maximum of five calls or texts weekly. This works best, of course, if it’s a problem that a lot of your staff has occasionally, rather than a) all of them at certain times of the month or b) only a few of them but all the time.

      1. Lore*

        I was thinking more that anyone whose phone was turned off for a week/month could sign one out. Again, this is assuming that most people have a phone most of the time but run out of minutes/have service turned off at intervals. The suggestion of distributing $5 phone cards below is probably a better approach to a similar solution.

        1. Sadsack*

          Sounds like more headaches for the employer when things go wrong, which they inevitably will if people are able to borrow phones.

  20. Anonymous1973*

    #5 if there is a public library nearby the employees can use the computers there. But even then it might not be instant. That’s all I can come up with right now.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Yup, I’ve worked in a library and there was often a line for the computers. If the employee is running late and doesn’t live close to the library, it might be a big enough detour that it’s more efficient to just go ahead to work. And if they’re sick, I doubt they’re going to get there.

    2. Liane*

      But since most libraries have hours in the 9am-9pm range, that’s not going to help a lot of these employees, even if they–like my family–are lucky enough to be a 15 minute walk from one. Plus, what if you’re too sick to walk or even drive very far and don’t have anyone else you could send?
      Still, the OP can add it to her list of suggestions because it can help some of these folks she cares about.

      A change in policy might help. MyJob is a very, very big employer and we only require call-in the same day. We like it best if you call in beforehand; in fact, if someone has a rep as a good worker, if they don’t call right away, we’re asking, “Where’s Wakeen? I hope nothing bad’s happened, he *always* calls, even if it’s just for a few minutes late”

      1. Career Counselorette*

        And I think in a lot of communities the libraries aren’t even standard 9am-9pm. Due to budget changes, there are a lot of library branches where I live (major Northeast city) that have variable schedules. Monday my branch open 8 am-9 pm, but Tuesday they don’t even open until 2 pm. In another branch they regularly don’t open until 11 am. That definitely wouldn’t help.

        1. Waiting Patiently*

          Yeah, my library (northeast city as well) is only open like 4 days a week and the hours are really limited.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Right now mine is completely closed while they move from one building to another. (Blerg. I need books.)

          1. ella*

            That seems completely backwards to me. My library (that I work at) is in a really kid-heavy neighborhood, if we had the budget, we’d be open MORE in the summer. We have so many kids who just live here in the summertime.

            1. Nina*

              I’m assuming they do it for budgetary purposes. And they fall back on the reasoning that kids prefer to be outdoors in the summer, and they get a lot more students returning to study in the fall.

    3. K.*

      The timing also may not work out. For example, the library near me opens at 10:00 a.m. most weekdays. If your work shift starts at 8:00 a.m. that doesn’t do you any good.

      1. Simonthegrey*

        Yep. The one near us is closed on Tuesdays and doesn’t open till afternoons on Thursdays.

  21. Waiting Patiently*

    #5 not sure if it’s posted but there is a program (unsure if its federal or state) that gives qualified low income people free cell phones (I think it’s like a basic phone with a certain amount of minutes each month) just for this purpose. I think it spun from the idea when people were donating old cellphone to homeless shelters and the like. Not sure if you’re in a state that offers this, it might be something worth looking into. It sounds like these people could really use it.

      1. Living Wage*

        But it is not free for those of us who pay for our cell phones. Every time you pay your phone bill, there is a fee tacked on to cover these “free” phones. The writer should just pay a living wage and they wouldn’t have this issue.

          1. Living Wage*

            As a supervisor, she needs to advocate for her employees. If raising the wage means a better more constant workforce, then they need to explore the option of raising wages of with their manager.

            1. Natalie*

              OK, and in the meantime what should the supervisor do? Assuming she’s able to make any change at all, it’s probably going to take a while and she’ll still have people coming in late without calling in for now.

              I appreciate this seems to be an issue that you care a lot about, and I don’t disagree with you on the concept, but “just change everything about the pay structure of your company” isn’t actually a workable solution for most people.

            2. Any Mouse*

              Depending on what type of business the OP works for it’s doubtful even her MANAGER has the kidn of sway to change the pay rate. I work for a retail chain and I make above minimum wage and get a pretty decent benefits package for retail. I’ve gotten raises twice, once when I moved over to a new position and moved up a pay grade and once for my annual review/merit. With the promotion there was a range they could offer in terms of a raise. in the annual review the raise was based on my score. There was only so much they could give me and my supervisor actually apologized that he couldn’t give me a higher raise.

              He didn’t have the authority change that, the store manager doesn’t have the authority to change that. The district manager doesn’t have the authority to change that and I’m pretty sure the regional manager doesn’t either. It’s all up in corporate.

              So it’s nice to say – well the OP should change this or give a higher wage but usually there are only so many things that a supervisor/manager can do in a large organization.

          2. Living Wage*

            If the supervisor is able to change the attendance policy, they must have some sway on other issues as well.

            1. Simonthegrey*

              Then what’s the short -term solution? What you’re talking about is a long term solution that will not happen overnight. How does she help the employees right *now*?

            2. Zillah*

              “Must”? I wouldn’t go that far. And, even if the OP does have “some sway,” that doesn’t mean that the OP has enough sway to substantially increase the wages for all of their workers.

          3. afiendishthingy*

            I read Natalie’s comment initially as saying it wasn’t the OP’s decision that our taxes cover Lifeline. Which made me laugh. Anyway, yes, in a perfect world nonprofits would be able to pay more, but I’d certainly rather subsidize their employees (well, depending on the nonprofit, but for the most part) than Walmart’s — Walmart could pay their people more, although obviously their products wouldn’t be as cheap.

        1. Ludo*

          The writer may not be in control of the situation. In addition, while I firmly support the idea of a living wage (and cannot imagine the choices I would have to make if I were to gross $180 a week), given that this is a non-profit, it is entirely possible that they cannot afford to pay more. Paying 60 people $9-$10 an hour is better than them earning nothing. And no, these programs are not free – all of us with cell phones pay a small tax each month – but it is valuable and a good use of my tax dollars, if you ask me.

          Ideals are great, but we live in the real world and in the real world transitioning to a living wage would not immediately end poverty and the need for these programs. It does no one any good to pretend otherwise.

  22. Karen*

    #5 : They likely have phones, just not plans or minutes. I’d give everyone a $5 phone card and only replace it when they’ve called work that many times.

    1. Natalie*

      Can you use a phone card on a cell that has no minutes? I was under the impression the only purely free cell call was 911.

      1. Lore*

        You might have to give cards of x number of minutes tied to their particular cell phone carrier, which gets complicated but still possibly workable.

        1. Zillah*

          And even if it doesn’t solve the problem for all employees, if it can solve it for some, it’s probably worth it.

  23. Dutch Thunder*

    For OP #5: This might not work for this particular company, but I’ve worked in offices where the commercial team get new mobile phones every couple of years, even though the old ones are still functional.

    Could surplus phones be made available to the people who don’t have one currently, as a work phone only to be used to call in late/sick? If you issue each phone with a $5/10 pay as you go sim card, that should suffice unless it’s a regular occurrence.

  24. Matt*

    I suggest getting teh employees Obamaphones as they are known, but that’s passing on the cost of living to taxpayers- maybe your employer should pay them a living wage.

    1. Waiting Patiently*

      Life would be so much easier if employers simply paid their workers enough to live.

      1. Elysian*

        I think the issue of pay is much more complicated than we can really discuss easily here, and isn’t central to the OP’s question since OP already said they can’t raise the pay rate.

          1. Elysian*

            I agree it is an important conversation, but given that it is something outside the OP’s control, I think it getting into a larger conversation about it here would be derailing. It might be something better saved for one of the Open Thread conversations later in the week so that this thread can focus on ways that we can help the OP solve his/her problem.

        1. Living Wage*

          It is central to the issue. The issue is the employer does not pay enough money to their employees to be able to afford even a basic phone.

          1. LBK*

            Ehh…in cities particularly I think it’s more complicated than that. Skyrocketing real estate prices make a HUGE difference in how much money is required in order to survive. For example, there’s actually consideration in Boston right now to provide rent assistance to middle-income people because it’s so insanely expensive that even making $45k/year you’ll probably be spending a minimum of half your monthly income on rent.

            If I could live in the city in a decent apartment without having to have 7 roommates for, say, $600/mo, being able to survive on $10/hr would be a hell of a lot easier.

            1. Fact & Fiction*

              That is one thing I do NOT miss about living in Boston. The year I lived there, I actually got extremely lucky when my ex and I split up to find a month-to-month rental in Salem for $650 a month (a 1-bedroom with a bonus room attached to the bedroom), which was about a one-mile walk to the commuter line. My good friend at work, on the other hand, actually lived in Boston itself and paid around $500ish a month (just in rent) to share a one-bedroom apartment with two friends — and she shared what would have been the living room (which had a door) with her female friend, while the male roommate had the bedroom to himself. They had a TINY kitchen (mine was about three times the size of theirs) and a tiny bathroom and that was it.

          2. Kobayashi*

            You know, when I was in high school with no real skills, a minimum wage job helped me out a lot. I really think we do need LOW PAYING jobs that are meant for youngsters just starting out, who have no skills, and not meant to be support a family. If we have none of these jobs, society has lost something.

            1. KellyK*

              That makes sense, but the downside of “jobs that aren’t meant to live on” is that people end up having to live on them any time unemployment is high. When there are enough jobs to go around, high school and college students have the opportunity to build skills with low-paying jobs, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any more. After the recent recession, lots of jobs that used to be held by high school or college kids are now held by adults with families to support.

              Companies prefer people with higher levels of experience and skills, and why wouldn’t they? If you can hire someone who’s 25 and has 4 or 5 years of retail experience for the same wage you could hire a sixteen-year-old who you have to completely train, of course you’re going to pick the 25-year-old. (Unless you consider it part of your mission or civic duty to help people starting out, but organizations doing that as a conscious thing aren’t exactly common.)

          3. Zillah*

            It’s central to why this is an issue, but it doesn’t solve the OP’s problem. We have many, many conversations on AAM that acknowledge that there’s a difference between values and practical advice, and we tend toward the latter overall. It’s about what will get people the best result, not what’s fair or right.

            In this case, I think that everyone agrees with you that a living wage is hugely important and that so many employers don’t pay one to be hugely problematic. However, this is a larger institutional and cultural problem, and it’s not one that the OP has the power to solve. So, while I understand your sentiments and do agree with them, I don’t think that talking about them is really productive here.

    2. Colette*

      That’s an easy thing to say, but much harder in practice. How much more are you willing to pay for gas, food, consumer goods, heating, etc. so that companies can pay more?

      1. Kelly L.*

        More than you might think. I’ve spent too much time in low-wage hell and I know it too well.

      2. Natalie*

        Honestly, I’d prefer a strong social safety net (stronger than we have now) as I’m not comfortable with tying various social programs to one’s job (e.g. health insurance). I support paying people a living wage, but I think it’s overly simplistic to say “just pay everyone more”.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I definitely think health insurance should be unlinked from jobs. It’s a fluke that it is at all (there was an interesting article about it somewhere a few weeks ago), and it leads to people staying in awful jobs because they have medical conditions, and to debates about what the employer wants to cover, and so on.

          1. Helka*


            And it also gives the employer control over how good an individual’s health coverage really is (since even with the ACA, if your employer’s health coverage is considered “affordable” then buying on the open market is prohibitively expensive) when they really don’t have any business making that decision.

            A friend of mine with significant health issues just had her employer change coverage so that an outpatient surgery she’ll need to have within the next year went from $200 out of pocket to like $1500. She got all of a week’s worth of warning about the change, which is not enough time to bump up the surgery to before the changeover happens. (And her HR department pulled some scummy act of “don’t even bother checking the health exchanges, you won’t be able to afford anything on them, this is the best plan for you.” Major side-eye there.)

        2. fposte*

          Yeah, that’s just a bad arrangement for a multitude of reasons. I just think it’s too entrenched to unlink now.

    3. ella*

      The “Lifeline” phone program was first enacted in 1984. Clinton renewed/expanded it in 1996, and it first expanded to cover cell phones in 2008 under GW Bush. And the service is funded by taxing telecommunications companies, who may or may not pass the cost on to their customers–if you don’t see a service charge on your bill labeled “Universal Service” or something similar, you’re not helping pay for it.

      tl;dr, I don’t know why they’re called “Obamaphones.”

      1. Fact & Fiction*

        Probably because the current administration (of whatever political flavor) often gets blamed for pretty much everything individuals don’t like! =)

  25. Illini02*

    #5 So, not to sound callous, but yes, you have to hold them to the same standards as everyone else. I don’t have a car currently (granted I live in Chicago, where getting around without a car is easier than a lot of places) however my last job was kind of out in the suburbs. I wasn’t given special treatment in terms of being late because I didn’t have one. People with a car could easily oversleep 10 minutes and only be 10 minutes late. Because of the train schedule, that made me an hour late. And if I was an hour late, well I was dealt with appropriately. Plus, there are still pay phones out there, granted not as many, but some. I find it hard to believe there was NOWHERE they could find a phone. Its not your responsibility to provide them with one.

    1. Helka*

      Pay phones can be incredibly hard to find, though. And depending on the reason for callout, they are not a good solution. Have the flu, a stomach bug, or other illness? Wandering around the city hunting for a phone is not going to be an even remotely good idea, or possibly even within their capability.

    2. MK*

      I don’t think it’s so hard to believe. If they are too poor to afford a phone, they quite likely live in circumstances that make access to one difficult. Also, while it’s probably possible to find a phone given time, if it’s going to take them an hour and a half to find a phone, so that they can calll to say they will be an hour late,well there isn’t much point, is there?

      Also, while the situation isn’t strictly the OP’s responsibility, I understand that she is motivated partly because she recognises these people aren’t making a living wage working for her company and that, since this problem is caused by an objecrive difficulty, the situation isn’t likely to improve by disciplining the workers.

    3. illini02*

      I guess my biggest issue is treating people without a phone differently than others. If you would discipline the people who do have a phone for not getting in touch when going to be late or out, the same needs to be done to those who don’t have one. I’m all about having equal consequences. Its no different to me than giving people with kids perks and letting things slide when you wouldn’t do that to childless people. However, if the OP does want to do some of the things suggested, such as buying them a calling card, I think that same perk needs to be given to everyone. So for example if you decide the best thing is to go to Target and get everyone a $15 phone card, well the people with a phone should get a $15 target card as well.

      1. KellyK*

        I think there is a case to be made for not disciplining people for things that are beyond their control, and for offering flexibility according to an employee’s needs. *Especially* when the nature of the job is that you’re going to have poor employees with all the challenges that come with that. The organization has made a choice regarding hours and pay. It may not be within the OP’s control, but it’s part of the situation they need to work within.

        If two people were late for work, and one just overslept, while the other’s car broke down, would you automatically treat them exactly the same? How about if two people go over their expected number of sick days—one because they call out every time they have even a little cold, and the other because they have a chronic illness? Likewise, if someone needs Friday afternoon off for a doctor’s appointment and someone else needs it off for a manicure, are you going to base it on who asked first, or seniority, and completely disregard need?

        I do think that having kids or financial difficulties isn’t an excuse for not performing your basic job responsibilities, or a reason to always get first pick of vacation time or anything like that. But I do think that a reasonable manager can make a distinction between “Wakeen did everything reasonably in his power to get here at 8 and it didn’t work out,” and “Cheryl can’t be bothered to set an alarm clock.”

        1. illini02*

          I get being flexible, but I’m looking at a pattern. As a manager, I probably wouldn’t get too angry at someone who was generally on time, but their car broke down. Similarly, if the oversleeping was a one time thing, I can get past it. Sick days is a tough one to me (and I won’t get into that because there have been enough debates on that anyway), but if its a chronic illness, thats something that should be brought up in advance. As far as the Friday afternoon thing, honestly I probably would go by who asked first, especially if they are using personal time. To me personal time is something that is yours to use and isn’t my business how you use it. So, to me I don’t care. Again, I’m sympathetic, but I also look at the fairness. If Cheryl is late every friday because she stayed out too late, and Jane is late every friday because her kids are taking too long to get ready, essentially they end result is the same and I do believe they should be disciplined the same.

    4. Elysian*

      Yeah, pay phones are really disappearing. I think that that was part of the impetus for the government to provide the free cell phones to low income individuals (mentioned elsewhere) – since the government isn’t setting up pay phones because they’re less needed, they’ve diverted the money to this other program instead.

      1. Natalie*

        I don’t think payphones are a government service – all of the ones I’ve ever seen were operated by the local telecom.

        1. Elysian*

          Hrmmm you might be right – didn’t there used to be pay phones on the sides of highways and stuff (to call in accidents?). I thought at least that those were government provided/subsidized/something. You’re probably right that it wasn’t the gov’t. Either way, with the lack of infrastructure, it makes programs like the free cell phone program even more important, I think.

          1. Natalie*

            Oh, I was thinking of the ones you’d see on the street corner, which were definitely private. The highway ones might be a state service.

            Either way, I agree re: cell phone access.

          2. Aunt Vixen*

            Those are emergency phones, and I believe the interstates still have them – about every mile, so it’s never more than about half a mile to get to one. It doesn’t dial, though. You pick it up and it calls emergency.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              There are some north of here, cell phones barely work or don’t work at all. There was a out-cry when a person laid dead in their car on the median for two weeks before help came. (The medians are very wide and enough have enough trees to be consider a woods. The car could not be seen from the road.) They had taken the phones out but put them back in after this.)

            2. anon-2*

              Yes – and those phones are for LEGITIMATE EMERGENCIES. Calling in to tell your boss you’re going to be late for work is not only an abuse of that resource – it could land you in jail.

              Telling your boss you’re going to be late is NOT a “911 emergency”.

          3. Aisling*

            The one in our lobby wasn’t government subsidized. I work in a public library, and the local telephone company ran that one. They pulled it out a few years ago, when they were no longer making money from it.

      2. neverjaunty*

        No, this wasn’t the government shutting down pay phones. Pay phones went away because they weren’t profitable in a cellphone world.

    5. soitgoes*

      I’m wondering if the non-profit the OP works at is doing some sort of outreach or participating in a job placement or rehabilitation program. Either that, or she’s employing a lot of teens. Even at $9 an hour, it’s incredibly rare for people to not have phones. It’s also odd to me that so many people are frequently late. That suggests to me that she’s supervising people who are new to the workforce. I hate to doubt people’s honesty, but I think she needs to start being stricter. When people are in non-career track jobs, it’s easy for them to fall into ruts of being late and borrowing other people’s excuses.

      1. Natalie*

        I think “incredibly rare” is a bit of a stretch. 2.5% of households have no phone service (wireless or landline), and there’s some other percentage of people who have gaps in service. I couldn’t find statistics on that, but it’s going to be more common for the poor for obvious reasons.

        1. soitgoes*

          I just think it’s a major stretch to not have any access to a phone within a decent time frame. If this is an urban area, why can’t they walk to the local pizza joint or hair salon and ask to use the phone? How about a cafe? I live in the suburbs and I can think of quite a few places within a 15-minute walk that might let me use the phone. Some might say no of course, but the point is that I’m making an effort to get in touch with my manager.

          This actual issue of phone ownership should be dealt with, but I think a lot of these people might be lying.

          1. Natalie*

            “If this is an urban area, why can’t they walk to the local pizza joint or hair salon and ask to use the phone? How about a cafe?”

            Any number of possibilities:

            – They may have missed a connecting bus route in some part of the city where there aren’t nearby businesses. Or perhaps they are afraid if they walk away from the bus stop they’ll be gone to long and miss the next bus (this has actually happened to me and there is nothing more frustrating.)

            – They may be commuting so early or late that neighboring businesses aren’t open. Particularly in poor neighborhoods, businesses often have odd and irregular hours as they’re usually operating on pretty slender margins.

            – The hair salon or corner mart may not even have a landline, and if they do they’re pretty unlikely to let you use it.

          2. jag*

            Most people can get to a phone at some point in the day. But at 7:30am when you’re running late, it’s not so easy to get to one.

            And if you’re already running late, is it worth spending 15 minutes get somewhere to make the call, making you at least 15 minutes later in getting to work?

          3. Elsajeni*

            I don’t see any reason to assume that the employees are lying — you’re right that relying on the general network of other people with phones can work as a stopgap sometimes, but it can fall through in situations like the ones the OP describes, where the neighbor with the phone isn’t available to lend it to you or leaving the bus stop to try and find a phone would only make you later. And she only refers to “a few” people having this problem, and tells two specific stories; I don’t think that’s so many as to be implausible.

          4. KellyK*

            Just because you can ask people to use their phone doesn’t mean they’re going to let you. A while ago, I brought my husband’s car in for service, and the dealership offered to drive me to the mall so I didn’t have to sit around. My cell phone died, so when I tried to call them to ask for a pick-up, I had to hunt around for someone willing to let me use a phone. I tried Customer Service, but they’re not allowed to do that. One of the department stores did let me use their phone. (Then a random stranger let me use her phone when the driver went to the wrong entrance and I was trying to find out where they were.)

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Ummm. Having supervised a group of people who were not well off financially, yes, there are a lot of problems with lateness and absenteeism. When you lack funds for discretionary spending, you are in trouble. When you lack the funds to pay your bills, you are in deeper trouble. One little problem grows expodentially.

        I have seen people drive a vehicle that is in very dangerous condition to work for weeks, while they save up the money to buy the replacement part. Then they spend their whole day off putting the part in the vehicle. And these are people with little to no mechanic background, so this takes awhile. They can’t pay a mechanic to install it and they gave up food to buy the part. Plus they had a challenging ride into work everyday. A small problem is like tenacles on an octopus the problem goes into every part of their day. In this example here it could be well over a month until the situation is resolved.

    6. Observer*

      There are entire neighborhoods without a single pay phone to be found. And, the poorest neighborhoods tend to be the worst served, for a number of reasons. You may find this hard to believe, but it doesn’t change the reality.

      I’m not saying that there don’t need to be policies in place, and they can create problems even when they are legitimate – I can see why Alison responded as she did – but, let’s start from a point of reality.

  26. Cnon*

    How about the company provide a cheap Tracfone and the people receiving said phones provide the minutes; the cheapest card is $9.99 for thirty minutes and days.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I had one of the Tracfone brand ones years ago and I never could get it to actually work, though they may have improved since. I do currently have a payphone through t-mobile and have had very little trouble with it over the last few years. I have the unlimited talk and text plan, but there are also pay as you go plans where you can put smaller amounts of money on, and I switched to that for a while when money was tight. There’s an initial outlay for the phone itself, but I can’t recall how much I paid for it.

      1. Evan (in the USA)*

        They’ve definitely gotten better. One of my friends has Tracfone by choice – he can definitely afford a “better” plan, but he chooses Tracfone because he hardly ever uses his minutes.

        1. KellyK*

          My husband and I have Tracfone for the very same reason. Reception is lousy at the house (rural area, lots of trees), and his work location doesn’t allow cell phones (you have to leave it in your car or at the front desk). So Tracfone is infinitely better than giving Verizon an arm, a leg, and a first-born child for minutes we didn’t use.

  27. Ali*

    #2: I’m 29 and nearing the end of a social media internship, after which I’ll be staying with that company part-time…eventually hoping to get full-time. When I first heard about the position, I asked my contact at the company if they hired interns out of college and he said they did. I sent my resume over, went through a quick interview and no one cared about my age or even brought it up. I mostly wanted the position to acquire social media experience, although I’ve had an interest in their industry for a little while. I work virtually, so I have never personally met anyone at my company, including other interns.

    The only time it has really been awkward was a month or so back when my supervisor sent all of us a group e-mail saying how important it was to turn in projects on time because some interns were, I’m guessing, making a habit of being late with their work. Of course, she had to stress how unacceptable that was, and I found myself a little annoyed at those interns who hadn’t met deadlines. Other than that, it’s been fine, and it’s worth it when your supervisors recognize your hard work and put their trust in you for extra projects.

  28. TotesMaGoats*

    #5-I’m trying to be sympathetic to the OP and her employees. I am. But there are countless jobs across the country that are paid at the same rate (or a little less), employing the same low-income population and probably have pretty strict attendance rules. If this was happening at a fast food restaurant, I have a feeling those employees would be out the door pretty quickly after a couple strikes. I wonder if it’s because she works for a cultural org/mission that leads her to want to be more accommodating. I’m not saying that she shouldn’t be. If it’s within her ability to be more accommodating, knowing the situation of her employees, then go for it.

    I just don’t know, aside from federal assistance programs, what other options would exist. Most of the other options listed are costly.

  29. some1*

    Yeah, you don’t need to ask the mature undergrad if she minds working with 20-yr-olds. It’s going to be such an obvious expectation for her that you bringing it up might make her think you have an issue with her age.

    1. Waiting Patiently*

      “It’s going to be such an obvious expectation for her that you bringing it up might make her think you have an issue with her age.”

      I was thinking this too.

      1. Sally*

        “I want to make sure it’s a good cultural fit for everyone.”
        I think that the OP does have an issue with her age, but knows that it would be wrong to say it. Cultural fit?? Why would you assume that it would be so uncomfortable to work with someone – egads! – in their forties when you are in your twenties?

        1. De Minimis*

          I was asked this type of question in the past, and it rubbed me the wrong way.

          I think with some employers the concern is basically that older employees may be less willing to sacrifice time with family, etc. for work.

          1. Sadsack*

            That makes no sense. If the other regular employees are there working, why would the older-than-average intern have a problem with working?

            1. De Minimis*

              It’s an issue more for environments that require exempt employees to work well in excess of 40 hours a week, staying late, working weekends, etc. A lot of these places like to hire younger people right out of school because they are less likely to care about spending a lot of time at work.

              1. Lizzy*

                Yes, and I would add that certain industries (like finance) also have career timeline expectations as to where you should be in your career by a certain age, i.e. promoted to VP by late 20s/early 30s, Managing Partner by late 30s, etc. It can be frowned upon to be doing entry level work (including internships) past the age of 25. And like De Minimis noted, there is the expectation of working longer hours, working for less pay and not having too many outside obligations to distract, so there tends to be a heavy preference for hiring youth in those industries.

        2. Karowen*

          I read it more as the OP worrying about the older intern being uncomfortable, not the other way around. I know plenty of people in their 40s and 50s who are convinced that everyone in their 20s is a worthless piece of crap when it comes to work ethic. Plus, I think it’d be a concern if there is likely to be a scenario where the older worker has to answer to another intern because the other intern is the lead on the project.

          To be fair, I may be biased in this situation – I am currently in my upper 20s, have been working at my place of employment for 5 years, and still have a co-worker in her 50s that (a) talks about how lazy and entitled all people in their 20s are (it’s a problem of the generation, you know – how dare anyone think that because your salaried that means you get to do your job and go home?! You must work late if necessary but you may never leave early!) and (b) gets upset when I’m the one in charge of the department when our boss is gone.

          I don’t think that the OP should ask, and I don’t think that the OP should consider it – the older intern knows the deal, surely – but I don’t think it’s blatant ageism for the OP to be concerned.

          1. Observer*

            I suggest you replace the words “upper 20” / “20s” with “white” and replace “50s” with “black” and reread your entire paragraph.

            You are doing the same thing your co-worker is doing. Why is it wrong for her to judge all 20-somethings by her standards, but it’s fine for you to judge all 50-somethins by this one person?

            To put it more clearly: Why is it ok for you to talk about how all (or even most) people in their 50s are unfair jerks who believe that everyone in their 20 is a worthless piece of garbage (even if only limited to their work ethic)?

            1. LBK*

              I thought Karowen was pretty clear that a) this was based on experience with a small sample and didn’t apply to everyone, and b) her experience with this bad subset has made her biased. She even literally used the phrase “I may be biased” in her comment. What’s your point?

              1. Observer*

                That she IS biased – no maybe’s about it. And she still doesn’t get that it IS bias. Worse, she seems to think that this bias is somehow more acceptable and reasonable than her co-worker’s bias.

            2. Karowen*

              The difference is this: It’s part of human nature to make judgments based on your experiences. That multi-colored reptile bit my brother yesterday and my brother died, so I’m going to stay away from multi-colored reptiles. Logical, sound, smart. I wouldn’t knock anyone for making a judgment or having a visceral reaction based on their experience. I do, however, judge people when they don’t stop themselves before they act or speak and say “Hey, this is silly! I shouldn’t take my past out on someone who I’ve never met before!”

              By stating that I had a bias (I apologize for using the word “may,” didn’t mean to throw you off that much) and by making it clear that the OP should neither ask about nor consider the intern’s age, I feel like I made it obvious that I am aware of my bias and don’t apply it blindly. I would absolutely hire this woman if she were even marginally better than the other applicants. My co-worker, on the other hand, is aware of her bias but doesn’t make any accommodations for it. She would never consider hiring a millennial because she is that convinced that all millennials are awful – even though a friend and exception to that rule is sitting right next to her.

              1. Karowen*

                I do, however, judge people when they don’t stop themselves before they act or speak and say “Hey, this is silly! I shouldn’t take my past out on someone who I’ve never met before!”

                Wanted to clarify: Barring any traumatic events.

        3. Colette*

          It depends on the person. We occasionally see people here who are offended because their manager is younger than them, for example, or who see themselves as above younger people because of their life experience. I don’t think it’s that common, but it does happen.

          1. Observer*

            Totally dependent on the person. In my experience, people like that had many of the same prejudices when they were young, but just targeted at other age groups. “Never trust anyone over 30” makes no more sense than “these kids can’t get anything right.” Smart people know better than that; people who have an idea of how to get along in the work place either know better or know to keep that to themselves; and idiots buy into both at different points in their lives. At least, that’s been my experience.

        4. LBK*

          Well, it can really change the office culture. I work in a very young department where I think the oldest person is 35 and the average age is about 26. Most people don’t have spouses or kids. I think someone in their 40s with kids would feel a little uncomfortable here, just like I would feel like an outlier in a department where everyone was in their 40s/50s and talking about their kids being in middle/high school. I just wouldn’t feel like I had anything in common with them, and as someone that likes to become friends or at least friendly acquaintances with my coworkers, it would be very alienating. I also like to go out with coworkers whether to lunch or to a bar after work, and a) I think I’d feel a bit odd asking an older coworker to go to a bar with me, and b) I see my few coworkers with children decline most post-work invites anyway.

          I do think age influences how you would view the whole situation – people in their 20s tend to place more importance on building personal relationships with their coworkers and bonding outside of work, but as people get older they tend to have more established friend groups and aren’t as concerned with making friends at work. So a manager in a younger workplace might be more concerned about how their employees will get along, vs. a manager in an older workplace might not care as much as long as their employees can work well together.

          1. neverjaunty*

            If you like to become friends with your co-workers, a skill that will help you become friends (and will help you in the workplace, too) is to find things you have in common, rather than looking at your differences and writing them off from the get-go. That isn’t just a young person thing, either – a fortysomething who rolls their eyes at a new 20something hire because ‘what would I possibly talk to a child about’ is making the same mistake you are.

            Am I likely to go hang with my 20something co-workers at the bar picking up hot babes? Are they wanting to gripe with me about the cost of sending a kid to college? No, but we can talk about movies, or where we like to go on vacation, or what’s happening in work or in our field. There’s a lot of room for friendliness in between the extremes of “work BFFs” and “oh god, do I *have* to talk to somebody that different?”

            1. LBK*

              I’m not sure if this supposed to be specifically directed at me or just general advice to young people, but I don’t personally have a problem making friends with older coworkers, generally (as I noted at the end of my last comment). I was speaking generally – it’s fairly common throughout all age ranges and all realms for people to gravitate towards others near their age, not just at work. And I do also think there’s a difference between being able to make small talk with someone when you see them in the lunch room (which sounds more like what you’re saying) and being a work friend. I have a few older coworkers that I love to chat with when I see them, but I don’t go out of my way to catch up with them daily like I do with my work friends.

              There is also a difference between a work friend and a friend for me, too – I have work friends that I cling to during work parties, or that I might grab a drink with after work, or go to lunch with, but I wouldn’t consider them a friend. I’m not calling them up on the weekends to meet up or telling them the gory details of my personal life. Making work friends is what’s important to me, not making friends at work – if that makes sense.

              1. LBK*

                Oops – I just realized I took out the line about me getting along better with older coworkers than most of my age group peers in my original comment. Sorry! I thought I had made that caveat already.

          2. krisl*

            How close do you have to be to your co-workers? You don’t have to be best friends or have everything in common.

            1. LBK*

              I elaborated a little in my follow up comment, copying it here:

              There is also a difference between a work friend and a friend for me, too – I have work friends that I cling to during work parties, or that I might grab a drink with after work, or go to lunch with, but I wouldn’t consider them a friend. I’m not calling them up on the weekends to meet up or telling them the gory details of my personal life. Making work friends is what’s important to me, not making friends at work – if that makes sense.

  30. Ruffingit*

    #5 – You just can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a requirement that employees call in when they’re going to be late when you don’t pay them enough to have a phone. I realize you can’t pay them more, which means you’re just going to have to change your procedures about calling in. In other words, live with them being late and not being able to notify you because there just doesn’t seem to be any other solution unless your company is willing to pay for a cell phone plan for employees.

    1. illini02*

      I disagree. You can’t just have no policy for calling out. Maybe this policy needs to be made more clear initially though. But there are plenty of minimum wage jobs out there that have attendance policies as well.

      1. Lora*

        Yes you can. I’ve worked many, many places where there were no policies for lots of things, because the policy was, “use your judgment on a case by case basis, jeez, you’re supposed to be smart.” Which is also an option here.

        If I didn’t show up for work by, say, lunchtime, with no call or email or text, my colleagues and/or boss call ME to ask if everything is OK. On my work cell. The assumption is that if I haven’t gotten there or contacted them, it’s because I am dead in a ditch sort of thing. There is plenty of flexibility in not having a policy that doesn’t require disciplining someone for not having a phone.
        -set up carpools or vanpools for people who need help with transportation
        -ask employees if there is an alternate contact you can call if you don’t hear from them by a certain time (neighbor, relative or friend who could check on them)
        -make the policy more like multiple hours instead of one hour
        -not have the policy and just deal with it, stepping in to cover for the missing employees yourself
        -give extra hours or bonuses to people who cover for whomever is missing, so there is an incentive to be early or on time in case you get the chance for a bonus or overtime

    2. BRR*

      My objective view is I have to disagree. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable expectation to ask that employees somehow send notification if they’ll be late or absent.

      My personal view is that I applaud the OP for trying to help their employees and that they recognize that $9-$10 an hour is not a living wage. A low income unfairly keeps so many from earning more such as not being able to afford a phone, have reliable transportation, or afford childcare costs all present a very high hurdle to cross. My only thought is the government provided phones and I appreciate everyone trying to help.

    3. The IT Manager*

      You assume that have an phone is an impossibility which is not the case. A “few employees” have not been able to call in when the are late are unable to come in because of a lack of phone. That means that some or many of the employees manage something when they are sick or late.

      An honest question, would the cheapest option for these people be land line in their apartment/home? They should be able to make local calls to work “for free” (with base rate). I honest don’t know what it would cost, but its probably cheaper than a smart phone plan (not necessarily some pre-paid “dumb phone).

      This plan requires that these people have a stable living situation.

      1. Natalie*

        A basic landline plan in my city is $40/mo before taxes and fees, and closer to $60 when you actually get the bill. A prepaid phone is a lot cheaper.

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          Yeah, it was $35/mo in my former city and $25/mo in my current one for the cheapest landline plans I could find. Plus, doesn’t allow them to call in late on the go, like if they are already on a bus and it has been delayed, for example.

      2. Elysian*

        Yeah, I have a landline and its actually surprisingly expensive. I’ve been trying to convince my husband to get rid of it because its costing us a lot and we don’t really use it.

    4. Sadsack*

      Long ago when I was young and working minimum wage jobs, in The Time Before Cell Phones, I was expected to be at work or contact work with a valid reason why I wasn’t there on time. Not sure why that would be different now.

        1. Sadsack*

          Good point!

          Maybe one thing for OP to keep in mind when hiring for future positions is to consider the candidate’s distance from work and their transportation options. It doesn’t seem fair to exclude people who don’t live within a certain proximity to work, but there don’t seem to be any other viable options for OP to get control of this.

    5. tesyaa*

      If you pay a higher wage, there’s still no guarantee the employees will spend the additional funds on a phone. If the goal is to have them call in, the employer should acquire and loan out the cheapest prepaid phone option for the duration of employment.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I disagree. If the company requires you to be “on call” where you take calls, the company should be prepared to pay for the a phone or a portion of the employees phone.

        If they require that people call in if they are going to be late or out, then that’s not on the company to provide phones for that.

    6. Jennifer*

      I pretty much have to agree with this. Some folks are just not going to manage calling in, period. Most of them should try, but….

    7. Not So NewReader*

      My thought was to set up an informal plan that goes something like this:

      “Work starts at x time. If I do not see you by x plus 15 minutes, I will assume you are not coming in, because I must adjust work loads. However, I must have a call from you by y time, confirming your absence.”

      What I have actually done is let people know that a call is expected before work starts and they need to develop a plan to handle that. I told them before an incident happened. I ended up with a few people who had problems, but most of the group had a plan. That left me with a few individuals that I talked with about the particulars of their setting.

      I found that they were each other’s own best resource for how to handle these problems. Once I started encouraging them to ask each other what the best options were things seemed to get a bit easier.

  31. Julia*

    To #5: Many of my employees are paid $9-$10 an hour and they all have phones. (and I would say the majority have iPhones!) Believe me, one of our big problems is getting them to not look at them or use them while at work. (We are in retail.) But basic phones are cheap and the government is even giving them away for free!

    1. Livin' in a Box*

      For a long time, I was too poor to buy a computer but an iPhone came free with my phone contract. An iPhone does most stuff that you need a computer to do, which is why so many poor people have them.

      1. Cari*

        Are you sure that iPhone isn’t actually being paid for with your monthly payments? That’s how it works here, even though advertising tends to suggest otherwise. You could end up paying far more than you need to for your monthly plan once the contract period’s up and you go into rolling contract…

    2. Who are you?*

      You assume that the people who work for you have paid for those phones themselves. Basic phones are cheap but that doesn’t mean everyone can afford them and the government bases “free” phones on income requirements and whether you’re on a government assisted program already. Two years ago I could barely feed my kids, we were teetering on the brink of homelessness and yet we made $72 too much to qualify for a “free” phone. How old are these employees you have working for you? Young kids? Phones are most likely paid for by a parent.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Oh yeah, I didn’t think of a parent. If they’re in high school or college, they might still be on their parents’ phone plan even if they’re self-sufficient otherwise.

        1. Helka*

          Heck, I’m getting close to 30 and I’m still on a parent’s cell phone plan. It saves me money that I can put toward paying down my crippling student debt.

    3. Kelly L.*

      They might not qualify for the free phone. I think the eligibility requirements vary from state to state, and they may be in the position of making too much for the free phone but not enough for their own.

      (Side note: Do they all have iPhones, or do they have phones with that general shape? I’ve noticed that even the low-frills phones are shaped like that currently because it’s the fashion.)

      1. VintageLydia USA*

        Plus you can get an iPhone free with some contracts, and it’s not unheard of to forgo a computer entirely for a smart phone. Some may choose to “splurge” on a better phone because they don’t have internet bills and they may not have a computer at all. This is what my grandma, aunt, and uncle do.

    4. ella*

      Clarification (because so many people were talking about this program that I went and looked it up), but the government program apparently only subsidizes the minutes. If people are getting free phones, they’re getting those from the telecom company, not from the government.

  32. Not So NewReader*

    #1. Don’t let her pull you down. “I am doing X, so you should be doing X, also,” just is not logical. In all likelihood, you will meet more Carols as you go along. Alison’s advice is excellent. Laugh/shrug it off, like you don’t get it or think she is joking. My go-to has been to look at people with a very puzzled expression on my face and say, “Why would I do that? If I have to be here, I want to be busy. Otherwise, I would be wasting my time here, I have a ton of stuff that I need to do at home. Personally, I hate it when employers waste my time by giving me nothing to do.” (Of course, I would not say that to a boss because it takes on a different layer of meaning that I do not intend.)

    #2 I went back to school at 40. Yeah, there were some students that avoided me, the OLD person, but for the most part things went okay. I found that the biggest problem actually came from the staff/professors. These were the people who were constantly talking about age discrimination on campus. In an odd turnabout, their constant chatter was helping to keep the topic alive and well. This in part because they were focusing on the problems and not the solutions.

    My suggestion is to approach the topic with an even-handiness. This means describing the task to ALL interns that the task includes working along side all types of people. In a happy coincidence this replicates what happens in workplaces. You end up working with people of all ages. A while ago, I faced a situation at work where a newbie worker (age 20) would have to instruct a seasoned employee (30 something, with years of service in the company) about some procedures. Since it was her first time facing that type of upside down situation, she was very concerned. We chatted about the particulars of that situation and that went well for all involved.

  33. Robin*

    #3: As a parent, it’s been my experience that schools almost always ban peanuts these days. So I think you may find that it is a complete non-issue.

    1. Mouse of Evil*

      A good way to find out is to check the school’s website to see if they have a student handbook posted. In my area, *all* of the private schools ban peanuts (except for a couple of small religious schools where I assume everyone already knows everyone else). I found that out by looking at their student handbooks online.

      Public schools here don’t ban peanuts across the board, but some classes might have restrictions. I suspect people will work with you on this. Last year my son–who is a Type 1 diabetic, and peanut butter is one of the few protein-heavy things he’ll eat–voluntarily didn’t take snacks with peanut butter for his morning class because he wanted to sit by a cute girl who has a peanut allergy. :-)

    2. soitgoes*

      As an anecdote, I’ve heard of the opposite thing happening occasionally: teachers and new students being told to find new schools because the one in question had a large student body from a particular cultural background that featured peanuts and peanut oil very heavily in their diets. It’s not always a matter of legally accommodating an allergy when there’s no practical way to keep peanut traces out of the school. It’s just something to keep in mind when interviewing.

    3. Penny*

      Ditto. When I was in school 15 years ago that was never even a thought, but all my cousins in school now aren’t allowed to bring anything with peanuts because of how prevalant peanut allergies are amongst the students (apparently). I think you’re safe.

    4. Felicia*

      Peanuts have been banned in all schools here for as long as I can remember. (I’m 24) I think they started doing that in the early-mid 80s here). Which is why whenever I’d watch movies where kids brought PB&J to school I found it weird. I think it’s less common to do this in the US than in Canada (at least, in this province it’s all peanut free schools)

      1. Observer*

        That’s not correct. It’s true in some schools but NOT in all. And that includes some public schools.

    5. Kimberly Herbert*

      Thanks for the feedback.

      One of the schools has a pretty strict food policy as far as healthy but doesn’t mention peanut products one way or the other.

      I actually worry that peanut bans might result in a death. Since I moved home from West Texas in 2001, I’ve had 7 reactions all by touch. At least two of those were from touching something (holding cotton hoody for a friend, bed sheets when house sitting for a relative) washed in a detergent that uses peanut protein (detergents with this do NOT have warnings). So what happens when 2 kids switch jackets and one has a reaction. The signs are smaller. In my case my palms turn bright red, it tastes like I’m chewing aluminum foil, it slowly becomes harder to breath and at the same time I get sleepy.- I worry that the signs might be downplayed -even by the kid – because of the mindset that the campus is peanut free.

      I actually was excited by the switch over to pretzels or chips on planes – but every package I have received either used peanut oil or had a may contain traces warning.

      1. Observer*

        That’s one of the reasons that some schools have started pushing back on the “peanut free” thing. Even if detergents DID have warnings, how could a school even begin to enforce. Of course, you try to be sensible. But, if people know that there is no guarantee of peanut free, you take better precautions. Like making sure you have gloves available instead of insisting that “it’s ok, we’re peanut free.”

  34. dawbs*

    for #5, there are some devices that can text but not call (like some ipods–see: ; I had an employee use this method because he didn’t have a phone and while I’m not normally a fan of ‘text that you’re late’ [because they have to text my personal phone, not the corp. phone] , I obviously made it work for him)–other than what’s already been suggested, make there as many options (text, call, email) to call in as possible.

    (there is one phone system I’m aware of that is free each month–,2817,2427326,00.asp ), if you have a way of collecting/offering up used sprint phones. It’s at least an option you can throw out there for them)

    (I do remember, when cell phones were ‘new’, that there was a company that made at least a concept disposable phone that was literally cardboard and electronics that was very disposable…but I don’t think in the world of smartphones, it still exists)

  35. Marie*

    When it became public that McDonalds was directing its employees to public assistance, people were outraged. I don’t see how this group telling the poster of question 5 to send his/her employees to the federal government to get a cell phone is any different. It’s especially shameful to me that the organization is a non-profit. The government grants you special tax and legal status because it it believed that your work is for the public good.

    There is an underlying problem here that needs to be addressed. I agree with Ruffingit – you can’t both pay people poverty level wages and expect them to have the resources to communicate with you on your terms.

    1. illini02*

      As someone who works with non-profit organizations, let me tell you just because you are a non-profit, doesn’t mean you are doing work for the public good. Aside from that though, $9-$10 is above minimum wage right? Now I’m all about raising minimum wage, but to me you can’t just attack a company for paying what they need to pay to keep their budget. I understand that today that a lot of adults are taking jobs that were meant for high school and college kids. However, to me, that doesn’t mean the company is obligate to pay more for the same work. If a high school kid and a college educated adult are doing a task which clearly can be done by a high school kid, why should they pay the adult more when the work isn’t any harder? Again, I’m all about raising minimum wage, but that should be a government mandate, not a way to stick it to certain organizations.

      1. BRR*

        I agree with you on some points. The OP mentions it’s a cultural organization which were all very hard hit by the recession and even those that appear to have money are battling things such has increasing costs of fulfilling their mission. Cultural nonprofits have the problem of not being able to utilize streamlining as much as other industries. It still takes x number of musicians to play a piece of a music and artists have not been replaced by computers generating art at a cheaper price. The difference with McDonald’s doing it is the huge corporate profit and high executive salaries (public outrage did not address that many are franchises). The sense is the money is there to pay the employees more and in this case there probably isn’t a ton of extra money.

        I used to work at a cultural nonprofit and the part-time positions we had were to fulfill the demand. We had a gift shop but only needed attendants for certain hours and it wasn’t 40 hours a week. We needed box office attendants and some were full-time but they needed additional ones only during peak attendance. To top it off the part-time positions required more generic skills that can’t really demand a higher salary.

    2. MJ*

      There is a huge difference between McDonald’s and a non-profit, and that’s the PROFIT. When McDonald’s makes huge profits and then directs its employees to get government assistance, that is shameful. A non-profit does not have profits to share with its employees. They cannot raise wages without finding additional funding.

      1. Living Wage*

        There are many non-profits who have higher level workers who make a considerably large salary. There is no difference in between paying out people who took a risk with their money to start a business than someone making a large salary from a non-profit.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          Yes, there is. There’s a huge difference, and it’s ownership. There is no ownership of non-profits, the ONLY money you can make from a non-profit is in the form of salary. If you put up your own money to start the non-profit, you have no right to get any of it back in the form of dividends (unless you made it a loan, rather than a donation, in which case you can’t take a tax deduction for it).

          There are also theoretical upper limits to what a non-profit can legally pay in salaries. Generally those are interpreted such that non-profits are allowed to pay competitively with the private sector (which is good), but they are there.

          And while there are many non-profits that have high salaries for executives, the vast majority do not.

      2. Living Wage*

        Most franchise don’t turn a large profit. There are a lot of franchise owners who only own one or two sites. I know someone who owns 3 McD’s and this person works almost 60hrs between the three sites, doing HR and accounting just to pay himself at the end of the month.

        1. Natalie*

          It wasn’t McDonald’s franchisers suggesting their employees turn to social service agencies, it was McDonald’s corporate.

      3. Living Wage*

        The non-profit industry double dips on the tax payers. Some donors can get a tax deduction on their what they give. Then the non-profit turns around and pays below living wage and forces the tax payers to subsidize their workers.

        1. Elysian*

          Someone is always going to be subsidizing someone’s workers – its inconceivable that everyone in the workforce will create “work” that is worth paying a living wage for. There are lots of people who can’t work full time, have some kind of disability or illness that makes traditional work difficult or impossible for them, or maybe just aren’t reliable/good workers. There are people who will not provide to their company a benefit in work that will be equal to or greater than a “living wage” rate of pay. SOMEONE is going to have to “subsidize” those workers – we can agree to disagree about whether it should be the company they work for, or the government; or we can take up this conversation in the open thread later this week and hash out which option is better. Either way, since I don’t think that the OP sets the rate of pay, I don’t think this is helpful for him/her.

          1. Living Wage*

            my complaint was singling out for profit companies vs non-profit companies. Non-profit companies are supposed to be bettering society, not adding to its woes.

            1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

              But non-profits aren’t charged with “generally making the world a better place.” To obtain tax-exempt status, you have a specific mission that qualifies as an exempt purpose for the org to exist. If your mission is to encourage a greater love of the arts in Chicago, paying a higher wage for the sake of it takes money *away* from the programs that you’ve been given tax-exempt status to promote. You are able to do *less* promotion of the arts if you’re spending money paying $20 an hour when you could fill those same jobs for $10 an hour.

              I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, but it’s silly to say that it’s the non-profit’s fault for not making the world a better place in every way. That’s not their job.

              1. BRR*

                Very well put. The “for the public good” in a cultural organization is the end product. Not to mention if the product suffers whether it’s music or art or theatre you then can’t bring in donations or program revenue.

                One of my professors formerly worked at an opera company and one board member suggested they could balance the budget by not putting on any operas that year. They failed to see how that would take away any ticket revenue and nobody is going to donate to an opera company with no opera. When you divert money from the product it’s often a domino affect.

              2. neverjaunty*

                ….because paying people to make those programs happen is “taking away” from those programs?

                1. BRR*

                  With the situation described it’s highly unlikely that the employees are ones putting on the programs. The money to increase their pay would need to come from somewhere and it would possibly affect the programming budget.

    3. Windchime*

      My son worked for a grocery store chain (definitely not a non-profit) and qualified for food stamps because his income was so low. They would keep him in a department until he was approaching the number of hours where they would have to start giving him health insurance, and then switch him to another department that operated under a different union. This went on for over a year.

      The way that many employers treat employees is shameful. Fortunately, he was able to transfer to a different store in the same chain and management is like night and day. He still doesn’t earn enough to live on his own, but I suppose we should be thankful that we live in the state with the highest minimum wage in the nation (close to $10/hour). I don’t know how anyone can scrape by on any less.

      1. Living Wage*

        What would be the difference between a local small business and a local non profit? Paying an employee more is not going to affect the corporate office, who doesn’t pay wages. It will affect the small business owner.

        1. Natalie*

          I don’t think anyone would be giving the OP substantially different advice if they worked for a small business.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Much less of a difference in that case (although I think people are more tolerant of, say, a homeless shelter paying low wages in order to be able to keep its doors open).

  36. OP #2*

    Alison, as always, thanks for your advice. I appreciate the comments left here as well. The more I think about the root of my concern, the less it has to do with age and the more it has to do with experience. Our internship program has a very big professional development component, and my concern is really rooted in whether or not someone with 15+ years of professional experience will be able to gain something from the internship. I don’t want hire someone who will be bored with some of the more mundane, administrative tasks, whereas someone with less professional experience could potentially find some fulfillment by doing those tasks. I think my best bet is to approach the conversation by asking what professional skills she hopes to develop through the course of the internship and go from there. Other ideas and thoughts are welcome, of course!

    1. De Minimis*

      I would guess most older students are applying in order to make a career change–that was my purpose in going back to school and then applying as an intern/entry level candidate. I think most people [though not all] are realistic and know that they’re going to have to start over and spend a lot of time doing entry level work and mundane office tasks.

      I think that is a good way to address the concern, though…asking what they hope to accomplish in the position, when compared with their previous experience.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      A very good solution to your question. I think prefacing your question with the statement about professional development being a huge piece of your program’s goals would be a great way to start that train of thought.

    3. krisl*

      How about telling the person what tasks will need to be done and has the person talk to the rest of the team?

  37. Leah*

    OP #2, would this intern be supervised by someone considerably younger? If you have concerns about that, have the supervisor sit in on the interview and see if the interviewee behaves in a way that gives you pause.

    I went to a school that had zero non-traditional students. This was partly the way the education system is organized (not in the US) and partially because I was in a program that required a heavy course load, classes all started between 8 am and 4:30 pm, and you had to live on campus the entire time. No exceptions. We did, however, have a non-traditional student join for a semester as an exchange student from the US. Among other things, she worked a few shifts at the on-campus bar. I was her supervisor for a number of shifts and had zero problems. in fact, she had worked for long enough to just go with the flow and it was the young students who had an attitude about being told what to do. She was very well-liked and active on campus without trying to act like our grandmother, mother, or “just one of you young folks”. Not all older students are the Chevy Chase’s character on ‘Community’.

  38. Ludo*

    The the OP in #5, I think it is very kind-hearted to remember that this people likely want to be able to call in but circumstances have left them unable to do so. I cannot fathom the choices they must make daily when grossing $180 a week.

    I think the best solution is to direct them to the services that exist to help people in exactly their situation. The LifeLine program (often called ObamaPhones, although the program started under Reagan and was expanded to cell phones coverage under W) is the best solution on the federal level but there may be other state programs as well. Usually to qualify they have to qualify for other federal programs like food stamps or TANF which, surely, at their income level they do.

    It wasn’t that long ago that I was living under the federal and local poverty level. I was full time and earning more than these workers, but there were still months when it came down to paying for the electricity or my cell. Luckily, I had a strong support group able to help me out and direct me to available services. Now that I am no longer in that same situation, I believe in spreading the word far and wide. Many in poverty do not know what options are available to them.

  39. MG*

    OP #5 here!
    A number of people have mentioned the FCC’s lifeline program and other similar discounts through carriers. I’ve looked into these options and a lot of them actually seem really great. For instance, in my state, if a person qualifies for any type of government assistance, they will probably qualify for a FREE phone with 250 free minutes and unlimited free texts! (check out That’s pretty amazing. Thanks so much to all who pointed this out!

    Also, everyone who has mentioned that these employees rarely have computer access unrelated to their phones is completely right. I really wish email was an option (for many reasons!) but it’s just not feasible.

    1. VintageLydia USA*

      If I’m ever in a seriously rough spot and have trouble paying my bills, I hope I have a manager like you.

      1. fposte*

        The problem seems to be that they don’t have phones in the first place, though; if they had the phones, they could just use them to call and wouldn’t need to worry about converting texts to email.

    2. Hapax Legomenon*

      I really do think it’s wonderful that you’re trying to make accommodations for people in a rough spot. This might not be feasible for any number of reasons, but what about pagers people can sign out if their phones are off/unavailable? You wouldn’t have to worry about employees using them for non-work reasons the way you would with cell phones, so they might be easier to pitch to upper management.

    3. Waiting Patiently*

      Great! I know in my state there is also a push to have computer and internet (limited) in all homes. A few schools offer free internet courses and I believe after completing the program the participant can get a computer. Technology has advanced so much and the poorest of Americans haven’t caught up–it’s like we are creating a 3rd world country in our own country.

      Anyway, I understand our preschool program is based on a sliding scale, we deal with the phone issue a lot from parents on the lower end of the scale. Some parents simply can’t afford cellphones or home phones or their services are turned off frequently, numbers change constantly. Sometimes we are even given phone numbers to relatives out of state –which isn’t going to help if we need to get a hold of them if there is an emergency.
      It’s hard because we have to be really strict about being provided working phone numbers where we can get a hold of them and I know for some people they may feel ashamed that they don’t have one.

      1. illini02*

        Here is my question on your example. This can’t be a new thing right? Poverty has always been around, and schools have always needed to reach parents in case of an emergency right? So how was this handled before?

        1. LCL*

          Well, when everybody had land lines, the telcos wouldn’t automatically cut for nonpay right away. First they would set the phone to allow incoming calls only. Then they would cut if you didn’t try to resolve the situation. If you were cut for nonpay, you went to your neighbor’s house and asked to use the phone. Like our neighbor did, they used our phone to call poison control when their toddler swallowed some cleaning fluid that thankfully turned out to be harmless.

        2. Waiting Patiently*

          People generally relied on neighbors. I don’t think that happens that much now. I can have 2 children that live in the same community a building or two away from each other and their parents don’t even know each other or use each as emergency contacts. I don’t think they should use someone they don’t know or if they feel uncertain about but it’s just a little weird when we have to call an out of state number, and yes the person really lived out of state, to get into with a parent (this has happened before). I don’t even know how that telephone game was suppose to pan out….

          One time we were doing home visits and we by chance were able to schedule all the kids from one community with an hour time frame and one of the parents was surprise to see us in the neighborhood–we explained we were in the area for another kid at that time…

        3. Observer*

          People were more likely to have neighbors where you could direct emergency calls. And, people were more likely to live near enough to work / daycare that someone could be sent to get you in an emergency – especially the poorer people. And, sometimes tragedies happened because people couldn’t be reached (again most likely the poorer people).

        4. Kelly L.*

          I remember our phone got cut off for about a year when I was young. Our emergency number filed with the school was my grandpa’s number. For outgoing calls, we tromped down the street to the butcher shop two blocks away, which had a pay phone. (This was the early nineties.)

    4. Jessica (the celt)*

      MG, you could get a Google Voice number (which is free) for yourself, and give that number out to employees. That way you’re not giving out your personal number, but you can have the GV number forward the texts to you. This helps you figure out how to keep your personal number private, but also gives employees the chance to text you when they need to.

  40. JG*

    OP #2, I’m a non-traditional student and personally I agree with Alison’s advice not to bring up the age gap directly. Even if she goes to a school where older students are common, I’m sure she is well aware that applying for an internship will put her in a junior role. I’m sure there’s a very good reason why she’s in school and wants the internship, so just ask her about that like you would any other student. It’s true that she likely wouldn’t get the exact same thing out of the experience as a younger person who has never worked in an office before, but there’s certainly something she hopes to gain (experience in your particular industry, professional contacts, maybe she loves your company, etc.). And also, she will bring different skills and knowledge to the table than the younger folk, and you might find that having a more diverse team of interns benefits everyone involved.

  41. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    #5: Another suggestion you can make to employees for phones: Ting. You can order a phone from their website for $40, but you can also BYOD a ton of different Sprint phones for free. No contract, you pay for what you use. If you don’t use it at all, it’s $6 a month (which covers telecom taxes).

    Between that, cheap prepaid phones, and federal/state low-income assistance, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say “If you’re going to be late, we need to know in advance.” I think it’s awesome that OP is trying to be accommodating, but I don’t think her obligation extends beyond helping people know the options that they have.

    1. AVP*

      Well, she does have an obligation in the sense that anyone she hires is likely to face this problem, so just cycling through people and letting them go if they can’t meet the attendance policies isn’t a great option. If there’s a good solution out there to be found, she’ll help herself by cutting turnover and doing less hiring/training.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        Possibly. Though, as others have stated, there are plenty of people out there who want part-time work. It’s not an inherent truth that people being paid to work $10 an hour for 20 hours a week are being abused or even under-paid. Ideally, she’s doing what she can to hire those people, and not people who will skip out as soon as they have full-time employment.

        And to the extent that that’s true, then it’s definitely not an unrealistic burden for the OP to say “you need to have a phone in order to comply with company policies and work here.”

  42. Meg Murry*

    For OP#4 – are all (or most) of the employees required to get a physical and TB test? If so, could you talk to HR about the possibility of bringing a Wellness clinic to your office for a day or 2, or even just for the TB tests? I’ve worked in more than one place that brought a wellness clinic to my office that setup shop in a conference room, and employees could schedule a 1/2 hour physical and lab work right there onsite. It was very convenient, and I think they even got a little break in their insurance rates for doing it. Same with TB tests and flu shots.
    As an alternative – some walk-in clinics like CVS minute clinic offer TB tests and physicals – and are open later hours and some have weekend hours. I know I would prefer to see my own doctor once a year – but if I have to have an employer mandated physical and TB test, I’d rather do after work hours than blow a vacation day on them, so I’d be more likely to go to one of these clinics.

    1. Kat*

      I love the idea of a wellness clinic on-site, and I have suggested that through every route I can think of (to HR, in our company-wide “brain-storming” for management conferences, to my direct supervisors, to some of the nurses who work here), but no one has even hinted that they thought that idea was bad/good/mediocre. I’d love that. We have about 900 employees, 60 or so working in our central office (where I work), and at least three people in our central office are nurses. We have a couple of EMTs, too, and a pharmacy tech – we could practically be a wellness clinic!

      Our federal regulations require everyone to have a TB test before they start working, then each year IF they are at high risk of exposure to it. Our policy council and board of directors requires everyone to have one every year, regardless – perhaps because we are a pre-school and have new kids coming in all the time?

      Some people do go to our local health department (scary place), and pay almost three times what I pay for my tests at my doctor’s office during my wellness visits. I do prefer to go to my doctor because I’d rather not pay for two physicals each year, and at least the one at the doctor’s office is covered by the wellness plan (no copay, 100% covered except the TB test), while — I don’t even know what the health department would charge, or if they even do “physicals”. Unfortunately my doctor is about an hour away from where I work. I go there because we don’t really have good medical facilities in this rural location. I definitely hate losing any sick leave for this! At least it’s only half a day, not a whole day.

      I do need to find out from HR how this is supposed to be handled by our managers. They should be consistent. However, not much here is consistent, so it will be interesting to find out who is handling it correctly and who is breaking a rule.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Can one of your nurses get permission/authority/registered to administer and read the TB test? That would at least take away the extra trip to the doctor.

  43. JoAnna*

    #3 – My kids’ (public) school has a “peanut-free zone” in the lunch room, and parents are requested to not send any snacks to school that contain peanuts as well. Good luck finding a position!

  44. Windmill Tilter Extraordinaire*

    #5 with the lack of phones…

    What’s the cost to the business if employees either show up late or don’t show up without any notice?

    What’s the cost to the business of paying a livable wage so that your employees can afford a luxury like a phone or a car?

    Pick the one with the least cost.

    1. BRR*

      The problem with just paying more is you can’t force employees to buy a phone. There’s definitely a cause and effect in this situation but the employees who do not have phone might need a colossal raise (compared to their current salary) before they purchase a phone.

    2. bearing*

      It’s not employees’ fault that the economy is so bad that people are trying to live on wages that aren’t enough to support themselves or a family.

      It’s not actually employers’ fault a lot of the time, either. In better economies, part-time jobs with low wages are often held by people who need a lot of flexibility and use the part-time low-wage job to supplement other support: teenagers, college students, people who have a different “first” job, retirees. I worked in a restaurant as a teen in the nineties; not even one of my coworkers, except the managers, was supporting a family on their wages from that job.

      Yes, the economy got bad. That makes it bad for everyone, including many employers. If the economy is good, then nobody minds that teenagers still living with their parents don’t earn a “living wage;” in fact people usually opine that it’s good for teens to learn what it’s like to work hard for little money. If the economy turns sour (which mind you, makes it more difficult for employers as well as employees to make ends meet), low-skilled work doesn’t get more valuable to the employer just because now the employee pool includes people who have to support a family. All of a sudden, when it’s likely harder to make payroll, it’s immoral to pay minimum wage to part-time workers, when it wasn’t before? It should be okay to pay *somebody* less than a “living” wage because there is likely *somebody* out there who wants the tradeoffs that come with low wages, such as flexibility and freedom from high-responsibility, high-pressure work.

      “Pay a living wage,” to this OP, is kind of like the “Let them eat Skype” comments that have been going on upthread. The OP does not have the power within the organization to pay a living wage, so it’s pointless snark to tell the OP to do it.

  45. Jennifer*

    #1: Tell Carol that if you weren’t doing all of her work for her, she’d have to do it. Carol should be kissing your ass for doing everything for her!

  46. Jessica*

    I am hiring for a student worker position currently and one application I received came from a non-traditional student. My main concern was not so much her age and experience but the fact that she mentioned her age and how much older she is than most students (we have a very traditional-age campus) repeatedly throughout her short cover letter. It seemed very odd to me. I opted not to interview her, not because of her age but (in part) because if she thinks that her age is her best selling point for working in our office, she doesn’t understand our work very well.

  47. illini02*

    Serious question for those saying its on the OP in #5 (or similar organizations) to provide more money or phones, where does that stop? If someone takes a job, isn’t it THEIR responsibility to be sure they can fulfill everything it requires. Including, but not limited to: dress code, transportation, ability to be in communication if they can’t come in? If a restaurant requires its employees wear a certain color shoes, is it their responsibility to buy them? Is it an employers requirement to provide transportation? I have friends whose jobs provides shuttles since its far away from where many employees live. While that does probably let them get better applicants, I don’t think they are in any way required. Should my company have to pay for or subsidize my bus fare? I really do have compassion, for people trying to make an honest living, but I just don’t think it is the employers responsibility to provide those things.

    1. Kobayashi*

      I agree with you, though I do applaud the OP on trying to find a solution. However, the real issue is the tardiness. If there’s no phone, then you have to make a greater effort to get to work on time. I do not know the public trans situation (are buses reliable, etc.) but if the person missed his or her bus, then obviously tardiness was the issue, not the bus. The employees who ARE on time are likely noticing the other employees who are coming in late. If you discipline the employee who has a phone for being late but not the one who doesn’t, how do you think the employee with the phone will feel? There are other, just as legitimate reasons (to the employee), for being late as the reason, “I don’t have a phone and couldn’t call in.” Focus on the tardiness issue.

      1. Amy*

        What about when the bus is late, the driver ignores you flagging the bus down, or that bus just plain doesn’t turn up? All of those things have happened to me in the past fortnight of travelling to work by bus. It’s not always tardiness that makes an employee late- when you’re reliant on public transport, even if you show up for the bus on time, it’s completely out of your hands what time you turn up to work.

    2. Kelly L.*

      I actually have experienced jobs, back in the day, where I felt that the dress code requirements overstepped the amount the job was paying.

      Most really low-wage jobs I’ve had, they either issued uniforms or sold them for way less than what clothes cost in a retail store (and would take it out of a future check rather than demand cash upfront). But some jobs had a lot of dress code rules, and none or little of it provided, and paid very little, so that it was a burden on the employee to stock their wardrobe with all the things they were supposed to have. So what you end up doing is thrifting them or buying the cheapest possible items at Walmart, but not all employees would have enough money even for that, and in any case it’s annoying to have to outlay a lot of money just to go to work when the job pays very little and you don’t even get your first check for several weeks.

      So it’s one thing to say “Here’s the uniform,” or “Wear neat, clean clothes” or even “Wear black pants,” and another to say “You must wear a green button-down shirt and purple pants and orange shoes and a plaid hat*,” and there’s kind of a gray area in between. You don’t want to demand a lot of specific items that people are unlikely to already have.

      There was one period of time when I had an office job and a retail job, and the retail job had a far more demanding dress code. There were outfits that would fly in the office that weren’t permitted in the store. And add in that a lot of this work is messy and ruins your clothes faster than other kinds of work. People sometimes want a business look but want you to do work that doesn’t go well with business clothes.

      *Not an actual example

      1. KellyK*

        Yeah, definitely. I’ve seen receptionist jobs, in a business casual environment, that pay minimum wage, and been a little appalled.

        I do think dress code and other expectations should be commensurate with the job and the pay, just as a matter of having realistic expectations. (Don’t get me started on giving people a paltry number of hours, but expecting them to be 100% available.)

    3. Windmill Tilter Extraordinaire*

      Absolutely it’s the employees’ responsibilities.

      Along with food, clothing, and shelter.

      Earning $10k a year on the east coast isn’t going to leave much left for necessities.

      If the business can find enough reliable people for $10k/yr, then there is not a problem. It sounds like the core problem is they are having a hard time finding people who are as reliable as they would like for that wage. It’s supply and demand. Raise the bar on what you expect of the employees and raise the wage along with those expectations. Or lower both. If you have a glut of qualified and reliable employees, then you can decrease wages without impacting the business.

      I’d make the case that paying an employee $10k/yr on the east coast is not a good long term strategy for a business that cares about their local community.

      1. LBK*

        It sounds like the core problem is they are having a hard time finding people who are as reliable as they would like for that wage.

        This is a really, really good point. You do get what you pay for – and determining that you don’t have the capacity to increase wages for everyone means accepting that you can’t get the same quality of workers.

    4. Jillociraptor*

      I’m not sure this is the right question, whether it’s the employer’s responsibility, categorically, to ensure that employees can meet the logistical requirements of their jobs. I think it’s more productive to focus on, situationally, what responses are most likely to effect the outcome that the employer wants.

      What it comes down to for the OP is that they can either eliminate/adapt the policy, enforce the policy and get rid of those staff who can’t follow it, or make it easier for them to follow it by subsidizing some of the tools necessary to comply. They need to balance the various options against their values and what they hope to achieve.

    5. Observer*

      Legally? you are 100% right. Morally? Much more complex. If you are paying a great salary, then, sure go ahead and require some expensive shoes. If you are paying below subsistence wages (you can’t live on a part time minimum wage job), then you are morally out of line for requiring much of a dress code (neat and clean is about all that is fair.) If you want to set up your call center in a place where there is no reliable public transportation to save costs, you have a responsibility to provide reasonable transportation options to people.

      1. Illini02*

        But isn’t it the employees choice to take a job with those requirements? If I CHOOSE to work someplace thats a pain to get to, I can’t then say its the company’s responsibility to provide transportation. I don’t even think morally thats a thing. No one is forcing these people to work someplace where they can’t meet the requirements.

        1. Hapax Legomenon*

          No, the employer isn’t forcing them to work where they “can’t meet the requirements”…but in many of these cases food and shelter expenses are. I took a job in an industry I’m not really comfortable with because my options were 1) take a job that tarnishes my soul a little bit but pays something close to a living wage, or 2) not take that job and lose the ability to support myself and my daughter. Quite frankly I feel lucky to have a job that even comes close to paying my bills, because a lot of people I know have at least two and still don’t make enough to get by on. If I were taking a part-time $9 an hour job, it sure as heck wouldn’t be because I was in a position to be choosy.

        2. Laura*

          What if their choice is “take the job and hope I don’t have to call in with the phone I do not have” or “watch my kids starve”?

          Also, from a practical standpoint, if there are not enough people available who can meet your requirements at the wages and hours you are offering, you are going to have a hard go of enforcing the rules; it will just lead to churn, which also costs you. Finding possible solutions to suggest is in the company’s best interests in that case, too.

        3. Anx*

          Theoretically it may be a choice. But in practice many people can’t just turn down a job hoping something better comes along before their rent is due. I guess they can choose not to pay their rent. But in many areas loitering or sleeping in the streets is illegal. So you do have to participate in the economy to avoid the police and that means you have to work.

        4. Observer*

          That’s only technically true. Again, if you were talking about highly paid work where it’s reasonable to expect people to be able to afford a car, that’s one thing. But call centers generally don’t pay those kinds of wages. And the reality is that in many case, people don’t have much of a practical choice.

          In fact in some cases, they don’t a have a choice PERIOD. Yes, they ARE being forced to take these jobs, because not only are they being threatened with going hungry / homelessness, but sometimes they are being threatened with having what little public assistance they are getting cut off if they don’t take these jobs. It’s even gotten to the point that people have been threatened with having the children taken away if they don’t “comply”, because that obviously makes them bad parents. That last is extreme, and it is not (yet) official policy in any jurisdiction that I know of, but it’s actually been proposed by people who I didn’t think were on the loony fringe. Even without that, what is someone supposed to do it they are tol “You will lose you welfare and food stamps if you don’t take this job. Transportation is not a valid excuse for turning down a job.” It happens all the time.

  48. hayling*

    OP #5: Hopefully you’ve gotten some good ideas here. I don’t have anything more specific to offer but I wanted to commend you for recognizing that cost of a phone might be a significant barrier for your employees and trying to accommodate them.

    I worked for a company that only paid direct deposit, for which you clearly had to have a bank account. A new part-time employee (for a call center type job in a poor rural area) didn’t have a bank account and didn’t have any money to give the bank to start (you need maybe $20 or $50). Her supervisor ended up giving her the money and taking her to the bank to get her account set up. Many of us would say “how could you not have a bank account?” but we have to check our privilege!

    1. Natalie*

      My company ran into that issue when they acquired a hotel chain and thus hundreds of low wage employees (housekeepers, porters, kitchen staff). All of their existing employees were professional office workers. They started offering those pay cards (along with direct deposit or a paper check). Our HR director also mentioned they had to translate material into 11 different languages, I think. It’s a different world, for sure.

    2. Illini02*

      I do get that, but if we live in America, are there no things that we can reasonable assume people should have? I mean, if 2% of people don’t have a phone for example, well I think that is a small enough minority for it to be considered the exception, not the rule, and therefore at least having access to one to call in sick is fair to be assumed. A bank account? I guess that’s tough for me. Maybe its because my mom got me one before I can remember (and trust me, I was not raised rich by any means), but it seems that its the type of thing that is necessary. I mean how do you pay bills? Are they all in cash? Are there just wads of cash in the house? I get that we aren’t yet at a place where it should be assumed everyone has a smart phone, internet, or a computer. However a phone seems pretty basic, especially with the government plans.

      1. Kelly L.*

        For a long time, if you didn’t have a bank account you’d go to check cashing places, which would take a nasty little bite out of your check, and yes, you’d have a lot of cash around. At least for as long as it took you to pay the rent and bills and buy groceries and whatever with it. In the last few years, as more and more places have made direct deposit mandatory, the thing you do if you don’t have a bank account is get one of those prepaid credit cards. The employer can pay directly to it.

      2. Observer*

        I don’t know if this is still the case, but for years in NYC city agencies were *required* to offer payroll in cash / provide check cashing for at least the lowest paid workers, because a significant percentage actually did not have bank accounts. NYC’s Summer Youth Employment program uses the cards (and no, the kids are not paying for them) and this is one of the reasons.

        The idea of “reasonably assume” only works if you look at the specific population. To take an extreme example – in a normal public school class you can reasonably assume that all the children have access to at least one parent most of the time. If you are looking at a group in foster care the reverse is quite probably the “reasonable” assumption.

        What that means in this type of situation is that if your primary employee pool is the general population, you can make assumptions that work for the general population. But if your primary pool is poor people who live in high poverty neighborhoods, you need to reconsider your assumptions.

      3. cv*

        There are a lot of low-income people without bank accounts. Many banks charge fees unless you maintain a minimum balance (which means locking up some badly needed money) , or unless you have direct deposit (which means a steady, on-the-books job). Plus if you’re living on the edge you’re pretty likely to get hit with exorbitant overdraft fees if the timing of when deposits and bills clear is even a little off. For some the fees associated with banking make check cashing services seem like a better bet. Undocumented immigrants, among others, may be reluctant to have their information and their money in the banking system, or may not have the ID and SSN needed to open an account.

        I come from a privileged enough background that I can’t imagine not having a checking account, but it’s a reality for many people, and I’m grateful to the college econ professor who spent a couple of lectures making all of us more aware of the reasons behind it.

        And all that doesn’t get into not having a credit or debit card or checks, which can mean relying on money orders or having to go to the phone company or electric company in person to pay a bill in cash.

  49. Vicki*

    #1. My coworker wants me to goof off …

    When I was in College, I briefly tried a retail (department store) job. On my 2nd day, they told us that we were all needed to stay after closing to help “straighten” the store. We’d get overtime. No one could leave until the store was “straightened” (i.e. none of us could leave until all of us were finished).

    The store closed at 10pm. I had somewhere else I wanted to be at 11pm, on the other side of town.

    There I was, carefully but rapidly folding shirts and tops, to get the job finished efficiently (quickly but correctly). Across from me were two older employees who had been with the store for a while. They were chatting to each other while “folding” the same pair of shorts for the last 15 minutes, happily “earning overtime” while goofing off.

    The following day, I turned in my badge and smock. That’s not how I work.

  50. Cassie*

    #5 – in terms of calling in while stuck in traffic or on the bus/train, what did people do before cellphones? Did everyone just use payphones? If I’m on a bus and think that I’ll be about 15-20 minutes late, I’d probably not get off the bus to make a phone call because it would make me even later. Unless the policy was that I had to call in within 15 minutes or else get fired or something.

    1. anon-2*

      Cassie – yes, what did they do? What you said.

      If I were going to be late by a wide margin, I’d get off the road and call.

  51. Lynda*

    I haven’t read all 482 of the previous comments, so please forgive me if this is repeating somebody else’s info, but the federal government provides free cell phones and minutes to people who qualify. One example of eligibility is to be on food stamps. If you google “free government phone,” you can probably find them.

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