HR manager wrote us up for drinking at a party she attended, my assistant goes overboard on gifts, and more

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

1. HR manager wrote us up for drinking at a party she attended

I attended an unauthorized party in the office where alcohol was served (clearly against company policy). Everyone in the department was invited, and many of us took part in the libations. No one got drunk, everyone behaved professionally. It was intended to be and was a great morale booster.

The HR manager came and did not drink. The next day, she called everyone who did drink up to her office for a verbal/written reprimand. She told me, and everyone else I presume, that it was confidential and that she was having to do this because someone from another department found out and told her about it and she felt compelled to reprimand us.

I inadvertently learned from her boss that she had all the documents prepared immediately after the party, which was the day before she claimed she got a phone call from outside the department.

She was right, we should not have had alcohol at work. My beef is that she came to the party, I believe she knew alcohol was going to be served, and she took names and lied about why she was reprimanding us. My gut tells me to shake it off and learn from it. On the other hand, having a deceitful HR manager is a huge problem. Should I call her out for lying?

It’s a little weird and I can see why you’re wondering about it, but I’d let it go. Who knows, maybe your source got the timeline wrong. Or maybe there was no source, and she said there was because she was too wimpy to admit it was based on her own concerns and what she herself witnessed. Who knows. But I don’t think there’s much/anything to be gained by bringing it up, let alone “calling her out for lying.” I’d let it go.

2. My assistant goes overboard on gifts to me and even my kids

You’ve answered several questions already about whether it’s appropriate to give a holiday gift to one’s boss, and I completely agree with you that gifts should go “downhill” and not the other way around. Here’s another spin, and I’m hoping you have a good answer. I am the boss (female, if it matters), and my amazing, overqualified secretary sends small gifts to my home, for not only the holidays, but for my kids’ birthdays as well. It makes me really uncomfortable, but I don’t know how to tell her.

Her work is terrific, and she’s a lovely person, but I’m really concerned that if I don’t couch it in the right way, she’ll be (1) mortified, (2) more anxious than is her norm, and/or (3) really hurt if I tell her that she really need not send me gifts. To give you a glimpse into her personality, she sends (via snail mail) handwritten thank you notes for everything–she even sent me a handwritten thank you note for a grocery bag full of my kids’ books that I thought her (younger than mine) kids might enjoy. It’s very sweet, but it’s just too much.

It’s too late for this year, but I’d love to find a gentle way of making it stop.

Oooof. I don’t know that you can, not without hurting her feelings. She’s going so far beyond what can normally be the result of obligation (basic holiday gifts) to something so different (gifts for your kids’ birthdays, etc.) that it sounds like this might just be her personality. And if that’s the case, and she takes pleasure in it, I think you risk doing more harm than good by making her feel that she’s been in the wrong all this time. It sounds like you’re really happy with her work and she’s just an incredibly thoughtful person, so I wouldn’t risk causing awkwardness. This is a case where I think you can make an exception to the usual advice on this stuff.

You could certainly say something like, “I hope you never feel any obligation to do this — your fantastic work is all the gift I’lll ever need,” but I wouldn’t push it beyond that.

3. Should I help answer the phones when it will distract from my work?

I’m in a new position, which only allows us to work part-time, but we have to accomplish a lot in five hours. We usually have to perform tasks that involve coordinating dates, while working on complicated spreadsheets. Things need to get done in tight deadlines. Many of our tasks demand full attention, and a mistake can carry serious consequences.

The office has a customer service representative who answers calls, but when things get really busy, sometimes we’re supposed to pick up the extra calls (which happens fairly often).

I’ve seen many times where the phone has rung and nobody has answered the call, even though we’ve been told that everyone should participate in answering the phone. What should I do when there’s a coworker with seniority telling me to pick up the phone, even though I have a deadline and only five hours to complete everything? Should I ignore her request? Should I be sincere and tell her I’m too busy? Or should I simply respond the call and delay all my work? I’m new, and I really don’t want to have any confrontations.

No, you shouldn’t just ignore her. If she has seniority over you, and you’ve been told you’re supposed to be helping with the phones, you need to help with the phones. However, if you’re concerned about how helping with the phones will impact your ability to get your work done, you should raise that with your manager. (Even better would be if you and your coworkers all raise it as a group, since it sounds like you’re all in the same boat.)

4. I was promoted without a raise

I work in a small company as a manager supervising just one person. Besides me, there is another manager who supervises four employees. Though he and I have the same grade level, he is considered the “right hand” of the VP who we both report to.

A few months ago, the VP shared with me that that the other manager is not efficient in his position and she wanted me to supervise him instead. I told her that my job was to help her and the company to the best of my abilities but that her decision has to be clear and documented so that other employees will see the new reorganization as being fair. This was my way of telling her that we needed to discuss the salary and the “promotion” details first before I assumed the new position. She said she would discuss it with the president of the company. During the following days, she mentioned a few other times that her intention was to have me supervise the whole team (the manager and his 4 direct reports). She said she also talked to him about this.

Today, she called both of us in and announced that starting the first of the year, he will be reporting to me. I was shocked. I was brave enough to ask her (after the other manager left the room) how this change will affect my title and work. I should have really said what I thought, which is what will be my new salary? She responded that she was still thinking about this and that I should be having an office now (I am currently in a cubicle and so is the other manager). How do I go about telling her that I do not want this new position if I will be paid the same salary for a higher position? I know for a fact that the other manager that she wants me to supervise has a higher salary than me.

Well, first, telling her that you wanted the decision to be clear and documented is not the same thing as telling her that you wanted to discuss the salary. It doesn’t really sound like that at all, in fact, so I don’t think you should be irked that she didn’t interpret that correctly.

It’s a little tricky now because she’s moved everything forward without having talked about salary with you, but you could go back to her ASAP and say, “We haven’t had a chance to discuss the salary for this new role. I’m hoping for something in the range of $X — is that feasible?”

Unfortunately, because you didn’t raise it earlier, you’re not in an especially strong negotiating position (and you also risk her feeling like you already accepted the job without a raise, since … you kind of did), but it’s worth a shot. If she pushes back for that reason, you could try saying that you were caught off-guard at the earlier meeting and hadn’t had a chance to think everything through since you’d expected a one-on-one conversation with her before things were finalized.

5. Why has my title change stalled?

My question is about updating my title. I’ve been at the organization for three years, and my role has changed and expanded quite a bit. I’ve asked both our division director and the head of HR about updating my title to reflect my current role. About a month ago, both agreed that was a good idea and said my list of potential titles looked good, then told me they’d have to check with the other to finalize. Neither have done so, to my knowledge, and I’m not sure with whom to restart the conversation. I’m not asking for or expect a raise along with it, so I don’t know what the cause of the delay is.

The delay could just be caused by it not being super high on their priority lists, but it’s fine to nudge them. You could approach either, but I’d start with your manager and just say something like, “I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to talk to Jane about changing my title, and what the timeline might look like for making that happen.”

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 273 comments… read them below }

  1. reader*

    #1 – I have to wonder why the HR manager didn’t just stop the party. And shouldn’t she have been written up for being at a party with alcohol even if she didn’t drink? And what was confidential. There is now a reprimand on the record that could come back to bite any of those there.

    #2 – Allison’s response is probably the best. Unfortunately you should have been very clear at the first instance that presents were not acceptable. And it didn’t help your case when you gave her the books.

    #5 – No suggests, just sympathy. My daughter is in the same position as you are. Almost 3 years and her title reflects original hire and some of her duties. But she does so much more and is listed on the website as what she really is. It’s getting the corporate records to reflect reality.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      #1 – she might have wanted to verify that the party hadn’t been approved by someone before publicly embarrassing everyone there. Or just didn’t want to make a scene.

        1. KerryOwl*

          I dunno, I think a “whoa whoa whoa guys, this is not okay, we’re going to have to break this up” would produce grumbling, but a lot less than getting “disciplined” is.

          1. INTP*

            Sounds like she had a plan in mind for avoiding the grumbling about the discipline (pretending it wasn’t her idea), though, so maybe she didn’t think that through. It may have worked if not for her higher-up blabbing.

      1. fposte*

        I will say that if I were the HR person, I’d have explicitly said “It was only later that I found out there had been no special permission for this party,” just to minimize the kind of “but she….!” that’s happening.

        1. Joey*

          the HR managers mistake was issuing the discipline herself. She should have made the managers hold their employees accountable. HR should never issue discipline to anyone except HR employees. Either the managers are wimps or the HR person is misguided or both.

  2. Traveler*

    #1 I don’t understand why a morale booster had to come in direct conflict with company policy. Was some sort of catered dinner/non alcoholic drinks not incentive enough or? I am assuming at least a few people knew this was in direct conflict with the policy in advance? I feel like that could easily become an awkward situation for employees, because of the potential for peer pressure (even if its the unstated kind). Why was it necessary to do this at the office instead of somewhere offsite where everyone could have had drinks without worrying about fallout from HR?

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      +1 to all of this!

      If there is a blanket ban of alcohol on company premises then don’t serve alcohol at a party on company premises.

      Or if you are dead set on serving alcohol hold the party elsewhere.

      It’s not that hard to find a way around this.

      And seriously, if I knew alcohol wasn’t allowed on company premises and was offered some, I just wouldn’t drink it.

      1. Boo*

        I do agree with all of this, but at the same time I do wonder whether the HR’s presence alone indicated that it was all fine to attend and drink if you wanted to, even though she didn’t drink herself. No question the employees broke company rules etc but I can understand OP feeling slightly tricked. A lot of companies have rules which in practice aren’t followed and nobody seems to mind (not saying this is right of course) I can imagine people who weren’t sure looking around and going oh well Jane from HR is here, so it MUST be ok.

        1. Hlyssande*

          Agreed. If HR or management were there, I would think it was an authorized party even if the alcohol was against company policy. Wouldn’t the people in charge shut it down if there was an issue?

        2. Observer*

          And it didn’t occur to anyone that Jane from HR was there to see who is actually drinking?

          Unless Jane from HR actually gave someone a drink or encouraged someone to drink, there is no reason for anyone to have assumed that her presence was an official stamp of approval.

          1. Creag an Tuire*

            No, because in a functional organization it isn’t HR’s job to spy on people and “tattle” on them later, it’s their job to quickly and firmly enforce company policies.

            If I were the OP, I wouldn’t call the HR Director out for “lying”, but I would say that I assumed her presence and lack of objection meant that the party was officially sanctioned.

            1. Sunflower*

              I agree that it’s HR’s job to enforce company policies so I would be a little confused why she was at the party and had a problem with what was going on but didn’t say anything. Not saying OP doesn’t deserve to get in trouble but yeah I’d be a little suspicious at what exactly HR’s motives were

            2. Observer*

              Well, firstly, this doesn’t seem to be a terribly functional organization, in the sense of HR. After all, who plans a “morale boosting” event that clearly contravenes company policy?

              As for claiming that because someone from HR was there someone “assumed” there was an official stamp of approval, well you know what they say about that. Seriously, if there was an official stamp of approval, there are better ways to let people know about it. That fact alone should have been a red flag.

              Sure, the HR person involved didn’t handle things in a good way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the dysfunction went up the chain. But the whole party and the OP’s reaction indicates that HR is not the only area with problems.

        3. AB*

          Yeah, a company I worked at had a ‘no alcohol’ rule, and then would hold client events or other special events and alcohol would be served while on company property. It made the whole thing really confusing because some of the events were for employees and were held during the normal working day. So, I can see it happening where a party was held and alcohol was served and people felt it was sanctioned because HR was there. If this were the case, I would definitely feel tricked if I later got reprimanded.

        4. Bea W*

          This is exactly how I would have taken it. If an HR rep was actually at the party and knew about the alcohol but didn’t say anything, I can see how that would be interpreted as “Wakeen from HR is here and is not shutting it down, so it must be okay.” I’m confused as to why the person from HR didn’t say anything at the time about the alcohol being against policy. It wouldn’t have been necessary to shut down the party, just tell people about the no alcohol policy and ask that it be put away or removed it from the premises as a condition for the celebration to continue. This could have been done discretely by approaching whoever was in charge and taking them aside.

          The fact that someone with the authority to enforce the rules was present and failed to enforce the rules at the time of the infraction, makes the HR person just as much guilty as everyone else, even though she didn’t drink. That’s really rotten, and I would be pretty cheesed off if I had a drink under the tacit approval of someone who had a duty to speak up and just chose not to do so. I have worked at places where alcohol and drinking were not permitted in the workplace, but there were a occasional functions that included wine and beer under sanction from the company. It’s actually not weird there are sometimes exceptions to the rule, and with an HR rep there *not* enforcing the rule, what are people supposed to think?

          1. Kyrielle*

            Yep. Heck, we have the same policy and one of our HR people _held_ an (after-hours) party with alcohol on the premises. The presence of someone “official” not saying anything at all would lead many people to think it was okay who otherwise might have turned down a drink. (In our case it was okay…well, for the people who attended. The HR person was gone not long after, and I have no idea if the party was involved in that or not.)

          2. Stephen*

            In my workplace, if you get a formal reprimand you have the chance to put your side on the story into the file. I would have insisted on adding to the written record the fact that Wakeen from HR (and Bob the manager and anyone else with a degree of authority or responsibility to enforce company rules) was present and didn’t object, and that I had concluded that management was relaxing the no drinking rules for this evening.

      2. Hlyssande*

        It doesn’t sound like the OP was involved in the organizing of said party, though. It’s unauthorized, but who organized it? Who was involved? What if it was the OP’s manager or supervisor? What then? If everyone was there, doesn’t that include management, and if so, wasn’t it management’s responsibility rather than the OP’s?

        I don’t think we really have enough information here to condemn the OP outright. Yes, they could have decided not to go to the party but there may have been a certain amount of peer pressure to and/or to drink while there – since apparently the entire department was there.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          1) It doesn’t matter who organized it. The company policy forbids alcohol consumption on company property.

          2) Peer pressure is an excuse for kids, but not for adults.

          1. Mike B.*

            That’s absolutely incorrect. Newer/more junior employees will naturally take their cues from the group, as they should. If the group’s drinking, they’re going to conclude it’s fine–no one is ever going to say “Wait, is this allowed? Let me run and grab the employee handbook.” And frankly, I don’t blame even the more senior ones for not questioning whether they had the sanction of the company.

            HR didn’t do anything *wrong* by issuing reprimands for breaking company policy…but really? Witnessing a violation that she considered serious, but not pointing it out to those who might not be aware? (They weren’t shooting up heroin, they were drinking. Some workplaces don’t have a problem with that.) That’s an HR rep I’d never count on again.

            But no one’s at fault in this story more than the organizers, who either didn’t check the policy or deliberately flouted it, and got others in trouble with their rulebreaking. They should face more than a simple reprimand for that.

        2. Observer*

          I don’t think the OP is a terrible person. And, given the scope of the problem, I would hope that the company would be reasonable about its response and not punish the OP or other partakers of the alcohol further.

          However, when you have been caught out and reprimanded for doing something that you knew was against company policy, focusing on the misdeeds of the HR person involved is not the way to go. Certainly trying to make that the issue is likely to make the situation a whole lot worse. Especially since the think she was lying about is really inconsequential.

          Sure, If I were really certain that the HR person was making up the call from another department etc. then I would file that information away in my head, because you have just learned something about this person. But, that’s not the issue here, and it’s a bad idea for trying to deflect the discussion this way.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            However, when you have been caught out and reprimanded for doing something that you knew was against company policy, focusing on the misdeeds of the HR person involved is not the way to go.

            Exactly, because you all knew you weren’t supposed to be doing this, but you did it anyway. You can’t complain about getting caught! This is like when people go on Judge Judy and sue someone and say, “I know I wasn’t supposed to hit her, but she called the police on me and ruined my life!”

            I’m very sorry, but I rolled my eyes so hard at this one I nearly gave myself a migraine.

        3. Traveler*

          I don’t think we need to condemn OP. OP made a mistake on the job, as we’re all prone to do from time to time. I’m just questioning the defense of this as a “morale booster”. I don’t understand why morale couldn’t be boosted in a situation where things were above board, so employees didn’t have to risk reprimand in order to partake.

          1. fposte*

            And it wasn’t an individual mistake–this was a collective situation where a bunch of people were doing this, some of whom may have been with the org longer than the OP. (Admittedly, some people also wisely skipped the alcohol, so it wasn’t like that possibility hadn’t been thought of.) That doesn’t make it less her responsibility, but it makes it more understandable to me that she didn’t take the policy as seriously as she should have.

      3. Formerly Bee*


        And when I think of a party with alcohol at a workplace, the first thing I think of is that lawn mower accident on Mad Men. And then AAM stories.

    2. Cheesecake*

      I missed the whole “lying HR” point after i’ve read about unauthorized party…in the office….with alcohol! What were you guys thinking! If that was your morale booster you might re-think this “morale”.

      1. YourCdnFriend*

        Including alcohol as a morale booster isn’t that strange. In fact, just yesterday morning, HR came around with baileys for people’s coffee as a holiday treat (they always have tasty non-alcoholic options available as well). The unauthorized part is weird and obviously if alcohol is expressly prohibited. But, unless I was specifically told about it, I would never assume alcohol wasn’t allowed.

        Who threw the party? They should be the ones getting in trouble.

        1. De Minimis*

          I agree, having alcohol in the office is not that unusual in many places, especially in the corporate world.
          My former workplace had a champagne brunch [in our offices] every year, there was a special day in the fall when promotions were announced. We also routinely had alcohol available at company events.

          1. en pointe*

            Yeah, I think this varies quite widely by workplace, but there’s certainly plenty where alcohol’s not always inappropriate. Here, we drink most Friday afternoons.

            1. Emily*

              Same here – we have an informal in-office department happy hour just about every Friday afternoon. We gather in a conference room and a lot of people bring their laptops and work through the happy hour. We also do a midweek happy hour pretty much every time a remote staffperson is in town, since they usually fly in midweek and leave before Friday. And I’d say about 50% of the time when I get scheduled for a meeting after 4pm, the meeting organizer brings alcohol as an apology/consolation for having the last of our day taken up by a meeting. And then holidays and special occasions the big office parties always have booze available, usually themed to the holidays (mojitos for Mardi Gras, Coronas for Cinco de Mayo, spiked cocoa for the winter holidays). Once, when my boss came back from a vacation to Kentucky, he brought in some moonshine he’d bought as a souvenir and poured out a small cup for everyone on our team. Another time, our department head organized a wine- and cheese-tasting seminar as an in-office team-building activity.

              In my years here I’ve never seen anyone get drunk at any of these in-office events. It’s just a couple drinks that take a little bit of stress out of the day, usually at the end of the week or the end of a big project when there’s something to celebrate. Alcohol is universally appreciated as a reward for hard work and everyone is adult about it and behaves responsibly.

            2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

              Heck, I work at a school, and there’s wine and beer at the last-day-of-school staff luncheon when all the kids have left campus.

          2. Cherry Scary*

            We also have alcohol at company events, but we also have a if you drink, you cannot be working after policy. We debated between having a team holiday lunch or leaving a bit early for a happy hour. We all knew that the happy hour meant drinks but the lunch would not.

        2. AdAgencyChick*

          Yeah, not strange at all in my field. In fact, one agency I worked at even had a drink cart that went around the office at 4 PM every Friday. It’s not QUITE as booze-soaked as “Mad Men” these days, but we are an industry fueled in some part by alcohol. :P

        3. Observer*

          It may not be strange in general. But, no alcohol policies are also not strange. AND the OP clearly knew about the policy, and implies that pretty much everyone knew that they were acting against company policy.

          So “what were they thinking” is a very valid question. And, yes, the organizers should definitely be facing something more than a reprimand in their personnel files.

        4. Cheesecake*

          I know quite some things about “morale boosters”, I work for a company that produces alcohol. We have loads of alco testing events, heck, we have a fridge full of alcohol in the office. I have never stepped in “unauthorized party”: we know about every official event and every allowed friday evening drink. If i ever noticed an unauthorized party, i’d talk to those who threw the party and tell them exactly this:”what are you guys thinking???” In our company that would also be a reason for immediate termination….Why, just why couldn’t they go hit the bar?? The fact that HR lied, yes, not cool to be sneaky, but that for me is not the main question here.

          Alcohol gifts or sip or corporate champagne brunch is something entirely different than a boozed unauthorized party on company’s premises.

        5. Bea W*

          I’ve worked in places that sometimes offered wine and beer at events, but have a no alcohol policy otherwise. Not odd at all. The assumption is that if it’s being served at an office event, it’s okay to partake.

        6. JB*

          I may be reading the comment wrong, but I didn’t take Cheesecake’s comment to mean that having alcohol at a party isn’t a morale booster. I thought they meant that the OP should maybe think of some moral booster other than having an unauthorized party that served *against-the-rules* alcohol.

          1. cheesecake*

            Thanks! that is exactly what i meant :) alcohol boosters are great when authorized. Unauthorised party with unauthorised alcohol? This is a signal to re-think the whole work place morale

    3. anne*

      +1 ! can’t believe how indignant LW#1 is after they held a dept wide party with alcohol on the premises. it’s not liek it was a secret party – HR could hve found out in any way. HR isn’t “lying” – it doesn’t even matter how HR found out when the party was clearly against policy.

      i dont get why they didn’t just have the party offsite at a restaurant/bar…

      1. Mike C.*

        Lots of people would be indignant when people in positions of authority lie to them. Breaking a rule doesn’t justify being lied to.

        1. fposte*

          Eh. If she’d lied to them that the party was okay, yes. But even if she did lie–which isn’t completely known here–this is on a par with “some people are uncomfortable with you going topless” when it’s the speaker who’s uncomfortable. It’s a craven move, but it doesn’t outweigh the offense being dealt with.

          1. Mike C.*

            It’s not an issue of one being worse than the other, both are bad.

            The point I’m trying to get at is that the OP should be told the truth, even if they broke a rule. It’s insulting and offensive to be lied to, and it sets a terrible example of leadership.

            1. LBK*

              Seriously? I think you are way overreacting. Borrowing authority from an anonymous party is an extremely common tactic used by managers, and while it’s not a great idea, I think you’re making it out to be a much bigger deal than it is. You’ve never told a white lie at work? At all? Seriously?

              1. Bea W*

                Just because it’s common (and I don’t think the behavior of the HR person in this case is – not in my experience anyway), doesn’t make it right and doesn’t preclude people from being indignant about it. I think Mike’s reaction is spot on in this circumstance. It went beyond borrowing authority from an anonymous person.

                Personally, I’ve not had an experience where someone from HR would witness an infraction and not call it out at the time it was being committed but rather just allow it to continue, and that is exactly what this person did. She allowed it to continue despite knowing and having a duty to enforce a company policy that expressly prohibited drinking. I can see why people would be calling BS being allowed to continue breaking the rules in plain site and then getting reprimanded by the person who was there witnessing it and choosing to do nothing a full day after the fact.

                I’m not saying no one should have gotten in trouble for breaking rules, but the way HR handled the incident has “BS!” written all over it.

                1. LBK*

                  Maybe the commenters here outside the situation have a right to be indignant about it, but I sure as hell don’t think the OP does.

            2. Raine*

              We don’t know that the OP isn’t being told the truth. Someone might well have given the HR person a head’s up (which might be why the HR person made an appearance in the first place — to confirm someone’s complaint that an unauthorized department-wide party with alcohol consumption was planned and occurring). I mean there’s no reason at all why the timing of the complaint couldn’t have been before rather than after the party, and the write-ups completed immediately after the party when all of the drinking participants were still clear in the HR person’s mind.

            3. fposte*

              Eh. If I were the HR person’s manager and I found out about it (and it really was a lie, which again, we don’t know to be as factual as you’re taking it), I’d be disappointed and tell her so because it was a ducking of personal responsibility. But no, I don’t think everybody deserves to be told the truth about who told who what that get them in trouble, and I hope people know that it’s pretty common not to be in some situations–like with the cops.

              1. fposte*

                And to be honest, if I were the OP I’d be more puzzled about why HR didn’t just shut the party down at the time and wouldn’t give a damn about who said what to whom and when.

                1. Cat*

                  This would be my question. If drinking is banned, presumably there’s a reason like you don’t want drunk employees in an office for some kind of sound reason. Letting the party go on and writing up people after the fact seems like a poor way of handling it.

                2. Bea W*

                  That’s what I honed in on in this letter. I might take the HR person at their word, but why she allowed it to go on and participated in the party herself (thought not the drinking) is puzzling. I understand why the OP and her co-workers would be bewildered and trying to mentally fill in the blanks by thinking things like “She must be lying.” and “She was only there to take names and write reprimands.”

            4. Elizabeth West*

              So by this logic, cops can never go undercover, because truth. :P

              The OP and coworkers can hardly complain about getting caught because they were knowingly violating company policy. Clean hand doctrine, and all that. You can’t sue over damages incurred when you do something you shouldn’t, and the same thing applies here.

              The principle that someone who violates equitable norms cannot then seek equitable relief or claim a defense based in the law of equity. A party who has violated an equitable principle, such as good faith, is described as having “unclean hands.”

              1. fposte*

                Not even undercover–cops all the time falsely tell drunks that they did fine on the physical sobriety tests, for instance, because then the drunks are a lot calmer to deal with. Then there’s the whole “How did you like my performance?” question where the moral value of kindness kicks the moral value of truth’s ass.

                And even neurologically, truth and lies are really not that neatly separated; that’s why polygraphs are so darn unreliable. We can believe our lies and disbelieve our truths, and embroider error into falsehood without cognitively noticing the slippage. (If that’s what happened with the HR person’s boss, is she now the one to be pilloried because a lie is a lie is a lie?)

    4. sunny-dee*

      My dad works in a highly specific environment (a mine), so there are OSHA and mining regulations for this — but drinking alcohol onsite is an immediate firing offense.

      I can very much see people not being aware in advance that alcohol would be there or not knowing what to do once they were there. It’s an awkward situation. Or they may have assumed (wrongly!) there was a waiver — we were all given a glass of champagne during a company-wide meeting a few years back when we set a new revenue record.

      1. Cat*

        Yes, this is what I’m wondering. Who threw the party? If it was a manager, I’m not really sure how you can expect an employee in another department to know it’s not above board even if alcohol isn’t normally involved.

        Also, it sounds like the HR person was watching and then wrote up only the people who drank, which is weird.

        1. Raine*

          I really think the only possible explanation for the HR person being there was because someone complained that there were plans for an unauthorized party where alcohol would be consumed on the premises. So the HR person showed up to confirm this was indeed happening, then went right back and wrote up the forms before the end of the day. But that’s just how it plays out in my mind, anyway.

    5. Jazzy Red*

      The employees are watching too much Mad Men.

      Booze in the workplace = nothing but trouble. I hope OP learned that lesson instead of trying to get the HR manager into trouble.

        1. Sunflower*

          I kind of thought it was a relatively new thing. In the sense that I am seeing a lot of companies let employees drink Friday afternoons and such.

        2. Jazzy Red*

          It did decline rapidly after some employeers were sued because of accidents that people had after drinking at work.

      1. Zillah*

        I think that it’s generally a good idea to shy away from statements as strong as this one – the presence of alcohol in the workplace does not necessitate trouble. It depends on the situation and how much of it there is. A glass of champagne =/= four beers.

    6. HR Manager*

      I worked for a company where alcohol was not allowed on site (we had labs onsite, and strict state regs would not allow alcohol in that environment without having a properly certified server, and so our company just had a no alcohol policy). Most of the employees groused at how horrible we (and HR were) for not allowing alcohol at our celebrations and activities.

  3. Lillie Lane*

    #2: After having thank you note writing beaten into me as a kid, I don’t think the handwritten thank yous are necessarily overboard. Your assistant just sounds overly thoughtful. The extra gifts are a bit much, though.

    Did your kids write thank yous to her for the birthday gifts? She would probably be thrilled to receive a note from them, and it might mean more to her than anything else.

    1. Maggie*

      Same here. As a child I always had to write a thank you note for a Christmas or birthday gift and I still do for some people. For others I send an email.

      A (male) colleague of my Dad’s always gave a small gift to my sister and me at Christmas. We had never met him; he did not have children but took an interest in colleagues’ families. My sister and I always wrote thank you cards.

      On another note, I am a bit concerned when a boss describes his secretary/assistant as over-qualified. Does he/she really mean the work done is not that important?

      1. Ezri*

        I took overqualified in this context to mean that the assistant performs above expectations. I don’t know if that was the best term to use, but OP definitely seems to appreciate the assistant’s work.

        1. en pointe*

          And that she has the capacity to do more, irrespective of the importance of her current work. You can be over-qualified to do most jobs, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important.

    2. BRR*

      My mom always said when you stop writing thank you notes you’ll stop getting gifts. That worked on me when I was a kid and it got me in the habit which I still do now. While I think for interviews email is fine, for everything else a hand written note goes far.

      1. en pointe*

        Ha, I self-taught my manners off the internet, which we all know is risky business, but thank you notes are something that get a consistently good rap. Or at least people lamenting the decline. I was embarrassed when this post went up earlier to find out thank you notes were apparently “too much”.

        But now, I’m heartened to pop back here and see we have a consensus they’re okay?

        1. Kyrielle*

          Thank you notes are awesome and important, and I am teaching my children to write them. They are not a dead set of manners, they are very current. :)

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I didn’t at all mean to imply that thank-you notes are too much! They’re not; they’re a courteous gesture and they matter. I think the OP was talking about the total picture when put all together (she noted that the admin sends handwritten notes “for everything,” which might become overkill).

      2. sunny-dee*

        I love thank you notes! I almost never receive them :(, but I love giving them. It seems more grateful and gracious.

      3. the gold digger*

        Thank you notes, either via email or by hand. So nice. And so required if there are to be gifts in the future.

        Also – condolence notes. A must. When someone close to someone you care about dies, you need to write a note. It doesn’t matter if it makes you uncomfortable – you need to do it.

      4. MK*

        For substabcial gifts, a.k.a. objects that the giver went to the trouble to find just for you and the expense to pay for them, ok, thought it’s not common in all cultures. But to send a hand-written note to someone who handed down a grocery bag of used items they no longer needed, it’s oddly formal. A warm verbal “thank you” at the time of the giving should be enough.

      5. ThursdaysGeek*

        I found a little gift box of homemade chocolates on my desk at work this morning. Once I found out who made it, and that their 4 year old helped, I wrote a thank you note, addressed to the 4 year old and her parents.

      6. Raine*

        As an adult without children but tons of nieces and nephews across the country, I can tell you it’s surprisingly (shockingly) noticeable to not receive any kind of acknowledgement at all (often after no small time and effort spent getting gifts and sometimes the ordeal of sending them from a post office). Really. A thank you note would seem elaborate. All I’m asking for is a text — Got it, lv u! — just indicating it got there even.

        1. Jipsy's Mom*

          Thank you! I never know if my brother and his family receive the gifts I give unless I’m physically standing right in front of them when opened. It’s so odd – not even a text for something I’ve purchased and mailed. And yes, I’ve scaled way back on what I give the lot of them.

    3. No to Stella and Dot*

      Can I just say how refreshing it is to hear that others still write thank you notes? :-D

      Like others have posted, my mother always made me write thank you notes (or call) for gifts. It’s ingrained in me now and I write thank you notes fairly often. I’ve heard from so many people how much they appreciate getting them, especially when they are thoughtfully written.

    4. StuckInTheHotel*

      + 1000. Please, please do not fault her for writing thank you notes, no matter what the reason. I was raised by “Emily Post” and I send handwritten, snail mail thank you notes for gifts that I receive, especially those not given to me in person (like those sent to the house). While I agree that gifts “going up” are inappropriate (in this case), please don’t ever fault someone for a mailed, handwritten thank you note. It’s a lost art. And I agree that she would be quite touched to receive thank you notes from your children.

    5. Lisa*

      OP here–Yes, they ABSOLUTELY write handwritten thank you notes, with drawings, etc included. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

  4. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    Question #3 hurts my soul.

    There’s a customer on the other end. Pick up the phone! There aren’t any spreadsheet jobs to do if there aren’t any customers left.

    I completely get the OP’s fundamental issue. I can’t be interrupted when I’m doing complicated spreadsheets either, completely hoses my concentration and makes me have to start over. So totally get it. But the answer can’t be that nobody takes care of the customer.

    If you can’t get your job done and also back up the phone lines, address that with your manager. After you pick up the phone.

    1. Cheesecake*

      The phone with customer on the other end must be picked up by customer service representative, not by whoever sits in close proximity to the phone and has time. I get it, busy time, OP could pick up phone once or twice. Key in the OP’s message was that “busy time” when they are supposed to help happens too often. Solution company came up with is not right. They need to evaluate what is going on, why CS representative can’t handle the workload and if they need additional head to help.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Oh the solution the company came up with sucks totally. Terrible management. Terrible “customer service” back up policy to set customers up as an interruption to somebody trying to do a different job.

        However, the OP says that she has been told that it is her responsibility and that a senior coworker has specifically told her to pick up the phone and that many customer phone calls are going unanswered so, pick up the phone! Address the issues after the customer is taken care of.

        1. Cheesecake*

          My customer-oriented part totally agrees with you: happy paying customers basically provides OP with her spreadsheet job. But my sane part thinks that if i am a part-timer, paid for quite a busy job that requires concentration and on top i need to do something completely different for same part-time money, i’d pick up once, twice…on 3rd time i go chat with my boss (and who knows, maybe make it into a business case of hiring me full time. I also find it very strange that noone picks the darn phone while the whole team was instructed to do so)

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            I don’t see how the money comes into it.

            The OP has been told specifically and explicitly that her job is do the spreadsheet tasks and pick up the phones. While I agree that is a bad management choice, during the 5 hours that she is paid for, that’s her job. She doesn’t get to cherry pick.

            What should happen is that the company should hire a second CS person with the primary responsibility of backing up CS #1, and secondary responsibilities that aren’t impacted by broken concentration. Customers aren’t an interruption, they are the entire point.

            If the OP wants to make a case with her manager about why she shouldn’t back up the phones (and I think she should), I believe she needs to start with the realization and the attitude of how important customer phone calls are. Not only are her spreadsheets not getting the best work because of the interruptions, the customers aren’t getting the best service because they are being answered by people who are being interrupted.

            I’m not getting the sense from the OP that she understands (yet) how important those phone calls are.

            1. Cheesecake*

              Well, i understood it differently. I think OP got the job of handling spreadsheets and dealing with calls on top when necessary. That is why there was a “request” from to pick up the phone and not formal PIP with manager. And also, that is why OP is confused, not because she does not get the importance of handling customers; she was hired for something else. Lastly, the whole team was instructed to help with calls, yet, noone does it. I doubt everyone is oblivious to what customer means to company. I believe they all were hired to do something else without clear guidelines.

              1. AdAgencyChick*

                Yeah, I’m with OP here. The letter reads to me like management is trying to get a full-time workload out of a part-time employee.

                I think OP needs to go to her manager and say, “If I pick up the phone as many times as it’s been ringing lately, I’m not going to be able to get X, Y, and Z done in a five-hour day. How would you like me to proceed?” At which point the boss can decide which is more important — and if the answer is “tasks X, Y, and Z,” then the OP can tell the more senior employee the next time she’s told to pick up the phone, “Actually, Wakeen doesn’t want me doing that because I need to finish the TPS reports.”

                Or maybe the boss might figure out that in order to have OP covering the phones as well as doing X, Y, and Z, OP needs to be switched to full-time.

            2. Sunshine*

              I’m with you, Wakeen! Nothing makes me crab at my team quicker than a customer who is not getting a response. Yes, this is a poor coverage plan. But that doesn’t make it okay to ignore phone calls.

              Also, I’d bet a lot of these folks are not answering the calls because they think (maybe hope) someone else is going to do it. “Shared responsibility means no responsibility.”

              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                “Shared responsibility means no responsibility.”

                Oh, I can go on about that.

                There are many management things I still struggle with, but I’ve got that one down. We say it this way, “If it’s not Somebody’s Job, it’s nobody’s job.”

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  This is why (sort of off-topic but not really) in first aid class, they tell you to actually designate someone to call 911 in an emergency rather than just say “Somebody call 911!” You assign tasks –“Bob, you call; Ellen, you go to the front and direct the paramedics back here”– or everyone just stands there with big eyes and no one does anything.

                  I had the greatest coworker at Exjob; if I were swamped and my backup hadn’t arrived yet, he would voluntarily answer calls to help me out. Nobody else did that. They didn’t even answer their own calls!

                2. en pointe*


                  Yeah, I’ve read about that also. It’s supposed to even truer when the group is made up of strangers (and thus, there’s even less personal accountability later). You have to be like “You in the blue dress, call an ambulance!”

              2. Helka*

                When I worked for a small business, the boss would actually call us on occasion to check on our response times — if we didn’t get to the phone quick enough, she’d be chewing us out! It was unpleasant during the learning curve, but good training for the future. Never let a customer call just ring and ring.

                1. en pointe*

                  3 rings. No more, no less. Then “Chocolate Teapots, Inc. This is en pointe.” With varying pitch on pre-specified syllables and exactly the right amount of upward inflection. (But not sing-song. Definitely not sing-song.)

                  Or there’s hell to pay (if you’re overheard). I wish I was joking.

                2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                  For en pointe (no reply room left)

                  I hate stuff like that. And scripts of any kind. I am fortunate enough to be able to hire people who can figure out where to inflect their own damn syllables.

                  It’s not hard to hire people who can be nice to customers on the phone without being told how to sound. Hire nice people.

                3. en pointe*

                  @ Mimmy – Yeah, the rationale is supposed to be that answering too soon catches people off guard.

                  @ Wakeen and Kelly – Yeah, I hate it too, but what can you do?

            3. soitgoes*

              I once worked at a place where the customer service reps were paid more than the back-end data entry people. I deliberately took the lower-paying job because I didn’t want to deal with customers. Whenever I was tasked with answering phones (and then having to put the customers on hold anyway, as I hadn’t been trained on how to discuss the products or use the order-placing software), I was doing the job for less money than the people whose job it really was. It was absolutely about money, since the job descriptions enforced that.

              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                Well, yeah, but you weren’t doing that job. You didn’t have the product knowledge and you didn’t know how to use the order software. What you were doing was answering the phone and putting people on hold.

                What I do think was happening was a management mistake. The only people you should let face customers are people who are happy to hear from customers. Our back up or emergency phone coverage goes up, not down. Call overflow goes to management, not data entry (and we pride ourselves on almost a 0.00 queue time, btw, in all except the absolute heaviest month).

                Still and all, if we had a reason to ask people who didn’t usually face customers to pick up some phone calls and help take care of things, and anybody let phone calls go intentionally, my head would explode. Customers pay all the bills and are the only reason that any of us have jobs.

                1. Colette*

                  I agree that answering the phone isn’t the same as providing customer service, but I can absolutely understand being unhappy at being expected to deal with customers when that’s not what you signed up for – especially since angry customers are likely to get more angry when you can’t help them.

                2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                  For Collette (out of reply room)


                  Bad plan!

                  We had that conversation one year. It was after the crash of 2008…probably 2010. We’d had lay offs and then were sooooooo cautious about starting to hire again. Business comes back, we’re struggling to keep up with the phones and so we say, okay, should we get a couple of people who aren’t reps to just answer phones and then we say, nope [what Collette said].

                  What we did end up doing was rotating marketing into the phones for our peak month. I can’t say my marketing people were jumping up down happy about it, but they did a great job. And in 2010 most of us who had jobs were grateful we had had continued employment. And customers, welcome back!

                3. Elizabeth West*

                  Colette–yes!! I absolutely hated when customers would ask me questions I couldn’t answer at Exjob, partly because I felt badly that I couldn’t help them and partly because it was such a struggle to get people to answer their calls.

                  Someone asked me something the other day in email and it was SO out of my realm that I had to redirect it, which was fine, but I still felt guilty about it.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      While I totally agree with “pick up the darn phone”, I also see that OP is barely able to complete her work in the allotted time.
      This to me is a management question. “If I answer the phones to the degree that is needed my work will not be completed. How do you want me to proceed?”

      Management could consider bringing in an additional person to help man the phones. Perhaps there is a peak calling time during the day and an additional person could be added for covering that time.

      Compounding OP problems is that it seems that no one else is picking up the calls, so it is falling on OP. It could be in an ideal setting that if everyone shared the calls, there would not be a major problem. But since everyone seems to be not answering, it’s all coming down on OP. Our OP could keep a log of how many calls and how long she is spending on each call to show the boss exactly what is going on.

      OP, has this always been like this or is this a recent development? Could it be that business volume has increased recently?

      I am very lucky where I work. My boss will say “Did you get x, y and z done?” [Where x, y and z are pretty important.] Sometimes, I will say, “No, I have been here 3 hours and all I have done is answer the phone.” And my boss will sigh and softly say “Do what you can.” My point is that I have discussed the situation with my boss and she knows that on certain days the phone rings non-stop. OP if your boss does not realize what is going on then she cannot fix it or work with it.

      As a secondary thoughts: OP if you are already on the phone working with someone and the phone rings again, then someone else in the office has to pick up the phone because you are already on it. (Would not work if you only have one line , though.)
      And you could develop ways of quickly marking where you are in your work so you can pick it up after your done with the call. It has taken me a little bit to figure out some systems for this but it can be done.

      1. Alma*

        I applaud the business for wanting the phone calls answered by “real people”, and not the Phone Menu from Hades. However, having people in technically skilled jobs (which probably are more highly compensated) other than customer service reps answer the phones – especially when they are not able to be of help to the caller – is an expensive use of resources. Tracking busiest times of the day and adjusting staffing, or bringing in someone part time to add coverage, would be ideal. That is, unless the customer service reps are valued for their important customer contact role and are paid accordingly. Your phone provider can provide an analysis of incoming calls and high traffic times.

      2. LAI*

        Agreed. I think the problem here is that management expects everyone to equally share in the backing up of phone calls, but others are not following directions either. If OP is the only one who answers the phone, while everyone else ignores the phone and gets their work done faster, it ends up looking like OP is slower or less efficient at her primary work. I suggest advocating for a schedule – like each person in the office has 1 designated hour of the day when they are the back-up phone person, and it rotates so that one person isn’t always stuck with the busiest hour.

      3. EvilQueenRegina*

        Yes, that was what struck me – it came across as though the senior person is specifically directing OP to answer calls, are these other people who are just sat there not answering it ever being directed too or is it just aimed at OP?

      4. Jennifer*

        In my experience, trying to do any other work at all gets thrown out the window every time we get forced to answer phones. You can’t do both. But that said, my work has determined that answering phones is far more crucial than our deadline by the end of today, so there it is. If they’re not going to get more people to cover the phones for budget reasons, then you’re screwed.

    3. Elder Dog*

      I’ve been in this situation. The problem isn’t nobody’s answering the phone. The problem is everybody is supposed to but senior co-workers aren’t carrying their part of the load but dumping it on part-timers.

      I handled it by answering the phone without complaint, while documenting every time I answered the phone, how long I was on the phone and whether or not I could help the customer. I planned on doing that for a week and then talking to my manager, but I was called in to HR to be put on a PIP for not doing the work I was hired to handle.

      I didn’t get a PIP and other people suddenly started answering the phones too, especially people who could help the callers. I think documenting whether I could help the customer or not was what really motivated my manager to solve this.

      1. Miss Crankypants*

        I’ve done exactly what Elder Dog suggested: document the number of interruptions, document the volume of regular work you’re able to accomplish, establish a baseline of productivity using numbers numbers numbers, and if anyone above you questions how you’re spending your time, you can easily whip out your handy-dandy number sheets and explain *exactly* how you’ve been spending your time. Track it for a month, and you’ll see patterns, I’m sure.

        I’m in a similar boat; we’re expected to be customer-facing and willing to handle interruptions All Day Long, and also expected to input and process X pieces of work. If you expect me to do intensive, focused work, then you need to lower your expectations if you allow me to be continually interrupted. That’s just basic management, gang.

        1. Jennifer*

          Hear, hear. Though in my case, my work will probably start making me work overtime hours next year as a way of coping with that :(

  5. Apollo Warbucks*

    #4 I’m going to have to disagree with Alison on this one, whilst the op wasn’t clear about wanting to talk salary the boss knows damn well that people have an expectation of a raise with a promotion and has decided not to mention it in the hope the you won’t bring it up, it is complete bullshit when companies decide to rip off the current staff it such short term thinking that always back fires in the long run and will only force good people out the door.

    My last company did something similar to me wanting me to take on a lot more work and responsibility for an extra $1000 a year when their pay range for the role was much higher and I was already underpaid for the work I was doing.

    I was so angry with my boss, for taking the piss out of me like that, the company knows what the job is worth and what it would cost to fill the role externally, I took the promotion and imideatley started job hunting, the way I was treated chewed up all the good will I had to the firm.

    They know you and your work product which is why they offered you the job the know you can do it well, yet they don’t want to pay you what it’s worth.

    My advise is to do some research to find out the market rate for the new role and go back your boss in a very matter of fact way and ask what the salary for the new role is, push to get paid what you’re worth, or take your skills elsewhere, unless the job is spectacular in every other way. I moved on to a new job recently and havnt regretted it.

    1. sunny-dee*

      I received a promotion recently, and my manager (who had been out sick for several days) was hopped up on cold medicine and said, “I think there’s a raise… I don’t really remember. You can definitely get new business cards.” It cracked me up.

      Not the same situation, though.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Hahaha, some of that cold medicine is pretty strong stuff. I don’t know if I could work if I took it. I once skated an ice show so whacked out on cold meds that I wasn’t even nervous.

    2. Lia*

      Something similar happened to someone I work with in an adjacent department. Co-worker was named Interim Director of Teapot Design (he is already Director of Coffee Pot Design, which is a smaller, parallel division — Teapots is about 4x the size) while a search was underway to get a new Director. Co-worker told me he “got a bonus” for the interim activities for the 6 months it took to get a replacement — for a whopping $1500 TOTAL. Needless to say, Co-worker was really angry about how this went down and if we lose him, it is all upper management’s fault.

      Incidentally, he is happy in Teapots, does not want to be in Coffee full-time, although he did an amazing job at it to much acclaim.

      1. Lia*

        Oops, I mean he is happy in his current role — does not want to stay in the much bigger interim role. Derp.

      2. sunny-dee*

        That is just insulting. You should reward people for stepping up. It encourages people to pitch in extra in crunch times, it encourages them to take risks to enable them to grow. It’s good for everybody. The cost of giving him a decent bonus would have been far less than losing one good employee and alienating and de-motivating dozens of others.

      3. SerfinUSA*

        A manager left Exjob abruptly, and there was an assumption on the part of admin that I would just take over. I asked what the new salary would be and they looked shocked, shocked I say. Apparently the raise I had gotten in my role as not-manager a few months previous should have been enough compensation for the much more onerous duties (including dealing with admin’s mission to re-vamp that department to suit them, not to maximize efficiency).
        I politely turned them down, and they went to plan B, which was to advertise for an outside hire. The ad listed a higher salary range than I was making, and I was tasked with training ‘my’ new manager. Needless to say I gave notice, was paid a hefty fee for compiling a training manual and returning for an hour or so a day for 2 weeks to make sure the college kid they had doing essential tasks did things properly.
        It was odd, and I don’t regret leaving, but still sometimes puzzle over what they were thinking.

    3. LQ*

      Doesn’t #5 directly contradict that this is a thing everyone knows and expects though? That op isn’t asking for a raise, just a title to go with more tasks.

      I think you do need to ask, some people will be pleased or accept not getting a raise. You do have to speak up. (And I HATE speaking up for things like this, but it is a skill you need to flex.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        But taking on new tasks isn’t the same as getting a promotion. The title change could be a change from teapot administrator to coffee pot administrator. It wouldn’t necessarily mean the role was more advanced.

  6. Elkay*

    #3 sounds like there might be multiple people not answering the call (there’s a lot of “we”s in the question). I’m not sure if the phone is ringing and your boss says “Jane please get that”, in which case yes, answer it but ask your boss afterwards in the way of “I find that answering the phones means I’m not able to do spreadsheets by the deadline, how would you like me to balance this?”

    If it’s the case that Jane and Wakeen both do the same job but Wakeen has been there longer and doesn’t answer the phone when he’s busy with spreadsheets then there’s a slightly different problem of you failing to do your tasks because you’re picking up more than your fair share of phone calls. Unfortunately the only way you’ll get a response for this is to speak to your boss.

  7. LaurenLaLa*

    #4 and #5 remind me of an old episode of Cheers (does anyone remember that show or am I really dating myself here???). Several employees wanted raises but Rebecca disn’t want to give it to them so she managed to convince everyone that a “title” was so much more prestigious than a mere raise. I remember one scene where Woody the bartender is talking to her about that and she tells him, “Oh! You wanted a raise? Whew, I thought you came in here wanting a title! A raise, no problem!” And, of course, his reply was “wait a minute! No, I want a title!” I’m paraphrasing this, but you get the idea.

    1. louise*

      My husband and I just started watching in on netflix (or amazon prime…I don’t remember where it is) and while we’re only a few episodes in to season 1, we’re loving it!

    2. SerfinUSA*

      I worked for a start up back in the dot com era that had more potential than cash in the beginning. I got to pick a title as a place holder for future raises, and thus became Director of R & D while still wet behind the ears :D

  8. Katie the Fed*

    #1 – it takes some impressive logical gymnastics to paint yourselves as the victims here, but that’s what you’re doing.

    Unless you’re Delores Umbrage, NOBODY enjoys giving disciplinary actions. It’s a pain, there’s paperwork involved, it’s uncomfortable to have those conversations, etc. Every manager dreads them like nothing else. I sincerely doubt she wanted to bust people – but for whatever reason she was told she had to.

    But really guys – it’s not high school. If you know you’re not supposed to drink on the job, then don’t do it. It’s really not worth risking your jobs.

    1. Samantha*

      +1. I’m having a hard time understanding how none of the party attendees foresaw this ending badly…

    2. some1*

      I agree that a rule was broken and the offenders deserved the punishment, but I lose respect for managers and HR who emphasize that they have to take action because so-and-so complained. This HR person clearly didn’t have to rely on a secondhand complaint; she witnessed the drinking. It’s her job to reprimand people for violating policy and she should own that.

      1. KJR*

        This is where I’m at too. As an HR Manager, if I were to walk in on something that shouldn’t be happening, I’d like to think I’d put a stop to it right then and there, vs. waiting until the next day to address it. I’d be interested to hear her rationale.

      2. LBK*

        While I agree, I don’t think that factors into the OP being justified in being angry about the situation. She was admittedly and unequivocally breaking company policy. Even if the HR manager did a crappy job of delivering the punishment, it was clearly deserved. This seems like classic deflection, to latch on to an irrelevant detail of the situation in order to avoid fully taking the blame for breaking the policy in the first place.

          1. sunny-dee*

            The OP doesn’t know that she was lied to. The HR rep may have taken names but been uncertain whether to take any action or may have been willing to sit on it, but then another department noticed and complained.

            1. some1*

              The HR manager still doesn’t need to make a point of saying the discipline is the result of a complaint, as though that’s how she discovered the violation.

                1. some1*

                  True, but if I were the LW it would bother me if my official reprimand mentioned an anonymous complaint and no mention of the HR person who was a witness. Does that make sense?

          2. fposte*

            All the time? No. To quote Aaron Sorkin, “The truth isn’t this all-fired holy thing.” This is an example of a time when the lie–if there is one–is misspent because it doesn’t really matter, but the “doesn’t really matter” is relevant too–whether it was HR or somebody else, the staff got busted doing something they knew they weren’t supposed to do.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Misspent lie. There is a concept I will use over and over – it cuts to the point. HR felt she needed witnesses in order for her words to have weight. Oh well.
              So, OP, if you keep going with this you will just be saying “Yeah, HR saw us and later on a person in another department witnessed what we were doing, also!” In other words, you are shooting yourselves in the foot.

              We don’t have to personally agree with company rules, we just have to follow them.

          3. LBK*

            I think that is so dramatically below violating company policy in terms of priorities that it honestly doesn’t matter – it’s de minimis on the moral scale. She didn’t lie about the event occurring, and I don’t see lying about how she came to know about it or why she chose to discipline them for it as egregious. As a blanket policy, sure, the truth is desirable, but in an instance like this I think it has about a 1% weight in terms of wrongdoing vs the 99% weight of the OP’s violation. The OP’s indignation is wildly misplaced.

            1. Mike C.*

              First off, this isn’t a zero-sum game. Pointing out that the HR rep acting bad doesn’t in any way, shape or form excuse or negate what the OP participated in.

              I disagree entirely. Honesty and trust are fundamental parts of what it means to be a leader and to represent authority. When someone lies to your face, it’s insulting, it’s demeaning it breaks that trust and lessens your standing as someone in a position of authority. It’s simply a bad way to manage.

              1. LBK*

                Agree to disagree, I guess. I think there are times where the context and content of the lie are relevant to how egregious it is. Not all lies are created equal.

              2. Traveler*

                How do we know the HR rep was lying ? Isn’t it possible that HR rep attended the party, realized there was alcohol but decided to let it slide (maybe not the best choice, but on par with other positions of authority allowing this on occasion). The HR rep just wrote down names in case someone found out HR rep was there and wanted to know why HR rep had not done something about it? Writing the names down that night could have been HR rep covering their butt. They might have been willing to let it slide as long as it didn’t impact them negatively, and then when it did, their hand was forced to carry out the reprimand. So maybe the coworker was acting in self-interest, but I don’t think we can be positive they were lying, and throwing that accusation around when you were just caught being deceitful yourself is probably not in your best interest as an employee.

          4. Sadsack*

            Why does it matter if the OP feels lied to? The point is the were drinking there when they should not have been. Grow up, OP. Good thing no one got in an accident or got a DUI on the way home.

      3. Mike C.*

        She let it go on as well, she was passively allowing it to happen when she had the power to stop it.

        1. sunny-dee*

          I gotta say, the “you didn’t stop me!” defense is a weak one. The HR manager may have assumed a manager approved it or may have thought it better to give a verbal reprimand later but not ruin the party for anyone who wasn’t breaking the rules.

          1. Mike C.*

            I’m not excusing the OP in any way, shape or form. Being bad at one’s job isn’t a zero-sum game.

          2. Joey*

            I agree with mike. A competent HR person would have been on the phone trying to find out if anyone in an authority position condoned the alcohol.

            Personally, I would have wagged the finger at them, told them I understood, but asked them to move it to a bar or someone’s house as soon as I verified it wasn’t condoned.

            There was no need for written reprimands. A simple, “I understand the desire to have a drink with co workers, but …” would have been sufficient. Discipline in this case I think is counterproductive.

            1. Sunflower*

              This is what is irking me. If there is a party going on and everyone is invited, wouldn’t the HR rep know about this party beforehand? And if so, why did she not call someone to see if alcohol was okayed before the party even happened? Just seems a little odd.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          If I had to guess, I’d say this is how it went down:

          Jane from HR pops by party and sees people drinking. Thinks “oh, I didn’t realize someone had given permission for this party, but ok.” Then later someone mentions that it was an unauthorized party and she’s like “oh dammit!” and now has to deal with it.

          1. Boo*

            That would make sense, except according to OP she only wrote up people she saw drinking, which implies to me that she went forearmed with the knowledge that this party should not have been taking place, and for some reason she decided making a list of the drinkers and writing them up afterwards was the best way to deal with it.

            I dunno…I mean I don’t really intend to defend OP because they did break the rules, but I do think the HR’s behaviour has probably caused some confusion about whether it was management approved in the first place, following into some resentment at feeling tricked into having fun when HR was busy taking down names. It really does seem a strange way to go about things, too. Like you said, nobody wants to write anyone up, yet HR has created a bunch of work for themselves here. It sounds like the booze rather than the party itself was the issue, so surely it would have been better to have a quiet word with whomever was serving it, get them to take it away, and send around a company wide reminder that there is a no alcohol policy and staff who ignore the rule will get written up.

            1. Kelly L.*

              I’m wondering, though, if the OP knows who all was called in. She may well have called in non-drinkers (either if she wasn’t taking notes and didn’t remember, or if she was calling them in for participating generally) without letting the OP know.

        3. Sadsack*

          Now that is a good point, although it has no bearing on people being disciplined for having the party in the first place when they, at least some of them, had to have known it was against company policy.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          Speculating, but the HR rep also could have wanted to make sure she documented everything before taking any action. Doing so might have been a procedure required of her that the OP didn’t know about.

      4. LawBee*

        but the OP still should be disciplined for the unauthorized and against rules partying. How the HR person went about it is dumb, yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that rules were flagrantly broken.

    3. The IT Manager*

      What’s unclear to me is if it was an unauthorized party or unauthorized drinking. If it was an unauthorized party, then everyone in the room should get some kind of reprimand. It would have been much better if HR or someone else at the party said as soon as the alcohol came out “hey, that’s not allowed here put it away.”

      LW deserves her reprimand; she did something clearly against rules. If you do the crime, you do the time.

      LW is misplacing her anger at the HR person. Yes, the HR person sounds a bit squirrelly now reprimanding people now instead of stopping them in the first place before a reprimand was necessary. Perhaps she only attended the party to take notes on who was drinking there and then lied about it. That’s sounds like a horrible reprimand anyway, “ don’t want because I don’t think you did anything wrong, but I have to,” but would it have been better coming from another HR person? The end result would be the same.

      1. sunny-dee*

        But an “unauthorized” party may not be against the rules. It is common in my work for someone just to say, “hey, guys, kinda bored today — want to do a team lunch?” And 5-6 people go out for an extra long lunch. It’s “unauthorized” in the sense management didn’t set it up, but it’s not problematic or outside the culture. One team does an end-of-the-year Mario Kart tournament. Unauthorized and on company time and all that — but it is not a problem.

        Drinking, on the other hand, is a different matter altogether.

    4. HR Manager*

      I agree that that are at least complicit in knowingly violate a company policy, but even if I had to pursue someone for this, I wouldn’t start with the drinkers. I would start with the person who authorized this – manager or no manager – and brought the alcohol. That’s the flagrant offender; anyone who drinks may warrant a verbal reprimand, but I wouldn’t write it up unless this was a persistent problem.

      1. Traveler*

        +1 Whoever this manager is that started the party in the first place- they should be falling on their sword and asking to receive the punishment rather than allowing it to fall to people below them. Everyone that participated is in the wrong, but the person or people that encouraged this knowing it was problematic should be the ones to step up here. Though corporate policies being what they are sometimes, this might not be possible.

    5. Elder Dog*

      I don’t see why the HR person bothered to lie, but I don’t think the OP need worry about it, considering she found out about the deceit from the HR person’s boss. If there’s a problem with the HR person’s handing of the situation, her boss will handle it. Or not. Either way, the person who should be handling it knows about it.

    6. Mike B.*

      You know what’s less of a pain than giving a disciplinary action? Sending an email to the department in advance of the party reminding them of the rules. Or doing so when she attended the party. She would have stayed within the boundaries of her responsibilities by doing either of those things.

      I can’t really take the side of the rulebreakers over the side of someone who followed the rules, but HR could have handled that situation much better.

  9. misspiggy*

    To appear completely fair and above board, the HR person should either have told people at the party not to drink if they wanted to avoid being written up, or (if approached afterward by a complainant), said that their presence at the party would have signalled that the booze was OK, therefore HR would only give verbal reprimands. And then follow up with an announcement saying any more alcohol in the office will lead to written warnings.

    The approach the HR person actually took seemed designed to extract as many writeups as possible. So it may well be politic not to trust them in future.

    1. some1*

      I agree. It doesn’t excuse the drinking and not worth calling out the HR person, but, yeah, I’m not impressed with the way this was handled.

    2. Sunflower*

      I agree. The HR manager sound a bit like she was fishing to get people in trouble but you can’t really call her out, because, ya know, you were breaking the rules. I would just be a little wary of HR in the future. And take any parties or morale boosters involving alcohol to the bar instead.

      1. LBK*

        How about instead of being wary of HR, you be wary of breaking company policies? Don’t need to worry about getting caught if you aren’t doing anything to be caught for.

          1. fposte*

            It’s mediocre management. Which happened after the fact of the policy breach, so the management doesn’t excuse the policy breach, either.

          2. LBK*

            What’s your point, though, honestly? You’re clinging to a moral high ground that has no practical value. So what if the HR manager changed the story a little to make it someone else vs. herself that wanted action taken? No one in this situation is in a position to call the HR manager on it and it’s not going to change what happened to the OP and her coworkers. At most, the HR manager needs to be spoken to by her manager to say she needs to be more direct if she has an issue with something.

            Even if this isn’t a zero sum game as you’ve said, the HR manager’s flub is so minor that I don’t see how it factors in, especially since the OP is the one who wrote in, not the HR manager.

              1. sunny-dee*

                But you don’t know that she is lying. The OP is assuming she is lying because she doesn’t know who the complainant is and HR wrote up a doc about the party immediately afterward. That is not even kind of evidence. That is the OP making an assumption. (Just like the OP assumed the HR lady must have known about the alcohol in advance of the party — with absolutely no evidence of that. The OP knew, but that means nothing about what anyone else knew.)

          3. Joey*

            its not terrible management it just could have been handled better. Let’s reserve terrible for totally effing it up. Terrible management usually warrants some serious consequences. This would be more of a “let’s talk about how you could have handled that better” type conversation.

            1. Zillah*

              I agree. Terrible management is what that poor OP with the EEOC complaint who updated us yesterday had in her old job.

            2. Mike B.*


              It’s funny how passionate we can get about issues that really and truly aren’t that important.

        1. Sunflower*

          Thus why I said to take parties with alcohol or any other things against company policy outside of office. Why didn’t the manager tell the people to stop the party? I’m not saying they should have been doing what they were doing but this policy exists to keep the company safe- so how was not stopping the party helping to do that?

        2. LawBee*


          And maybe HR was there to verify a rumor of on-site drinking. I suspect if the OP got written up for the party because HR only heard a rumor, the OP would be equally as irritated. Instead of whining about how the bust was done, just don’t break the rules.

      2. C Average*

        Yeah, this is kind of where I landed, too.

        There’s something about the idea of someone attending a party and silently tallying up the rule-breakers–while saying nothing at the time–and then later issuing punishment that’s just . . . I dunno. If I worked with someone like this, I’d be watching my back all the time.

        I’m generally a rule-follower, but I’ve always had an innate dislike of people who take a sort of martyred glee in issuing punishment for forbidden but harmless activity because It’s Part Of Their Job. I’m looking at the cops and school principals and meter maids and Sunday school teachers and other small-time killjoys. People like this make everyone around them feel twitchy, even when no rules are being broken.

        1. Observer*

          I was with you until you said “harmless”. The behavior in question is far from harmless. Even if it’s true that in this particular case everyone behaved perfectly, companies have these policies for good reasons. And breaking those policies is always a risky thing, because you really, really can’t predict when something may go wrong.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Remember, though, HR works for the good of the company, NOT the coworkers. I can remember plenty of times at an old company where the HR person could not do anything about crap that was going on, because his/her boss said so. It’s one reason everyone there kept quitting that job.

        3. Mike C.*

          It’s kind of like different approaches to catching people who speed. If the cop is out in the open, you catch fewer people, write fewer tickets and everyone slows down. If you hide, you catch more people, write more tickets and no one slows down (until they’re pulled over). Which approach is better for safety, and which approach is better for revenues?

          1. Tinker*

            Funny story about that…

            I used to work at a place that is at the end of a really long access road — it’s a public road, but the only place that it goes to is that place, and it’s mostly very straight and at highway-type speeds. What would happen, basically, is that folks would get to creeping up in speed — again, isolated country road populated almost entirely by one’s own coworkers in their morning and evening commutes — and periodically the sheriff’s department would send out a couple folks to catch the fastest gazelle, at which point the chosen commute speeds would generally reset.

            The “fastest gazelle” part of this cycle was, for a while, indicated by a flurry of emails indicating that folks should be on the lookout for the deputy behind The Hill (it was pretty much always The Hill, from what I heard and from what I experienced having once topped it at what was officially 84 miles per hour, yes I am a Rule Breaker and therefore Bad and At Fault and Nothing More is Relevant) because they were there again. Then, at some point, there was a company announcement to the effect of that making such announcements constituted obstructing justice or aiding in the commission of a crime or some such thing, and that any further emails were prohibited and would result in disciplinary action and be forwarded to the sheriff’s department for prosecution.

            Yeah. Seriously. So there were some jokes about how the thing to say was “The eagle circles the tree in the morning” or some such thing, but the actual relaying of information effectively stopped.

            Next time the sheriff’s deputy came out, he apparently bagged a number of folks and kept on doing this, to the point where he apparently became frustrated and expressed to the person he was ticketing “I keep on ticketing and ticketing you people, and y’all are not slowing down at all! Do you people not have email or something, or any consideration for your coworkers? I want you to go into work and let people know — I’m out here and they need to slow down!”

      3. Sara M*

        I agree. I think she was fishing to see how many people she could get.

        Everyone is in the wrong here, to some degree.

    3. LBK*

      Totally disagree. It’s not up to HR to treat employees like children and give them second chances. There’s nothing in the letter that leads me to believe this was a secret or unheard of policy – everyone clearly knew they were violating it. It would be nice for HR to say “Hey, shut this down immediately otherwise it will lead to write ups” but I don’t think they’re obligated to do so by any means.

    4. Traveler*

      But this is a workplace not a school, where presumably the employees are responsible adults. The HR person is not a teacher who has to give three warnings before writing up people on the chalkboard.

    5. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

      My only problem with this is, do they really need the warning to know that the risk was there?

      The OP knew it was against company policy and when you break company policy typically there is the threat of being reprimanded. Of course this depends on workplace culture and how lax they are or aren’t.

  10. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-So, you went to a unsanctioned party where you consumed alcohol that was not legally allowed on company time and premises. As my husband says, when you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes. It doesn’t really matter how shady the HR person was, you still violated company policy and don’t appear to be repentant. If morale is really that much of an issue there are other ways to address it.

    #2-By your own admission you have a wonderful secretary. She does her job exceedingly well. In addition she’s one of those really thoughtful and caring people that the world sorely needs. This is what we call first world problems. Your only option was to say something when this gifting first started. You are stuck with it now since it seems to have occurred for quite some time. Accept the gifts graciously and teach your kids to do the same. I do hope they are sending hand written thank you notes for those gifts.

    1. some1*

      It’s not illegal for someone of drinking age to drink in their office in most cases. Against company policy doesn’t equal illegal.

        1. some1*

          No one said you can’t — I can obviously be fired if I crack open a beer and drink it at my desk right now. Totes’s OP said that was illegal, which would not be true — I’m well over 21 and in a private business, therefore not breaking any laws.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I think Totes just cut linguistic corners a little and basically used “illegal” to mean “out of bounds.”

            1. some1*

              Yeah, but she did it in a string of accusations:

              “So, you went to a unsanctioned party where you consumed alcohol that was not legally allowed on company time and premises.”

              The LW screwed up — doesn’t mean she it’s okay to falsely say s/he broke the law.

              1. fposte*

                I think “incorrectly” rather than “falsely,” especially since Totes has agreed with you that that wasn’t the right word.

                1. some1*

                  Honestly, it seemed more like she wanted it to sound as bad as possible “You did all this and you’re mad at the person who punished you??” — I’m pretty sure she knew it wasn’t against the law.

                2. some1*

                  ETA, I don’t mean to bash Totes, just that I think this LW is getting a lot undeserved heat and calling the action illegal was so over the top.

  11. Sunflower*

    #3- Yes, if your boss tells you to answer the phone, you have to answer the phone. But it sounds like you need to talk to your manager about the workload. And quite frankly, I’m a little concerned about management. It sounds like your team is struggling to fit all the work into the 5 hours you’re given- even without answering calls. You guys sound short staffed or like you might need to be working more hours. I would talk to management about this as a group

    1. Zillah*

      This. There is nothing wrong with talking to your manager about your workload – sometimes they just don’t get how much time tasks really take.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      Yes, it sounds like they need to hire someone else in customer service so that the others don’t get pulled into answering phones as much.

  12. Steve*

    Okay, I probably watch too many crime dramas, and I’m probably putting too much emphasis in OP #2’s statement that she’s uncomfortable with the situation. But I think it’s extremely odd that her admin is sending gifts TO HER HOME. This really sounds like she’s stepping over the line and trying to insert herself into OP’s home life. I think it would be brown nose-y and still creepy to bring gifts in to work to give the boss, but including her children and sending it directly to her home borders on stalking and inability to respect boundaries. I believe I would have to find some way to make this stop.

    1. C Average*

      Eh, I don’t get this from the letter at all.

      I’ve known a number of people who are just thoughtful like this. They give stuff to people they like, and they’re often creative types who make and give away small items because making things and giving them away brings them pleasure. If you mentioned the word “boundaries” to them, they’d give you a blank look, but there’s no agenda to their lack of boundaries. They’re not looking to GET anything in return for their generosity. It doesn’t seem like this person is looking for greater access to her boss or promotions or any other payback; she’s just a giver.

    2. louise*

      I think you just nailed what felt weird to me about it. And is she mailing the thank you notes? If the boss is giving her things (like a bag of pre-owned books) at work and she wants to say thanks, it feels like laying the card on the boss’s desk or something would make more sense. Mailing the handwritten card is, IMO, what takes it over the top, not the gracious acknowledgement of the “gift” or, in the case of the books, a thoughtful gesture.

      1. fposte*

        But that’s how you do thank-you letters. It’s old-school correct. You don’t hand them to people where they might get lost.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          I’m sorry, because I hate nit-pickers, but I’ve gotta pick this nit: “You don’t hand them to people where they might get lost.”

          The whole point of mailing a card is to get it into the hands of the recipient. If you cut out the middle man (the USPS, where letters frequently do go missing) and give the card directly to the recipient, then you don’t exactly have a “card could get lost” situation since, ah, the recipient is already holding the card in their hand.

          1. fposte*

            Heh. After I typed that I thought “of course handing them over is okay–hand-delivering is classic.” So I agree with you on that; I was blinded by the doom that comes to any non-standard communication arriving in my office.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Yeah, it’s weird, but I don’t see any reason for paranoia. My first thought when I read the letter was brown-nosing, not stalking. That’s a much more serious offense than what’s going on here; it’s not wise to conflate the two.

    4. cv*

      I’ve been an admin to several different people, and I had their home addresses memorized after a while in all cases. It was for lots of reasons: billing info for their personal credit cards (I don’t know why this would always come up, but it would – ordering flowers for a semi-work-related situation where it wasn’t reimbursable, tacking extra time onto work travel, dealing with a cell phone issue on an account that was used for both work and personal stuff, paying for occasional office goodies for the staff), having a tech person troubleshoot something at their home office, dealing with financial documents for expense reports like EZ-Pass toll statements, having last-minute documents delivered by courier, etc. A good boss/admin relationship has solid boundaries, but there’s more bleed into the boss’ personal/family life than with most employees since the admin handles various aspects of the boss’ schedule and finances.

      So sending stuff to the home doesn’t strike me as weird here in the way it might if someone had to go out of their way to find the boss’ home address.

  13. Mike C.*

    Regardless of the rules being broken, the HR rep should have stopped the rule breaking right then and there, but didn’t. If this person saw sexual harassment going on, would they just sit there and watch in an effort to catch as many people as possible?

    Look, we already know that the OP screwed up and the OP has accepted their punishment. Discussing how this HR rep screwed up doesn’t negate that in any way. But being told to to follow rules in a way that breaks trust is a real shitty way to manage. “Thou shall bear no false witness” is an old rule for a reason.

    1. sunny-dee*

      1) What you describe isn’t false witness — false witness is lying about someone.

      2) The OP thinks because the docs were prepared after the party, that’s evidence of a lie. It could simply be evidence of the HR lady taking notes to be specific if the subject came up or that she asked her manager what the appropriate action was.

      3) There are degrees of offense. Sexual harassment or a fight would be serious enough to step in immediately. For this, if (indeed) no one was getting drunk or crazy, maybe the HR rep wasn’t certain what course to take or maybe she arrived late and it was already in full swing. Or maybe she wasn’t aware it wasn’t sanctioned.

      The OP is trying to find ways to make her behavior not bad and everything is the HR lady’s fault — but this was all on the OP.

      1. fposte*

        I’m inclined to agree here. I don’t think the OP would actually be much happier if HR had said “I reported it the next day because that was when people were there to report it to.” For that matter, if it had happened to be true that somebody else objected to the party and that’s why HR ended up reporting it, it would have been appropriate for HR to essentially lie about that–to say “I’m sorry, but ultimately HR can’t countenance such breaches of policy.”

      2. Mike C.*

        1. Lying is lying is lying.
        2. Maybe, but we’re supposed to trust the OP in this forum.
        3. Drinking alcohol is potentially a serious safety issue, depending on the workplace.

        Again, this isn’t a zero-sum game. How does pointing out that the HR rep acted in an underhanded manner negate what the OP did? I’ve never once defended the OP except to say that breaking a rule doesn’t excuse poor treatment from those above. That’s it. I’ve never once defended drinking at work.

        1. LBK*

          It doesn’t negate it, but it doesn’t improve it either. That’s why I’m at a loss for your staunch defense of this point, because it’s neither here nor there in relation to the OP’s situation. It doesn’t change anything – if the HR manager didn’t lie the outcome would be completely the same. The letter wasn’t written by the HR manager or her boss.

          1. Colette*

            And there may be other circumstances from the HR manager’s POV that no one here could address. The OP may have misunderstood what she said, she may have not shared the full timeline with the OP, or she may have blatantly lied – we have no idea, and as LBK has pointed out, that has nothing to do with the question or issue. If the OP continues to pursue this because “lying is bad”, it will not end well for her, and is unlikely to cause any significant issues for the HR manager.

            Mike C. seems to be equating “didn’t justify the write-up by providing an accurate, complete timeline of events to the OP” with deliberately lying. That’s one possibility, but it’s far from the only one.

        2. fposte*

          “Lying is lying is lying.” And I’ll say with equal firmness and authority nope, it’s really not, any more than accidentally picking up a pen from work and taking it home is the same thing as grand theft auto because stealing is stealing is stealing.

          I get that if I have an employee who’s as black and white as you there’s risk of displeasure if I treat the world as more nuanced, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

        3. Observer*

          The issue is not whether the HR rep did something wrong – I think that most of us can agree that whatever the facts of the case are, HR didn’t act in the most sterling manner. Nor is anyone really questioning the essential truthfulness of the OP. But, it’s worth pointing out that it’s possible that the OP is misjudging the level of (mis)behavior at the event. I’m not saying that this is actually happening, but that based on what the OP wrote, it is possible.

          What people are really questioning is the OP’s indignation and her (his?) desire to “call out” the HR rep. Secondarily they are questioning if it’s possible that the OP is mistaken about this being a lie.

          1. sunny-dee*

            And as people point out, since the OP is already in relatively serious trouble, calling out the HR rep for lying if she is not in fact lying could have terrible repercussions.

        4. Zillah*

          2. Maybe, but we’re supposed to trust the OP in this forum.

          I’m all for trusting the OPs. However, I think that there is a place for pointing out to OPs that their logic might be faulty. For me, trusting the OP means assuming that they aren’t lying – but sunny-dee’s comment doesn’t accuse the OP of lying. It just points out an alternative explanation. For me, that’s actually an important part of responding to OPs.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yes. I do think there’s an important distinction between “OP is lying” and “OP might be mistaken or not have all the info.”

        5. Elizabeth West*

          Except you’re not just pointing it out, Mike. It’s almost like you think it’s worse than what the OP did. I guess I’m not understanding your point of view, but it’s getting into defense attorney territory here. “Yes, I know my client drank at work and that was against policy, but this case should be thrown out because the HR person did X wrong!”

          No, it wasn’t perfect, but that doesn’t matter because what the OP and company did was the more egregious offense. The OP should not be whinging about how she got caught. She has no grounds. Not. At. All.

          1. Mike C.*

            No, I’m getting really irritated because folks are putting words into my mouth. I don’t care if you disagree but I get really pissed off when people make connections or assumptions that aren’t there just because I feel strongly about something.

            1. This isn’t a zero-sum game. Talking about how bad one person acted doesn’t excuse the bad actions of another. That goes both for the OP and the HR rep, in both directions.

            2. People in authority are held to higher standards because they wield more power. I expect those who manage and those who lead to hold themselves to such standards. Lying is something that shouldn’t be done here.


            I don’t care if the OP broke a rule, the HR rep should have stopped the party then and there, or at the very least took some personal responsibility (the same personal responsibility the OP didn’t exercise at the party) in saying, “Yes, I saw you do this”. There’s no need to lie about that sort of thing. These two events are separate from each other.

            Do I need to flagellate the OP more before folks believe me?

            1. LBK*

              It’s hard to take #3 at face value when the severity and quantity of your comments about the HR manager’s actions are a lot higher than your comments about the OP. It comes off like you’re brushing off the OP’s statement with “Yeah, that was bad” while saying the HR manager is being insulting, demeaning, a terrible manager, not taking responsibility, etc.

              This letter was written by the OP, not the HR manager, not the HR manager’s boss. Whether the HR manager told a white lie is immaterial to how the OP should proceed in this situation.

            2. fposte*

              See, that I agree with, but that’s not what you were originally saying, and I think even there I don’t think it’s as big a deal as you do–it’s an eyeroll offense, not an indignation offense.

            3. LBK*

              And I also don’t know what you want the rest of us to say about that other than “Yeah, that was kind of a crappy thing to do.” Just like you’re at a loss for what else you can do to make your point clear, I don’t know what else I can say that’s in any way actionable or acceptable to you beyond “You’re right, the HR manager probably should’ve just said she had a problem with it.” Which is what I think, but I don’t get what purpose that serves in this conversation.

              1. sunny-dee*

                Also, one other thing — the HR rep said that she was “compelled” to reprimand the drinkers, that she didn’t have a choice because of an outside complaint. The OP said that.

                Maybe the HR rep didn’t stop the party because she was willing to let it slide the whole time. Maybe she was going to have a discreet word with the organizer and planned to let it go at that until someone else complained, and then she only went after the drinkers because she didn’t want to go after everyone. That would also fit with what the OP said.

            4. Elizabeth West*

              Nope, just recognize that 1) maybe the HR person was caught between a rock and a hard place on this, and 2) there is a LOT more subtlety in these things than you’re giving anyone credit for.

        6. Elsajeni*

          I think “trust the OP” means assuming that they’re telling the truth, to the best of their knowledge — it doesn’t necessarily mean assuming that they know everything, or that they’re not mistaken about or misunderstanding anything. No one is suggesting that the OP is lying about having heard two conflicting stories about how/when the HR rep made the decision to write people up; they’re just saying that there are possible explanations for that beyond “the HR rep was lying.”

        7. sunny-dee*

          I’m not doubting what the OP said — I’m doubting her interpretation of it. I believe the HR lady wrote the doc immediately after the party. I believe she told the OP that the reprimand was because of an outside complaint. I do not believe the OP’s assumption that fact #1 is true and therefore fact #2 is false. They can both be true.

    2. LBK*

      If this person saw sexual harassment going on, would they just sit there and watch in an effort to catch as many people as possible?

      That’s a false equivalency if I ever saw one.

  14. No to Stella and Dot*

    #2 – I have a lot of friends like the assistant. They really do enjoy giving gifts – in fact, for many of them, it’s their dominant love language. (If you’ve never read “The Five Love Languages,” it’s a fascinating book.)

    A couple of years ago, I suggested that we stop giving each other Christmas and birthday gifts and instead do something as a group to celebrate the holiday season/someone’s birthday (i.e. going to brunch, a movie, etc.). It was getting too difficult and expensive to buy gifts for everyone, especially when you add in that we are all getting married, having children, buying homes, etc. Everyone agreed that it was a good plan.

    But one of my friends just can’t help herself and still buys gifts (nice ones at that!). For example, I told her point blank that I wasn’t buying gifts for Christmas and birthdays anymore, but would for life events (wedding, birth of kids, etc.). She said she understood. Then when my birthday rolled around, she gave me a very expensive gift certificate to a boutique in town. I loved it, of course, but felt terrible because I hadn’t gotten her anymore than a card on her birthday. When I asked her about it later, she just kept going on and on about much she loves to give gifts. But what she doesn’t realize is that it can make people feel a.) guilty and b.) upset/angry.

    I love AAM’s suggested language to the assistant. As usual, it’s spot on. I think by being honest and transparent and setting expectations for gift giving (or in this case, lack thereof), that’s all you can really do.

  15. BadPlanning*

    Maybe OP3 could reference reading some manager advice columns and “stumbled” across the “gifting down vs gifting up” and use that to segue into you really appreciate your admin’s good work and don’t want her to think she must gift to you, etc, etc.

  16. Not So NewReader*

    Gift giving assistant. It sounds like this has been going on for a while. And it sounds like OP has encouraged it, perhaps unwittingly. OP, if you gave me a bag of books for my kids or my grands, I would want to do something nice for you. In my mind, you already have skated by the boss/employee thing and we are talking about a mutual give and take, back and forth type of thing. I am not sure what else you have given her but it sounds like you have passed stuff along from time to time.

    You sound like a nice person yourself and you are probably a good boss to her. You can decide to tell her to stop or slow down. Or you can decide that you are lucky to have her and the gifting is what it is. I tend to believe that once in a while a boss and employee click in a special way and they each enrich the other’s life. Perhaps this is what you have here. Maybe all you need to do is have a chat with her about it- ask her where she is at with all this. Then make up your mind about how you want to proceed.

  17. LawBee*

    Ha! OP #1, you got busted. Suck up the punishment like a grown-up. Actions have consequences, etc.

    OP #4 – this is another example of how directness wins over indirectness. I wouldn’t have assumed that a request to have a decision documented meant anything other than “write the decision down on paper”. It definitely didn’t come across as a request for a discussion.

    1. The IT Manager*

      LW#4, I agree with Alison and LawBee.

      There’s a whole host of issues with your new job – you’re about to be manager for the VP’s right hand. Your statement about “decision has to be clear and documented so that other employees will see the new reorganization as being fair” has NOTHING to do with your salary. Later you said “title and work” and not salary again expecting someone to read your mind.

      Clearly you are very uncomfortable to the point of being scared when talking about money, salary and asking for a raise (Are you an aristocrat on Downton Abbey?), but don’t be mad that people didn’t read your mind that you were making a veiled reference to salary when you asked about your new job title.

      You’re going to have to be even braver than before and actually use the word “salary.” You probably need neogiate a raise. Read the AAM archives about how to do this and practice with friends so you can say these words without quaking.

    2. MK*

      Yes, I don’t think any reasonable person would think of a salary increase hearing what the OP said. To me it sounds more like a concern that the decision be made clear to the other manager, so that he wouldn’t question OP’s authority.

      1. Alma*

        The other manager will not get a reduction in pay, I bet. The OP should have a title and be moving up the pay scale with her new role as manager over the whole group, as is appropriate for her years of experience. And yes, there needs to be documented reorganization plan, so all employees (especially Former Manager and those who reported to him/her) know how to proceed.

        1. MK*

          I don’t disagree that the OP should have a title that reflects her role as supervisor of the whole team, as well as additional pay, since she is taking on new responsibility. And the VP should have been the one to bring it up. But the OP seems to feel that she has already broached the subject, but her hint was too obscure.

          I have to say I find the situation a bit odd. Going from being the boss’ right hand and the manager of a team of 4 to reporting to a former peer, who was junior to you, would be a considerable demotion. Could it be that this person is great at his work, but not good at managing? If so, it’s possible that the VP isn’t thinking of this as a promotion for the OP, but as assigning the coworker’s administrative duties to the OP and freeing him to do what he is best at. Maybe that’s why the VP is ignoring the issue, though of course she could be taking advantage of the OP.

  18. De Minimis*

    The key things to me about #1 are that the HR person didn’t drink, and also people didn’t get written up for attending the party, they got written up for drinking. Had either of those been different, I’d be more sympathetic to the OP. Some stuff about how it was handled may not be quite above board depending on whether what the OP heard is correct about the timing of the writing-up, but you can’t blatantly break a rule in front of someone like that and expect nothing to happen.

  19. Alma*

    I have come to the realization that because I want to be sharp (catching verbal and non-verbal communication) and do not want to cross any boundaries, I do not drink at work-related events. In the Olden Days I would go out after work with my peers and do the Happy Hour thing (THAT was a long time ago… free hors d’oeuvres!). All these years later, I do not drink with my peers, either – our species is a “small world” and can be cut-throat.

    As I began my career, the newbies and SO’s were invited to a wine and cheese party with The Powers That Be and their SO’s. It wasn’t a party, it was a TEST. There was a presentation scheduled after dinner. Those who enjoyed the freely flowing wine loosened up too much (some inappropriately), and some fell asleep during the presentation. Their spouses were being evaluated, too. I had water with some ice in a wine glass. There should be no social stigma to enjoying the event alcohol-free.

    1. MK*

      Wouldn’t it be better to simply make it clear to new employees that they are required to remain alert and their behaviour appropriate at all work events, even social ones, rather than misleading people that they are invited to a party and ambushing them with a pop quiz? I agree that people who choose not to drink shouldn’t be treated as aliens, but this doesn’t sound like employees showing bad judgement, but an employer who is a manipulative jerk.

      Also, unless the company is paying the spouces a salary too, they have no business ”evaluating” them.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Depending on the environment and the industry, spouses can be as critical to performing a job well as the actual person. (Not perfect, but politicians’ and pastors’ wives spring to mind.) If it is an industry with a high public profile or where there are frequent parties or times to entertain, the presentability of SOs is important.

        As for judging someone at a party … that should be really, really obvious. It’s not an ambush — it’s common knowledge that you don’t get wasted at business events. And, again, given the industry, this level of moderation could be critical. If someone can’t keep it together at a wine-and-cheese event in front of their own upper management, they will probably not keep it together at a trade show in Vegas or customer meeting in LA or whatever when no one is watching. I would want to identify those people quickly.

      2. Observer*

        The two are not mutually exclusive. What would you be willing to bet that none of the people who drank too much would swear up and down that they NEVER drink too much and always are on top of things? Let’s face it, if you are invited to a part with TPTB, you should not drink so much that it leads to inappropriate behavior (or falling asleep during a presentation) even if the event WAS a genuine party not a test.

        As for evaluating the SOs – it’s not so simple. Employers do have to think about how the behavior of spouses in social situation related to the employer can affect them. An example that showed up here on AAM recently comes to mind. Someone wrote in about how he had gone to a company party and his wife was grabbed by the husband of a co-worker. He wanted to raise this with HR. Now, there is really very little HR can do about this, except ban spouses in general or this particular spouse in particular from company parties etc. But the repercussions from a spouse behaving badly can be significant, and it’s legitimate for the company to want to protect themselves.

        You can’t really blame a boss, for instance, for deciding that “we can’t put Jane into any position that requires social interaction with big clients and spouses, because her BF is an idiot whose hands go all over the place when he’s had one too many.” Or “We can’t put John around any information that requires discretion, because his wife will spread everything he knows far and wide if you give her a chance.”

        I’m sure people can come up with plenty of other scenarios. But the bottom line is that if you are going to ever be hosting SO’s at any sort of company event, having an idea of how they behave in those situations is useful and it’s legitimate to try to figure that out.

  20. SophiaB*

    OP #3 – have you clarified what exactly is expected in terms of ‘answering the phone’? I work on a bookings system, so my Project Managers need to be able to call me and re-plan entire projects sometimes, which is a ‘drop everything and concentrate’ task, but if my billing guy grabs my phone, he takes a name and number and tells people I’ll call them back. I need that sometimes to buy me five minutes, but my PMs need to get themselves into the queue for a resource.

    If you definitely have to answer the phone, see if you can negotiate that you’ll take a short message and pass the task on, which should distract you less than actually trying to complete the task and then going back to your spreadsheets.

  21. Kadia C*

    #4- OP here.
    First of all, thanks for all the comments received and for all the great advices.
    As I was sending my question to AMA, I realized that I had to be brave and be clear with my manager. I did go the next day in her office and told her if she had any intention to give me a raise with my new responsibilities. I could tell she did not expect my boldness. She did however say that she will be giving me a raise and is currently discussing the appropriate salary with the President of the company. She was uncomfortable and told me that she had to “finish an email” about an important issue. She called me in a few days later and told me that they will not be able to give me office afterall. Haha! I told her that the raise I deserve for taking on more responsibilities in the company was far more important to me than an office.
    My review is in February of next year and I believe this is when the salary they are still deciding to give me will be revelead to me.
    This week she told me that she will announce to everyone the new reorganization of the departments. Again, I was brave enough to tell her that she could announce everything she wanted to reorganize in the departments except the fact that I will be the new Manager of the both departments. I told her that this part should not be announced until HR gets my new position in their system and after we discussed my new salary and scope of my new role in the company. She said she agrees….though I know she didn’t expect me to be as blunt.
    I am now doing my research in finding out what salary I should be negotiating for when I have my review in February.
    Thank you.

  22. Z*

    #1 I’ve had two different jobs so far, and at both of them the contract I signed contained a clause where I signed away permission to be randomly drug and alcohol tested at work at any time. I live in a country where workers actually have rights and you can’t just up and “at-will” fire a permanent staff member (casual staff are a different matter), however somebody being caught at work with a BAC of over 0 would almost certainly result in termination – either immediately or after an investigation. Being actually caught drinking at work for any reason would result in termination with even more extreme prejudice. I am a laboratory worker, but these rules apply equally to all staff including admin and managers whose jobs entail minimal safety issues.

    Is this not normal???

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