should we pay for spouses to fly to our company party, a fired coworker’s request, and more

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

1. Should we pay for spouses to fly to our company anniversary party?

I am helping my boss plan a 3-day, 2-night 20th anniversary party for the company. Employees and their spouses are invited. My boss said that he will pay for all meals, entertainment (yacht cruise, golf, spa), and car service to and from airport for everyone but will only pay for the employee’s flight expense, not the spouses’. If he is encouraging spouses to attend, shouldn’t he pay for everything? Some families can’t afford the airline ticket.

Well …. I see your line of thinking, but this is really a work trip, masquerading as a social event. As a work trip, it makes sense that only employees’ airline tickets are covered. It doesn’t seem wildly unreasonable to me to say that while spouses are welcome, they’d need to cover their own airline tickets — and that would be a pretty big expense for the company to cover for all those people. And it’s not like spouses have to attend — presumably in cases where they don’t, it would be just like other work travel where spouses don’t come along. Yes, this trip happens to be for a party (and I do think that makes it a little less black and white than if it were, say, a work retreat), but it’s still a work event, not a social one.

2. My fired coworker wants me to forward her contact info to people we worked with

My former coworker is trying to stay in touch professionally through me. She was fired almost one year ago, and while we’ve stayed on relatively friendly terms (not the case for most of our small office), our relationship hasn’t been the same since – especially since I was given her position. She emailed me asking if I can send her contact information to students she’s worked with in the past who may want to stay in touch with her professionally (it was an academic advising position).

I don’t want to burn bridges, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to do that especially since she was let go (versus quitting). If the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t even think about asking that. Am I overreacting?

Nope, I think you’re right to feel uneasy. Sending her info along to the students you serve feels a bit too close to an endorsement of her and her work, and since there’s no way to do this without it appearing to be coming from you in your professional capacity (representing your employer), I think you have to pass. You could say something like, “I don’t think I’m supposed to do that — sorry I can’t help!” If you want to, you could point out that she might be able to reach out to some of them on LinkedIn.

3. How can we implement at-will employment in a fair and just way?

I’m in charge of a church. For the past couple of decades, our workers were employed by annual contracts which expired at the end of every year, stipulated mediation in the case of conflict, and required severance pay if the church prematurely severed the contract, without exception. Following the movement within churches, generally, we’re in the process of moving to at-will employment. This seems great to me, but an issue has come up I’d like your thoughts on.

One of my employees points out that at-will employment isn’t particularly just or equitable to the employees. Additionally, the possibility of being fired for no reason at all, while legal, stands in direct conflict with our organization’s stated value of seeking justice for all people. While I don’t intend to fire anybody without cause, it does seems odd to have employment procedures that lack any such protections given our values. The issue is slightly complicated by the way clergy (like me) are employed: with a letter of agreement that includes some protection from causeless firing.

My questions for you: Is this a reasonable issue? If so, how do we build justice and equity into our employment system without going back to annual contracts or to opening ourselves to liability in case of criminal behavior?

Why not commit to a progressive discipline policy, where you lay out specific steps that you’ll follow before anyone is fired? These are pretty common and generally include a series of warnings that escalate in seriousness before someone is let go. (Generally they also include language about exceptions to the policy, since you want to retain the flexibility to fire someone without a series of warnings if they’re, say, embezzling or if they punch someone. Here’s an example.) A policy like that will let you be transparent to your staff about how you handle problems and assure people that they won’t be fired out of the blue.

4. My employer asked for six more months of notice

I ran across your site trying to come up with a solution to this problem, and was wondering if you might have some advice. I work as a software developer at a small startup company (11 employees). I’m the lead software developer, but am looking to go back to school in the fall, and could have my entire master’s paid for doing research for the school. I told my company I was looking at other opportunities about a month ago, and even asked them for a letter of recommendation (which my boss was happy to give).

I’ve now got an offer for the research position, though I told them I would like to discuss how much longer my current company would need me for in order to find a replacement. The school agreed to this, but when I approached my employer and asked what would be appropriate (my suggestion was I could start working for the research company in 3 months if need be, which I figured would be plenty of time), he asked me if I could put off the new job for nine more months, saying I have too many projects I’m working on, and they don’t have the resources or time to recruit a new developer right now. He said my leaving before they were completely set up with a new developer familiar with all the projects and my work would put the company in jeopardy.

I really like and get along with my boss, and this is also my first time leaving a company this small. Is this a reasonable request for a startup company? I don’t want to wait 9 months, but I also want to be reasonable, and I really do want the company to succeed. Do you have any advice on how to talk to my boss?

What?! No, that’s crazy. Since this is a startup, maybe your boss has no exposure to how this works, but it would be highly unusual — almost unheard of — for your new job to be willing to wait nine months for you to start. One month, two months, sometimes three months (although in many jobs that’s really pushing it), but asking for more than that is going to really come across badly to your new employer, who needs someone to start now or close to now. Even if asking for three months, you’d want to present it as “I don’t know if this would be possible on your end, but I’d love to wrap up some projects here and start in September — is that at all feasible? I understand if not.”

Employees leaving with a reasonable amount of notice (which is generally two to four weeks, depending on your field) is a normal part of doing business. You’re not responsible for them being left short-handed, or obligated to wait until they “have time” to hire someone new. Their saying that to you crosses so far over into the realm of outrageous that I gasped out loud when reading your letter — which I say in order to hopefully convince you that this is not a normal or okay request.

You leave when it’s good for you and your new employer. Your old employer makes do. That’s how this works.

5. Is this time-off policy fair?

My employer has suddenly changed our vacation / sick days policy. I work in a pediatric dental office and the doctor wants all employees working on any days that the kids are off from school. At the present time, this only relates to the schedules of two very large school districts but there could be more included in the future. The districts do not share calendars, so there are many days when the students are not in school. To complicate things even more, elementary, middle and high school in the same district have closures on different days.

If our planned vacation or a sick day falls on a school closure day, the doctor charges us for two days off instead of one. Of course, none of the employees consider this to be fair, especially since there are very few weeks that do not include a school closure. Also, some of us need to plan vacations long before the schools distribute their yearly calendars so there is no way to plan around them. Is this a legal practice?

Yes. It’s basically a way to create a disincentive to take those days off. Think of them sort of like vacation black-out days, which are days some offices have that you can’t take off at all. In your case, you can take them off but they’ll “cost” you more, because they don’t actually want you to take off then.

However, it’s certainly unfair if you’re not able to know very far in advance what days will be impacted by the policy, and it’s unfair if it means there are few ways to take off a full week without being impacted by this. It would be worth talking about whether there are other ways of ensuring that the office has adequate coverage on those days.

{ 343 comments… read them below }

  1. Al Lo*

    #5 – I work for an organization that is heavily influenced by the school calendars, and have found that the school districts in my area release their final calendar each year by about December (for the following September), but typically have had a draft out (which doesn’t change much) at least 18 months prior. I think the 2016-2017 draft calendar for both school systems in my city is already out, and I started working heavily with the 2015-2016 calendar in January to plan my organization’s next year. You may have already done this digging, but the calendars here are typically available on the school district website, even if they’re not heavily publicized or sent home with students that far out, and if that’s the case, you may be able to get them sooner. At the very least, having that information 8-18 months in advance could help with vacation planning.

    1. Erin*

      ^This sounds perfect. It sounds like better communication between your office and the schools is what’s going to solve this one.

    2. Judy*

      Our school district has (today) 3 years of school calendars on their website (2015-16, 2016-17 & 2017-18). I’m not sure when the third year’s calendar was put up. I don’t remember seeing more than 3 ever, so maybe they put it up when they took down this year’s calendar. The one page pdf has the schedule for all of the schools (25+ schools), and it looks like they’re all on the same schedule next year. In past years, a few schools were piloting “year round” school, with shortened summer and 2 week fall and spring breaks.

      1. Al Lo*

        We have a “traditional” and “modified”calendar. The modified schools are year-round, with the shorter summer break, but longer/more frequent breaks through the year. I’m not sure how many schools are in that system, but it’s at least 25 or so, out of the several hundred in our district.

    3. ExceptionToTheRule*

      You must live in a functional state. Our legislature couldn’t get it’s @$$ in gear this year and got into an argument over when schools would be legally allowed to start classes. The 2014-2015 school year was almost over before the fight was and schools could start finalizing the 2015-2016 calendars just before Memorial Day.

  2. Engineer Girl*

    #5 – I can certainly see black out periods for occupations where there is a surge in needs – say, blacking out Jan-April if you are in taxes, or blacking out 2 weeks before each major event if you are an event planner.
    In this case, I think it is wrong to have blackouts, because the blackouts are happening every single week. It means that no one can really take a block of vacation days, but only take vacation 1-2 days at a time. If you can’t handle a single employee taking a block of vacation then you are short staffed. It’s that simple. You may want to raise this issue with the office manager. Simply state that your compensation package included X weeks vacation. Then ask how you can take off x weeks of vacation in a block. If they say “you can’t” then you might want to ask them if that was disclosed in the compensation package, because that is a non-standard vacation. Then ask how we can make this work (emphasis on the “we” part).

    1. Mike C.*

      Seriously, this policy is nuts. Does that also mean double charging for spring break, summer vacation and days where everything is closed due to unsafe weather?

      What about weekends?

      1. la Contessa*

        That’s the first thing I thought–does this policy apply for the entire summer, so you have to spend two weeks’ vacation for one week at the beach?

        1. AndersonDarling*

          Exactly. And what happens when there is one week where there are no school closures? Then the entire staff will want to take that week as vacation.

      2. Robles*

        I’m guessing it doesn’t apply to the summer, since the theory is that school closures create a spike in demand, and you don’t have spikes in demand associated with the entire summer.

        Which means in practice, if you want to take a week at the beach during a week where there is one day that students have off, it will cost you a week and a day… this doesn’t seem that egregious to me.

      3. Carly*

        And what if some of the employees themselves have children? It means that you would have to take double-leave to go to a parent-teacher conference, or go on a spring break vacation.

    2. Anon for this*

      I would actually have some suggestions up my sleeve about how this could be improved.

      Maybe it’s simply a matter of getting a year to view calendar, marking the known blackout dates on it, showing just how little vacation time is available… and then saying “what if we look at making that it’s first in best dressed, only one person off at a time, otherwise your policy of double days counts, AND we block out these really awfully busy periods to that rule” or similar.

      And then either decide if you want to live with that crazy rule, or move to somewhere else… and start job hunting. If the whole office staff start doing it then boss will slowly get the message as people resign and cite the lack of holiday availability as part of the reason.

      1. Ella*

        The whole policy is based on an assumption that might not even be true–that the office is in fact significantly busier on school closure days. (I realize that it’s possible that it is and the letter writer just didn’t include that information.) Potentially the letter writer could map out the number of appointments per day and see if there’s significant correlation between school holidays and busy times in the office.

        Also, requiring EVERY SINGLE EMPLOYEE to be there is just setting everyone up for failure and bitterness,and people watching each other’s calendars to see who disappears on blackout days. I can see requiring more coverage in the office, or requiring employees to give longer periods of notice so that coverage can be found, but a blanket forbidding is going to cause resentment.

        I can totally see a policy like: Say you need 80% of the staff in the office on days when school is closed. If employees ask for time off more than 6 weeks in advance, and if the office still has at least 80% coverage, employees won’t be penalized extra days of vacation time. If they ask less than 6 weeks out, they take an extra hit on their vacation time and run the risk of their request not being approved. Also, if they take more than X number of school holidays off, they take a hit to their vacation time (or everyone’s required to work at least X number of holidays so that the burden is shared). Don’t penalize people who call in the day of because you don’t want people coming in sick. Maybe have blackout days when ALL of the schools in your area are out, not just one (depending on the size of the school, I can see one school closure not having a huge impact on your office, where a district-wide closure or a multi-district closure is much more likely to have an impact).

        1. Erin*

          “Maybe have blackout days when ALL of the schools in your area are out.”

          Yes, this seems reasonable.

          I too find it hard to believe they need every single employee on every single day that ONE school (maybe more) has off.

          I’m confident a better system could be put in place here, and agree with Anon for this that you should have a few suggestions up your sleeve when you approach your boss. Being penalized for taking days off doesn’t seem right.

          I think the first things that need addressing are 1) We need to see those school calendars sooner – better communication with the schools, and 2) How many employees do we actually need in the office on school days off when we’re anticipating more clients? There must be a way to do a first come, first serve way of letting a few people have those days off who request it first.

          This shouldn’t even have to go through the boss, just good communication between the employees with an underlying assumption that the office has to be fully staffed at basically any given time. “Hey, I’m going to be out of town on this day and this day, can you commit to being in the office at those times?” “I know your kid has ballet recitals coming up – let me know when the dates are finalized so I can make sure to be here.” “I have to leave early for an appointment in a couple weeks, can you make sure you’re in the office that day? Let me know next time you have an appointment and I’ll cover for you.”

          You mentioned this policy was a recent change – maybe your boss will view this as a trial period and can hopefully see it’s not working and be open to other suggestions.

          Side note: I have seen a four-year-old at the dentist before, and God bless you for the work you do.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      Totally. So, all the employees can never take a family vacation when their children are out of school?! (or if they do, they get dinged for two weeks’ vacation instead of one) That’s nuts. I wonder if they avoid hiring people with kids too. Geez. They should just have a first-come first-served policy where, say, no more than 1-2 employees can take the Friday after Thanksgiving, for example, and it goes by who puts in their request the earliest. That works for thousands of companies, so why couldn’t they do something similar. Like the Op said, kids have a whole lot of days off school these days, sometimes just so the staff can have meetings (forget what those are called, my kids are grown now)

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        And, just because the kids are off school, doesn’t mean the parents are off work. I guess the Dentist is just trying to maximize the potential for bringing in extra business on those days, but the parents still need to request time off just like any other day, to take their kids to the appt.

        1. Ife*

          Yeah, it seems like many parents don’t care about taking their kids out of school for a couple hours for a doctor appointment anyway (my parents were not among that crowd, and I was always jealous of the kids who got to leave early!). It’s hard to believe that a day or two off of school would create a huge surge in appointment demand.

          1. Ama*

            When I had braces, my orthodontist had a main office that was a pretty good drive from where I lived, but because he had so many clients in my school district, he had a separate office that was only open on Mondays literally across the street from my high school. So while for the major adjustments (braces tightening, etc.) I did try to schedule after school or holiday appointments (usually we had to do those at the main office anyway), for the monthly checkups I could schedule on a Monday and not even miss a whole class period.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Yes, but that would require actually MANAGING the office staff rather than just penalizing them. O.o

        Once you get to the point where you’re setting up these complicated, punitive schemes, you’ve already failed as a manager.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I was thinking exactly the same thing. The doctor isn’t going to be open to any policy that requires extra work to manage it, because people who make “complicated, punitive schemes” like this one do so in order to automate the “management” process so that they don’t have to think or work. They would rather make their employees pay the price for their (the managers’) laziness than to manage effectively.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    #4 – You already gave some notice to your employer when you applied to grad school and asked for an endorsement. A good boss would have started looking for your replacement at that point – if not formally then at least casually. Three months notice is generous beyond belief. If they don’t have the resources or time to look for someone in that amount of time then the company is on the skids. They’ve clearly mismanaged their projects if losing you would cause most of them to fail. Worse – they’ve clearly mismanaged the company if losing you would fail. If you have that much influence in the health of the company you should be a partner, not a mere employee!
    Do not sacrifice your wonderful opportunity because of their mismanagement.

    1. CAinUK*

      10000% this. Their inability to plan is not your problem, and certainly not a reason to risk your new opportunity. Be gracious, but don’t acquiesce.

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        Do not let your current employers desires drive your time schedule. They don’t know what they are doing, so the faster you leave the better. Give your 2 weeks notice, and be happy that you are likely going to a much better employer.

        1. Artemesia*

          Exactly. Give reasonable notice and don’t look back. You don’t want to get off to an annoying start with your new job by bending over backwards for your old one. Asking for a month before starting is quite reasonable, but 3 mos is putting the needs of your past job ahead of your own future. Don’t start a new job by being high maintenance.

      2. JMegan*

        Lack of planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on your part.

        Give your notice, OP, and enjoy your new position with a clean conscience!

    2. AMT*

      Exactly. If your business collapses when one person leaves, you don’t have a business!

    3. Erin*

      Agreed. They already had a heads up on this *before* you even gave your insanely generous three months notice.

      Seriously this is insane. Please don’t feel guilty.

    4. Ad Astra*

      Yep. And if the company knew going into it they absolutely needed OP for a certain chunk of time, they should have written up a contract.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Awesome point. The OP is still at-will, and can be fired at any time, so they can QUIT at any time, with no notice. Two weeks is considerate, three months is very generous.

        Asking for triple that is ridiculous.

    5. MsM*

      All of this. There is no way it should take them more than three months to work out the transition plan they should already have started getting in place when you told them you were going back to school, especially with your help and input, or you that long to train either your successor or others to cover for you until they find that person. And if they can’t afford to hire your successor, then the company may not be around in another nine months.

    6. neverjaunty*

      Yes, this. Nine months is the time is takes to bring a pregnancy to term, not to fill a job vacancy.

      Sounds like OP’s employer is hoping an insanely long notice will mean the other employer says “no thanks” and OP stays.

    7. Stranger than fiction*

      Yep, we’ve seen this so many times before. This type employer really guilts those who are leaving. Perhaps the Op can also offer to put their feelers out for his/her replacement in the meantime, take a look at some incoming resumes or whatever (even though, sounds like their super busy). But other than that, yeah, not Op’s problem.

    8. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Agreed. Sometimes managers ask for stuff like this just to see if they can get it – it doesn’t necessarily mean that they really expect you to go along with what they are asking. I mean, there’s no need to guilt someone, that’s not appropriate, but it’s possible they aren’t taking their request as seriously as you are.

    9. EI - OP 4*

      Hi! I’m actually the OP for #4, and I really appreciate all the comments and advice (though now I’m a little nervous about asking the school to wait 3 months before starting my new job. They said they were willing to work with me as I discussed an end date for the startup, but I don’t want to sound completely crazy if I ask for 3 months…)

      But just a few more details about my current job, my boss is the CEO and one of three founders of the company. They are all off raising Series A from investors, and that’s pretty much become their full time job for the rest of this year. I was the first full-time developer hired, and will have been here 4 years in November. Shortly after starting, another full time developer (who quit last year) and I spent about two months carving out the entire code architecture for our company and is used as a foundation for all our customer projects today.

      We have two other developers (one full time and one intern here for the summer), but the other full time developer has been working on a major customer project involving a system we have never worked with before, and that’s all he’s been doing since he was brought on board in February. I’m currently doing another three customer projects myself (two of which should be ending soon unless we do follow up projects).

      Regardless, I feel I’m ready to move on and go back to school, and have a old friend from college who said they needed developers to help with a research contract provided through the college; in addition to a pay raise, I would also get my schooling paid for, which is more in line with my long term goals.

      1. RMRIC0*

        So they’re going through a funding round (presumably so they can grow the business), but they don’t actually have the mechanisms in place to grow the business?

      2. Dana*

        Your last paragraph is the envy of so many people. Please don’t blow this opportunity because your startup company isn’t functioning like a proper company yet. Like the old hit-by-a-bus adage, they HAVE to make time to hire your replacement if they are serious about running a business.

        1. Rana*

          Yup. They may be trying to make their problems feel like your problems, but once you leave, they’re not. It’s their job to solve them, not yours.

      3. Vicki*

        You’re one of the first full-time developers hired. You’re not one of the founders. This is a JOB. This is not your “baby”.

        If the funding went away tomorrow, would you stay? Would you personally mortgage your house to pay the bills? No?

        You’re an employee with options. Give them a month if you really feel the guilt, but honestly, two weeks is normal. If this startup (it’s been 4 years now!!) is ever going to be a real company they need to understand that employees will leave.

      4. Engineer Girl*

        So none of the founders are actually running the company. Just a point here – CEO stands for Chief Executive Officer. That means they are supposed to execute, as in actually run the company, not just raise funds.
        It sounds like you are the chief architect, but what about all the other work? What about the care and feeding of the product? The development? Have they dumped all of that on you, including the operations?
        I’m sorry but it sounds to me like they’ve abdicated their responsibility and just hope that you pick it up. That’s not how you run a business and you shouldn’t feel any guilt about leaving.

      5. SG*

        The best thing to do is just put together everything you have been working on and write up an informational document for the next person who is hired into your job. That way they can pick up where you left off. This is totally normal- don’t worry! If you want to be really generous you can offer to field questions from the new person they hire when they do hire someone, but DO NOT let that take over your life.

    10. Maggie*

      I made the mistake of staying on till my old employer found a replacement (2 weeks extra, after giving the usual 1 month’s notice). They (two) bosses told me they would make it worth my while for the difference in salary during those 2 weeks. On the last day, just as I was leaving, I got a goodbye card, but no check for the ‘promise’. I just wanted to get away from the pair of liars I never brought it.

      DON’T DO IT!

  4. SandrineSmiles (France)*

    For 1 – As much as it would be a nice gesture for the company to pay for the tickets, this isn’t about getting a free vacation but going, indeed, to a work event.

    So if the family can’t go, then they… don’t go. Might not seem cool for certain people, but that’s life.

    1. CAinUK*

      I totally agree with this in principle. BUT, I can see where this could backfire as a morale-building exercise when suddenly only Exec-level managers have their spouses with them (because they could afford to bring them) while others can’t afford it. It means some employees will be engaged, others will be with their spouses during down-time and thus less engaged. It just feels like a messy approach to me.

      I figure: with destination retreats, either pay for spouses to come or don’t allow them to come at all. Mixed inclusion based on a price-point makes it awkward in my mind.

      1. snuck*

        Yeah, I can see the backfire if it’s just execs – they should probably hold off on making their plans until they know if the general staff are bringing spouses in droves.

        Is there a reason it has to be a flight away? Why not make it somewhere closer to home? Even if it’s a three hour drive… Sure going to Vegas for a 20th business birthday bash might seem amazing and generous, but going to the local wine region and bringing in special services like spa and adventure sports, a square dance caller (eek) and bird watching (or whatever novelty you want to bring in) could be far more memorable, considerate and cost a similar amount (because you aren’t doing air fares then). It also means that spouses can join for parts of the weekend and people get a lot more time to connect given they aren’t being blinged and flashed about. It’s much more than the airfare for the spouse, it’s the child care, the “big game”for the kids, the school arrangements, the fact that Great Aunt Merle will have her 180th that weekend.

        Also… there’s all that stuff where people generally HATE their personal time being taken over by work stuff, three days, two nights… one assumes on a weekend so a work week either side of this… where’s the family time for those involved? Where’s the sports and other weekend commitments? Where’s the time out from that guy who picks his nose then hands you your mail?

        Please… think carefully. It sounds generous, but most people HATE these things. And a flight away is like being on a cruise – you are stuck, can’t get home (especially if the company bought the tickets and runs the shuttles) and you have to sing and dance in the chorus line regardless of whatever else you might want to be doing. And not going is career and work social suicide. If you can change the company directors mind then seriously talk through what it is going to mean for the employees involved.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          This kind of extravagant event is often really tough to swallow for the employees on the bottom of the corporate ladder who might be having trouble making rent AND keeping up with their student loans, when they would much rather just have their share of the party’s cost to pay their household expenses. I’m not saying the party isn’t a generous thing to do, but it’s often not as much of a morale booster as expected for many of those employees who need a morale boost the most.

          I do agree with Alison, though; expecting the employer to pay for spouses’ airfare in addition to the spouses’ meals, entertainment, lodging, and local transport seems kind of greedy. I have taken my family on business trips and we always pay their airfare, and once I took the per diem hotel rate and just put it towards a much nicer room, although usually I can get a 2-queen room within the per diem. Our anniversary parties are often just “plus one”, because to allow children would drive the food cost way up. (We do have family-friendly company events that are less fancy.)

          1. snuck*

            I am trying to picture the company involved… I’m picturing a small business, the boss and his assistant, plus a book keeper and the a bunch of front line workers – retail, trades, maybe a professional office like a dentist or accountant. A group of doctors maybe?

            And then there’s the bit about some families not being able to afford the spouse’s ticket. So there’s clearly (for whatever reason) a disparity in the financial situation of some members of the office, and it’s known.

            So if boss carries through with this, knowing full well that some people can’t afford to bring their spouses… he’s effectively sending them a message that they are unimportant, that their status is less worth considering than others.

            I know boss wants to shoot morale up, this is his idea of a great big fun celebration weekend, but it’s not everyones, and if you are knowingly singling out people (by only offering them an option they cannot accept) then… you are going to lose the morale factor. I don’t think the boss should pay for the spouse’s airfare, but he needs to think very carefully about who he is going to upset with this and whether it’s worth it.

      2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Yes – it becomes a haves vs. have-nots if only those who earn more can bring a spouse. That is really awkward. I like the idea of doing something closer where it’s not a huge expense for someone to drive. Then you reimburse the employees’ mileage and there spouse comes along at no extra cost.

      3. sam*

        If this is a public company, there are some pretty significant SEC reporting requirements for the “high 5” and perquisites, and spousal travel is one of those perqs. Many companies basically refuse to pay for such things now precisely because of this requirement.

        You’ll basically only see it for companies that have recently gone public, used to pay for this stuff when they were private, and got stuck disclosing it in their IPO/first year documents because no one thought about the optics of having to disclose the $10,000 spent on the CEO’s non-employee wife traveling with him to industry conferences (Industry conferences in places like Cabo).

      4. Vicki*

        Or don’t set up a “destination” event, call it a “party”, and invite spouses.

        If you want a party, make it optional.
        If you want it to be inclusive of spouses, have it local.
        If you want a work event, call it a work event (and be sure to do work at the event.)

        This is too blurry. And yes, it’s going to cause morale problems when the execs bring spouses and the less well-paid employees can’t.

    2. John*

      The issue as I see it is that he is “encouraging” spouses to come. Is that taking a form that is making employees feel obligated to bring their spouses? If so, that’s not cool. He should word it so it’s clear that spouses are welcome, not that it’s a command performance.

    3. Artemesia*

      A three day social event seems ‘off’ to me without spouses being included. It isn’t a work retreat and some (the wealthier poncier executive types) will have their spouses there, only the proles who feel they must go but can’t afford to take their SOs will be there alone. That much intensive socializing seems inappropriate with that mix.

    4. Colette*

      I’m kind of torn about whether this is intended as a team building event or a reward – if it’s a reward and no work events are planned (I.e.everyone can do what they want when they’re there), the company should reconsider and either pay for a guest or do a different celebration. (It’s not a reward to go on a vacation you didn’t choose by yourself.)

      If, on the other hand, there are events the employees are expected to participate in when they’re there, it’s fine to pay for employees only.

      1. lawsuited*

        Really? It’s not a reward to go on a work retreat with a yacht cruise, golf and spa? I think it sounds better than your average work retreat spending 2 days in a Marriott hotel conference room. While the boss can probably justify giving his employees a nicer-than-average work retreat for the 20th anniversary, I can see why he wouldn’t consider giving every employee a fully paid family vacation a justifiable business expense.

        1. Colette*

          First of all, no, I don’t think that’s a reward. Some people will like it, but others will have to miss events at home, arrange for others to cover their personal responsibilities, and be trapped with coworkers for several days. Not a reward.

          As I said, if it’s a work retreat – I.e. If the event is for coworkers to get to know each other, then it’s fine to exclude spouses. But if it’s something the company is generously doing to make their employees happy and it’s not a work event, they should pay for a guest as well as that increases the odds that the employees will actually enjoy themselves.

          1. lawsuited*

            Given that all these employees are going to to the same place, at the same time, to the same events, it’s obviously a work event intended for co-workers to spend time/get to know each other. And it’s a nicer one than usual to celebrate the 20th anniversary and treat the employees. Employers pay for work events, employees pay for family vacations (if they can/want to). I have no idea why people would consider this, or ever expect, a company-wide family vacation.

            1. Artemesia*

              Because apparently the big shots will be there partying with their spouses; it is only the minions who can’t afford the cost who will be there getting to know their co-workers better. If you want to breed resentment this is a great way to do it.

              If it is all about work retreat and noone brings a spouse then it could be fun and work. This way it is about distinctions between haves and have nots. The happy peasants were not that happy at Versailles.

              1. Cat*

                But we have no evidence that any of this is going to happen. We don’t know what the income disparities at the company are; we don’t know how many of the “big shots” have or are bringing spouses; we don’t know what the cost of the ticket is. If we did this where I work, I can pretty much guarantee this wouldn’t be the dynamic, and who knows at the OP’s company.

              2. Colette*

                I don’t think it’s about the “big shots” bringing spouses. Some might, but others might not have the money (because a larger salary does not equal having the cash to go on a trip that you didn’t budget for) or the spouse might have other commitments such as family members/children or a job of their own or they might not even have a spouse.

                Unfortunately, if some people bring spouses and others don’t, it increases the potential unpleasantness for the people going. If you don’t bring a spouse but all of the coworkers you like on a personal level do, your choices are to spend time with people you don’t know/like or spend the time by yourself.

            2. Colette*

              I’ve worked places where the company would send employees on trips as a reward. It wasn’t the whole company or a whole team within the company – it was often as part of winning an award of some sort. There were no company events planned (except maybe an award ceremony). I don’t have enough information about this particular trip to know what the intent is here.

        2. Qlarue*

          I would in no way consider this a reward. I would consider it an awkward and uncomfortable weekend and I would be miserable the whole time. I have enough trouble pretending to be normal at work. An entire weekend stuck with my bosses and co-workers would be horrible.

          1. lawsuited*

            Conversely, I really like the people I work with and would have a blast spending a weekend with them in a new place, and would enjoy a free yacht cruise and spa visits. It just goes to show that this all amounts to ‘Boo Hiss’ and there’s no right answer for the company. Someone people will be happy that spouses are invited, and others will be upset by it.

            1. davey1983*

              I like my coworkers as well, but I don’t want to spend a weekend with them. I’m an introvert by nature, and not very social. If you give me the choice between spending a weekend on a cruise with my coworkers (or some other luxurious activity) or night at home with my spouse/family, I’ll take the night at home.

              Extroverts don’t understand this, but introverts (generally) want smaller groups and need some quite time to recharge. This is almost impossible in work retreat situations– even if your spouse is there, you are expected to have dinner/drinks/entertainment/etc. with your coworkers.

              I disagree that this is all ‘boo hiss’, what some employees would take as a reward, others would view as torture.

              If this is suppose to be a reward, give the employees a choice as to whether they attend or not (and I wouldn’t have a problem with the spouses pay for themselves if the event was optional). If it is suppose to be some team building exercise, then exclude spouses.

              1. Jen RO*

                I am a social introvert and I would love it… but the point is that you can find all sorts of people in all companies and it’s just as wrong to generalize from an introvert point of view as it is from an extrovert point of view.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      To me, this is normal too. I’ve worked a few places where they extend the invitation to spouses for an event, but do not cover airfare. It’s more of a gesture to include spouses, assuming they give out employee recognition awards and stuff like that, then the spouse has the opportunity to be there.

    6. Vicki*

      I don;t understand how this is a “work event”.

      It’s a 3-day 2-night “party” with a yacht cruise and golf. That’s not work. Spouses are “invited” and their food will be paid for. But there’s an airplane involved.

      Can employees say “No”?

      This is a Very Odd event.

  5. UKAnon*

    #3, could you look into employment laws from countries across the EU?* As I understand there’s some variance, but for example in the UK you’re protected against constructive and unfair dismissal. You also have certain (admittedly weak) rights like the Working Time Directive, statutory holidays, minimum pay etc. and a right to a certain notice period. Would you be able to build any/all of this into your contracts (I’m sure some others can bring some other info about good workers’ rights) to help combat the appearance that you can now act as you want?

    *Or other countries – the EU is the one I know best.

    1. Cheesecake*

      If you advise this as “inform yourself on different practices”, looking across EU will confuse OP even more. The regulations vary from country to country and are sometimes polar opposite. You can have weak working time directive in the UK but somewhere else it will be strict and inspected by the government.I am sure this is case of different non-EU countries..they are just, different. If you advise to implement these best practices on local level, it can go against the law. I think OP should check local labor laws and i am sure something specific exist on at-will employees (or officials can explain) or he can check with other churches.

      1. Natalie*

        At will is pretty universal across the U.S. (Montana excepted) so I doubt local law will be of much help.

          1. Natalie*

            It’s pretty simple. Absent a contract or a union agreement, you have to have “good cause” (either performance or business need) to terminate an employee. For performance issues, the employer has a duty to properly train, warn, displicine, etc before firing. You can still fire for any reason during a probationary period, although I believe the maximum length is limited by statute.

      2. TootsNYC*

        Also, if the OP for #3 is in the U.S., it’s best to be looking at options that fit a paradigm his/her employees will find familiar.

        You can be an “at will” employee and still have some pretty strong defense against capricious dismissal.

        In almost every state, if an employer lays out a procedure for firing people, they legally must follow that policy. (That’s part of why Alison recommends specifically stating that an employee can be fired immediately if the offense is egregious.)

        It’s very common for a company to give a reasonable length of improvement time after a formal warning; and a three-part tier of warnings. It’s common enough, in fact, that some people think it’s law.

        So I’d suggest instead contacting local employers and maybe even some larger employers in the state to see what’s common around them. And use that to create a policy, and write it down.

        These policies are helpful for both managers and staff, I think.

        1. Cheesecake*

          This is what i meant, but you said it better. There is no reason to check rules and regulations outside, have a look at local best practices and write them down. If you are still lost – discuss with local contacts

          1. OP #3*

            Thanks for comments!

            After taking to my employees, it seems the desire is for some way to resolve disputes the employee feels are unfair (say termination for personality conflicts instead of performance problems). I’m thinking about identifying a trusted third party who could help mediate potential disputes, in addition to the progressive discipline AAM suggested.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’d be wary of that. What kind of disputes are people having? You want/need your managers to have the authority to manage, and not to risk having a mediator push them to do something they really shouldn’t. Mediators are all about finding resolutions both people can be happy with; sometimes in management, that’s not a realistic option. Managers do sometimes have to make decisions employees won’t like. That can read on the employee side as personality conflict. Sometimes it is, but other times it really isn’t.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I will add though that if you have a progressive discipline policy that requires a performance improvement plan at the final step, one with concrete objectives the person needs to meet, it’s pretty hard for someone to get fired over something that’s merely a personality conflict.

              1. OP #3*

                I’m glad to hear you’re wary of it because I am, too. I like the idea of protecting the employees’ jobs against needless firing, but I’m wary of using language that essentially gives them lifetime employment, should they so desire it. Also, if a personality conflict is strong enough that it’s progressing to firing someone, it’s hard to imagine an employee wanting to keep their job longer than it takes to find a different one.

                It sounds like the progressive discipline plan is a good place to start along with a stated intention, although an explicitly non-binding one, to give a decent period of notice if the church wants to terminate employment.

                Thanks for addressing my question! I wish I could’ve been more engaged during the day for comments, but I’m at a conference that’s not so great with scheduling breaks.

  6. Cheesecake*

    #4 Where i live 3 months notice is a must, exec employees generally have 6 ….and i gasped big time when reading your letter. 2 people gasping – your boss is nuts, confirmed. This is not normal on this planet.

    I am however a little confused by “I don’t know if this would be possible on your end, but I’d love to wrap up some projects here and start in September — is that at all feasible? I understand if not.” “Understand if not” seems to me like “if it is not feasible, ok, i’ll stay”. But i am probably reading this wrong.

    1. Raine*

      That wording is for talking to a new employer about whether a 3-month wait before starting the new job is feasible.

      1. TootsNYC*

        It read that way to me too (that you would decline the ob), and I thought of it as wording for the employer.

        This is parsing the semantics, but I’d say, “If not, I’d like to give them as much notice as possible.” At any rate, make it clear that the thing you’re giving up is not the new job!

  7. Apollo Warbucks*

    #1 Not only is it a questionable use of company money to take spouses along at an increased cost, if they are invited and the company pays then the cost of their tickets isn’t a deductible business expense and could well leave the employees with a tax liability for the benefit in kind they assumed.

    1. PEBCAK*

      I also see potential issues for people who don’t have spouses, but have significant others. Do you pay for Mary’s boyfriend to come along? They live together. What about Joe’s boyfriend? They’ve been dating six months, but are very serious. And so on…

      1. Turtle Candle*

        This exact thing happened at a former company of mine and it did cause drama; the company paid for spouses (and same-sex domestic partners, since the state had not yet legalized gay marriage), but not for unmarried partners, and also not for other family. Unmarried partners, other family, BFFs, etc., etc., could come, but had to pay their way. And of course it immediately turned into “Joe and Sally are married but have only known each other two years, and Paul and I have been together for eight years and just aren’t interested in marriage, so I should be able to bring him” and “I’m single by choice but should be able to bring my best friend” and “My husband’s busy so I want to bring my daughter instead, I should be able to do that since it’s the same cost to the company” and “We’re engaged but not married, does that count or do we need to wait for the ceremony?” and all kinds of stuff, of varying degrees of reasonableness. In some places it got touchy, because people felt like it was a referendum on the importance of their relationships.

    2. Robles*

      Out of curiosity… why wouldn’t it count as a business expense for the company for deductibility purposes?

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I’m assuming it’s a red flag for an audit if a company claims this type of expense for a non-employee?

      2. baseballfan*

        Because these aren’t employees, they’re family members of employees. Not a legitimate business expense.

        Of course, the company can pay for it…but for it to be deductible, it would have to be included as W-2 wages for the employees.

        We actually had an issue with that not long ago where executives’ spouses were included on a trip and the company paid for the transportation. These individuals had to include the spouse travel in their taxable income.

        1. sam*

          I mentioned this upthread with regard to the “high 5”, but in a larger context, the IRS and the SEC have cracked down in recent years on these sorts of perquisites. If I travel for my job, the expenses of that trip can be reimbursed to be as business expenses. if my (imaginary) non-employee spouse travels with me, there is no legitimate business need for them to engage in that travel, so the company has no business reason to categorize those expenses as a cost of doing business. The money spent has be considered imputed income to the actual employee, taxes need to be deducted (which means you need to get into the world of tax gross-ups,etc.). It’s a giant pain in the ass.

          Not to mention (as I noted above) the fact that if the employee at issue *is* one of your high 5 (meaning, 5 highest earning executive officers), you have to give comprehensive compensation disclosure in your proxy statement. Companies consider it highly embarrassing to have anything but de minimis perquisite disclosure in their CD&A, because it always gets picked up by the press.

          1. davey1983*

            I can’t speak to the SEC rules, but for tax the travel expenses incurred by the spouse would not be deductible expenses. Just taking your spouse does not negate the business purpose of the business trip, so all expenses the employee would have incurred if he was by himself would still be deductible (i.e., mileage on his car, hotel room, food per diem, etc).

            The only tax issue is the extra costs the spouse would incur.

            I just recently left the IRS, but I never messed with the costs incurred by ‘normal’ employees traveling for business. However, I would hit the companies for the travel expenditures (and other personal expenses) for spouses of owners, managers, and board members.

  8. Apollo Warbucks*

    #3 Being fair and just isn’t only about the law you can treat people well without a legal obligation, I really like Alison’s advice about clearing setting out a progressive discipline policy and consider paying severance to people you need to dismiss (where you feel it is appropriate)

    1. hbc*

      Yeah, I would hope that you could write up a generous policy (or even make a verbal promise) to not be a jerk, and then follow up by not being a jerk. You don’t have to write up an official document that says you give severance to give very generous severance, or provide months of notice that the job is on the line, or continue health care until the person finds another job. (You do have to be careful to be fair about any niceties above what’s documented–a habit of 4 week’s severance for women and 1 week for men will rightly get you sued.)

      People might be uneasy at first, but I would hope that they would trust the boss to do right by them until it’s proven otherwise. Especially in a religious environment where most will believe you have more to answer to than the bottom line.

      1. OP #3*

        I’m all about not being a jerk. The desire is to spell out a fair, equitable way of resolving potential conflict, especially when the employee feels that something unjust is going on. It’s sort of a question of how we lay out a way of treating people well without leaving ourselves unable to change staff in the case of misbehavior or poor fit.

        1. Tom*

          At the risk of waxing too religious for this blog… I have to say, as a church employee, God bless you for thinking this through, and for attending to your workers’ anxiety. Despite its many blessings, church work is often not a great income generator, and this is complicated even further by churches with decreasing numbers, churches with dysfunctional (even if well-intentioned) management, and church exemption from unemployment payments. I know other church employees who have lost their jobs unexpectedly simply due to church finances or pastors acting out, and these folks have been left with no severance, and no unemployment… so your staff’s concerns are valid, as you seem to realize. Thank you on behalf of your staff for choosing to invest in your workers — I truly believe you and your church will benefit from having a staff that feels your support.

  9. Cambridge Comma*

    For the time off policy in No. 5, as it is a new policy, could it be that the boss hasn’t realised how many days are affected? Perhaps if someone marked up a calendar to show how many weeks in the year are affected, he or she might reconsider.
    It’s quite harsh to block your staff from taking time off, especially over the entire summer. For some people with school age children, their vacation time has effectively been halved.
    Otherwise, if the letter writer is in a position to make suggestions, a possible compromise could be to limit the number of vacation days one person can take on non-school days to an appropriate number per year, e.g. 2 or 3 before you have to start ‘paying’ double for each day.
    Or maybe it is possible to identify days where there is an actual increase in demand and days where there isn’t, despite it being a non-school day, and address the actual issue rather than having a blanket disincentive.

  10. Apollo Warbucks*

    #4 Your boss is being crazy
    9 month notice is so far beyond what is reasonable to ask for. To put it in context my boss went on maternity leave and didn’t give 9 months notice! there is no way you should agree to this extended notice period 3 months is plenty and I really mean plenty. Give them 3 months (and they should think themselves lucky) do all you can to help a smooth transition and then leave for school without feeling bad.

    If you want to stay on really good terms offer to be available afterwards to answer quick questions or offer to come back an consult if you want to but be careful you don’t get sucked into doing more than you want to or can reasonable do.

    1. Cheesecake*

      Something tells me (the fact that boss finds it ok to ask employee to stay 9 months), polite suggestion to offer help afterwards will backfire. Boss will assume OP will happily do 2 full time jobs. I guess OP can mention he can help as a consultant with x hourly fee, but again, i’d think twice. OP should just leave for school without feeling bad, as you said.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        Good point, this boss has shown he doesn’t have a grasp on what is reasonable.

    2. steve g*

      I know, how long can it possibly take to find and hire someone, especially in this employer-centric job market?

      1. Sunflower*

        Esp considering OP already alerted boss he would be leaving in the fall. There is no reason there shouldn’t already be close to hiring a replacement!!!

        1. RVA Cat*

          I think the problem is not finding a replacement, it’s find a competent replacement for what they are will to pay.

          1. EI - OP 4*

            Mostly, the company pays its employees in shares, salary is about $20,000 under the median for this field.

        2. Alston*

          Startups can be really bad at hiring. We’ve been supposedly trying to hire a new developer for a year, and have been “aggressively” trying for 4 months. We’ve inteviwed several people, but basically we just suck at hiring.

          1. Cheesecake*

            This. Or you might have a boss who thinks everyone is passionate about the particular startup and culture and doesn’t want to understand that other people are still employees, who can come and go.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        In nine months, the employer could conceive and give birth to a new employee. :)

      3. CAA*

        Re – how long can it take to hire? It varies of course, but on average it takes about 3 to 6 months to recruit and hire a senior developer and about 6 months to get them up to full productivity and flexibility in a new environment. This is not to say that I think 9-months is a reasonable notice period in any way.

        Also, software developers are in a job-seeker’s market, not an employer’s market, and it’s been that way for about 4 years now.

        1. neverjaunty*

          That’s why OP’s employer should have started looking already. And the long time period is exactly why OP’s employer is wrong. It expects OP’s new boss to wait nine months ON TOP OF the lengthy hiring period.

      4. Stranger than fiction*

        Sounds like it’s the ramp-up time they’re concerned with. Multiple projects going on and developers don’t have time to stop, drop and train. Not that that’s any excuse, just the impression I’m getting.

    3. Meg Murry*

      If OP is the lead developer, I suspect the boss is either the founder or has been on board with the startup since the very early days and therefore lives, eats and breathes the startup – and that’s why they are making this 9 month request – it is the boss’s ideal timeline that won’t rock the boat too much.

      I think the only reason to comply with the 9 month request would be if the employer were either paying for grad school or somehow holding a position open for OP – then saying, no, go to grad school next year, not this fall might be a reasonable request. But if the OP is leaving for good, OP needs to look our for his/her best interests without completely screwing over the company, and 3 months certainly seems reasonable notice to accomplish that.

      It might be hard to recruit a new lead developer and get them up to speed quickly, but “lead” implies there are other developers – what will it take to get one or more of them up to speed, and bring on another junior developer in to take the load off those people? That seems do-able in 3 months. And if not, then that means the startup was staffed too thinly to begin with. 11 people is small, but it’s not “3 guys in a garage and if one guy leaves the project goes under” small.

      1. Steve G*

        You’re giving me bad memories of a temp job at a startup where there was one person in charge of all IT/programming/systems/anything not MS desktop programs-based. Their stuff was impressive, but once the impressiveness wore off, it was like, OK, you need to share the s*** with other people. A lot of the other people were either a few years out of school or entrepreneurs used to shoe-string staff it seemed, I was always seething in my seat thinking “one person can’t be in control of everything!” At least write SOPs for what you do for future reference.

        1. Artemesia*

          I once did a consult for an organization where one quirky employee had developed their data management system and was the only one who knew how to run it.. He held that office hostage and when he was not made director (for good reason) undermined the director with staff who thought he was ‘so smart’ because he knew the computer.

          My first move after interviewing each employee was to get the director trained on the data management system, upgrade the system to something less hacked together, and then cross train staff. The computer guru was very resistance to cross training and convinced staff it was unreasonable and too hard — boolean algebra doncha know — Did I mention sales had been falling, demand cycles were shifting and the place was going down the tubes without introducing new marketing and then effectively dealing with those new markets.

          My straw was the boolean algebra that was ‘too hard’ for staff — we are talking ‘and’ and ‘or’ here not differential equations. Ultimately the solution was to get rid of computer guy. Things went smoothly after that.

          Allowing one person to control a key function is the hallmark of poor management.

          1. Steve G*

            That sounds painful, more extreme than my case. The person was just annoying as hell because I had a similar job before that with a real IT department and they were so much more easier to deal with, no ego like this one person. They managed an industry-specific database and had a chip on their shoulder about it, and it was very easy to use (basically like any CRM), which made me question how difficult his other stuff really was.

    4. EI - OP 4*

      I should mention, the first question I was asked when I mentioned an end date was how many hours I would be willing to commit to consulting after leaving.

  11. John Vinall*

    #3 – In the UK most ministers are “post-holders: ministers of religion” which means they are not entitled to any employment protection at all. (There are corresponding benefits, however – for example the post can include a house and they don’t have to pay benefit in kind on the cost of that house).

    I’m the church secretary (a managing trustee of the charity – basically a director) and I’ve recently completed negotiations for two contracts at our church, one for a pastor (with stipend and house) and one for an assistant pastor (with stipend but no house). The attitude I’ve tried to take with the contracts is not so much “what can we do” but rather “what would I like my contract to say if I had a contract”. As believers we are encouraged to treat people right. Not just fairly, not just equitably – treat people as we would like to be treated.

    I’d encourage you to be gracious and generous in the contracts you draw up – engage your staff in the process and find out what they’d like to see in the contract – and remember that you’re not working for yourself in this matter, you’re working for God.

    1. MK*

      I am not certain what you mean by “not just fairly and equitably, but right and as we would like to treated”. Equitably and fairly IS how I (and, I think, every reasonable person) would like my organization to treat me; of course I expect graciousness, but the organization is not there to serve me.

      1. Career Counselorette*

        Yeah, seriously, that’s kind of disconcerting both professionally and spiritually.

      2. Elysian*

        I think John meant that fair and equitable is a baseline, but that in general we can do better – the church may want to be patient, generous, or forgiving to employees in ways that go beyond basic fairness (and well beyond basic compliance with the law). I think that’s a lovely sentiment and I hope the OP can find a way to make it work!

        1. MK*

          Would you think it was a lovely sentiment if your were a churchgoer in a church with a lazy minister who is not being disciplined because the church council chooses to be forgiving to its employees? Especially ministers, I think, should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one.

          I would agree that a church might be more tolerant than the average employer in cases where the problem is not the employee’s fault; for example, if they have attendance problems due to illness.

          1. Tomato Frog*

            I think for “forgiveness and generosity” you’re reading “mindless, unconditional forgiveness and generosity,” but I hope we can all agree that being a generous and kind employer doesn’t preclude disciplining or firing bad employees? I would agree with you that rewarding incompetence is not treating people right — I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that.

      3. Tomato Frog*

        John gave an example of what he meant — not just asking “Is this a fair and reasonable contract?” but “What would I like my contract to include?” Examples might be greater parental leave or different medical terms for someone dealing with chronic illness . I don’t get the impression he’s implying an organization should bend over backwards to its detriment.

        1. MK*

          Good parental leave and adequate medical care is treating your employee fairly and equitably, not generocity.

          1. Tomato Frog*

            I said “greater” parental leave. Surely you can agree that two employers could both have good parental leave policies but one could be more generous than the other?

    2. Artemesia*

      So these are the ‘livings’ we are always reading about in Jane Austin, these clergy ‘posts.’

  12. De (Germany)*

    “Following the movement within churches, generally, we’re in the process of moving to at-will employment. This seems great to me”

    Well, why does it seem great to you? Maybe you should clear that up for yourself first and then find a way to explain this to the employees.

    1. MK*

      I wonder if the OP means they will now offer permenant, full-time employment instead of contracts. It is usually better for a worker to be an employee rather than a contractor.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I didn’t read it as them being contractors, just having a contract – the employee agrees to work for the church for the next year, and the church agrees that they will employ the employee for that time. The employees might then be salaried or hourly. Schools work this way because of the importance of having faculty/staff in place for an entire school year at a time – but teachers are not contractors.

    2. Elysian*

      #3 – I think this is part of the crux of the problem – the employees seem to think that at-will employment isn’t just or equitable, but I disagree! Certainly, there can be a little less stability than if you were on a yearly contract. But employees should also get a little more freedom – what where the penalties before if employees left before the contract was up? Was a long notice period required? The employees should be free of those with at-will employment. And the church doesn’t have to abandon its values with at-will employees – a contract isn’t the only way to get there. It can still commit to giving severance, mediating conflicts, and treating its employees well.

      1. Dana*

        I was thinking this as well. At-will employment goes both ways. Usually it’s in the employee’s best interest too because they can leave the job at any time for any reason. It might also mean promotions or changing roles can occur without having to wait until a contract is up.

        1. jhhj*

          Requiring employers to follow certain rules before they fire people doesn’t mean that employees are bound to stay in the job. At-will employment makes life easier on employers but harder on employees who lose a lot of protection.

          1. LBK*

            Don’t most employment contracts usually go both ways, though? As in, if you’re contracted until the end of the year, they can’t fire you before then but you also can’t quit. I’d imagine it’s rare that a company would agree to a contract that didn’t involve penalties for you if you tried to terminate it.

            There is certainly a power imbalance wherein the employer has less to lose if they choose to exercise the freedom of at will employment, but a contract is only a short-term guarantee anyway; they could still choose to not renew your contract without cause and there’s no more protection for that than there is for being fired/laid off as an at will employee.

            1. TootsNYC*

              In fact, with the at-will situations I’ve been involved in, I don’t get laid off (i.e., reorg, cost-cutting) with no money–so if my job ends, I get severance. If a contract ends, you don’t.
              And if they don’t like my work, they have to tell me before they fire me. If they didn’t like my work, they can just wait and not renew the contract.

              1. OP #3*

                Thanks for all the comments!

                I’m excited about the change to at-will employment because I don’t like the idea of renegotiating contracts every year. A couple of reasons: they expired on December 31—is there a worse time to deal with renegotiating employment than during the holidays and mid-program year? I suppose I could change them to expire in mid-summer, but at-will better reflects the nature of our situation. They’ve been employed at the church for many years, so the retention wasn’t really valuable. They got some security from the deal, but mostly I think the contracts were the way someone twenty years ago thought would be a good idea. Contracts put me on a deadline for dealing with performance reviews and negotiations in a way that doesn’t work that well with a tiny staff. The security in the old contracts was that canceling the contract required sixty days’ notice from either party (and one *required* severance payment with no exception for misbehavior).

                Having gotten their opinions on it, the employees are generally happy with moving to at-will employment but would like to have some official protection against capricious firing. I’m generally on board with that since it’s our denomination’s stated goal to employ people in a just and equitable way. I think AAM’s suggestion of progressive discipline will probably work.

                1. De (Gernany)*

                  ” couple of reasons: they expired on December 31—is there a worse time to deal with renegotiating employment than during the holidays and mid-program year?”

                  But there’s no reason to renegotiate the in December. You could just as easily do that in October or November.

                2. De (Gernany)*

                  Also, I am getting the impression that you think employment contracts need to be time-limited and thus renegotiated every year? I know employment contracts are unusual in the US, but I was under the impression that they don’t need to be limited for a fixed amount of time.

                3. Anony-turtle in a half shell!*

                  I had a terrible experience as an employee at a church that I attended, so much so that after I left the job, I soon also left the church without a word to anyone there about it. I am very glad to see a church taking care in how it treats its employees, because employees are human beings who deserve respect and not just automatons in the church’s service. It is so easy to treat employees terribly when you are a religious organization (because they should want to help their church no matter how they are treated, right?), but there is a calling to be better than even just average when it comes to how the church treats people.

                  I just wanted to say “thank you” for giving your employees a voice in the process and for making sure that your actions are above and beyond what’s considered “normal” in the workplace. My experience was the exact opposite (it was the worst place I’ve ever worked due to misuse of funds and mistreatment of employees), but it makes me feel better to know that church administrations like yours are out there. :)

  13. Apollo Warbucks*

    #5 That PTO policy sucks big time I can understand certain small periods of time where to run the business effectively restrictions on taking time off need to be in place, but to have such restrictions in place for such big periods of the year is not reasonable.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I would be furious if my office tried to pull something like that – it would definitely make me consider looking for a new job. It’s one thing if new hires were told this before they started – but making this change to current employees is the kind of thing that kills morale and creates turnover.

  14. CAinUK*

    #2 – Beyond the great reasons Alison provides, I wanted to point out that the request undermines YOUR role (her old role) in saying “Hey, student X, I’m the new person who advises you but if you still want advice you can reach the old adviser at“.

    The only reason she would want to do this is to 1.) continue advising students, which she is no longer endorsed to do, or 2.) to cross a line between arms-length advisement vs. friendships (which I know is a challenge for many student advisers that are close to the ages of students they advise). Neither is good. And even more problematic if the reason she was fired is that she had boundary issues.

    1. Advisor in MI*

      I’m an Academic Advisor and at our college we are not allowed to forward to a former employee this kind of information because of FERPA rules. This person is no longer employed by the college and should no longer be privy to this kind of information. Besides, a fired employee will project his/her negativity concerning the college. You wouldn’t want students to deal with this.

      1. Natalie*

        FERPA isn’t coming into play here. The former employee was their information forwarded to students. They’re not requesting student information be forwarded to them.

    2. OP #2*

      OP #2 here. I like your second paragraph. I didn’t really get far enough to consider why she would want the information, other than to keep in touch, but the two reasons you listed are definitely not something I would want to happen!

  15. Chuchundra*

    OP#5, that’s just a terrible policy. How are employees with school-age children supposed to take a family vacation if all the school closure dates are blacked out?

    And the policy applies to sick time too? Does the doctor want his employees coming to work with communicable diseases and passing them on to his young patients if their illness happens to fall on a closure day?

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yes, this should not apply to sick time, except for maybe pre-scheduled sick time (like if an employee needs to get his own wisdom teeth pulled and schedules it weeks in advance). Otherwise you are asking for a germy office. If the boss suspects that someone who is taking lots of Friday or Monday sick days is actually faking it, they should manage that person directly – not make a restrictive policy for everyone.

    2. MashaKasha*

      Yes, I came here to post about sick days too – this is ridiculous! When a parent brings their kids to a pediatric dentist, last thing they want is for their children to catch something from the employees! Sheesh. That part of the policy needs to go ASAP, before he starts losing patients. The rest of the policy doesn’t sound too hot, either, but this is especially obnoxious.

    3. CM*

      Not just sick days and vacations… I’m sure there are employees who are taking PTO to care for their children on days when school is out. Now they need to find and pay for childcare instead.

  16. Rae*

    #2 FERPA FERPA FERPA. What she’s asking you to do is SO VERY ILLEGAL. She knows it and you should know it, if you didn’t know this, I’d encourage you to speak to your HR Department and get better FERPA training. Disclosure of non-directory information…that is basically anything besides “are they still a student” is a crime of varying levels. Not only could you be fired and charged, but the entire school could face major lawsuits as well as potentially loosing their accreditation and ability to accept government funds (eg read all financial aid including Pell Grants, Sub and unsub loans)

    Not only that most student emails (which she should have as most are done in a very standard way eg so she should be able to figure it out. She has some other reason and she dosn’t want it in student email.

    For your own sake you may want to let HR know that she’s sought information protected by FERPA. Even if you’re friends if she indicates she got it from you, you’re a gonner.

    Allison, for those who don’t know FERPA is the educational equivalent of HIPPA. This would be like a nurse asking for private contact information for former patients. It’s not a casual thing, it’s a big, big deal.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Except that this is what she asked:

      “to forward her contact info” “if I can send her contact information to students she’s worked with”
      She didn’t ask to *receive* contact info.

      It’s sort of like HIPAA–I can sit down w/ my father’s doctor and say, “I want to tell you about problems I see with him.” *He* can’t tell me anything. But I can tell him. And he can act on what I tell him, including bringing it up w/ my dad.

      I’m not positive of how FERPA works, but she didn’t ask to receive information.

      I agree it’s unprofessional, and LinkedIn is the way she’s supposed to deal with this. Or Facebook. Other types of social media. I think if she can guess the students’ emails, she can use that as well–there’s nothing that could stop her. (My kid is in college, and everybody’s email seems to be “first two letters of first then; then last name @”–not hard to figure out.)

      It’s worse for her to ask this because she was fired, I think the OP is totally right in that. It would seem like an endorsement.

      But is it really FERPA?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Is it covered by FERPA, though? She wouldn’t be releasing students’ info; she’d be passing the former employee’s contact info along to the students.

      1. AcademicAnon*

        But she is accessing information about students that she doesn’t/shouldn’t have access to in her job since those aren’t her students. It might not be a FERPA violation but it’s enough on the line to decline because of it.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think that’s true, though–it’s always okay for students to self-disclose the information, and that’s what would be happening here. Students self-disclose stuff like that to me all the time.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Well, I suppose the OP would have to access info on those students in order to contact them in the first place. And her reason for contacting them is not related to the current relationship.

  17. NJ anon*

    #5 my husband used to work for ups. They were not allowed to take time off between Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, for the rest of the year, they chose their vacation weeks on a rotation basis by seniority. This way coverage as ensured. Maybe you could ask to do something like that at your job. I mean, do they really think it is a good way to retain employees with their new policy?

  18. ITPuffNStuff*

    #4 — If the employer decided it was time to lay off the OP, I can’t imagine they would wait 9 months to give the OP time to find another job. It’s not at all clear why they would presume their employee would wait 9 months while they look for a replacement. This feels like an employer who wants to enjoy the benefits of at will employment, but can’t accept the consequences or take responsibility for the costs.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Good point. And all of the reasons given for the extended leave were simply for the employer’s benefit.

  19. Carrington Barr*

    “Some families can’t afford the airline ticket.”

    Then don’t go. Simple.

    1. BRR*

      Exactly, Three days two nights sounds like two travel days and one day in the middle. While I do sympathize, this is not the world’s greatest vacation and not being included in a work event isn’t a terrible loss.

    2. Artemesia*

      Nothing builds morale like a 3 days business social event where only the executives can bring their wives and everyone else just has to be there.

      1. steve g*

        Especially when the higher ups talk ad naseum about cars, boats, trips, restaurants, charities, expensive home upgrades, etc that only high income people can afford…..and the middle class folks don’t have anything to reply

        1. SandrineSmiles (France)*

          Well… there are things I can’t afford. And other people can. Might suck sometimes, but that’s life… If I earn what I’m worth, what is it to me really that so-and-so goes on trips ? For now I can’t do the same, but maybe one day I can. And if it never happens… well, so be it.

          1. Steve G*

            Right, but some execs are out of touch with middle class people, believe me, here in NYC I’ve been in the crossfire between people talking about their 2nd homes, expensive cars, etc., while the people I knew were struggling just sat there in silence.

            Once our former (male) executive came to our office with a huge very expensive Louis Vuitton suitcase, all designer right-off-the-runway clothes, and commented that the office gave him a glimpse of life on the other side of the tracks. We were confused because we were in Chelsea off of 5th Ave in NYC, a very expensive area, so most people would consider it the right side of the tracks, but we knew he had a mansion outside of the city, so he shouldn’t have been impressed…. we figured out that he’d been meeting investors at some of NY’s most expensive restaurants and staying at some of the most expensive hotels in NYC (and thus probably the world), and for him, the “normal” part of midtown Manhattan – with an office with somewhat dated furniture and a non-marble bathroom – was the wrong side of the tracks :-).

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I would be so tempted to join in and obliquely refer to my Walmartian clothing, flea-market furniture, and the problems of The Crumbling Albatross (my house) as though I were talking about a country estate abroad and see how long I could go on before they realized I wasn’t rich. >:)

              As I’ve pointed out before, I’m slightly evil.

            2. Boo*

              Ha! This reminds me of going to my old boss’s leaving dinner and being seated next to one of the Assistant Directors. The AD went on at great length to me (an admin) about her horses, and sending her husband out for diamond jewellery only to complain when he brought her back “tiny chips”, and owning an expensive ring she didn’t like and kept trying to lose so she wouldn’t have to wear it…I mean sure, everyone earns what they earn and there’s nothing inherently wrong in earning 3 times as much as someone else, but there is something very tacky and insensitive about rubbing their noses in it like that.

            3. Former Usher*

              Reminds me of a department meeting from my old job. The director kicks off the meeting by talking about how nice the weather was during his vacation in his second home in Arizona. The purpose of the meeting was to reveal the latest round of restructuring. My salary was cut 30%. Forgive me for not being interested in hearing about your vacation home.

          2. Artemesia*

            We live in a country (the US) where productivity has skyrocketed over the past 3 decades and wages of average workers have dropped during this same period. ‘What you are worth’ i.e. what you can bargain, has only a marginal relationship to what you produce. Almost all of us are a dime a dozen and current political and business culture favors obscenely generous rewards for the very top and as little as possible at the bottom. The wealthiest family in America got that way by paying workers so little that most of them are on food stamps and other welfare to scrape by.

            Perhaps they could go all out here and have the lower paid workers serve the executives and their wives on this lavish vacation.

            1. Cat*

              I don’t disagree with your general point about the rise of inequality – but, they’re actually not having the workers serve the executives and their wives, and we know actually nothing about this company. Plenty of companies don’t have lavishly compensated executives and minimum wage peons – plenty actually don’t have enormous income disparities. Plenty have women and gay people in positions of authority, or, for that matter, men who have wives who have their own busy lives that don’t involve dancing attendance on their husbands’ every work event.

              I’m not a fan of mandatory work trips that aren’t motivated by a work-related necessity, but we don’t even know this is mandatory. All we know is that the company is celebrating by giving its employees something nice and that spouses can be included. Maybe the dynamics of the company are such that wealthy men will hobnob with their wives and each other about golf while the peons sit in a corner because they are lonely without their own spouses (though, really, you’d think at least the peons could amuse each other), but I just don’t see any reason to jump to the absolute worst conclusion here. Plenty of workplaces are not like that, even now.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Agreed, and thanks for saying this!

                People are starting to make a lot of assumptions about this company and the event, and we really don’t have that info.

        2. Qlarue*

          I was once stuck in a work situation like this. My car had been broken down for 6 weeks and I couldn’t even afford to have it towed to the service center let alone actually pay for it to be fixed. Then I’m stuck at a work event with the boss who is talking about how he has two cars and has trouble deciding which one he should drive each day. It was so infuriating.

          1. A Bug!*

            That you inferred heteronormativity out of a reference to executives’ wives (none of those execs could be women?) makes me think you’re not in a position to clutch your pearls over someone else’s minor linguistic oversight.

              1. A Bug!*

                I should have been clearer about my point, which was that Lionness expressed a surprising level of shock at coming across an insufficiently-inclusive comment while implicitly excluding a group in her own. I don’t consider that sort of language quibbling to be helpful and wanted to draw attention to our glass houses.

                I had no issue with OOF’s comment, which made the point succinctly and without sanctimony.

                Hopefully this clarifies my intent, as I don’t want to cause a derail.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  I’m w/ you. And when people are writing stuff out for places like this, it’s just clunky to list all the possible permutations. We used to, as a culture, assume that the word “him” often mean “her” as well, and we were being streamlined.

                  I think that streamlining for a blog comment is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. The question was not, actually, about non-married partners or same-sex spouses/partners/etc. So drawing the distinction isn’t all that useful for this.

            1. Lionness*

              I made an educated assumption that Artemesia wasn’t including lesbians in the comment but rather stating that the male execs could only bring their wives. I found no ill will in the comment, but rather evidence of the undercurrent that exists in our society that says execs are men and straight men, at that.

        1. Mike C.*

          The upper echelons of company management aren’t exactly the pinnacles of diversity.

          1. Lionness*

            That doesn’t mean we should help keep it that way by speaking (typing?) in heteronormal ways.

      2. Juli G.*

        While it might be cost prohibitive to some, I don’t think only execs can afford a plane ticket.

        When we were making 50K as a household, I had two trade shows a year. My husband always came with and we paid for his airfare and food.

        Again, I get that not everyone can or wants to budget money toward a work event but I don’t think it’s exactly 1 percenters exclusive.

        1. Lionness*

          I agree. Folks are making this out to be a 1% issue and it really isn’t. Yes, many people cannot afford airfare, or have their airfare budget reserved for an actual vacation. But also, many middle class families can. And many are doing expensive home upgrades or have a nice new car they just got, or are involved in charities and take fun vacations.

          1. Judy*

            I don’t think it’s a 1% issue. But I do think its a 10% issue, or a 15% issue. And it will be an issue for someone.

            Picture this, everyone is able to afford to bring their +1 except the receptionist.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                As a former receptionist, I’d be shocked to even be included. Somebody would have to stay and answer the phone. I’ve never worked anyplace that would close the office for a trip like that.

            1. Lionness*

              From my experience it is probably closer to a 40-50% issue. Certainly not everyone can afford it, but the middle class by large margins, usually can.

        2. Judy*

          But you knew and planned for it in your budget. Depending on how much notice there is, there are certainly many people who can’t afford $500-$1200 for a ticket.

          50k in the US is pretty near the 50%. It would truly depend on what the company pays their employees and where the company is located. There was a discussion recently about how to live in SF on 50k, and the consensus was with roommates in a not quite as good as you’d like neighborhood near transit, so you wouldn’t need a car.

        3. MashaKasha*

          It’s an issue. Air fare isn’t cheap. It might not be something only the 1% can afford, but it definitely cuts into the family budget, esp if there are other expenses (some of the ones I’ve had recently have been college bills, auto insurance for a teenager, meds and tests for a terminally ill dog, and now teenager’s car died and he needs a replacement to get to school and work. I was barely able to come up with two plane tickets for our vacation after all that.) And it’s especially an issue because it comes on top of already planned family vacations. Unless a family is OK with canceling their kids’ summer trip to Disneyland or Grand canyon or wherever they’d promised the kids they’d take them, so dad can afford to attend a work function with mom (or vice versa). Few families would agree to that.

          I would just not go honestly, if I were a spouse. Work functions are not all that fun, even if they’re on a yacht.

          1. Cat*

            I agree with you, but I also think that applies across the socioeconomic spectrum* to varying degrees, so I would expect that plenty of people in general wouldn’t take their spouse. Which is fine – the option is there but it’s not mandatory.

            * Admittedly, I’ve never worked at a place where the disparity is as vast as, say, Steve G. is talking about up top. I’m thinking more places where the people at the top are “kids not taking out student loans” rich rather than “mansions and yachts” rich, so certainly that makes a difference.

            1. Steve G*

              Well I don’t mean to know those execs, I just don’t like socializing with them. But it is much easier to ask for/get a raise from someone who is rich themselves IME than someone else who is middle class. The rich managers didn’t see an extra $5K or whatever as a big deal.

          2. LBK*

            But there could also be a scenario of someone who can’t swing an entire trip but could cover a plane ticket who now gets to go on a fun trip that would’ve been otherwise outside of their budget. Depending on the trip, the plane ticket might only be 20% of the overall cost or so. For example, flights from Boston to Florida can be dirt cheap – much less than you’d spend just on food and entertainment while there, never mind lodging.

      3. Cat*

        I would actually guess that younger people without kids and older people whose kids are grown will bring spouses*–most people aren’t going to line up child-care for this. Other spouses will have jobs they don’t want to take vacation from for someone else’s work event or other commitments. Plus, presumably the company employs some single people at all echelons. Between all those things, it would surprise me if (a) the people bringing spouses weren’t kind of randomly distributed; and (b) there weren’t plenty of people going solo. There are always plenty of people without spouses at my company’s holiday party and that just involves paying Metro fare.

        * Generally speaking – obviously, not everyone has kids.

        1. LBK*

          Completely agreed on all accounts. I also wonder if people are considering that if the company weren’t paying for any part of the trip, it would be even more likely that the execs would be the only ones who could afford to take their spouses along, although I guess the argument could be made that if the subject weren’t even brought up it probably wouldn’t have occurred to people to consider bringing their spouses.

          Overall, though, I see this like any other perk or benefit – some people will be in the position to take advantage of it and others won’t. As long as it’s not being distributed or offered unfairly, I don’t think it’s inherently unfair to offer it to people that can’t use it. Is that really better than not offering it to anyone? My company offers childcare assistance; I don’t think it’s unfair to do that just because I don’t have a child and ergo I’m missing out on a potential benefit.

    3. Erin*

      Yeah, it’s kind of crappy and unfair but this is what it boils down to.

      My concern here would be that either everyone will end up bringing their spouse except for a few who couldn’t afford it and will be singled out. Or, other way around – most spouses won’t be able to go because of finances or someone needs to be home to watch the kids or what have you, and the one or two that do will be like, why am I here?

      I feel like if your boss is already springing for all this stuff, why not just pay that extra airfare. It’s a tiny bit strange to me. But again, it is what it is, it’s not your call, and probably isn’t worth challenging. If the spouses can go, they will.

      1. MashaKasha*

        You’re right – I think the boss could take a gamble and offer to pay for the spouses’ air fare. Odds are, not many people would take advantage of that offer anyway, for reasons you listed; but the boss would look much better.

      2. Kay*

        >Or, other way around – most spouses won’t be able to go because of finances

        This is the reason my husband doesn’t come with me to work events. My company won’t pay for his airfare or food, but on top of that, he can’t afford to take the days off work to come with me. Even if my company WAS paying for that stuff he would probably have to opt out.

        It does suck sometimes when my colleagues are all talking to their spouses and I miss my husband, but I just hang out with the single people for a little while and then retire to my hotel room to get some work done.

    4. Laurel Gray*

      Simply stated and I agree.

      Where are some of you working where the disparities in salaries within the organization is this major?

      Without context like the location of the employer and trip and the amount of notice employees were given, we can’t really talk in too many specifics about the cost of airfare being unreasonable. A nonstop flight from from D.C. to Ft Lauderdale a month from now is in the $198-230 price range for coach. I think that is a pretty reasonable expense for a +1 to get a 3 day/2 night vacation and everything else is covered.

      1. Artemesia*

        Pay disparities between top and bottom are VERY common in US companies even where the ordinary workers are high value and well paid. I know a company that offered a key player a huge bonus if a certain profit margin was attained. He introduced a new system that resulted in a huge increase in profits — except that when they hired the new CEO, they gave him a huge signing bonus that essentially soaked up the ‘excess’ profits and so the guy who made it happen didn’t get his bonus. The argument was well — once we paid the CEO this huge bonus we didn’t really have an increase of X in profits. Even in non-profits, very well compensated C suite and workers who have trouble getting ahead or even getting rewarded when they excel is fairly common.

        1. LBK*

          I’m not sure how that relates to this situation, though – there’s no potentially false promise being made here. We can only assume that this company also has greedy C-levels based on your story any more than we can assume they don’t based on the fact that I currently work for a company that doesn’t. It’s entirely plausible that this company gives everyone fair wages and there’s plenty who would be able to take advantage of the perk. In fact I’d argue that the fact that they’re offering to pay any part of the trip for spouses – something I’ve never heard of a company doing – that lends itself to the notion that they’re concerned about compensating their employees well.

  20. anonymous higher ed*

    #2 — giving out student contact information to a non-employee can be a violation of federal law (FERPA).

    1. Elysian*

      I don’t think the fired co-worker wants to get the students’ information – she wants the current employee to give the students her info. Something like “Hi, Student, I know you worked with Jane, here is her new work email address if you want to keep in touch!” Besides, doesn’t FERPA only apply to schools? We don’t know that that is where the OP works, so it isn’t necessarily true that FERPA would apply even if things were the other way around.

    2. Liz*

      She’s asking about giving students the contact info for a former academic advisor, which is completely different.

      #2, you could give her info if the students ask for it. I wouldn’t do it otherwise.

    3. OP #2*

      OP #2 here – the other way around, giving the ex-adviser’s info out to students. Of course I’d never even ask about the opposite! :)

      1. Sadsack*

        Does she have a business reason for wanting to contact these students? I can’t figure why she doesn’t just contact them on linked in or facebook.

        1. OP #2*

          I honestly have no idea why she wanted it. The email was framed more in the way of, “Some students have been in contact, so I’d like to be proactive about it” by sharing a way to reach her. I don’t know how true that statement is, really, because since the time immediately after she was let go, all the emails have stopped going to her and nobody has reached out to me asking about her.

      2. Ad Astra*

        I can’t think of any reason I’d want to contact my former academic adviser from college once they were no longer in a position to check my credits and make sure I’m graduating on time. And I would think if the adviser and student had a closer relationship than that, reaching out through LinkedIn would make more sense.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Me either; and I had an adviser whom I didn’t get along with and I had to switch. If he reached out to me on LinkedIn, I’d simply ignore him because he’s a giant snot-head.

    4. 2horseygirls*

      Agreed. And given the access provided by Facebook and LinkedIn, if any of the students are just DYING to get in touch with her, they can easily find her.

  21. Christine*

    #5- My husband started a job 14 months ago where you only had 5 sick days the first year, and no vacation. After a year, you get 9 days of vacation- but wait!- there’s a vacation blackout from October 1st through March 31st (yes, 6 months out of the year).

    The pay is good, but he works 50-75 hour weeks on salary. Needless to say he’s looking elsewhere. He’d probably be happy with your pediatric dentist’s vacation policy, not that it doesn’t mean that policy also sucks.

      1. Christine*

        It’s the natural gas industry. But he’s sitting in an office pushing buttons on a computer all day.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Oh, but ain’t that America
        For you and me
        Ain’t that America
        Something to see, baby
        Ain’t that America
        Home of the free, yeah
        No vacation
        For you and me
        Oooh, yeah
        For you and me

      2. Elizabeth West*

        That’s the way it has been for most of the crap jobs I’ve had. You work a year before you get time off. My current job gives us full benefits after a month. I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven.

        1. Traveler*

          Yes, or I’ve had jobs that after 90 days you could start accruing vacation. It was at such a snail’s pace though, you weren’t going anywhere for a year.

  22. BRR*

    #5 This is nuts. I can understand some black out time but not this much, and the punishment for sick days is stupid. I would try to come up with an alternative. Also if there’s somebody who can talk to the doctor and explain how they will never keep employees this way.

    I’m also confused at the “especially since there are very few weeks that do not include a school closure.” Are schools really closed that much? I’m asking out of pure curiosity.

    1. Natalie*

      I could see it since they cover multiple districts. You might have different spring breaks, different start/end days for winter break, different faculty development days, plus all summer and all federal holidays except Independence Day.

    2. doreen*

      I think this is because of the multiple school districts and different calendars for different levels of schools. You end up with a situation where one teacher training day per school can total six days where some school is closed, possibly in six different weeks.

    3. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, besides winter/summer/spring break, we have a couple weeks with parent-teacher conferences (and a couple closure days), and probably 4-6 weeks that have an in-service or other closure in them, not counting holidays. (Maybe I should be counting holidays? Is he, if say, the office is open the day after Thanksgiving?)

      We’re one school. I’m not sure every primary school in our district follows the same schedule. If I assume they DO, there’s still the middle and high school. The breaks probably overlap in district, but the conferences and other individual closure days probably don’t always. And if the primary schools don’t keep the same schedule, then just in our town (the district is two towns) you have three primary schools, and the permutations could manage to hit a lot of weeks, potentially.

      And that’s just one district. A completely separate district really magnifies it, because at least in our district, the administrators probably want to have some times off (like breaks) overlap, whereas between districts that may or may not be true (one may start school a week earlier and end it earlier, for example, or shift spring break by a week).

    4. Blue_eyes*

      What Natalie and Doreen said. With multiple districts and all age levels, there probably are very few weeks where there isn’t at least one day off for one school. District A has half days every first Friday and district B has professional development days every third Thursday, and then there’s parent-teacher conferences twice a year that are on different days for elementary, middle and high school. Then there are long weekends and vacations. With multiple districts in play there really could be only a few weeks during the school year where every school is in session every day.

  23. Natalie*

    #5, sick time, too? So either you’re being disincentivized from things totally out of your control, or your boss doesn’t trust their employees not to lie. Neither of those are great.

    It seems like it would make more sense to come up with a minimum staffing level for those busy days and then grant PTO based on that. And yes, someone might then get sick and call in, but that isn’t totally unpreventable. If someone’s abusing their sick time, they need to be dealt with directly.

    1. Artemesia*

      The one thing as a parent I would have really appreciated about my pediatric dentist is that he forced employees who were sick to come to work and infect my kid and family.

  24. CAinUK*

    (Sorry if this is a duplicate – I made a comment an hour ago but it seems to have disappeared)

    #2 – Your ex-co-worker is also undermining you with this request. You are the new student adviser, so effectively your email would be saying “Dear Student, I am the official student adviser, but here is the former student adviser’s e-mail if you ever want her advice instead:

    And this is problematic because there are only two reason she is asking this: 1.) because she wants to continue advising students (which is Not Good as she was fired from doing this) or 2.) because she wants to cross a boundary between arms-length advice into friendships with former students.

    In normal jobs this sort of reach-out would be no big deal. But this situation is like someone leaving a customer service job and asking to remain in touch with all their support cases (as opposed to co-workers). It’s weird.

  25. Persephone Mulberry*

    That sounds like as hell of a shindig that OP1’s company is throwing. It does seem a little discordant to me that the company is willing to pick up the expense to feed, house and lavishly entertain all the spouses, but balks at paying to get them there. It’s too bad someone on the planning committee didn’t point this out sooner so that they could have perhaps planned a more moderate event and covered transportation, or located it somewhere that wouldn’t incur such significant travel expenses.

    1. Cheesecake*

      Cost-wise feed/house/entertain a spouse is not a big deal. House and entertain will probably be 0 anyway. Or maybe they agreed on a fixed fee for everything? Flying is actually the most expensive here and it only makes sense company doesn’t want to pick this. It is a corporate event at the end of the day.

          1. Laurel Gray*

            As someone who manages budgets, I understand what neverjaunty is saying. If we don’t know the location of the employer, the destination of the trip and how far in advance the company is paying for the accommodations, we can not necessarily conclude airfare is cheap. Golfing, spa services, a yacht and food and other entertainment is not cheap and in 3 days and two nights it all adds up fast. There is a possibility the flight per employee is cheaper than everything else.

            1. Cheesecake*

              I disagree. For 2 night trips, in 90% of cases i see, plane ticket is the most expensive item (if you don’t stay in a suite). In the OPs case we have explained bellow how hotel and activities can be 0 additional cost to the company. I can only think of food at extra cost. Should hotel/activities be so expensive for additional people, i doubt spouses will be allowed at all

        1. Cheesecake*

          I am sure company negotiated a deal so when employees go to spa (or wherever) there are no random strangers hanging around. This way it does not matter how many people attend. And i doubt whoever organized the even is stupid enough to insist on not paying a flight because of no reason and instead wants to throw money on entertainment; i am sure this was calculated.

      1. TootsNYC*

        also, they can write off, as a business expense, one hotel room per person, and put the spouse in for nearly nothing more (lots of hotel rooms are “double occupancy”). But they can’t write off a spouse’s plane ticket; they’re not an employee, and there is no believable “business purpose” of them being there.

        If they negotiate a group rate for all the other stuff, it’s also write-off-able.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      I can see why. The rooms will already be bought – so just sticking a spouse in there won’t cost more. Same with food – it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to just tack 50 additional people onto a menu than to buy 50 plane tickets. I think it’s one of those nice gestures that come back to haunt you because selfish people find a way to bitch about anything that’s not completely free.

      1. Cheesecake*

        Preach. I must say company once flew us to celebrate an event and ticket for +1 was not covered.. noone complained. But if i was the boss, i’d limit event for employees for reason you mentioned

      2. Elizabeth West*

        This makes perfect sense to me. And I imagine purchasing the tickets would be a huge PITA anyway, especially if you had to rely on the employees to put in the request, get their spouse’s information in on time, etc. etc. Somebody is always late and screws it up.

      3. Laurel Gray*

        “I think it’s one of those nice gestures that come back to haunt you because selfish people find a way to bitch about anything that’s not completely free.”


    3. BadPlanning*

      My SOs company does something similar to this. They pay for rooms and a couple company meals at a posh place. Travel costs are handled by the employee.

      Of course, these trips are in the nebulous land of work? vacation? What we are doing here? So I find them a little odd all around.

    4. Traveler*

      The food/house/entertain thing isn’t that big of a deal though. The entertainment and housing is already covered in the employee cost, the food would really be the only extra thing.

  26. Allison*

    #3, generally speaking, it’s better for workers to be employees than contractors, since contracting doesn’t generally come with any benefits like vacation days, sick days, 401k, healthcare, etc., but I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve been offering those to your contractors since it sounds like you genuinely care about the people who work for you. Also, contracting always means uncertainty when the contract’s coming to its end, but again, I wouldn’t be surprised if you gave plenty of notice if you didn’t plan on renewing someone’s contract.

    If you’re not doing those things, you should. People need healthcare and sick days, at least.

    If you’re worried that at-will employment will mean less career stability, remember that you don’t *have* to let anyone go without notice, it just means you can. As Alison says, a progressive discipline procedure is a great idea. Whatever process you use to terminate someone’s contract early can probably be used for employees as well.

    1. Stan*

      My experience with working for churches is that employees are employees for all intents and purposes (tax withholding, healthcare, PTO, retirement, etc.). It’s just that they have an agreement that guarantees them a full year of work or provides provisions if that work year has to be cut short for any reason. It’s similar to how public school teachers operate, just without the union.

    2. fposte*

      They’ve been W2 contractors, not 1099 contractors. It’s kind of confusing that we use the same term for both, but one is about setting a limited term of employment and the other is basically being self-employed.

      1. OP #3*

        We’re certainly offering vacation and sick time and pension payment, but no health benefits because we can’t afford them (they’re part time). That doesn’t feel great, but it’s not new. My hope is that as the church grows we’ll be able to increase their compensation in that way. Currently they’re covered by spouses so, while it doesn’t feel great to me, they’re not going uninsured.

        As for the nature of their employment, they’re essentially w-2 employees that had annual contracts. Their contracts actually expired at the end of 2014 and they kept on working and getting paid (a similar thing happened at the beginning of that year, too, since their contracts weren’t signed until February). Moving to at-will employment is a benefit in large part because it matches up with how things actually work in this organization. My guess is that progressive discipline plus a few years of me not being a jerk, and things will be fine. Whenever it’s time for me to move on to another church, I’m sure there will be some anxiety around their employment, but contracts would only delay that, not fix it.

        Thanks for the comments!

  27. Allison*

    #5, I totally get wanting to discourage people taking time off when they’re needed most. I used to work at a movie theater, and there were definitely policies in place to prevent people from taking time off on weekends and on holidays where the place would be swamped. It’s definitely a thing.

    That said, your PTO policy is weird and unfair, and I think it’s better to either limit the number of people who can be “off” on any given day (and when deciding how many people can take a given day off, plan for people getting sick and calling out), and/or limit the amount of time people can take off during the summer and let them prioritize accordingly.

    1. Lia*

      When I worked a retail job, we staffed much the same way as above. What made it a little easier to do was giving people incentives to work the less-desirable shifts (closing on Friday/Saturday nights, opening at o’dark-thirty on Black Friday, etc) by way of first pick at popular days off when possible.

      That said, I think some analysis needs to be done on actual staffing needs on those school closure days. I know my kids hardly seem to go three weeks straight without a day off for SOMETHING — either a holiday, or teacher in-service, or an early dismissal.

  28. Bend & Snap*

    My dentist’s office offers early and late hours, and Saturday hours, and the way they staff it is to hire people to come in hourly who work at other practices, outside regular business hours. It seems to work well for them, it’s easy to get an appointment and the employees seem happy. I doubt they’re penalized for using vacation time.

    1. Natalie*

      Mine does something similar, except the late-hour days are also late-start days. So they don’t open until 11 am or something, and they close at 8.

  29. Meg Murry*

    Slight tangent to #1 – if you are not paying for the spouses (or even if you are) could I suggest instead of “spouses” you recommend allowing each employee to bring “one adult guest of their choosing, spouse or otherwise, who will share the room with the employee”? That way you don’t have to get into the question of “Do fiance(e)s count? What about live-in significant others? What about same sex couples? What if someone is single but wants to bring their sister/mom/aunt/niece?” like we saw in the letter a few weeks ago about whether the person should bring their significant other to “family” events and there was an array of answers as to what various companies allowed for “family” events.

    Are you booking through a travel agent or similar service, and how much lead time are you giving people? If this is 6 months from now and a plane ticket costs $300 for the spouse, that is very different from 3 weeks from now and plane tickets cost $1000 and the employee has to use Travelocity themselves to try to get spouse on the same flight after tickets have been booked. If it’s a long lead time, is there any way the company could work with people to offer a payment plan for the spouse’s ticket ($50 per pay period for 6 pay periods, for instance) rather than saying “ok now give me a check for $300 tomorrow if you want your spouse to attend”. I also agree that looking for trip options that are within a reasonable driving distance might be a good compromise – you could probably still find a place with a spa and golf and similar activities within a few hours drive of most places, even if it isn’t quite as lavish as what was originally proposed.

    Either way, I’d be interested to hear how this play out – it could be a really nice trip and a kind gesture to your employees – or it could be a disaster.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I like the suggestion of adult guests. That would make single employees who could bring someone else feel far less left out than if they were sitting there alone while everyone else had an SO. I hate that because it’s almost like a punishment for being single. In my experience, no one talks to you if they have someone else to talk to.

  30. Jennifer M.*

    #3 – From your wording it sounds like you are trying to live the principle of equity, justice, and compassion in human relations in the context of HR. Making an assumption that you are a UU minister, is your district dense enough that you can reach out to other congregations (I’m in the JPD and there are 3 congregations within 10 miles of each other in my part of town but I know that in other parts of the country congregations can be quite far flung) and see what they are doing as consistency within a district would also speak to the second principle? And just a reminder that equitable and equal are different. I believe it can be just and equitable to hold all employees to the standards set forth in a well written employee manual.

    1. Jill*

      To me it sounded like OP#3 is having some trouble separating the fact that, as a church, they provide charity and have an active involvement in social justice issues, such as equality and fairness for all…with the fact that they are also an employer.

      OP, even churches have employees that don’t fit the culture, don’t meet expectations, and even break the law (there are plenty of stories about church sex scandals or employees embezzeling church funds, for example). You can’t “give away” employment in the same way that you give charity. It is perfectly reasonable (and only right) to have expectations and to hold paid staff to them and then to take reasonable measures up to and including termination when those expectations aren’t met.

      1. OP #3*

        Thanks for the comments!

        Jennifer: I’m not UU, but checking with them is a good idea—my impression of UU churches is that they’re better than my denomination at implementing their beliefs about justice in tangible ways. If anyone employs people well, it’s probably UU churches.

        Jill: It’s not so much that I’m having trouble separating charity and employment as trying to figure out how to implement at-will employment in a way where the primary message isn’t “now I can fire you whenever I want.” You’re totally right that it’s a terrible idea to mix charity and employment (I have more than a few horror stories of essentially insane people ruining church organizations because the people in charge couldn’t bring themselves to fire someone because that person “was just hurting and needed a little help”). My challenge is moving from a place where the employees felt that they had a guarantee of at last 60-days of protection to one where they may have none. I’m thinking that progressive discipline will probably work by making clear that, barring misbehavior, we’re committed to giving good notice and working with people.

  31. CAA*

    #5 — your office’s vacation policy may actually be illegal. In several states, accrued vacation is part of your earned compensation and can’t be revoked, which is why employers in those states have to pay it out when you leave. By taking two days of vacation time away from you in return for a single day off, your employer is reducing the value of what you already earned.

    Also, if you earn less than 2x the minimum wage, then each vacation hour is now being paid out at less than minimum wage.

    If your employer holds firm on this, you might want to research your state’s laws on vacation pay and ask your labor commission about this policy.

  32. The Cosmic Avenger*

    OP#5, I know it’s hard to say “No” in general, especially a manager/boss. But it might help if you phrased it being about the school schedule: “The school said I have to start in September or I would have to reapply.” Spell out the reason without making it about your choices first, that might force your boss to either acquiesce or come out and say that they want you to pass up this shot at graduate school altogether in order to give them a little more time to find a replacement. That’s basically what they’re trying to do, but they’re steering the conversation to make it about the survival of the company, which is a problem to be solved by the owners and top managers, not team leads. You need to steer it back to your life/career plans, and if they ask you to derail them completely, you’ll find that it’s much easier to give an unqualified “No”.

  33. Anonymouse*

    #1: It’s fairly common to have the option of bringing a spouse to a work event as long as they pay their own way.

    However, I think if you extend that offer, you should say “+1”, especially if the employer isn’t paying the way for guests. Not everyone is married, and spouse sort of implies that fiancees, partners, significant others, etc. aren’t welcome. Also, it’s worth noting, that if you’re letting romantic partners go along, single employees of the company should be allowed to bring a friend or family member. It’s not fair to exclude someone from bringing a guest just because they’re single or married. I’ve been to work functions where only spouses were allowed and work functions where married/engaged/long term relationship guests of the employee were covered but anyone else who wanted to bring a guest had to pay for them.

    Honestly, I’d avoid the option all together. Is the trip mandatory? If so, there might be more of a problem. If it’s optional, then people can make the decision whether or not they want to go without a +1.

    1. Koko*

      I agree that the company shouldn’t pay or not pay based on whether the couple is marriage, it should either be paid or not paid for all guests…but I disagree that a single person should be allowed to bring their BFF as a +1. Serious couples operate in society as a unit – they share finances, live together, consult each other on major decisions, and are generally invited to events as a social unit. Allowing spouses to come isn’t a way of rewarding people with a built-in friend, it’s recognizing that serious couples are treated as a unit in our society. Best friends aren’t the same thing.

      FWIW, I say this as a single person – I understand why some couples I know don’t travel without each other and have never spent more than a handful of nights apart in their marriage/relationship. But I travel without my best friend all the time and spend almost every night without her. Our lives aren’t fundamentally intertwined in each other the way they would be in a romantic relationship.

      1. illini02*

        I think the problem though is when a company is PAYING for a spouse then they are essentially getting a benefit that the single people aren’t getting. No, best friends and spouses aren’t the same, but if I work somewhere and my whole department is married, and they are bringing their spouses to the event (which the company paid for), it would suck for me to have to sit there alone at a work trip. If the company pays, everyone should get a +1, not just married people.

        1. Koko*

          A comparable analogy might be commuter benefits. A lot of companies will offer to subsidize the cost of their employee’s transit or parking fees. But if you live close enough to walk to work, or you get a ride with your roommate or spouse, you don’t get that benefit. Because you don’t need it.

          It’s the same here. It may be an incidental “benefit” that people in serious partnerships get, but they get it because they need it. People not in partnerships who are accustomed to sleeping and traveling without their friend don’t need the benefit.

          1. illini02*

            They don’t need it though. They’d prefer it, but they don’t need it. By that logic, can these people never travel on a business trip without their partner. Anyhow, I’m not necessarily arguing against paying for spouses to go, just saying that it should be everyone getting it, not just selecting who can go or not go. Can married vs. engaged vs. cohabitation people go?

            1. Koko*

              True, “need” might not have been the best word. “They get it because they have a reason for it,” might have been better phrasing.

              As I said above, I don’t think it should hinge on marital status but on whether they live in partnership together, share finances, consult each other for major life decisions, and otherwise operate in the world as a unit.

              1. Anonymouse*

                So, essentially, you’re insinuating that an employer has a right to know who people are living with, how their finances are determined, and how they make long term decisions in order to give them extra consideration at work events. So, someone who isn’t married but has been living with a partner for 5 years has to tell their employer that they “operate as a unit” and disclose other personal details in order to get the same benefit as a married employee.

                Whether or not someone shares finances or cohabits with someone else should have no determination on whether or not they’re invited to a work party or conference. People in relationships don’t need to do every facet of their life together. Sure, they may want to support you at work events, but based on everything you said, I couldn’t have a sister want to support my career because we don’t “function as a unit in society” despite having a close, supportive relationship that spans years. I’ve been at companies where there are awards dinners who only let people bring spouses or partners and I think that’s incredibly unfair to people who would like to bring a family member or friend to support them. Single people don’t need a friend or family member there for every work occasion, but you run into a problem when you start dictating who it’s okay to bring to certain events.

                1. Koko*

                  I think that most people can be trusted to use appropriate judgment when an invite specifies “significant other” and the employer doesn’t have to police how people interpret that term.

                2. Koko*

                  (That’s how my employer has always handled it – they just say you may bring your significant other. No one has ever brought a friend, casual dating partner, family member, etc. But all manner of serious partners, as defined/determined by the couple themselves, unmarried, married, cohabiting, not cohabiting, have been brought to the event. I think most people implicitly understand that it would be weird and unprofessional to bring a friend in a situation like this, so “significant other” doesn’t have to be explicitly defined to get people to self-select.)

          2. TootsNYC*

            Or, what about 401K matching?

            People who have lower household expenses can take advantage of the match. People who need more of their income for expenses might not be able to save anything, so they don’t get the match.

            Not every benefit must reach every employee. Especially when the employee’s own actions and life choices mean that it’s not something they can use.

            1. illini02*

              Where that is different is everyone gets the same benefit, whether or not they choose to use it. You aren’t saying “We’ll only match your 401k if you are married”, which essentially is what this would be.

        2. TootsNYC*

          Yes, but there is the idea that including the spouse is a way of -thanking- the spouse. The employee’s relationship with the spouse is impacted by the company. And the employee’s relationship with the company is enabled by the spouse.

          A BFF doesn’t necessarily do that.

      2. Anonymouse*

        While I agree to some point, but if everyone is allowed to bring a guest that’s only contingent upon whether it’s a guest they’re in a romantic relationship with….well, you’re punishing people for being single or unmarried. It’s no different than bringing a friend to a party or a wedding as a guest. Yes, a friend and a romantic partner are different, but single people shouldn’t be expected to go alone if they have someone else close to them to bring.

        There’s nothing worse than having to attend a work event where everyone is allowed to bring a romantic partner but you’re denied the opportunity to bring a +1 because you’re not in a relationship. There’s this assumption that single people at work events will just hang out together, but it pretty much sends the message that because you’re not in a relationship, you’re not worthy of being able to invite someone to tag along. Allowing “plus ones” on the basis of whether it’s romantic or not causes a problem because it singles out people who aren’t following the “norm”.

        1. fposte*

          But it’s not about being worthy, it’s about the social unit; that’s a concept that existed before the workplace decided who to invite. The reason invitations go to both spouses for a wedding isn’t because the guest is supposed to have somebody to hang with.

          1. Koko*

            Exactly. It’s not a benefit intended to give the employee someone to hang out with. It’s to show respect towards the couple’s relationship and decision to live in partnership with each other, where long-standing social customs dictate a partner shouldn’t be excluded from their partner’s social invitations. There is no such long-standing social custom regarding close friends.

          2. Koko*

            And furthermore, it’s not just single people – someone you’ve been dating for 2 months generally wouldn’t qualify as a +1 either. The real key ingredient is that you have made a decision to live in partnership as a unit.

          3. Anonymouse*

            I disagree. A lot of workplaces treat being in parternships as personal worth. Look at the commentor below who says his company decides promotions on the basis of an employee’s SO showing up for work events. Many industry do put personal weight on whether employees are married or single and sometimes punish people who are single. Why should someone whose married get to take their spouse, fully paid, to a work event, but someone who isn’t in a relationship might not even have the option to take someone, even if they would pay for themselves? If it’s say, a holiday party, employees are “hanging out” with their spouse, why can’t you give other employees a +1 too? Stipulating benefits and exclusions based on marital status isn’t fair, especially in the cases of people who don’t even have money to get married or don’t want to get married.

            1. Koko*

              “Why should someone whose married get to take their spouse, fully paid, to a work event, but someone who isn’t in a relationship might not even have the option to take someone, even if they would pay for themselves?”

              Because that’s just how marriage works. Married couples get treated differently than single individuals. You get to inherit each other’s property, make medical decisions for each other, and get invited to weddings and business functions as a unit. This isn’t a business-specific situation. Our culture says, “Married people go places together.” It doesn’t say, “Everyone goes places in twos, with their spouse or someone else.”

              1. illini02*

                To me this is no different than the logic that people with kids should get more freedom or time off. Whether society decides to look at one person as more worth of things than another doesn’t mean a workplace should do that. Would you be ok with a workplace deciding that the married person deserves less money because they have a dual income? Or does this logic only apply to benefiting married people by punishing single people?

                1. Koko*

                  I do think people with reasons should be granted schedule flexibility, and those reasons don’t have to be limited to having children as long as they are legitimate reasons.

                  And of course I think salary should be negotiated between an employee and employer with regard to the value the employer thinks the employee will provide and what price the employee is willing to do the work for. It’s certainly possible that a married person might be willing to accept a lower salary for a fun job because they can rely on their spouse’s primary income, but of course the employee has the final say in whether the salary is sufficient enough for them to take the job. The market handles this one.

                  The issue here is there’s really no good reason why someone needs to bring their BFF to a work event. There are social and historical reasons why people bring their long-term partners to work events. Your long-term partner has a higher stake in your career than your BFF does. They have reason to need to know the people you work with and support you at work events. Your BFF (or that guy you’ve been on 6 dates with and really really like) doesn’t have any stake in your job. You being promoted, fired, or relocated doesn’t significantly impact their life, unlike a domestic partner.

                2. LBK*

                  But all kinds of workplace benefits and perks have relationship-based restrictions. You can’t add your best friend to your health insurance. I also think the flextime argument doesn’t sync up because that’s more directly tied to business needs – if the work can be done with a flexible schedule, I’d agree it’s not fair to offer that flexibility only to people with children. But a non-work-related perk like a vacation on the company dime (or commuter benefits, fitness reimbursement, etc.) doesn’t have any specific business argument for how it should be applied. It’s just something nice the company offers to those who can take advantage of it.

        2. TootsNYC*

          It’s not “punishing” them!

          You aren’t taking something away from them.

          It’s just not making something available to them.

          As for life partners, etc.–well, a smart company will handle that by saying, “if you have declared yourself to be partnered–you live together, or you’re married, or maybe openly engaged–then your partner is invited. If you’re just dating, then you have NOT declared yourself to be a life partner, because you didn’t choose to move in together. You could move in together, or get married, but you don’t. YOU are the one who has labeled this relationship by your actions. So your long-term sweetheart isn’t invited.”

          1. illini02*

            Sorry, but that line of thinking is absurd. You are essentially saying the company has the right to determine which of your relationships are “worthy” of an extra perk and which ones aren’t. Sure when it comes to sharing insurance and things like that, there are legal definitions of who can be covered. But when it comes to anything outside of that, no. What if its a long term relationship they are saving up for a ring and for religious reasons don’t want to move in together. I don’t know that because 2 other people chose to move in after 2 months that that makes their relationship more worthy of a perk.

            1. Kat M*

              Well, then, if they’re not living together for religious reasons, they’re probably not going to travel together-at least not without requiring separate bedrooms!

              If you have a live-in partnership arrangement-whether you’re engaged, married, or together in every way but marriage, the other person has much more of a stake in your job and life than someone with whom you do not share finances/living space. If you aren’t sharing finances and living space, your relationship isn’t seen as that serious, or as requiring as much consideration. End of story. It may not be right….but there’s a reason my father always told me that, “Life’s tough, get a helmet.” My work also offers an FSA for dependent care. I have no dependents, so that benefit does not apply to me…..but I’m not going to claim that my employer discriminates against me for not having children.

              Now, if they were using “marriage” as a way to discriminate against same sex couples who could not legally marry, that is wrong. Sadly, not always illegal. But wrong. However-allowing people to take their partners on a team building/social trip that’s still obligatory? I see that as a nice thing. It shows that they’re considering the fact that the obligation disrupts the home life. Of course, if you’re not living with anyone in that context……..clearly, it doesn’t apply. They’re not claiming relationships aren’t important. They’re recognizing that live-in relationships come with a certain social etiquette. That’s it.

  34. LBK*

    #3 – It seems the most obvious argument in response to “you can cut us loose at any time” is the other side of the at will coin – that is, that the employees can also leave at any time without having to fulfill the requirements of a contract.

    1. OP #3*

      True. My employees’ concern is that at-will employment gives me a lot of power over their livelihood while their departure is, at-most, an inconvenience to the church (we can make do with substitute musicians and get someone else to make bulletins until we find replacements).

      1. LBK*

        Totally valid. I think Alison’s point is good, though – establish a clear plan for how you intend to handle problems and stick to it, as well as making sure you’re giving consistent and timely feedback. You can instill a lot of sense of stability in someone that way even without a contract; I’ve worked for a few people I trusted to not cut me loose any second because I felt I always knew where I stood with them.

  35. Erin*

    #2 – She was let go close to a year ago – so, presumably she hasn’t spoken to these students during this entire time frame? It seems weird to try to reach out to them now. Also, weird that she doesn’t realize that the request puts you – someone she likes and has maintained a friendly relationship with – in an uncomfortable position. Also, weird that with current social media tools she can’t reach out to them herself.

    I don’t doubt she’s a decent person with good intentions, but this is still strange all around. I really think “I don’t think I’m allowed to do that” should suffice here.

    1. OP #2*

      OP #2 here – I agree, the more I think about the request, the stranger it seems. The time immediately following when she left our office, there were a lot of emails mistakenly being sent to her and forwarded back to our office, but it’s been a very long time since that’s happened. The request seems to be out of the blue.

  36. Hannah*

    #4 my thought was that this is either a guilt trip from the boss or you are crazy to go back to school :) If the business really relies on you to the extent that it can’t continue without you, you must be making significant money, right? Is going back to school really that lucrative when you’re in that kind of situation? Could you work out a way to consult for your company while going back to school if it’s something yky really want to do?

    #5 not allowing vacations during peak times (school vacations) doesn’t seem that crazy to me. Businesses should be open at the times that are convenient for their customers. I think their mistake is just coming up with this weird policy of penalizing you double rather than just saying vacations at these times will require manager approval and leaving it at that.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      It wouldn’t be unreasonable if it was a few weeks out of the year, but if they serve multiple districts, there probably isn’t a week that goes by that the kids don’t have at least a day off from school. I think OP #5’s practice manager would be smart to compare the number of appointments they have on days that schools are closed with the number of appointments they have on regular days. The dentist might find that he’s losing money by forcing everyone to be there.

  37. AnonAcademic*

    OP#4, for context, my new job delayed their start date by 6 months (total) for me. Why? So I could finish my Ph.D., which is a requirement of the position. I can’t imagine ANY work project, at a start up or no, that is dissertation-level. At least I hope not!

  38. Richard*

    #1 – There are sometimes tax and accounting implications to businesses buying tickets for non-employees. When I’ve hit this before, some businesses have given the employee small amounts of money as an advance on expenses or a per diem for their own travel, whatever was legitimate within the law, to offset the expenses that they couldn’t easily pay. They can sometimes get around the fact that they’re paying for things like a cruise cabin for the significant others by documenting the cost of a single supplement, but that’s a harder argument for flights (which are under a given name).

    Of course, many big businesses won’t book on discount airlines like JetBlue or Southwest, so if it ended up being treated as taxable income, it would be much cheaper for you to book your own anyway.

    #2 – How about just mentioning in passing to the students that you talked to XXX the other day, she’s thinking about you, and she’s on LinkedIn/Facebook/Myspace/whatever if they’re interested? I don’t think it’s a terrible thing, unless the cause of her firing was something that would upset the students if they heard about her again.

    #5 – As AAM has pointed out a bazillion times before, vacation is a benefit in the USA that businesses can often define just about any way they want to. There are some state laws that sometimes come into effect – there are states where vacation that was already earned and booked is somewhat hard to redefine, I think – but otherwise, they can do whatever they want. Having an incentive like this seems fairer to me than what happens in many industries, just completely disallowing you from taking any vacation or making it a popularity contest or EEO target. (What I’ve heard before: John can take off Christmas day because I like him and his family needs him, but Ringo can’t because he’s single, so I don’t mind having him work).

    Retail often makes people work on holidays, tax accountants are busy around filing deadlines, finance people are busy around quarter ends, and software guys are busy whenever management decides there should be a release. The doctor’s offices around me are crazy busy just before school, when everyone realizes that they needed to vaccinate their kids or get forms filled out. Everyone has a busy season.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yes, they can do whatever they want (subject to various laws), but that doesn’t make it a good idea, or that all ways getting to a particular result make equal sense. Several people have pointed out there are better ways to deal with ‘busy season’, and noting that, well, a lot of other places suck is not especially useful information.

    2. Natalie*

      This is more than a busy season, though – it sounds like almost every week of the year is affected.

    3. OP #2*

      OP #2 here – I like your suggestion. So far, no students have reached out to me asking about her, but if it ever happens, suggesting to check LinkedIn sounds reasonable.

  39. Ad Astra*

    Yeah, but “every day that school isn’t in session” does not constitute a proper “busy season.” Between two districts and all levels, there could be an in-service or conference day almost every week.

    1. nona*

      Yeah. That’s the first thing I thought of. My school district has six schedules, which is the same number OP has to work with (two districts, different days off for elementary, middle, and high schools).

      One school or another is on a break or tracked out every week. One school or another is on summer break from the last week of May through the second week of August.

      I don’t think OP’s manager thought this through…

    2. fposte*

      Around here we also have year-round schools that operate on a 45-15 schedule. Good luck working that one in.

  40. illini02*

    #1 I think that the OP is very generous, but its not really realistic. Why should the company have to pay for your spouse to go on vacation with you. This isn’t like a holiday party where you are just buying extra booze and food, its an actual plane ticket. All of these people talking about how unfair it would be for people who couldn’t afford it seem to have a bit of a sense of entitlement going. Also, what if someone isn’t married or even dating anyone? Are they just out of luck and can’t enjoy this “vacation” with someone else? I think its fine if spouses (or guests) are welcome, but they should definitely pay their own way.

    #5 No, its not fair, but the company can put whatever stupid rules they want on vacation policies. However, it is ridiculous. Essentially no one can take off at all during the summer, around Christmas, or in the spring unless they want to spend double the days? I think you all need to talk with your manager about how ridiculous this is. I’m sure for them, they like it because they are getting more money, but for the other workers, its all cost and no benefit.

    1. LBK*

      #1 – Totally agreed re: people who aren’t married. If we’re going down the route of “it’s not fair if everyone can’t take full advantage of it,” why aren’t they also allowed to bring +1s?

  41. Response_to _PartyPlanner*

    Expect a lot of people to just say “No thanks, we can’t afford it (and really didn’t want to go anyway)”

  42. Zach*

    #1 – I don’t know what level of tickets the company is providing so this may not apply. When my dad was flown to Europe to go to the world headquarters of where he works for a few weeks they were flying him first class. They had a standing offer that Dad took them up on to downgrade to coach, but get 2 round trip tickets so he and my mom could go.

  43. Brett*

    #4 I am wondering how much equity the OP has in the company and how much of the IP is owned by/how many of the patents are filed by the OP. Lead developers can often own more of the company and IP than the founders. This could make the severance much more akin to leaving a company partnership rather than just quitting a job; with the investors and advisors having to get directly involved.

  44. Brett*

    #1 Does the answer change as SO attendance becomes less voluntary? For our organization (ironically a public agency), certain events _must_ be attended by SOs and failing to do so clearly affects future promotional opportunities. Essentially the entire family is expected to be committed to the work of the organization (spouses actually routinely receive awards as well as employees). Of course, we do not even pay for employees to attend, much less spouses. Though, it is also tradition for managers to pay for their direct reports and their SOs to attend even though the org will not; and we never have out of state events.

      1. Brett*

        Then the entire family is committed :) (Though, depending on the type of event, it is not unusual for parents to show up for employees without an SO, especially if either parent worked for the same agency, which is common.)

        1. Anonymoussss*

          I guess what I’m wondering then is what if someone doesn’t have anyone? I mean, I know plenty of people – myself included – who aren’t close enough or don’t have family to attend such events? Are employees penalized for this? Or is your company the type that expects a more traditional nuclear family? Basically, what happens if someone has no one to show up and it’s just them?

    1. LBK*

      Not to disparage your workplace if you enjoy being there, but this sounds like my personal hell. That is WAY too much company involvement in my personal life for my tastes.

      1. Brett*

        It’s public safety. You come in knowing there will be extensive involvement in your personal life, and that you are basically signing on for the rest of your working life.

  45. AW*

    When I first read it, I didn’t see that the boss was asking for 6 *MORE* months. Just asking for the 6 was outrageous enough!

  46. Xarcady*

    #5. My school district has the school calendar online for the next year. You can check today and find out what days the schools will be closed next May.

    Start dealing with the issue by getting the calendars for both school districts and noting all the days the various schools are closed. (I’m making the assumption that vacations can be taken as normal during the summer months when school is not in session.)

    Then start keeping track of the number of appointments on school days vs. school closed days.

    Once you have some facts, then you can approach the boss about relaxing the policy a bit.

    Seriously, does he want someone with the flu to come in and and breath flu germs directly on a patient while their teeth are being cleaned? Planned sick days are one thing–those should be scheduled around the business’s needs as much as possible. But unplanned ones should not be docked an extra day. As mentioned above, performance issues with one or two employees should be addressed directly, not have a insane policy inflicted on the entire staff.

    And this policy needs to be made crystal clear to all new employees, so that they know that they will need to arrange childcare for all school closings. I’m wondering how difficult it will be for the practice to hire new employees with such a family-unfriendly policy. That might be what it takes for the boss to realize just how punitive the new policy is.

  47. Academic Advisor (not the OP)*

    Question #2 almost made me “ACK” out loud. No, no, no! I recently (voluntarily) separated from an advising position, and while you absolutely develop connections to particular students and the urge to remain a resource to them is strong, a clean transition to an active employee is as important to their progress as anything else you’ve done for them. It’s easy to see part of your role as support person, and it is…but not in the same way that Mom or BFF is a support person. You’re a support in a professional capacity, and that relationship ends when the professional connection ends. If you build a new kind of supportive relationship with that student that *could* be different, but using a former coworker to contact them through official channels suggests that you are still, in at least an informal capacity, a representative of the university. This person could make your job really difficult when students who need to be connecting to official resources are using your ex coworker as their contact because she’s their “person”…but you’re the one on the hook if she makes a mistake or gives outdated info. No. No no no no. This screams boundary issues to begin with (either with her former job, her students, or-most likely-both), and could get you in some serious trouble. There is no legitimate reason why an ex employee, especially a fired one, needs to use university resources to contact students. If she wants to contact her former students, all the cool kids have Facebook now. Tell her you don’t feel comfortable sending students unsolicited messages from people outside the university, and if something that reasonable burns the bridge, she’s probably not someone you want to be associated with professionally anyway.

    1. OP #2*

      OP #2 here – I appreciate your comment, especially coming from another academic advisor, so thank you. It’s been a few weeks since I received the email so it might be somewhat awkward to reply now, so I’m not sure whether I’ll say anything at all, but thanks to AAM and everyone here, I know I was right in trusting my instincts that this was not an appropriate request at all!

  48. Mena*

    #1. This is an etiquette question. Throw the party you can afford; guests shouldn’t be subject to costs or tasks of any form (college kids may be exempt from this rule). It sounds like the company cannot afford to invite spouses, which means it should not invite spouses. Alternatively, suggest looking into more local options that do not include airfare and include spouses.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Except that rule doesn’t usually include travel, just expenses at the event itself (which in this case are covered). I mean, when you throw a wedding, you’re not expected to cover your guests’ travel costs.

      1. Elsajeni*

        Yeah, I think the social-etiquette analogy is closer to “I’m getting married in another state and offered to pay travel costs for members of the wedding party, and one of my bridesmaids is arguing that I should also pay for her boyfriend, since I invited them both as a social unit.”

    2. LBK*

      I don’t think social etiquette is totally applicable to work events, though, particularly when it involves people who aren’t actual employees. If the employees themselves were being expected to cover their own attendance then I’d agree, but generally I think a company is only obligated to cover any expenses for its employees and anything they choose to extend to family members is a perk.

      1. Lisa Petrenko*

        A perk that would immensely increase the morale of workers thus should seriously be considered!

        1. LBK*

          In general, though, I think perks can only take morale from good to great. It can’t take morale from bad to good, at least not with any kind of sustainability. Morale is more than the average level of happy feelings your employees exhibit. It encompasses feelings of stability, fairness, appreciation and recognition that may not make you outwardly cheerful every day you’re in the office but that compel you to want to stay with your employer long-term.

  49. BenAdminGeek*

    #3- If you belong to a denomination, your regional or national contacts may have suggestions or guidance as well. Our denomination puts together salary ranges based on geographic cost of living, helps with health care cost estimation, and other useful information that our church couldn’t do alone.

    1. OP #3*

      My denomination has been quite helpful in getting me to this point (the HR person in their employ drew up the new documents for me), but apparently my employees are the only ones who’ve raised this issue!

  50. Ed*

    #1 Our company used to pay for spouses to come to our annual sales convention. A few years ago we eliminated this option to save money. We also had to start rooming together which, as a single guy, stinks because I always had my own room. Anyway, without going into sordid details, there were so many marriages broken up that one year (followed by a TON of unproductive days caused by the fallout) that we immediately reversed that decision and started inviting spouses again.

    1. Zahra*

      Wait, what? Tell me this is a joke. People don’t break up over a single sales convention, they do over lots of stuff and when the “pros” of leaving outweigh the “pros” of staying. Were people staying married so they could have that one free vacation every year and that was the only thing keeping them in a relationship that was otherwise headed for doom?

        1. Zahra*

          Even then, there’s a problem with company culture if cheating is so pervasive or there’s a problem in those couples if the spouse feels entitled to cheat during a work trip.

  51. Kira*

    To OP #3, has anyone brought up that the ability to remove low performing staff and bring on high performing staff is it’s own version of justice? I work in human services, where our job is all about helping others. My philosophy is that not doing your job well can be unjust and even immoral in that environment.. you’re hurting others by providing bad advice or incorrect information.

    1. OP #3*

      I think their concern is that they’ll get some nut in there (crazy clergy have been known to happen) who’ll terminate them for no reason at all. They felt that the contracts gave them some protection against that, however small, that’s now gone. What I really need is a way to ensure against crazy clergy!

      Thanks for your comment!

  52. Lisa Petrenko*

    I don’t understand the first answer. It is a trip for a party where spouses ate encouraged (probably expected) to attend. It is a party, not a work trip. I think that some sport of accommodation should be made so that at least all the spouses get very steeply discounted flights, if not fully covered, which would be more acceptable. Bam!the manager was WRONG.

    1. LBK*

      A party being arranged and attended by the company. It’s a work trip, whether there are any directly work-related activities occurring, just by the nature of who’s staging it and who’s invited.

  53. Lisa Petrenko*

    #5. How outrageous! Find a new job immediately. What a horrible office to work for!

  54. Michelle*

    #5- I would start looking for another practice to work for!! That is just nutso. Honestly, how many kids can be seen in a day? Truth be known, I think doctor’s offices way over schedule on school days off. I have had to be in the office more than half a day a couple of times, so I just started scheduling them on regular school days and taking the kids out of school a few hours early. As long as you are not taking them out early every week, it really is not going to affect their grades. Even on those days, it still can be up to 3 hours. When my kids are out, I’d rather do something fun vs. sitting in the dentist office all day!

  55. Wilton Businessman*

    Obviously #4 is valued at the company. I would tell my employer that I am going to graduate school. If they would like to pay for my schooling as part of my benefits package and give me time to go to school, I’d be more than happy to stay on. Otherwise, here is my 30 day notice.

  56. EI - OP 4*

    I talked to the research company, and they really want me to start in August, so I’m going to have to tell my boss that he’s only getting about 6 weeks (rather than 3 or 9 months). I’m kind of nervous about it, especially because I would like to use him as a reference in the future…

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