fielding complaints from an employee’s husband, bringing gifts back from vacation for coworkers, and more

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

1. Employee’s husband emailed our boss to complain about his wife’s working conditions

This situation happened over a year ago, but I wonder what your take is on the situation.

Our corporate office manages several apartment complexes owned by The Boss in other cities, many in other states. One manager transferred from one complex to another when the manager position came open. Shortly thereafter, her husband emailed The Boss, complaining about how his wife is treated by the company. I found it odd that the husband complained and then also wrote that he had not told his wife about emailing The Boss. I believe The Boss emailed the husband back, although I have no clue what was written. Knowing The Boss, it was probably a defense or dismissal written in a tone of absolute authority without appeal. Nothing further was mentioned to me about it.

Should it (oddly) happen again, what would you do? What would you have done in the previous case?

Employers shouldn’t be discussing employment issues with employees’ spouses. So if the boss sent the husband a defense, that was inappropriate; he doesn’t owe the husband an explanation, defense, or dialogue, and it’s entirely possible that the wife wouldn’t appreciate her boss discussing her work matters with her husband, a non-employee.

If your boss told the husband in “a tone of absolute authority without appeal” that he doesn’t discuss employment issues with people’s spouses, that would be appropriate.

After doing that, then he should have shared the email with the wife — the actual employee — and asked whether there was anything they needed to discuss. It’s entirely possible that the employee doesn’t share her husband’s viewpoint, or that she does but has no interest in raising it at work, so the boss should give her the option of whether or not to discuss it.

2. Do I need to bring gifts for coworkers back from my vacation?

My first several jobs out of college were in a foreign country, where I developed my sense of workplace norms. (Things like, yes, you really do have to go if your boss “casually” mentions he’s going for after work karaoke and drinks.)

I’m back in my hometown in the U.S. now, and am taking my first real vacation at my new job. At any of my previous places, I’d be expected to bring back gifts: a relatively expensive bottle of sherry or other local specialty liquor for the boss, a scarf or something for the secretary, some kind of edible local specialty for the rest of the group. This isn’t done in the U.S., is it? I feel super weird about coming back from a two-week cruise empty handed, but would it be even weirder to show up to the next scrum meeting with a jar of Italian olives and a wedge of French cheese to share? I know I should have paid attention to what my colleagues did when they took their vacations, but I can’t even remember now.

It would be really nice to bring back food for people to share, but it’s definitely not expected. And bringing back individual gifts is not only not expected, but more likely to come across as a little weird in most offices, unless it’s something like a situation where your coworker obsessively collects mouse figurines and so you bring her a figurine of a mouse eating Camembert after your trip to France — in other words, unusual situations where you truly do look at an item and think “I can’t not get this for Lucinda.”

3. Staffing agency wants me to pay for my pre-employment testing

When I was looking for a job, I answered several job postings, which resulted in two employment agencies submitting my info for the same job. I had started and done all my pre-employment testing with one agency (a TB test, drug test, a skills comprehension test, and a fit test). Then I was told by the employer that since the other agency had entered my info first, I had to work under them. Now the agency that I did my testing with wants me to pay for it ($850). I never signed anything stating I would be financially responsible if I didn’t work with them. Am I responsible for these charges?

Hell no. If you didn’t sign anything, this is their own cost of doing business. Say this: “I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but we didn’t have an agreement about me covering these costs if I ended up not working through you, so I won’t be paying for them.”

4. Should I include a cover letter even when a job posting doesn’t ask for one?

When a job posting does not ask for a cover letter, should you include one anyway?

I just applied to a job that only asked for a resume and three writing samples. I did not include a cover letter, though since the application was by email I did include a couple lines of introduction. I was under the impression that the work would speak for itself and that the employer wasn’t interested in reading separate cover letter documents. But now I am worried. Was this some sort of “guess what we’re thinking” test?

No, and if it was, you don’t want to work there. It’s fine to simply follow instructions. People who care about cover letters will ask for one.

That said, including one anyway — if it’s a great letter — can still help you with many employers. And it’s a standard enough part of applying for a job that including it as an extra shouldn’t hurt you — it’s not like including long, unsolicited writing samples or other things that are likely to spark a “why on earth are you sending me this?” reaction on the employer side. And in some cases, a good letter will help even when it’s unsolicited.

5. I offered to sell one of my scheduled days to a coworker

A coworker of mine came up to me and asked if he could work one of my days. I said, “Okay, but it will cost you $__ for you to work it,” instead of just trading a day of work. Was it wrong of me to ask for money?

Ethically, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with it since your coworker is free to decline the trade, although it feels a little like … well, like something you’re not supposed to make money off of, like charging a coworker to talk to your boss ahead of you or to get a better seat at a meeting. Regardless, I have to think that your employer wouldn’t be pleased to find out that people are selling their days on the schedule to other coworkers.

{ 237 comments… read them below }

  1. Engineer Girl

    #2 – A box of the local chocolate is always welcome. I’ve also brought back Turkish Delight from Istanbul and small packages of various coffees to close coworkers.

    1. MK

      I also think there is nothing wrong with bringing small inexpensive souvenirs, IF you want and think your coworkers will appreciate them. I do wonder which cultures expect you to bring back costly presents, like bottles of Sherry and accessories.

      1. Long time lurker

        Japan is one. Not sherry, specifically, but there’s a significant and pretty ironclad tradition of gifting from your travels (it’s called omiyage, if you want to look it up). You’re supposed to bring back gifts that are specific to the region where you’ve been, and wherever you go you will be able to buy edible gifts (and other gifts, like place-specific Hello Kitty key chains) that are specific to that region. So Miyajima has maple leaf-shaped goodies, Hakone has sulfur-cooked blackened eggs, Kawane has green tea, etc etc. Even different parts of the same city might have different things for omiyage. This is also why you’ll see ridiculously expensive small baskets of fruit and veggies in Japan: it’s not supposed to be for you, it’s omiyage.

        Fun fact: some train stations will sell a selection of goods from a bunch of different places, in case you forgot to buy something while you were actually there. :)

        1. Long time lurker

          Er, this seems to have gone under the wrong comment – someone asked which cultures have this kind of gift culture. That’s what I was answering. Promise it wasn’t supposed to be a non-sequitur!

        2. MK

          Interesting. Actually, what I found odd was that one was expected to do so for colleagues and that the gifts sounded costly. In my country, it is customary to bring gifts to friends and family, but usually it’s inexpensive souvenirs, or a sort of “group present” that could be shared among many.

        3. OP2

          Ding ding. Yup, I was in Japan and the somewhat absurd work culture is a big part of why I came home. A two week vacation in Europe, with zero email access, would have been unthinkable in my previous job.

          1. Jazzy Red

            You are going on vacation to get *away* from work. Don’t spend any time at all purchasing gifts for coworkers, unless they really are your BFFs. Instead, take tons of pictures and show them to all your coworkers when you get back (OK, not really, most people don’t want to see more than a couple of vacation pics).

            Come back to work refreshed and ready to work. When people ask how your vacation was, tell them what a great time you had. That’s really all you have to do.

              1. Gene

                Unless you are going to something like AnthroCon and have coworkers with similar interests. Then it’s also four; but that’s four memory cards, at least.

            1. EB

              Some companies/departments do have cultures that develop a small gift after vacation – I worked in a department that was heavily US Asian and Hispanic predominate in the US. We had a “bring back some local food when you go abroad” culture. However, it was something like a huge cheap bag of salted plums or something cheap (or some pecan candy from Georgia, the state). When I went to the Netherlands it was an absurdly large roll of Droste chocolate disks (complete in that blue/white dutch pattern that was ubiquitous on tourist items) that was pretty cheap when I went to the local supermarket.

              I wouldn’t bother on a cruise, but since many of us traveled at least once a year we brought back something, but the key for me was hitting up a nearby supermarket for a large, but portable, snack packet of some kind of local item (finding the nearest supermarket/pharmacy that you can walk to for bottled water and snacks is something I recommend in general for travelers).

          2. BadPlanning

            At my US/large company job, sometimes people bring back some treats from vacation. It is not expected, but it’s not weird when people do. But it’s usually things like a box of candy — nothing big, no gifts for specific people (we don’t have admin staff anymore, sadly). Like maple sugar candy from a trip to Canada or chocolates.

            For general context, at my workplace, people bring in their own treats for their birthday, promotion etc. It used to be a more regular/expected occurrence, now it’s nice, but not expected.

          3. kelseywanderer

            Everyone coming and going from the country where I currently live and work usually has to pass through the Dubai aiport, which has enormous duty-free shops, and here it is the custom (which I was not informed about until after I had already made several trips – oops) for people to bring back good chocolate from Dubai for the whole office. Fortunately my office is only about 50 people, so that’s just a few huge chocolate bars that everyone gets a few squares of with lunch (which is provided in the office).

        4. OP2

          Oh and I only said sherry because this vacation is a Mediterranean cruise, and when I wrote to Alison I had just gone onshore for a very nice sherry tasting :)

          1. Lily in NYC

            I think you shouldn’t feel obligated, but if you do, the chocolate recommendation is a good one or if you want to get small gifts, you could always just get a bunch of cool magnets from the place you are visiting – cheap, easy to pack, and generally appreciated (people just put them on their file cabinets here).

        5. Allison

          My sister and I each have a geisha figurine from the time my mom’s Japanese coworker returned to the US. I had no idea it was part of a tradition!

        6. azvlr

          In my experience, the Japanese will always out-gift you. On the one hand, I have received some neat stuff due to omiyage, On the other hand, I end up feeling somehow more obligated as a result.

          Neat stuff includes:
          A table-top planetarium (from my dear friend and nuclear physicist)
          A year supply (at my level of consumption) of wakame seaweed
          Art supplies for my son
          T-shirts with inspirational sayings (but they’re in Japanese, so I don’t remember what they say)
          A box of regional fish cakes and rice cracker, Hillshire Farms style

        7. grasshopper

          In addition to being unique to the region of origin, Japanese omiyage is also expected to be individually packaged food. When I worked in Japan, it was explicitly stated and expected that I should bring back treats for all my co-workers when I went on vacation (even if it was outside of Japan). Most of the time I just went to a local supermarket and brought back an assortment of whatever wrapped candies or cookies I could find. Worked fairly well except for the durian candies from Singapore…

        8. AGirlCalledFriday

          Yup, when I worked in Japan it was common to bring a gift – I brought sakura mochi for my coworkers and special sakura treats for my bosses. It was all delicious.

          Also – I have a new kitten and his name is also Mochi. So cute!

      2. Chinook

        Bringing back a local gift is definitely expected in Japan to the point that some gift shops at the Train station sell gift boxes of food from different regions in case you forgot to get it (or lied about where you were going). And it is appreciated by your coworkers who return the favorite on their trips. I still dream of the gigantic mandarin orange I received in July which still had a branch and green leaf attached (because Canadians always get giggly about Christmas oranges out of season).

    2. Jennifer M.

      When I was living overseas it was sort of expected to bring back group gifts of an edible nature. Nothing fancy – duty-free chocolates were the norm. Back in the US, when I come back from the beach I usually bring a box of salt water taffy that I leave at the coffee station.

      1. Graciosa

        I only do this if I go someplace quite different, and then bring back an inexpensive food item for people to share. I stress inexpensive – and this is only a nice gesture and not at all mandatory (even by custom). Please do NOT distinguish the boss in any way – this is actually contrary to custom and practice in most U.S. work places.

        One of the more successful examples of this type of gift was a container of very small (think Halloween treat-size) bags of M&Ms from a foreign country. Everyone got to look at the packages labeled in a foreign language, and you don’t need to be terribly adventurous to try M&Ms.

        If you do bring back a foreign food, do not pressure people to eat it. I have seen people return from vacation excited about their adventures and the wonderful food they found and – brimming with good will – try to force everyone in the office to taste it. Please don’t. Respect your co-workers enough to allow them their own decisions.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian

        That is what one coworker always brings us from her trips to the beach on the east coast — saltwater taffy. People who go to New Orleans bring pralines. My new boss just returned from a month in India visiting his family for the summer, and he brought us three admins each a beautiful, embroidered drawstring purse; he also brought small gifts for the faculty who work during the summers (a classic Indian movie for each of them). It was very nice to be included in the gifting, since I started my job while he was out of the country and had only met him once, during the job interview.

        1. Windchime

          My coworker has family in Russia, and she always brings back delicious Russian candies when she goes there to visit. Yum. Another former coworker was from Turkey and he would bring us back Turkish delight when he went home for a visit. Yum. I try to bring back macadamia nuts when I go to Hawaii. It’s not as fancy as candy from Russia or Turkey, but it’s something.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian

            I think the best thing I brought back from a trip was Kentucky bourbon balls, and I didn’t even go to Kentucky. I went to a conference in Milwaukee, and the Louisville chamber of commerce had a booth there because the next year’s conference was going to be in Kentucky, so I picked up a bunch of bourbon balls from them. I was basically bribing my boss, a year in advance, to let me go to the conference in Louisville.

    3. Bwmn

      When I worked overseas (Middle East), it was highly expected that some kind of chocolate/sweet would be brought back. And if it was travel abroad for work – even more so. It was a nonprofit organization, so in general the expectations on price weren’t too high, but when I went to Brussels for work, I got an earful on what kind of chocolate expectations were required before I left.

      Returning to the US, in my office now the norm is more if you go somewhere “interesting” and even then no one expects it.

    4. Not the Droid You are Looking For

      On my last trip to France, I picked up soap at a market that was 3 for $5. It was an easy, inexpensive gesture, but was not something my team expected.

    5. Rebecca

      I always think it’s fun if a coworker brings back something specific to the country they visited to share with us. Like macadamia nuts from Hawaii or chicory coffee from New Orleans. But certainly not required!

    6. Mean Something

      Something I’ve enjoyed bringing back to share with coworkers is an assortment of teabags in different blends, flavors, and, of course, packaging. The Scandinavain company Nordqvist has some very fancifully named flavored teas (Tiger’s Daydream is the one I remember best) and the packages used to be very charming–they’re much more utilitarian-looking now.

    7. Elizabeth West

      I have so many coworkers it would be impossible for me to bring back stuff for everyone. I did get two who sit near me and whom I’ve become friendly with each a scarf in London, however, to thank them for including me in their department’s festivities. My team works remotely when they’re not traveling, and most of the time I’m completely alone in my department. I sit right near them, so they ask me to join in. They liked the scarves and I felt good about doing it. :)

    8. afiendishthingy

      A client’s family was Turkish and always gave my coworkers and me Turkish delight for Christmas. Very thoughtful but I think Turkish delight is absolutely disgusting – I was very dismayed when I first tried it as a teenager, because since the White Witch used it to tempt Edmund I’d always figured it must be delicious.

    9. NAFTAjunkie

      About all I’ve ever done is bring back maple goodies (usually cookies) because previous Canadians in my place got my coworkers hooked on them.
      Though now a local specialty store carries them so I don’t bother.

      Otherwise if I do run into something that I know a specific colleague would enjoy I’ll grab it (like getting some brands of chocolate bars that aren’t in the US after a colleague was talking about them, or almost as a running joke, the coffee packs in hotel rooms for another coworker :P)

      Some of my colleagues do bring back treats and we just leave them in the break room for people to discover, but otherwise no one expects it.

  2. hayling

    OP #2, good for you for asking about workplace norms since you are used to something different. More people should be comfortable asking questions when they are unsure!

    And I agree with Alison. A treat for everyone to share (i.e. a box of Pralines if you were going to New Orleans) is a great idea. One time I went to LA and visited the hot sauce shop at The Farmers Market at the Grove, and picked up a bottle for my hot-sauce-obsessed office’s kitchen.

    1. Jennifer

      Depends on their job. Most of mine haven’t “required” it, so I was surprised to find out this office kinda does. I usually bring fancy pens, other people bring magnets or keychains. Nothing too huge or fancy.

  3. Artemesia

    Wow. A spouse who contacts the employer about anything but ‘my spouse is in the hospital and so won’t be able to be in this week’ is so completely out of line that I don’t think a career could recover from that. If the wife knew then she is not an employee to keep; if he did it without her permission or knowledge then she deserves pity but should definitely get copied on the email that clearly states that the employer does not discuss the employees business with the spouse along with the initial contact. I had one spouse do this in the many years I managed departments; I ended up firing the employee and while this was not the defining moment, it didn’t help.

    On vacation gifts. In offices I have worked in the norm was to bring some edible to share e.g. a box of chocolates from Belgium, some local unusual treats from the far east, pralines from New Orleans etc etc. People didn’t always do this from personal vacations but if they went to conferences or on business trips that the staff assisted with, it was the norm to bring something back. Individual gifts would squick a lot of people out. And few people want the kind of obligation this sort of thing confers.

    1. AmyNYC

      I wouldn’t say this will ruin the wife’s career – after all, it’s her spouse who was out of line here, not her.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        Well, maybe it won’t ruin the wife’s career immediately with one fell swoop, but it does cast her in the light of being married to someone who does things that Are Not Done, which, fairly or not, calls her judgement into question. It will be hard for her to shake the impression that this will leave on her boss, even if he ostensibly understands that it wasn’t she, herself, who did it. So it is a ding to her professional reputation, which can harm her career.

        1. Salyan

          Which is a shame, because such an impression could allow an abusive spouse to destroy her career (and possibly any chance of being financially able to escape him).

        2. Shannon

          The boyfriend of a woman who was deployed overseas from my unit called her boss at 6:45 on a Saturday morning once just to ask some questions that could have waited until a far more appropriate time. Everyone kind of questioned her judgement/ pitied her until the dumped the guy shortly after returning home.

      2. Artemesia

        It infantalizes her. And the last thing a woman trying to make a career needs is the image of being someone’s chattel. I cannot think of another thing that would make as bad an impression short of shooting up the office. (and I include getting drunk at a work event — even that is not as damaging as a spouse or parent who calls the boss.)

        1. Anna

          Then the most appropriate response is to remember she IS NOT someone’s chattel and treat her husband as a crazy one-off while remembering she is a professional human being. Unless otherwise indicated by other things.

        2. EE

          Speaking of getting drunk at a work event: in Australia a man who was fired after behaving atrociously at a work event won an unfair dismissal case because it was his employer who provided the booze. So yes, I fully agree with you!
          www
          fiveaa.com.au
          /news/drunk-worker-wins-unfair-dismissal

    2. azvlr

      My former spouse imposed himself in a workplace situation and I was mortified. This incident was definitely a nail in the coffin. I don’t think my administration was too surprised when I filed for divorce a few months after, and were pretty supportive through some really stupid drama on his part.

      It’s possible this employee has such a spouse. I sincerely hope that the boss will consider that in his dealings with the employee.

  4. Dan

    #5

    Actually, I think you’re in the clear. I worked blue collar for several years, and shift coverage was the numero uno priority for management. We didn’t have to find out own vacation coverage, but beyond that, we certainly had “shift trades.” If you wanted extra vacation, and I wanted money, it was permissible for you to pay me to take your shift, without having to cover mine in return. Yes, that means I got 1.5x for the OT plus extra cash from you. (Even if you didn’t pay me, there was no requirement that shift coverage be an “even trade” or “zero sum” in terms of labor cost to the employer. I was free to work the OT. Besides, if you did cover a shift for me, it was likely going to be considered OT for you anyway, because you’d likely cover that shift in return during a different pay period.)

    1. ScottySmalls

      But no one seems to want extra vacation. The other employee asked to work one of his days, and OP is charging him to work. I guess they’re hourly employees and so OP wants the money to make up for the lost day?

      1. Retail Lifer

        That’s how I read it, but the other employee probably wanted to pick up the extra shift for the additional hours on their paycheck…which makes having to pay the OP kind if pointless, doesn’t it?

      2. KH

        I think they are switching a less desirable work day for a more desirable work day (the guy asking for the money has to work on a weekend, for example).

        I wouldn’t be comfortable asking for money but if it’s a common thing and if it’s the only way to get people to give up their weekends, it seems a reasonable way to set up a “black market” for scheduled days :-)

    2. Stephanie

      I don’t think I’ve ever asked for money in exchange for a shift. With us (it’s a small pool to begin with), there was usually a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” understanding that if you asked for coverage, you needed to return the favor down the line (and not ask for coverage too often).

      1. Sigrid

        Yeah, I’ve been trying to figure out why #5 rubs me the wrong way, and I think it’s because it’s monetizing something that is usually social capital in white collar offices. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this kind of thing is common in blue collar jobs, because the expectations between what is monetarily valued and what is socially valued are very different. But in white collar jobs, things like shift swapping are generally part of a social contract, something you do to build a pool of good will that you can draw on later. In most offices, attempting to monetize that would be seen as offensive.

        Basically, I would give OP #5 opposite advice as to the acceptability of selling their shift based on whether their job was blue collar (or service industry) or white collar.

        1. VintageLydia USA

          Even in blue collar jobs that I know of, selling shifts would be weird. It’s a reciprocal relationship like Stephanie described.

        2. Shannon

          It rubs me the wrong way, too. The only way I might understand it was if it were a tip/ commission based job and there were greater opportunities to make money on the day being swapped. Generally speaking, I’d far rather have the social capital that comes with doing someone a favor than cash.

    3. Raine

      Yeah even in service jobs we used to do this — at restaurants in particular. It usually worked like this: Someone would want a shift off at the last minute for a big date or concert tickets they lucked into, and even though the shift would be a primo shift — say, Friday or Saturday night — to ensure that someone to take it when they already had that night off they’d pay them something ($20-$50 at an Applebees, more as you go more upscale). Because here’s the thing: There was still a risk — you were responsible for that shift being covered, and if the person decided not to show up (something that happens in that industry) you, and not this other person, would be fired.

      1. Retail Lifer

        I have retail employees that switch shifts all the time, but I get it in writing as to who is working when. Learned that the hard way years ago when employees supposedly switched shifts and then neither showed up.

        1. Rose

          Same here. Every one should do that. Imagine getting fired because a coworker took your shift then felt like sleeping in. What a bummer.

    4. The Cosmic Avenger

      I think it depends on the team. Small, highly interdependent teams should probably cover for each other when needed, as long as it’s not always one person asking for coverage. Large, independent teams where you don’t really know most of your teammates, then yeah, it’s pretty reasonable to ask for minor compensation if you don’t really want to trade shifts. Reciprocity would be better, where you all switch for each other when needed, but that rarely works out to be perfectly balanced, and often it’s one person who constantly wants to switch shifts.

      1. Dan

        I actually worked for an airline. There must have been 200+ people in my work group, so you’re right, it was more independent. The other thing is, we got to travel for free, so you’d want to go for two weeks+ at a time, or do more trips beyond what your vacation covered.

        I only used my pass benefits to see family, and I’d only go for long weekends. So you’re right, there wasn’t perfectly balanced reciprocity. With shift work, it’s one thing if you want me to come in on my day(s) off, it’s another if you want me to cover the morning shift. I really want a premium if I have to get my butt in at 5am.

    5. John B Public

      I’ve been in this position when I waited tables- occasionally for the chance to make good money, someone would essentially buy a co-workers shift from them. Happened more often with the bartenders.

      1. Ann O'Nemity

        Yes, this was my experience back when I was waiting tables. If you needed to trade a Tuesday for a Saturday night, sweetening the pot wasn’t unusual since the earning potential between the two was so vast.

    6. Meg Murry

      My father worked in a factory when I was growing up, and got one of the coveted “build up” jobs – you put together X of your station’s widgets and you get to go home and get paid for 8 hours, even if you finished your job in 5. There were also rotating chores that needed to be done – for instance, each person was assigned a day to use the forklift and refill all the parts bins at the end of the shift. A lot of people wanted to get out early and would pay my dad to do their restocking days, so he’d come away with an extra $20-$50 cash for only 20 more minutes of work – management didn’t care as long as the job got done.

    7. Robles

      Yeah, I used to work fast food, and while paying someone extra to work a shift for you was fairly rare, it wasn’t frowned upon. Sometime’s that’s just what it took… you have one person that could take your shift, and they don’t want to, but add $20 to the deal and you might have a taker. In our context, it was totally fine.

    8. Gene

      Reminds me of when I was in the Navy. Especially after returning from a deployment overseas, the ship would go on standdown for at least of weeks with no regular work days, just watchstanders on their duty days. The Reactor Department would typically be on 4-section duty for these times (be on duty one day, off three). After being gone for 6-8 months, we single guys made bank. After one Westpac, I was on duty every day for almost two weeks; and even in the late 70s, the going rate was at least $50/day (my pay then was in ~500/mo range). First few days back, the rate was at least $100-150. It was easy to double one’s monthly salary, tax free, in a couple of weeks.

      Down sides; on-duty personnel weren’t supposed to leave the ship, and duty days were 12 hours on watch, 12 hours off; divided up however the two guys decided to do it. And no overtime pay.

  5. Daisy

    I have brought back gifts and had gifts brought back to me from coworkers. It is almost always edible or something very small (like a magnet under a dollar) but I’ve never expected it from anyone returning. It is nice to bring back candy but I wouldn’t feel obligated to do it.

  6. Relosa

    You’d be surprised how common it is for employees to sell shifts to each other. Not surprisingly in low-paid positions where requests are often denied and employees are treated like crap.

    1. Rae

      I don’t think that “selling shifts” is only when employees are ‘treated like crap’ or even for low-pay. In the 90’s there was actually a trend in my area for “mother’s job” in which 4-5 women shared the same 9-5 secretarial job and were responsible for deciding the breakdown of hours and were all simply responsible for someone to show up. They were decently well paid (for the time and the area) and often bartered among themselves with one woman sometimes taking the bulk of the hours depending on need.

      I was also a manager for a small retail store. As long as no one went overtime and the person came in and did work, I really didn’t care who came in. I had X hours to divide among X people. If someone could talk someone else into not working, and that person didn’t go over 40 hours it was ok. I had 3 regular part timers who covered 60 hours. One young man was into cars and wanted some fancy do-dad. On paper, the hours were split 3 ways–20 hours each. But he convinced the other 2 to give up 5 hours each for 2 weeks and he also detailed their cars. There were no hard feelings.

      Their was no “treated like crap” and there as no denial of a request. It wasn’t fair to me, as an employer, to take hours from Sally and Katie to given them to Johnny. Sally and Katie, however, could decided for themselves.

      I’ve also worked in retail, specifically, convenience stores. I needed the money and wouldn’t of dreamed of selling my shift. To me the biggest fear was my co-workers illegal and stupid behavior. Plus, we were all scheduled so tightly that it was impossible to do anything but trade. Overtime was forbidden. Even then, being low-paid and without many options, I understood how things worked and had plans to advance.

  7. Sandy

    So, the norm in my office is this:

    Personal vacation = no gifts expected
    Work travel = edible gift for the office to share is absolutely expected, preferably something interesting, like baklava, South African macadamia nuts or French chocolates

    I think I’ve done the tour of duty-free chocolate by now…

    1. Monodon monoceros

      Yes, this is how it has been for my last couple of jobs, too- both in the US and in Europe. Also, colleagues coming to us for work often bring something from their country, and we’ll usually bring something small from our country to share. It’s always food. Our colleagues from Japan brought us these awesome cookies last time– they tasted like chocolate covered crushed Oreos.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger

      Interesting. For us it’s kind of the opposite, although no one ever expects gifts. We tend to not bring back anything (except maybe pens or stress balls from exhibitors) if we attend a conference. But for personal vacations, less than half the time someone will bring back something, like a box of chocolates from Switzerland, for example, and email our team to come have one and catch up with the person who is back.

      I also get my closest coworkers something small, and so does my wife, but these are also the people who have to take on more work when we’re away to cover our duties.

    3. Today's anon

      Whenever I go to a work conference that requires travel I bring back vendor swag – post-its, pens, tote bags, etc. My staff love them and they are obviously free to me and small enough usually that I can get a bunch. I try to bring back some edibles but there have been times when I am spending all my time in a conference center and airport to/from and I don’t want to buy the same fancy chocolates I can buy at home.

    4. plain_jane

      A key thing here is being aware of what foodstuffs can get through customs if you are coming across borders. This is why candy and packaged cookies work well, but cheese and cured meat and fruit usually does not.

      A co-worker once brought really high end sake (apparently) for the office to share. That didn’t really work because it required everyone to get together at the same time to share a tasting. OTOH, a box of tea from India was great, because everyone could enjoy it on their own time, and nobody felt pressured to drink tea if they didn’t like it.

  8. Anx

    #4

    I’m assuming this doesn’t apply to government jobs, though, right? I would worry that an unsolicited cover letter could invalidate your candidacy because you would be straying from the application format and you could be ‘biasing’ the hiring committee.

    1. L

      It doesn’t, it was a job at a magazine, but it’s good to know this as I am also applying to government jobs. Thanks!

    2. Temporarily known as "Heather"

      Yup, there is the trap. I had an interview once where I was expressly told *not* to send a “Thank You” note, as it would appear that I was trying to gain an advantage outside of what the commitee was allowed to consider, and it would also show that I was digging around for information that they felt I should not be seeking (all emails were from a do not reply address, all calls came from blocked numbers, and the mailing address was not public.)

      I have also heard about companies having a “sorry but we cannot accept/consider any non requested information” policy as well.

  9. Taco Bella

    Food for thought, #1 – When I’ve seen someone engaging with their spouse’s employer in such a fashion, it’s been in the context of an unhealthy/abusive relationship. It may be worth keeping in the back of your head that your coworker may not have a lot of control over their spouse. Obviously, the employee’s personal relationships are nobody’s business at work and you certainly wouldn’t want to assume anything (especially not this worst case scenario), but it might be an opportunity to cut a good employee some slack, especially if it’s a one-time thing.

      1. snuck

        Agree.

        With Blurgle and Taco Bella.

        Proceed with caution… let the employee know, as Alison said, ask if there’s any issue to discuss… and then leave it.

        If the spouse attempts to engage at work again politely reiterate that you are happy to chat with the employee about anything they wish to raise, but cannot talk to the husband… and that further conversations are not welcome. Advise the employee that you won’t be talking to the husband…

        If they stick their head up a third time know you are dealing with a soggy fruit cake and ask the employee how they want it handled.

      2. Jazzy Red

        My niece’s ex-mistake did stuff like this. He called her supervisor and cussed her out, and generally tried to ruin my niece’s reputation at work. He also kept the family in debt so she couldn’t afford to see a lawyer. It ended up OK though, after I gave her money for lawyer, and now she’s been married to her wonderful second husband for 10 years .

    1. Knitting Cat Lady

      This was the first thing that came to mind for me.

      I wouldn’t put it past an incredibly jealous and controlling spouse to do something like this.

      Kinda sad that this was my first thought, though…

  10. Mmmmmm...... fudge

    2. If it’s Mackinac Island fudge, then yes – please bring lots of it to the office. :-)

    4. I agree. If they want three writing samples, why would they want to read a cover letter on top of that?

    1. Apollo Warbucks

      They might want to read a cover letter as well because It explains why the applicant wants the job and provides a context and background that shows the skills they will bring.

    2. The Wall Of Creativity

      If you’ve been on a trip to Scotland, then bring back whiskey fudge. Squeezed into thin slices, it can be dissolved into machine coffee for a very special treat. They do 3 tins for the price of 2 at Edinburgh airport.

    3. L

      4. Those were my thoughts at first as they actually also asked for a writing sample tailored specifically to the job (journalism), so if they want to see evidence of writing ability they don’t need a cover letter to see that.

      1. Apollo Warbucks

        But the cover letter is more than just a witting sample its a chance to explain why your skills are a match for the job and why you want that job particularly.

      2. LBK

        The importance of a cover letter is less about the quality of the writing and more about the actual content. Unless the topic of one of your writing samples is “why I would be good at this job,” they aren’t going to provide the same kind of info, even if they’re well-written.

      3. Ad Astra

        In my experience with journalism, if a hiring manager wants to see a cover letter, she’ll ask for one. It wouldn’t hurt you to submit one without being asked, but there’s a reasonable chance the manager wouldn’t bother reading it.

        Journalism resumes tend to be pretty straightforward; if you have the traditional j-school background with some experience at a campus paper and an internship at another publication, it’s not really necessary to explain how that experience would make you a strong candidate. (A good exception might be if something about your experience is nontraditional or you feel something on your resume warrants further explanation.) Writing samples give a better idea of your skill than a cover letter, which is meant to be persuasive and doesn’t task you with the research and interviews you’d normally do for a newspaper or magazine. (Another good exception would be if the job involves persuasive writing, like columns and editorials.)

        Again, it couldn’t hurt, but I always felt I had better ways to use my time than composing cover letters for people who didn’t want them.

      4. Macedon

        Journo’s its own beast. Sometimes you get cover letter requests, sometimes you don’t. Big names usually want a practical version of the full package. Smaller titles vary in their demands. Publications with moderate reach were my absolute recruitment nightmare.

        Having said that, with no cover letter to fall back on, make sure your clip selection shows as much skill, scope and variety as the spread limit and requirements allow you.

    4. Emily, admin extraordinaire

      I went to Mackinac Island on Memorial Day weekend (visiting a friend who moved to Detroit) and the fudge was indeed delicious (and the island was beautiful). But is it really necessary to have 25 shops to sell it? :P

      1. Cathy

        I used to live in Michigan: you will be amused to know the nickname for tourists in Michigan is “fudgies”. :)

  11. AnnieNonymous

    #1: Is there maybe an overlap in the manager/super responsibilities? I admit that I immediately got an iffy feeling about this management company owning buildings in other states. Are they full on top of any/all issues with the buildings and tenants? If this manager and her husband are living on-site so she can be on-call 24/7 (like a super would), I think her husband may be a bit justified in contacting the employer, since the wife’s working conditions may be the couple’s living conditions.

    I once lived in a building that was owned by a company that had a habit of snatching up buildings it never visited. “The management operates out of a different state” sounds a lot like “The management is absent.”

    1. Apollo Warbucks

      I really disagree with this, no matter the circumstances the husband has no business contacting the wife’s employer. It’s inappropriate at best and weird and controlling at worst.

      If there’s a problem that needed to be addressed the wife is the one to raise it at work.

      1. AnnieNonymous

        The wife can’t raise it at work, since she lives in another state. But even so, if this job is dictating the spouse’s living arrangements and the employee’s availability, the spouse has the right to pipe up if things start looking illegal. I just do not trust apartment management companies that are that far away from the apartments they manage.

        In a situation like this, I’d wonder if the spouse is considered a tenant and therefore has the on-paper right to voice concerns about certain things. It’s worth noting that these complaints only arose after the employee was moved to a new apartment, and that, whatever she may say, the OP clearly worries about getting complaints from other employee spouses.

        1. Apollo Warbucks

          But the op says the email from the employees husband complained about the way his wife was treated by the company, not about living conditions.

          Even if the husband is a tenant they should restrict themselves to calling in emergencies or to book repairs (like if the heating or AC stops working or there’s a broken window) any bigger issues or complaints about the standard of the housing should still be made in conjunction with his wife and in any event editorialising about his wife’s employment conditions is not on.

          I’m not sure where you see the op being worried about this issue coming up again. If fact the op notes it would be odd for it to happen again.

          1. AnnieNonymous

            The fact that the OP bothered writing a disclaimer as to the unlikeliness of another spouse getting in touch…that makes me think she anticipates it. It’s very, “I mean, we totally haven’t done anything wrong, and I don’t think it would happen again…but ONLY OUT OF CURIOSITY, just in a HYPOTHETICAL sense, what should I do if this happens again?”

            Why bother asking the question a year later if you think it was a one-time thing, especially if the problem was solved quickly and if the OP doesn’t even know how it played out?

            Honestly, the more I think about this, the more I’m wondering what’s actually going on here. OP doesn’t reveal what the issue was (which limits our and Alison’s ability to offer useful insight) and doesn’t even know what solution the boss presented. The OP wasn’t involved in this issue in any direct way, so why is she posing this question? This will never fall in her lap. She literally says, “Nothing further was mentioned to me about it.” To me, the subtext is that, possibly, another manager is being transferred somewhere else and OP expects more complaints.

            1. Apollo Warbucks

              No one is saying that the firm didn’t do anything wrong the complaints the husband had about his wife’s treatment could well have been legitimate, the point is he should not have been the one to raise them, the wife needed to be the one to raise it herself and I agree it does seem a bit strange to ask for advice after a year from the previous situation

              Having a husband or wife interferer in their partners work life is so uncommon that I can’t believe that it happening again would be a reasonable concern for the OP to have, and at any rate we can do no more that speculate about the op’s motivation for asking and the reason for asking doesn’t change the answer to the question.

              1. Graciosa

                I’ve been known to wonder about whether there were better ways to handle problems that have arisen in the past. This one is so outside the norm that it definitely would have stuck in my mind – and having had it happen once, it’s not unreasonable to figure out how to respond if it happens again.

                I’m not seeing anything in the letter that would raise enough to concern to deviate from our standard practice of assuming that the OP has described the situation accurately.

            2. Sadsack

              Or this happened a year ago and it has always bothered OP, so he finally decided to write in about it.

            3. OP #1

              I suspect the husband is complaining because HE is unhappy with how the company is treating her, not necessarily any unhappiness on her part. Even though she is a couple of states away from the corporate office, we are easily reachable whenever she needs us – email, fax and phone. She is routinely in touch with us about her property. I don’t recall the husband’s specific complaints, but I imagine her pay was the primary beef.

              Perhaps he felt he needed to step in because she is a naturalized citizen who still has a small language barrier in English. In my mind, this does not reflect upon her in any way, because her spouse claimed she didn’t know anything about the email. The manager and her spouse do not live on-site.

              Our corporate office is seven employees, and there are few secrets in the office when it comes to business matters. The Boss shares nearly everything (that we can tell) with employees, so it’s not unusual for him to share information that a spouse emailed him directly. The reason I suspect it could happen again is because it just seems plausible. Nothing shocks me in this office any more.

        2. Colette

          Presumably the wife has a way to communicate with her employer even though she’s in another state, it would be odd if her husband was the only one able to speak to her employer.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Even if the husband and the employee live on-site in a company-owned building, the husband should not be communicating with the employer on the wife’s behalf unless it’s an emergency. Definitely not to complain about her working conditions! Even if those working conditions are affecting him, it’s the wife’s to raise — a non-employee should not be interfering in the employer/employee relationship like that. It’s incredibly undermining to the wife, and it would be totally inappropriate for the employer to discuss employee issues with a non-employee, spouse or not and tenant or not.

      1. MK

        I would think that it would be even more inappropriate, if they lived on-site, presumably for free, since then their living conditions are part of his wife’s compensation.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger

          Yes, that’s kind of like an employee’s spouse complaining to the boss about the food at the company holiday party.

          1. Graciosa

            I always thought this was a discussion traditionally reserved for the drive home in the car. ;-)

        2. Cat

          Eh, on the one hand, but on the other hand, at a certain point, you need to be able to deal with your living space. I wouldn’t think it was off if the husband reported a broken dishwasher or malfunctioning AC unit or something like that. (Though it sounds like that’s not what’s happening here.)

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Sure, but that’s just acting as a tenant. In this case, the husband was complaining about the wife’s working conditions, which is a whole different thing.

    3. OP #1

      AnnieNonymous – Not to defend all apartment management companies, but ours is different.

      We’re not just out to milk the complex for all we can get, with minimal maintenance to keep the place running and then selling it off without ever having stepped foot on property. We are an owner/operator small family business with a dedicated apartment director who visits the properties at least twice a year. We’ve held these properties for over 20 years and we give our managers authority to manage the property with a good amount autonomy. We do not micromanage the properties, but we are not completely absent from them either. We invest money in keeping the complex nice – inside and out. We aren’t perfect, but we’re out to do right by the tenants.

  12. INTP

    I’m curious about the circumstances that led to #3 being submitted by two agencies. IME, the agency will ask whether you have applied to the company or spoken about the same position with another agency. I could see the company feeling more justified in asking for the money though they’d still have no legal standing to demand it. If there was a different sort of mix up, they’re being completely outrageous.

    1. outandabout

      I’ve hired hundreds of contractors from IT consulting/contracting firms and can tell you it’s very common for multiple companies to submit the same candidate, especially when you’re hiring a large number of people. Usually it’s a matter of new employees, since these firms rarely hire someone before they have a placement for them. Also the reps almost never tell the candidate before they submit them for the position. I think it’s a matter of two factors at work – they are optimists (good sales people have to be) and think that the candidate will be happy to be placed and secondly, people are their product. And who thinks about the feelings of product? Our firm always went with the first firm to submit the candidate – from our viewpoint it was the only fair way to do it.

      On a similar note – the contract firms usually extend contracts without checking with the employee. Usually the employee is happy to have the contract extended, but not always. I’ve never understood why they don’t check first.

      1. RMRIC0

        Probably because most of them have the sense not to charge the potential employee $1,000 for the privilege.

    2. Graciosa

      Asking does help minimize these conflicts, but it requires every agency to notify the employee every time they submit the individual for a job, and not all of them do.

      Some agencies are trying to conceal the identity of the client to minimize direct applications to the employer that don’t go through the firm. Sometimes the agency is bidding on jobs through an electronic system and just responding with the chosen candidates without checking. As an individual, demanding that the agency get separate permission for every application will minimize the number of jobs for which you are submitted, so that’s not really a good solution.

      As a result, this type of conflict happens all the time – it is incredibly common, and the costs of screening applicants who turn out to “belong to” another agency is just a cost of doing business that is usually (and should be) factored into the rates charged for all jobs the agency wins.

    3. weasel007

      Being double submitted by multiple agencies in my line of work disqualifies you from an interview. This is why a lot of companies will make send an email saying that their company has exclusive rights to submit for that position. You have to keep track of these. Never never never allow a company to submit you without discussing with you first.

    4. Mints

      I’ve gone to “interview” at staffing agencies and once they get an idea of my job hunt, they’ll say something like “We’ll start submitting your resume to good matches.” Then they call if a company wants to talk to me, but I really don’t know where they’re applying to.

      Occasionally a staffing agency will send me an email like “Please confirm you are having us represent you for job: Jr Teapot Analyst at Acme Teapots.” But I’m not entirely sure what the difference is. Maybe those companies have been burned more often, and are stricter.

      I don’t think the OP should pay it, though, at all.

  13. Chocolate Teapot

    2. A communal gift such as a tin of biscuits or chocolates is probably the best option, but I don’t think you should spend too much on it.

  14. Blurgle

    #2: if your workplace is anything like every one I’ve ever worked in, it would be *extremely* inadvisable to buy any gift at all for a superior. Fancy liquor – oh no. Oh no no no. My stomach is literally clenching.

    You do NOT buy expensive gifts for the boss in this society. Your boss may wonder if you’re trying to bribe him; your co-workers may see you as a brown-nosed slimy little toady. You might even sabotage any chance of advancement; no good boss wants to look corrupt by promoting the guy who bought her a fancy gift.

    Even then, you do not EVER buy liquor for other people, ever, ever, ever, unless you are absolutely certain that they drink and you know them socially. Many people in North America do not drink; many believe alcohol is sinful and/or evil. Many of those would consider such a gift a slap in the face.

    You would also be wise to buy a group gift if you choose to buy food – say, something that can be set out on the break room table. If you personally bought me fudge or toffee I would thank you but it would be in the garbage the moment your back was turned.

    Where I live it’s acceptable to buy a nice gift for your own personal admin (secretary), and a scarf would be acceptable. But otherwise it would be strange.

    1. LBK

      I think saying “many” people in the US consider alcohol sinful or evil is a bit of a stretch, unless maybe you live in a deeply religious community somewhere in the South. Even most people that don’t drink aren’t going to be horrified if you get them a bottle of wine since that’s a pretty standard gift; maybe a little inconsiderate if it’s not something they really enjoy, but no worse than bringing in chocolate or cookies if someone is on a diet.

      1. neverjaunty

        Or, no worse than giving cookies to a diabetic. I doubt there are many workplaces where people leave a bunch of mini bottles of booze in the lunchroom.

      2. Temporarily known as "Heather"

        You will also get a look in Eastern Idaho, but presumably the OP would notice if s/he was in a deeply religious area. It was quite apparent from day one of my living there, that despite the availability of liquor, the purchase and consumption of spirits was frowned upon.

        1. OP2

          I’ve seen all of my colleagues voluntarily drink alcohol and am friendly outside of work with two of them. My area is not religious at all, unless the flying spaghetti monster counts!

        2. OP2

          But point taken. Alcohol is probably far enough outside expected norms that I’ll avoid it.

      3. Artemesia

        Liquor has baggage. I used to give staff bottles of champagne at Christmas but I always made sure of everyone’s drinking habits first and we did have one person on the staff who was Mormon; I bought her a nice box of chocolates. And we did have one person on the staff who was diabetic and the year I bought everyone chocolates I got her a box of clementines. She was extremely pleased since she had frequently gotten gifts that she simply could not use since candy was a common gift.

        But liquor is more than ‘I don’t drink’ — some people find it actually offensive.

    2. Kelly L.

      I think the tone of this might be a little more shouty than is needed. It is something that might be awkward, but not as horrifying as this, IMO.

      1. Cambridge Comma

        I agree, and the original letter suggests the OP already has an inkling that it wouldn’t be appropriate anyway.

    3. MegEB

      Wait, what? Many people believe alcohol is sinful/evil? I’m genuinely curious – where in North America do you live where this is the norm? Alcohol is a pretty integral part of American culture (although I don’t have personal experience living in Canada or Mexico, I don’t think it’s THAT different).

      I think your comment is making this out to be a much bigger deal than it has to be. I mean, yes, in the US we don’t really do gifts for our coworkers unless we also know them socially (or it’s a group thing, or a godforsaken Secret Santa), but I really don’t think anyone is going to be offended if you buy them fudge or toffee – I can guarantee no one in my office would throw that in the garbage.

      1. Apollo Warbucks

        I’m in the UK so don’t have a lot of knowledge but I do know Mormons don’t drink and there are still parts of the states that are dry and prohibition is still in force.

        1. Cat

          There are dry counties, in that they don’t sell alcohol within county lines, but “prohibition” isn’t in force at all – people just drive over the county line and bring alcohol back, which is fine. (Counties generally aren’t huge.)

        2. Graciosa

          Mormons are a fairly large portion of the population in some areas, although the ones I know would just politely accept the gift as well intentioned and say thank you whether or not the alcohol would ever be ingested. There are also other religions that oppose the use of alcohol – although whether their members actually follow that stricture universally is another question.

          Yes, there are parts of the country that are officially dry – I think most of them are small counties in the rural south east – but the result of this could more accurately be described as “regular road trips to other counties” than “no alcohol consumed by residents.”

          I think LBK and Neverjaunty have the right of it – gifts of wine are still common and socially acceptable unless you know that the gift is not appropriate for that individual.

        3. Anon369

          Really? Other states are still dry? Of all the states, I’d think Utah would have been the holdout, and it isn’t dry anymore (if it ever was in recent memory – I recall there used to be a tradition of “social clubs” that served alcohol even if restaurants didn’t).

          1. Cat

            No, no states are dry. It sounds like there are some misconceptions in the UK about Americans’ views towards alcohol. :-)

            1. Amy UK

              I think it’s quite easy to have these misconceptions though, because Americans do have opinions towards booze that seem very quirky and/or puritanical to us Brits. If the majority don’t actually hold the opinions themselves, they at least go along with them without raising an eyebrow which also says something.

              I’ve definitely seen posts on this very blog about company events refusing to provide alcohol, non-religious bosses refusing to pay for alcohol at staff lunches/dinners paid for by the company, banning employees from expensing even small quantities of alcohol on business trips. And then you have dry counties and dry weddings apparently are common enough not to surprise anyone. All of those are basically unthinkable in the UK, except in very specific circumstances.

              If you tried that in the UK, you’d be accused of being controlling, unreasonable, uptight etc. Whereas American responses to these questions on here are more “Your boss can do what he likes”, “Can’t you go a few hours without a drink?”, “Why should your company fund alcohol anyway?” etc- with the implication that alcohol has connotations that other drinks don’t.

            1. fposte

              Though at least in the dry counties I know, there’s no ban on liquor being consumed; it just can’t be sold.

              1. JB (not in Houston)

                Yes, exactly. I live in a non-dry county at the edge of a dry county, and there are quite a few liquor stores within walking distance. They know their market. There’s no problem drinking alcohol in dry counties (and I think in most? all?) of the “dry” counties, you can buy and consume alcohol in restaurants. You just can’t go to a store and buy alcohol to take with you.

          2. MegEB

            Massachusetts has some dry towns, but even those are dying out (Arlington recently relaxed its laws prohibiting alcohol and I think Medford might be going the same way). No state is completely dry. And The vast majority of Americans are not Mormon, either.

          3. MegEB

            Massachusetts has some dry towns, although those are slowly dying out (Arlington recently relaxed its laws prohibiting alcohol and I think Medford might be going the same way). No state is completely dry, and there’s no area of the country that I can think of where Prohibition is still in force. And the vast majority of Americans aren’t Mormon, either.

          4. The IT Manager

            Louisiana has dry parishes (AKA counties) as well in the north. I just discussed this weekend, the image of a block of five or six liquor stores on the parish line so the people in the dry parishes can buy alcohol as soon as they leave the parish.

            It’s odd when you consider the drinking/party culture of south Louisiana and New Orleans. South Louisiana has the party loving Catholic Cajuns and the northern part of the state has a different culture/Christian religion majority.

            1. Cathy

              I’m in Tennessee and I find it hysterical that the Jack Daniels Distillery is located smackdab in the middle of a dry county. They did manage to get a law through the legislature stating the distillery itself may sell bottled and sealed alcohol onsite, so now the tour of the distillery ends in the White Rabbit saloon.

            2. Chinook

              Being Catholic, the phrase “dry parish” Sounds like an oxymoron.

              I find it interesting that a “dry town” in the US still allows consumption of alcohol. Up here in Canada, dry communities do exist (usually fly in) and that means possession of alcohol is also illegal and vehicles entering the community are usually checked, especially if there are outsiders aboard. Then again, they community usually has chosen this as an option due to large cases of alcoholism within it.

              1. Natalie

                Some Indian nations in the US do the same on their tribal lands. In my state, those rules plus rural roads has led to the sad phenomenon of drunk people walking miles back to the reservation only to freeze to death or be hit by a car on their way home.

          5. Emily, admin extraordinaire

            Utah has a few dry cities, but no dry counties. Beer and wine coolers and hard lemonade and such can be bought at grocery and convenience stores, but you have to go to the state-owned liquor stores for hard liquor or wine. Most beer has no more than 3.2% alcohol content (I think there are exceptions for house brew and certain imports). In restaurants that were not grandfathered in, alcohol and mixed drinks have to be poured out of site of customers (that particular law is really stupid). When drinking in restaurants, you have to order food as well. Most bars are private clubs (slight cover charge for getting in) not because of alcohol-related laws, but because of the Utah Clean Air Act which only allows smoking in private establishments.

            That being said, you’d want to know the recipient fairly well before giving a gift of alcohol, to make sure that they drink. Most Mormons wouldn’t find it offensive, but it’d be like giving shaving cream to a guy with a beard– inappropriate and useless enough that I’d wonder why you even bothered.

        4. MegEB

          Well sure, lots of religious sects don’t drink. And there are plenty of people who don’t drink because they don’t like the taste, are recovering alcoholics, etc. But Mormonism is far, far from representative of American culture as a whole. And as for the “dry” parts of the US – I lived in a dry town in New England for several years and it meant precisely squat. It’s not really a thing that the police enforce – it just means that restaurants can’t serve alcohol within town limits, so you have to go to the neighboring town.

        5. nona

          There are control states and some dry counties, but not prohibition, no. Where did you get this?

        6. ID10T Detector

          These are pretty few and far between; quite a few of the “dry” counties in the south still sell beer and wine, they just don’t sell hard liquor. Also IME most people are going to be aware if their coworkers/boss are Mormon.

          1. Pennalynn Lott

            The name for the “dry” counties that sell beer and wine, but not hard liquor, is “moist”. :-)

      2. Nashira

        I would have to agree, alcohol goes with socializing like peanut butter and chocolate for most of the fellow Americans I know. To the point where sometimes it’s awkward to decline, if like me, either you don’t or can’t drink. Some religions definitely find it sinful, and I definitely agree with being careful not to gift booze to non-drinkers, but it’s also a normal part of society.

        If you do gift alcohol regardless… Just um don’t cry when the non-drinker makes beef burgundy with that $30 pinot noir. Sorry, Dad’s work friend!

        1. Ad Astra

          “Peanut butter and chocolate” is a great way to describe it. Most people like peanut butter and chocolate, and some people love it. But there are other people who really can’t stand it, and still others who can’t have peanut butter and chocolate for medical or cultural reasons.

      3. Ad Astra

        In America, there are many religious groups — some of them fairly large — that don’t believe in drinking. Mormons don’t drink at all (and doing so can get you kicked out of BYU, for instance). Baptists have a taboo against drinking, but for some of them it’s more “frowned upon” than “completely forbidden” — it depends on what kind of Baptist you are. And there are several other Protestant branches that use grape juice instead of wine and see alcohol as a bit of a vice, even if it’s not expressly forbidden.

        I’ve heard lots of Christians criticize people who are out drinking all night Saturday, but still show up in church on Sunday, because to some people, it is. On the other hand, alcohol is a big part of many Catholics’ lives, and they’re not taught to think of drinking as a sin.

        In Kansas, one of the states that led the way in prohibition, anti-alcohol sentiment was closely tied with anti-German and anti-Catholic sentiment. A few counties in Kansas are still dry, though most of them are located near the state borders, and several more counties still don’t allow beer and liquor sales on Sunday.

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          Yeah, I know lots of Southern Baptists, and lots of them drink. Some don’t, but it’s not a blanket ban that is going to get you kicked out of the church.

          1. Pennalynn Lott

            At our weekly Friday night gatherings, the biggest lush (who has been known to end up sleeping on the floor) is a proud Southern Baptist. ;-D

        2. Ad Astra

          In that second paragraph about the partying churchgoers, I meant to say “…because to some people, it is hypocritical.”

      4. lawsuited

        Yep, here in Canada drinking is very much a national pastime. Beer and wine from the Niagara Peninsula and the Okanagan Valley have always been popular, but in recent years it feels like the whole country has exploded with craft beer breweries and micro-breweries making vodka, gin, and other spirits. My standard office Christmas gift is to give everyone in the office (including my boss) a bottle of wine.

        1. MegEB

          Craft beer has really taken off in the US as well. As a fan of craft beer, I am ALL FOR this recent cultural development, but my office tends towards wine. My boss gives everyone a bottle of wine every year for the holiday season, and it’s nice wine too – he has expensive taste. Even if you gave someone alcohol and they didn’t drink, I don’t think it would be considered a big deal.

      5. Artemesia

        In many places in the south and not a few in the northeast there are dry counties and many people in the south consider liquor sinful. I grew up in the northwest and much of my extended family who were evangelicals considered alcohol very sinful and it was major gossip in the family when my mother had her 3 daquiris every year. She was considered quite the lush.

    4. Ad Astra

      You’re right that buying expensive gifts for your superiors is generally Not Done in America, and it’s true that many people don’t drink for moral or religious reasons, or because they’re recovering from a substance abuse problem and can’t have even one drink without the risk of relapse.

      But, unless the employee is close with this boss/coworker and the two have discussed the fact that he doesn’t drink and his reasons for that, I don’t think a gift of booze would feel like a slap in the face. In my experience, people who don’t drink will politely say “Thanks, but I don’t drink,” and then give the gift to someone who does. It might be a little awkward, but I doubt the non-drinkers would feel insulted. (They might, however, think it shows bad judgment to bring alcohol to work, even as a gift — but that’s not something I’ve ever heard out loud.)

  15. Apollo Warbucks

    #2 Something edible for the office to share is the norm where I work biscuits, chocolate, fudge that sort of thing, but never individual gifts.

  16. Apollo Warbucks

    #3 I can’t even think why the staffing agency think you would pay this ridiculous charge. Tell th, where to shove it and don’t pay them a penny.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      It sounds like a scam to me, especially with the “employer” telling the applicant that they had to go with the agency that then tries to scam them out of a huge chunk of change!

      1. UKAnon

        I would be tempted to email the company and explain that you are unable to meet the first agency’s charges and you are happy to continue with your application through the second agency. Probably it won’t get you anywhere, but if you’re walking away anyway it might be worth a shot!

      2. potato battery

        The way I read it, it’s the other agency that’s asking for money – the one that the employer isn’t using. That’s why they’re asking for the money; because they invested in the OP and then lost the opportunity to place them.

        1. Apollo Warbucks

          I read it the same way, but it’s not the OPs responsibility they lost money, that’s there problem.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            I misread it the same way…now it sounds like they’re just pissy because they did all of this testing and they won’t get their referral fee. But that is so not the OP’s problem!

  17. Apollo Warbucks

    #5 I can’t think of a situation anywhere I’ve ever worked where it would be approriate or acceptable to ask someone for money to swap a shift. The whole idea seems a little off to me, if you want to swap the shift then do as a favour as long as nect time you need to swap a shift you get the same favour in return.

    1. outandabout

      It’s been many years since my days as a waitress, but we commonly would pay people to cover a shift and less frequently, someone would bribe us to take one of our shifts. Heck – we did the same thing with tables – offering up money to take a specific party … or not to take one. In a business where there’s cash in your hand, it gets flashed around. Don’t ask me about the ridiculous bets that were made, let’s just say there were a lot of disgusting things eaten for money.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        Yes, IME the Friday night and Saturday night shifts were the best tipped shifts, so if I wanted someone to take, say, a Wednesday lunch shift, I might have to pay them (or, more likely, owe them a favor). If I worked 2-3 weekend shifts I often made more than if I worked a full week of odd shifts.

      2. Cat

        For some reason, my intuition is that it’s a little hinkier, somehow, for someone to pay you for your shift instead of paying them so you don’t have to work it. I don’t know if this is a defensible position or not, but it seems like it’s a short step from there to taking advantage of someone’s desperation. (Imagine a rich person who applies for and gets a bunch of jobs then sells all the shifts . . . .)

    2. Hotel worker

      This is totally normal throughout the hospitality industry. As are a lot of other weird things.

    3. LBK

      Yeah, I would find this extremely bizarre in a retail situation, but others have commented that it’s pretty normal in tipped positions like waitstaff or bartending, which I guess makes sense. There’s rarely a shift so desirable in retail that someone would even be willing to pay – usually the cause for shift swaps is because someone has a personal conflict, so to ask them for money so they can go to a doctor’s appointment or something seems like extortion.

      1. Elsajeni

        Aha — I think that’s exactly it. I was feeling the same way as Cat above, that it would be okay to ask your coworker to pay for your coverage for their shift — unusual, but I can see it happening when schedules or other circumstances prevent you from doing a straight-across swap or otherwise paying in favors — but kind of hinky to ask them to pay when they’re the one covering. But I can see that it makes a lot more sense to “buy” a shift from someone when you’re in a tipped job, where what looks like a straight-across swap of Tuesday for Saturday might actually mean that the person moving to Tuesday is losing a lot of money.

  18. no gifts

    OP 2: I’m guessing from the drinks and karaoke reference that you’ve previously been working in South Korea, or maybe Japan? If I’m right, what you’re used to gifts-wise (and workplace norms in general-wise) is really really different from wherever you are now. Speaking as someone who made that transition about a year and a half ago.

    All of the above posters saying “oh, chocolate would be nice” actually mean “it’s nice but not at all obligatory” not “I want you to do it but social norms prevent me from saying so outright” as would have been the case in an East Asian office. Don’t bring anything back. It’s possible you could build up a tiny amount of good will by bringing in chocolates (but not terribly useful good will as it’s not related to how you actually do your job), but it’s more likely that a. no one will care either way or b. what you do bring back will be excessive by North American standards and you’ll seem a little strange/out of touch. Absolutely no one is expecting you to bring anything back, you are not at risk of causing offense. I would refrain from anything like workplace gift-giving for at least a few months, until you get used to the culture.

    And if I’m wrong about the E. Asia guess, where the hell were you working before??

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      All of the above posters saying “oh, chocolate would be nice” actually mean “it’s nice but not at all obligatory” … Absolutely no one is expecting you to bring anything back, you are not at risk of causing offense.

      I want to echo this — I don’t think anyone is telling you that you need to, just making suggestions for what you could do if you wanted to. But you really don’t need to at all if you don’t feel like it, at least not in the vast majority of offices.

      1. neverjaunty

        Yes, this. There’s a strain of wishing in some of the comments above, I think, but no coworker who isn’t a complete jerk EXPECTS you to bring back gifts.

      2. Ad Astra

        Yes! To be honest, it seems even a bit rude to me for coworkers to expect souvenirs of any kind. If you showed up with some kind of food or drink to share from your travels, the people in my office would be delighted and think you were quite generous. If you showed up with trinkets or individual souvenirs for everyone, we might think you went a bit overboard, though it’s hard to be mad about someone bringing you presents. If you showed up with nothing, we’d ask you about your trip and fill you in on whatever you missed while you were gone.

        This goes for every office I’ve ever worked in.

    2. Stephanie

      Another thought…if OP is working at a federal government office (or doing any kind of government contracting), there might be regulations around gift giving as well. It’s been a few years since I’ve been a fed, but I think supervisors couldn’t gift subordinates anything valued over $10. (I think there was some regulation about what could flow upward, too, but I can’t remember.)

    3. Brightwanderer

      I was coming in to comment with the same guess about Japan or nearby! I’ve lived/worked in Japan, and yes, OP2, you really do need to discard your norms from there. The gift culture is really important but often unspoken, so it’s easy to imagine that you might be causing offence by not doing it elsewhere… But you won’t be. Honestly, I would recommend not bringing anything back with you at all this time. Make sure you pay attention to what other people in the office do in the future, then you’ll have a reference.

      (To add a data point: in my UK office it’s normal for people to bring something like a box of fudge or chocolate, or a tin of biscuits, back from holidays – something non perishable that you can just leave out for people to grab as they like. There’s no obligation and people only seem to do it if they happen to see something appropriate.)

  19. UKAnon

    #2, if you’re worried about finding a gift which won’t offend anyone (always tricky) how about a postcard? It’s cheap for you but lets your coworkers know you thought of them.

    1. GiantPanda

      +1!
      This is just our team and not general culture: You are expected to mail a picture postcard from wherever you were going for vacation. (That includes staycations – people find the most amazing local cards.) The cards get taped to a dedicated wall in the office – quite a large area by now.

  20. Stephanie

    #2: Getting all those gifts sound like it could add up! You don’t have to do that, especially for superiors. (Gifts at work should flow downward.) If you want to bring in something, just bring in something consumable and communal (like candies or something).

    My mom’s boss will always mail her stuff from her vacations (my mom and her boss both work remotely). My mom never quite knows what to do with the gifts as they’re usually tchotchkes that end up collecting dust on a shelf. My mom says she appreciates the thought, but she has no clue what to do with a tiny ceramic elephant (I believe that was the most recent one).

    1. AvonLady Barksdale

      Hey now– I once brought back tiny ceramic elephants! But we all worked in the office together, we all had desks we liked to decorate, and they were cool elephants. :)

      Mailing a gift? That’s weird. And such a waste! I usually brought back little things, like chocolate or pencils. I once found these crocheted tissue-packet covers for 3 pesos each at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City (best gift shop EVER), but I never would have thought to mail one to our regional office.

      1. Stephanie

        Ah, the mailing thing was because my mom’s team is entirely remote and they’re all scattered across the country.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale

          I still think it’s weird. Like, I didn’t think it was weird when my boss sent me, a remote employee, a holiday gift. But a vacation gift? Weird. We have offices around the country, and if I do bring back anything from my upcoming vacation, it will just be for this office. I don’t need to FedEx chocolate to LA, for instance.

          Unless I find a super amazing ceramic elephant.

  21. steve g

    Souvenirs – I wouldn’t get anything unless it was a specially requested item, because of ecommerce. I remember in eight grade giving money to someone I knew going to London to get me a cool souvenir, because like, how else was I gonna get something from England? Now you can sit on your couch and order all sorts of stuff online. The novelty of something from abroad is much lower. I remember getting some CDs from the Czech rep in the early 2000s and it was the coolest thing ever…..but now you can order things from their online, download mp3s all over. the place….heck you can stream European TV and watch music videos from there. back to the 60s on youtube. The novelty of my package from fourteen years ago from there would be much, much less now with e-commerce. I see recommendations for chocolates, but the work needed to bring them home can’t be worth the trouble, and I have to say, we have a good enough selection here in the USA, you’re probably not gonna find something good and original (maybe some nice packaging though) in another country

    1. MK

      It’s not really about the gift, though, it’s about the thought. I know there are plenty of people who don’t like souvenirs (I am one of them), but there are also many who do like that you thought of them while abroad. And, of course, if everyone does bring something, you might feel under an obligation.

      And the whole point of these kind of gifts is to get something local others would like, but wouldn’t buy for themselves. For example, from England I brought a selection of teas to the office. Everyone liked them, but no one would really go to the trouble of ordering them; the delivery costs would be too much in any case.

    2. Nursey nurse

      I don’t think anyone is suggesting the OP bring back individual souvenirs or the kinds of items someone might order through e-commerce, though. It’s more that people are suggesting a token gift for the group that’s more about the gesture than the gift. It’s really no trouble to tuck a box of chocolates or some nice coffee into your suitcase and put it in the break room when you get back. I’ve worked in places where people have brought in things (macadamia nuts from Hawaii, for example) that others have appreciated but would never bother to order for themselves. It’s just a nice thing to do.

      1. Fact & Fiction

        I recently substitute taught 4 Zumba classes for my regular instructor while she was on vacation and she gave me a box of delicious Bosnian (she’s from Bosnia originally) to thank me. It wasn’t necessary but it was a lovely gesture, and it was very nice to try some chocolate from another country that I never would have thought to try myself.

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever

          I was going to ask how Bosnian tastes compared to other nationalities you’ve sampled.

    3. ThursdaysGeek

      When I’ve been asked if someone can bring me a souvenir, I usually suggest sand or a rock. And those can’t be ordered online. Plus they are free, which is good if it is a co-worker asking.

  22. Gem

    #2 Echoing what the others have said, edible things for people to share would be the absolute most effort I’d put into a gift from holiday. So far this year our office has had Japanese kitkats (green tea flavoured!), proper Turkish Delight, and sweets from China.

    #3 That is unbelievably ballsy of the staffing agency. Don’t pay them a penny.

  23. Rebecca

    #2 – this made me snicker “yes, you really do have to go if your boss “casually” mentions he’s going for after work karaoke and drinks.” Uh no, no I don’t. My time with the company ends at quitting time, and unless this is something work related that I get paid for, I’m going home.

    1. UKAnon

      Maybe not in your culture. I think the OP’s point is that in the culture she’s been working in, that is the culture.

      1. OP2

        Yes exactly. My allegedly 50 hour a week job often spiraled unto 60 or 70 hours at work plus another 10-15 on obligatory boozing. That was fun in my early 20s, but got old fast.

      2. JB (not in Houston)

        Yep, in certain cultures, it’s basically a job requirement to socialize with your work group/boss when called to do it (google Korea and hwaeshik for example).

      3. Stephanie

        CEO at OldJob went to Japan for business and said even he was expected to partake in after-work boozing as part of conducting business.

    2. MK

      That’s fine, if you accept that, unfair though it is, not doing so will affect your professional development.

    3. OP2

      What MK said. The social pressure was intense, and I was particularly vulnerable as an immigrant with no social or family network to rely on.

      1. Sigrid

        There’s something I’ve always been curious about with respect to the “obligatory boozing” work culture I’ve read about in East Asia — how much alcohol exactly ARE you supposed to drink during those events, and is it calibrated to “number of drinks” or is it calibrated to “level of intoxication”? I’ve always read things like “the booze flows like water” and “drinking is mandatory”, so I’ve wondered if that’s a “go out and get smashed” kind of thing, or a “go out and socialize and drink but don’t drink so much you show the effects” kind of thing, or a “go out and buy drinks and pretend to drink them but actually let them accumulate next to you/pour them in the potted plant” kind of thing.

        Because I am an *incredible* lightweight — one cocktail with a normal 1.5-2.0 oz of alcohol in it gets me well over the line of tipsy, verging into drunk. If I were in that culture (which I won’t be; my profession doesn’t overlap), would it be acceptable for me to show up and socialize and nurse one drink all night? Or would I be forced to secretly dump my drinks in the nearest available potted plant? I’ve always been curious.

        Feel free not to answer if you don’t want to! I know this is off-topic. But I’ve always wondered about that specific aspect of East Asian workplace culture I’ve read about and I’ve never had anyone to ask!

        1. AdAgencyChick

          Yes please! I’m curious too!

          And what does a woman do if she’s pregnant?

          1. OP2

            Huh. I don’t know. I’ve never seen a pregnant woman at work. It’s shocking to see unwed pregnancies in Japan (in part because abortion is common and socially/morally acceptable, and is seen as far preferable to a shameful pregnancy). And it’s also uncommon for married women to work outside the home. So…I don’t know!

            1. Artemesia

              Perhaps one of the reasons Japan is having so much trouble replacing its population with many women declining to marry or have children or more than one child is the very unappealing idea of being stuck at home while one’s husband is out drinking with the work group every night.

          2. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

            I worked in Korea with a pregnant coworker. She was graciously excused from these sorts of events- not just the drinking part but if she were too tired to go out she was allowed to go home to her husband. We all technically had the option to leave but it would have been seen as a great faux pas though the school I worked at was much more laid back than some of the places where my friends worked.

        2. OP2

          Its counted in number of drinksnusually. Compete to have more drinks than your peers, but never under any circumstances drink more than the boss. Don’t be seen to hold your liquor better than the boss. (So for example if your boss is getting messy after 4 drinks, but you’ve had three and are only slightly buzzed, you should pretend to be wasted.) A common thing was to have a private word with the bar staff when the boss is in the bathroom, to tell them how watered you need your drinks to be. In my experience the staff are good at remebering from week to week, and they will help adjust your drinks so everyone can save face.

          1. salad fingers

            So also, did someone pull you aside and explain all of this to you straight away or did you commit several faux pas before starting to piece the cultural norms together? I feel like these are subtle enough that it would take a very intuitive person to learn them without some help.

            1. OP2

              I minored in East Asian Studies in college, and my school had a rather intense training program for students who wanted to study abroad (I did two summer internships in Japan before I graduated). Classroom study, role-playing sessions, immersive language study on winter and spring breaks, etc etc. Even with all that I did stumble quite a few times in my internships before I figured out how to put all the knowledge into practice.

          2. Sigrid

            Interesting!! I suppose I would have to develop a taste for clear drinks if I were in that situation, so that they could be entirely water! (I really am a tremendous lightweight.)

        3. Alice

          There was a documentary or special I saw about Japan, specifically a part about strained marriages. This one husband interviewed talked about the obligatory drinking and how he would pretend to be drunker than he was so he could bow out early and go home and spend time with his wife.

  24. AE

    #2 We have a place where vacation goodies go. If something appears, great. If not, no biggie. Since you’re new there, if you don’t bring something and people are disappointed, you can play the “I’m new” card. I played that card for all kinds of things in my new job!

    1. MK

      For me, it’s not a card. When I am new, I don’t know if it’s done to get gifts (from vacation, for the holidays, etc). Also, I can have no idea what anyone might like or if they despise souvenirs. Also, I just don’t have that kind of connection that would make me think of my coworkers while on holiday. It’s usually that I won’t think about it.

  25. misspiggy

    In some UK offices, it’s expected to bring back a communal food gift for the office if you go on holiday – but people will let you know very clearly, saying things like, ‘I hope we’re going to get something nice from your holiday!’ So even where it is expected, people will let you know. (Making tea for the office is something that one is expected to do without being told, however – I mean some cultural things go so deep you don’t need to talk about them :-).)

  26. FD

    #5- This was really normal when I worked in fast food.

    What would often happen is that someone would want an unexpected high-demand day off (Friday evening most often) that they were scheduled for, and they’d be willing to toss in $5-$20 to get someone else to take it

    Generally, this only happened when people were trying to get rid of high demand days that most people didn’t want to work. The managers knew and were fine with it, though they still got to approve all shift trades, and wouldn’t if a person would go over 40 hours.

  27. TotesMaGoats

    #2-If it’s within your budget then there is nothing wrong with bringing back a treat for the office to share from where you visited. Or a super cheap trinket if it’s a small group. One of my staff cruised frequently and always brought back key chains from the various ports of call for us. But we were a very close group. I’ve brought back wine for my bosses from time to time depending on the relationship.

    #5-Ethically, while I guess AAM is right, doing this kinda of paints you as a jerk. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, once word got around that you offered this “deal”, that you never got anyone to trade work days with you again. Just sayin.

  28. bopper

    At my US company, in our group it was common to get a box of chocolates or similar goodies for the group to share.

  29. AmyNYC

    #3 – So, the agency paid for you to take these pre-employment tests not NewJob, right? Does that mean if you had applied yourself (no agency) you would have had to pay for the tests personally?

  30. HelpfulA

    Wait wait wait for #3. You may end up getting the bill for the tests that the agency had you do if you signed a financial agreement with the medical provider that had you do the tests AND the agency doesn’t pay the medical provider. If the agency paid the bills themselves, then you don’t have to worry about anything (it’s just a part of doing business) and there’s no reason for them to try and send you a bill. Though it’s worth noting that most medical providers have a financial agreement (or the like) that you sign when you’re seen that basically says you’re responsible for your bills if your guarantor (in this case, the company) doesn’t pay them.

    It’s pretty unlikely for the agency to not pay the bill (especially if they have a high number of people going in for testing), but it’s not totally impossible for you to not get the bill in this case.

  31. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

    OP #2, while you absolutely don’t have to get anyone anything another option I’ve seen appreciated in offices/have utilized myself is to send a postcard to your office if you’re on an extended trip somewhere “cool” (usually international, at this point no one really cares if you go to Disney World or Cape Cod). Most places I’ve worked do have a kind of postcard/card wall where they display these kinds of things at least temporarily. I work in a very small office so occasionally one of my three coworkers will bring us back a little trinket but it’s very small and not really personalized, for example a coworker went to a conference in DC and brought back an assortment of magnets with different national zoo critters and set them out for us- we could take them home or put them on our cabinet at work and now Bao Bao the baby panda holds up unpaid bills. But I suspect that system would fall apart quickly in an office of more than 5 people.

  32. Olive Hornby

    #2 – It’s common practice in my office to bring a small gift (a mug, some kind of fancy local food product) for anyone who covered for you during a long vacation, but that’s partly because it tends to be a fairly large amount of work (getting caught up on all in-progress projects and dealing with outside clients during that time.) Definitely not for the boss, though.

  33. Erin

    #2 – Yes just bring food for everyone to share! That would be perfect.

    #3 – Good sweet Jesus that is outrageous. I wish so many companies would choose not to go through staffing agencies.

  34. Allison

    #2, it’s not a universal expectation in the US. It might be a norm in some offices, but across the board, I wouldn’t worry about it. At least, I hope it’s not, I went to Montreal over the weekend and the only things I brought back were a shirt and button from the (not even remotely work-related) event I attended. Souvenir shopping just wasn’t in my schedule or budget for that trip.

  35. Allison

    #3, unless they clearly informed you that you would be responsible for that cost if you weren’t hired through them, they’re on the hook for it.

  36. Scott M

    I often bring back a souvenir from my summer vacation for my colleagues on my team. It’s always something inexpensive (like a replica pirate coin from the pirate museum we visited, or a keychain with the name of the place we went). Everyone gets the same thing. Others do that also, occasionally.

    1. lawsuited

      I think consumable gifts are best for co-workers. I would find it strange to have half a dozen keychains from places my co-worker went on vacation, and probably wouldn’t keep them. As I only had one set of keys, I’d probably prefer to have a keychain from a place I’ve been/want to remember on them.

      1. Scott M

        You make a good point. I’ve also brought back pens and pencils with the name of the location (Disney, etc). I’ve avoided food, since one of my teammates is diabetic, and everyone else has varying tastes or diet restrictions.

        1. A Bug!

          Pens and pencils are an excellent consumable souvenir for coworkers especially in an office environment. They’re inexpensive, impersonal, unobtrusive, and have a function. Pens especially (or mechanical pencils), because the souvenir aspect is preserved even once the ink runs dry if the recipient wants to keep it.

  37. Amber Rose

    Speaking as a Canadian, it’s common to bring back trinkets but not required. A coworker who went to Peru brought us all little llama pens and the coworker who went to Cuba handed everyone a cigar. I’ve also had key chains and magnets. That said, I’ve also been given nothing. It depends at least partly on company culture I think.

  38. Jessie

    OP #5: Although I’ve only ever seen the reverse (someone paying another person to cover their shift), I’ve seen this go badly multiple times. Someone backs out of the deal at the last minute, leaving one person screwed and without official recourse because it was an “under the table” sort of deal. Worse, one of the parties gets confused about the details of the agreement, someone gets mad, and brings it up to your boss who is pissed about what you’re doing.

  39. AnnieMouse

    Never discuss anything with an employee’s spouse/SO/mother/father, etc. You only talk with the employee.

    ALWAYS include a cover letter. Some companies have multiple openings and it is so much easier when it is referenced in the cover letter.

  40. Slippy

    #3 – Do not pay for this. These are some of the normal costs of doing business. Also think about this: if you pay those fees it will likely weaken your negotiating position since they now know that you are willing to pay up-front without a guarantee of a job. In addition that number they are claiming seems awfully high and many employment scams work to get people to pay for promises that can’t be fulfilled.

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