4 updates from past letter-writers

Here are four updates from people who had their questions answered here recently.

1. My assistant let us believe she has a key certification that she doesn’t actually have

Since I wrote, my boss at the time (Old Boss) announced her retirement (and has since retired) and a new person (New Boss) was hired. During the transition process, New Boss was asking about my employees, strengths, weaknesses, etc., and this incident came up along with previous issues. He, like most everyone else, felt this was grounds for dismissal and pushed HR on the matter. HR in turn consulted our corporate attorney, who said that while we would have a case for dismissal, she could sue saying that she never said this on her application or resume, therefore she could claim she was hired based on what was on those documents. The lawyer said that technically, she’s right and could win a lawsuit if it went that far. Bottom line, she stayed.

However New Boss was determined to get her out, so he had me work on a very detailed PIP for her that included job performance, attitude, and her dealings with others, internally and externally. We went down the progressive discipline trail, and within a few months she was at the last step. That meeting included myself, my boss, and the CEO. She was told that there would be no next time, that any infraction of any kind, no matter how seemingly minor would result in termination. The latest step was a willful neglect of duties and as a result part of her job was assigned to someone else. This resulted in a 20% reduction in hours since she didn’t do that work anymore, on top of a previous “demotion.”. Since this meeting, about a month ago, her work and attitude has been stellar and we’ve had no issues, but I suspect she’s looking for other work. She’s had an increase of appointments when it was rare before, and on the appointment day, she’s often dressed quite nicely. I think that soon she’ll be on her way.

2. My boss implied I let religion impact a hiring decision

I’m a bit conflict-avoidant, so was worried about taking your advice. However, I was able to address it with my manager. A few days after the new hire started, my manager met with her to discuss her career goals, skillset, etc. When I met with him afterwards, he was effusive with praise about how great this hire was, all the skills she had, and how she was a perfect fit for the culture of our team. I was able to gently but clearly say “And that’s why I hired her” and go on to describe some other skills of my new employee. She’s done a great job in the past few months, and is already a candidate for promotion. It was great to have an opportunity to discuss with my manager and address the issue without having to take the first step myself.

3. I got chastised for taking initiative

I spoke with my boss, who spoke with the Technology VP. As it turns out, the VP said that he was not admonishing me. He was responding to my message while out of the office on a cell phone and didn’t mean for the message to come out sounding like chastisement. My boss, himself, said that he found nothing wrong with how I approached the situation.

Problem solved? Not quite. In talking further with the Technology VP and the Teapot Director, I found out that the problem I identified goes a bit deeper. My proposed solution, now that I have realized the full scope of the problem, is only scratching the surface. What they really need is something else that is not an easy fix and will require the VP and Teapot Director’s cooperation in the long run.

I have sent a memo to my boss proposing a new solution to the problem in light of the new info. I am waiting to see if he gives me the green light to approach the Technology VP and the Teapot Director with it. Although the first time seemed to have been a misunderstanding, I want to make sure I closely adhere to protocol and chains of command.

Forgot to add — yes, the VP did think the link was published and public when she responded and then realized it wasn’t only after her response has been sent

4. Is it legal for publications not to pay their writers?

I quit writing for them because, on top of their inconsistencies on who they pay and who they don’t, they were just really unprofessional. I think in my original question to you, I came off as really sympathetic to the state of the industry and implied that perhaps these guys aren’t villains but simply cannot pay — although they would if they could.

I think I was a little naive. They would send these group emails where they would rant about people not formatting their posts correctly (for SEO), and then go on about how it’s a privilege to work for them and they’ll let people go if they can’t comply. A privilege to work for free? Additionally, I noticed a couple of my articles were edited for punctuation, but the editor’s changes were incorrect. It all just rubbed me the wrong way.

Interestingly, part of why some people suggest working for free is a positive is that it can *lead* to paid work. And it did here. I have experience in copyediting, and I was able to leverage my relationships there into getting paid to copyedit their last two print issues (which come out seasonally).

But this was really my last straw with them. I’ve come to believe if a company is shady in one area, they’re just shady in all areas. They didn’t pay me for the summer issue until the end of October — and only when I refused to edit their next issue until I got the payment owed to me in full and an advance on the next issue. I heard from photographers that they have the same struggle getting paid. So even the people they’re technically paying, they’re going to great lengths to not actually pay them.

The lack of professionalism doesn’t stop there. That last print issue was completely mind-boggling to copyedit. I think it hadn’t been looked at by any of the section editors and sent to me as a rough draft. (There was one article — an interview — where every single instance of “I” was lowercase, as if it was an email interview and they just copied and pasted it without editing it.) I found several instances of pure plagiarism when I was fact checking (I found entire passages on other sites on the web). Then, they sent my copy edits straight to the graphic designer without getting sent to an editor to approve them. This made no sense, as the copy was in such bad shape that a lot of my marks were actually queries that the graphic designer had no way of answering. As far as I can tell, the magazine’s editor (who is getting paid) didn’t actually do any editing! This magazine has a reputation in the city I live in. You can find their quotes on billboards and in menus. The magazine is in stores for like $6 a copy. People treat them like a real magazine, and this is how they’re operating!

So my New Year’s resolution* is not 1. Not work for free. 2. Have a zero-tolerance policy for clients who can’t pay on time. The good news to add at the tail of my post is that a former internship has turned into a regular client, and they do pay quite well for copyediting. I’ve also extended my clientele to proofreading for universities. So I’m doing fine, and frankly, don’t need to put up with this anymore. Thank God.

* Er, I held on to this one for a while.

{ 59 comments… read them below }

  1. CaliCali

    Alison, I appreciate your avant-garde approach to numbering, but I wanted to point out that the letters go 1, 2, 3, 3.

    1. Josh S

      To be fair, when she got the update (back in December/January), it was #3. In the intervening months, other updates crept in… ;p

      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        OMG, I just came back to read the newer comments, and guess what scene I’m watching RIGHT NOW??? :D

    2. Amber Rose

      She was only following instructions. Thou shall count to three. Three shall be the number thou shall count, no more, no less, and the number of thy counting shall be three. Four shall thou not count. Five is right out. ;)

      With apologies to Monty Python for brutalizing that quote.

  2. Ann

    I don’t understand why the lawyer in #1 thinks the assistant could win a lawsuit. The only thing I can come up with is that the assistant would take the firing as the company saying, “You’re a liar,” and then she sues for defamation or something, but that doesn’t really seem logical to me. Is the corporate attorney an actual employment attorney, or was this an “ask a law, any lawyer” scenario?

    1. fposte

      I was thinking the same thing. This seems more to be catastrophizing than a legally based warning. I mean, I guess I could see if the issue was the employee handbook laid out clear reasons for termination and this wasn’t among them, but that’s not what the lawyer said.

    2. sophiabrooks

      In my experience with the lawyers at my job (a university), they respond telling you any legal risk, no matter how small the risk will actually happen, and then the non-lawyers decide whether they are willing to take that risk before taking an action. However, the non-lawyers tend to interpret the lawyer saying there is risk as the lawyer saying they shouldn’t do it.

      1. Artemesia

        IN working in a university with student issues here are two situations where the university lawyers were interpreted as insisting we had to do something stupid:

        1. a student had someone else sit his entrance exam; it was the second time he took the exam and the signature was nothing like the first and misspelled his name. The counsel asked a handwriting expert who said inconclusive and we were forced by management to admit him.

        2. student carried disks into a qualifying exam for the doctorate (second sitting, he had flunked the first exam) and inserted canned material into his answers. I read the first days answers that night (3 day exam) and it was obvious to me that this is what had been done, so I asked the admin to go into the exam 15 minutes before time was up and remove whatever disk might be in the machine. She did; it included the canned material. Counsel said ‘well did you actually inform him in writing that this would be unacceptable, if not you can’t dismiss him for cheating.’ They were not willing to have us flunk this guy out unless we had done that. (he was taking the exam with no material on a clean machine without internet access) Luckily we HAD in fact given him clear instructions in writing on this matter as a routine in setting up the exams. But even without, it was pretty obvious cheating.

        These guys are hyper nervous about any possible legal argument.

    3. AMT

      I don’t get it, either. At-will employment means that you can fire someone for almost any reason. There don’t have to be “grounds” to fire someone in the US. She could sue, sure, but anyone can sue anyone for anything.

      1. neverjaunty

        “Corporate attorney” probably means in-house counsel. It may also be that the corporate attorney said that there was a chance the employee could win a lawsuit, and then the CEO just decided they didn’t want to take any risk, no matter how slight.

      2. Anonsie

        I wondered the same thing, because I can’t think of another way this would make sense.

    4. Anonsie

      That’s what I was going to say. A lawsuit claiming what, that they’re big meanie heads? She wouldn’t have any substantiation for it being discrimination or wrongful termination or anything like that, so unless there’s some local law it could possible run against I can’t imagine.

      And even if there was something local, imagine how open and shut this would be. “They fired me for suchandsuch but look I didn’t really lie because it’s not on my resume.”

      “No uh, we actually fired her because she pretended to have it and here’s documentation of that.”

      Blam! Done.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Nah, they’d need to show actual gender-based discrimination, that the firing was in some way related to her being a woman. We admittedly have limited info but from what we do have, it doesn’t sound like that’s in any way the case or in any way something the company couldn’t pretty easily defend itself against.

            2. Anonsie

              Just being female doesn’t give you grounds to claim discrimination, you have to have evidence that was the actual motivation. Not only is she highly unlikely to have that, her employer does have a very solid reason for termination that is not in any way linked to gender.

            3. Connie-Lynne

              The only way she could win on “targeting” is if she can demonstrate that there are men in the company who similarly lied who were not fired or put on PIPs.

  3. The Cosmic Avenger

    I thought this was some self-important blog expecting these people to write for free and letting all these errors through, but this thing is actually PRINTED with the OP’s comments??? This has to be, like, a Podunk Star-Gazette or something, right?

    1. AVP

      My totally armchair guess is that it’s a certain series of magazines with titles that rhyme with “Bedible” followed by a city name.

  4. The Cosmic Avenger

    Is #1 in Montana or California? Because, as we often lament here, in the US pretty much anyone can be fired for anything that doesn’t involve a protected class.

  5. HR Ninja

    This may be morbid, but I’m hoping for an update from the person who had $20,000 worth of charges on his company’s credit card.

    1. jhhj

      Me too, though I hope to hear things worked out well, or at least better than they could have.

      And the duck club. I don’t really know what I want to see here, though.

      1. Ann

        I’d love an update on the duck club too, if only find out whether my suspicion that the participants got away with it scot-free is justified.

    2. Ruffingit

      I see nothing morbid about that. I too want an update. I’m rooting for everything to work out for the OP!

    1. Another Editor

      I’m not the OP, but I’m looking for an editing job. Do you mind posting a link? Is that allowed here?

    2. patricia

      UtahEditor, I’d like to pick your brain about editing and how to get into it…can I post a question in the open thread and move that over there? I would be most grateful!

    3. Mander

      I’m looking, too, but it would need to be remote since I’m based in the UK. But in a wider sense it would be great to talk about breaking into editing and actually getting paid for it.

  6. Jenna Maroney

    Wow, having my usage corrected to be LESS correct would drive me b-o-n-k-e-r-s. Good for you for sayint no more.

    1. Jenna Maroney

      …Unfortunate comment to have a typo on, which is what I get from being hasty on my phone!

    2. hermit crab

      Ugh, yes. I recently got a paper returned with tracked changes from the TA. Except there was only one change, and it was incorrect. Yeah, thanks, but no thanks!

    3. Mander

      My academic advisor used to do this to me sometimes. She was not a native English speaker, to be fair, but she would imply that I was an idiot for getting something wrong when it was right.

  7. Heather

    To #4 OP – there are still places that will pay well for copyediting? How did you find them?

  8. Anonsie

    I’m always amused by “they could sue” as a blanket reason to avoid doing something that needs doing. I mean, I could pretty much sue anyone at any time for any reason, but I’d lose.

    1. voyager1

      Maybe… But any lawyer will tell you a jury is unpredictable. And sometimes plaintiffs win in employment suits because the jury feels they deserve to win or they want to make the company pay. One of the reasons a lot of suits are settled out of court.

      1. Anonsie

        And there’s a lot of hassle and costs to handling a case even if it ends in your favor, yeah. But “they could sue” and “they seem likely to sue” are different concerns.

      2. Sue Wilson

        There are 2 steps to the process before you get anywhere near a jury including the complaint phase (in which they have to prove they have a valid complaint) and the summary judgement phase (in which presumably your facts should be in order and there are little to no relevant or important disagreements about what happened). The case can and often does get thrown out at those two phases.

  9. Denise

    So, the employer in #1 hired someone without doing their due diligence, realized that way down the line, and instead of openly confronting the employee about what they felt was misleading, implemented what was likely a highly nitpicky evaluation process specifically designed to find fault with her (that presumably would otherwise have not been an issue) and push her out. It would be one thing if the employee had lied about something, but “let us believe” is too vague to know what actually happened in this situation.

    Poorly handled.

    1. Denise

      Going back to the original, the circumstances under which this woman was hired are vague, but it does seem that she intended to deceive at least afterward. I still don’t see why the approach wasn’t to get her certified rather than to come up with a passive aggressive system of phasing her out.

    2. June

      I agree.

      I almost detect some spitefulness going on regarding this.

      Unless the certification was listed as a ‘must have’ on the job posting, i.e. crucial to be able to do the job, the way it was handled was really mean and petty.

      1. Artemesia

        She lied about her qualifications and not vaguely but about specific training. I think spite is appropriate.

  10. the man in the outfield with the bonnet head

    #4: Additionally, I noticed a couple of my articles were edited for punctuation, but the editor’s changes were incorrect. It all just rubbed me the wrong way.

    ARGH!!!! I just want to tell OP4 that I truly feel your pain. This doesn’t sound like it would be a big deal, but I have had this happen to me: I wrote an article for free, someone went and *added* mistakes to it, and then it was published under my name. Over the years, I’d seen various writers, fictional and real, complaining about this sort of thing – but when it actually happened to me, I understood the vitriol behind the words.

    1. Dreaming of Self-employment

      This is why I will never submit to a publisher unless I have final approval of changes! Ugh!

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