my company says I didn’t return their property, a client invited me to a sports event, and more

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

1. My company says I didn’t return their property on my last day

What can happen if you say you returned all company property after being terminated, but the company says you didn’t? My employer fired me on Monday, asked for my badge, cell, iPad, briefcase, and chargers. I gave them the badge and cell and went to my car to get the chargers, briefcase, and iPad and then left them in the office right inside the door and left. I then received a letter with my final paycheck saying that I told them I was going to my car and never returned.

It’s too late for this now, but ideally you’d want to give the property to an actual person; if you just leave it inside the door, there’s too much chance that it will get misplaced by someone who doesn’t know the context for why it’s there. If you told them you were going to your car to get these items and then just stuck them inside the door and left, and someone moved (or took) the items, I can see why they thought you just took off. And I totally get wanting to get the hell out of there after being fired, but you did kind of play fast and loose with that property, even if you didn’t intend to.

In any case, all you can do is explain what happened. I’d say something like this to them: “The day that I left, January 26, I left two chargers, a briefcase, and an iPad directly inside the front door of the building, right around 2:45 p.m. My understanding was that you wished me to leave after returning this property, which I did. I hope I didn’t misunderstand. In any case, if there are any loose ends still to be tied up, please let me know.”

Also, it’s not clear to me whether they paid you the full amount due in your final check or whether they’re withholding the cost of these items. In most states, they owe you the full amount of your final paycheck either way, unless you signed a written agreement to the contrary.

2. A client invited me to a sports event, but I barely work with them

I got an email a few days ago inviting me to a sports game with one of our company’s clients (another company). It was addressed to four people in my office. On the list, I am one of two junior people and was the least involved on the project for the client. On top of that, I have been having some performance issues unrelated to their project. I’ve never met these people at meetings or otherwise because until my performance issues are resolved, I will not be in a client facing role, although I have had minimal email correspondence with them. We do work with this client fairly often, so I may have contact with them in the future, but it feels strange for me to go to a social outing with them when I haven’t had much professional contact with them in the past and probably won’t in the near future. Should I go? And if so, what does one wear to this kind of event?

It’s pretty normal to go to this kind of thing even if you don’t work closely with a client — and for clients to issue this type of invitation broadly. If you’d enjoy going, don’t let any of these concerns hold you back. You could check with your manager just to make sure, but it’s not unusual for clients to issue this kind of invitation, even to staff members they might not know well.

As for what to wear, I’d assume that a nicer version of casual wear is fine, but if you’re unsure, check with the more senior people in your office who are going.

3. Can I find out if my company plans to change out some bad managers?

I have a tough decision to make; I recently received a job offer from a company that I’ve worked closely with in the past. The job is almost exactly what I’m doing now, the pay is comparable, and the company really focuses on work-life balance for its employees. The downside is that there isn’t much in terms of career growth at that company.

My current place of work is very fast-paced and high stress, and there are a lot of middle managers who cause issues (hiring/promoting based on favoritism, refusing to hold people accountable for their actions, etc.). The department head has expressed interest in my career at this company, but has been somewhat vague about what that path actually is. The work that I’m doing is interesting and if it wasn’t for these managers and lack of work-life balance, I would want to make a career here.

Several people have suggested that I go to the department head and explain my situation, and ask for a) a more concrete career path and b) find out if there will be any changes to the department in terms of these managers. Should I have this conversation at all? If so, do you have any advice about how to approach the conversation without it becoming an ultimatum?

It’s reasonable to talk about what your future career path there might look like — although unless you get a clear promise of a specific path with a specific timeline attached to it, I wouldn’t rely on it enough to reject a different offer. (Ideally this is the kind of conversation you would have had long before that job offer came up, so that you’d have had some time to see whether those promises looked likely to play out.) But asking whether managers will be removed from their jobs is really unlikely to go over well — it’s pretty unlikely that there are plans to do that, and even if there were those plans would be unlikely to be shared with you, and it’s going to look really weird to ask about it.

Your safest bet is to assume that everything is going to stay the same at your current job, and make your decision accordingly.

And for what it’s worth, I’d be a little wary of making a lateral move if you’re interested in moving up in your career — usually people use moves to progress up the ladder. And I’d be especially concerned that you’re jumping to a company where you say there’s not much career growth, if you happen to be interested in growth. If you are, why confine yourself to these two options, rather than finding other options to throw in the mix?

4. My paycheck deductions were wrong and now I owe more taxes

I was recently doing my taxes and I noticed that last year I paid very little throughout the year, so I looked at my paycheck and it said I claimed 5 deductions the whole year. I had been working at my current job from 2007 to mid 2011, left for about a year, and came back in mid-2012 and filled out a new W4 form. My old one from 2011 said 5 deductions but this new one said 2, so I took it to payroll and they said it was my fault for not looking at my paycheck for two years, so now I owe a lot of taxes. Whose fault is it? And what can I do?

It’s their fault for not changing your deductions, but they’re right that it’s your responsibility to look at your pay stub to be sure it’s correct. Ultimately you’re the one responsible for fixing it; you’ve been receiving more money than you were supposed to in your check and having less withheld for taxes, and that’s on you to both notice and fix, unfortunately. They should certainly be apologetic about the error, and it’s their responsibility to fix it now that you’ve pointed it out, but it would be very rare for an employer to pay the un-withheld taxes to the government; that’s still your personal tax liability.

5. Boss doesn’t want women working late at the office

My boss recently told me I am not allowed to stay late at the office. He says it is not safe for a woman to be out alone at night, but he allows men to stay late. Is that allowed? I want to work.

Is he literally saying that you aren’t allowed to stay late because you’re a woman? Or is he more expressing concern for your safety without actually stopping you from working late if you want to? If it’s the former, that’s not at all legal. An employer can’t give you different schedule restrictions simply because you’re a woman. In that case, I’d say this to him: “Federal law is really clear that we can’t schedule women differently than men. I appreciate your concern for my safety, but I don’t want to be treated any differently than my male coworkers, and I think we really need to pay attention to the law on this one.”

If it’s more just him expressing concern but not actually restricting what you do, I’d tone that down a bit, to something more like, “Thanks, I appreciate your concern, but I don’t want to be treated any differently than the men here.”

{ 446 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    Re: #5 If your boss is so concerned about your safety, then maybe your employer should take some measures to make things safer – better lighting, security, controlled access and so on.

    1. UKAnon*

      I read it as more related to the commute home – out walking the streets/on public transport after dark. Which IMHO is preferable to the alternative, where I’ve known employers ask you to work late into the night knowing you’ll end up walking through areas with high crime rates on your own in the dark when this is avoidable, but his concern should really be for the men too in that case.

      1. SnowWhite*

        I am not sure about outside of the UK, but there was a case in the 90s where a female Estate Agent went missing whilst out on a regular job, that led to a UK review on female safety whilst at work and it is still at the very least a guideline that women should be accompanied by men if out of the office or additional steps must be taken to secure a female member of staff’s safety whilst at work.

        I don’t know the ins and outs of it but that case could be an explanation if he is based in the UK.

        1. Elkay*

          Assuming we’re thinking of the same case, Suzy Lamplugh, her family set up a trust for educating about personal safety. They came in and did a talk at my school, I don’t remember it being specific to females though.

          1. SnowWhite*

            You are right – it was that one. Here is the UK HSE guidance on Lone Workers

            Apologies, I thought that there was something specific to women workers in there, will double check this policy – I’m with the OP that it is sexist, but I think your employer’s intention is coming from a good place :-/

            1. Zillah*

              Unfortunately, though, discrimination doesn’t always come out of an overtly hostile or malicious place – if it did, I think it would probably be a little easier to combat. I don’t think that the boss’s intentions make any difference at all, tbh.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have worked in several places where safety (robberies, rapes) at night was an issue. The company worked with that by insisting on the buddy system. Everyone had to walk out to their cars in pairs or in groups. I think we even signed something to say we understood that this was the policy. This place had a very large parking lot. We would all pile into one person’s car and that person would drive around to each individual’s car. No one in our group ever had a problem.

      1. Artemesia*

        At my first professional job after grad school, I worked very late nights and did not have a phone in my office (before cell phones) I was well down the list and it was going to be weeks before the organization got me a phone. When the department chair found out I was there till 10 pm many nights alone in the building, I had a phone the next day.

      2. Chinook*

        “I have worked in several places where safety (robberies, rapes) at night was an issue”

        Ditto on working at place where robberies and even murder at night were an issue (I gather there had been a murder of a nightshift fast food worker in the area in the previous 5 years). We were told that going out alone at night whether it be for a smoke break or taking out the garbage, was a fireable offence so we should just pile up any garbage bags at the back door (but not blocking it) and let the day shift take care of it. I think this is also why some 24-hour fast food places lock their doors at some point and only do drive thru in the wee hours.

      3. Helka*

        An old job of mine also handled it by having a particular closing ritual; all the closers left, went out to their cars, started their cars, and rolled forward a little before anyone actually left the parking lot — making sure that no one was going to wind up left behind alone with a stalled/broken down/nonstarting car while the others tore off. It only added about a minute tops to anyone’s leave time, and it was a great way to feel safer heading home.

        I should add that most of the employees were older, and not all of them had cell phones.

  2. Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment*

    Re #5, I could be wrong, but I think the LW might be trying to say that the boss doesn’t want her to stay at work alone at night.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Right, but if it’s because she’s a woman, he’s presumably not saying that to men so it’s reasonable to tell him not to treat her differently than the men.

      1. Student*

        While you’re technically correct that this is inappropriate, there isn’t a lawyer on the planet who’d take the case without a hefty hourly fee. This is incredibly common, and the employer can easily make up an excuse for the schedule that side-steps the sexist problem. Even the federal government still does this commonly.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Wow, I know plenty of lawyers who would take a case like this (assuming LW lives in the United States). The employer can make up whatever excuse he likes, but if it’s plainly a pretext, it’s not going to get them very far. That’s because it’s not “technically inappropriate”, it’s blatantly and openly treating female employees differently than male ones, and there’s not a business justification for it. “Uh, well, they might not be safe.” From what? Isn’t it on you, Employer, to insure the safety of your employees? P.S.: if a work location is crime-ridden, then men aren’t exactly safe, either. Being male doesn’t protect you from a mugging or carjacking.

          Also, the ‘after dark’ thing is pretty silly when you consider how early it gets dark in the winter. What is the boss worried about – sexist vampires?

          1. Observer*

            The fact is that women ARE more vulnerable, so there is some rational basis for the boss’ concern. And, he may be worried about getting sued over this.

            So, while the boss is going about this the wrong way, it seems to me that it’s the kind of case that might be a bit hard to win.

              1. Cat*

                That said, judges tend to be older and lacking in boundaries, so it’s not uncommon for them to tell their female employees exactly this in my experience, so on a personal level, I would feel like litigation was a crap shoot.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  Litigation is always a crap shoot. That said, the idea that the boss is being super reasonable so this is an iffy case that no sensible lawyer would take? No. As AAM pointed out, in the United States you could make complaint to the EEOC and/or equivalent state agencies, which doesn’t involve litigation necessarily. And if you did have to sue the boss – well, taking LW at her word, you’ve got a boss admitting that he thinks women shouldn’t be out alone after dark and treating female employees differently as a result, which is clear-cut discrimination.

                2. Cat*

                  Yeah, I’m not disagreeing – just musing about the general receptivity of the judiciary on this one.

                3. Observer*

                  I’m not saying that the boss is being super reasonable. I’m saying that his argument could be seen as reasonable enough to make a lawsuit iffy, unlike, say, “I don’t like how women think” or “You need to wear makeup” or “Of course I’m going to give preference to guys – they are supporting their families.” etc.

                4. fposte*

                  @Observer–what makes it iffy is that there’s currently no consequences from his viewpoint–it hasn’t hurt the OP’s career at all.

                  But I don’t think good intent will get him off the hook, because there’s too much history of exactly that kind of discriminatory “protectiveness,” and the law really has come down pretty clearly to say you can’t just limit women’s opportunities because they might get hurt.

                5. neverjaunty*

                  What fposte said. Sure, there are other fact patterns that are a slam dunk. That doesn’t make this situation “iffy”.

                  Whether there are enough damages to make filing a lawsuit financially worthwhile is a whole separate issue.

                6. Zillah*

                  @ Observer – Maybe. But I think that if there are real, tangible consequences to not being able to work late (limiting overtime pay or flex time, not getting the same raises, not getting promotions, not getting the same access to high-profile projects), that’s a pretty big problem – and while litigation is always a crap shoot, I don’t see how this would be more iffy than anything else. If you could show a pattern of clear consequences as a direct effect of the boss’s explicitly stated gender discrimination, I’d imagine it would be less iffy than many others.

              2. MH*

                I’ve always believed that the reason why the statistics show men are more likely victims is that women take more steps not to put themselves in a vulnerable position. I wouldn’t walk home late at night on my own in my home town, nor would my female friends, but my OH would.

            1. QualityControlFreak*

              Nope. The fact is that some people are more vulnerable. I’m a woman and I am perfectly capable of defending myself (though part of that is risk management,which applies regardless of sex). Just ask my 6’5″ male, ex-SF sparring partner if I need male protection.

              But thanks for the chuckle.

              1. Observer*

                OK. You’re hardly typical, though. The statistics are pretty solid.

                This IS a good reminder, though, of a key limitation of statistics. They don’t work all that well when looking at individual cases.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Women are NOT more vulnerable just because they’re women. Gah. Really? Gah. Plenty of men get their asses kicked, get mugged, get stabbed, shot, and even get raped. It happens. My eye is twitching now.

                  Some PEOPLE are more vulnerable because of age, strength, lack of safety training, lack of common sense, whether an assailant has a weapon, etc. But it’s not limited to sex. A particular man (not all) may be physically stronger than I am overall, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t kill him if he were trying to hurt me.

                2. fposte*

                  @Elizabeth West–And most crime doesn’t come down to hand-to-hand combat that’s won by the strongest anyway. Skinny little person with weapon mugs athlete, especially if athlete reasonably values credit cards less than his/her personal safety.

                3. fposte*

                  @Observer–hang on, are you finding statistics that suggest women are more likely to be victims of workplace crime or street crime? I’m finding the opposite–can you show me where you’re looking?

                4. Zillah*

                  @ Elizabeth West – I don’t even think that that’s the issue, though. Women are more vulnerable to certain things because they’re women (though not necessarily the things people think of, aside from sexual assault). However, that doesn’t make men invulnerable, which people seem to conveniently forget – you’re totally right re: age, strength, etc – and more importantly, other people don’t get to make that call for you. They’re operating on incomplete information and denying you your agency as a human being.

                  I invited my (now) partner back to my apartment after our first date to hang out for a little longer. As a woman, statistically, I was more vulnerable than a man in the same situation might have been – I’d had a couple drinks, so had he, and I live alone. I knew that. But the fact that I was statistically more vulnerable doesn’t mean that someone else had the right to make that call for me.

                5. Savannah Belle*

                  As a member in an MMA fight club I know that 10 lbs is a big deal in hand to hand combat, that is why the UFC has weight classes and a mens and womens division (notice the lack in overlap of weight classes). Even if a man is in the same weight class as a woman he will still be stronger and faster due to body fat percentage differences, major advantages in a fight. While training can make up for some of that, you get 15 lbs above your own weight class and it won’t help enough.

                  But we have a sayen down here: “Don’t be a victim, buy a gun.”

                6. Observer*

                  @Zillah – I agree with you 100%

                  The boss here is totally wrong, and I’m betting that if he had a competent HR person around, he’d be hearing a stern lecture about the matter. I just don’t think that he’s necessarily a sexist jerk on the basis of this. Just a stupid guy.

                  I’d be willing to be that there is either a wider pattern of this boss being a micro-manager, if he is actually telling her that she CANNOT stay late.

                7. aebhel*

                  Men are more likely to be the victim of violent crime. Significantly more likely, even. Women are more likely to be the victim of sexual assault specifically, but that doesn’t mean they’re more likely to be attacked by a stranger than a man.

                  There’s this pervasive idea that women are unsafe going out after dark, and reality does not bear it out. Most women are assaulted in familiar areas, by people they know. Men are the ones who are generally the victim of stranger-violence.

                8. aebhel*

                  Also, in general, whether or not a given person could beat up an assailant should have no bearing on whether or not they’re permitted to go out at night. If I say I’m comfortable riding the subway after dark–well, I may be overconfident and I may not, but I’m an adult and my boss doesn’t get to make that call for me.

                9. QualityControlFreak*

                  @Elizabeth West – what you said! I’m no more typical or atypical than any other human being. I’m 5’5″, 50 years old. Not atypical physically. I really dislike that particular argument.

                  What makes the difference is good judgement, training and practice. As far as I know, these things are not gendered.

                  And I keep hearing about statistics, but I actually like statistics and I haven’t seen these, so I’m with fposte on that one.

                10. QualityControlFreak*

                  Okay, that should be “less than 130 lbs and greater than 50 years old.” Greater than or less than symbols don’t translate apparently.

          2. Kelly L.*

            Also a really good point about winter. Right around the solstice, I don’t really even see the sun unless I go out for lunch. And I don’t work what anyone would consider late hours.

              1. kozinskey*

                Oh, Twilight has plenty of issues, but I would still love to see Don Draper sparkle in the sunlight.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No lawyer should take the case if the manager is just expressing concern but not actually preventing her from working late while allowing men to; I agree that’s not terribly uncommon, nor illegal. But if he’s actually restricting the hours she can work and not doing that for men, that’s a very different thing and potentially has real impact on her ability to do her job as compared to her male coworkers. And in my experience, that’s not common at all and would be pretty outrageous.

          (And besides, you can file a discrimination charge directly with the EEOC without needing a lawyer!)

          1. TB*

            Is LW in the US? In my company’s India office, women are not allowed to stay past 7pm. This is a rule of the building managemen that was mandated a few years ago as a result of attacks on women in the area. Companies must ensure their female employees leave by 7pm or face possibility of their lease being cancelled.

            1. Burlington*

              Yeah, India is a whole nother ballgame, because women are victims to *crazy* levels of crime there. It’s probably still not the best approach, but you make different rules in crisis than you do in your everyday life.

          2. BW*

            “(And besides, you can file a discrimination charge directly with the EEOC without needing a lawyer!)”

            In fact, I think you MUST file a discrimination charge directly with the EEOC first and have that be denied, before you can go the civil litigation route.

            There’s some sort of 60-day limit too, like you have to wait 60 days after your petition gets rejected by the EEOC before you can file a lawsuit on the same issue. And then the problem becomes that a lot of the times, the EEOC sits on your petition forever and never makes a decision, and then you’re staring down the 2-year statute of limitation…

            This is just what I remember off the top of my head because I’m too lazy to look up the rule ATM.

        3. Nerdling*

          That very much depends on where you work in the federal government. I know that my agency most definitely does not do this. And when we had a security officer who tried something similarly sexist (emailed us after an attempted rape across the street that women should take precautions by avoiding wearing skirts, etc), the fire and brimstone that rained down upon him was impressive and fierce. It was six years ago, and I’m pretty sure he’s still smoking.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot*

            Avoiding wearing skirts? WTF?

            I seem to remember a Snopes article about a chain email telling women not to wear overalls because rapists carried scissors to cut the straps.

    2. Newsie*

      +1 for the username.

      Question though on your comment – does that matter? Doesn’t that still mean that he’s restricting her schedule because she’s a woman? If the manager refuses to schedule anyone solo, then that’s one thing…

      1. All You Need Is Kill*

        I don’t know if it matters or not. Reading the letter, it struck me that it can be interpreted in more than one way. Did the boss perhaps say “I don’t want you to be the last person here at night”? Or did the boss say “I want you to leave by 6pm every evening.” Slightly different situations – but does that matter or not? I brought it up because I don’t know.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It matters. If he’s telling her that she cannot have the same access to working late in the office that men have, that’s illegal discrimination, even if it’s well-intended.

          1. UKAnon*

            Just out of curiosity, would that change if the reason for a rule on women leaving earlier was because a female employee had expressed concern about the safety of women in the local area (say high statistics of sexual assaults, for eg) and was asking for a set leaving time as an accommodation to help prevent incidents? I’m wondering if it would be viewed differently if there was some specific, good reason about their locale for women to be encouraged to leave by a certain time. Particularly if there were other things in place, like home-working (or just a workload you could do within work hours)

            1. catsAreCool*

              One thing that bugs me is that if it’s a dangerous neighborhood for women at night, it probably isn’t all that safe for men either. Maybe everyone should avoid staying late or use the buddy system.

        2. Bunny*

          AAM is right.

          But leaving aside the legalities, think on the practical implications if all the men in the office are allowed to work late but the women aren’t. People don’t work late unless they need to in order to cover their workload, so either the men get the harder and more time-consuming work or the women are left with less time to get the same workload finished. If overtime is paid, none of the women in the office can earn any. And when promotion opportunities come up, who will be more likely to get them? Bob, who is a Team Player, always stays late, never had an overdue project, lives for the company, or Sally, who clocks out on time every night, and once finished a project late?

          Or what about if OP wants to ask for permission to start work late one day, because she has a doctor’s appointment or a school event for her kids or something else coming up, and would ordinarily offer to work around the matter by staying late to cover the time. One less bit of bargaining power to ask for that time off, than her co-workers have.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yup. It’s kind of like in the bad old days, when so much business was actually taking place after hours in clubs where women couldn’t go. It could end up undermining all the women’s careers even if it wasn’t planned that way.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Yes. And when women couldn’t be hired for certain jobs (or restricted in how much they could work certain jobs) with the claim that it was for their own protection.

              1. Vladimir*

                You are right and it wasnt only in work, but also many other sides of life. For centuries women were (and in many countries – like Saudi Arabia – still are) in the name of their protection.

                1. Vladimir*

                  Dammn – the sentence should have been “For centuries women were (and in many countries – like Saudi Arabia – still are) heavily disriminated against in the name of their protection.” And clearly it still happens even in Europe and USA, but at least less then before.

          2. I'm a Little Teapot*

            +100. The situation is bad for everyone – for women, who have less flexibility, less time to get their work done, and less opportunity for promotion and proving themselves, but also for men, who may not want to always have to be the one who stays late. (And who, as pointed out above, may actually be the ones at greater risk.)

    3. LizNYC*

      If he doesn’t want a person to be alone in the office, the boss could institute a “no fewer than two people” rule. Anyone can work late at my office — male or female — but the majority of us will leave when the 2nd-to-last person does because it’s kinda creepy.

  3. Tonight when I chase the dragon / By their fruits you shall know them*

    3 – I’d be extremely careful talking to management. With the concerns you have, the second you mention that you’ve got another job offer, they’re probably going to jump immediately to the assumption that you’re trying to negotiate and / or give them an ultimatum. So … maybe don’t mention the job offer?

    Really, the only ‘safe’ thing to talk about would be something like “can we please go over these plans for my career path?” I believe I am agreeing with AAM that if you can’t get your management to commit to anything, your best bet might be to stay at your current job while looking for a new job that has both work-life balance and potential for advancement.

    1. Artemesia*

      And there is nothing quite as satisfying as giving two weeks notice when your reasonable request for career development is put off or turned down. I agree that asking this without mentioning the offer is wiser.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      A request to you with your awesome and constantly-changing user names: I’m not going to enforce this, but I’d love it if you’d use the same one within a given post, so that it’s clear you’re one person and not multiples? I think it makes for a better conversation and would appreciate you doing that if you’re willing to!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Last week someone commented that the ever-changing names was distracting. I think if we all constantly changed our names it would detract from the value of this blog. In the past, we have seen a few people comment that they look for certain posters to find their thoughts on Current Topic. Yes, the names are very creative, but it’s the thinking in everyone’s posts that keeps us reading.

          1. Tenley*

            Well, I’ve noticed in the past they’ve pulled phrases verbatim from other people’s comments the day before and found it … condescending, insulting, whatever. I will admit I have skipped many of the posts recently so don’t know this is still the gist.

            1. Tenley*

              It started out as passive aggressive ugliness. And it went on for quite a while before the more elaborate names. Every day there’d be the poster who changed names to make sure someone from the day before knew they were being made fun of — usually three words from a post as the name, like Passive Aggressive Ugliness. So I still don’t find these names enjoyable and a delight because I suspect they’re still coming from the same place.

              1. Natalie*

                Without some other behavior, it seems like a leap to assume that using a quote from someone else’s username is necessarily making fun of them. I can think of multiple regular posters here who’s usernames came from someone else’s comment so I don’t think it’s de facto condescending.

              2. Ten Thousand Statistically Grammar-Average Fake Band Names*

                I’ve not noticed this behavior on anyone’s part. Do you have a cite / url or two?

                I have never consciously engaged in the behavior you describe. Which you can believe or not; there’s really no way for me to prove this to you. Oh well.

                1. Colette*

                  Whether your intent was to be condescending, insulting, or passive aggressive, “oh well” isn’t really an appropriate response to learning people have been interpreting your behavior that way.

                2. Iro*

                  @ Collette

                  I think it’s completely appropriate in this context. Some commentors above threw out some substantial accusations, with no evidence, to a naming convention that some users find enjoyable.

                3. Ten Thousand Statistically Grammar-Average Fake Band Names*

                  I am curious, Colette, what you would consider an “appropriate” response here? I’ve been accused, on the basis of no evidence, of something that I haven’t done, and I have no way of defending myself.

                4. Colette*

                  I’d be fine with your response if you’d stopped after “I have never consciously engaged in the behavior you describe.” However, just because you didn’t intend people to read what you were doing that way doesn’t meant that that’s not a legitimate way to read it, and being dismissive is condescending in itself.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Y’all, I’m going to ask that we move on. I derailed the discussion originally by raising this and didn’t intend for it to become a thread of its own. Sorry about that.

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Huh, I’ve not noticed that. I just went back and looked (admittedly quickly), and I don’t think that was happening (at least not with this poster), but reading the responses to my requests, it does sound like it’s distracting people. So creatively-named-commenter, I’m hoping you’ll take the feedback and pick a name to stick with.

          2. A Cita*

            I like them too and I also don’t have a problem with not keeping the same name. Here, it’s obvious it’s the same person because of the name style, so that issue isn’t really there. But even if they were changing their name to more banal options, that weren’t as easily tracked, it wouldn’t matter to me. I find I can then focus on the content of the message rather than reading it with preloaded assumptions about the user and find the conversation more valuable when others do the same.

            Also there are other reasons why some people may want to change their user name frequently, including to avoid tracking. Perhaps they’ve revealed identifiable information, at once or over time. Perhaps their friends, work colleagues, bosses, exes they wish to avoid, or others now read the blog. People have their right to privacy and the internet is fantastically efficient at connecting data that identifies people, even if they think they’re using an anonymous handle, if they use the same user name.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Agreed, but my initial request was for the same name within a given post, not throughout the site. That said, having read the discussion about this.

              In any case, I think I’ve derailed the discussion here with this — sorry about that.

          3. Lindsay*

            Why not add a prefix? Characters or something.

            #$% – Totally Awesome Commenter
            #$% – I Secretly Blast Frozen Songs When My Kid Isn’t in the Car
            #$% – Peter Dinklage is HOT!

              1. Lisa*

                Can’t search for a gravatar though. I search for ‘ask a manager’ when i want to see if Alison added comments.

        1. Merry and Bright*

          I recently changed my user name because I discovered that a longer standing contributor had the same one. It was not deliberate on my part (I used my own middle name) but I did not want to add to confusion or invade anyone’s space.

          1. peanut butter kisses*

            I have been changing mine because I am new enough here to not know everyone’s names and I have gotten too close to another person’s name. I also changed it when I gave away too much information about who I am at one time. I will try to stick to one name from now on.

    3. MK*

      The thing that struck me was that the OP is also concerned about lack of work-life balance in his company. Even if there are changes for the better in the company (and I agree that the OP cannot appropriately ask about whether managers will be removed), a workplace is not going to go from “very fast-paced and high stress” to “focuses on work-life balance for its employees”.

      1. Burlington*

        Yeah, I totally agree. In which case, if their options are “coast at current company until they literally can’t take it anymore” or “coast at another company for a couple years while enjoying life” then the other company might well be a good choice. I think it depends on how far away OP can actually get from those bad managers… it could be that that’s the management culture of the place, and even if you replace them one at a time, in aggregate they’ll still come out with the same habits.

        1. JuniorMinion*

          To commenter #3 – I wanted to chime in recommending speaking to your boss. I just had to do this (well not my boss – he is the problem, but to someone connected to the boss’s boss), and I was pleasantly surprised with the fix they came up with. I would keep the focus on “I want to make sure that I am going to continue to be able to grow and therefore be a much greater asset / add more value to company x.” I think if you keep the focus on wanted to increase your knowledge / grow your career in ways that make you more beneficial to company x, you might get some positive momentum. I personally would recommend you see this through before jumping, unless you have an awesome opportunity.

          Secondly – and I caveat this by noting that I don’t know what industry you are in, but I just wanted to caution you about the whole work/life balance issue. In my field (investment banking – which I realize is a crazy world from most people’s perception of work / life balance), jobs that advertise work/life balance as the #1 advantage of the job (especially if they spell out lack of future career growth!!) are actually saying “you will never get paid what you are worth and the work we are doing is not as important.” I speak from experience when I say that I know the feeling of fantasizing about jumping to a less stressful job, but just be sure you have worked through ALL the ramifications, from lower comp to a likely stalled career (are you the type of person who will be bored and wanting to learn more in 2 years and be frustrated to find that higher level opportunities are closed to you?). Or would a better fit for you be to find a role either internally by talking to your boss or externally, as some others have suggested, that gets you away from some of the management issues at your current shop while preserving your optionality to grow your career.

          Finally I know this is getting long so I will wrap it up. I would be careful if you are female (I think you mentioned this?) of ever uttering the words “work / life balance” if you work in a high stress / high paying male dominated profession. For whatever reason at least in my business, when coming from a woman that is the third rail. Best of luck figuring things out!!

  4. Mike*

    Re #4: And if the employer did pay the un-withheld taxes you could still owe on that. There was an interesting discussion on what it’d cost for the company to pay the taxes on a game show’s winnings.

    1. Dolly*

      True, however on an odd note if your employer gives you a gift you may owe taxes, but if they give you a gift and give you funds to cover the taxes owed … you won’t owe taxes on the money given to pay taxes.

      Same is true on gameshow winnings (or, more prominently on Oprah’s favorite things): you owe taxes on the winning/gift but you wouldn’t owe taxes on money given to you to cover the taxes of the winning/gift. It is an odd loophole in our tax law.

      1. LBK*

        Huh, I never knew that! I’ve had bonuses grossed up a few times so that the “$500” we were promised was actually $500 and not 2/3 of that after taxes, but I never realized the grossed up amount wasn’t taxable.

        1. Mpls*

          No, the gross up amount is taxable, but the way the math works is that it accounts for that additional tax.

      2. Davey1983*

        That is incorrect. All money given to you, including the money given to you to cover the taxes is taxable. Usually, the extra money given to cover taxes takes this into account (so instead of $50 to cover taxes, they will give you $55).

  5. neverjaunty*

    LW #4, it is on you to check these things, unfortunately – even if you didn’t notice that your paycheck seemed heftier, there isn’t anything you can do as a practical matter at this point other than make sure your withholding is fixed going forward.

    If it doesn’t look like you are going to be able to pay the taxes owed this year, talk to a tax professional immediately; the IRS is almost always willing to work out things like payment plans, the only dumb move is NOT to pay taxes at all.

    1. The IT Manager*

      But in the end it is a wash because that the LW owes the same amount of yearly taxes to the US. Either she (1)paid more taxes over the year, took home a smaller pay check each month, and gets a refund or (2) she paid less taxes owes the balance now but she’s gotten a larger take home pay. Ideally at the end of the year you paid the right amount and owe nothing, but that’s a rare case.

      If you’re not going to get it perfectly right this is actually better for you financially because a tax return signifies you gave the government a interest free loan through your taxes last year. I don’t get why people get excited about tax returns. It’s not FREE MONEY; it is your money that you gave the government when you didn’t have to.

      I hope the LW can pay the unexpected tax bill. That is the concern with this since she did not realize it was coming and may not have planned for it, but it is HER tax bill. The company is just the middle-man. And she has had extra money in her pay checks last year because she was paying less in taxes each pay check. She has had time to enjoy or invest that money. Now it’s now time to pay what she owes.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        If the amount of tax still owed was high enough, though, there could be underpayment penalties attached.

      2. fposte*

        I agree that it’s not unjust that she’s required to pay, but I think it could still be a really tough situation–she’s allotted and possibly spent her income for the year, and now she’s getting hit with what could be a pretty significant tax bill even without penalties. I’m with you on the refund thing, but that’s really different from this because of the surprise financial blow here. If I were in the position I’d recognize this was ultimately on me, but I’d be pretty unhappy too.

        1. Kerry(like the county in Ireland)*

          Speaking from experience as I owed over $1000 for 2013, it will be okay. The Feds are used to this and they make it easy to pay, and they charge less in penalties and interest than the credit card companies. Fill out the form and give them 30 days extra to get your paperwork set up, and then they will do auto deduction. I felt much less shame owing taxes ( and not doing my taxes until 4/13) than any of my other boneheaded financial decisions.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Exactly. Whether or not it’s a wash in the end (and it is), if you’re not expecting to have paid a whopping tax bill all at once by April 15, it can be tough. That’s also why people may choose to have extra withholding and get a refund rather than pay less and owe on April 15 – it may be easier, for them, than setting aside X amount of money for taxes all year untouched.

          1. Arjay*

            Yep. I don’t even really enjoy my small refund any more since I have an extra $25 withheld every paycheck. I know I’m just getting a portion of that back. It’s funny how when you don’t know the withholding numbers/formula, it does have a tendency to feel like free magic money from the tax fairy. I’m happy though to not be paying a $500 lump sum now though.

            1. Natalie*

              Ugh, yes, I had the same thing last year (I don’t have many deductions, but I own some taxable investments I have to pay on) and now I have extra money withheld from each check. And same, I’m just relieved I won’t have to pay out.

            2. Sunshine*

              Although there are cases when someone will get back a “refund” that is actually more than they made all year. That sounds pretty magical to me.

              1. Judy*

                I find that hard to believe. I could see that people might get a refund of more than the taxes that were withheld, simply because of the earned income credit, and childcare credits, etc but it would truly surprise me if someone got a refund of more than they made in that year.

                1. fposte*

                  I was trying to explore the possibilities and couldn’t make a good search term. But I’m betting if it does happen, it’s with business losses, etc., not with your basic W-2 employee.

                2. Natalie*

                  This can easily happen with the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – particularly for workers in the bottom 20% of income earners with one or more children.

                3. Agile Phalanges*

                  It happened to me the first year I after I got divorced and got to claim my son as a deduction and claim Head of Household–my income was low enough and the refundable credits large enough that I got a refund from the government–not just a refund of taxes withheld that were greater than my tax burden, I actually received more back in my refund than I’d had withheld all year long–the government paid ME to exist that year. Then my income went up, so while I still claim my son every other year, I now have to pay my fair share. :-)

                4. Judy*

                  @Agile Phalanges, right, I could see getting back more than you had withheld, but the above poster was saying people get back more than they made during the year.

                5. Malissa*

                  The search term is refundable credit. There are a few credits out there so getting more back on taxes than you made is a real possibility, especially with the ACA credits this year.

                6. Mpls*

                  Refundable credits let you get back more than you had withheld for taxes, but to get back more than you EARNED all year round, you would have to be making less than $8000 a year, have 3 or more children that you support without any other income, and qualify for the EITC and Child Tax credits.

                7. sitting duck*

                  I actually think its impossible to get more back than you made. I’ve been really close to the bottom rung, as a single mom, and never got back more than I made. The EIC actually decreases if you make too little, so while it can be up to around $3000, if you only made $3000 in a year, you would only qualify for a portion of the EIC. I am not sure if this applies for the Child Tax Credit as well. I think there is a chart online somewhere that details the EIC and how much you can get.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          They will work out payments. They’re pretty good about it. I had a penalty for cashing out a 401K when I got laid off–it wasn’t small, either. I had to do it–there wasn’t enough money in there for it to roll over anywhere. They took small payments whilst I was unemployed and then garnished my first good refund from last year’s taxes (argh). But they were really easy to work with.

          1. Editor*

            Not being able to roll over the 401(k) money seems odd to me. If it was small (a couple of thousand), couldn’t it have rolled over to an IRA, or does that not occur any more? If it was large enough to impose tax consequences, then I’d think someplace would take it as a rollover.

      3. Cautionary tail*

        I have extra withheld on my taxes. I know it’s an interest free loan to the government but one year due to circumstances I wound up owing so much money that I had to take a loan out and it killed me for several months. Never again.

        1. De Minimis*

          I’m the same way, I would much rather err on the side of withholding too much. I’ve owed before and it is no fun trying to come up with the money.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule*

            I’m the same way. I work a full time job & a part time job and the deductions are never right for the total amount of income, so I claim single & 0 and have extra withheld to balance it out.

        2. Ezri*

          I’m curious about this – what range of deductions is considered high / low, etc? This is my first year doing taxes out of college and I’m not sure what’s normal. I think I have 2 on my w-4, for a two-person one-income household.

          1. Persephone Mulberry*

            There is a calculator on the IRS website that is really helpful – it’s like the worksheet on the W-4 itself only more detailed – asks about projected salary and tax paid to date (so have your most recent paystub handy). It will tell you how many exemptions to take and on which size of zero your refund/owed should fall at the end of the year.

          2. Julie*

            That’s essentially what you want to do. I really dislike the IRS calculator (it tells my husband and I vastly different numbers) but you typically want an allowance for each person in your household. If you have both people working then typically they’ll each choose ‘1’ while a single-income household is ‘2’. Most part-timers benefit more at tax time if they choose ‘0’ since part-timers don’t often have the savings accounts and might owe.

            I’m a bit annoyed that this year my husband forgot to change his W4 when I got a new job. My old job was so bad at paying me that I was a ‘0’ and he was a ‘2’ but the new job actually pays me a living wage so I bumped to ‘1’ and he “meant to”. Luckily it was only 6 months of the year though his bonus fell in the range. Right now we owe and I have no clue what will change when we account for the sale of our home once those docs are available to be filed (Feb. 11 for anyone else who sold a home).

            1. Burlington*

              I really dislike the W-4 worksheet and IRS calculators because people just can’t seem to get the right answer out of them. Like, people do them in good faith, but mess something up along the way. And in most cases where I’ve seen people do it, they end up with something ridiculous that would have made them owe taxes.

        3. Artemesia*

          ‘Interest free loan’ to the government was at one time a great argument for not overpaying during the year and getting a tax refund, but with the poor interest rates paid to us on our money these days, it is really no big loss. So if having the refund is a pleasure no reason not to do it.

      4. brightstar*

        Also, even if you owe taxes, you have until April 15th to try to save up the money to pay them. And that’s without an extension to file, or working out a payment plan with the IRS.

        I owe money to the IRS this year and when I checked my W-4 yesterday it was because I’d written down my with-holdings incorrectly. I’m just happy I didn’t owe more than the small amount I do owe! A corrected W-4 has been submitted and I hope the OP has done the same.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I just want to point out that, although you can get a 4-month extension automatically just by sending in the form, if you owe taxes instead of getting a refund you’ll need to pay your estimated taxes due on April 15th, even with the extension, or else the penalties and interest will start accruing as of 4/15.

          tl;dr version: an extension is just for the forms, it doesn’t give you extra time to pay.

      5. Dolly*

        It really depends, though. There may be penalties and interest applied if OP cannot pay it all in one fell swoop. In that case, it wouldn’t be the same amount. Not to pile on, but it really is up to the individual to keep an eye on their tax situation. I would never automatically trust my employer to get this right – they have no skin in the game.

      6. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        “If you’re not going to get it perfectly right this is actually better for you financially because a tax return signifies you gave the government a interest free loan through your taxes last year. I don’t get why people get excited about tax returns. It’s not FREE MONEY; it is your money that you gave the government when you didn’t have to.”

        For some reason, some people go “whoo-hoo” and sing and dance and do somersaults like Zippy the Chimp when they get a $5,000 refund check. Although interest rates these days are rather paltry – people think

        a) “OH BOY!” not realizing that they just made an interest free loan of their own money and
        b) “I didn’t pay taxes last year!” — amazed how some people think a “refund” means “I don’t pay taxes, in fact, the government gave me a check!”

        Likewise we saw some people in here think “the 25% tax bracket means I pay 25 percent of my income in taxes” and “if you get a huge lump sum as part of a retroactive pay, it all comes out in the wash” ….

        This is tax season — look at what you’re paying out.

        1. JB*

          To me, it’s like the excitement I feel when I find $20 in a pocket of pants I’d washed and put away for a few months. It’s not like free extra money, it was mine all along, but I had forgotten about it, hadn’t counted on it, didn’t factor it into my budget, so it’s extra in the sense of unallocated. For people who are super responsible with their money, always know where every dime goes, and always stick to their budgets, it would probably be a waste to go the route where you get a refund. But for people like me, it’s a great thing.

          Woo-hoo new tires that I don’t have to take money out of my savings for!! And woo-hoo haircut and dinner out!

          1. Hlyssande*

            For real.

            This year, whatever I get back is either paying down a credit card or getting sunk straight into car repairs. Last year, it paid the deposit on my new apartment so I was actually able to move.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Although as you say, interest rates are so paltry that you’re not really giving Uncle Sam much of a loan. And for many people that tiny interest is a small price to pay as insurance against an unexpected tax bill.

          1. Chinook*

            “Although as you say, interest rates are so paltry that you’re not really giving Uncle Sam much of a loan. And for many people that tiny interest is a small price to pay as insurance against an unexpected tax bill.”

            I am going through this right now as a first time independent contractor. I am worried that I haven’t put away enough to cover the taxes (but I think it is empty worry as I automatically stashed half of each cheque) but I have discovered one hidden benefit of withholding my taxes myself (in a separate account not easily accessible by debit card) – I can give myself a short term loan at the cost of the interest I am not earning on the amount. As long as I have put it all back before our tax deadline, all is good.

      7. Burlington*

        I am all about big refunds. I claim 0 on my W-4 and have a significant amount extra taken out. It’s the only way to ensure that I don’t pre-spend it… if I put money in one of my savings accounts, I know how much is there, and can access it at any time. With taxes, I have no idea what the amount will end up being, and I can’t access it till February or March. So I can’t spend it before I have it. :)

        Also, last year I ended up doing significant contract work that I don’t expect to continue, so I didn’t want to get set up to do quarterly payments. I knew that, with my huge reserves of stockpiled taxes, I could just spend the money and not worry about owing (or at least, not owing a ton).

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I am all about the numbers (and little efficiencies, as I’ve said), so I personally try to wind up net $0 after taxes (I usually owe on Federal and get money back on State taxes). My methods make me a decent additional amount of money. But unlike some of the people upthread, I’ve come to realize that it’s not always about doing things optimally, it’s sometimes more important to do them sustainably, whether it’s budgeting or dieting or what have you. This is why I personally would pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first (if I had more than just the mortgage), but I am also a fan of the Snowball method, where you pay the minimum on all debts except the one with the lowest total amount, which you throw every spare dime into first. Then, when that’s paid off, you throw all of that additional money to the next smallest loan in addition to the minimum you were paying. People see a debt wiped off the books, even a small one, and they feel like maybe it’s not an impossible hole to climb out of after all.

          So what does that have to do with tax refunds? Well, some people also need that motivational boost to get themselves to save, and sometimes an interest-free loan to Uncle Sam is a useful tool. After all, you’d probably earn about $10, if that, on $5,000 parked in savings for a year. Me, I make automated transfers into separate savings accounts so I don’t even miss the money, but I have an emergency fund, a new car fund, and a vacation/home improvement fund. But whatever gets you saving is a good thing!

      8. Melissa*

        ” It’s not FREE MONEY; it is your money that you gave the government when you didn’t have to.”

        Well, that depends. For a lot of people it’s like that, but there are tax credits that are refundable even if you didn’t pay that money into the government.

    2. Mike C.*

      You can also call the IRS for help as well.

      800-829-1040, 7am to 7pm your local time. (HI and AK use Pacific)

      1. Arjay*

        And don’t be scared! Before we were married, my husband received a tax bill for something like $13,000. I helped him crunch the numbers to figure out what happened. He had taken a distribution from a 401k and reported it on his form as “wages.” When the IRS saw that he didn’t report it properly, they believed that he hadn’t reported it at all, instead of him having reported it in the wrong bucket. We called the IRS, and they couldn’t have been nicer and more helpful in resolving the situation easily and correctly.

        1. Melissa*

          Thanks for sharing this story – I got a scary letter in the mail from the IRS about income that was reported incorrectly (not my fault; long story). They believe that I didn’t report it at all; I did, it’s just in the wrong place. I now have a date at tax court, but maybe I should call the IRS directly.

          My cousin calls them all the time and she says she always gets great service.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        Be prepared for long wait times! The IRS warned that due to budget cuts, they will not be answering as many calls as last year. The average wait time last year was 18 minutes, with 40% of calls going unanswered. They are estimating an average wait time of 30 minutes to an hour this year, with many more going completely unanswered.

      3. cuppa*

        The budget cuts have really affected the IRS’s ability to function this year. If you do contact them, please be patient. Voice your frustration at your Congressperson. They have the ability to fix the funding issue.

    3. Julie*

      Seconding this. Best case practice: ALWAYS file your return. Even if you can’t pay. I can’t emphasize this enough. The penalty for nonfiling is so much higher than for nonpayment and it will drown you.

      Come April 15 pay as much as you can. Then call the IRS. Be prepared to sit on hold FOREVER because of cuts from Congress to funding. It’s a shame because the IRS is actually one of the most helpful agencies. If you know you can pay your balance in 120 days they will set up an extension that’s typically fee free and has no minimum monthly payment amount. Pay as little or as much a month, just get it paid in 120.

      If you can’t pay it in 120, set up a formal installment agreement (IA). There’s a setup fee ($120) and you have to pay by a date each month at minimum of $25 but really take the amount you owe, divide by 72 months and choose the higher of $25 or the calculated number. That will be your monthly payment amount. Pay more if you can but not so much that you’ll default as there are fees for defaulting. There’s also additional options (for a fee) that allow the IRS to take directly from a bank account or your payroll checks but most people don’t need these unless they have underpayment penalties. You do accrue interest on an IA but it’s actually discounted compared to people who pay on an informal agreement so the fees to setup an IA often take care of themselves. Plus, your payments go to tax first and then penalty and interest.

      Don’t forget your state DOR if applicable. This is what usually bites people and states have long since cut their infrastructure to be helpful. Still, call and find out what payment plan options there are but know that states are often fast to issue liens so they can garnish wages so target a plan that will keep you away from garnishment (typically balance due in full within 2 years but may be sooner). The IRS rarely garnishes on people who owe below $25,000 but the state does not extend that courtesy. My old job had me garnishing $500 balances.

      (I know you might know this but I hope people can learn more about the process so they aren’t as afraid. The IRS wants to help most people, I swear. I didn’t work for them but worked on cases with people who owed my state and the IRS and the IRS was always willing to help them when my hands were often tied.)

      1. Malissa*

        Form 9465 can be filed with your taxes and often saves the pain of calling. Most often if you’ve set out a reasonable payment plan like Julie has explained you’ll get back a letter agreeing to your plan and giving you a schedule of the fees, interest and payments.

      2. Karyn*

        Let me just say, your first paragraph? SO. SO. TRUE. My mom’s ex boss went to jail for several white collar federal offenses, and the thing that got the ball rolling? Not filing his taxes. NOT failure to PAY. Just not FILING.

    4. Lia*

      This happened to me last year (well, for 2013 taxes). I started a new job and so did my husband. Due to miscommunication (he wound up making more than we thought) we both claimed the same number of deductions. By the time we caught it, it was October, and the new levels we had our payroll offices implement did not hit until late November. We wound up owing 2K.

      However — we used TurboTax, and the program printed out the wrong forms for us and the payments wound up applied to 2014 taxes, which the IRS did not catch at first. After numerous calls, we finally got it all sorted out and everything correctly applied. They waived the late penalties as well that had incurred due to TurboTax’s screw up.

      I am scared to do the taxes this year even though we fixed the deductions. Ugh.

    5. Not Here or There*

      The IRS/ taxes can be a difficult thing to figure out, and I don’t blame the OP for feeling frustrated. I worked for a foreign government in the US, and trying to figure out those taxes was like trying to divine the future from a pile of broken iPhones. Since it was a foreign govn’t, they didn’t take taxes out of my check (they were tax exempt, even from employer taxes and I didn’t get any sort of tax document or income verification) so I was in a weird bucket where I was considered self-employed but wasn’t and I couldn’t claim the usual self employment deductions.
      I’ve always done my own taxes, but since I was in such a weird position, taxwise, I called the IRS to clarify some points and kept getting conflicting information. I tried several tax prep places and they would touch it, and I simply couldn’t afford a CPA. All in all, I ended up owing a huge chunk of money, and then despite trying to do better the next times around, still ended up owing. The IRS was willing to work with me on the fees (since I could prove that I had made a best effort to file correctly and had conflicting info from the IRS in writing), and we set up a payment plan. Stuff happens and you just try and correct the errors and move on.

    6. Barefoot Librarian*

      Agreed, neverjaunty. As income is almost always taxable, it’s unfortunate but the OP is going to have to pay the taxes they owe. I used to do audit support for a big-tax-prep-company-you’d-all-know and I can safely second that claim that the IRS will generally work out a payment plan. They might even agree to let the OP pay a bit extra each paycheck this year to cover it. The only way to find out is to ask. The IRS hotline is (706) 868-1374. You tend to have a bit of a hold this time of year but it can’t hurt to call and explain the situation. Even if the OP doesn’t want to hire a tax professional, the IRS can usually tell them how to proceed.

    7. The Strand*

      I have paid taxes every year for the last couple of years. I put virtually all of my money (which is less than my spouse’s salary: we live on that) into savings accounts, less a smaller amount of taxes withholding, which are earmarked to goals. The underpayment penalty (assuming I pay it by April 15th) is around $80, which I am happy to pay rather than giving the IRS an interest-free loan, especially considering that I earn almost as much in interest from the savings accounts. I try to earmark more than I’ll need to pay taxes on, and save that – since I’m conservative about it, April 15th I usually do find I have a “windfall” of $1-2k.

    8. Collarbone High*

      As a former payroll person, let me second the last sentence. The IRS will bend over backward to work out a payment plan, but if you rebuff them, they’ll eventually garnish your wages and that’s a financial disaster. My payroll days were nearly 20 years ago, so I assume they’ve adjusted this amount since then, but back then, the IRS only allowed you to keep about $150 a week; they took everything you made above that. You don’t want to get into that situation.

  6. Ask a Manager* Post author

    “Sports game” isn’t the right wording, is it? I’m changing it to sports event.

    I know so little about sports that I don’t even know how to refer to a game, apparently.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Sports event works; sporting event is also a possibility and may (but I am not sure) be more correct.

      (Sports game is not right though.)

        1. LBK*

          As an obsessive W&G fan I feel obligated to point out that the word he uses is actually “footsketball” :)

    2. squids*

      I would use “sports game” but maybe I’ve been wrong for years. (Canadian, much more likely to attend university or junior than professional league)

    3. A Cita*

      No need to worry. I’ve gotten in big trouble for calling their uniforms “outfits.” And using the wrong color names. Specifically, “The Vikings? Is that the team with the violet outfits?”

        1. A Cita*

          Yes! I actually used “costumes” too! It was after I said “outfits” and I got flack, but no correction, so I said, “Costumes?” :) :)

    1. OP#2*

      Op2 here: yes, the client is reserving a suite in the arena and inviting a lot of their business partners. It’s fairly common in the industry, although I know in some industries/workplaces it wouldn’t be appropriate.

    2. ConstructionHR*

      I used to have a client who absolutely refused any promotional items, etc. If I bought them lunch one visit, they had to buy it the next visit. I am sure it was a reaction to misbehavior somewhere in the organization.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        What?? That’s crazy! How can that work? What if the client took me for surf & turf, and I take them to Starbucks? It will almost never be exactly equal unless you go to the same restaurant and order the exact same dishes.

        It’s much easier to just say no gifts, you have to either not go to lunch or pay your own tab.

        I think you’re right, that sounds like an overreaction in response to a specific event, not a well thought out policy.

    3. LBK*

      I think this is going to depend heavily on your industry and company – in some industries this is totally normal. The legal limit on gift values only applies to government employees but many companies choose to create policies that mirror it, so it ends up getting mistaken for a law.

  7. Gwydion*

    #2 – It may be worth bringing this up with your own boss or senior people on that client team to ensure that your company is okay with your attendance along with the others on that team or whether your company has any policies about accepting gifts. If you’re having performance issues and the company has moved you to a non-client-facing role temporarily, going to a game with a repeat client may not be what your boss had in mind. If the company would prefer you not going, I’d simply bow out with an e-mail explaining a schedule conflict and leave it at that.

    Also, double-check that the tickets include going WITH the client; at my last consulting gig we used to give away tickets to clients and vendors all the time and we (often) didn’t attend the game with them. In THAT case, you should feel free to go and enjoy the game!

    1. Graciosa*

      I really liked your comments about checking with the boss, especially in light of the restriction on client-facing activities.

      I do have a bit of an issue with the advice in your last paragraph. In some cases, attending an event with a business partner is considered legitimate relationship building, while accepting a gift of tickets to attend without the giver (and hence without the opportunity to build the relationship) can violate the company’s ethics policy or code of conduct. The key here is making sure that you’re doing the right thing under any applicable policies and in the eyes of your manager.

    2. OP#2*

      Hi, I really do appreciate your comments. I was planning on bowing out graciously (with a general “scheduling conflict”), but unfortunately my performance issues led to me being fired last week. Thanks Alison for answering my letter! I’ve learned what kind of work I excel at and what I do not, so with your cover letter and resume advice, I’m starting my job hunt.

      1. Dolly*

        I’m sorry to hear that! Good luck to you in your job hunt. You seem to have the right attitude about it. Some jobs just are not the right fit – I’ve had my fair share!

      2. Cara*

        Oh geez, sorry to hear that! I hope you’re able to find a great new job where you’ll be more successful.

      3. Zillah*

        I’m sorry you got fired, but good luck with your job search! I hope you find something much better quickly. :)

  8. Neruda*

    I live in Australia so taxes are different here but I’ve had two companies muck up the correct amount of tax to be withheld. After it happened the first time I had several lengthy discussions with payroll (at a new job) to ensure it didn’t happen again. Nope- they still got it wrong! I know it’s the individuals responsibility to check but when payroll INSIST they are right, it’s pretty tough to swallow. Sympathies OP #4.

    1. dragonzflame*

      I once had a job where I thought taxes were coming straight out of my pay (as is normal in NZ) because my hourly rate was a round number and the amount I was getting paid was not, and the numbers stacked up. However, I later found out that the IRD had no record of my employment there and I had to pay the back tax. Turned out they had been paying me under the table and keeping the tax portion for themselves. My accountant (who moonlights as my FIL) was PISSED.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Did they get in trouble for that?

        Cause over here the authorities come down like ton of bricks on companies that do that.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          Not to mention in the UK, that if you didn’t file your taxes correctly as a result both you and the firm would be guilty of money laundering, which is highly illegal and result in prosecution of both the company and the individuals involved, and that’s before the tax authority wants their pound of flesh.

        2. MK*

          Not exactly. Taxes withheld from your salary is like giving your employer the money you owe the state, so that they can pay the taxes. The company was cheating both the employee and the state, and probably committing several offenses.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            I’m not sure I understand your point. It seems like clear case of wage theft to be the company have agreed to a certain level of compensation and then pocketed some of that without the employees consent. Yes its giving your employer money they owe the state, but if you still owe the tax afterwards your paying the same bill twice, so you are being cheated out of your wages.

            The tax authorities wont forgive the debt just because you claim to have paid it already. In the UK companies aren’t obligated to collect sales tax from customers but they are sure as hell obligated to pay it to the government.

      2. Sigrid*

        That’s illegal as hell over here; surely NZ’s IRD takes as dim a view of that kind of thing as the US’s IRS.

      3. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

        As a payroll specialist in NZ, this has made me so angry I fear I may actually have burst something.

    2. Observer*

      As the others mentioned – in the US this would have brought the IRS down on the me like a ton of bricks. So much so, in fact, that I’m surprised that the OP’s payroll people weren’t highly apologetic. Because, while it’s true that it’s on the employee to check withholdings, they also have a legal responsibility, and failing to process taxes correctly based on the most current w2 could get them into serious legal trouble.

      1. blackcat*

        This happened to me when I was hired as a TA. Students are supposed to deal with all paperwork through student services. Fine. But the online student services widget would not let me select any marital status other than single. I tried to do a paper form with them, saying that I needed to indicate that I was married. Student worker insisted that that didn’t matter and wouldn’t let me fill out a paper form. So I walked to the university’s HR office and told them the deal. They were LIVID. The entire front office got upset that this was going on. One person helped me, while two people marched over to student services to give them a talking to and train them better (beginning of the school year is an important time). Soon, an all student email was sent out from HR, asking all employed student who were married and/or had kids to please check their forms and get in touch if anything was a miss. I don’t know what happened, but given that there are about 5 thousand grad students at this institution, I bet HR was facing a widespread W2 disaster…

        So in my experience two things happen: 1) people who don’t know about tax laws can make really frustrating mistakes and 2) people who DO know about tax laws will fix those mistakes ASAP and take it very seriously.

        1. Observer*

          You were smart to go to HR. And, I agree, people who know about tax laws take this stuff VERY seriously. No employer wants to have to deal with a tax audit, if they have any sense. That’s true even if they are squeaky clean. If there is a problem, then OH BROTHER!

  9. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


    Let me through this out to you: learning to navigate and thrive in less than ideal circumstances is a really valuable skill set. Most people I know who have advanced well in their careers did so because they learned how to navigate, not because they were placed in an ideal situation with highly functional managers who glided everything along for them.

    Most companies have some or more managers who are mediocre at best, either in reality or in your perception of them. The trick to moving ahead is to not let that stand in your way vs wishing they would all disappear.

    Not saying you shouldn’t change jobs, just suggesting that if you don’t, or if you run into the same issue again, reframe the problem into what you can do.

    1. Cheesecake*

      There is a general rule that people get promoted until they hit a position where they can’t perform well. So there are a lot of brilliant specialist promoted to middle mgmt, who can’t really manage people and would be better off staying where they were. So i agree; there will be bad mid. managers making bad decisions everywhere. It is not that huge of a deal. Until e.g. favoritism directly affects you. I believe in “navigating your way” until certain extend. Sometimes if you try way too hard, maybe it doesn’t mean to be. However, i didn’t get this message from OP, so i agree on “run into same issues again”.

  10. The IT Manager*

    #1, that was a bad call. The company could be screwing you over, but its also very likely is that someone stole that iPad before the company got it. You should have handed it to someone of authority. I have to sign for my equipment, and I always make sure that when I return something that they mark it off that I returned it.

    I assume that you could owe them for the loss of the equipment since as far as they know, you did not return it. If they didn’t withhold from your final paycheck, it may be an issue to get that money from you, though.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      The company can learn from this. Terminated people are likely to not be thinking straight. Each next step should be explained clearly. The OP should have been told to return the equipment to X and that she would receive a receipt in return for this equipment.

      I find most people who are terminated are in shock. A solid process they can flow through helps.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        I wouldn’t have even left it on the IT persons desk unattended, and I can’t think a of constructive argument as to why the OP should have to pay the firm for the missing equipment.

        It’s common sense to give expense computer equipment back to someone, not just casually abandon it at the door and expect someone to deal with it, especially when you’ve probably signed something to say you had been given the equipment.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yes, this surprised me too. Leaving it inside the door wasn’t the best move, but why on earth wasn’t the company requiring OP to check all the expensive stuff back in?

      2. The IT Manager*

        Also company took the badge (which may or may not be required to gain entry / walk around) before they recieved everything from him. This wasn’t the right way to do this. Or someone should have waited for her at the door to recieve the items she said she was returning.

        But in the end, the LW left a high value, highly pilferable item in an unsecure location. And that negliegence can cost them money. If I damage/lose agency equipment because of something I did wrong, I expect that I could be charged for it since I did not take care of it. ie If I am mugged on the way home, not really my fault. If my iPad is stolen after I forgot it somewhere, my fault. (None of this has happened to me, but these are my expectations if this were to happen.)

        1. CoffeeLover*

          I don’t know about this. In my industry stuff gets replaced regardless. If I lost my phone (even if it was completely my fault), I believe my company would replace it without much fuss. It’s the cost of doing business.

          1. Natalie*

            My boss gave his company iphone to his 5-year-old to play with… while they were on a boat. Needless to say it went overboard. He wasn’t charged to replace it.

            1. The Cosmic Avenger*

              Those are both pretty generous policies. I agree they make sense, but there’s a difference between keeping a productive employee working by giving her the tools she needs and making sure an employee who is let go doesn’t just keep equipment that the company could still use.

              I have to agree with The IT Manager’s take; if I had been let go and couldn’t get back in the building, I would have held on to the equipment and emailed/called HR or IT to let them know that I still needed to return the items. But then, I also do equipment inventories, so I know I’m not typical.

              1. Karowen*

                Yeah, at my company the policy is basically that if it broke in a work-related way, that’s one thing, but if you broke it doing something not work related (e.g. boating with your 5-year-old) you have to reimburse the company whatever they paid.

            2. Erin*

              At a previous company, my boss had a run of bad luck with her phone. The policy was that the company would pay to replace it the first time, no matter what, but if it was lost or broken again they would decide how to handle it on a case by case basis.

          2. Zillah*

            That’s my feeling, too. I haven’t been in this situation before, but yeah – sometimes stuff happens. It seems ridiculous to me to charge someone for company equipment that they’re required to have to do their jobs. If they lose it ten times, okay – but once or even twice? Come on.

        2. JoJo*

          Why on earth would a fired employee care about company property? They don’t work there anymore. The OP’s company should have gotten the items instead of expecting someone who just got the boot to safeguard the property of the same people who just devastated their life.

      3. Laura2*

        I agree. When the OP said they would get the rest of the stuff from their car, HR or their manager should have been waiting nearby (inside the door, or gone out with the employee to the parking lot) to make sure everything was returned and accounted for.

  11. justine*

    #5 I had my boss say the same thing to me Friday! The boss i have already reported to the EEO for gender discrimination! (he’s the one who said he doesn’t like working with women because they complain about they’re ovaries too much and, among other things, said a work problem was because we’re “women and women gossip.” – which the eeo officer said she didn’t think there was anything wrong with..smh)

    OP, i agree with the first reply, if they don’t think it’s safe the employer needs to make it safe, lights, security etc.
    And if you feel discriminated against, please think about speaking up about it.

    1. JB*

      Well, your boss is totally right. I barely have time to do any lawyering, what with all the gossiping with the other womens and talking about my ovaries.

      [warning: rant to follow] Geez. I’ve been in I can’t count how many meetings where things take forever to get started because the guys (and sometimes some of the women) need to first talk about the latest sportsing game. THAT is apparently good for morale. But talking about something that is stereotypically something women are interested in, and that’s just wasting time. And the men I work with are The Biggest Gossips. They just don’t call it gossip because that’s something women do when we aren’t talking about our ovaries.

      Man, how do you not bring up your reproductive system in every conversation with him? I would be so tempted since he thinks that’s all you do. I wouldn’t do it, but I’d really really want to.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Seriously. It would be super tempting to talk about “the monthlies” in every conversation with this jackhole.

        justine, not sure where you live but it sounds like it’s time to talk to a lawyer if the EEO representative you spoke to was so incredibly clueless.

        1. justine*

          Yeah, i did consult a great lawyer because i was stalled by HR for more than a month trying to file an eeo complaint (federal system so you can’t just geeoc).

          Thus was said that in my precomplaint interview, to a lot of my issues and i just had to be like this is what happened and this is how i see it. I didn’t expect it to be such a struggle but it was.

          If her investigation doesn’t jive with me then I’ll get the lawyer involved again.

          Thanks for your concern! This has been a difficult, stressful, frustrating unhappy time dealing with this and talking about it here has really helped me.

      2. LBK*

        Ugh. I hate fantasy football season because each day in the office commences with at least an hour of discussion over every game that was played the previous day and how it impacted everyone’s fantasy scores.

            1. neverjaunty*

              It’s being sent home early so we’re not out after dark on our monthlies that’s making us cranky ;)

          1. LBK*

            I was thinking that as I wrote it, but it sounds way more annoying if I exaggerate how often it happens. If I can’t use hyperbole to inflate how much sports fans bother me in the echo chamber of AAM, where else can I do it? :)

        1. Zillah*

          It depends on what kind of football you’re talking about! I like the non-US kind, and there are definitely periods where if you’ve got 3 or 4 teams you follow, at least one of them will be playing almost every day.

      3. justine*

        JB – after he said that he clutched his stomach and started making whimpering sounds, like pretending he had menstrual cramps.

        I’m handing my resignation letter in today.. Wish me strength!

        1. LBK*

          For the love of god…please either find an EEOC rep that will take this seriously or find a lawyer…

          Mad Men is supposed to be a critique of old school sexism, y’all, not guide to bringing it back!

        2. HeyNonnyNonny*

          Best wishes to resigning– sounds like it’ll be great to get out! Lots of strength to you and your ovaries ◔_◔

        3. JB*

          WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT, how does he think that’s ok? Unbelievable. Since you are resigning, I take it you didn’t do anything in reaction to that to get fired, which is pretty impressive.

          Good luck!

          1. justine*

            The eeo office has 13 more days to finish investigation..
            And i gave my resignation at the end of today effective immdiately.

            When one door closes another opens…i start a new job in 20 days! And it’s a way better job!

            I hope my ovaries don’t get in the way of me celebrating tonight!

          2. justine*

            Nope, nothing i did would have gotten me fired. I’ve never been counseled or written up or reprimanded in any way.

        4. Anonsie*

          Please tell me you took that one and ran with it. Oh man.

          I was just talking to someone about this type of thing last week, you can totally diffuse this type of thing by responding with the same kind of frat boy commentary. They try to play along at first but realistically they’re trying to make you uncomfortable, and when you rib them right back and laugh about it and aren’t uncomfortable, these guys do not know how to respond to it and they just shut up.

    2. Myrin*

      Let me tell you that by far the most gossip-ridden place I’ve ever been to was the gym I work at part-time where the vast, vast majority (I’m talking something like 97%) of the active members are men. And they’re completely oblivious to it, and not in any way in comparison to women, but in general! Two years ago, there was a rumour about one of the regulars having behaved inappropriately towards me (which wasn’t true at all – in fact, we always got along super well in a friendly way). I told one of the guys I always talked to abou this and he was all “I wonder who started that talk. Surely not someone of us (= a group of thirty-something regulars who kinda lived at the gym and had known each other from birth)! We’re way too old and mature to be that gossipy!” And I was completely blown away by this because that either meant he didn’t realise how like 85% of what’s spoken in the gym is pure gossip or he didn’t think I would realise. Either way, duh.

      1. Nerdling*

        I *just* had a conversation with my husband and a couple of guy friends the other day that pretty much culminated in me saying, “I don’t ever want to hear about how much drama women get into. You guys just spent half an hour outlining all this drama over a game. A card game. Y’all sound like a bunch of high schoolers.” So, yeah, men don’t gossip. Ha!

      2. JB*

        Right? The men I work with are every bit as likely to corner me in the break room and tell me about the latest gossipy thing they’ve heard, but I can only think of one who would label it as gossip. I mean, he’s just as bad as everybody else (we are a surprisingly gossipy group given that nothing interesting happens here), but at least he’s honest about it.

  12. Tomato Frog*

    Re: 5, even if he’s just expressing concern for her safety and not actually doing anything illegal, this stuff makes me furious. If it’s not safe for a woman to walk somewhere, it’s not safe for a man to be alone there, either.

    After I went to college and well-meaning idiots started expressing concern for my safety every time I went out alone after sundown, I finally just looked up the crime statistics so I could tell people just exactly how wrong they were. OP, if you are not actually traveling through a high crime-rate area, it might be helpful to look up the statistics and cite them.

    1. Graciosa*

      I also had that experience in college, and found it really irritating. I’m supposed to cower indoors because you’re afraid?

      I’m entitled to the same freedoms as any other citizen, including the right to walk on public streets if I choose – and I’m quite capable of making that decision for myself.

      1. Kelly L.*

        And we should put on coats when other people are cold. :D

        It’s infantilizing. And when infantilizing is only applied to women…yeah.

    2. Allison*

      I do something similar when I go to Baltimore. When I tell people I’m going, they freak and tell me how dangerous it is and how I need to do this and that to stay safe. Then I found a map of where the dangerous crime actually takes place, and now I show it to people saying “Here’s where the bad stuff happens, and here’s where I’m going to be, notice how they’re totally different parts of the city. ‘Kay thanks.”

    3. Joey*

      Do a quick search for gift of fear on this site and you’ll see a number of scenarios where women feel or see reason to fear in situations where a man probably wouldn’t. The creepy security guard and creepy co workers come to mind.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Joey, you do realize that a lot of the commenters you’re trying to pick a fight with here ARE women, right? Really, I’m sure most of us get the idea that women have safety concerns that men don’t. The sun going down != creepy coworkers/bad neighborhoods/unsecured workspaces.

        1. Kelly L.*

          This. It’s not that we don’t have safety concerns, it’s that we don’t appreciate having someone else’s safety concerns imposed on us at times when we are not actually afraid. We are adults and can do our own threat assessment. If something does worry us, we can either take steps to deal with it ourselves, or talk to the boss if it’s something the workplace can help with.

          1. Allison*

            Exactly! We’re adults, we should be permitted to make our own judgement calls about what’s safe and what isn’t. We don’t need other people imposing unsolicited protections on us as though we were children.

          2. AvonLady Barksdale*

            Plus, one of the tenets of Gift of Fear is to listen to yourself and trust your own instincts, not someone else’s. It’s the inverse of, “Oh, but he’s so niiiiice!” Well, I don’t think he’s nice and I’m not going out with him, and I feel pretty comfortable taking the subway at 3am on a Saturday so I’m going to do it.

          3. Elsajeni*

            Interestingly, since Joey brought up the Gift of Fear, one of the big points de Becker makes in that book is that the kind of hyper-cautious behavior that’s often urged on women as “self-protection” can actually be harmful, because of the way it throws off your instincts and your ability to listen to them — if you’re anxious and fearful every time you, say, walk through a parking lot at night, it becomes hard to distinguish real danger signals from general background anxiety. So, like you said, we can do our own threat assessments — and we’re probably better off doing so than listening to what someone else says we should be afraid of.

            1. neverjaunty*

              EXACTLY. The entire dang point of the book is that being terrified of “being out after dark” or “talking to strangers” is actively harmful and detrimental to one’s safety. The idea that it backs up sending women home early is….strange, to say the least.

              1. Observer*

                Also that fact, as Joey says, that women express concerns where a guy might not see an issue also seems to work against the idea of “sending” a woman home. Clearly, women are perfectly capable of picking up on things that guys might not – so why would anyone think it’s appropriate to assume that women are missing signals?

                It sounds like “Oh, some women have expressed concerns that took me by surprise, so now I’m going to go all chicken little on women who don’t do that, because they must be missing something.”

        2. Joey*

          Oh I don’t mind if people jump on me. And yes I know there are lots of women on this site. I’m simply trying to point out that it’s a little unreasonable to be furious at a viewpoint that’s fairly common in both women and men.

          1. Kelly L.*

            It’s not the viewpoint itself, it’s the way it’s being enforced. You (general you) can feel that way all you want. You can’t use that feeling to make women second-class citizens at your workplace. That’s discrimination.

            1. Joey*

              Oh I agree it’s wrong, but to me its like being furious when people have assumed my real name is Jose or that I’m from Mexico because of my skin color.

              I think people should save the hostility for the intentional acts and take the well intended, but wrong acts as opportunities to educate. I’ve encountered many really really nice people that are ignorant about race and equality and it just seems mean spirited and unproductive to be angry.

              1. LBK*

                I understand what you’re saying, but sometimes the unintentional stuff just seems so wildly wrong that you can’t fathom how someone would be unaware of what they’re doing/saying that it’s hard to give a calm, level response. I’ve certainly had that happen to me, where I struggled to see something as an opportunity to educate because I was so stunned that someone could be so naïve about the implications of their comments.

                It’s an interesting exponential effect, because I think the more you understand how microaggressions and other unintentional things contribute to institutionalized prejudice, the harder it is to not balk when you see it.

              2. Beezus*

                Do you mean that someone who has been treated in a discriminatory manner has an obligation to object to that treatment politely if the person being discriminatory was polite about it? I believe that every person has a responsibility to be mindful of their own prejudices and be conscious of how their actions and words might be unjustly harmful to someone else. If someone fails to do that, it would be nice if one could react in a way that was constructive and rational, but I disagree that a righteously angry response is necessarily unproductive, and I think you’re wrong that it’s inherently the job of the person in the right to try to educate.

                Also, your analogy doesn’t apply – it includes someone making an incorrect assumption about your race, and doesn’t include any negative effect on you; the original situation involved an employer knowing the OP’s gender and telling her to work differently because of it, in a way that might affect her ability to be successful – really not the same thing.

                1. Joey*

                  It’s not an obligation, it’s just that many problems can be solved by approaching people nicely and respectfully so why wouldn’t you want to try that before labeling someone a racist or sexist.

                  And you’re absolutely wrong that assumptions about race have no negative impact. Have you ever worried that people hold predjudices against you because of who you are? Being made to feel like you don’t belong or are less of a person is a real impact. Worrying that you may not have the same opportunities as others is real. Wondering if small assumptions are a sign of more impactful predjudics is a real thing. For example, when my boss assumed some stereotypical things about me I often wondered if those beliefs would affect my raises or career opportunities. It affected me to the point that I left to go to a company where I wouldn’t have to worry about those things.

                2. Zillah*

                  @ Joey – I don’t disagree with you. I think that people are often most responsive to calm dissent and explanations. However, I also know that, at least for me, it can become very, very tiring to always be the calm and reasonable one while other people are saying things that are hurtful or insulting about groups that I belong to.

                3. catsAreCool*

                  “someone who has been treated in a discriminatory manner has an obligation to object to that treatment politely if the person being discriminatory was polite about it? ”

                  Isn’t objecting to something politely (but firmly) one of the best ways to get someone to stop that treatment? If you object rudely, the other person might just think you’re being mean.

                4. Observer*

                  I agree that the analogy is not a really good one. But, it is worthwhile to try to understand where someone is coming from. There really is a difference between someone who is just being stupid, someone who is an equal opportunity micro-manager or is in the habit of telling others how to live their lives, and someone who is specifically a sexist jerk. It’s different on a moral and personal level. And, in a workplace context even more importantly, it makes a practical difference.

              3. Tomato Frog*

                To be clear, I feel furious — I do not act furious. I am very polite. And secondly, I found anger to be a very productive response because it inspired me to do research that still sustains me when baseless fears start to creep in.

          2. LBK*

            I don’t think most of the commenters are saying there aren’t differences in risk for men and women, just that they don’t appreciate someone else gauging that risk for them. A male boss isn’t necessarily wrong to feel more worried about his female employees’ safety, but to make policy decisions as a result is crossing the line.

            1. fposte*

              Technically, the difference in risk is that men are victims of workplace violence *more* often than women. I haven’t dug into the stats enough to know if that’s a greater likelihood or if that’s male overrepresentation in jobs more prone to violence, but I don’t think there’s any reason to automatically assume women are more at risk, either. I’ll append a link to the interesting DOL doc about workplace violence stats.

              (Not that it’s a contest, of course–you don’t have to be in the “most likely” class not to want it to happen to you.)

                1. Joey*

                  Oh I don’t doubt that. Men fight and threaten to fight each other a whole lot more than women at work.

              1. LBK*

                Huh, interesting! If anything that just contributes further evidence to how sexist this kind of thinking is on the manager’s behalf – it’s based purely on gender role assumptions, because if this were a serious attempt at managing liability and protecting employees, he’d be sending the men home early.

                1. fposte*

                  I do think it’s interesting that women are viewed as likelier to be victims; I think some of this is really tacit fears about sexual violence rather than crime per se.

                  But I do think that there’s a higher male predominance in jobs like law enforcement and security (I’m betting also cab driving) that might complicate the stats a bit too.

                2. Kelly L.*

                  Though is he concerned about workplace violence, or violence that happens on your way home from work? I had thought the latter, for whatever it’s worth.

                3. fposte*

                  It looks like males are also statistically likelier to be victims than females in that situation too, though.

                4. LBK*

                  I think some of this is really tacit fears about sexual violence rather than crime per se.

                  Exactly what I was just thinking as I was reading through some of the other comments. I’d be willing to bet women are more specifically worried about sexual assault in these situations than other forms of attack – and in that case I’d think they are justified in feeling more scared of it than men, even if it accounts for a smaller percentage of violent crimes overall.

        3. jag*

          A guy speaking here.

          Is Joey trying to pick a fight – that is, his intention is to disagree and get conflict? Or is he disagreeing because of what he believes?

          Those are not the same thing.

          1. Kelly L.*

            He’s a frequent player of devil’s advocate, which is not necessarily a bad thing! But it can cause people to surmise one is playing DA again rather than speaking from deep personal conviction.

            1. Joey*

              I know some people here probably frequently see me that way, but I don’t come here to pick a fight for entertainment. I think hearing and discussing every reasonable viewpoint leads to betters outcomes. I think there is a lot of value in dissent. I’m a big believer in asking my folks to “beat up” my ideas and don’t see much value in people nodding their heads in agreement.

              I’m not one to just comment that Alison (or anyone for that matter) is right (although she frequently is). I think every solution can be improved upon.

              1. fposte*

                Plus you don’t take being disagreed with personally. So I feel like I can be as blunt as I please with you, which is kind of enjoyable :-).

                1. Joey*

                  Its a huge mystery to me why people take disagreement so personally.

                  It’s like you’re frustrated at yourself for not coming up with perfection every single time.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  Joey, in all seriousness there may be a couple things going on that make people take a disagreement personally (please understand that I mean generic-you here, not necessarily “you, Joey”). One of them is when the thing you’re disagreeing about is more or less academic to you, but part of the other person’s reality. That can feel like you are trivializing their situation and thinking of their real-life issues as interesting, but ultimately not important beyond its value as intellectual cud.

                3. A Cita*

                  Yeah, I find you’re always ruining the conversation with your unrelenting use of logic and facts. If Joey takes no umbrage, I do on his behalf. How dare you! :)

                4. fposte*

                  @neverjaunty–I think sometimes people make assumptions about what’s part of commenters’ reality, though (and, as we’re discussing with the stats conversation, people’s narratives are not necessarily the same as their reality). I’ve seen several people of color get lectured here about discrimination, for instance, and I think I’ve been dismissed a time ro not for not being read as the gender that I am.

                5. neverjaunty*

                  @fposte: True, but kind of beside the point. Joey was mystified why anyone would take disagreement personally. One reason people take disagreements personally is when an issue is personal to them and of real-life importance, and they believe that the other person is treating the discussion as an amusing intellectual diversion.

          2. fposte*

            Joey’s a regular and valued commenter, jag. The fact that he disagrees with people doesn’t mean he’s trying to pick a fight.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Seconding this. I really appreciate the fact that we have varied opinions here, and Joey is thoughtful and calm even when he has a different take on something that a group of others, two qualities that make him an excellent commenter.

            2. A Cita*

              Jag is responding to neverjaunty’s:
              Joey, you do realize that a lot of the commenters you’re trying to pick a fight with here ARE women, right?

              He’s not saying Joey is picking fights. I think.

              And agreed. I enjoy reading his responses, even the ones I don’t agree with. Part of it may be because they are typically short and I’m partial to short.

              1. Joey*

                I like you lose interest when I see long narratives. its like nails on a chalkboard when I start reading paragraphs that could have been summed up in a few bullet points.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Since AAM has weighed in, I really don’t think it would be appropriate to turn the thread into a discussion about Joey.

      2. Colette*

        There’s a significant difference between judging for yourself that you’re not comfortable in a situation and having someone else make that decision for you.

      3. Tinker*

        Do a quick actual read of the book in question, and you’ll realize that a large proportion of its point involves NOT being fearful of broad-brush scenarios that happen all the time (e.g. “night”) in order to be more attentive to more specific situations that may contain indications of actual incipient violence (e.g. “a person who seems intent on cutting off your routes of escape”).

        1. Joey*

          There’s been so much talking up of it here I feel like Id probably be disappointed that it’s not the solution to all the worlds problems.

          1. esra*

            You’d probably be better off using other references then.

            The book’s not my thing, but your comment read to me a little like “Look at all these women complaining about their fears and this book and then now complaining about not being able to work late.” Like, it can be two things.

      4. bridget*

        I don’t think you’re necessarily wrong (I am more aware of certain kinds of dangerous situations than many men I know) and depending on the situation/place/type of crime one is worried about, women may or may not be more vulnerable.

        But that’s really not the point. I’m an adult who gets to decide which risks (and precautions) she is willing to take. If I’m worried about walking home late at night, I can decide whether to take precautions, like taking a taxi or asking a friend to walk with me to my car. I don’t need my manager insisting that I leave earlier than the men in order to protect me against (what he perceives as) my own poor judgment.

    4. TK*

      This. I’m a man and due to my experiences and background I certainly don’t feel very safe walking alone in an area regarded as unsafe either. I know that statistically speaking I’m less likely to be a victim due to being male– and thus don’t feel as unsafe many women likely do– but I don’t have much confidence in my self-defense skills (less than many women, probably!) were something to happen.

      1. fposte*

        Unless stats have changed recently, you’re actually statistically more likely to be a victim than a woman.

        1. Hotstreak*

          In the link you posted above, it seems that men are more likely to be victims of violence than women, not that an individual man is more likely to be a victim than an individual woman, if they are in the same situation. Would need to take information on instances and duration of exposure to the situations in question and cross reference that with data on reported violent crimes (from your post above).

          I apologize if this was covered elsewhere! I haven’t been able to find it & want to make sure the information is accurate.

          1. Zillah*

            I’d actually really like to dig into this, too – I do wonder whether the incidence of violence is affected by people’s patterns of behavior. If anyone has any links, I’d love to see them. Otherwise, I’ll actually try to dig into it and report back, if there’s interest!

          2. fposte*

            Right, that’s all you can really get with broader statistics; they rarely will mean that you personally have x percentage of danger. I probably should say “men statistically” rather than “you statistically.” There may be studies that cover more factors and allow drilling down with more specificity, but an individual personal prediction is pretty unlikely.

            That being said, unless there are identified confounding factors, it’s a mistake (and not an uncommon one) to assume that because those statistics are broader they don’t apply to you (generic you there). I also think that gendered perception of risk is so based in narrative rather than in factual grounding that I think the stats have real informative value.

        2. catsAreCool*

          I wonder if the stats are that way because women might be more socialized to avoid certain situations or be careful in certain situations.

          I’m female, and when I go out at night, I’m careful. I don’t go to dangerous areas. Even in safe areas, at night, I pay attention to everything going around me and make an effort not to let anyone I don’t know get close to me. I tend to either hold my keys so that I could defend myself with them or hold my purse for defense. If I’m really concerned (safe area but kind of isolated, and I feel nervous), I’ll get out the defense spray and hold it so I can use it if I need to.

          I think all of these tips make sense for men to follow too, but maybe they don’t get the same messages about being careful?

    5. JB*

      The infuriating thing for me is that a few years ago, I looked back and thought about all the things I hadn’t done over the years because I was worried about my safety. I could kick myself. Everyone should be aware of their surroundings and use good judgment, but the tendency to go overboard and just stay home rather than go somewhere at night by myself is overkill.

      1. Tomato Frog*

        Yeah, that’s what gets me mad. It’s not just a condescending-but-well-intentioned thought — it’s actually a hurtful mindset. And we help to spread it thinking we’re being kind.

      2. jag*

        We’re in an extremely fear-focused society, at least in the US, with the media focused on it and government officials making decisions based too much on it.

        I highly recommend the book Beyond Fear for a look at how we perceive risk.

    6. Chinook*

      “After I went to college and well-meaning idiots started expressing concern for my safety every time I went out alone after sundown, I finally just looked up the crime statistics so I could tell people just exactly how wrong they were.”

      The university I went to had a “SafeWalk” program where a duo (one man, one woman) could be called upon to walk anyone anywhere on campus (or slightly off if it wasn’t too far – our campus was huge) after sundown. It sovled the problem of feeling unsafe in some dark corners and drove home the point that being if a specific gender didn’t make you inherently more or less safe. I believe it was used equally by men and women around campus.

      1. Calgary Recruiter*

        Interesting fact – the University I went to (in Ontario) suspended its “SafeWalk” program as there were unspecified incidents that made the University feel the program was unsafe for the SafeWalk volunteers. They moved to a RideSafe program instead (2 University owned vans that would pick up and drop off on-campus and in the surrounding areas).

        1. Anonsie*

          Unsafe for the SafeWalk volunteers. I know I shouldn’t chuckle but I did. Christ alive what is wrong with college campuses?

          But yeah, where I went to school the deal was you could call security from any of those blue emergency phones and ask them to drive one of their patrol SUV things to your location and drive you wherever you needed to go within a specific boundary just outside campus. There were a lot of muggings and assaults on this one particular piece of road and no one ever wanted to walk there alone. It wasn’t gender or time of day specific, and while they said “personal safety” primarily you could also hitch a ride for other reasons– when I hurt my back and had to carry something heavy to class they were happy to drive me from the bus stop to my building.

          1. fposte*

            At my graduate school, they had a security vehicle safety service but for insurance reasons (I think) you couldn’t actually ride in the cars–so you’d walk home the longest way possible, because you couldn’t take non-street walkways, being creepily shadowed by a security vehicle going 5 miles per hour. Yeah, not popular.

            1. Anonsie*

              “For insurance reasons.” I would put down actual cash money that this was either a wild misinterpretation or massive oversight by someone because what the crap.

  13. AvonLady Barksdale*

    #4: I sympathize, but Alison is right– this is on you now. My last company neglected to deduct NY City tax from my paycheck, and that tax bill was a shocker. The head of finance said she would fix it but she never did, and luckily for all of us, I moved out of state a few months later. Take a very, very close look at that next paycheck!

    1. Sydney Bristow*

      I sympathize too. I worked for a company in a state that didn’t have income tax then left and got rehired at the same company in a different state that did have income tax. I was young and never thought to look at my paystubs that closely. I worked out a payment plan with my state. It was a tough lesson to learn!

    2. Burlington*

      Ah, city taxes. If your employer doesn’t know about them, that’s painful. I hate city taxes so much.

    3. Mouse of Evil*

      I sympathize too. I had a part-time job once that only withheld taxes from ONE paycheck all year, because there was a threshold that your pay had to be above in order to trip their withholding (yeah, I don’t get it) and the only time I did that was the pay period in which I worked more hours than usual. I didn’t notice because the extra pay minus withholding was so close to my usual pay with nothing withheld. I ended up owing a LOT of money. I’ve seen some really nice full-time jobs come up with that employer (right now they’ve got three posted that I’m qualified for), but every time I think about applying there the spectre of the $1400 tax bill comes back to haunt me, and I don’t apply.

    4. catsAreCool*

      Years ago, I worked at a fast food restaurant, and one year they took almost nothing out for taxes. Fortunately, I was saving to buy a computer, so I was able to use that savings to pay my taxes. It would a tough thing.

  14. BabyEatsDingo*

    Re #1- A lot of companies have surveillance cameras that record who comes and goes in the parking lot and at the front door. You could try asking the company to review their tape to confirm that you did retrieve those items from your car and take them into the building.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      That would confirm the OP’s version of events and prove what they were saying, but I don’t think it would absolve them of liability as the company would argue that the OP was negligent in their care of the property.

      1. fposte*

        If it were to go to court, yes; if it’s just between the entities, it may be more about the perceived unjust enrichment than the actual items, which aren’t really that costly in business terms. I think a lot of places would drop the matter if it turned out the stuff went astray in-house.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          It wouldn’t matter to me that much who took the property. I’d still seriously consider asking for the OP to pay for what was missing. Unless they could convince me they acted in good faith and it was complete unforeseen that they property would be stolen.

          Leaving it tucked under the reception desk with a message sent to someone to say that’s where it would be might be OK, dropping the bag inside the door and leaving it in plain view of anyone who walked passed would be that careless that I’d be asking for the money

          1. MK*

            Here’s the thing: once you have fired someone effective immediately, you are no longer in a professional relationship with them and they owe you no special consideration. If the company was so worried about these items, they could have sent someone with the OP to get them. In my view, it would be the company that would have to prove the OP did something malicious or grossly negligent, not the other way around.

            1. Colette*

              And do you want to be known as the person who charged someone you fired for equipment they returned (even if they can’t prove it)? How will that look to your other employees?

            2. Apollo Warbucks*

              It’s not asking for special consideration and its not to do with having a professional relationship. Its about what is fair and equitable, in the UK at least the Ex employee would have a common law duty to act with due care and diligence with someone else’s property, and as it’s civil law its on the balance of probabilities, so the judge would have to consider how a reasonable person might act in a similar situation.

              1. fposte*

                Right, but you’re still talking about what happens if they take it to court. At least in the U.S., a business really isn’t that likely to go to court for the value of a used iPad and cellphone; a lawyer will cost them more than they’d win. (I also doubt that there’s security footage anyway, so it’s probably a moot point.)

                It’s possible they’d hound the OP anyway, but I think that would be stupid–it really isn’t a lot of money, and it’s a result, as Wakeen’s Teapots notes upthread, of their botching the situation.

                1. Apollo Warbucks*

                  Hopefully it wont come to legal action, but if the OP can’t come to an agreement with the company then there’s a possibility that it could and I think that’s worth considering.

                  I’m not sure it would be all that likely in the UK either, some employers would write it off but others might pursue it. I think a lot would come down to the employees attitude to the situation and the explanation they gave.

                  From the little information we have I think the OP botched things more than the company, but there is a concept of contributory negligence, which could reduce the OP liability if the company didn’t act reasonably for example if the OP called up to tell someone it was left in reception and they left it for several hours before coming to collect it the OP could argue that the company increased the likelihood of theft by leaving the items there so long.

                  Also we don’t know if someone from the company did collect the items and is just hassling the OP because they didn’t hand the property back correctly.

                  It’s still several hundred dollars worth of equipment not every business is able to write it off, and I don’t think its reasonable to abandon someone else’s property and then not pay to replace it.

              2. MK*

                If I have something of yours and you ask for it back, I have no obligation to bring it to you, unless there is some relationship between us that creates such an obligation. It’s on you to come and take it; if I offer to bring it to you, I am doing you a favor/acting out of courtesy. If I leave it in your office, when you are not there, but are somewhere on the premises, that’s hardly unreasonable behavior.

                By the way, the OP said they left things “in the office right inside the door”, which to me means pretty obviously the actual office space, not the lobby of the building, as many commenters seem to assume.

                1. Zillah*

                  Yeah – I think the criticism of the OP is a little unnecessarily harsh. If their access to the building was taken away and there was no one in the lobby to retrieve the stuff right after they said they were going to go get it from their car… I don’t blame the OP for leaving it in the office rather than trying to call, wait around to see if someone showed up, etc.

                2. fposte*

                  I don’t know if I’d use the word “blame,” but I think it was a poor plan, if only for the very reasons that have played out here (though as I’ve said I think the business should have been on the ball here as well, and I understand that being fired may knock your logic for a loop). If it doesn’t belong to me, I want to make triple-sure that the people it does belong to have officially retrieved it. Hell, I do that now with tech I borrow from IT; I can prove the return of every dongle.

                3. Apollo Warbucks*

                  That sounds a bit childish and petty, the reasonable thing is to return things to the owner, and ensure an appropriate person takes possession.

                  Inside the office door could mean anything from the front door to the build, the reception area, the door to the IT departments office or something else entirely there’s not enough information to tell. Why would someone go to the trouble of going most if the way in to the office and not find someone to give it to? As I posted earlier there are degrees of scale depending on where it was left but no one knows where it was left.

            3. Joey*

              If they are still in possession of property that doesn’t belong to them they sure do have a responsibility to reasonably care for company property.

              Or are you suggesting that an employer should be free to leave your personal phone and iPad outside of the front door after they’ve fired you?

              1. fposte*

                Sure, but I’m also with Wakeen–if it’s the company’s property, it’s foolish of them not to taken more care in the handover, too, especially in a situation where they had the upper hand. If I were Judge Judy, I’d note the employer couldn’t have wanted them back very badly. (And I probably would split the damages as a result, which would probably be about $100 bucks apiece at this point.)

                1. fposte*

                  If they fired me, that ship may well have sailed anyway.

                  And if I’m Judge Judy, I don’t care about their reference :-).

                2. LBK*

                  I wonder if you could get Judge Judy to agree to give you a reference instead as part of the settlement?

              2. MK*

                The OP left it “in the office right inside the door”. Not outside of the building, or even inside the lobby of the building.

                If the employer who fired me went to my house, was answered by the cleaning lady and left my personal items on the table by the door, I wouldn’t feel they were negligent if the items went missing.

                1. Apollo Warbucks*

                  You mean left your property in your own private home where only people you know and trust are able to access? Because that’s not the same as a publicly accessible office.

      2. MK*

        Unless the company was over-the-top vindictive or the equipment specialized and highly valuable, I doubt they will choose to go to court for the price of a used charger, briefcase and tablet. I think it matters because of reputation and references; the OP doesn’t want this company to tell others they stole these items. While if a company told me an employee they had just fired was careless with returning their equipment, I wouldn’t feel all that sympatetic.

      3. catsAreCool*

        I think if the company cared about its property so much, they should have walked with the OP and made sure to get it back when the OP was leaving.

  15. Joey*

    1. I’m not questioning you but I think it’s worth knowing that your employer likely won’t believe that you left it unattended by the front door. They’re going to think you’re keeping it. I don’t know what type of building it is but leaving it inside the front door is about as responsible as saying you asked a stranger in the parking lot to return the items for you.

    1. jag*

      Depends on whether the door has limited access (is locked) or not. If it’s open to the public, then yeah, that’s bad. If only employees or people buzzed/let in can come in then it’s not the same.

  16. Allison*

    #5, yuck. Look, I do sometimes avoid situations because they seem unsafe or risky, but that’s my decision; when other people try to make those decisions for me, by not letting me do something or go somewhere, because it’s “not safe for a young lady,” I get mad. It’s 2015, and while the world sadly still isn’t safe for women, women should still get to make decisions about their own safety.

    And while expressing a little concern is fine, it should be framed as “I understand if you feel unsafe,” not “I’m worried this isn’t safe for you.”

    1. OhNo*

      Exactly. If it turns out the OP’s boss was just trying to state some concern for her safety, it is definitely possible to shut it down by saying what you just mentioned:
      “Thank you for your concern, but I’m able to make my own decisions about my safety.”

      If the boss follows up on that, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to offer suggestions that would help keep everyone safer, but in the end the point is that it’s your life, and your safety, and you shouldn’t have to change your habits or work hours to accommodate someone else’s misaligned concern.

  17. Joey*

    I’m curious about opinions if both women and men were required to stay late and a woman didn’t want to because she felt it’s unsafe for women to be alone outside at night.

    1. Kelly L.*

      My first instinct is that if I were this woman, it would be up to me to come up with a workaround, whether that’s having a big burly guy friend pick me up after work, or pepper spray, or whatever.

      (And of course the company should do its best to help all employees, regardless of gender, be safe while they’re still on company property, such as having good lighting , panic buttons, etc., whatever makes sense for the venue.)

      1. OhNo*

        I actually am required to work late at one of my jobs, in an area and situation where I don’t feel safe on my own, and this is exactly what I do: plan ahead, make friends with the security guard, carry something for self-defense, and get picked up straight from the door.

        Everyone’s different, of course, and I would hope that if anyone, man or woman, really didn’t feel safe staying late, that the manager would try to accommodate them.

    2. Helka*

      If staying late (or working a late shift) was a requirement of the job, then that woman should look for a different job.

      1. JoJo*

        You’re assuming that there are plenty of jobs available. Sometimes people work night shift at a convenience store because it’s all they can get.

    3. Cat*

      My company pays for cabs home for both male and female employees if it’s late enough that they feel unsafe (in the employee’s own discretion). Companies can set up systems to make employees feel safe that aren’t gender-based, even if there’s an inequity in how they’re taken advantage of (I have no idea if that’s true where I work or not). But you can’t excuse only a woman from working late.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        A hundred (okay: more like fifteen) years ago when I worked at a law firm, the firm paid for a cab ride home for anyone who was still at work at or after 7:30 p.m.–no questions asked assuming your overtime had been approved (if you were a non-exempt sort, as I was). (They also had slightly flexible flex time, so my normal hours were 10-6:30 and a colleague’s were 8-4:30, and I don’t know what they’d have done if someone had asked for a normal schedule of 11-7:30. Probably rejected it because it didn’t cover enough core business hours. But I digress.) For a while I was parking at a distant metro station and driving in, and the cab took me to the parking lot, drove me to my car, and didn’t leave until the driver had seen that my car started. (This is obviously the parking-lot equivalent of waiting until the passenger is safely in the house.) To my knowledge there has never been an audit of the cab voucher system to see whether it is used more by men or by women.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I love it when cab drivers do that. When my bf and I take a cab home, the driver often waits until we’re in the house before he drives off. DC cabs have a pretty negative reputation, but I will forever be grateful for the guy who drove me back to my car in Adams Morgan after a very late night and didn’t leave until the engine started and my lights were on.

    4. neverjaunty*

      If a woman didn’t want to because her belief was that “it’s unsafe for women to be alone outside at night” generally, rather than having specific concerns about the neighborhood or local crime rate, then it would be appropriate to point out that (at least in the US) she is much more likely to be the victim of violence at the hands of somebody she knows, like her husband or a family friend, than some rando who happens to be outside after 5:00 p.m. in January.

      1. illini02*

        I think in theory thats easy to say, and maybe even true. But I just picture a letter to AAM. “Dear Alison, I don’t feel safe being the last person leaving at night. Its a big city, and while this particular neighborhood isn’t particularly unsafe, I’m a bit uneasy. I went to my boss, and he just ignored me feelings and pointed out stats about how its more likely that someone I know would attack me. I don’t want to get fired, but I just don’t feel comfortable.” I don’t think people would be all that sympathetic to the boss in that situation.

        1. Helka*

          We’re not talking about “I personally feel uneasy about my own safety” though. We’re talking about “I believe across the board this is not safe for women.” There’s a really big difference.

          1. Zillah*

            Right – it’s the difference between an individual woman going to their boss and saying, “I’m not comfortable with this” and “I don’t think you should allow any women to do this.” It’s completely different. (And, for that matter, I’d hope the boss wouldn’t blow off a male employee who said the same thing!)

        2. Natalie*

          I’m not sure about that – it’s not much different than the long conversation we had a few weeks ago about the homeless people sleeping around the office, and most people didn’t react the way you’re predicting.

          1. illini02*

            I think the homeless person conversation was different because it was framed that she didn’t like that there were homeless people outside the office and wanted it them gone. I think that made it sound really bad as if all homeless people would attack her and were crazy.

            1. LBK*

              But overall the sentiment was that she was mis-assessing her own level of risk and that she didn’t have anything to worry about – basically exactly what you’re saying the manager would do in your hypothetical scenario.

        3. neverjaunty*

          The OP didn’t say anything about being the last person in the office, and you’re rather putting your thumb on the scales with a loaded term like “ignore”, no? Even in your example, a good boss would still want to find out why the employee felt that way. Maybe thr security guard is being creepy and she’s not comfortable coming right out and saying so. Maybe there have been unsafe incidents in the area she has not quite out her finger on beyond feeling unsafe.

          But heck, I can imagine some letters to AAM too:

          “I’m in a small office where all the employees are men except my co-worker, Jane. We all regularly stay late to finish up projects on time. Lately I’ve noticed that Jane never stays late, and we are expected to pick up any unfinished work she leaves. In the last few months she goes home early every day. When I asked my manager about this, he said that it’s just not safe for women to be out alone after dark.”

          “I have a direct report who wants to go home early every day regardless of whether her work will be completed on time. She is exempt and this is an industry where working late is not unusual. Her reason is that it’s not safe for women to be out alone after dark. AAM, it’s winter and gets dark early, so this means that I would have to let her leave work every day at 4 pm so she can take the bus and get home before dark. Is this required?”

    5. HM in Atlanta*

      If an employee says, “I feel unsafe,” we can have a conversation and put together a plan for him/her to feel/be safer. If someone speaks for all women (or all men), I direct them back to themselves.

    6. LBK*

      I couldn’t find a letter that was exactly like this situation but there have been a few with security-related concerns, and in all those cases the response has been “talk to a manager about making reasonable accommodations and if they won’t do that, then look for another job”. Reaction to sexism aside, that’s more or less the reaction here in practical terms – that if there’s a safety issue, there are ways the company can adjust without forcing something specifically on women (such as offering a cab service or hiring a security guard at night).

      I get what you’re saying and that there’s something of a “have your cake and eat it too” situation happening, but through some of the incensed phrasing I think the sentiment is the same: safety should be for everyone and should be created in a reasonable and accessible way.

      I’m a man but not a particularly large or physically adept one, so I worry for my safety sometimes too. This kind of policy would piss me off for the opposite reason – maybe I would want to leave early sometimes to avoid going through a sketchy area at night, but since apparently men are never targets and are obviously all capable of defending themselves physically against an attacker, I get to stay in the office. Thanks boss! I’ll be thinking of you if I get mugged.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        You know, I thought of that. And also, if the men in this workplace are staying late all the time to do the work because the boss doesn’t think the women should stay late, I’d want them to speak up as well. I’d assume the men would like to go home at a reasonable time too.

      2. catsAreCool*

        “safety should be for everyone and should be created in a reasonable and accessible way.” This!

    7. Rayner*

      Women are also capable of holding sexist and misogynistic views about the world – these ideas are taught to us through explicit and implicit social conditioning, and unlearning requires education on the subject (self taught or otherwise). The F on the driving license doesn’t automatically make you change how you think and react to the world around you.

      If the woman in your scenario didn’t want to stay late, then there’s two options. Either they work around it if that’s possible – come in earlier, work from home in the evenings, have a shorter lunch break, whatever. Or, they find a new job. It’s the boss’s job to make sure that the area is as safe as possible for everybody, and once that’s accomplished, then it’s up to the individual worker to either work it out to get with the program or leave.

      Sexist ideas and statements are gross no matter who they come from. .

      1. LBK*

        I don’t agree that feeling unsafe is completely due to social conditioning. I don’t have any kind of stats to back this up but I’d guess that the majority of women don’t feel confident in their ability to overpower a male attacker – I sure don’t as a 5′ 7″ male who hasn’t been the target of the socializing you’re described.

        Now, if she truly wasn’t referring just to her own safety and thought that women as a whole were at risk of attack, then I’d be inclined to agree. But a woman feeling unsafe on her own doesn’t strike me as sexist, even if part of the reason she feels unsafe is because she’s a woman.

        1. JB*

          Well, a lot of it is, though. Not all of it, but a lot of it. Women are taught from the time they are old enough to go anywhere on their own to look out for attackers, that they are vulnerable, and that the only thing keeping them from being attacked is vigilance, luck, and some sort of method of defense like pepper spray. That’s why we get freaked out by parking garages (we’re told that women get attacked there a lot, easy for people to hide), that’s why we hold our keys in a way we think makes them weapons, that’s why we tell our friends where we’ll be when we’re going out with a new guy, why so many of us carry pepper spray, why so many of us are scared to walk down a street alone at night or go anywhere by ourselves at night. From the time we are young, it’s drilled into us, both overtly and more subtly, that we could be attacked AT ANY MOMENT.

          1. LBK*

            We have definitely reached a point where the amount of emphasis put on discouraging people from committing violence in the first place isn’t commensurate with the amount of time we spend teaching women to be scared. However, I don’t think we’ll ever live in a world where knowing basic safety and having some self-defense tricks up your sleeve won’t have merit. I do stuff like not sitting in my car with it on after I get in, because it’s a simple measure that doesn’t significantly impede my normal life but may prove to protect me in the long run. I don’t do it because of a worldly pressure I feel to be afraid.

          2. ThursdaysGeek*

            When I went to college (35 years ago!) the young women were told that the campus was unsafe and that we shouldn’t be out alone. I hated asking someone to walk me home after dark, so I would sometimes end up fearfully walking alone across campus. When I changed colleges, I realized I didn’t like being afraid, and since I now had a bicycle, I was faster than any would-be mugger. So I quit being afraid. Perhaps it was easier to un-learn because I hadn’t learned it until I was out of high school. I still remember that freedom of no longer being afraid.

        2. Rayner*

          I meant to imply that a woman who says, “all women are unsafe when they are walking around outside, therefore all women in the office should not stay late” has sexist ideals, even though she is a woman – not that a woman who specifically says, “I feel unsafe around here at night in my experience” is sexist.

        3. aebhel*

          I think there’s a difference between saying “I don’t want to work late, I don’t feel safe in this area after dark” and saying “Women shouldn’t be working late because they’re not safe after dark”. One is individual, and might be based on personal experience or the particular area where the business is located. The other is a broad and baseless generalization.

      2. Joey*

        They’re not all gross. i know many people who are taught many women related “manners”. I wouldn’t call them gross. Outdated maybe, but not gross.

        1. Kelly L.*

          The great thing about the women-related manners is how some of them can be turned gender neutral pretty easily. It’s nice for anybody to hold a door for anybody, that kind of thing.

          1. Vladimir*

            This, people should be more courtious to each other generaly, not because of ones gender. btw. It is also one of values in company I work for. Thinks like be nice to everybody, help everybody etc.. . What is nice people really generaly follow this.

          2. A Bug!*

            And if those manners can’t be made gender neutral without becoming silly, then it’s a silly custom altogether.

            Like Kelly L. says, holding the door open for a woman becomes holding the door open for any person close enough behind you. Offering a woman your seat on the bus or in a waiting room becomes choosing to stand when there are more people waiting than seats, if you’re able. No weirdness, just kindness.

            “Chivalry is dead” doesn’t have to mean that people are rude jerks to each other all the time. It can mean, quite simply, that a person’s perceived gender has nothing to do with how politely you treat them. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly how it should be.

        2. Rayner*

          Teaching people that women and men have to behave differently in terms of manners is inherently sexist. A woman should not be taught to modulate her voice and refrain from interrupting people when a man is not, you know?

          It might be delightful to see women behaving in what we might see as ‘old fashioned’ ways, or to think of them as somewhat charming, but unless we question it, it’s still teaching people that what’s between your legs dictates how you should interact with the world.

          Framing things as ‘women related manners’ demeans women and makes their path in work and social spheres that much harder. Politeness is not gender specific. Etiquette does not have to be exclusive to one gender or another.

          Holding doors is charming no matter who does it. Eating neatly is pleasant for everybody, no matter what gender. Handshakes that are comfortable and not dominating are much better for everybody’s comfort levels all around, not just for women.

          1. Joey*

            Tell that to all of the men who feel pressure to pay for their date or buy an engagement ring. And all of the women expecting it.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t think the argument is that it only sucks for women, or that women can’t buy into gender norms themselves. It hurts everyone to varying degrees.

              1. Joey*

                Oh agreed. im just saying let’s cut the guys some slack who, for example, make it a point to change out the 5 gallon water jug thingy. He’s not trying to be sexist and say all women are weak. Go easy on him.

                1. Cat*

                  Joey, I see what you’re saying, I’ve just never seen anybody go off on that guy or his equivalent ever. Or, in fact, say anything other than “thanks.”

                2. aebhel*


                  Although I did have a guy tell me I shouldn’t be changing the 5 gallon jug because I might hurt myself. Didn’t really appreciate that.

                3. A Bug!*

                  Why would it be necessary to make a point of changing the water jug? What’s the point being made there? If the jug needs changing and you’re able to do it, then change it, man or woman.

                  If you’ve been lectured by anyone for changing a water jug when you did nothing to suggest you were doing so as a gentlemanly gesture (although it seems to me that you do consider it a gentlemanly gesture), then I’m sorry that happened to you. But it really doesn’t need to be a gender thing.

            2. Rayner*

              That, Joey, is entirely my point. Enforcing gender manners etc, and social conditioning where men and women are streamed into thinking in particular ways harms all genders; men and women, and those who are bigender or agender etc as well.

              You can’t have it both ways.

              Either teaching women related manners (whatever that is) is right but then we have to accept that men and women must behave differently, which places the kinds of expectations on men that you suggest…. or, we have to move past them and acknowledge that charming though it may be, it’s still gross and sexist and time for it to stop.

    8. Laura2*

      I’d wonder how she managed to get anything done during the winter after work. Not going out alone after dark would mean I could not ride the train, go the gym, shop for food, or go to the bar to meet a friend for several months out of the year.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*


        When I first moved to Boston, my mother told me never to go out alone after dark. I reminded her that I had classes that got out at 9 and work that got out at 11, and didn’t work with anyone in my building, so that advice was utterly impossible.

    9. Zillah*

      I’ve been thinking about this, and I think it’s an interesting point – because I would give a boss who ignored that the side-eye, though I think I’d do that for a boss who ignored any employee expressing that they feel unsafe, not just for women. At the same time, though, I think it is important for managers to be conscious of gender issues – for example, while I think sharing hotel rooms is messed up anyway, I’d be horrified if I was told I had to share a room with a man.

    10. aebhel*

      That’s on her to manage, unless the employer is asking her to do something egregiously risky. “Work past 5PM” isn’t an egregiously risky request under most circumstances, and if the area around the business is actually that unsafe, it’s unsafe for everyone.

      It’s sort of like…I might decline to work overtime because I want to spend time with my kid (probably would, in fact). That’s my call to make, and it’s on me to make sure I get my work done efficiently enough that I don’t need overtime (or to take a job that doesn’t have an expectation of overtime). That does not, however, mean that my employer can forbid me from taking overtime because he thinks women should be home at 5 to spend time with their children.

    11. Not So NewReader*

      My two cents. When I was in my late teens I took a job near my home, with a chain store that was well known for it’s robberies. Eh, it was close to home, I was a teen, so I took the job.

      I was not happy about being there at 11 pm. My first night alone, some dude with a knife came in. Back in those days rotary dial phones were common. I could not even dial 911, I was shaking so badly. That was my last night alone.
      But my take away from that was neither men nor women should work alone at night in high risk jobs. The company knew its employees were vulnerable and did nothing. Even to this day, 30 years later, their employees still work alone at night. I have worked at night since then, but I always make sure there are going to be people around before I take the job.

  18. Ella*

    OP5 – I can understand your frustration. At my job, if you could not stay late, you would be assigned to way worse projects and it would seriously limit your career growth. I work with mainly men and, yes, I do stay late often. However, I did have a colleague pull me aside once and ask how I got home when I worked late. He knew I walk about an hour each way and I told him that I walk, take the bus or call a taxi, like any reasonable adult in my situation. Because I was matter of fact about it, he hasn’t asked since.

  19. Dolly*

    #5…It takes a lot to get me to actually jaw drop when reading. Did he actually say you can’t work late because you’re a women (couched, of course, in an admiral concern for the little lady’s safety?)

    Look, we all know violence against women is a real thing. But that is my responsibility as a woman to manage. If my employer offers late working and allows men to work late, they need to allow me to work late unless there is something different about my role that makes it prohibitive.

    1. little Cindy Lou who*

      Call me old fashioned but I don’t inherently see what’s wrong with #5 unless a) the boss is setting an unreasonably early and actual curfew on the hours rather than just a general suggestion that maybe she shouldn’t work past say 11pm and b) she has positive proof that the men weren’t also given a general be safe at night sentiment. (Because we’ve definitely seen people misinterpret and assume in letters before and there’s really not appropriate context to know). I also don’t think it’s inherently sexist for a male manager to express concern for the safety of a female employee who works late.

      I’ve had 3 male managers and 1 female. All 4 of those managers made their concern for my safety at night an outright discussion and priority. Of the male managers: The first would always stay with me in the office and we’d walk out to our cars together (Overseas business meant I could easily work until 2am during the monthly close). The second asked that I not hesitate to have him or security escort me through our parking garage when I worked late, because the poor lighting often made him nervous and that city did have some nearby crime incidents. And the third noted that he had some concern about me working late because I walk through a rough patch of my current city coming off the train to go to my home, and I assured him I’m on a main, well-lit street with plenty of activity round the clock. The female manager expressed similar concerns to all 3 of the men. Not a one of these managers came across as sexist by initiating this type of conversation; I just appreciated their concern for my well-being. I don’t doubt that each of them cared for and checked in with each of their employees, male and female.

  20. David P.*

    #5 – What are your thoughts on the opposite of this? What do you say when an employee does not feel safe being the only one at a building?

    1. Helka*

      If the employee doesn’t feel safe being the only one in a building (which is a pretty reasonable concern regardless of gender) then it’s the company’s job to make sure that all reasonable safety precautions are in place, and the employee’s job to decide if the reasonable safety precautions are enough to make the job worth keeping, or whether they want to look for something else.

    2. Colette*

      That’s not really the opposite – the opposite would be telling an employee it wasn’t safe for her to be the only employee in the building, not her deciding that for herself.

      But in that case, it depends whether being alone in the building is a necessary part of the job – if it is, then she needs to decide whether that’s a job she wants.

      1. fposte*

        Which ties into the issue in the post, because there are a lot of jobs that do require being alone at night–convenience stores, retail, etc.–and that’d be a heck of an employment limitation if women weren’t being permitted to do those jobs.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot*

            +1. Convenience store clerks suffer a lot of violence, regardless of gender, for a crappy low-paid job. And you could say “Well, they made the choice to accept that risk,” but it’s not a job someone is likely to seek out unless their options are very limited to begin with – very few people with better options would take such a job.

            Maybe convenience store owners should start scheduling two people for night shifts. Or installing bulletproof glass. Or….well, I’m not sure, but I think people’s lives are worth a little extra expense.

    1. Kelly L.*

      OMG, do you guys remember the letter where the OP’s boss stole her iPad and that’s how she caught him? That was crazysauce.

      1. Book Person*

        And whether or not “find my iPad” is even enabled if it is on. I find it a huge drain on my battery, personally.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Not a technical person, but I was wondering why the company did not ping the iPad or cell to figure out where it was. If I were the OP, I would be wanted to know what have they done to try to find it, other than assume she did not return it.

  21. SerfinUSA*

    Just go and have fun!
    Are the seats in a company suite? Those can sometimes be a bit more fancy, but still, it’s a sporting event.
    I worked for a company that owned a major sports team, and got to attend lots of games in the suite. They also gave tickets to certain clients and friends, so some games would have a mix of people and some would have all employees. People just settle in and enjoy the game, and depending on set up, enjoy catered food with a waiter and usher on hand, plus coat room and bathroom en suite and VIP parking.

    Live it up, and do a little networking too.

  22. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #4

    This happened to a C-level employee at a former job. He came on board, filled out his tax documents….then never checked to see if it was set up correctly. I believe it was the state tax that was in error. And I don’t know if it was his error or Payroll’s. He got a HUGE tax bill, as he was making six figures. He put up a huge stink and wanted heads to roll, but ultimately it was his fault for not checking his paystubs. He worked the entire year (hired in January – OUCH) and never once thought to check.

    When it comes to your taxes, check and double check. You sure don’t want to owe a large sum of money to the IRS or state.

  23. Retired PR Girl*

    When I worked for a Big Tobacco Company in NYC in the late eighties, if anyone worked past 8PM they were allowed to take a car home (not actually drive a car home, but call the car service and get picked up). Is that a perk that’s gone by the wayside along with slicked back hair, suspenders and horn rimmed glasses?

  24. Enjay*


    There are only two women in my office. I am usually the person who locks up in the evening – I’m the last one out (and am female). My female coworker works a 10-6 schedule while most of the other employees are gone by 4:30. When I’m off or need to leave early, my coworker has to leave with the men because they don’t want her here all alone in the evenings. It’s not safe, you know.

    She’s a tiny, petite little thing. I am….not.

    1. Jan*

      That’s even worse! At least the boss in the story probably means women in general, though that’s still ridiculous and shouldn’t be allowed. In your case, they’re not even consistent about which women they’re sexist and patronising towards.

  25. Collarbone High*

    I feel your pain, #4 — I once moved from Maryland to D.C. near the beginning of the year, and filed paperwork to change my state withholding right away. The tax rates were about the same (hi Montgomery County!) so I didn’t realize payroll hadn’t made the change until I did my taxes a year later and discovered I owed DC nearly $5,000. Luckily I had overpaid MD by the same amount, and I did my taxes early so I had time to get the MD refund before I had to pay DC. Payroll told me it “wasn’t convenient” for them to change the withholding state in mid-year, so they waited until year end. I was … not happy.

    1. Observer*

      I’m fairly sure that Payroll was blowing smoke. This stuff happens all the time. Besides, I’m fairly sure that they are legally required to make such a change – ESPECIALLY if it will result in a higher withholding.

      1. Collarbone High*

        They definitely were just blowing smoke. I’ve worked with various payroll software programs where changing the withholding state would take about 30 seconds. I could see a slight delay if the company didn’t have other employees in DC and wasn’t set up to make payments, but this was the federal government. I’m pretty sure they have employees in DC.

        Our payroll/benefits department was notorious for that kind of thoughtless error. One colleague’s wife had a baby, and he enrolled the baby in his health insurance. Benefits enrolled the baby and dropped his wife. “We thought that’s what you wanted,” they told him. His ensuing meltdown: “Why? WHY would I want my wife to lose coverage AS SHE WAS GIVING BIRTH?” was highly entertaining.

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