my employee listens to every conversation around her, I don’t want a promotion, and more

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

1. My employee stops to listen to every conversation around her

I am the team leader of our medical office and have 4 employees who report to me. I have one employee who listens to every conversation that I have with our medical providers and answers questions addressed to me. We are in a common area, and I have stopped at times to ask her if she needed me for something, as she blatantly turns around to listen to conversations that she is not a part of. She freezes at her computer if someone is on the phone and she wants to hear the conversation. Initially, I thought she was interested in learning more about the office and answers to questions that she might have herself. Now, I am convinced that she is just nosy and feels like she needs to prove she knows all the answers even when she is not asked. I am running out of patience!

Have you directly asked her to stop?

I’d say this: “Jane, I’ve noticed that you often stop what you’re doing to listen to conversations others are having. Working in an open environment like this, it’s really important to let others have private conversations. Plus, stopping to listen will hurt your productivity — and if you end up answering questions that were actually addressed to someone else, it can make all of us less productive, because you might or might not have full context that’s needed for the answer. Going forward, can you make more of a point of not letting the conversations happening around you distract you?”

2. My coworkers are pressuring me to apply for a promotion but I don’t want to

The number 2 person in my office announced her retirement recently, and ever since then, I’ve received a lot of pressure from my peers to apply for the job. The problem is that I don’t want that job, and I have very different career aspirations.

I am one of the most tenured people in my office. Several other tenured employees have told me that I should apply for the job anyway, simply because I currently hold a senior level position. These people say that I need to apply for the job to show the higher ups my ambition, my willingness to do what needs to be done, and my commitment to the organization. I feel that I do all of those things in my current positions. I don’t want to apply because I have no interest in the position, and I don’t want to waste the interviewer’s time. I feel like I would leave a really bad impression with HQ if I am selected for the job and declined the offer. Do my coworkers have a point?

What? No. You’re absolutely right that if you apply for the job, your company will assume you want it and will accept it if offered. Applying for appearance’s sake would be inconsiderate of their time and bad for your own career. Don’t listen to your coworkers.

If you’re approached by the job by someone above you, it’s fine to say, “Thanks so much for checking with me. I did give it some thought, but I don’t think I’d like to pursue it right now. I’m really happy doing (current work).”

3. Should I give my interviewer my business card from my current job?

I am looking for a new job while still employed. If I go to an interview, do I give my interviewer(s) a business card from current company? They should be able to contact me from the information on my resume, so I was thinking probably not.

Nope! In this context, a business card from your company would come across strangely, like you’re representing them (which you’re definitely not doing while interviewing for another job) or using their resources while interviewing. I know it’s kind of strange because it’s fine to use company-issued business cards in other situations where you’re not representing your company (like socially), but don’t do it in a job interview.

And really, there’s no need for a card anyway; they already have all of your information from your resume.

4. Who should I give my resignation to?

I’ve been on maternity leave for the past year (I’m in Quebec; a year-long maternity leave is standard). When I was working there, I had an excellent relationship with my boss, who was let go right after I went on maternity leave. The entire department was restructured, new people were hired, etc. I haven’t actually spoken to anyone from there in the past 6 months of my maternity leave.

I’m now going back to work, and have accepted a new job that I’m really happy with – a place I’ve worked before offered me a similar salary for 15 hours a week less, doing work I’m excited about doing with people I enjoy working with. However, I need to let my old job know that I won’t be returning.

Normally, I’d call/email/go see my old boss, but he’s no longer there, I have no idea who is there in his stead, and I have no idea who would even be considered my boss. The only contact I’ve had with the company in the past few months has been HR. Given the circumstances, is sending an email to HR letting them know I won’t be returning completely out of line? I’d like to leave on good terms and I don’t want them to think badly of resigning via email to HR, but since I haven’t been in for a year, there’s nothing to transition and I don’t even know who I’d contact.

In this circumstance, it’s fine to contact HR. You can even note that normally you’d be talking to your boss first, but she’s left and you haven’t yet had any contact with the new person.

Alternately, it would also be fine to contact the new boss too. Either way works.

5. Can we delay payroll if someone isn’t turning in their hours on time?

I am currently working as an office manager for a small handyman company. Part of my duties include collecting employee time cards and reporting hours to the third party vendor that processes our payroll. One employee in generally late with his time card, thus putting the rest of payroll on hold until he submits his. Do you know what the legal issues are around this? If an employee does not submit their time cards by stated deadlines, can we go ahead and process payroll? I know legally an employer has to pay all time worked, but what about the employees that now have their payroll on hold because of one worker who is always late?

And yes, I know this is a larger issue with accountability, and I have been pushing our boss to address that, but in the meantime, I don’t really know what to do about this payroll issue.

Your state almost certainly has a law that requires employees to be paid within X days of performing the work. To find out the law in your state, google your state name and “payroll laws.” You have to adhere to that timeline even if no one is reporting their hours on time. Your employer can, of course, discipline and even fire people who don’t report their hours on time, if that’s how they want to handle it, but they’re still obligated to pay everyone within that state-mandated timeline.

Of course, that may leave you wondering how you can know how much to pay an hourly employee if he isn’t reporting his hours on time — and that’s a question for your company’s management to figure out, because his laxness doesn’t relieve them of their legal responsibility.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 175 comments… read them below }

  1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    #5, you have to treat this as a disciplinary issue with not following the policy about due dates On timecards. I’m all for natural consequences normally, but in this case, it’s really your only option.

    It’s amazing how saying, “Percival, you are regularly missing the deadline for tuning in your timecard, and it is jeopardizing everybody’s pay as we’ll as the company’s ability to comply with the law. I’ve told you before that this is unacceptable. If this continues, I’ll have to consider whether I need to let you go”, will get someone’s attention. I mean, don’t start with threatening to fire him, but don’t give him 18 warnings either.

    1. Snowglobe*

      I think the point is that the OP is not the employee’s manager, and therefore does not have standing to discipline the employee over this.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Depending on how many levels of management there are, she could go to her boss and say “I can’t process payroll on time because Slacker doesn’t turn in his timecard on time. But I can’t just process payroll and not pay him because of [cite your state’s law here]. I need a way to handle this, and I suggest (disciplinary action) but that has to come from you, not me, since I’m not his boss”

        It seems to me that if there is a rule saying “turn your timecard in by X day” and Slacker isn’t doing it, that’s insubordination, and the boss may be able to use that as justification for disciplinary steps.

        Has anyone TOLD Slacker that this is a big deal? I’m pretty sure most people just think “oh, if I don’t turn in my timesheet, I won’t get paid, and that’s on me” not realizing that it is actually a legal problem.

        1. Chinook*

          “Has anyone TOLD Slacker that this is a big deal? I’m pretty sure most people just think “oh, if I don’t turn in my timesheet, I won’t get paid, and that’s on me” not realizing that it is actually a legal problem.”

          I am willing to bet that Slacker knows that submitting the time card late is a big deal but not about the legal implications. It seems to be a common problem with “field staff” (i.e. those who don’t have to be in the office and do little other paperwork) and one that is often good naturedly gripped about by our vendors (because we won’t pay them without back-up that includes signed off timesheets). Even if it went electronic (like we have with our staff), you still will have people who do all their paperwork once a month and may or may not see it as important as doing what they are paid to do (i.e. fix stuff). And no amount of explaining will convince some of them that they are also paid to do paperwork, especially if it wasn’t a big deal in the past.

    2. snuck*

      Another way to do it might be (check your laws/rules) that you pay a minimum number of hours and any benefits, overtime, allowances etc will not be paid.

      Then you can say to Slacker “Hey Slacker, I can only pay you for your minimum weekly hours this week because I don’t have your time sheet – so you’ll get 30hrs, and when you submit your paper work I’ll process it with the following pay roll run for the remaining allowances and overtime” and see if that gets him acting faster.

  2. The IT Manager*

    Sadly, it is probably illegal to fail to pay slacker employee for one pay period because his time card is late. Too bad because that would be the perfect way to make the point his delays in turning in his time card. OTOH don’t delay paying everyone else because of this one guy.

    You can however fire him if he’s really is causing problems and delays and extra/late work for whoever does processing. I assume you have been telling and asking him to get it his time card in on time. Tell him, he’s fired if it happens again, and execute if it happens again.

    Until then how much variability is there in his time card? Is there a certain minimum amount of hours that you know he worked that you can pay him for that and if he’s owed more, it’s processed as a corrected pay check next pay period.

    1. Snoskred*

      The IT Manager wrote – “Until then how much variability is there in his time card? Is there a certain minimum amount of hours that you know he worked that you can pay him for that and if he’s owed more, it’s processed as a corrected pay check next pay period.”

      That is what they tend to do here in Australia, in my experience, anyway. :)

      If this is an ongoing issue I’ve known some workplaces that chose to find entirely new ways of creating time cards..

      1. Cheesecake*

        We have this rule in Europe too “here is deadline, if you don’t provide your signed timecard, we pay you minimum and process actual hours next month” And it works magic. Delaying the payroll for everyone (and all social contributions payments to the state) is a way bigger deal than this one guy.

        In big companies (i am talking production sites) it is impossible to deal with paper time sheets, so there is a system. Way easier, but you need to always use your entrance card to checkin. Those who will not “piiiip” the card won’t get their overtime paid – so they do it religiously :)

      2. Sabrina*

        This is how it works at my company here in the US. If you don’t update your time card it’s assumed that you worked 40 hours. If you worked OT and want to get paid for it, you need to update your time card and do it on a timely basis.

        1. Jake*

          That doesn’t make it legal. It should be, but it is not, and if the employees wanted to, they could file a claim.

      3. Connie-Lynne*

        “If this is an ongoing issue I’ve known some workplaces that chose to find entirely new ways of creating time cards.”

        Whatever inventive methods you come up with, don’t do what several previous employers of mine used to do, which was to require you to submit your timecards before your work week was over!

        1. Shortie*

          :-) My company does this, and it drives me batty. Timecards are due half a day before the week is over “so payroll can be processed in a timely manner” a week later. Which means that if you end up needing to leave earlier or later than you guessed, then you have to go through the payroll department to correct everything, which causes them and you more work. Seems it would be easier to simply make the deadline anytime before midnight on the last day of the week. Then Payroll could start processing first thing the next business day and not have to deal with any timecard changes.

          Any payroll specialists/finance people care to weigh in? What am I missing?

          1. Anne*

            It’s possible your payroll department has some kind of checklist, systemic or manual, and all time sheets need to be submitted before the hours can be processed. Mid-day on Friday gives them Friday afternoon to check everything is submitted and chase any slackers, whereas 11:59pm on Friday means they’d have to do the verification and follow-up on Monday and push their processes back accordingly. Depending on the rest of their processes and timelines, too many follow-ups and too much manual entry could jeopardize pay for everyone, or at least result in late direct deposit.

            Not all time and attendance systems do require all time sheets to be in before hours can be exported, but a lot of the big ones do – ADP and Kronos both have time & attendance software that will not let you do ANYTHING with the hours until everything is submitted and all errors are corrected, and the software we use for our retail branches (don’t recall the official name off the top of my head) requires the whole store to be exported at once, any late corrections or additions have to be done manually by payroll.

          2. Cassie*

            We get paid at the end of each month, so our timesheets have to be submitted before then. The campus-wide pay compute deadline is usually the 20-something of the month. But before that deadline, the people handling payroll in each dept has to manually enter the # hours worked into the database, one timesheet at a time. So their deadline is around the 15th of each month. And before we can submit our timesheets to the payroll processors, we have to get our supervisor’s approval. So I make my students submit their timesheets to me around the first week of the month.

            If you end up taking sick or vacation, you’d just report that on your next month’s timesheet (there’s a block for changes to last month’s). It’s not that big of a hassle for us.

            The biggest problem I’ve seen is that some professors won’t sign the timesheets – they either want to review each student’s first (but don’t want to spend the time now) or they have complaints about the student’s work performance, etc. And the professors don’t care that their students aren’t getting paid on time! I’ve suggested to my friend that she make it very clear to the professors that the students must be paid on time and that the timesheets be submitted before the deadline, etc, but she just lets it happen each month.

            1. catsAreCool*

              It seems to me that professors who are witholding their students’ paychecks (basically) should feel some sort of financial impact themselves. Plenty of students are broke and rewally need that paycheck.

              1. Cassie*

                Too bad we can’t impose some kind of fine – if we could, it would solve all our problems! Professors HATE spending money that they don’t feel that they should have to pay.

                And I know students frequently forget to turn in their timesheets so I remind them (and continually badger them if needed). Other staff just let the student go unpaid until he/she realizes (in the next month) that they didn’t get a paycheck :( so sad.

    2. BenAdminGeek*

      This is what my old company did- if your timesheet wasn’t submitted timely, you got straight 40 hours, and then it was adjusted the next week. Worked like a charm.

    3. KarenT*

      When I worked in retail we had an employee who would do this. Management solved it by requiring and enforcing that he report his hours worked at the end of every shift before he left.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        In some retail businesses I have worked in the message went like this: “Failure to keep accurate time records or failure to submit time records on the due date is considered tampering with payroll. This actions will result in the dismissal of an employee.”
        Amazingly, everyone had their records accurate and handed in on time.

    4. Meg Murry*

      I would also talk to the payroll company about if there is a penalty for making a correction or submitting a single late check, and then talk to a lawyer about whether you are allowed to pass that fine on to the person who is late with the check. I’ve worked places that had 2 week check cycles, but allowed you to get a check cut in the in-between weeks on an emergency circumstance for a fee.

      What is your current timecard deadline, and how close is it to your payroll deadline, and your legal deadline? Can you move up your timecard deadline a few days to allow more buffer, and a penalty for late cards? For instance, make the timecards for the previous week due on Tuesday in order for you to make a Thursday payroll deadline, and if a person turns in their card on Wednesday or Thursday they get the same kind of disciplinary step as if they had called off or came in to work late?

      Is it definitely the employee holding up his timecard, or is he waiting on a signature from his boss that holds it up? Given that it’s a handyman service, is the issue that he needs to turn the card in to your office, and he physically doesn’t usually come in to the office on payroll days, just goes straight from home to the handyman calls? Is there an alternate way he could turn in a timecard – for instance, emailing you a photo of it from his phone, or submitting an electronic card via Google Docs?

      Also, all the advice from Alison and the posters are assuming he is a W-2 employee. If this is a handyman service, is he W-2 or 1099? For 1099 employees, I suspect the law is different, since you wouldn’t pay them until they submit a bill (or timesheet in this case).

      1. Meg Murry*

        Also, even though it is the law, I have to wonder how harshly an employer would actually be cracked down on, if they can show that they made a reasonable effort to collect the timecard in order to make payroll. In my state, which is way more friendly to the employer than worker, I suspect the penalty would be minimal.

        I’m pretty sure several workplaces I worked at skirted this law, either by ignorance, or by the thought that a person who can’t bother to turn in their timecard on time probably won’t bother hiring a lawyer either. Not that that is a good policy, but I’ve seen it happen.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, I was wondering that as well, although I think that would probably only fly if they were at least paying him some minimum set rate as others have suggested. If they paid him for a straight 40 hours and he had actually worked 50, I could see the employer not being penalized too harshly if the employee went after that extra 10 hours of pay, because they did what they could with the information available. But if they’re just not paying him anything, I doubt that would be excused just because he didn’t turn in a time card – he clearly worked at least some hours, whether they can calculate them exactly or not, so some portion of that should be attempted to be paid.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Staggering the date the paperwork is due away from the date the checks are for is definitely a good idea. One place I worked we handed our sheets in on Wednesday and got paid on Friday. (Our pay week ran Wednesday to Wednesday, which was a little strange but the system worked fine.)

    5. Nyla237*

      That’s what we used to do when we had paper timesheets. We’d pay people who didn’t turn their sheets in on time at their base hours (minimum worked per pay period) which for many hourly staff is less than what they really worked. That way they were at least paid something and no one else’s pay was held up.

      We found that a couple of times of being paid “wrong” and then informed that it was their own fault for not turning in a timesheet on time and then having to wait until the next paycheck for everything to be sorted, tended to fix the problem of them being late.

    6. AVP*

      I did this with an employee who was consistently late – a straight 40 hours, and if his hours were different we would correct it the following week. I did tell him once that if he couldn’t fill in his timecard promptly I was just going to not send it, but that was (mostly) tongue in cheek.

      One new piece of technology that makes this easier is that my payroll company has started taking timesheet online – so it’s just a pdf you fill in. Our office manager keeps a standard copy for each employee and then just writes in the reported hours on it and emails the files to payroll. I have found that some of the resistance to filling out timecards on time is that it can be annoying to fill out the same info longhand every week – it becomes a chore that people avoid even though it takes 3 minutes and is a condition of making a living.

  3. FiveByFive*

    OP#2 – I hear you, and I hope you do what you feel is right. I’m in a similar position. I’m at a senior level in IT and am often pushed into moving up into management. I appreciate the thought, but it seems to be that being a manager involves an entirely different job description than being in tech. I am not qualified to be a manager, I’m pretty sure I’d be lousy at it, it’s more hours, and the pay increase wouldn’t change my lifestyle. So, why in the world would I do it? Yet, I’m sure I’m looked upon as lacking ambition, being complacent, or even lazy, etc.

    It is so ingrained in our business culture that we must always move up, up up. But in my experience, the biggest mistake people make is moving into positions where they are in over their heads (not that you would be, OP). There are plenty of areas in my life where I’m ambitious, and I was ambitious to get where I’m at in my job today. But, there’s a difference between ambition and recklessness. As a culture, we don’t seem to get that.

    1. JessB*

      I totally agree. At high school I saw some of the best teachers promoted to senior positions that meant they weren’t teaching as often, which was really sad, both for the teacher and the students.

      1. Liane*

        Yes. The Peter Principle is the classic on good people being promoted until they reached a job they can’t do and being kept there. The example I best remember from the book is of a teacher of “primary” (Elementary? Preschool?) children promoted up to principal. It was a disaster for all–the kids were deprived of a good teacher, the teachers under her despised being treated like little kids–the only management style the woman knew–the work of running a school wasn’t getting done and the hapless former teacher was miserable.

        1. Brightwanderer*

          Primary school in the UK is ages 5-11, secondary school is 11-16, college is 16-18. I think(?) primary school maps to elementary pretty much exactly but I’ve never quite got the hang of how US high schools work.

          1. potato battery*

            Elementary school here is about 5-10 (kindergarten-grade 5), middle school is 11-13 (grades 6-8), high school is 14-18 (grades 9-12). Some places have junior high instead of middle school (12-13, or grades 7-8), and some of those lump grade 9 (age 14 or so) in with junior high.

            I gather that “college” (ages 16-18) is like pre-university, similar to the preparatory work for admission to a French grande école?

            1. Connie-Lynne*

              In my experience (California, New Jersey, and the Deep South), the US mapping is

              Primary: Age 5 – 8 (grade K – 3); some people lump this into “Elementary.”
              Elementary: Age 8 – 11 (grades 4 and 5, maybe 6)

              Jr High, varies by district:
              Age 11 – 13 (grades 6 – 8)
              Age 12 – 13 (grades 7 and 8)
              Age 12 – 14 (grades 7 – 9)

              High School, varies by district:
              traditional: age 14 – 18 (grades 9 – 12)
              other: age 15 – 18 (grades 10 – 12)

              When people say “Secondary Education” in the US, they generally mean High School, although they may have varying definitions of what “High School” actually means, and they may occasionally mean to include Jr. High as well.

              Additionally, some regions say “Middle School,” these are also most likely to lump Primary and Elementary together. So depending on where you are, and sometimes even from district to district in the same county, you tend to get one of the following progressions:

              Elementary – Middle School – High School
              (Primary) – Elementary – Jr. High – High School

              After grade 12, the traditional choice for those who continue is to go to a four-year school; while “College” and “University” do have technical distinctions in meaning, by and large their colloquial use is interchangeable in the US.

              Many states also have a system of 2-year colleges available, called either “City College” or “Junior College.” Two year colleges can be used as an inexpensive way to earn the first two years of your four-year degree, they confer degrees themselves (“Associates”), and often they have vocational certificate programs.

              I think that covers everything except postgraduate degrees like Masters and PhD.

    2. SystemsLady*

      I don’t understand it either, being in a similar industry.

      Here you either decide to branch off and become a manager, or you just get a raise and/or bonus every year and eventually get “senior” slapped on your job title to denote a certain number of years of experience. That’s it – there are no promotions if you want to keep doing what you do. You might switch companies and what part of the teapot you’re designing every couple of projects, but that’s about it.

      I would think it’s true for a lot of jobs, really – there not being a promotion where the only change would be getting to do the less tedious parts of the thing you’re already doing.

      There are plenty of people who love running up the management track, but not everybody wants to or necessarily needs to do it. Too many career advice websites think that’s automatically a bad thing.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I often say at my job that I’m very ambitious–but I’m not ambitious necessarily for a higher position.

      I’m ambitious for doing an ever-better job. I’m ambitious for making the unit, company, brand, even more successful.

      It’s possible to be VERY ambitious, in terms of always looking for more excellence, more efficiency, more respect.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      This is generally true, about our society. The thing is, not everyone is Leadership material, but rather, they excel as an individual contributor, like you do. Management, and Upper Management tend to lose site of the day to day and sometimes their skills even dull over time, so I can see why you wouldn’t want to do that. It’s short-sited of some companies to assume just because someone has been an individual contributor for a certain length of time, they naturally have the ability to lead.

  4. Snoskred*

    #1 – I think the biggest problem here is the stopping of her work in order to eavesdrop.

    If this were my employee, I would use Alisons wording which is excellent, but I might also suggest other options to you, depending on what is possible. These are the two I would consider first –

    1. Moving the team leader to another space. If these are conversations none of the other staff should be aware of or privy to, this would likely be the best option.

    2. If #1 is not possible, I would consider encouraging the use of headphones or earplugs, not just for this staff member but for all staff. Sometimes this may not be possible either, due to the kind of work they are doing, if it is answering phones then headphones might not be an optimal solution.

    If some of the work they are doing (eg data entry, etc) allows for headphones and you could assign that particular work to this employee, that might be very useful for this staff member in breaking the eavesdropping habit.. :)

    1. Cheesecake*

      If an employee goes to kitchen every 10 minutes,,spending most of work hours there chatting and looking out of the window, would you lock the kitchen and don’t give her keys or put fridge next to her desk? I doubt. Employee listens to phone calls all the time and stops working – i am sure she doesn’t have much done a day. My point is – i am against accommodating problematic employees. I would not re-arrange sitting plans for her (and i doubt team leader makes confidential calls in open space) and by no means assign her different tasks: she needs to do what she was hired for. OP has to talk and explain that this will have consequences

      1. Anon Accountant*

        “against accommodating problematic employees” and “needs to do what she was hired for”

        I wish all managers were like this.

      2. Mephyle*

        True, and yet one of these things is not like the other. It would be a rare workspace where an employee’s tasks obliged to go through the kitchen every 10 minutes during the course of her work, but it is very common to have an open workspace where people must have conversations that ought to be private within the earshot of numerous other people. Even if everyone is behaving properly and not getting distracted by other people’s conversations, there may be times when someone can’t help hearing something not meant for them. Moving private conversations into a private space solves another problem beyond the one described by OP.
        (It doesn’t mean that OP shouldn’t also tell her directly to stop listening, of course._

        1. Cheesecake*

          I am not sure why our discussions keep steering towards workspace noise issue. Taking my kitchen example. You can complain that you sit close to kitchen, it is noisy all the time plus colleagues who pass by invite you for a coffee and you can’t say no – then we will find a way to sit you somewhere else. But if you love sitting next to the kitchen because you can go in an out as much as you like, i can never find you at your desk and your work is always late – my step one is to tell you this is wrong and i am unhappy as your manager; i am not going to just re-sit you and i am not going to forbid colleagues to use kitchen unless you are away. Workplace noise is never going to go away and we will always listen to people’s conversations.Sometimes i overhear things and i do ask or jump in if it concerns me. But if you drop your pen and listen to all of them and then jump in the discussions that have nothing to do with you – this is not noise issue.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            I agree, attitude and effort can make a world of difference. The problem is, this employee may just see this as normal behavior, depending on their upbringing and their work history. It’s possible they worked for years in an environment where they were penalized for not jumping in on discussions. I know, it sounds ludicrous, but is it really any stranger than some of the stories that Alison has received?

            So while I do agree that the employee should be showing effort on fixing the issue once it’s pointed out, they could be an essentially decent worker who just needs a considerable amount of retraining of their work habits. Or they may be a showboating slacker who is trying to make up for their lack of effort and ability by appearing to be “busy” and “involved”. Since the OP didn’t mention having broached the subject with her, we really don’t know, which is why my advice would be to try to reform the employee’s disruptive work habits using different modes of behavioral modification first. Breaking bad habits can be a big challenge, so if the employee is putting in effort once they are told about the issue, I would cut them some slack

            1. Cheesecake*

              This is exactly what i mean, OP must talk to employee. But emphasizing the fact that this behavior is not ok. I saw so many cases of managers complaining but they never make it clear to the employee that they are unhappy about x and want it to stop, so they avoid unpleasant conversation jumping into “we will sit you somewhere else”.

              1. Anon Accountant*


                I think it does the employee a favor (correct choice of words?) to address it with them directly instead of dancing around it by moving them somewhere else.

          2. Anna*

            Because in this specific instance, while not directly about noise, it is related to having conversations out in the open where people can more easily hear them, be distracted by them, or butt in on them. This isn’t a noise issue in the sense of someone is being disruptive, but it is a noise issue in that people are having seemingly private conversations in a semi-public setting. Offices have doors for a reason. Why aren’t they taking advantage of them as well as addressing a nosy coworker?

        2. LBK*

          I don’t get the sense that these are private conversations, though, just conversations the employee doesn’t need to be involved in. A discussion occurring near you doesn’t mean your input is required or desired, and it’s a little ridiculous to expect that every conversation that doesn’t involve you should be done out of your earshot.

    2. A Dispatcher*

      As someone who wears a headset as part of her job (and cannot wait to get those things off after 8/12/16 hours), I would be more than a little miffed at the suggestion I should start wearing headphones at a job that doesn’t at all require them because a coworker of mine is an eavesdropper. Plus, I’m just not a big fan of blanket policies for all because one employee is causing a problem. It not only usually doesn’t actually solve said problem, but it causes resentment among the ranks as well.

      1. Cheesecake*

        I am siting with people who are very often on the calls and headphones save me big time. Otherwise it is so hard to concentrate sometimes. But the problem is, employee does want to listen to the calls, she did not come to the manager complaining about the noise.

        1. Snoskred*

          Cheesecake – exactly. Sometimes it is easier to concentrate with headphones on. For me, it would not be helpful to listen to music because I can’t listen to music and do anything else at the same time. However I can and do use my cordless headphones to stream white noise when I need to focus on a task at home and there is some noise that I have no control over going on – eg a dog barking, neighbours with music blaring, etc.

          When I did overnight shifts, I would take tv shows on my tablet and use headphones to listen to it when I wasn’t on a call. Sometimes you might not get a call for an hour or so, but more often than not I was taking those headphones on and off constantly. :)

      2. Snoskred*

        A Dispatcher – I see your point. I also think it might be possible that there are people in the workplace who might welcome the concept of being able to listen to their own music rather than having to overhear their team leader.

        I think as a manager one couldn’t offer the headphones option to just one person for fairness reasons. If it were something that might work for the eavesdropper in order to help her focus on her own work, that same option should be available to all staff. It would simply be an option, and staff could choose to take it up if they so desired.

        I’ve worked in call centres for many years, and when I arrive home I put on a cordless headset to listen to music and watch tv. :) Not everyone hates wearing the headsets and headphones.

        1. A Dispatcher*

          Ah, I think the problem here was that when I read “encourage the use of headphones” I read it as more of a demand than a “hey, if you’d like yo use headphones, feel free”. I have no problem at all with giving people an option to use them :)

          1. Snoskred*

            I think my urge to throw possible solutions into the air in the hope that one might work comes from one of the not great managers I had, who asked me never to say “We have a problem, you need to fix it” but to say “We have an opportunity, and here’s my thoughts on how we can make things better”.

            That particular manager was an utter idiot plus he backstabbed people while looking them dead in the eye and smiling at them, but I did learn something from that idiot concept of his – to find possible solutions and present them does tend to make higher ups feel that you’re trying to make things work instead of dumping a problem in their lap.

            Right now, my cordless headphones ran out of battery so they are back on the charger and the other half has a friend calling, and I’m trying to hear my teevee show.. I really need those headphones to charge ASAP.. :)

      3. AJS*

        I dislike headphones (and anything else that puts a barrier between me and the natural world, such as sunglasses) intensely. It’s related to my problems with claustrophobia, and I would push back so hard at a suggestion that I wear them because of a problem someone else was causing.

    3. Anonsie*

      This one made me tense because I could see someone writing it about me, actually. If someone is talking around me over a certain volume, I cannot do anything else. I can ignore what they’re saying but I can’t focus on anything else, so when someone is having a conversation in the common area around my cube I do freeze and just sit there until they’re done. I can’t wear headphones because I do use the phone a lot and when I’ve tried, people come by and talk to me so much it becomes really frustrating to take them in and out and in and out all day and it really adds to how disruptive it is when someone comes by. I’ve asked to be moved somewhere else (where I’m not near a common area with fewer distractions) many times and it’s never materialized. I have wondered before if people have noticed that I’m not doing anything when they come around my cube and think I just sit there starring at my desk top all day.

      Mostly I end up just moving to other places in the building to work because it’s so hard to get anything done at my actual desk. I’d be pretty miffed if I got a talking-to about how I’m too easily distracted since the easiest solution would be for people to not have conversations directly behind me, or to let me sit in another part of the floor.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This person, though, is turning around to blatantly listen in and is interrupting, which sounds very different from you. You’ve also talked to your manager about the problem and asked to be moved as a solution, so it would be weird if she then came back and had this conversation with you; at most, it should be, “Hey, I know you’ve raised this yourself but we can’t move you right now, so let’s talk about what other solutions we might be able to come up with.”

        1. ADHD*

          Part of it said, “She freezes at her computer if someone is on the phone and she wants to hear the conversation.” That’s kind of what happens to me if someone is really loud even though I don’t want to hear the conversation. The manager is assuming intent.

          1. Cheesecake*

            And to me, but i don’t listen to the whole conversation, i don’t confuse my colleagues by staring at them while they talk and do not jump in the discussions after the call. OP has grounds to chat to the employee for sure.

            1. Anon Accountant*


              I’d agree it could be a “overheard two people talking and it was loud to me and lost my thoughts” when the letter stated she jumped in to conversations and stared at them as they talked that doesn’t seem to be the case.

          2. Meg Murry*

            Yup, fellow ADHD sufferer here, combined with bad know-it-all tendancies and open floor plans = I can’t get anything done when I can hear everyone’s conversation (I just can’t turn off hearing it, I’ve tried) and I have to mentally tell myself “stay out of it, it’s not your business” when I know the answer to what they are talking about or if the conversation interests me more than what I’m currently working on. I’m not freezing on purpose to listen to you – I’m freezing because I just lost my train of thought, and I can’t write more words while listening to words coming in my ears, so I’m stopping to compose myself to get back to where I was before you started talking.

            OP, just because you can tune out conversations in the public area doesn’t mean it is easy for your employee. And maybe that means this isn’t a good fit for her – but it could also mean that maybe you need to:
            1 .Tell her, like Alison said. You could even start by being kind and saying “I know you are trying to be helpful, but I need you to stay out of conversations unless I specifically ask you to join in”. Then if she does try to butt in again you can be a little harsher or give a quick reminder as in “Jane, remember what we talked about” or “Jane, please get back on task”
            2. See if you can get a little further out of earshot for long conversations. If someone is stopping by your desk to say “where’s the ABC file” or some other quick question, that’s one thing – but if you are having long conversations right near where she is trying to get work done, you can’t be mad when she’s a little distracted.

            1. Anonymusketeer*

              Yes, this! Even with ADHD medication, I have a very hard time tuning out other people’s conversations, which in turn makes it hard to keep my mouth shut when I know the answer to someone’s question. I probably did this for years before someone mentioned how off-putting and unhelpful this behavior was, because it didn’t occur to me that other people had more control over which stimuli they focus on and which stimuli they ignore.

              The employee may not realize that this is a problem, so the first step is to talk to her. Headphones could also help if that’s appropriate for the kind of work she’s doing.

              Given that this is a medical office, it might not hurt for the OP to at least look for opportunities to bring some conversations to more private settings.

            2. Captain Carrot*

              +1 When a conversation is happening nearby, it is very, very difficult for me to tune it out and continue what I was doing, and it’s clear from the comments that there are many people in the same situation. There are also times when I hear a question, turn around thinking it’s directed at me, only to discover that the person standing behind me is in fact addressing someone 20 feet away. (In which case, I don’t respond, and turn back to my work.) So I hope managers reading this understand that there are many people doing these things involuntarily, and we’re not trying to be eavesdroppers!

              It sounds like the main issue with the person OP1 describes is that she’s contributing to conversations that weren’t intended to involve her. You can’t force her to tune them out, but you can ask her to stop answering questions not directed at her. She may not even realize, being in an open area, that she’s not supposed to jump in.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Sure, but the OP also said she “answers questions addressed to me” and “blatantly turns around to listen to conversations that she is not a part of.”

        2. Anonsie*

          Occasionally I’ll jump in to conversations behind me, actually, yeah. The thing is that everyone on the row does this for conversations in the common area and we talk over our cube walls sometimes so I don’t think that would stand out negatively where I work. It was the freezing at others’ voices every time thing, like ADHD mentions, where the manager (and a lot of commenters) assuming she’s doing it just to listen in to see if she wants to talk as well.

      2. Snoskred*

        Anonsie, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. :( You are far nicer than I would be in that same position. This might also be cultural because I’m Australian and we tend to speak up more often.

        It really sounds like you are going to have to make this desk move happen yourself if nobody else is willing to help you. I’ve done that before. My desk had a computer that kept playing up and IT told me it would be two weeks before they could look at it, so I went off, found where all the spare desks were, marked them on the floor map, then took the map to my manager and said I can move here, here, or here, which option would work best for you? :)

        Might that be something you could try with your manager?

        1. Anonsie*

          Over the years I have tried to claim desks left open when someone else was moved or left, and each time I’ve been told they are earmarked for an incoming employee. I’ve made the case that I’ve sat in the junk seat for a very very long time now and I think it’s about time, but so far with no luck.

      3. ADHD*

        That happens to me all the time. I actually got a letter from my psychiatrist to allow me to listen to headphones during the day. I find it odd that people assume the employee turning around is prove she’s eavesdropping because wouldn’t an eavesdropper just want to listen without being obvious?

        1. Meg Murry*

          Also, depending on how her desk is setup, she may be turning around because she doesn’t know whether the person is addressing her or not. If my back was turned, and someone said “Hey, do you know where ABC is” – I wouldn’t immediately know that they were addressing my team leader and not me until I turned around or until the person started with “Hey team leader …”

          I have trouble hearing sometimes, especially with a lot of noises, so I might stay turned around for more than a minute until I process that the person is not addressing me directly.

          But I’m going to get off this thread now – I just wanted to add one more +1 to “if you haven’t talked to her about it, she isn’t magically going to just stop so address it already”. I suspect this employee is starting to get to b*tch eating crackers level for you, so you need to address is when you are calm or you might blow up at her if she does it when you are stressed.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I think the problem is not that she’s listening and gathering information–it’s that she’s injecting herself into the conversation, thereby confusing the communication and annoying the pants off of people. And it’s that she’s losing productivity while not seeming to make any attempt to stop.

          1. catsAreCool*

            “I think the problem is not that she’s listening and gathering information–it’s that she’s injecting herself into the conversation”

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      She just needs to be told, period. And it wouldn’t hurt to say her productivity is suffering (even if it really hasn’t reached that point yet). Then Nosey Rosey would have some motivation to shut the heck up.

  5. Treena Kravm*

    For #3, I’m curious to hear how people use their business cards in a social setting. When I was a kid, I always imagined growing up, being so cool, meeting a man at a bar and when he asks for my number, I hand over my card. Alas, that has never happened in real life. Maybe technology changed in the interim?

    1. MK*

      I think it’s becomeing obsolete with the advent of cellphones. In the past, the only way for someone to have your contact information would be to write it down (and then remember to save the piece of paper and transfer the information to their address book); now you just exchanged numbers and dial them into your cell.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, pretty much–though I still have writer cards with my blog, email, and phone number on. Which reminds me; I need to update them. They have an old picture on them. Actually, I need to get a new picture taken because they’re all old.

    2. GigglyPuff*

      When I moved for my new job, I was out to dinner with my mom and she started talking to the woman sitting next to us, and telling her about my new job. The woman was actually interested in contacting the place to discuss donations, unfortunately I hadn’t started yet, so I didn’t have any contact info for her. Wish I’d had my business cards…

    3. Kyrielle*

      I’ve regretted not having business cards (which I nearly never have, except for one short period), but only because they are handy for various “leave your business card to enter” contests at restaurants and such, maybe twice a year at most. Instead I have to write out all my info on a slip of paper for those, which is also allowed.

      Other than that? I’ve never seen a case where I would’ve used a business card, personally.

    4. INTP*

      When I was 18, a guy I was chatting with at the gym handed me a business card. I felt simultaneously super cool and super grossed out to have been flirted with by a guy old enough to have business cards.

      It hasn’t happened since then – only in professional contexts, usually at a doctor’s office with my next appointment written on it, never a social context. I’m choosing to believe it’s because business cards have become far less of a thing than because no one wants to give me their business cards anymore :)

    5. Stackson*

      I’m #3! It’s kind of a silly question I guess but I was curious and I can’t really ask anyone at work since I’m job searching, haha.

      I actually don’t know if I’ve ever used my business card in a social situation. Not only do I think what MK said below is true, but it has my office phone number and work email on it and I wouldn’t want a social contact reaching out to me through those avenues…

    6. Persephone Mulberry*

      I do have cards, but I never carry them outside of work – my job isn’t the type where I’d expect to make a business connection outside of the office, and it isn’t going to be of any use in a purely social situation because it’s only got my work number on it.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        Okay, that’s not entirely true – I also have cards for my side business, and I actually gave one of those to someone yesterday who complimented my jewelry. But it still wouldn’t necessarily occur to me to give it to someone who, say, wanted to meet for coffee, even if it does have my cell on it.

      2. Treena Kravm*

        I’m the opposite because I do meet lots of work contacts outside of the office so I usually keep cards in my bag. And it has my (work and only) cell phone on it, so it should be ideal. But it just doesn’t happen because I don’t want to necessarily tell people where I work.

        1. Anna*

          Same. I find myself in social settings where my job will come up and it turns out I can potentially make a contact for where I work. I carry around my business card for that specifically.

    7. Graciosa*

      I’m going to be a bit of an anachronism, but I don’t use business cards in a social setting – I use social cards.

      And no, I’m not *that* old, but I read about them in an etiquette book and thought they would come in handy. They really, really do. Mine are actually business cards I bought at Office Max (so they aren’t traditional social cards which are sized slightly differently, but I was on a budget). I actually have two versions.

      One has my home address, email, and phone numbers. I use it with things like flower deliveries or gift enclosures, and have also been known to give it to service people so I don’t have to stand there spelling out the information for their forms. On one occasion, I gave it to a police officer when I witnessed an accident – it saved us both a lot of time and he let me leave before anyone else as a result. :-)

      The second has my name with my professional (but not work) email and LinkedIn address at the bottom on one side, and my home and cell phones on the other. This one I use professionally when I’m not representing my employer, or occasionally when I’m willing to provide some contact information but not my home address. I have used it at networking events, and I like the message it sends – I am a serious professional independent of my current employment at Company.

      My cards use a classic font in black on heavy white card stock, but I have seen people use free cards from Vistaprint or similar companies socially that are much more creative and colorful.

      Yes, cell phone have changed things, but most of them can scan cards too – and I love having personal cards of my own. I highly recommend them – even if you never leave them in a fishbowl at a restaurant. ;-)

      1. Helen of What*

        I also have cards, after going to many social/networking events and finding that exchanging cards is less time consuming than awkwardly spelling out emails and Twitter handles. I started carrying mine in my purse after an instance where a friend and I happened to sit next to a young entrepreneur who overheard us discussing our careers. He and my friend exchanged gorgeously designed cards–and I didn’t have any on me. :(

        Now I carry cute cards that my partner designed for me with my name on one side and professional email, phone, LinkedIn, and Twitter handle on the other side.

      2. Treena Kravm*

        Ok, you’ve sold me. One of my best friends is Italian and her parents have a second home in my home country (how we met). She has social cards that just have her name, email, and her Italian phone number and her [other country] number. They’re really elegant and I liked them when I saw them, but didn’t necessarily think I would get some of my own. But now that I’m moving abroad and will be maintaining a US phone number, I think it’s going to come in handy.

      3. Koko*

        Social cards are fairly popular in the artistic/burner community in DC. It makes me smile to myself because it’s such the perfect simultaneous acceptance AND rejection of the DC “my job is my life” norms around business card exchanging. They kept the card ritual, but they put their gmail and cell phone and Facebook on it instead of the contact info The Man provides them.

      4. pony tailed wonder*

        One of our student assistants made some up for those social reasons and listed his job as “Professional Bad Ass” and other cute things. They make everyone smile.

    8. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I don’t have personal cards right now, but I really wish I did! I go to lots of networking-type events for fun (I live in DC, so there are lots of options), and it’s really handy to just be able to hand someone a card with your contact info on it. Much faster and easier than saving phone numbers. I’m rebranding my personal website right now, so I’m waiting to order new cards until I get a new logo and everything, but I honestly can’t wait! I love having cards, and love trading them.

      But, if you’re not frequently meeting new people, I can see how they just wouldn’t be that useful!

      1. Rene UK*

        When my kids were young, social cards would have been very, very handy–I would meet other parents at parks or other outings, or the kids would meet new ‘best friends’ and want to meet up. So, either we didn’t have any paper, or pen, or would write our info on bits of paper that would be unearthed weeks later with no memory of who this person was or sometimes no idea what the scribble actually said(it’s hard to write clearly with a stub of a crayon….)

    9. Alice*

      I had it happen to me (guy giving me his card). But it was more as a piece of paper to be able to write down his email. Still have the card, and the guy. :)

  6. jhhj*

    Since I suspect it’s going to be asked, in Quebec the company doesn’t pay for your maternity or paternity leave, it’s a government program like Employment Insurance. (Some places do top up, but mostly it’s schools and the government, and not always for the entire year.)

      1. jhhj*

        No, in Quebec specifically it’s a different program, which has higher reimbursement rates, no 2 week waiting period, and 5 weeks that only the spouse of the person who gave birth can take (called paternity, but a wife can take them — this is distinguished from maternity, which is only available to someone who gave birth, and parental, which is shared between the spouses. Adoption benefits are sort of only the parental leave, but it’s complicated).

        1. Chinook*

          Also, the Quebec maternity/paternity leave policy only applies if you work in Quebec. If you live in Quebec but work in another province (i.e. live in Gatineau and work in Ottawa), you are subject to the Canadian EI system. This gets confusing, though, because you can opt into the Quebec Pension Plan (instead of CPP) based on your residence and your life insurance policies through the non-Quebec company are still subject to Quebec laws (i.e. you need your spouse’s signature if you don’t want them as your beneficiary).

          And you Americans thought California laws made life wonky!

        1. Chinook*

          “Postdocs are not eligible for maternity leave in Canada.”

          Are you sure? I know they just changed the law around self-employed individuals being able to opt into EI for maternity and sick leave benefits (though I haven’t figured out how to do it myself). Are Postdocs considered students (who aren’t employed) or as university contractors?

          1. jhhj*

            Positive. A friend of mine had to transition to a staff member before she started trying, which she did because people she knew got surprised when they got pregnant. (This depends a bit on how the school classifies you — but typically postdocs don’t pay into and aren’t eligible for EI.)

            1. Cath in Canada*

              The Tri-Council funding agencies (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC) have updated their parental leave policies for award holders now – you can put your award on hold if you have kids – but not every institution through which people can hold said awards has caught up yet. And of course if you’re not Tri-Council funded, then it depends on your funding agency AND your institution.

              That said, it can work – I’m in charge of all trainee funding applications for my department, and I’ve helped postdocs and grad students wrangle their awards and other issues while going on parental leave.

              1. jhhj*

                When your award is on hold, are you also eligible to get paid leave? IE are these awards insurable earnings? Because a time out is useful, but hard when it’s unpaid.

                1. Cath in Canada*

                  I believe that’s up to the institution. The award itself won’t pay you during the leave period – they just pause the clock – but some institutions (like mine) will step in to bridge the gap, at least for a couple of months.

                  When I was a postdoc (2002-2005), I paid EI and all other taxes on my (non-Tri-Council) salary – but I wasn’t a citizen or permanent resident at the time, so the rules might be different.

                2. jhhj*

                  Oh, some schools will pay — but that’s not necessarily eligibility for paid maternity leave.

                  I believe but cannot swear that Harper changed some rules in the past decade about benefits for postdocs.

          2. Heather*

            Self employed people have to pay both the employer portion and the employee portion of the EI program. Not sure how it works for maternity leave tho.

  7. Rebecca*

    @jhhj – Thank you for pointing this out. I was going to ask this very question.

    I work in the US, Pennsylvania to be exact, and my company allows 6 weeks maternity leave @ $200/week disability pay (before health insurance premiums). We even pay the premium for the disability pay. You can take a longer leave, utilizing the FLMA, but the handbook clearly states you will have “a” job to come back to, not necessarily the job you left. Not many people take more than 6 weeks off. A year maternity leave seems like such a foreign concept here.

    Just curious – how does it work out on the employer’s end? If John or Jane is gone from their company for a year, how is it handled when they return? Does the company use temporary workers in the meantime? And what happens if you have multiple people off at the same time? Do you return to the same job you left, or whatever job is available?

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I’m from the UK and we use fixed term contracts, secondments and a bit of juggling to share the work out between the remaining team. It is very common to see roles advertised as maternity cover.

      In the UK there a (small) weekly payment for the first 6 – 9 months and I believe the payments stop for the last 3 months some firms top up the wages to a decent level and provide a return to work bonus of a months salary.

      You come back to the same job, or in the case of a re-org a comparable role (in terms of status, pay and type of work) that is a legal right and if firms abuse it there is a very efficient and effective employment tribunal.

      1. Felicia*

        In terms of what kind of job you’re required to come back to, it seems to be the same legally in Canada and the UK.

      2. UKAnon*

        Well, you say that, but with tribunals I hear different on the ground…

        But it is supremely common to cover maternity (hopefully soon just parental) leave as needed. Internal promotions, spreading the workload, hiring someone temporary, hiring someone permanently but moving them when the person returns – all perfectly viable for companies to utilise. It’s also where I think that the length can be an advantage; paying for training, hiring etc is worth the company’s investment when that person will be staying for nine months as opposed to a few weeks.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          With tribunals I just meant there is a good access to them and at least people have a right to be heard. I didn’t mean to imply that a ruling is the employees favour is a slam dunk.

          1. UKAnon*

            Ah, see, I meant access – I’m not up on the details, but since fees were introduced the number of cases in everything seems to have plummeted far more than would have been warranted. Parental leave is one of those rights that’s pretty ingrained though.

            1. Apollo Warbucks*

              Sorry I misunderstood your comment.

              Damn I missed that fees had come in (2 years ago according to google), that’s a real shame as the tribunals provide some excellent protection for peoples employment rights and restricting access will always have a disproportionate affect on the people most in need.

    2. Felicia*

      A year of maternity leave is standard in all of Canada, and pretty much all of the developed world, except the US, so not having it is a foreign concept. most generally what happens is you hire someone for a one year contract to replace them, those contracts are a great way to get a job for people who are struggling,, and we’re so used to their existence that hiring for them and people not expecting to stay beyond the contract are the norm. You usually come back to the same job, but legally you have to come back to a job that stays the same and is considered equivalent, so you can’t come back to a vastly different job especially one that pays less. I’ve never had kids, and am at the age where most of my same age friends haven’t yet had kids, so i’m sure i’m missing something. i know that a full year is only for the mother that’s given birth, because some of that is for giving birth some of it is for taking care of the baby. The father/other non biological parents can take a few months too, i forget how many . For fathers where i’ve worked , or the mothers who didn’t give birth in the case of a lesbian couple, theyve taken about 3 months off. In the case of adoption they usually take the full non giving birth time , which is i think 37 weeks. Birth mothers just take 17 weeks for pregnancy leave, and then can take up to 35 weeks of parental leave. You get only 55% of your salary (i think that’s the percentage!) during the time. I hope that helped and you realize not having something like this is as foreign of a concept to the rest of the world as it is for you thinking of having something like this .

      1. Carrington Barr*

        “A year of maternity leave is standard in all of Canada, and pretty much all of the developed world, except the US, so not having it is a foreign concept.”


        1. K.*

          Amen. I used to work on a global team with folks from the UK and the team was mostly women, many of whom were mothers. (I’m in the U.S.) It was really staggering to see firsthand the differences between US and UK maternity leaves – 6, 8, even 12 weeks is really nothing.

          A few UK colleagues had babies when I worked there and we hired long-term contractors. It was quite simple. Actually worked better – a year is long enough to really learn a position, but in the U.S. our team pretty much never had maternity coverage because “it’s only [6, 8, whatever] weeks.”

          1. K.*

            Whaaaaat? Just straight up “No, you can’t have maternity leave”? I didn’t even know this was a thing. (I have a number of friends who were denied accommodations once they came back from leave – one wanted to work part-time and was denied, one wanted flex hours, etc. – and they quit over it.) What did you do?

        2. Annamaison*

          A foreign concept indeed. Early on in my working life, an American business contact called me just a few weeks after she went on maternity leave. I tried really hard not t0 – but I started to cry on the phone. In my young and Canadian head – the only reason I could think of for returning from maternity leave just weeks after it started was that she must have lost the baby. That poor woman spent about half an hour explaining that she was fine and so was the baby, and 6 to 8 weeks leave was normal in the USA. Each to their own, and every country has their own way of doing things. I am curious though. How on earth do you arrange care for a 3-month old infant if you’re going back to work?

          1. JoAnna*

            Here, most daycares will accept infants as young as six weeks old.

            It’s horrible, though. Most working mothers I know (I am one – pregnant with #6, due in December, and I’ve worked full time through all my pregnancies) wish desperately for longer leave options but simply can’t afford it. I get six weeks off with 100% pay thanks to short-term disability insurance, and I’ll probably use my accrued time off for an additional week or two, but it’s still not nearly long enough.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Yes, most families can’t get by these days on only one income, so mums have to go back to work as quickly as they can. It takes some real planning to do that. On this point especially, the US sucks.

            2. Chinook*

              “Here, most daycares will accept infants as young as six weeks old. ”

              Wow – in Canada it is rare to find one that will take an infant under 6 months (partially because of the child/caretaker ratio being so low). Then again, a shorter maternity leave period would create a larger market to cater to and it just isn’t here in Canada. Even if the mother goes back to work after a month, the father is still eligible to stay home for the other 11 (even if they aren’t married)

          2. Amanda*

            A former colleague of mine came back to work just 4 weeks after giving birth to her daughter. She couldn’t afford to take off work for any longer since her leave wasn’t paid. SMH. I’m continually disappointed by policies regarding motherhood–and around gender as a whole, to be honest–in the US.

          3. JenGray*

            I have two children-I went back to work 5 weeks after I had my first because I had unpaid leave and so needed my income back. With my second I went back to work after 8 weeks (partly paid because I had vacation leave saved) but I got to take my son with me to work until he was 9 months old. Its really hard just with the guilt alone. I lucked out because I had family members who would watch my first when I went back to work and now with my son I have a wonderful day care. I too think that the US needs to get better about leave. I think that if we nurtured the family a little bit more than companies would benefit.

      2. Sandy*

        I’m in the midst of this right now, so I may be able to clarify some things.

        What we call “mat leave” is really divided into two parts: maternity leave (max 15 weeks) and parental leave (max 35 weeks). Mothers who have physically given birth are the only ones who can take maternity leave. Adoptive parents of either gender, fathers and mothers who have given birth can split the remaining 35 weeks as they wish.

        These 50 weeks as a group are paid out of Employment Insurance, to the tune 55% of salary or 500 dollars a week.

        Employers can choose to top up that salary in any way they so choose, including not at all. Common combinations I’ve seen include 93% for the full period, 90% for the first three months with 75% thereafter, 75% for the whole period, and no top-up whatsoever.

        It’s the law here inCanada, so companies that want to operate here govern themselves accordingly. Top-ups are considered a benefit used to attract top talent, and planning for parental leave is a key part of HR planning.

        1. Ros*

          And in Quebec, specifically, the percentage for the initial part of the maternity leave and the first few weeks of the parental leave is, I believe, around 70%. (And the “leave” can be up to a year and a half, but only the first 50 weeks are paid at all). The non-birth-parent also gets”paternal leave”, which is 5 weeks, plus usually an unpaid week from the company.

          In practice, for example, this means that, when my daughter was born, I took maternity leave (at 70% salary) and the full parental leave (and 70% and then 55% salary) and then stayed home a few extra weeks unpaid (because of family situations, long story), and my husband was home full-time for the first 6 weeks of her life (at 70% salary).

          We pay taxes through the nose, but seriously, at times like that, I don’t really mind.

      3. Chinook*

        “most generally what happens is you hire someone for a one year contract to replace them, those contracts are a great way to get a job for people who are struggling,, and we’re so used to their existence that hiring for them and people not expecting to stay beyond the contract are the norm.”

        This also is great way for younger people to get a foot in the door and gain the experience they need to get hired full-time elsewhere (or there). Going into it, everyone knows you are being hired for a year, so there are no expectations of a contract being renewed. It is a long enough period that the company usually needs to hire someone as a temp (or backfill those who are covering internally) and long enough for the temp to get comfortable enough in the job to accomplish more than just covering the bases. If you have a number of parents taking this leave after the other, you may end up just hiring an extra permanent staff member who floats to where they are needed. Plus, the smart temps realize that this is essentially a year-long job interview that will at least give you networking opportunities with a perfectly logical answer to “why did you leave” but may turn into a long term job if a)the mother choose not to come back (rarely happens) or b) something else opens up while you are there.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          Yeah, it can work out really well for people trying to get into a competitive industry. About a third of my team is here because they started as a fixed-term contract parental leave cover person, and then a new position opened up as the new parent was about to come back and they got kept on.

    3. jhhj*

      I meant Canada, not Quebec! (They’re much the same idea, though in Quebec there’s no waiting period and there’s some time only the other parent gets to take.)

      Typically you just hire someone on a one year contract to take the job and then if the woman doesn’t come back, the person gets hired to full time. As a general rule, yes, you get hired back to the same job, plus whatever seniority you would have earned in a year. (You also still accrue vacation time, but not vacation pay. This might be different in different provinces, though.)

      In this case, where the department was restructured, you wouldn’t get the same job back, which is entirely fine — you do need to get a more or less equivalent job.

      1. Treena Kravm*

        “…you get hired back to the same job, plus whatever seniority you would have earned in a year.”

        I’m confused. So if I get hired, and within 6 years have 3 children (taking 3 years of leave), I’m considered to have 6 years experience? If I applied to a promotion requiring 5-10 years of experience, would I have to be considered because I’ve been employed for 6 years, despite only working 3? Or is it that they do have to legally consider me (can’t say straight up I don’t qualify) but then in practice it’s understood that they’ll select another candidate?

        1. Sandy*

          Well, in order to be eligible for paid parental leave via EI, you have to have worked a certain number of hours in the previous year. You could theoretically do three leaves in six years, but you would have to time it very, very carefully.

          1. Liz*

            I know someone who did this. She’d worked there for about 8 years before her first pregnancy, and then she had 3 children within the 6 years and took a year for each.

        2. jhhj*

          Yes, you are considered to have 6 years experience for things like vacation pay (after 5 years it goes to 6%) and if everyone gets a raise based on the CPI every year, you get those, and if you choose shifts based on seniority or get fired based on seniority, you would be in the 6 year class. Promotions might be trickier, but a company that has a history of not promoting women with children is likely to get noticed.

    4. Heather*

      The company hires a worker for a one year contract and when the employee on maternity leave comes back they come back to the job they left.

      If you have multiple people off at the same time you hire multiple workers.

    5. Chinook*

      In Canada, because it maternity/paternity leave is covered as a government program (up to 60%. Your employer may top up and follow the rules you outlined), all they care about is that you are back at any job that pays back into the EI fund. Legally, your employer must take you back to the same job or one with similar seniority and responsibilities to the one you left. Then, you can’t access EI funds for another work year (or equivalent hours). This last portion is being legally challenged by women who have returned from maternity leave who then get severely ill (disability leave is also covered under EI) or who are laid off (the original purpose of EI) within that one year period (which is also the amount of time you need to have paid into EI before using it the first time). The argument is that they paid into the fund for a decade or more and are being penalized for being pregnant and then having bad luck.

  8. Katie the Fed*

    OP #1 – I’m so confused. Is this the entire discussion?

    “We are in a common area, and I have stopped at times to ask her if she needed me for something,”

    I mean, do you follow that up with “ok, then please return to your desk” or “ok, we’re having a private conversation not meant for you to be part of” or “OK, please return to your own work.”

    I think you’re going to have to be that blunt with her.

    As long as we’e not allowed to spray employees in the face with a water bottle to correct behavior, we have to use words.

    1. AnonAnalyst*

      As long as we’e not allowed to spray employees in the face with a water bottle to correct behavior, we have to use words.

      This made me laugh out loud. Fortunately, I’m the first person in the office today, otherwise I’d be getting strange looks!

      But yeah, OP, agreed that you need to blunt here. I mean, I get that it seems ridiculous and unnecessary that you need to actually tell her not to actively listen in on conversations that don’t involve her, but clearly the message is not coming through with your pointed remarks. Or, she thinks it’s fine to ignore the message since there doesn’t seem to be any follow up when she keeps doing it. Time to be direct.

    2. Beancounter in Texas*

      I agree with Alison, directly tell the employee. I had an employee who sits near The Boss’ office, who is often loud and sometimes doesn’t close his door. This employee loved to eavesdrop and wasn’t ashamed of it! I told him to stop because not only is it rude behavior, he might learn something he didn’t want to know without getting the whole picture and fret over nothing. I also threatened to tell The Boss that he intentionally eavesdropped if he didn’t stop. He stopped.

    3. Lizabeth*

      Ohhhhhhhhhh, I “wish” I could do this when words don’t sink in with our resident idiot…words never sink in.

      It worked with the cats way back when for a psych paper – they learned the sound of the water bottle when sprayed AND the shape, which caused them to hightail it out of range in a hot NY minute.

      1. DMented Kitty*

        Did that with my cat — all she did was open her mouth to catch the water. :/ Discipline fail.

    4. LQ*

      Directness is your friend. So important to not assume someone should get something. (And thinking about the conversation yesterday about interns and people new to the work world.) Just say what you mean. Especially if you’re the boss.

      “Can I help you with something?” Might seem like a nicer more pleasant socially acceptable way to do it, and go ahead and do that once, but if someone doesn’t get that they are doing something wrong when you have given them no indication they have, just say what you mean.

      (I say this as someone who has a horrible time trying to pick up social ques, the worst is when I ask, “What do you mean?” and people are still trying to be nice but I see it as super confusing! Just help me, tell me what you want so I can respond appropriately instead of spending all my brain power guessing if this “Can I help you?” is telling me to knock it off, or if my face looked confused, or if you don’t have enough work and want to help me with what I’m doing…)

    5. blu*

      Honestly, I wouldn’t even call this being blunt. It’s just saying what you mean instead of waiting for someone to guess at your intent via hints.

      1. sittingduck*

        I would just talk to the employee, privately, and talk about it.

        I used to do almost this exact same thing when I started my current job (first office job) and I had NO clue I was doing it. So it really may just be a case of not knowing any better.

        I know its easy to say ‘how could anyone not know this’ but when you are on the green side of the fence, its easier to see the green, right?

        Talk to the employee and tell them that they need to keep to themselves more. Tell them its fine to listen, but to not assume that they are welcome in the conversation. If they would like to contribute to the conversation, ask, don’t just jump in. ‘Can I give my input?” and then wait for an answer before giving the input. AND understand that the answer to ‘may I give input’ might be NO, and if it is, you need to go back to your work. Even if you know the answer, and the people having the conversation don’t, if they want your input they will ask for it.

        That is what worked for me. I’m pretty good at tunning others conversations out, but I do listen sometimes, but I ‘jump in’ about 90% less than I used to. I really just didn’t know I was doing anything wrong, once I was told, I got it.

  9. NJ anon*

    #5 in NJ we cannot withhold an employee’s pay. I think you should reach out to the supervisor to find out the minimum amount of hours the employee worked and pay him that. I would be done with chasing him around. It sounds like you don’t have the authority to discipline or fire him but if you only pay him for 30 hours instead of 40, it will get his attention real quick. FWIW I do payroll and feel your pain. There is someone at my job who is consistently late. She’s exempt so it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get her time sheet right away (I do need it eventually) but she has non-exempt reports and she holds onto theirs as well. I had to ask her reports to email me their unapproved time sheets so I can get payroll in by the cut off time. I’m done chasing her around!

    1. Beancounter in Texas*

      At Old Job, I managed a monthly payroll for strictly commission – and the commission manager was notorious for getting their pay figures to me at the 11th hour. One day he brought the numbers to me literally two minutes before the cutoff and I rushed it as fast as I could, but I was two minutes too late. The commissioned employees were (rightfully) upset (especially since some don’t earn a commission every month) and I directed their questions to their manager. The manager went to The Boss, telling him that I ran payroll late and his employees were paid a day late. The Boss, being the wonderful people manager that he was, came to me asking what happened with their pay. I told him what happened and not only did he believe me because Manager was habitually a last minute guy, but there were other things about which Boss suspected Manager was lying (and his suspicions were correct). Boss backed me up to Manager and he was never late again (but he was also gone a few months later).

      I am aware of laws that require an employer to pay employees at least monthly (in Texas) and to issue final pay within a specified time frame, but I did not realize that an employee’s tardiness is not excusable for a company’s failure to abide by the law, in spite of any good faith efforts made to comply. Yowza.

      This seems like a good reason to get an electronic time card system, in which employees swipe in & out and payroll has access to their time data, regardless of whether it’s signed off on or not. (But I realize this isn’t feasible for every company.)

      1. Anne*

        You’d think that would help, but then some departments end up with a single punch per day for the entire pay period…

    2. JenGray*

      Montana law says that employees must be paid within 10 days of when wages become payable (i.e. the end of the pay period) but if an employee does not turn in a time sheet by the employer established deadline than the employer may pay the employee with the next pay period but not any longer than that. In my area I don’t know of very many jobs that pay weekly- most are biweekly or twice a month-so having to wait a whole month to get paid if you didn’t turn in your time sheet would hopefully make an employee get their stuff in.

    3. Observer*

      I think that holding on to the timesheets of your reports should be treated as a VERY serious offense. I can see regulators or a jury going easy on a company which pays everyone on time, except for the one or two people who hand i their time sheets late. But, even in a very employer friendly state, I can’t see anyone taking very well to the idea that a group of employees are having their pay regularly delayed because a supervisor is keeping the payroll people from getting the time sheets on time.

  10. Oryx*

    #5 *just* came up at work yesterday and my manager frequently mentions often time cards come up. People either don’t turn them in or if they do they are filled out incorrectly. The consensus seems to be not paying would be the most effective way to get the message across, but alas such is not possible.

  11. INTP*

    For #1, I think that the problem is more the interrupting, the stopping work, and the blatant “I’m listening” body language. Some people have a hard time tuning things out, and if you want to have a truly private conversation, you need to have it in a private area. I think it’s silly to have a conversation within earshot of someone and tell them they’re not supposed to overhear things. It is fair, though, to expect people to at least give you the illusion of privacy and to not interrupt.

    Two ideas: First, you could ask if she finds it distracting to have conversations happening around her, and suggest that she wear headphones to help her concentrate on her own work. (She really might not be aware of her body language sometimes). If that doesn’t work, talk to her about it as suggested, but I’d just focus on the interrupting, stopping her own productivity, and the way the “I’m listening” body language might make others uncomfortable, rather than telling her she is not allowed to listen to stuff that’s happening around her.

  12. Retail Lifer*

    #5 Is there any average amount of time this person usually works? If he missed the deadline, can you just pay him the average and add/deduct the difference for the next pay period? Is that even legal?

    My situation is different since we have shift workers whose hours are listed on a schedule. We only have one person who can process payroll, so if she’s going to be out of the office she processes it early based on the hours people were scheduled. If they wind up working over or under it’s corrected on the following paycheck.

  13. Allison*

    I remember one thread on Reddit, a while back, where someone was complaining about an administrative person’s attitude, and how they were really rude about timesheets being late. I pointed out to this person that while the admin might not be handling it the best way possible, late timesheets do create a problem on their end so it is an issue if they’re always late. Person posting the thread went on the defensive about how their mornings are sooooo busy that they can’t possibly be expected to submit their timesheet by the deadline!

    And then there’s me; I sometimes submit my timesheet late, but only because I forget on occasion. But when HR bugs me about it, I go “OH RIGHT!” and submit it right away.

    My point, I guess, is that whoever is constantly submitting their timesheet late may just be a forgetful person who needs to be reminded, or find a way to remember on their own, OR they’re a “really busy” (and “very important”) person who doesn’t see the need to make their timesheet a priority. Either way, they need to be told it’s an issue, and that may mean getting their manager involved if OP can’t bug them directly.

    1. INTP*

      I had the job of reminding engineers to submit their timesheets at my first internship. Sometimes you have to get a little rude or impatient. Or at least you might as well, because they aren’t going to submit it whether you smile and bat your lashes or kidnap their firstborn as leverage because they are far too important for such silly things. There were some salaried engineers that literally never submitted them (their time was charged to different projects, so they had to fill out timesheets so each project or client could be billed appropriately). They still got paid so hey, no skin off their backs, it was just the inconsequential drones with inconsequential jobs like management/budgeting/accounting/client relations who were affected. They are just petty tyrants who want to ruin important people’s (engineers’) lives by making them fill out a timesheet. (That was a bit of an OT rant. But you get the attitude people are dealing with.)

      Another thing that might work – set the deadline days before payroll needs to be sent in. Send a reminder the day of. Send an email that says “You are one day late” and CC their boss the next day. Send a reminder that they are two days late and CC their boss and boss’ boss the next day. They will be pissed and think you are ridiculous, BUT the issue will probably be resolved. In my various experiences with having to bug engineers about paperwork, I usually found bugging their managers to be an effective way to make them condescend to do it.

      1. Allison*

        No I totally get it, that was my suspicion as well. A lot of these people (let’s face it, a lot of these guys) fancy themselves too important to bother with administrative stuff. I mean, the admin is there to make their lives easier, not make them do extra work, right?? How dare the lowly admin tell the super-important engineer what to do??

        1. JenGray*

          I have to laugh at INTP and Allison talking about engineers. I work for an engineering firm and I have to say that overall the guys here do a good job of getting their time in except for 1. He is chronically late. Most of us get our timesheets done by Friday afternoon so that the accountant can do it on Monday but the one person he is always doing it Monday morning. It also goes in cycles with him- sometimes he is really good and then he isn’t which can be frustrating.

          1. Allison*

            I don’t think either one of us was saying that all engineers are arrogant jerks, we were just acknowledging that this attitude exists among engineers. Some engineers. Not all engineers.

  14. Anon Accountant*

    OP1- our receptionist was like that but she’d go out of her way to eavesdrop on conversations. A client solved it one day by asking “did you need me for a minute” and she came back and stared as the conversation continued. Finally he said “Look this is an A-B conversation. So why don’t you “C” your way out of it?”

    He said he got that from his nephew. It worked for a long time! After he called her out on eavesdropping on the business conversation she stopped for a long time.

    1. Helen of What*

      That’s hysterical! I can’t believe it took such lengths to get her to quit (for a time).

    2. Elise*

      We used to say that when I was a child (in the 80s/90s). Also, this is a January-February conversation, so March your way out.

  15. Amber Rose*

    I habitually eavesdrop on all conversations because my last job was so toxic, I learned it as a survival technique. I’m slowly breaking myself of it though.

  16. matcha123*

    I had two coworkers at my former workplace who blatantly eavesdropped on conversations. They were so obvious about it, too. One guy would stop what he was doing and push his chair closer to the person that was talking. Or, he would lean so far back in his chair to listen in that it seemed like he might fall over.

    Unfortunately, these two outranked me and I couldn’t really say anything. But if you really want to listen in on conversations, at least don’t be so obvious about it!

  17. Malissa*

    #5 I’m going to guess that your situation is similar to mine, where with out the time card you have no idea if a person worked at all, because work fluctuates so much. This problem was solved in my work place by requiring time sheets after every job. The typical job is only 1-2 days. So if a person failed to provide a time sheet after a job they were not given another job until the previous time sheet was turned in. Some guys ended up having to go home and find the time sheet and bring it back, causing them to miss out on a day’s pay sometimes. The problem was gone after the first time a guy was sent home.

  18. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    5. I know legally an employer has to pay all time worked, but what about the employees that now have their payroll on hold because of one worker who is always late?

    Lemme get this straight – one guy doesn’t do the timecard, so it holds up EVERYONE’S pay as a result?
    Don’t try that stunt in Massachusetts.

    ESPECIALLY – don’t use it as a stunt to avoid payroll day.

    1. NJ Anon*

      Problem is you login to payroll and everyone’s time is entered and then payroll for everyone is submitted. So we get charged for running one payroll. If I had to run individual payrolls based on someone always being late, that would not fly. I had to pull the woman in my example out of someone else’s office to get her and her direct reports’ time sheets so I could get them in on time. I told her that if it was late, the payroll couldn’t guarantee we would get paid on time. I don’t want to hear you are too busy. I am busy too and don’t have time to chase people around for their time sheets!

      1. Observer*

        I get the problem. But you simply cannot solve it that way. If you can document that this is causing a defined expense, can you charge her for it? I’d bet that it wouldn’t take too many times of that to change things.

  19. Gene*

    I’m staring #2 in the face next year. My manager is getting ready to retire and I am in a position where I will likely be in line for the job. I’m not especially happy about it, I’ve run a business and know that I’m less happy managing than I am as a worker, excelling at what I do. And I KNOW I do not want to manage the current coworkers.

    But, I’ll probably take it should it come to pass that way for a few reasons; it will significantly bump my retirement pay in 5 years, I’ll be able to put my stamp on the program, changing some things that I think should be done differently, and out of self protection – better the devil I know than the unknown.

  20. Jennifer*

    I think the problem with #1 is that if you are in a common area, there’s no way to have a “private” conversation and literally everyone around you is eavesdropping by default. I don’t think you can really stop her, per se. You just want her to look less obvious about it, I guess?

    I have a very open office and everyone listens in on everybody. I actually think it’s expected that you drop everything and listen in and contribute if you know anything about the topic. It does lead to a lot of stool pigeon/tattling behavior though, which is a joy. We’re all moving into another building where we’re going to be shut off into 1-3 person offices in a few months, so it’ll be interesting to see how things change when eavesdropping literally can’t happen all day long.

  21. dawbs*

    We had a #1 situation at work recently…and I think I have a ‘what not to do’ that is begging to be shared.

    There are 2 office workers who have desks (where they deal w/ constant flows of people and phone calls) next to the kitchen area. Sneaky Guy has a habit of lurking around in the kitchen, gleaning bits of information from Office Workers and their conversations.
    Office Worker #1 decided that this was to much and faked a phone conversation, where a juicy tidbit of mis-information was dropped out in the open. Sneaky Guy picked up that bit of info and ran with it….

    Sneaky Guy isn’t nearly as Sneaky as he thinks he is, so he got outwardly snippy and confrontational with someone over this mis-information.
    Boss confronted Sneaky Guy about his behavior, and he said that because of X information, it was appropriate.
    Boss asked where he heard that informaton, and pointed to Office Worker #1.
    (Office Worker #1 and Sneaky Guy are both firmly in Boss’s bad graces right now, and Sneaky Guy is forbidden from being in the kitchen unless he has a reason)

  22. Observer*

    I have not read the comments yet, so someone may have said this already.

    On payroll – whatever you do, do NOT put payroll on hold till you get this person’s time card. Whether or not you can get away with paying HIM late, there is almost no doubt that you canNOT pay the rest of the staff late because of him. Also, realistically speaking, you will greatly reduce your exposure if the only person who ever gets paid late is the guy who neglects to hand in his time sheet. So, submit payroll by whenever it is that you need to, to process payroll on time and then deal with this guy separately. (And, if that winds up costing the company extra money to process his paycheck separately, that might finally give your boss the incentive to deal with the issue. Jut make sure you point him to the laws that say he MUST pay all of the others ON TIME – and the penalties he could be liable for if he doesn’t.)

    Check with a lawyer first, of course, but my first thought would be to pay him his basic weekly amount, with the ability adjust for any mistakes in the next pay period.

  23. Ruffingit*

    I seriously wonder sometimes if I’m the only person who doesn’t give a rip about eavesdropping at work? I will admit that I did some of that in my younger days, but I finally realized that I just don’t care. I show up, I do my job. If there is something I need to know, they’ll let me know. Or not. But I can’t find the time or energy to go around listening to and butting in on conversations that don’t concern me. Is it just me?

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