asking a resigning employee to leave more quickly, banned from eating at my desk, and more

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

1. Can I ask a resigning employee to leave more quickly?

I recently had an employee quit and stated they would work another four weeks. This employee is a very low performer and I no longer want to keep them on my payroll. Can I ask them to leave now or do I need to wait two weeks? Since the employee quit, they forgo unemployment benefits, but I am wondering if this still applies if I ask them to leave before the four weeks are over.

You control when the person’s last day is. If you want to move their last day up, you can say something like this: “I really appreciate you offering four weeks notice, but looking over your projects, I think it makes more sense to set your last day for X.” In most states, the person will be eligible for unemployment for the period between whatever X is and the day they’d originally set as their last day.

However, unless the person is causing actual damage to your organization, it’s usually smarter to let them work at their notice period — or at least compromise on two weeks. Your primary audience for stuff like this is other employees, and if they see you push someone out after that person gave notice, they’re less likely to give you much notice when they themselves leave, because they’ll assume they may be pushed out early too.

Plus, if the person was really terrible, you should have been transitioning them out already anyway — and they did you a favor by quitting. A few weeks’ pay is a small price to pay to get rid of a bad employee without drama and to keep yourself from looking like a jerk to other employees.

2. Do I have any control over my job being reorganized into something else?

I work for an independent distributor of an international brand. My branch is currently in the process of transferring ownership to a different distributor. The new owning company is much smaller, much less technologically efficient, and generally operates as a “small family owned business” despite being relatively large.

In the talks of the transition, it has been mentioned that my position will be expected to act as a receptionist in addition to whatever other additional duties may fall to me. I don’t mind and would welcome more responsibility but I do *not* want to be a receptionist. I’ve been one before, I despised it, and part of my move to my current job was an effort to escape those duties.

Can I push back on this at all or am I just out of luck? If I do address it, how should I phrase the conversation to make it clear that my issue is acting as a receptionist rather than just balking at the prospect of change or more work?

It’s perfectly reasonable to say, “I took this job in part specifically because I wanted to move away from doing receptionist work. Are there any other alternatives that we could explore?” But say it ASAP, before plans become irreversible.

Ultimately, they may still do it anyway, but this is your best chance of getting them not to. If they do anyway, then you’re basically stuck deciding if it’s something you’re willing to leave over.

3. A cagey and vague request from my old employer

The former accounting lady at my old company called me a week ago, asking me to mail her a business card (I was a freelancer there for about a 1-1/2 years; I work in recording studios). When I asked why, she said, “It’s for this guy that called he wants to know….I don’t want to get involved.” WTF? So I told her she could send him my contact info if she wanted.

So I get another email today saying she hadn’t received anything from me and more vague and cagey questions. I asked her who these people were and she said “looking for information on past work and references.” Also, “Someone was recommending you?”

I’ll say that she’s always been cagey and a generally weird person to talk to, but this is too weird. Is there a reason she’s being so evasive? Am I about to have my knees broken?

I have no idea (do you know this guy?), but I think it makes sense to say, “Feel free to pass along my phone number and email address, but I’d want to know more about the context before sending anything else over.”

And really, you’re not obligated to respond at all if it’s giving you a bad feeling.

4. My manager banned me from eating at my desk

My manager recently stated that anyone sitting at the front counter could not eat their lunches at their desk. However, anyone with an office or who sits in a cubicle away from the front counter can.

This is called discrimination, correct? Especially since the only two people at the front counter are women and the rest of the people are not. Am I wrong on this subject? If you eliminate eating at your desk, you have to make it for everyone in the office not just specific people, right? He himself will eat at the counter in the morning, and he will also eat in his office every day. Since the email was sent out banning this, other employees have eaten at their desk as well. But if I try to do it, I get told not to.

No, this is not discrimination in the legal sense. Illegal discrimination must be based on your race, sex, religion, national origin, or other protected class. Your employer is absolutely allowed to treat people differently outside of those categories. In this case, although both of the affected people are women, it’s far more likely that this decision was made on the basis of whose desk is within public view and whose isn’t. And assuming so, that’s perfectly legal.

And the law aside, it’s actually perfectly reasonable to say that people can’t eat at their desks if they’re within public view, even though everyone else can. That’s a pretty normal rule to have, and people whose work space is within public view often have different restrictions on them.

5. Using work email when applying for an internal job

I typically follow the rule of reaching out to HR or hiring managers using my personal email address. My understanding is that this is good practice because you are representing yourself (not your company), and also it doesn’t make it feel like you’re using company time to apply for other jobs (even though the actual time may be outside of working hours).

I am interested in an internal job that I found through our (huge) company intranet. I was just about to send an email using my work email address so that my email stands out and I could feel like an inside referral. However, I’m wondering if the other rules still apply, and whether I should just introduce myself as a current employee who found the position through the intranet. By the way, I’m 2+ links away, so a personal referral is not an option.

No, with internal jobs, it’s perfectly fine to apply using your work email address. You’re basically writing to a colleague.

That said, I don’t know that simply the email address on its own will do anything in particular to make you stand out — but it’s fine to use it in this context.

{ 364 comments… read them below }

  1. Juli G.*

    I have a whole wishlist of things I wish was required to be taught in high school – budgeting, the basics of insurance, etc. After being a longtime reader of AAM, I add basic employee rights to that list. And that could probably just be two sentences long – they have to pay you for working and most things you don’t like about your employer aren’t illegal.

    1. Cheesecake*

      +100 The more i read AAM the more i get a feeling people are trying to pimping their cases to reach “illegal/discrimination”. A woman involved – discrimination!!! I don’t get why, can’t they just talk to management without bringing big “discrimination” guns, explaining that e.g. there is no kitchen or table to eat you lunch at? Or do they just wish to be a victim of illegal work practices?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        They do it because of anger and because they feel that their words alone are not enough. They have to bring someone along with them, in order for their words to be heard. In this case, the hope is the law will back them.

          1. DJ*

            I had one mother go above my head when I wouldn’t give “Johnny” a passing grade. He had a 38% in my class.

              1. DJ*

                But she couldn’t see that. I found out later that she was very involved in his high school. I wondered if they didn’t graduate him just to get rid of her.

      2. JayDee*

        I think there are a couple things at play. One is that people don’t understand illegal discrimination and use discrimination as code for being treated unfairly or being treated differently (which may be discrimination but not the illegal kind). Another is that people have no clue what their actual workplace rights are, and in many workplaces the workers don’t have a lot of power to challenge decisions of the bosses. But they know that discrimination is a Big Deal®™ and so they think that the only (successful) way to address problems with coworkers and the boss is to convince them you are being discriminated against.

        1. Artemesia*

          Our administrative staff were very annoyed by a particularly demanding and perhaps somewhat rude manager who did not tolerate shoddy work. They immediately started whining about ‘hostile workplace’ as if this would trump all. They were chagrined to learn that a hostile workplace does not mean what they think it means and does not apply at all when no racial or gender discrimination is involved.

          The tone of the OP’s complaint suggests that she is deeply clueless about how the world of work works. I tend to sympathize with those at the bottom of the stack in the workplace but even I can see that it is appropriate to not allow people at the reception desk to be eating and drinking at their desk. It presents a very unprofessional and somewhat unpleasant front for the office. She would be better off making sure that she has a reasonable place to eat and drink on her breaks.

          1. maggie*

            I do think it is 100% acceptable to drink at the front desk. As long as there is no alcohol in them, of course. We can’t expect a receptionist to a) not hydrate throughout the day b) get up often to drink in the kitchen and either leave the phones/clients to fend for themselves or keep harassing a buddy to cover for them while they have a sip of water. A water bottle is totally appropriate, an espresso machine or cocktail complete with an embrella, not so much.

            That said, this particular receptionist really needs some education into common (work) sense.

            1. VintageLydia USA*

              Oh god yes. If you have a busy office and are answering a lot of phone calls, your receptionist NEEDS something to drink. I think it would be weird to NOT see a glass of water or mug of coffee/tea at the front desk.

          2. Rose*

            I once spoke to a coworker who complained incessantly about how much ‘retaliation’ she had to deal with when she tried to bring up concerns. After following up with her I discovered that she had offered a suggestion to our manager, and the manager didn’t agree and offered another suggestion instead. Yet still my coworker complains about how ‘toxic’ our environment is because our manager didn’t say yes to her. Oy.

      3. UKAnon*

        Please see my comments below – I think that there may be more to this (although I can’t be sure without more details) and that as somebody else said below you can know it is illegal discrimination without it looking like it on paper. I agree with NotSoNewReader, too; if this is discrimination then in a lot of cases talking to the boss who’s discriminating won’t help (doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t try, but still) so knowing your legal options may be your only recourse.

      4. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I attribute some of it to a culture of passivity in the guise of “niceness”. How many times have we heard about people doing things they don’t want to (my favorite example– women dropping hundreds of dollars on bachelorette parties when it means they can barely pay rent) because they feel it would be “mean” to speak up? I think people are afraid to express disappointment or anger, they’re afraid to question, and as a result they feel like they can only speak up in the name of discrimination. On a smaller scale, it’s akin to someone complaining to a manager after a co-worker said something rude– they’d rather avoid confronting the co-worker.

        I suffer from this myself sometimes, though I’ve worked really hard on being assertive without being cruel or rude. It’s not easy, and I’ve seen way too many people suffer because of a fear of rocking the boat, a fear of being “seen as a bitch”, a fear of ruffling any feathers. I wish I could start a campaign of assertiveness– which does NOT equal cruelty or rudeness– but for now I handle it on a case-by-case basis in my own life.

        1. LBK*

          I totally agree with this. Somehow we’ve gotten to the point where it’s socially expected to allow yourself to be bulldozed over because disagreeing or saying “Hey, can this be done a different way?” is seen as rude, no matter how tactfully it’s done or how correct you are in wanting to change it.

        1. LBK*

          First off, I don’t think that’s categorically true. Victim complexes are definitely a thing – there are people who paint themselves as the victim in every situation so they can garner empathy and attention, whether they do it intentionally or not.

          But moreover, I think the important qualifier in Cheesecake’s comment is that people want to be *legal* victims – ie a lot of people want their situation to be legally protected so that they can just slap a law in their employer’s face rather than having to have a potentially uneasy conversation without the force of the US government to back them up. The irony of this to me is that legal threats or action tend to be much worse for your work situation overall than just having a discussion.

          1. Kelly L.*

            But I think people tend to jump to “You want to threaten or sue!” as soon as someone mentions the law, and that’s not necessarily the case. Discussion of the law can be part of a polite conversation! You know, “Hey, boss, just so you know, we could get into trouble if we make these teapots without teapot gloves.” I mean, I guess it’s a “threat” if mentioning any potential negative consequences is a threat, but it’s not really a personal threat from the employee. Employers want to avoid lawsuits, sure, but they also want to avoid getting busted by the IRS or OSHA or what-have-you.

            1. fposte*

              Though I also think people asking if something is legal often have the vague idea that that means somebody will leap in and stop the activity–most of us really don’t have much understanding of what the process would be if there’s a possible legal violation. (I’m not being dismissive there, since a lot of time I don’t know either.) But even “illegal” unfortunately doesn’t mean “the law will immediately fix that for you and allow you to keep your job,” and I think that can be a rough wakeup.

              1. Elysian*

                That’s so true. I hear this all the time. The conversation usually goes:
                Client: “But my employer is doing something illegal, right? It’s wrong and they should stop?”
                Me: “Yup.”
                Client: “So if they are doing it wrong, why do I have to do all the work (depositions and document requests and testifying at trial etc) to get it fixed?”

                Just because its against the law and someone tells the employer doesn’t mean it immediately gets fixed. :'(

                1. fposte*

                  Yup. See also, as we’ve discussed, winning your small claims case and finding out the court doesn’t hand you the money.

            2. Cat*

              Yeah, I never get the negative reaction to these questions. We’re not talking about people who have brought frivolous law suits. We’re talking about people who write to an online advice columnist without naming their boss or company or otherwise creating any exposure for anyone. It’s the most low-pressure legal discussion ever.

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                Honestly, jumping to “that’s illegal!” too quickly bugs the hell out of me in particular when they conflate corporate policy with criminal law. This is what happens when a company posts a sign saying “no photography”, and an employee tries to take your camera or destroy your film. All they’re allowed to do is ask you to leave the premises, and they can call the police if you don’t leave. Even the police aren’t allowed to take your camera or film…unless you’re placed under arrest, in which case they can secure your personal belongings while you’re under arrest, but they have to be returned when you are released from custody.

                I can’t really explain it right now as I’m pressed for time, but I find it incredibly infuriating when people try to be judge, jury, and executioner because they believe that you did something that was “against the law”. Not exactly applicable to the original post, but possibly related.

            3. LBK*

              Good point. I was thinking specifically about this letter, which gives me a “guns blazing” vibe, but you’re right that there have been plenty of examples that don’t come off so litigious and where knowing the law doesn’t mean jumping straight to a lawsuit prior to having a discussion.

      5. Zillah*

        Or do they just wish to be a victim of illegal work practices?

        Well, but there aren’t a lot of people writing in saying, “How can I find a job where I will be incorrectly classified and underpaid?” What we do get is people writing in hoping that workplace practices they feel are unfair are illegal – which is very different. That’s not asking to be victimized, that’s hoping that something they’re already experiencing also happens to be illegal.

      6. Artemesia*

        Our administrative staff were very annoyed by a particularly demanding and perhaps somewhat rude manager who did not tolerate shoddy work. They immediately started whining about ‘hostile workplace’ as if this would trump all. They were chagrined to learn that a hostile workplace does not mean what they think it means and does not apply at all when no racial or gender discrimination is involved.

        The tone of the OP’s complaint suggests that she is deeply clueless about how the world of work works. I tend to sympathize with those at the bottom of the stack in the workplace but even I can see that it is appropriate to not allow people at the reception desk to be eating and drinking at their desk. It presents a very unprofessional and somewhat unpleasant front for the office. She would be better off making sure that she has a reasonable place to eat and drink on her breaks.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      It would be a good idea to tell kids the stuff that really is illegal, as well. I find that teenagers are particularly vulnerable to bosses pulling illegal stunts on them, as they are used to being under the authority of adults with little right to defy them. If their boss says that because they broke something they don’t get payed that week, that can sound like totally reasonable punishment – behave or you don’t get your allowance. If they’re required to work late off the clock because they didn’t get things finished – that’s normal for a school detention, but illegal for an hourly employee.

      I think jumping to a cry of ‘discrimination’ tends to come when someone is under the impression that employers are required to be fair. This does sound like a very logical conclusion from a teenager, who has spent most of their time in environments that are intended to treat them fairly – schools and families, in particular.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Schools do not teach work place norms, and it can be culture shock. A family member who was a life-long teacher went to work in a retail setting, she could not believe all that goes on there. She was absolutely baffled by what to do and how to handle things. It was an eye-opener to see what her students have been going through right along.

        1. A Teacher*

          It depends on what they take as a course. I teach career specific courses as does my department. We do teach workplace norms–in fact the cooperative education teacher was telling the story about how a parent called her and said she needed to intervene for one of the senior girls because the boss “wasn’t being fair.” The teacher told the mother that it was between the student and the boss to figure out what was going on. She wasn’t intervening. I tell my students all the time that life isn’t fair, that dealing with a jerk is common, and that sometimes the consequence is that your co-workers may not particularly like you for your actions. Some of the students will say “you’ll be fired,” more often than not it isn’t the case. In traditional classrooms the focus isn’t on workplace norms, its based on Common Core Standards–a whole different controversial topic, students that take career (vocational) courses or even in my sociology course do get to hear about a healthy dose of reality in the working world.

          1. Juli G.*

            To be clear, I don’t blame teachers for not teaching this stuff – there’s only so much time they have and lots of required info to pass along.

            I’m glad you get some of that stuff out there.

            1. A Teacher*

              I didn’t feel you blamed teachers, curriculum offerings aren’t determined by teaching staff–that’s above my pay grade so to speak–however, I don’t think kids are pushed into courses like mine because its “not AP” although my courses are dual credit and weighted the same as AP for high school GPA so that does help. My classes are also full this year–like my smallest career course has 27 students.

      2. BRR*

        I agree kids should learn. I could totally see the paycheck thing happening and also then not telling my parents who might know it’s illegal.

        As for your second point correlation does not equal causation.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        The funny thing is my mom used to lead the charge of “what your boss is doing sounds illegal!” despite my telling her otherwise.

        Solution: stop talking to mom about work.

      4. Allison*

        It would absolutely be a good idea to have a class preparing kids for their first jobs – let’s face it, a lot of kids start working in high school or soon after, and have no idea what to expect. I do wish schools did more to prepare students for the real world – the “life skills” class in middle school was kind of helpful in teaching us to sew, cook, and do laundry, but I feel like it was taught too early and people forgot those skills long before ever needing to use them.

        1. A Teacher*

          They need to fund it–we are so focused on Common Core and at least in Illinois PARCC testing that vocational education often gets the shaft. Its your vocational ed classes and career courses that teach “real life” can be applied now type of concepts.

          1. Muriel Heslop*

            I’ve taught and both the middle school and high school level and we definitely need vocational education to teach both real life and real skills. I’d love to add personal finance and more civics, too. I taught a class called Social Skills and it dealt with conflict resolution, job interview skills, personal interaction skills, etc.

            1. Sheila*

              Definitely personal finance. And – my personal hobbyhorse – even one class’s worth of time on how taxes/tax forms work.

      5. fposte*

        I agree entirely. They *are* responding with what they’ve been taught. I also think that merely teaching high school students about workplace legalities is no guarantee that they’d remember them correctly (plenty of stuff we do get taught ends up slightly confused and lost in weird brain places), and then there’s the fact that they may end up in a different state with the belief that the state laws they learned about are universal.

        So I support the “learning the work world” ideas for high school students, but I don’t think they’ll preclude the “Is this discrimination?” questions.

        1. Kelly L.*

          And laws change over time, too. Employment law is different from when I was in high school, most definitely.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, that’s a good point. I think of all the things I learned in high school that have been disproven, let alone changed; there’s no way you could keep up with law.

        2. Youth Services Librarian*

          I agree. When our library as part of the city disbanded the union, in effect, and changed employee status to at will, I took the time to not just hand the memo to my teen employees but explain what it meant. I wish I’d had a camera to capture the looks of absolute disbelief and shock on their faces. Fast forward about six months and, after verbal and written warnings, an employee was let go – repeat look of shock and disbelief.

        3. Kat M*

          They could learn how to find the laws that are most applicable to them and what they mean, though. At the very least, it could be, “How to understand those big posters in the breakroom that no one reads.”

          1. Connie-Lynne*

            Step one: Read the big poster.
            Step two: If you are filled with disbelief, check the date and google if it’s more than five years old. Then, believe it.
            Step three: Who and how to engage if you’re being treated illegally.

            When I was a teenager, I’d read all those “here are your rights” posters in the break room, and I would be all “yeah … like that’s even remotely real” or “yeah … that’s happening here and I can’t do anything about it.” Even though I had the information, I was so cynical about adults and my own powerlessness that I let myself be exploited repeatedly.

      6. Koko*

        I remember a favorite college sociology professor telling our class that if we didn’t think sexism still existed, it was only because we’d spent most of our lives in the public school system, which is one of the most egalitarian, meritocratic, “fair” institutions in our society, and that we may see things differently once we navigated the working world. I think of her words not just when I see sexism in the workplace, but just about every time I see something simply “unfair” that wouldn’t have been permitted in a school environment but is a pretty routine reality in the workplace.

      7. maggie*

        True. And I think kids in general start to learn really experience ethics around that time and it’s a hard thing to navigate when you’re brand new: ‘that’s not fair!’ when discussing how his boss took the employees’ counter tip jar contents and gave them to another solo employee without informing the rest of the employees, to which mommy and daddy would say ‘no, honey, that’s actually illegal’. (this is a true story from my youth. I actually don’t remember what my parents said so I am assuming that I didn’t tell them, in spite of me being so angered that I quit on the spot. Ahhh youth.)

      1. LBK*

        Well, on the flipside, there are some rights I think a lot of employees DO have that they don’t realize. While discrimination and “fairness” don’t tend to be legally protected, there are a lot more laws around pay than most people seem to be aware of. Just from reading AAM we have numerous examples of people who think their company gets to decide if they’re an employee/contractor or exempt/non-exempt, rather than those being legally defined categories.

        I bet if we did a poll of non-AAM readers asking about their job responsibilities, their exemption status (according to their employer) and the average amount of hours they worked per week, we’d uncover a ton of unpaid overtime that they were legally entitled to.

        1. Elysian*

          This is literally what I spend my entire day doing. And its sad sometimes. There are people who don’t think there’s anything they can do, but there are also some people who are so loyal to their employer than when I tell them their employer is violating the law, they just disagree with me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I stayed late/came in early every day for the past 3 years because I had a lot of work to do and I wanted to get it all finished. I choose to do it, it isn’t unpaid overtime.” There’s so much misunderstanding of the laws in this area.

          1. Not an IT Guy*

            But honestly, what can you do when the employer has the legal right to fire you and destroy your reputation for any and every reason, especially for reporting unpaid, entitled pay?

            1. Elysian*

              You can’t fire a person in retaliation for exercising your right to proper pay (proving that an employer did that, on the other hand….).

        2. Bwmn*

          I was recently reading an article about US Dept of Labor audits of restaurants in South Carolina, and there was a mention about how of all the restaurants that they were able to take the time to audit around 80% of them had some kind of payroll discrepancies.

          So while a number of “is this illegal” questions that are asked may be more in the realm of discrimination and fairness – that’s probably just because those are issues far easier to grasp than payroll and employee classifications. Or anything else that requires training as an accountant or labor lawyer.

    3. soitgoes*

      It’s because a lot of us have had employers who wouldn’t change horrible or dumb practices unless told they were illegal. “Hey, we need more soap in the bathroom; also, can you put a lock on the bathroom door” is met with a “yeah, whatever,” but when they’re told they legally need to do those things, that’s the only time they do it. “Hey, I can’t keep staying ten extra minutes with no adjustment in my pay,” is treated like selfishness and clock-watching, but mentioning that you’re not an exempt employee is what finally gets your point across. A lot of employers assume that their employees don’t know what their legal entitlements are.

    4. illini02*

      Yes. I swear reading this blog makes me think that people are either just clueless or looking for illegal/immoral/discriminatory things ALL THE TIME. “I’m black and my I was told I had to work past 5 one day. Is my boss racist?”. “I’m a woman and the receptionist, but I’m the only once forced to answer the phone, is this discrimination and sexist”? Its getting ridiculous.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        To be fair, people don’t have a good understanding of employment law in all areas, not just discrimination. People have heard vaguely about hostile workplace laws; they think it might mean it’s illegal for their boss to be a jerk. And they’re heard vaguely about protected classes, so it’s not crazy that they have a misunderstanding of those those laws work too.

        Moreover, the sorts of questions you describe make up less than 1% of the “is this legal?” questions we hear here. They’re in a very tiny minority, so I don’t think it’s time for any hand-wringing yet :)

      2. Mike C.*

        Why is it so shocking that most people don’t understand the finer points of labor law when the only people who regularly deal with the law are lawyers?

        1. illini02*

          I get not getting nuances of labor law, trust me. However, at the same time, I think when people make everything about their minority status it tends to get a bit ridiculous. If the OP wrote in saying “I work in as a receptionist, and I get treated differently because I can’t eat at my desk when the people in sales can, is that legal?” and saying “I work as a receptionist and I’m a woman, and I can’t eat at my desk like the guys in sales, is that discrimination because I’m a woman?” are 2 completely different things. When people do that, they are ignoring the most basic explanation for an action and going to the most sinister.

          1. Nikkicoli*

            I never said I was a receptionist I said front counter. We are all in sales and if you read the whole thing correctly it states that my Boss sits at the counter everyday and eats his breakfast in the public, But thanks for your rude remarks

            1. maggie*

              Well, to be fair, “front counter could not eat their lunches at their desk” sounds like someone that sits at a front desk, aka a receptionist.

              But go on about the rude remarks because I wasn’t entirely impressed with them either….

          2. Zillah*

            Personally, what I really wonder when people ask questions like OP#4’s is whether there’s something else going on that does verge on prejudiced/discriminatory but that they can’t really put words to. I’ve seen a few instances where we all said, “Eh, that’s not really illegal/discrimination/whatever,” but then the OP came back and provided a few more details and suddenly the entire picture changed. I’m sure that’s not always the case, but I think it often can be.

    5. Meg*

      I think a lot of the discrimination issues come up because it applies to a certain group of people (e.g. people who work the counter) and it just so happens that that group is from a protected class. People don’t realize is that yes, although only women work the counter there, it does not mean that they aren’t allowed to eat at the counter because they are women, but because they work the counter, or desk, or whatever.

      If belonging to a protected class is the reason someone is being treated unfairly, or discriminated against, then that’s when it’s illegal. Not because a protected class holds a particular position that isn’t allowed to do certain things, like eat at the counter.

  2. Student*

    #3. Just ask her to provide you with the contact info of the other guy. Then, you’ll bypass weird former co-worker with lousy communication skills and have better odds of figuring out what’s going on. Or, if there is no “other guy” and it’s for the ex-employer for unclear motives, she’s forced to continue acting weird and you can just opt to ignore her.

    You can also try the “you’re wrong” trick. If you opt to communicate with her again, say something like, “Oh, I think I know what this is about! Fred was going to nominate me for a Rotary Award (insert minor BS, preferably local and plausible award that passes a Google test), this must be something about that.” Then she will either go along with your made-up story or she will correct you with some relevant information. If she goes with the made-up story, she is trying to mislead you, which would make me opt to cut off communication. If she corrects you, there is at least probably some real third person actually trying to reach you, and she might be more forthcoming about details. People like telling you that you’re wrong, especially adversarial or slightly hostile people.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Clever, very clever.

      I do agree, that OP should just shut down the parade of pointless questions. OP, do let her know that you prefer direct contact with people, as third party communication often becomes encumbered. The point blank ask her to pass your contact information along OR ask her for the contact information for the people who are inquiring. If this does not work and she won’t accommodate your request, then just say, “I cannot answer all the questions right now. Please have this person contact me directly. I will be happy to talk to them.” Then delete any further emails on the subject.

    2. PizzaSquared*

      Heh. The “you’re wrong” thing is clever.

      I used to work in an organization which had a couple of extremely high profile people who a ton of folks wanted to get in touch with. We always strictly followed the rule of not giving out their contact information (and not transferring calls to them). The practice was to get the contact information for the person who wanted to talk to them, and some info about what they wanted. Then we could screen it and, if appropriate, pass it along to the high profile person (or his/her assistant). I think that same basic approach is the most appropriate here. If there’s someone who wants to talk to OP, they should be ok with the OP receiving his/her contact info.

      1. EB*

        Did you tell the people you were contacting why you wanted the info?

        Also, what seems weird for me is that the person keeps asking for the person to mail them a business card. With someone’s card you can impersonate them or put it in a folder of information, making it seem like you are part of something when you are not.

        Taken together – not telling what they want the info for, and asking for a physical copy of a business card – it’s a weird request that would strike me as wrong. I get asked to forward my contact info all the time, but being asked to forward a physical copy of my business card without being told what is is for is not normal.

    3. Ann without an e*

      Advice like yours is why I love this site so very much. I hope I never need to do that, but I will now add that to my back of tricks when having to deal with other people’s crazy………

    4. maggie*

      “If she goes with the made-up story, she is trying to mislead you” What if she really doesn’t know?

      It’s seems like we are interpreting cagey as socially awkward, because I haven’t seen evidence of malice yet from the description. Though there totally could be.

  3. abankyteller*

    #4: I can see where this might feel like discrimination if you’re the only two women there, but I agree with Allison, it’s probably just a public view/client facing thing. Is there a cafeteria or break room you can eat in?

    1. TheLazyB*

      Yeah, I sit in reception. At two desks you can eat, at two desks you can’t. Entirely based on whose desks visitors can see as they walk into the building. It sucks but there you go.
      Those who can’t eat at desk can usually grab 30 seconds when one of us is away from our desk (with permission) to eat a snack. Or go into another office for lunch if there isn’t a desk free at lunch (although we usually manage to coordinate it so there is).

    2. Nina*

      At oldjob, one of my tasks was to sit in for the receptionists when they went to lunch. The few times they did eat at their desks did look unprofessional.

    3. Csarndt*

      I hate (hate hate! With passion!) walking into an office where someone is eating at the reception desk. A) they often wipe their hand on their shirt, pants, etc. to do something like use the mouse to check you in. Yuk. B) they talk with their mouth full or there’s that awkward pause while they chew chew chew, chew, chew, hold up a finger to their lips as if you didn’t notice them chewing, swallow too soon, have to gulp some water to finish swallowing, cough a bit, then greet you. Ew. C) you feel as though you’ve interrupted their personal time by barging in on their lunch break. Awkward.

      You’re sitting at a desk, not running a marathon. If you can’t not snack or eat in the few hours until your next break, you should probably see a doctor.

      1. UKAnon*

        This seems a bit unfair. They might have to eat at the desk for a good reason (there’s usually two receptionists, one’s ill so the other doesn’t get a break that day and has to eat at the desk, for eg). Also, eating small regular meals can be much healthier and it’s pretty common office behaviour to keep small snacks around for the mid-morning/afternoon slumps, so saying that you should see a doctor if you need to snack every few hours is pretty damning for a lot of the workforce.

        That’s not to say that it isn’t reasonable to ask receptionists not to do this as a rule, but I don’t have a problem with small snacks, eg nuts, or relaxing the rule where there’s a good business reason. OP also says that the manager is eating “at the counter”, which I am reading to mean the reception area, so I don’t know if this is truly about company image – or if it is, it could well be one rule for one and one for another.

        1. Carrie in Scotland*

          Even if there are two receptionists to cover each other, there still should be a third cover possibility e.g. an admin assistant available, as you should be entitled to a 30 minute break at the very least if working 9-5.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I don’t see a big deal with eating at your desk. However, when in Rome you have to do as the Romans do. I think it’s superficial, really, if a person does not eat at their desk that does not automatically mean they are more competent.

          That said, one place I worked the group was absolutely obsessed with snacking and sipping beverages all day and it did take the focus away from working. There was so much clutter from all the munchies, too. If the place looks like a party is going on most of the time, then yeah, the boss does have to intervene.

          Clearly, I am working under the assumption that people have a little snack, they eat it, clean up the mess and refocus on their jobs.

          1. TT*

            In some cases, the big deal is that it’s embarrassing when clients/visitors come in, and that some people are complete and utter slobs and make a mess all over the place. Or both, which is what happened at an investment firm I once worked at. One of the receptionists spilled something all over the desk/computer while rich clients came into the lobby. Officially they banned everyone from eating at their desks, but anyone with a closed door office just went into their office and just shut the door to eat, while all the admins and other people at open desks had to stop eating. There was an office cafeteria to sit, so I personally didn’t mind all that much, but some people worked through lunch regularly and boy were they aggravated.

            1. CA Admin*

              You see, that’s stupid. If someone’s a slob, then address that. But if I can eat unobtrusively and not spill things, then why should I be punished too?

              It’s like when companies create new PTO or dress code policies that punish everyone, rather than deal with the 1 person who’s causing the problem. How about just managing that one person?

        3. BRR*

          It’s not unfair to not like someone eating at the front desk. It’s unfair they don’t have an option of another place to go eat in peace and for someone to cover for them (and then are hopefully getting paid since they need to work through their lunch). I also really don’t like someone eating at the front desk. I feel like I am simultaneously interrupting them while also not getting the attention I need. I’ll put in your insurance information right after I eat this sandwich. It feels very unprofessional and gives a bad impression about the business.

          But they should be able to snack as long as it’s not constant.

          1. HR Princess*

            #4 – Everyone (including Allison) is forgetting another reason why they might also ban eating at desks. Most likely these positions in the front are OT eligible positions, and if you are eating you may not be working. But sitting at your desk it is difficult to not do work, so in order to manage OT and give an employee an uninterrupted break (hello, California), not eating in your workspace is normal and in my opinion necessary.

            As a manager, I would prefer my reports not eat at their desks only for cultural reasons. I would prefer to not promote a culture where you cannot get away from your desk for half an hour. Plus I personally think it is gross, walking into someone’s office with crumbs on the desk is not professional. But I know sometimes it is necessary…. But based on what info was given, that isn’t why she is telling them not to eat at their desks.

            1. Zillah*

              Ehhh, I think it depends on the job – there are plenty where it would be entirely possible to stop working for half an hour. I personally like to eat at my desk because it’s quieter than the break room and I don’t have to interact with people as much.

      2. Wow*

        My workplace doesn’t provide lunch breaks, which is illegal where I live, but the law is not enforced. We eat at the front counter because the alternative would be not eating at all. Customers who don’t like this: complain to the boss, not the starving underlings!

        1. Rebecca*

          There could be numerous post dedicated to workplace laws that are violated, but not enforced, like telling employees that they will be fired if they discuss wages and benefits with other employees, looking the other way when people work through unpaid meal breaks and don’t mark it on their time sheets to avoid paying overtime, etc.

          Oh, and I agree – customers should complain to management in this case. It’s clearly not reasonable to expect employees to work an entire shift without eating, or expecting them to shove bites of food in their mouths at random times.

        2. BRR*

          I do this a lot of the times when leaving feedback. “The workers seem to be doing their best but seem to be suffering from their low wages and the company’s notoriously poor working environment.” “It was hard to find someone to get some help, the company should hire more people or if a lot of people called out pay them more to make it worth their wild to show up.”

          1. BRR*

            Unless someone does something really bad I try and purposely phrase it so it’s not the employee fault but the company/management’s fault.

            1. Rebecca*

              I do too, because I’m so afraid if I make a negative comment, it will come right back on that particular employee and I don’t want to be the cause of someone losing their job, especially when it’s because of their company’s policies or lack of staffing.

        3. HR Princess*

          where do you live? I often find employees think that issues such as these are illegal when in fact they aren’t. And depending what state you live in (CA in particular) the DOL is very vigilant about meal and break periods. EVEN in instances where you sign a waiver – the CA-DOL will often ignore it. Trust me, as an employer, dealing with meal and rest period suits are NOT fun. So if I were you, I would look into it – because the penalties and fines are worth it – you could be owed more than you think.

          I apologize if I assume you live in USA – I shouldn’t do that. But I also believe in standing up for what is right, and if you do live in a state with legally mandated meal and rest periods, this isn’t right and an employer who doesn’t follow the law is, well…

      3. Katie the Fed*

        “C) you feel as though you’ve interrupted their personal time by barging in on their lunch break. Awkward.”

        I wish my employees/colleagues felt this way about interrupting me when I’m eating. I actually need my downtime in the day and lunch is when I take it. I eat at my desk but I really don’t want to talk. People barge in and I’m like “oh, I’m in the middle of lunch” and they keep talking. Oy.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          OMG, so much this. I have always liked to take some downtime during lunch. It was easier when I had an office. My current office is small enough that people get it– and I feel perfectly comfortable telling them I need 10 minutes– but at my old company, when I sat in a cube, people would come by all the time with random requests and expect me to put down the salad to deal with them. Others would suggest I leave my desk, but lunch was when I got personal stuff done, like emails or reading, and it was easier to finish said salad and get right back to work when I was finished.

          1. annonymous former receptionist*

            That is exaclty why I feel badly for the receptionist…shes/hes getting stuff done at lunch too, so why can’t they grab lunch at their desk? I also agree it is gross to walk into an office and see someone eating. I always used to sneak food and was chastised for it, but the partners always were in my candy drawer. I didn’t last very long.

            1. Anonyby*

              It’s even worse for weekend receptionists–at least at my company. We’re there long enough to at least need to take the 15 minute paid break, and the one at hq is there long enough to need an unpaid lunch… and yet we never have someone there to break us and the company doors have electronic timer locks that IT pre-sets. At least we managed to get them to set the doors to lock for 1/2 hour while I was the receptionist at hq, but it’s still a pain in the butt.

          2. DMented Kitty*

            I had an experience at ExJob where this one guy stopped by my cube and I’m clearly in a conf call (and TALKING) — and he asked me, “Are you busy?”

            I held up a finger up at him so I could finish my conversation (I am still in the call) and right when I stopped he started bombarding me with not-so-quick questions, which can all wait. Sheesh, can you be more inconsiderate than that?

            ExJob also has people who interrupt me while I’m taking advantage of lunch at my desk catching up on emails, and if I say I’m busy, they’ll just pull up a chair and sit on the extra space on my desk and just do their own work there (we have company WiFi so you don’t need a wired connection) until they see I’m done.

        2. Allison*

          This happened a few times when I worked in an open office. I ate lunch at my desk, and used that time to check in on social media, watch videos, read articles and blogs, etc. – and I figured A) my boss knew I ate at the same time each day, and B) if I had food in front of me, and a video about comics or video games on my screen, I was probably on lunch. But no, sometimes the manager didn’t care, he needed me to pause my lunch and do something ASAP, or talk about something right away.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          I had people do that to me at Exjob when I was in the break room, eating my lunch, with headphones on and writing on my personal computer! Sooo obviously not working, but they just HAD to have whatever right. at. that. moment. And then they would get pissy when I would say, “Send me an email and I’ll take care of it as soon as I get back from lunch.” >:P

          1. Carrie in Scotland*

            Or managers who would interrupt you on lunch just to say “this needs done” or “this came in” and I would think “and?” It can wait the 30 minutes I have left on lunch!!

          2. kd*

            yes. Current job has a lunchroom and it is the same people who come in and interrupt anyone who is on lunch and eating.
            Everyone has a choice how to handle, but after years of this I start with – ‘I am at lunch’, then go to ‘pretend I am at a restaurant eating’, to ‘I am invisible and really not here. Can’t hear you’. One instance I just said “LUNCH” and pointed to the door to a friend who does this to me and just doesn’t get it. I do say – I will stop at your desk when I am done.
            I am not nasty, just persistent. It is never an emergency and I will be back at my desk in 30 mins, etc.
            I need my down time – introvert =)

            1. Cath in Canada*

              By mutual agreement, all work talk is banned in our lunchroom. If anyone tries to start talking about a work issue, at least two or three people will point this out and ask them to move to another area – in the nicest possible way, of course! This is Canada, after all ;)

        4. Kelly L.*

          YESSSSSS SOOOO MUCH. I try to be economical by bringing my lunch, and there really isn’t a good place to eat it other than my desk, but I feel like I need to stick a post-it saying “Lunch” on my forehead. So I end up going out to eat just to actually get the lunch break I’m supposed to have. And it makes me fatter and broke-r. LOL

          1. Kobayashi*

            In some states there are laws about providing a lunch area for employees. However, is the environment such that you can bring your lunch and eat somewhere ELSE? Outside on fair weather days? In a car with the radio tuned to enjoyable music?

        5. Windchime*

          I have people do this to me, too. We are all salaried exempt and in a non-public area, so many of us just work right through lunch as we are eating. Yesterday, I had a plate of re-heated casserole sitting in front of me and someone barged into my cube and just started talking shop. Hello, can you give me a minute to finish my lunch here?

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Yesterday I was so sad – I had just perfectly heated my cup of delicious soup and was JUST starting to eat it and someone started talking to me. “Uh huh” [takes bite] “uh huh” [bite] “I’m actually in the middle of lunch” [person keeps talking]

            don’t mess with my soup!

            1. Connie-Lynne*

              I’ve found, for whatever reason, that “my lunch is getting cold” works where “I’m busy eating” doesn’t.

              No idea why.

        6. Juli G.*

          Yes! My office is on the way to the cafeteria (or the way back) so I honestly get a lineup of people interrupting my lunch. When I go back after my leave, I will probably start eating after the cafeteria closes (unless I don’t bring my lunch) but during my pregnancy, I had to eat when I felt hungry to avoid the nausea.

      4. A. D. Kay*

        Especially if it’s at a DOCTOR’S OFFICE. Nothing quite like being greeted by a medical receptionist with a blue tongue (because she had been eating a cupcake with blue frosting). Yuk!

      5. Helka*

        If you can’t not snack or eat in the few hours until your next break, you should probably see a doctor.

        It may be their doctor’s advice that they should eat small frequent meals instead of sporadic heavier ones. It’s not uncommon as a management strategy for certain issues.

        1. Hlyssande*

          Hypoglycemia is a major reason to eat small meals often. My BFF has it, and when we’re working conventions together she makes sure that everyone and their mom has glucose tablets around just in case. She needed medical attention last year after a long stressful day where she couldn’t get time to eat. It was lucky that one of those friends is a medic and brought fast-acting glucose gel for that exact purpose. She was out of commission several hours.

          1. fposte*

            Which supports Csarndt’s point that an inability to go without food for a short period may be indicative of a physical problem.

            1. Koko*

              Right, and I agree that more people adopt this without formal medical advice than with, but without asking you don’t know which is the case. Maybe the person eating frequently already has seen a nutritionist, maybe it was years ago and the recommendation was to eat this way and because it worked they’ve made it their new routine. Or maybe they just read on the Internet that it might help, and it did, so now they do it regularly even though they didn’t get a licensed medical practitioner to sign off on it. A lot of people avoid doctors when self-treatment has already worked.

    4. Nikkicoli*

      Yes there are other places, however that is not the point. The problem here is we are not receptionists we are all in sales and there are 5 people in the office that are visible and our manager sits at the front counter every day from 6am to 8am until we arrive, we have come in early and seen him doing this at the front counter. The other workers that are not in the direct front line counter eat their lunch. They are not covered to the public they are viewable to customers. The situation is that he sends an email stating it cannot happen and then does it himself when we are not here and then allows other employees all the guys to do it every day and doesnt say anything to them.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It may be unfair or unreasonable, what you’re describing isn’t illegal discrimination. Employers are allowed to treat different employees differently, even unfairly. To be a legal he would have to be doing it because you are women. There’s no evidence here that that’s the case.

        Many many things are unfair or unreasonable but are not illegal.

      2. Garrett*

        If your manager is eating at the front desk, then you should casually remind him not to. Depending on your relationship, you could be a little blunt about it.

  4. Kat*

    I really dislike how fast people are to claim discrimination if they dont like what they were told.

    Maybe she could request a partition around part of the desk so she can hide her food there? Or ask to be moved. The boss can do whatever he wants, even if it’s
    Not Fair.

      1. LBK*

        Is it not evident from the letter? Boss makes a perfectly reasonable request to not have receptionists eating where clients could see them, employee assumes this must be discrimination?

        1. Nikkicoli*

          You all obviously did NOT read the dam statement. I am not a receptionist and we are all 5 in sales and my boss sits at the counter every day eating his breakfast before we arrive but go on judging before you know the story read half of it and comment without reading it.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Hi Nikkicoli. The reason the people are confused because your letter wasn’t very clear about it. People are attempting to help you with the limited information that they have. These are strangers attempting to help you with a problem for free. please don’t be rude to them.

            1. M-C*

              Actually, the rudeness of this comment seems to go very well with the general impression that this person is clueless about work..

              1. SophiaB*

                Glad it’s not just me picking up on that. I thought ‘young and frustrated’ at first, but now I’m not so sure.

          2. LBK*

            Sorry for making that deduction – since your role wasn’t specified in the letter anywhere I think it was a fair assumption (since literally everyone here made the same assumption) that you were working in reception since you were at the front of the office.

            Is he eating his breakfast at the counter before customers arrive, or just before you arrive? And are the other sales reps in view of customers walking around? I’m not clear on the setup of your workplace now.

      2. Joey*

        Meaning, not even taking the time to consider that its a reasonable request from the boss even if you don’t like it.

        1. Mike C.*

          We have no idea how much time was actually spent considering the situation before the letter was written.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            This is true. We’ve seen before people firing off AAM letters in the immediate aftermath of something they don’t like, and then in the light of the next day realizing they might have overreacted.

  5. JAL*

    #4 – I am assuming if you are at the counter, you’re greeting people as they enter. It would be completely rude to have a mouthful of food while trying to greet someone entering your company. It’s unprofessional and your manager is totally in line.

    1. Nikkicoli*

      You people just dont get it. There is counter throughout the office not just the front area it is not an office like a insurance company it is a contractor tool center and my manager eats at the counter himself every morning and there are 5 employees viewable to the public not just us 2. We just happen to be at the very front.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        First of all, you’re being very rude to people here. Please stop. These are strangers trying to help you for free, at your request.

        Secondly, the additional details that you’ve given here do not change the answer. This is not illegal discrimination.

      2. DMented Kitty*

        Your above details weren’t in the original letter so please don’t blame the commenters if they do not visualize your office space the way it actually looks like.

        Is it possible to move to a vacant spot a bit away from your desk and just grab a quick snack/lunch there? From your comment above it seems like the issue is that they just don’t want people in the immediate vicinity of the front doors to eat, just because the company doesn’t want clients being greeted with food in their mouths?

  6. Takver*

    #4, Yeah, it’s possible your company has a discrimination problem, but it’s not about the lunch. The problem is that all the women who work for your company are receptionists.

    1. vox de causa*

      This is what stuck out to me, too. The only women at the company work as greeters – everyone else has higher status. Plus, that piece about the manager eating in that location himself, while still prohibiting it for others. Is that because he’s doing it before the doors actually open to clients in the morning, or is he able to eat right alongside those banned from eating during business hours?

      1. LBK*

        Maybe it’s just that the manager has an office away from clients and therefore isn’t likely to have them wandering by and seeing him eating? “If a manager bans something for their employees they have to ban it for themselves” is a false ideology for myriad reasons.

        1. fposte*

          Or, as suggested above, the front counter workers are non-exempt and need to take lunch breaks away from the front counter.

        2. Koko*

          The LW says that sometimes the boss eats lunch at the front counter where they sit and aren’t allowed to eat, in addition to eating at his own office.

          1. DMented Kitty*

            (muster as much innocence as possible) “Sir — I thought no one’s supposed to be eating at that spot. Is the ban lifted? Just confused…”

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I don’t think we have enough information to make that conclusion. If the company is small, sometimes that’s the luck of the draw or the nature of the work.

        1. illini02*

          How many males do you know who have applied for a receptionist job? Just because there aren’t as many in that role, doesn’t mean there is discrimination going on. There are probably far fewer women who apply for construction jobs, so logically there would be far less who get them.

          1. LBK*

            Arguably, though, the question becomes how do we make reception a profession that more men apply to? There’s nothing about reception that might have a tendency to preclude men, in the way that female physiology might decrease the number of women qualified to do the physical work required for construction. Having a penis doesn’t interfere with your ability to answer the phone and schedule appointments (and if it does I’m very concerned about your work process).

            1. illini02*

              This may come off bad. But why do we need it to be something more men apply to. If its not something that appeals to a lot of guys, why do was a society feel like we MUST make men want to do that. Just like if there are jobs that just don’t appeal to many women, why is it that we have to change it so they do? Again, if a guy wants to be a receptionist or a woman wants to work in construction, more power to them, but I don’t get the notion that all jobs have be equally desirable to everyone or its a problem.

              1. LBK*

                But what is it about reception that causes a DRAMATIC skew in who’s interested in it? Unless there’s some physiological aspect of being female that draws them to doing reception (which I don’t think there is) there’s no explanation for why it would appeal to women more in such a ridiculous disproportionate way. What’s your explanation for that?

                1. illini02*

                  Historical gender roles probably. Societal conditioning? I don’t know. But I just want to know WHY you feel if guys don’t want to do that job then something is wrong. If some things just generally appeal to one group more than another, to me thats not really a problem unless they are actively discouraging other groups from getting in there.

                2. LBK*

                  You don’t see how casually allowing societal conditioning and historical gender roles to perpetuate themselves is a problem? You kinda described the issue yourself right in your comment…

                3. Joey*

                  By that line of thinking you’d think there were few women interested in IT because there are relatively few women applying. In reality though I t’s probably more that plenty of women are interested, but don’t see it as a realistic option because only men get hired so they don’t even bother pursuing it.

                  It’s generally accepted that for most jobs the diversity of applicants and employees should mirror the diversity of the local population. Obviously there are exceptions for jobs like selling bras or lifting 100 lbs all day. But even in those jobs there has to be continued efforts to show that the exception is not as a result of equal opportunity issues.

                4. illini02*

                  As I said, I think if anyone wants to be in any job, its their right. But if guys don’t want to work as a receptionist, or work at victoria’s secret, or be a nanny, I don’t think we necessarily need to try to get more guys there. Just my opinion.

                  And no, I don’t see societal conditioning as a huge problem. Women are “conditioned” to be more nurturing to small children, which is why many times they are the babysitters, nannys, and lower grade teachers. Is that wrong? Not saying a guy can’t be a manny or a pre-school teacher, but if women are more interested in that than guys are, I don’t see it as a problem.

                  I agree that the more diverse an applicant pool is, the better. But if someone just isn’t interested in a certain type of work, we don’t need to force the issue.

                5. jag*

                  “You don’t see how casually allowing societal conditioning and historical gender roles to perpetuate themselves is a problem? ”


              2. Joey*

                it’s not trying to appeal to everyone. It’s appealing to all of the folks who are capable and interested, but didn’t apply because they think they don’t have a shot. This is why minorities who see a sea of white don’t apply. Or why women who see a sea of testosterone don’t either.

                1. LBK*

                  Not thinking you have a shot is part of it, but I think it’s also about worrying about the stigma of not fitting the stereotype of the role. There’s a certain level of crap you might have to put up with being a male receptionist and some may decide it’s just not worth it if they could get another job that’s not seen as being a woman’s job.

              3. Lamb*

                It’s not that “we must make Receptionist a job that appeals to more men,” it’s that we need to examine why receptionists are usually female. Sure socialization and sexism in hiring probably have good sized roles, but is that it?
                Illustrative anecdote: I know someone, almost 70, who has worked I’m banks her whole career. Her advice to a female relative looking for a Teller job (just before the recession) was “Apply to banks that have men working as tellers; that’s how you can tell which banks pay tellers higher”. A lot of mostly female jobs are low paying / low status and men may avoid roles they’d otherwise be fine with for those reasons.
                Seriously, you referred to a male nanny as a “manny”; if having a penis along changes how you take care of children, you’re doing it wrong.

            2. Koko*

              I remember working at a pizza place in high school where answering the phone was the most desirable position (the alternative was making the pizzas, cleaning up/washing dishes, or folding boxes). As the only female employee I was put on the phones every shift because my managers thought a female voice was more pleasant and friendly-sounding. (The only other employee who got to work phones every shift was bilingual. Everyone else was assigned to phones sometimes and other positions sometimes.) There may be some of this at play in women dominating a position that heavily involves phones.

              And not just the tonal quality either, but I think women are much more likely to have been socialized to be mild-mannered, pleasant, helpful, and skilled at communication. So making reception a better fit for men could involve a shift in expectations for receptionists, or it could be a shift in how we socialize young men.

              1. Joey*

                Sorry but you just pulled that out of nowhere didn’t you?

                The flip side of that is saying that men have been socialized to be aggressive and take charge so they should be in leadership roles.

                Are you seeing how sexist that is now?

                1. Ann without an e*

                  I remember reading a paper on regarding gender differences. More importantly gender perception differences. Women are perceived by strangers as more friendly and easy to relate to, it also discussed that seeing a woman look angry creates cognitive dissonance in people observing her anger. The article went on to mention that male voices providing instructions cause blood pressure spikes where as a female providing the same instructions does not. That is why at Disney World the voice over the intercom on the monorail is always female. I think there was also an episode of brain games regarding gender differences.

                2. LBK*

                  I’d argue that that’s still mostly due to socialization, though, and not biological. There’s some aspect of it that I suppose could be tied to maternal bonds and the natural soothing nature of a mother’s voice to her baby, but mostly I think that’s still just that we’re trained to think of women as cordial, demure, friendly, happy…just generally placid and non-threatening. And women are trained to act that way.

                3. Ann without an e*

                  Its difficult to weed that out in correlation studies, that article attempted to address that by studying different cultures IIRC. In general women tend to be smaller and therefore less intimidating, our voices tend to be higher in pitch which is also less intimidating thus leading to the perception of us being more friendly/ cooperative than men. Even though that is not true, men are found to be equally friendly and cooperative as women if not more so depending on the situation. There was a different study that showed people find female faces to be more trustworthy than masculine faces, on brain games I think…..It was absolutely fascinating.

          2. AVP*

            I always wonder about this – whenever I hire for a receptionist position, my applicant pool is around 85% female. Naturally, the jobs end up that way as well. I don’t know how to fix that besides generating a mixed pool of former interns and freelancers and encouraging them all to apply. But even when I do that, really, the girls apply for the reception positions and the guys don’t. Maybe this would be a better open thread topic though.

        2. AvonLady Barksdale*

          But that doesn’t mean that every female receptionist is marginalized simply because she’s a woman. I simply don’t think we have enough information here to make that statement.

        3. DMented Kitty*

          I haven’t been to a lot of corporate offices, but I’ve definitely seen a lot of male receptionists in the hotel or food industry.

    3. HR Manager*

      They would be in trouble along with almost every other company. I’ve seen about 10x more female receptionists than male ones. I wouldn’t assume this company is purposefully only selecting female receptionists. When I’ve recruited for receptionist openings, 95% of the applicants are female (similar to admin asst roles too).

      1. Zillah*

        I think the issue, though, is that from my reading of the OP’s letter, at least, what’s standing out is not just that both receptionists are women – it’s that they’re the only women in the company at all.

        1. MT*

          where does it say they are the only women at the company?

          This is called discrimination, correct? Especially since the only two people at the front counter are women and the rest of the people are not.

          1. fposte*

            I read this as “the rest of the people [in the office] are not [women].”

            I think even if it’s so, we really don’t have information to guess if this is discriminatory, and even if it is discriminatory in *hiring*, it still doesn’t make a difference to whether the OP’s allowed to eat at her position.

            1. Zillah*

              Yep, that’s how I read it, too. I agree, though, that while it may indicate discriminatory hiring practices, it doesn’t help the OP with the lunch situation.

        2. Ann without an e*

          Well if you look above the OP wrote in to inform us she is not a receptionist but is in sales. But if there are two receptions positions open and 95% of the applicants are female you have a 90% chance that the two people hired will be female so long as all other qualifications remain equal. If they are working in an office of something male dominated like STEM and 95% of the applicants are male you will need 15 positions to fill before you have a 50% that one in 15 employees will be female. Again assuming all other qualifications are equal and the only difference is gender and the seats are being filled randomly to remain “fair”.

      2. Juli G.*

        I really wanted to interview one male candidate the last time we hired for a receptionist position and I had one applicant out of 95 (and he was unqualified).

      3. Nikkicoli*

        AGAIN I am not a receptionist….Front counter doesn’t say receptionist we are in sales it is a sales office 5 people at the counter in total and all visible to the public just 2 of us at at the very front when someone walks in and then as they keep walking to other departments desks they can interact with other sales people at the counter. he said Front counter which means just us 2 girls. Maybe I should have been more clear.

        1. CAP*

          I think without a layout of your office it’s difficult to tell what’s fair/isn’t fair.

          On the one hand, you are the first people see when they walk in (from my understanding.)
          On the other it seems that people can walk up to anyone else at their desk–while they’re eating. In that case a better rule would be “no one can eat at their desk.”

          1. DMented Kitty*

            I think I’m getting the layout she’s describing. Kind of like the dental clinic I go to — front door on one side, then a continuous counter as you walk in that goes around. So some receptionists will be closer to the door vs. the others.

            Like I mentioned above, maybe clarify if the ban is about actually not eating at the desks located near the doors? If you can find a vacant spot at the other side of the area away from the front doors to eat in peace?

            I know it sucks, but I cannot confirm discrimination unless we have proof that the women are purposefully placed at the very front because of some dumb reason.

            Unless your boss is also sitting on your desk and eating there at that exact same spot you are (used to) eating at… at the exact same time you have your meal… then that would strike me as very odd (and very biased).

      4. Nikkicoli*

        I said Front Counter we are nor receptionists we are in sales just as everyone else in the office is

      5. jag*

        It’s worth pointing out that improving diversity in the workforce is about more than just not purposefully discriminating. It’s also about recruiting more widely and helping a larger variety of applicants feels welcome.

        In jobs with historically fewer minorities or women, just going back to the same familiar sources/forms of outreach will result in few changes. Getting diversity in the workplace means actively trying to bring in more diverse people to want the job, and taking them seriously.

    4. Lily in NYC*

      Let’s be fair about this – I screen resumes for receptionist/admin positions quite often and 98% of the applicants are women. I’m not going to hire a guy simply because he’s male – he has to be as good or better than the other applicants.

      1. Joey*

        Then the question becomes what are you doing to diversify that. Hiring nothing but women in one particular role may look like you’re stereotyping.

        1. Ezri*

          What can you do to diversify it, if the majority of applicants are women? I’m not trying to be snarky, I’m curious what the response is.

          1. LBK*

            TBH I feel like it’s a cycle. Reception has a history of being viewed as a female position, so men don’t apply, which means receptionists tend to continue to be women, which reinforces the idea that it’s a female position.

            I think part of the struggle too is that reception can be a hard position to make more attractive – it doesn’t tend to be high paying or have a clear path to growth, so some of the tricks you might use to break out of other gendered positions (giving really good benefits, high salary, etc. to attract more applicants) are tough to work with.

            One of the other tricks is to focus your recruiting efforts towards places that have a specific female (or other minority) audience…but…male-focused job boards or conferences or job fairs or organizations don’t really exist the way they do for women. So I’m still at a loss.

          2. Joey*

            The best candidate isn’t always the person with the most receptionist/admin experience. Just having someone in that role with a different perspective might be valuable. For example it might not be obvious at first glance, but it might be really helpful to hire someone who has the skills, but has experience working in your company or field in another capacity. in other words two admins with different backgrounds are frequently going to bring different skills and perspectives than two admins with similar backgrounds. Obviously there are necessary base skills, but many many people can succeed in an admin role without prior admin experience. And frequently you’ll see that they exceed in different ways.

            1. Joey*

              And I bet men in your company who are capable tend not to apply because they see you’ve only hired women. Outreach.

              1. LBK*

                Genuine curiosity – what kind of outreach do you do to find more men to apply? It sounds like you do this pretty successfully so I’d love to hear what works for you.

                1. Joey*

                  Some of the things I’ve done is not require things like “1 year of receptionist experience”, but instead the actual job skills like answering multi line phones, multitasking, word/excel skills, etc. That opened it up a ton.

                  And I consider people for jobs even when they don’t apply for them. For example I might have a great analyst candidate and no analyst vacancy and will ask if he’s interested in an admin job.

      2. MT*

        We have one receptionist at our location, when we were hiring the replacement we had the majority of women apply. We would never hire a male receptionist just to hire a male receptionist. We had one female apply, who was a former receptionist with us and left for a different opportunity, and she was ready to come back. We hire best candidates, not to fill some quota.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Just to be fair to Joey’s point here, it’s not that you should hire a man just to hire a man. As with other types of diversity initiatives, you want to put energy to widening the pool, so that more excellent male candidates end up in the pool (or more excellent non-white candidates, in cases where you want to address racial diversity on your staff).

        2. Joey*

          i do an exercise every so often where i look at the backgrounds and strengths of my team. It’s amazing when you see how some some folks with no or little experience in certain areas have progressed passed some folks who have much more or traditional experience. Too much of the same thing is a real thing. And there’s something to be said for skills that can apply to any job like critical thinking, relationship building, organization, and applying creative thinking to work problems. To me, those are the deciding factors, not the person with the best résume.

        3. Joey*

          In other words, you may be perpetuating the issue by looking for someone to fit into the stereotypical role of an admin. If all of your “best candidates” have receptionist or admin backgrounds that might be the case.

          One person applying for an admin job is a sign of bigger issues. Either you’re not looking very hard or there’s something wrong with the job or you live in a city with an unreal unemployment rate.

    5. MT*

      First of all, no where was it stated that the only two women who worked for the company were receptionist. ” This is called discrimination, correct? Especially since the only two people at the front counter are women and the rest of the people are not. ” It just says out of two employees who happen to be receptionist, both are women.

      1. fposte*

        It’s stated a little elliptically, but I think it is in the post: “the only two people at the front counter are women and the rest of the people are not” suggests to me that the people not at the front desk are male.

        But I’m with the folks saying if that’s discrimination, it’s happening at a far deeper level than at the hiring practices of this workplace.

        1. MT*

          I took that sentence to mean, only two employees sit at the counter, the rest don’t sit at the counter.

          1. MT*

            Especially since the only two people at the front counter are women and the rest of the people are not.

            If you don’t paraphrase the sentence, it takes on a new meaning.

            1. fposte*

              It’s a question of the predicate–whether “are not” is modifying “are women” or “at the front counter.”

              And neither you nor I know which it is, so I think we should let it go :-).

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I second that request.

                If I were a new reader coming to the comments section today, I would run away and never return.

                (That’s no one’s fault; it’s the cumulative tone and direction of the discussions.)

                1. maggie*

                  It’s crazy up in here. My apologies for partially contributing to it…though there have been some weird and intriguing things to comment about!

            2. Elsajeni*

              fposte didn’t paraphrase the sentence; she quoted it exactly, as you did. And the structure of the sentence does imply her interpretation. If I said “I am an exempt employee and Jane is not,” you would understand that as “Jane isn’t an exempt employee,” not “Jane is not me,” right? The structure is the same — “the only two people at the front counter are women and the rest of the people are not [women].”

  7. Lizzie*

    OP #2, I feel you. I used to have a job doing X, which I didn’t really like, so I searched for and got a new job doing Y, at a place that does both X and Y. Unfortunately, my new employer drastically underestimated the workload of X, and so as a relatively recent hire, I’m stuck doing X a lot more often than I’d like to. (And in the next few months, that’s only going to ramp up.) Since I plan on seeking a higher-level position in about six months, I decided to suck it up, but there are definitely days where I come home and think “This job bites.”

    1. Lily*

      Yeah, I was coming here to comment that I have been in a very similar position to OP2 — told upon interviewing, “well, you will have some receptionist duties, but it’s not very busy here and the rest of the admin staff will back you up.” The department proceeded to grow 200% in three years, including a massive increase in public events (several of which were covered in the NY Times, resulting in even more calls), and the other staff basically refused to answer the phone unless I was actually out of the office (and grumbled about even that). When I left the higher ups were still trying to claim that receptionist work was 15% of the total duties, when I pointed out several times that it was closer to 40%.

      Which is to say, OP, that certainly you should try to have the discussion as Alison suggests, but be prepared for TPTB to resist — and have a plan B ready if they say no.

      1. OP2*

        I wasn’t really told that my job would include any receptionist duties when I hired on but I am expected to back up the office manager. It hasn’t been that big a deal as we have an auto-attendant on the phones, most client interaction is handled by sales reps off-site, and job applicants go through an online application. All of that will change with the new owners as they have no online application system (UGH) and are planning to handle most interactions at branch level rather than corporate.

        Honestly, I probably won’t stay. The job isn’t that great and I feel that being put in the receptionist position is a step back. There are no career opportunities for me, all of the women who work for the company are in lower admin roles like me, and my hours are terrible. Plus, I’m pregnant and they offer zero maternity leave, little sick leave (three days per year), and I work most holidays. There’s very little incentive to stay.

        1. annonymous former receptionist*

          Good luck with our job search. When I finally shook my receptionist duties, I still had to provide “coverage” which ended up being 1.5 to 2 hours per day and 2 or 3 days per month (sick/vacation). That would have been fine, but I was doing 2 jobs and 4 months later they still hadn’t hired a second person. Years later I ran into my replacement and we had many chuckles over the silliness.
          Best of luck with your pregnancy and new baby!

  8. New Here*

    #5, I would not recommend to use overly informal email addresses though. Such as for example :) When I receive resume like that, I generally don’t throw it away at that same moment (just because it’s difficult to find good candidate and I try to be as tolerant as I can), but my impression worsens significantly.

    1. Artemesia*

      It is so easy to get a second gmail address that I cannot understand people who use inappropriate handles when applying for jobs. We were hiring a well paid professional job and had a couple of people with ridiculous handles like sexyone@gmail — they simply were not taken seriously. They would have had to have an incredible resume to overcome the apparently lack of judgment in their email address.

    2. LUCYVP*

      I recently received an application from dominatrix4u @

      There was a more professional email address printed on her resume but the email was sent from the email above.

      1. Formerly Bee*

        Imagine how it would feel to realize you accidentally forgot to log out of *that* email before sending an application!

    3. annonymous former receptionist*

      +1 I can’t stand receiving resumes from questionable email addresses, or maybe I can, because it tells me tons about their judgement skills!

  9. Another Job Seeker*

    This is an interesting thought. I’d like to expand on it some.

    Suppose Company A is led by managers who know the law but still want to discriminate against people. To do so, they then make hiring decisions based on bias, place the people they wish to discriminate against in specific positions and treat them differently. (“No, it’s not discrimination – it’s just that the position you are qualified to hold has fewer privileges”). On the other hand, suppose that Company B ‘s leadership team is comprised of managers who are fair to everyone. They want the best for the employees and the organization, and they have no prejudices or biases at all. Based on Company B’s hiring pool, employee’s skill sets and needs of the business, it happened that Company B’s employees who are members of protected classes were hired into lower paying jobs and jobs that have fewer perks. So which is it? Is #4’s employer a Company A or a Company B? It’s very difficult to tell from the outside, but I suspect that just about everyone who works for #4’s employer knows. It is extremely difficult for employees who are experiencing discrimination to prove it. It is quite frustrating and unfair. OP #4, I would encourage you to look at your environment. Other than this situation, do you feel that your employer treats you and the other woman working there fairly and with respect? Are female clients treated respectfully? Do the men with whom you work treat women well? If not, institutional sexism may have found its way into your workplace. If women are treated with respect, your company may be a Company B type. I can understand why your supervisor would not want people to eat at the front counter. It may make your clients feel uncomfortable. However, the fact that he eats there but does not allow you to do so raises a red flag for me.

    I think that some of the responses to this comment have been insensitive and unfair. AAM is a safe, resourceful, respectful blog that provides answers about all types of situations that people encounter at work. OP #4’s question about whether she is being discriminated against is a fair one, and I hope that she gets the answers that she needs. It may be that people who don’t think she is being discriminated against have been fortunate enough to have worked in environments that are free of discrimination. Or they may be in environments where discrimination is practiced – but it’s not targeted against them – and they don’t see it. It’s something to consider. If you do not experience discrimination at work, that’s a wonderful thing for your health and your career. However, there are others who have to contend with it on a daily basis, and I think it’s good if we can support people who perceive that they are being treated unfairly and not dismiss their feelings.

    1. UKAnon*

      +1. The comment mentioned above about the manager eating in the area (how I’m reading it) makes me think that there may be more to this to make OP feel this way. It would be good to get more details from her!

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      Some common sense and proportion is needed, not everything about the work place that appears unfair is, and even things that are unfair aren’t always actionable.

      Not being able to eat a sandwich on the reception desk is a very reasonable thing, if there are other problems or frustrations in the work place then making the sandwich a proxy for any real underlying issues doesn’t help anything, and only seeks to undermine the legitimacy of any real grievances the OP has.

    3. illini02*

      Here is where I see the problem jumping straight to discrimination. She is a receptionist and in many cases, the receptionist is the most public facing person. When you are in a client facing role, you often have different rules. You may have a different dress code. Your breaks may be different. You may be held to a hard start and start time, where as others may be more flexible. These are all very common and logical things. I think people just have a problem to jumping to “discrimination because I’m a woman” because when people do that, it makes others kind of roll their eyes to “here is another person taking a logical thing and making it sexist”.

      I’ve said it before, but as a black man, I do that eye roll when black people call everything racist. My little brother for example. There are A LOT of reasons for people not to want to hire him. I’ve seen how he dresses for interviews and I know how he has a tendency to act when he gets questions he doesn’t like, but if he doesn’t get a job, he automatically blames it on race. When people do that, it takes away from real issues of racism.

      1. Nikkicoli*

        AGAIN I am not a receptionist….Front counter doesn’t say receptionist we are in sales it is a sales office 5 people at the counter in total and all visible to the public just 2 of us at at the very front when someone walks in and then as they keep walking to other departments desks they can interact with other sales people at the counter. he said Front counter which means just us 2 girls cannot eat. But then allows others to do it and not say anything Maybe I should have been more clear.

          1. LBK*

            Do you have a stand-up show I can attend? Maybe a witty Twitter account I can follow? You are absolutely killing me with the jokes lately.

      1. Another Job Seeker*

        Actually, I do not find this funny at all. Whether OP #4 is being discriminated against or not, discrimination is alive and well. It’s nothing to joke about, and it makes things very difficult for people who have to deal with it.

  10. Helen*

    I agree that the employee should be able to stay 4 weeks. If the OP feels strongly that she wants the employee out, I would let her go and pay her for those 4 weeks.

    1. BRR*

      That could also work but the problem is the other employees doesn’t know they got paid for the entire time so it wouldn’t help with moral. I’m not feeling terribly sympathetic for the OP since it was a low performer. If they didn’t think the employee was performing up to par they should have started the process of letting them go.

      1. some1*

        It’s not just employee morale that’s at stake — the employee’s friends, family and network could be current or potential customers, vendors, members or donors who may not want to deal with this org if they hear the employee was pushed out.

      2. Helen*

        Agreed about the lack of sympathy. The person who quit doesn’t seem to be a jerk, or dramatic, or to have committed some sort of major violation that would warrant being forced out early. What’s another 4 weeks of subpar performance?

        1. BRR*

          The OP can always just say “Since you are leaving I don’t want to assign you to project chocolate teapot, here is something simple to do that won’t be affected by your subpar performance.”

    2. some1*

      The employee may have given the four weeks to keep the benefits, too. Maybe she wants to get doctor and dentist appointments out of the way while she is still on this plan. If he she is starting a new job, she very likely to have a waiting period before she is eligible for the new employer’s insurance.

    3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Also, it’s possible the employee gave a longer notice period to be polite and would be happy to leave sooner. I find it’s worth asking in case a shorter notice period turns out to be everyone’s preference.

    4. HR Manager*

      4 weeks is a kind of meh, in-between time period that may not be worth it, but if this 4 weeks means keeping a poor employee on with nothing to do or costing extra money for benefits, then I would negotiate with him or her. Leave now, and I’ll give you 2 weeks pay representing a more standard notice period. Most benefits are paid on a monthly basis, and benefits naturally extend for the end of the month. I would think twice about allowing the employee to push for extending that to the next month when they are not performing. This would be on top of the cost for all other benefits and accruing any vacation time to be paid out, as well as the salary.

      You may want to wag your finger at the company for not managing the person out (that’s deserved), but if the company has already gone easy on an unproductive employee who is earning salary and benefits for months, I don’t see how they are being unkind for wanting to finally cut the strings.

      1. Joey*

        But doing that is going to almost guarantee that others won’t give more than 2 wks notice. “Hey co workers, can you believe I tried to give 4 weeks notice and they are firing me with only 2 weeks pay.”

        And, lots of benefit plans end coverage on the last day of employment or within a few days. Fewer and fewer carry you through the month.

        1. fposte*

          Oh, I think that’s a really good point. Unless you have a lot of other data points for people to draw from, the dominant narrative would be “You don’t get to work beyond two weeks.”

    5. Bwmn*

      I agree with all of this in regards to the message that other employees will take away from this. My last place of employment was generically quite toxic, but it was also a notoriously difficult place to leave. Where we were overseas, 1 month was required notice and 2 months was considered the preferable way to leave good professional relations. During an employees notice period, our ED would pitch a variety of fits and make like generally miserable for the employee. End result – lots of employees only gave only the required 1 month notice, no one ever gave the ED a hint that they were thinking of leaving (even if it was part of a long term plan like going to grad school), or people would give longer notice periods (3 months or more) after already scheduling tremendous amounts of vacation time during their notice period. Or get a doctor’s note permitted a huge amount of sick time (not US labor laws) during the notice period. Or in one coworkers case, essentially start behaving in a way that required the employee to be fired.

      So yeah – there were definitely a wide variety of other problems there – but it was definitely a situation that inspired a million and one “how do I quit” emails to everyone I knew because it was just made so difficult.

      1. LeighTX*

        At my company, it’s kind of the reverse–anyone who quits or is fired is gone that very day, with no severance. There’s no point in giving notice and expecting to work or be paid for two weeks, because you’ll only be paid through the end of that day. (Or, if you’re lucky like the last guy who was fired, payroll will have already been submitted and you’ll get an extra day or two on your last check.)

        So when I quit (hopefully soon, fingers crossed), I do not intend to give two weeks’ notice. I can’t afford to be unpaid for two weeks.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          I had been working for a company for under a year when I got a job offer at their major competitor. I told my manager and that was my last day there. I was not walked to the door or anything, I just cleaned up my area, told people it was my last day and left — there were no projects to wrap up or pass on, there hadn’t been for a while by that point. They did give me one week’s pay, I did offer to stay for the traditional two weeks but TBH, I was glad to get the hell out of there.

  11. Ann Furthermore*

    #1: I completely agree with Alison. Let the person work through the four weeks. I posted a reply earlier in the week about how horrible it was when I had to fire someone. Had he come to me and wanted to give 4 weeks notice, I would have agreed to that in a heartbeat. It would have avoided the whole awful firing scenario, and it would have let the employee maintain a little dignity and leave on his own terms.

    1. some1*

      I agree. If the LW has actual business concerns about the person working 4 more weeks they should have been starting the term process.

  12. Bea W*

    #3 creeps me out, but that’s from someone who had an ex trace me to a new job, likely by getting someone at my old job to talk since that information was not public.

    1. Lily*

      I’ve dealt with random people trying to find old coworkers (particularly at a previous job where we had a dozen postdocs a year on one year study programs). If I did have a forwarding email, my standard response was always “if you can give me your contact info I’m happy to pass it on to them.” It’s polite, it gets the information to the right person if it actually is legitimate, and it weeds out the problematic people.

      Perhaps OP3 could just say that to her old coworker — “can you get their name and email and send it to me? I’d prefer to contact them on my own time.”

  13. Sadsack*

    #3…The “accounting lady”? Do you mean the accountant? My former manager always referred to women who hold any positions as the ladies of those professions..he called them lady accountants, lady park rangers, and so on. Hello? They are accountants and park rangers. Get with it.

    1. Sadsack*

      For everyone’s info, the “Get with it” part was not directed at OP, it was directed at my former manager, with whom I apparently have unresolved issues – haha! I am sure that OP didn’t mean anything by it, but maybe it is something to consider.

    2. Elysian*

      I don’t think that “accounting lady” and “lady accountant” are the same. I think that “accounting lady” is used when you don’t know someone’s name and/or actual position title and you need to refer to the person. She might not be an accountant, but an office manager, etc. She’s the “lady who does the accounting stuff.” I’ve used HR Dude or the UPS Guy in kind of the same way. I don’t think its on the same level as the “lady accountant” or the “male nurse” kind of connotations.

      1. Elysian*

        Now that I’m thinking about it, from a grammatical standpoint it make sense. In Lady Accountant, lady is modifying accountant, as if it needs clarification when it doesn’t. Accountant stands fine by itself. In Accounting Lady accounting modifies lady, which frankly does need clarification. The writer is just giving us a more specific version of “person” – the accounting person, who is this case is a woman. If the accounting person was a man, the OP could well have said the “accounting guy.” It’s just the way the sentence is constructed, I don’t think we can draw inferences from that.

        1. Sadsack*

          I agree with both of your above posts, having given more thought. The way it initially struck me must have been due to my constant battles with former manager about his feeling the need to mention gender. He would actually say, “I have a meeting today with the lady accountants about the TX project.” Ugh. I ended up responding with, “Who is that? Do we have a ladies basketball team here?” He then realized the way it sounded, but he still couldn’t stop himself from saying it.

        2. Burlington*

          I think it’s fine to say that we shouldn’t draw too many inferences about OP from that, but what we’re talking about is a specific language trap that is often an expression of other-ness. In this example, there is absolutely no need to ever give the “accountant” a gender. It’s not an important identifying detail. It’s like saying “I can’t believe that black guy cut me off” versus “I can’t believe that guy cut me off.” It’s something that, once you’re actually looking for it, you realize people do all the time without realizing (I certainly used to). It’s not meant to be racist or sexist, but it could be a micro-aggression.

          1. Elysian*

            That’s true, but we don’t even know she’s an accountant. Don’t you have to take a test to be a professional accountant? I thought it was a regulated profession. She might just be the person who does accounting but has other jobs, too, like the office manager or bosss’s assistant or general business manager.

            Someone was mentioning the other day that the commenters here jump too quickly to assuming sexism, and I just think this is an example of that. We don’t know enough about the OP to say this – if there’s a department of 5 CPAs, and 4 are men and one is a woman and he always calls the 4 “accountants” and the one woman “accounting lady” that’s different. But the letter just doesn’t tell us that in isolation and this is honestly pretty innocuous.

            1. Sadsack*

              I think I have made it pretty clear in my follow-up comments that I am not calling the OP sexist. Although I am guessing that OP wouldn’t have used the term accounting guy, he would have just used office manager or accountant if the person was a man. So maybe I am pointing out some sexism. I am conflicted in my own point. I think that we all end up saying things like this, so I am in no way attempting to call out OP for being sexist. Maybe I was doing this at first, but I have come to realize that is really speculating on my part. It is an interesting topic of discussion though.

          2. Sadsack*

            Ok, I sort of agree with both you and Elysian. I think we all probably speak this way to give the listener a visual of who we are talking about. I guess OP wanted us to know that the accounting person was a woman so we could better imagine the conversation he was describing, even though the person’s gender wasn’t pertinent to the story. However, we could get the same illustration if he wrote, “The accountant called…she told me…” Then we’d know it was a woman without that being the main descriptor of the person. I am wondering though if the term accounting guy would have been used, or if OP would have just written office manager or accountant or whatever. Again, not to single out the OP, because I think we all do this at times without even realizing it.

            1. fposte*

              And much as I love this kind of parsing, I think we’re heading toward the kind of overfocus on the OP’s wording that Alison has asked us to avoid. So instead I will express my deep curiosity about what the hell is actually going on here. I’m kind of leaning toward the collection call as well, as they’re often so vague and hinty that you sound the same when reporting them.

              1. Sadsack*

                I agree, and I am sorry for derailing things. I should have just counted to ten before posting anything at all! Although, I think this was an interesting discussion without being overly critical of anyone, even though it was way off topic from the reason OP wrote in the first place. Sorry, OP!

          3. Elysian*

            And if we’re looking for it, why is the person cutting you off in your example male? Why isn’t the second sentence “I can’t believe that person cut me off.” There’s no need to specify it was a guy, just like there’s no need to specify it was a black guy. In reality, that kind of specificity (guy/lady v. person) is really pretty meaningless in these types of examples. You have to use SOME word there, which could be man or woman or person or child or adult or whatever, whereas with your “black guy” example you’re using additional unnecessary descriptive words for the sake of being more descriptive. There’s no need to always avoid the specific in favor of the general.

          4. illini02*

            Going with that though, I sometimes think we are too worried about offending by using those qualifiers. If you have 5 people in accounting, and don’t know any of their names, and you say the accounting woman, or woman accountant, there is nothing inherently bad about that. Its a way to describe someone.

            I once was at a friend of a friend’s party. I was the only black guy there. I was trying to find my friend who had went out back or something. The host was drinking and didn’t remember my name. He went on and on trying to describe me, but could have easily just said the black guy and my friend would have known exactly who he was talking about it. Using my race as a descriptor is no worse than using hair color, or height (that super tall guy), or anything else.

          5. LBK*

            In the context you describe it’s an innocuous descriptor. The context where it becomes problematic is when you say “Oh, that’s Jane, she’s a female engineer,” because it implies an engineer is male by default. I don’t see it happen as often with race, but there are definitely many professions where the roles are described as “x” and “female x” (and there are male versions of this too, such as “male nurse”).

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          That’s what I thought — that “accounting lady” was more a distancing phrase for a not-very-well-liked former co-worker.

      2. LBK*

        +1, gender-position is not the same as position-gender. One carries the implication that there’s a default gender for the position that’s the opposite of that person’s gender. The other is no different from saying “This lady I used to work with emailed me.” It’s just a more specific way of indicating the OP’s relationship to this person (ie that she did accounting).

    3. Laurel Gray*

      Totally not piling on (I swear) but I think you are on to something here. Allison makes very minor adjustments if any at all to letters and will even leave spelling and grammatical errors when posting. I read the issue/question and when I do post I try to focus on a solution but I would be lying if I said I do not infer certain details about a letter writer based on their writing style, choice of certain words etc. This is definitely not toward the OP but I have seen everything from chauvinism, narcissism, woe-is-me-ism etc in letters posted here and while it is a general rule here that we do not pile on, I sometimes wonder if these attitudes of the letter writers are not translating into their real life interactions and contributing significantly to the issue(s) they are having. Again, totally not about this letter writer as their letter had nothing to do with the “accounting lady” but a weird request.

  14. Alistair*

    Not sure I agree about #1. If you have a notorious low performer, seems like a decisive “rip the bandage off” removal would be better for other employee’s morale. They know the person isn’t pulling their weight, and seeing that person stick around for another month, slacking off more and more would just upset them. They’re getting paid for a month of nothing! And the rest of the office has to carry their dead weight for a month.

    And while I understand having a transition time for Low-Performer’s duties to move to others, if this person is that bad, they shouldn’t be doing any mission critical jobs in the first place.

      1. LBK*

        I think Alistair’s point is that the transition may be smoother if that person isn’t there, because the efficiency and morale of the rest of the office will immediately improve in their absence. If someone is already underperforming, it’s not likely they’re suddenly going to become great at documenting and wrapping up all their work to prepare it for their replacement. That’s often better done by their coworkers.

        1. Iro*

          When I see an underperformer booted out of the door without any build-up (usually there are PIPs and other signs if someone is moving towards termination) it does not “Immediately improve my moral”.

          In fact the opposite, I start to worry who else may be on the chopping block. I might even start browsing job opportunities and dusting off the resume.

          1. LBK*

            (usually there are PIPs and other signs if someone is moving towards termination)

            How would you know if someone is on a PIP or not? I’m baffled by the multiple people who claim that doing this makes them fear a lack of buildup to firing. What offices do you people work in where you’re assuming you’re privy to all forms of disciplinary action?

    1. Natalie*

      I think that would make sense if you were firing the person. In this case, everyone else is probably just relieved that they finally quit. If the boss pushes them out before the notice period no one is going to be thinking “oh, good for you boss. Finally dealing with Wakeen”. They’re going to think poorly of the boss two times over – for not handling a low performer, and for being so petty as to need that low performer out ASAP, but only once the person has quit.

    2. Helen*

      A month of nothing? Low performance, while annoying and deserving of criticism, doesn’t exactly equate to “nothing.” And if this employee does choose to take it (extra) easy their last month, then they can be asked to leave.

    3. MK*

      I don’t think the rest of your employees are going to ascribe you cudos for not taking the steps to deal with a low performer while he is working there and then “firing” them after they have quit. It makes you look both a wimp and vindictive.

      1. LBK*

        FWIW, the letter doesn’t specify if there were any steps being taken to deal with the low performer or not. They could’ve been on a PIP already that led them to start job searching, and they just found a new job before the PIP could be completed.

        1. Colette*

          That’s true – but even if the low performer is on a PIP, there’s a good chance the rest of the office doesn’t know about it, so the perception problem is still there.

          1. LBK*

            But they don’t know that either way, even if the employee is fired. You still don’t know if the manager has been working with that person for 6 months trying to improve them or if they just got fed up and canned them on the spot.

            1. Colette*

              Agreed – the manager is going to have the perception that they weren’t dealing with the poor performer either way. There’s no need to add the perception that she pushed the poor performer out as soon as she decided to quit.

              1. LBK*

                This doesn’t really make sense, though, because then no one would ever have a good perception about their manager’s ability to performance manage. Sure, you can guess retroactively that if someone is fired, that means they were being dealt with behind the scenes. But unless your manager is passing along every write up and PIP to you or your coworker is telling you that they’re being performance managed, you’re still just assuming that’s what happened after they get fired.

                1. Natalie*

                  The issue is that people are going to know that Jane quit, and it’s pretty likely that they would know Jane gave 4 weeks notice but later was told she would only work 2 weeks. I don’t see anyway that this doesn’t come across as petty to your other employees. Is that negative perception work the comparatively small benefit of saving 2 weeks pay?

                2. LBK*

                  Having been in the situation like Alistair describes twice where I had a horrible coworker dragging down morale and decreasing productivity, it was far from petty when my manager forced both of them out. One was straight up fired, but the other tried to give 2 weeks notice and was booted after one. It was a godsend – every minute they spent in the office was a waste of our time and money, and I was grateful to my manager for not letting them lollygag any longer than necessary.

                3. Colette*

                  @LBK The perception about management will come from results. If the slacking coworker starts doing better and there’s no longer a problem, you’ll notice. Similarly, if they get fired, you’ll notice. And if the manager just joined the group or the coworker started to become a problem recently, you’ll notice that the problem coworker voluntarily left not long after the situation changed. On the other hand, if that coworker has been a problem for 5 years under the same manager, the manager doesn’t get the credit when the coworker voluntarily quits.

                  Also, a poor performer doesn’t necessarily drag down productivity. If everyone on the team is expected to make 10 teapots a day, and the poor performer makes 8, they’re still producing teapots, just not as effectively as everyone else. It would be better for the business in the long run to replace them with someone who can make 8, but in the short term, it will be more pressure on everyone else (who may now have to make 11).

                4. LBK*

                  So say someone is a decent employee for a year but then starts slacking so they go on a 3-month PIP. 2 months into the PIP they decide to quit rather than waiting around to fail the PIP and get fired…how is that not good management on the manager’s part? And yet from the outside perspective it sounds like you would fault the manager for not doing their part in that situation.

                  My point being, there are so many scenarios and ways this can play out, especially when you’re not privy to the details. You’re always making assumptions in any scenario you or I have described. I don’t think it’s fair to give a blanket “Don’t cut notice periods short” advice when it can play totally differently depending on the dynamics of the team and the manager’s reputation.

        2. Natalie*

          The rest of the office probably wouldn’t know that though. They’re just going to see someone that the boss didn’t deal with until they turned in their notice.

      2. Alistair*

        Hmm, I hadn’t considered the “double wimp out manager” aspect. And you’re all right in that I’d already be a bit unhappy that Low-Performer hasn’t been taken care of in a more decisive manner already.

      3. Liane*

        Yeah, we just had one of my supervisors give notice–again. Dahlia shouldn’t have been re-hired last summer in any case, as her best skills–as far as I knew–were screaming publicly at coworkers, screaming publicly at customers & bragging loudly about doing so. (Did I ever mention I am a customer service rep?) All I felt at that point was “Hooray! Only X more days of dealing with Dahlia!” While I would’ve been fine, OK, ecstatic, if Bosses had asked her to leave before her 2 weeks, I would also have been sure they’d do the same to me.

  15. Blue_eyes*

    #3 – I once got a very sketchy call asking about an acquaintance of mine from college. They said he had listed me as a reference for a job (um, no – we hadn’t spoken since college, had never worked together and weren’t even facebook friends). Then they asked if I knew how to get in touch with him (I didn’t). If he applied for a job with you, wouldn’t you know how to get in touch with him? The only thing I could conclude is that perhaps it was a collection agency or some such trying to track him down. My only regret is that I didn’t keep them on the phone longer to try to pin down who they were and what they actually wanted.

    Maybe the accountant at your old workplace got a call like that and she was merely echoing the vague information from the caller. She’s right to not want to be involved, but she shouldn’t have even bothered contacting you without more solid information from the caller.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      That was almost definitely a collection agency! I got a very similar call once about someone I went to school with and hadn’t spoken to in years.

      1. De Minimis*

        Used to get similar calls about a creepy neighbor, turned out they were almost always from bail bond companies!

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      It could also be security clearance checks. On those you list actual references but they also go interview all of your neighbors and former roommates no matter how far removed. I got a call re: my former roommate and when I asked why they were calling they said “job application.” I replied with something like “that’s odd” and they said, oh, no, you weren’t a reference, we are interviewing all former employees for the last 10 years. They don’t like to advertise that is for security clearance purposes. I’m also related to a few people with clearances and this is generally how it goes down.

      1. Omne*

        Odd. I’ve been on both sides, had clearances and have been fairly frequently asked about prior employees, and in every case the person doing the security clearance investigation identified themselves and showed an ID if it was in person. On the phone they identified themselves and explained why they were calling and gave me their contact information in order to verify their identity if I wanted to. Without that information they would have had a very short conversation with me. As soon as they asked a question that wasn’t standard on a job reference I would have ended the contact immediately.

      2. jag*

        I’ve been contacted for security clearance a couple times, and there as nothing secretive or evasive about it. In both cases it was US government staff contacting me and they said why they were contacting me.

  16. Laura M.*

    That you for posting a response to my question about asking an employee to leave sooner. This is extremely helpful and we will continue to employ this individual for another week.

    1. Eva*

      I’m curious – why only one more week, since he gave you four weeks’ notice? Won’t it still be seen by other employees as pushing him out early, so they won’t be inclined to give you long notice themselves for fear of the same thing happening to them?

      1. Liane*

        Perhaps the question has ben in AAM’s queue for a while, or OP took Alison’s suggestion to go with the usual 2 weeks?

  17. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #1 – be careful — yes, the person is a “low performer” but he/she did give you the courtesy of a four-week notice. So I suspect the person, while being a low performer, is not a bad person or one who would cause trouble. In fact, a 4-week notice implies that the person wants to give you an orderly transition — he/she also knows it’s not working out, but wants to go out on a high note. That’s the way I read it. He/she is equally happy to be rid of the current employment situation. It’s good for both of you, whether you realize it or not.

    And he/she does not “forgo (sic) unemployment benefits”, necessarily — in many states, if you give a four week notice and you get bounced out – without pay – you may be able to collect unemployment for the unpaid hiatus period. Check with your HR folks, etc. and they’ll probably tell you “give (whomever) the full four weeks pay and bennies, get it over with…” and avoid dealing with the unemployment claim.

  18. Joey*

    1. You might consider telling her you appreciate the 4 week notice, will pay her for the next four weeks, but that she doesn’t need to work out the whole notice period. Positive outcome for both.

    1. De Minimis*

      That’s a really good policy in general, maybe just have something in writing saying the last day in the office will be Day X and they will be paid through Day Y…former workplace handled a lot of departures that way.

    2. Joey*

      I’ve done this before and it’s not a “you suck, we don’t want you here” convo. It’s more of a “we’d rather transition quicker , but really appreciate the advance notice” type convo.

  19. Iro*

    #1 You DEFINITELY DO NOT want to just send her out the door. I’m a star performer (this according to the wording on my performance reviews, personally I think I can do better) but if I saw my boss push someone out the door as soon as they gave notice I would absolutely give only the barest minimum notice once I moved on to a new role.

    1. IT Kat*


      I’ve been listed as “star performer” on reviews on several jobs, had one company that after I moved on (due to career advancement, it was an amicable departure) keep in touch and send me job openings that they have because they want to hire me back, etc.

      But that same place I worked where I mentioned they’ve reached out to attempt to hire me back (even after 2 years after moving on) – they had a habit of cutting short people’s notices. For example, a good performer gave 3 weeks, they let her work for 1 and then hired someone else, and told her that day that it would be her last day. With other people (who I would consider low performers) they’ve outright said “Thank you for the notice, but today will be your last day.”

      You can bet when I moved on from there, no matter how well I got along with my bosses and HR, I gave 2 week’s notice and had a job lined up that I could start immediately if it was cut short.

      Even if you don’t think there will be an impact – there will be, because your other employees are watching.

      1. LBK*

        This can be appropriate depending on the job and the company, though, even for star performers. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense for the business to have someone that’s leaving be there for another 3 weeks. For example, they won’t be able to pick up new cases during that time, so once they’ve had a chance to wrap up what they’re doing now there’s not point in them still working for another 2 weeks. Or maybe the company policy dictates that someone has to have their access to proprietary information cut off immediately once giving notice, and without access to that kind of info they can’t continue to work.

        1. IT Kat*

          True – but the letter writer isn’t indicating that is the case (and in the case of the company I reference in my example it wasn’t either). They’re just saying that they “don’t want this person on my payroll”.

          So in case it is an instance of frustration with the employee and just ready to be done with the employee, we’re just cautioning that there is a greater cost then just the salary of that employee.

          1. LBK*

            If OP is an otherwise good manager, I don’t see how this is a problem. If I’m not the manager it’s not any of my damn business what goes on behind closed doors in terms of someone else’s performance management and employment status. And any less time I have to spend being dragged down by a crappy coworker is a positive in my book, regardless of why or how it happens.

    2. LBK*

      I would hope that accompanying being a star performer is an understanding of employees being treated differently based on performance, though. I mean, you probably get favored in certain ways by your manager – more schedule flexibility, more autonomy, maybe first dibs at good projects, right? This is just the flipside of that for underperformers.

      1. Iro*

        I don’t see it that way. To me it reads more of a knee jerk reaction of “You are betraying us!!!? Get out!”

        I’m not in the closed door so all I see is Jane walked in to give notice and boom she was gone.

        1. LBK*

          I dunno. I guess I give managers more of the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t all vindictive assholes, especially when I’ve seen plenty of evidence to the contrary for the specific manager in question.

  20. Joey*

    4. Technically you’re right. It is discrimination. Discrimination based on working at the front desk. But that’s perfectly legal. In fact most types of discrimination at work are legal. I discriminate based on position, level of position, experience, performance, pay, whether you’re nice or an asshole, etc.

    When you throw around the word discrimination at work though, nearly everyone will assume you’re referring to illegal discrimination. So I wouldn’t use that word unless thats what you actually mean. Otherwise it’s going to make you look naive.

    1. Nikkicoli*

      I am not a receptionist….Front counter doesn’t say receptionist we are in sales it is a sales office 5 people at the counter in total and all visible to the public just 2 of us at at the very front when someone walks in and then as they keep walking to other departments desks they can interact with other sales people at the counter. he said Front counter which means just us 2 girls cannot eat. But then allows others to do it and not say anything Maybe I should have been more clear.

      1. fposte*

        But I don’t think it makes any difference. It sounds like the manager is saying that people at the front counter can’t eat while customers are in. That’s not illegal or even unfair. Is there a reason that eating is really important? If so, can you ask not to be at the front counter?

      2. Joey*

        The law looks at something called “similarly situated” when these issues come up. Meaning if you were saying the men are allowed to eat at the front desk but women aren’t, that would be different and might be discriminatory. But all you’re pointing to is those at the front desk are treated differently and you happen to both be women. In those cases if the employer can provide some reasonable business justification you’re complaint of discrimination isn’t valid. And if this forum is any sign you can bet most people accept that not eating at the front desk has a legitimate business purpose.

      3. Joey*

        I never said receptionist. Besides, who cares? All that matters is there can be different expectations of you (no eating) when there is a different business need (at the front Counter/desk/whatever you want to call it.)

  21. Betty*

    #3: I have a different take on this.

    The OP was a freelancer. Perhaps a former client of the recording studio is looking to hire her as a freelancer. The OP has already told the accountant to go ahead and pass along their contact info. The next time the accountant emails, just repeat that it is ok to pass along contact info and ask for the contact info of the person asking. (And maybe add a link to the OP’s website if they have one, and a note ‘I don’t have a business card’ if the accountant keeps asking for one.)

    If the OP feels uncomfortable with the situation, they can just tell the accountant that: Please tell the other person that I’m not interested. And then stop responding to the accountant’s emails. But it sounds to me like a referral situation, which is usually a great thing for a freelancer.

  22. Zillah*

    OP #4 – If I’m reading you correctly, the two receptionists (and I’m assuming you’re one of them) are both women, and are the only women at the company. They’re also the only employees who are not allowed to eat at their desks.

    That sucks, but that doesn’t make it illegal discrimination. We’ve covered that here before, I think – it’s the same idea as it being okay to fire a woman, but not to fire her because she’s a woman. The only way I think that this would be discrimination is if the receptionists were told that they could not eat at their desks because they’re women (e.g., if your boss had said, “Women always spill things” or “It’s not ladylike to eat in public,” then you might have a legal issue – but on a practical level, if that’s all that’s being said, I don’t think the law would do much).

    There are valid reasons that others have covered why your boss might want you to avoid eating at the front desk, and there’s no requirement that everyone at a company work under exactly the same conditions, regardless of the situation. That’s generally a good thing, IMO – blanket rules about things like this can make a work environment condescending and paternalistic.

    I get that you’re frustrated, OP, but I’m a little worried by your jumping immediately to sexism as an explanation – that combined with the lack of female employees in general makes me wonder whether there are other things going on that you didn’t mention in your letter. I’m also not sure why you seem to be continuing to eat food at your desk after you’ve been specifically told not to.

    If you can’t eat at your desk, is your boss providing somewhere else for you to eat? Are you getting enough time to eat? Is there a specific reason you would like to eat at your desk?

  23. Preston*

    If you push that person out, wouldn’t that be considered firing since the resignation letter stated they were leaving in four weeks? I am curious if that would make them eligible for unemployment… I didn’t see AAM address that… just wondering.

  24. The Strand*

    Sorry, but I disagree with Alison here. I think several people ignored some of the context from the person who posted about eating up front.

    She said… “My manager recently stated that anyone sitting at the front counter could not eat their lunches at their desk.” But she then added, “He himself will eat at the counter in the morning.”

    In other words, very different rules for her and the other woman at the office, which the manager does not himself follow.

    OP, I’m sorry you didn’t appear to get more sympathy regarding the hypocrisy of your boss, but I think it stinks. I would say it’s time to find another job.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s pretty normal for a manager to exempt himself or herself from rules that line staff follow. Not necessarily wise or fair, but very, very normal and not indicative of illegal discrimination.

      And it’s not different rules for the women; it’s different rules for people sitting at reception, which is also pretty much the norm in offices because they’re in view of the public and others are not.

      1. The Strand*

        I understand and agree with reception not being an appropriate place for food, for anyone. The leader is failing to uphold the environment himself. Such a rule is not discrimination (hiring, though, might be another question due to the imbalance) but the hypocrisy says volumes. I wouldn’t be impressed by a leader picking at a piece of chicken, or wiping mustard from his chin, while meeting me for an appointment at the front, but evidentially the leader thinks he’s above these norms, and that tone deafness was not touched on.

        1. LBK*

          Except she said he does it in the morning, and now she’s even specified that it’s before she and her coworker arrive (between 6-8AM). If the issue is that he doesn’t want people eating at the front counter when there are customers around, he’s still not violating that standard by eating before they’re open.

      2. Nikkicoli*

        Why does everyone assume I am a receptionist, i am getting really frustrated with the berating of my position…Front counter doesn’t say receptionist we are in sales it is a sales office 5 people at the counter in total and all visible to the public just 2 of us at at the very front when someone walks in and then as they keep walking to other departments desks they can interact with other sales people at the counter. he said Front counter which means just us 2 girls cannot eat. But then allows others to do it and not say anything Maybe I should have been more clear. he also sits there every morning from 6 am to 8am and eats when us girls are not here.

        1. Natalie*

          You might want to look at the timestamps on the comments you are replying to. I don’t think anyone is trying to criticize your position – they just made an educated guess about your position and made comments to that effect. All of those comments were posted hours before you made your first comment, and they can’t be edited.

        2. LBK*

          I can still see this being about you being at the front of the building and therefore the first impression anyone who walks in gets, and not about singling out the women in the office. It may be worth asking your boss something like “Hey, I’m a bit confused why food is allowed everywhere but the front desk. Is it just a first impression thing, or is there some other specific issue with us eating that doesn’t apply to everyone else?”

        3. Formerly Bee*

          Disagreement isn’t berating, nor is saying something that isn’t exactly what you want to hear, and not letting two people eat isn’t discrimination. It is, though, apparently part of a pattern of problems with him. How do you think it would go if instead of bringing this specific issue to HR, you talked about the ongoing problems?

        4. junebug*

          You didn’t make it at all clear what field you were in, so it was a pretty fair assumption on the parts of many that those sitting at the front counter would be receptionists.

          There is nothing wrong with being a receptionist. Getting upset because internet strangers made a natural assumption based on the information given and viewing it as “berating [your] position” is….weird. And unkind towards all of us who are or have been receptionists in the past.

    2. Nikkicoli*

      Finally thank you! Not a different Job I am not that kind of person but I will report him to Human Resources. That was my plan in the first place. Everyone is afraid to say anything to him about his rulings because they are afraid to get fires for disagreeing with him. I dont think any employee should feel like they cannot disagree with a Boss or they will loose their job.

      1. illini02*

        Wow, you are getting all up in arms here because YOU weren’t clear in your letter. Based on your original letter, people assumed you were a receptionist. I’m not sure if you are from outside of the US, but “Working at the front counter” isn’t a common phrase used here, so most people equated that to working at the front desk. In most office, the front desk person is a receptionist or something similar. Now in your clarification, it makes a bit more sense why you are upset, however I’m still not seeing discrimination based on you being a woman. It seems that you are the first person someone would see when they walk in and the most visible, even though others can be seen as well. I still don’t know that this is HR worthy. Whether you like it or not, your boss can say I don’t want the first line people eating at their desk. Now where it does become a problem is if he placed you there because you are a woman, and then is unequally enforcing the rules ONLY because you are a woman (not because of where you sit).

      2. CAP*

        If you go to HR I think you have a stronger case if you point out that the rule only applies to two employees–not two women. Sometimes bosses don’t follow their own rules, and that sucks, but the fact that the rule only applies to two people and not the rest of the team is bothersome.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        Is this really the hill you want to die on, though?

        I mean, if this is a frequent pattern with this guy, I would save your HR complaint for something a little worse. There usually has to be some kind of adverse action to base a complaint on – not letting you eat at your desks isn’t really an adverse action. It’s just an annoyance.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Totally agree. This is not something to take to HR. If you’d like, you can try to talk to your boss about it, calmly and professionally. But if this is the rule, then this is the rule. You can write him off as an ass, and maybe rightly so, but this is just not a thing you escalate.

        2. Us, Too*

          Agreed. This really isn’t something HR worthy. We’re talking about where you eat a sandwich. This isn’t a big deal.

        3. M-C*

          If you worked for HR in that company, wouldn’t you want to know about this employee’s attitude? Don’t discourage her :-).

      4. Us, Too*

        Have you asked your boss why the rules are the way they are? Neutral tone, why not just say “Jeff, I know you don’t like Susan and I to eat at the front counter. Can you give a little context for that?”. You may be surprised by what he says.

        For example, what if he says that the front two work stations are visible from the parking lot and the owner HATES it when he sees staff eating at their desk during typical work hours. Or what if he says that the rule is in place because you two at the front two work stations are more likely to have customers approach you first given your geographic proximity to the door. etc. It might be insightful to just ask. :)

      5. Joey*

        you: John won’t let us eat at the front counter and we’re both women. That’s not fair.

        HR: why won’t he let you eat at the counters?

        You: he said he doesn’t want us eating in front of customers.

        HR: does he let any of the men eat at the front counter?

        You: he does and he’s a man.

        HR: sorry, are any other salespeople allowed to eat at the front counter?

        You: no, everyone else is in the back.

        HR: I’m not understanding how you’re being treated differently than the other salespeople working the front desk.


  25. Dawn88*

    #4: I went to an interview yesterday at 1pm. As I came into the lobby area (with 4 interior offices on the perimeter with sliding glass doors) I was handed a form and clipboard by one admin who had big eating a burger and fries piled on her desk. Wiping cheese off the side of her lips with her hand, as handing me the clipboard. Greasy forms on greasy clipboard. As I was filling out the forms, 3 others passed by me with piled plates of food, and a strong smell of onions filled the lobby. As I glanced to the right, a big sheet cake was being devoured in a conference room. Within minutes, plates of cake were everywhere. I was waiting to hear soda pop tops next. I felt like I was in a roadside diner and not an office. I smelled different food from 4 areas, it was actually mildly offensive. I don’t mean sneaking a quick slice of cake back to your desk, or munching a granola or candy bar…I mean full, piled plates of smelly ethnic food, onion and garlic smells, french fries spread out on desks on top of waxed paper, fingers being licked, hands wiped on pants…and each admin balancing a greasy smart phone while they ate…I would guess they considered multi-tasking? I kept my eyes down on the forms, but the over the top noshing felt like a cafeteria or a a diner! All of them would need a hose down to return to paperwork.

    Every Front Desk job I’ve ever seen forbids food being eaten at the first point of customer contact. No client, customer, vendor or public visitor (job applicant) wants to come in and see a big plate of half eaten food right under their nose, much less smell it. Spread out burgers and fries, tacos, or bowls of soup, deli sandwiches, or similar pungent, messy food. Ditto for crumbs, drips of ketchup, wrappers, soda cans and iced drinks in plastic cups (Big Gulps)….Besides greasy fingerprints on phones, keyboards, pens and staplers. Depending on the type of business, the main reason is “proper decorum” for public and client contact. Same reason you don’t show major cleavage, excess face piercing, big tattoos showing, pink hair or similar “unconventional” looks at a front desk job….or blow bubble gum, do makeup retouch or brush your hair! It’s totally unprofessional and gives a bad impression…like the one I got.

    California labor law states a 15 minute break every 2 hours, and a meal break (ranging from 30-60 minutes) after 6 hrs work (minimum.) Thus an 8am start means a 15 minute break at 10am, 30 minute-1hr lunch at noon, and another break around 2 pm for 15 minutes. Plenty of times to snack during the day for the hypoglycemic. If you give an inch, people take a mile.

    Management doesn’t want the Receptionist (aka First Point of Contact) chewing or slurping on a soda straw when she answers the phone! I was expecting some belching to slip out next. Instead there was a heavy round of uncovered coughing among them after cake. Lovely.

  26. Anon Anon*

    #3 I wonder if they want your business card for tax purposes. I once worked for a very small company, and anyone who was a “contractor” and 1099 status, we had to collect information and a business card from. The accounting firm wanted this to have proof for the IRS and that these people were indeed contractors in the true sense, as in providing a service (fitness trainer, graphic designer, nutritionist). I think we had to do this because of a state audit, because some other employee who was a contractor filed a suit saying he was really a full time employee. So, it may be they just want to show proof you were a contractor there.

    1. Davey1983*

      Then why aren’t they just saying they want it for tax purposes? All you need for the 1099 is the SSN, name, and address.

      Additionally, I was an IRS agent (Large Business and International Division) until a couple of months ago, and a business card from an ex-employee/contractor/whatever would not have convinced me one way or the other when employee/contractor disputes came up. There are guidelines on what is and what is not an employee– I have seen “contractors” (with business cards and everything) defined as employees and vice-versa (i.e., contractors have control over how they do things and take the risk of loss, employees, generally, do not).

      As a side note, I always did (and still do) find it amusing to hearing justifications for weird/outrageous policies because they need it for the IRS/government agency/some random law. Most of the time, it is complete bunk and somebody misunderstood the law, or didn’t want to give the real reason they wanted said policy.

  27. todykins*

    one thing that I DO wonder about – why are the only 2 women in a 5 person team seated in the public-facing seats? the OP stated all of them are in the same, base sales role BUT the two women also have some public-facing responsibilities by way of their seating (v.s. because of their job description). based on their publicly visible seating, do they have additional duties like greeting customers or visitors? if there are those additional duties, it would make me wonder if there are gender dynamics at play. for example, several weeks ago we had a post about women always being asked to plan social events, regardless of their role/seniority. is it possible that the OP is feeling discriminated against she feels she received additional ‘secretary’ duties, or even a seating arrangement that makes them look more secretary-ish, because she is a woman?

    a LOT of this is just speculation (or possibly even presumption), but I wonder if there is more going on here that the OP hasn’t shared because they were trying to keep the letter brief. it is hard to know what is key, or sometimes to even articulate or pinpoint the cause of a certain feeling.

    1. todykins*

      sorry, meant to say, “the OP stated all of them are in the same, base sales role BUT the two women are seated on the counter where they are visible to the public.”, not “the OP stated all of them are in the same base sales role BUT the two women also have….”

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