update: my coworker can’t afford the gas to get to work

Remember last month’s letter from the person’s whose coworker couldn’t afford the gas to get to work? (Some back story that wasn’t in the original post but was added in the comment section:  His wife had died, leaving him with their two young kids. Then his mother-in-law, who had been providing childcare also died. He was having trouble staying afloat.)

Here’s the update.

Just a day or so after my letter ran, my manager cornered me and asked what was going on with my coworker. She was ready to fire him because she assumed he was interviewing–I absolutely panicked and blurted out the situation (I absolutely should not have, but I was surprised and scared he was going to lose his job and it just came out), and she was horrified.

She shared the situation with the CEO, who then called my coworker in and said “Clearly you’re distracted with things going on at home. Why don’t you work from home one or two days a week until life calms down” without mentioning he knew about the money situation. My coworker was surprised but relieved, and that helped take some of the pressure off.

After going through everyone’s comments, I did pull aside my coworker and shared some of the resources people had mentioned, like 2-1-1 and Catholic Charities. He was immensely skeptical, but he was desperate, so he did call and was set up with a case manager. She was able to get him a few months worth of gas gift cards and hooked him up with a discounted childcare agency so he’ll have long-term support.

I’ve been batch cooking and bringing him casseroles whenever I can, so he has some good help right now. He seems much less stressed and scared and things seem to be doing much better.

I just want to thank everyone for their help and kindness, and the tremendously generous offers of donations for him. This site is amazing!

{ 207 comments… read them below }

  1. jmkenrick*

    Well, this one brought a smile to my face. Good for you, OP, for being able to tactfully share with him some resources, and caring about him and his family. I hope they’re able to get to a stabler place soon!

    1. jmkenrick*

      Also, I’m really impressed with how tactfully the CEO handled that situation. I don’t know that I would have come up with that.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        That’s what I came in here to say. “. . . without mentioning he knew about the money situation.” I kind of want to give the CEO a big hug as well. Face saved all around. \o/

        1. Ted Mosbey*

          Totally agree! It stinks you spilled his secret but you did the right thing with his best interests at heart. I don’t think you should feel bad; you had to pick between the lesser of two evils. Sometimes there’s no perfect solution, but this one seems close!

        2. Ariadne Oliver*

          Oh, yes, kudos to that CEO! I’ve worked for many companies that did not have such sensitive and kind leadership. OP, both you and coworker are extremely fortunate to be working where you are. And you are a very good friend to this man. Kudos to you, too!

      2. LBK*

        Agreed, that was awesome. Particularly for a CEO – I know there are plenty of great ones out there, but the stereotype of the evil executive is so prevalent that it’s nice to hear about one who’s actually smart and compassionate like this.

        1. Sprocket*

          I disagree with the evil executive stereotype. I think some of that mindset about corporations persists from the early days of labor unionization. While certainly Enron-type executives who are perhaps evil (or stupid) exist today, most people in executive roles are still just people and thus equally as capable of being a good person as any other person.

    2. Letter Writer*

      Also I caught the CEO leaving a $100 gift card in my coworker’s bag when my coworker was in a meeting. I caught my CEO slipping it in, and he looked all ashamed and scampered away.

      I am very blessed to work with such great people

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Oh, that’s wonderful. It’s so cool to see upper management being so supportive and compassionate.

        1. BeenThere*

          Me too, struggling to hold back the waterworks right here.

          This update is just what I needed after a crappy few days.

      2. Liane*

        Yes, you are! And a slip of the the tongue was the start of something good this time. So don’t beat yourself up over that.

      3. Sian*

        That’s so nice. <3 Restoring my faith in humanity. I think your slip was absolutely understandable given you were caught by surprise and worried he'd be sacked for all the wrong reasons.

  2. PontoonPirate*

    Best update. I’ve been thinking about this guy since the letter ran. OP, thanks for taking on the work of reaching out on his behalf. I hope he gets to solid ground soon.

  3. NickelandDime*

    I’m so happy this worked out for him and I hope he gets on his feet.

    And just as I feared, they were going to fire him for being so sketchy with his attendance. I wish he’d said something before it got to that point, but it worked out!

    You’re a good egg, OP.

  4. LS*

    Awesome update and kudos to your manager and CEO for handling the situation so kindly and discreetly!

  5. Charlotte Collins*

    This is a great update! It’s reaffirming my faith in my fellow human being, which has been a bit shaky lately…

  6. Sunshine Brite*

    So glad the manager reached out in this case. So often they wouldn’t, must’ve gotten an inkling or gut feeling there was more to it.

  7. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    That’s awesome. And good for the manager for asking questions before jumping to conclusions about what was going on.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Yeah, I think this is great! Lots of kudos to the CEO, but big props to the manager for trying to find out more in some non-confrontational way. (though, not so cool to put the OP in the middle, but still better than just unilaterally dumping the guy)

      Also, it’s clear that they consider him a good employee, so points to him for that!

  8. Stranger than fiction*

    Hi Op that sounds like everything is going in the right direction. Question: did he look into receiving social security survivors benefits for the children?! Assuming you’re in the US and his wife worked above the table at some point, they automatically qualify for this benefit until they’re 18, but it’s not like they come knocking at your he has to go down to his nearest ssa office. This would help him and the kids enormously! Not sure if you had seen my previous suggestion

    1. AcidMeFlux*

      This could really help if it works. A lot of people don’t know about this possibility and I’ve seen it make a big difference in the lives of a number of people.

    2. Dana*

      My dad died when I was 17 and my brother was 14. We got (well, my mom got) the SSA benefits for us until we were 18. It made a huge difference for our family!

    3. the gold digger*

      May I put in a plug for life insurance? Life insurance is not just for an earning spouse – when the stay at home parent dies, it can be very expensive to fill the void. Term life insurance for a young, healthy non-smoker is pretty inexpensive.

      1. OfficePrincess*


        My husband and I don’t even have kids yet, but we realized that neither of us would be able to live on just our own paychecks, between student loans (yes, federal loans are forgiven if you die, but if he wasn’t alive and working, I’m not sure I could pay mine and vice versa), the two-year lease we just signed, and general living expenses. Our monthly payment for both of us is less than our electric bill.

      2. Daria*

        My mom was a SAHM and my parents carried MORE insurance on her than they did on my dad. My dad’s career required a lot of travel, so for him to continue working, he would have had to hire a live in nanny.

      3. TootsNYC*

        And if life insurance seems expensive consider First-to-Die Life Insurance.

        Then it’s one premium to cover both parents, but only one death.

        Also–the working parent may have life insurance through work (I do), but an at-home parent won’t have that, so you’ll need to go seek out life insurance.

        1. Sigrid*

          Oh, interesting, I didn’t know that existed! My partners and I aren’t going to have children, but we have plenty of friends who do/will. I’ll keep that in mind as a possibility if such things ever come up in conversation with them.

      4. BananaPants*

        Every parent of a minor child should have term life insurance. I don’t agree with all of his advice or his attitude, but Dave Ramsey recommends 8-10X your annual salary. That starts to get up there once you’re a higher earner, though. We’re getting 10X on my husband and around 6x on me (I bring in 70% of our household income but am obese according to the BMI charts and that drives up premiums). We want to make sure that if anything happened to either of us, the surviving parent would have enough money to replace the lost income and pay for things like child care, the mortgage, etc. If something happened to both of us, our kids’ guardians would have the funds to raise them without negatively impacting their own finances.

        I have coworkers who have lost a spouse to cancer in their 40s with kids still at home. Nothing can bring a spouse/parent back, but at least with sufficient life insurance there’s far less financial stress while dealing with the emotional devastation.

        1. MashaKasha*

          I took mine out the year I got divorced and bought a house. The kids were 17 and 14.5 at the time. I didn’t know about the 10x annual salary rule, and I admit what I took out was a bit less than that. I set mine at 600K. I figured the kids would use 200K to pay off the house and any other outstanding debts (we’re in the midwest, so RE is cheap), and 200K/each to get themselves through school and on their feet. I made mine a 10-year term one because I figured the kids should be able to at least somehow support themselves when they’re 24 and 27. I was fortunate to be in perfect shape that year, health-wise (normally my cholesterol is a bit high, but that year for some reason it came back normal), so I got a decent deal on the premium.

          I am embarrassed to say that my then husband and I never even considered getting life insurance while we were married – but we definitely should have! Once I was on my own though, I was terrified of what could happen if I were gone and the kids did not have their own income yet, and their dad, though a super nice guy, didn’t really have a legal obligation to care for them and could have whatever issues of their own by that time (maybe a new family and kids, who knows!) so I got life insurance really quickly then.

          Agree with your second paragraph – I knew someone whose husband had brought her from Greece when she was 17, and told her not to worry about anything, he’d support the family. She never even learned much English, or how to drive. Then he died suddenly of a heart attack at 50 and she was left alone with three school-age kids, no life skills, and no marketable job skills. THAT was when she found out he didn’t have life insurance. She had an incredibly rough time for the first several years. Insurance would’ve definitely softened that blow.

    4. Letter Writer*

      Not sure on this one–I hadn’t brought it up before, but I’ll suggest it to him so he can discuss with his case manager

  9. AmericanInEngland*

    This made my heart smile. I love it when people reach out with compassion. I, too, would like to hug the CEO. Thanks for the update.

  10. Diddly*

    So glad to read that, actually made me a little teary.
    So sad he felt he couldn’t he could speak up, hope this shows (and recent credit card mis-use update) that speaking up often works out very well and people (in case of credit card situation) can be surprisingly understanding. Although I feel in this situation any employer would feel for their employee and try to help as best they can.
    But YAY lovely to read.

  11. brightstar*

    I’m glad this update is a happy one, and that things improve more for your co-worker. This makes the company you both work for look like one of the good ones!

  12. Katie the Fed*

    Ahhhh this is such a nice update. It was such a nice update I’ll overlook the weirdness of the boss asking you about the coworker instead the coworker himself.

    1. NickelandDime*

      This is true. I wish he had gone to the boss and said something, and I wish the boss had asked him directly.

    2. Megan*

      And the additional weirdness of the boss being ready to FIRE him just because she SUSPECTED he was itnerviewing! Wow!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It could have been mainly about the absences though. It’s possible that she talked to him about the absences, and as we know he didn’t want to tell her what was really going on, and so she drew weird conclusions but ultimately was still left with a frequently absent employee who she probably assumed was checked out of the job.

      2. Naomi*

        Idk I think there’s a difference between firing someone for interviewing and firing someone for skipping a day every week to interview.

        1. Megan*

          This is a good point I hadn’t considered – attendance issues ARE issues, even if they’re because of something like this. Hopefully searching/interviewing alone wouldn’t be cause for firing.

      3. jmkenrick*

        It’s also possible that by “ready to fire him”, what OP meant was “ready to put on a serious PIP and bring in higher-ups to start documenting”, which is really a position most of us would prefer not to be in.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I agree (and made this same comment elsewhere, I think). People use euphemisms frequently; if this manager was willing to talk to some other coworker, then she wasn’t *really* “about to fire him”; she was “frustrated enough that she was wondering if she was going to need to fire him.”

          If she was truly about to fire him, she’d have been doing more than seeking out information in what she hoped was a discreet way.

          I think that approaching the OP was a way to get a subtle warning to the guy without having to actually say something to his face, which might have been more drama than she really wanted. I don’t think people have these sorts of conversations supposedly “behind someone’s back” without subconsciously hoping that it WILL get back to him.

    3. MissLibby*

      I thought the same thing, that was weird.

      Also, did the manager not know that this guy lost his wife and mother in law recently? Seems like something a manager would have known about and maybe put together that he was having problems at home due to losing two people very close to him and that was contributing to his absences?

      1. Cat*

        That might have been why he asked the OP though. If the co-worker wasn’t fessing up to anything specific but he still had a sense something was wrong, and knew the OP was close to the guy, I can see asking.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Maybe not so weird, considering that maybe she did not want to fire him and she was hoping for something/anything to avoid firing him. Perhaps in sheer desperation she mentioned it to OP. Well, thank goodness. Clearly, coworker was not going to tell her and she had to know this piece of the puzzle.

      I think OP handled the inquiry well. She told the boss what the boss needed to know to make a fair decision. For some reason, I don’t think OP discussed any of this with any one else she works with- that is using discretion. Kudos to OP, you handled this very nicely. And you impacted the lives of three people- dad and kids. Very well done.

  13. Erin*

    I’ve literally been thinking of this guy. So happy to read this. It can really hard to ask for and accept help, and it sounds like he’s coming into a place where he is able to do that.

    Also, what an awesome, tactful way the CEO handled the situation. Great update all around!

    1. Jesse*

      Yes! All of that.

      So great to hear a good-news update. I’m especially glad he reached out for services which he deserves.

      1. Another HRPro*

        Yes. These types of services are available just for these situations. So happy he is taking advantage of what is available. Great job in helping your friend and co-worker OP. :)

    2. zora*

      Yes, exactly!!! And I’m so glad he has realized that he can get a little bit of help from others when life has thrown you curve balls. It doesn’t mean you aren’t able to handle life yourself, but we all go through short times when some support and help just helps you get through till things get better. We are social animals, us humans! It doesn’t mean we are any less capable. Thanks for the update, LW!!!

  14. periwinkle*

    It’s mostly a wonderful update, but I couldn’t quite applaud the manager 100% as she was ready to fire an employee who *might* have been looking for another job opportunity. Huge, huge applause to the tactful CEO, though.

    1. Lizzieb*

      In fairness, it may have looked like he already had a foot out the door if his frequent absences were all looking like interviews. I wouldn’t fire someone for looking, but I’d be peeved if they seemed to be looking so intensely that they weren’t fulfilling obligations at their current job. She should have asked the guy himself though.

      Glad it worked out, OP!

    2. Letter Writer*

      Not to be all defensive of my boss, but I think it was more because of the chronic absence/perceived unreliability than the fact that he may have been interviewing

    3. OfficePrincess*

      As far as the boss could tell, he *might* have been interviewing or doing any one of a number of other things, but was *definitely* missing a day every week on no notice and not being upfront about why. I can understand being embarrassed and not wanting to go into details, but after a while the excuses start to add up and sound fake. So the manager has someone who is chronically absent and not being upfront about it. I can totally see taking disciplinary action, including firing them.

  15. Michelle*

    So glad things are looking up for him. He and his children have suffered through two major losses, so big hugs to them, too.

  16. Mimmy*

    Just skimmed through the original thread. First, thank you to the OP for the update. I hope your coworker is back on solid footing soon!

  17. Telecurmudgeon*

    In the original thread, the OP mentioned that “telecommuting isn’t an option in our line of work.” It makes you wonder how often people paint themselves into a corner with self-imposed restrictions that are ultimately false.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Well, in our line of work, it really isn’t. Our CEO is being remarkably kind…my coworker really CANT do his job from work–he’s essentially being given a 3 day weekend. The only work he can do is check email from home–the essential duties can’t be done

      1. Green*

        That’s very impressive! (Especially with the gift card-in-the-bag.) Hopefully he can use this period of “grace” from the CEO to work with his case manager and set up long-term solutions. It sounds like both work flexibility and asking for help from non-profits are going to be critical to getting a long-term plan in place.

        1. Letter Writer*

          From what he told me, it sounds like he’ll have access to the subsidized childcare for at least a year, so that will be an immense help. He then can reapply for another year of care.

  18. LawBee*

    Wonderful! What good news for him, and what a good friend you are – and props to the boss as well!

  19. LD*

    So glad things are better. This restores my faith in good people and OP, you are a good person. Thank you for sharing this update.

  20. Shell*

    I’m side-eyeing the fact that the manager was ready to fire the coworker without asking the coworker directly, but given what the OP said I’m not sure if the coworker would’ve been able to admit the truth when put on the spot like that (rather than psyching himself up for it over a few days). So I suppose all in all this was the best result possible. Good on the CEO for being so tactful too (and the management will, I hope, shut down any complaints from other people about this coworker getting the work from home perk).

    Thanks for the update, OP, and I’m glad your coworker has you in his corner.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Also, the “I’m ready to fire him because I think he’s interviewing. Do you know what’s going on with him?” may have been hyperbole used to emphasize the importance of the answer to her. It may also have been shorthand for “I’m ready to put him on a PIP, which usually results in a firing.”

  21. Dr. Doll*

    My goodness, thank you SO MUCH for writing back, OP! This is a wonderful update. (Definitely counteracted the downer that reading the New York Times was this morning!)

  22. Dr. Pepper Addict*

    Wow, THIS is the type of update that I like seeing on here. I’m glad the posters were able to provide some good advice that seems to have helped.

    And OP, don’t feel bad for telling his situation to the boss. You quite possibly may have saved his job. If the boss didn’t know, it’s possible he could have been fired with no job and two kids to take care of. I think what you did showed great discernment, as to when it’s ok to let confidential information be known. And props to the boss for reacting accordingly in a way that helped him.

  23. June*

    I’ve got a big ‘effing grin on my face at work. This made a stressful day SO much better!

  24. T*

    This is good news. There are so many people out there who genuinely need assistance but a minority that take advantage of public resources and charities give everyone in need a bad name. I honestly believe that most people only want a helping hand so they can start providing for themselves again and someday help others. The person in OP’s letter is a perfect example of someone who truly needs short-term help from the community and/or government programs. Without help, he could easily lose his job and permanently require assistance which would put a long-term drain on resources.

    1. Sparky*

      What a great update! This guy’s situation has been haunting me. I know many of us were willing to try and get funds of some kind to the OP to pass on. That didn’t work out, but I decided to give a little bit extra to the local Womens’ Shelter; giving them what I would have sent to help this guy out. I mention this in case anyone else feels inspired to do the same thing with one of their local charities. Lots of people need lots of help. Animal shelters too.

  25. eplawyer*

    This is great news. Honestly, managers should set up a work culture where people can go to their bosses and seek relief when a major life event like this happens. That way the boss can create a special situation for the person for a time. The guy was hiding the problem which created another problem so bad he almost got fired. I am sure he felt there was no solution so why bring it up?

    CEOs are people too. If they know about a problem and an employee is worth, they will find a way.

  26. Amy*


    I don’t even have caps big enough for this. The man is paid so little he CAN’T AFFORD GAS. You’re the CEO – look into his m.f. wage! He’s helping to make your business run! Pay him adequately!

    Jesus. And all you blowing kisses at the CEO.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Uh, we really, really don’t know enough to say that. Lots of jobs pay a fair wage but aren’t designed to support a family of three on, particularly one that may have medical bills or who knows what else.

      The OP said last time that the wage is in line with others in their area.

      1. Another HRPro*

        The median wage in the US per person is $26,695 and the median household income is at $50,500. If this person went from having a household income of about $50,500 and had help with childcare and is now making around $26K without childcare, it is very reasonable to understand his financial difficulty. This does not mean he is underpaid by his company. It means that his expenses exceed his income. No need to judge the CEO so harshly when he demonstrated great empathy and tact when he learned of the situation.

      2. Cat*

        Especially when daycare can cost $1500 + per month – if he had two kids not in school, daycare alone could be taking up the majority of a quite decent salary.

    2. NurseB*

      Wow. I think this response is WILDLY out of place. There are LOTS of reasons this man may not be able to afford gas without it being the bosses fault in any way. What if his wife made more than he did and they have a huge mortgage and never expected he would have to make it on one salary?? What if he drives a gas guzzling SUV that’s paid for but he couldn’t sell it and buy a fuel efficient vehicle out right with the money from the sale? Seriously, you are assuming a LOT here.

      I mean, give me a break. My husband and I make 110K+. If I died and the household income dropped to 40K+ and my husband didn’t have my life insurance, his and our children’s quality of life would be DRAMATICALLY different. We don’t even have a massive mortgage and our cars are paid off but bills still come in and things still come up. My husband’s boss wouldn’t be expected to give him a $70K raise just because I died.

      There is NOTHING you said in your reply that shows you gave any thought as to how something like that could happen without blaming the boss. He has very little to do with that man’s personal debt/financial situation and given that the OP didn’t say they were underpaid for their profession, your response is redonkulous.

    3. Lionness*

      Amy, that is a huge assumption. By all accounts, it seems he was able to pay his gas before his wife and mother in law died leaving him as the sole supporter of two children. For all we know, there are medical bills and sudden child care expenses that are eating up an otherwise perfectly adequate salary.

      For example, I make a very good wage. However, if tomorrow I was suddenly charged with caring for my nephew, I would have trouble making ends meet because my current expenses are built around me as a single person without children. It wouldn’t mean my pay was insufficient, it would mean I experienced a sudden change that impacted my budget.

        1. Ygritte*

          Not to mention the poor man just had to pay for 2 funerals – my moms was not extravagant and ran around $7k

          1. Stephanie*

            And medical bills. Depending on how much end of life care was used…those aren’t cheap.

            1. Sparky*

              And the mother in law was the child minder, I believe, so that’s a new expense for him.

    4. Anx*

      I’ll be the first to say how much it sucks to work for less than a living wage. I’ve been living that life for the better part of a decade with no end in sight.

      But this person is struggling because of two consecutive major life events. I make less than 5,000 a year (at significantly more than minimum wage- none of my coworkers are full-time, our organization depends on part-time, no benefit employees). I am in a better situation than this worker who may be making because I don’t have dependents, I have a working partner, and I don’t have any medical debt.

      I have a hard time faulting a single CEO for failing to prevent a situation like this. The problem is that we are almost completely dependent on a dual income household if kids are in the picture, when just a few years ago the minimum wage was enough to house a small family with one working, full-time parent.

      We also don’t know how large the company is and what kind of power they have to help raise wages in their industry.

        1. Barney Stinson*

          Actually, the part about minimum wage ever being enough to support a family with one working parent is not true. The original minimum wage was .25 per hour (around $4.00 per hour in 2012 value)…I don’t think that was enough to cover a full family.

    5. LSP*

      I hear you, lady!

      However, I respectfully disagree with the salary assumption. I’ll use myself as an example: I am in the top 10% of salaries for people my age (millennial, ultimately not that much $$$) As is my husband. We still live with his low wage earning brother because we still can’t afford to rent a place with out him and clearly he can’t without us either. I budget, rarley spend frivously, but when will I (and hundreds of thousands like you and me) not feel like this? I make enough, but so many can’t!

      I don’t think we’ll ever know OP Single Dad’s full situation (read: what are all the elements that is causing him to be so broke he can’t afford gas anymore/ which isn’t our business to know anyway), but I think a raise of that magnitude wouldn’t be doable anyway.

      I watched The True Cost this weekend on Netflix. It’s supposed to be about cheap fashion, but it really is more about wage injustice. Check it out.

      1. AnotherFed*

        And then there’s the bit where kids are just expensive, especially when you have to pay for child care because there isn’t a relative available to watch them. I live in a low COL area and can afford to live on my own, but if I had to suddenly take full responsibility for a kid, it would be incredibly hard to manage. Things that are fine now wouldn’t be then, but they’d be hard to change quickly. For example, my house and commute – the mortgage payment is a little over half my income, and my commute is about an hour each way. That means the kid is in daycare for 10 hours, and I only have half my income to flex to pay for it, even if I go nuts and never use electricity, shower at the work gym, and only eat peanut butter sandwiches (which would probably convince social services to take the kid away…)! It could easily be the same story for this guy – if he’s lost half the household income and now has added expenses for child care, that’s a huge difference, and it’s certainly not the fault of the company.

        1. Anon for this....*

          I ended up helping to take over the care of two high schools age kids for 12-18 months when they moved into to live with their brother who is a close friend as well as my roommate after both parents got sent to prison.

          There were two of us both earning over minimum wage but God it was hard the costs never stopped food, drink, clothes, shoes, school trips, lunch money, bus fare and a whole list of other things I cant even remember, add on to that gas money to get them to visit two different prisons and sending a little bit of phone money so the parents could talk to their kids and it really stretched us both, this was with out childcare costs which would have well and truly broke the bank.

          1. Stephanie*

            OT, but that’s awesome you were able to do that, even if it was a stretch financially. I hope it gave those kids some stability and happiness in what sounds like a crappy situation.

            1. Anon for this....*

              Thanks :) considering I could barly look after myself before I think it went pretty well.

              There were a few tantrums and shouting matches but generally they were happy to be with us and some of it could be fun, leaving them to the care system just wasn’t an option.

              It also made me think I might make a half way functioning parent in the future.

            2. Jean*

              + 1,000
              You and your roommate/the kids’ brother realllly really did a gazillion good deeds!

              Based on what you wrote here I think you might indeed “make a half way functioning parent in the future.”

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Maybe the cheers and applause will motivate more good behavior. Or maybe someone reading here will see this and realize, “Oh. I can apply the story here to a situation I see.”

      If the CEO is actually under paying his people he can deal with that over the next weeks/months. OP’s coworker had reached crisis stage and could not wait weeks/months for some relief.

    7. Coach Devie*

      Did it even ever occur to you that his wage might be a living wage BUT HE LOST HIS PARTNER (news alert: HIS WIFE DIED) WHO MAY HAVE BEEN THE SECOND INCOME or who cared for the children during the day (THUS CHILDCARE WASN’T IN THE BUDGET BEFORE) in his family?

      Whew, thinking abstractly seems to be difficult for a lot of people.

  27. Amy*

    I posted this on a facebook thread that Allison deleted, because apparently she still doesn’t get how shocking and immoral it is to employ someone to work fulltime enriching you, and then pay him so little he can’t feed his kids and put gas in his car, and buy childcare so he can actually work. She wants a female relative or some other saint to work for free, looking after the kids. That’s how she thinks employers should get labor out of people: have a lot of people working for free.

    She keeps clinging to this idea that the guy’s got such big medical bills they leave him unable to buy food and gas. Even in the US, if you have major medical debt, you can structure it so that you can still afford to live. You can also file bankruptcy, which also allows you money for living expenses. Basically, the guy’s not being paid enough, and Allison, for no obvious reason, is defending the practice of paying people so little they can’t live.

    I’ve shared this around and I’ll be interested to see where it goes from here and what else Allison deletes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Uh, I didn’t delete it; it’s still there. But I’m about to ban you from both here and the Facebook page because you’re being weirdly hostile and confrontational. You’re drawing this out of nowhere; nothing you’ve said about my stance here is actually anything I’ve said.

    2. Another HRPro*

      Amy – The OP clearly states in the original letter that they receive a competitive salary. You seem to have your own personal bias that you are applying to this situation. We should go on the facts that are presented to us. And the facts in this instance is that this person is not underpaid. In some cases you are correct. Some individuals do work in situations where they are underpaid and for whatever reasons (some in their control and some not) they do not leave that situation to find a higher paying job. But that is not the case here, according to the OP.

      1. jmkenrick*

        I agree with Another HRPro – there are a lot of issues regarding income and inequality that our society has to deal with. However, in this particular situation, we generally go off of what the letter writer says. In this case, she mentions that they are paid a fair wage.

        It is possible, depending on his circumstances, that he is fairly paid but his income is spread so thin that he’s having trouble. Also, he may well have been trying to figure out a way to avoid filing for bankruptcy, which, although a possibility, isn’t good for your long term credit.

    3. Stephanie*

      Yeah, but bankruptcy could really screw him over in the long run, especially if he works in an industry or role where credit checks could happen (I’m thinking something like procurement or a financial advisor role) and it might make it tough for him to find housing, get a car loan, etc. OP’s coworker may have decided it’s not the best solution at the moment. My mom was next of kin for my aunt, and there were lots of bills and arguing with insurance after my aunt’s death (and my aunt had very good insurance).

      I get where you’re coming from. I work somewhere where people are paid pretty lowly (myself included) and often have second or third jobs. But it doesn’t sound like this is a raise the pitchforks situation. OP says they’re paid fairly and that the one-two punch of his wife and MIL dying put him in a rough spot financially.

    4. Katie the Fed*


      I’d urge you to take a step back and really re-read the original letter and comments (you can skip all the “poor people are lazy!” ones). This guy seems completely in over his head financially, and very proud – too proud to tell his boss what was going on, too proud to declare bankruptcy, etc. You’re adding a lot of information and assumptions that weren’t there.

      There is a discussion to be had about wages and inequality in this country, but this isn’t the place. But writing to your elected officials is DEFINITELY the place, so please do it.

    5. JoAnna*

      My husband and I can barely make ends meet while paying full-time daycare for two kids, and we have two salaries. We had to pull our kids out of daycare when my husband lost his job last summer because it was impossible to pay for daycare for two kids on my salary alone. Simply impossible. Daycare costs more than a mortgage payment, especially if you have more than one kid.

      1. BananaPants*

        Amen to that! Full time child care for a 5 year old and a 2 year old is our household’s single largest expense, greater than our mortgage. We shot ourselves in the foot in a major way by caving to extended family pressures to keep our older child in daycare when my husband was laid off, putting child care on CREDIT CARDS to keep afloat until he was working again. The job he took was shitty and we ended up losing money after child care and commuting expenses and then he was a SAHD for a year. He has now returned to work, but unless he can pick up overtime his take home pay will be only slightly more than the cost of child care and his commuting expenses. I’m so looking forward to next month when our older kiddo starts school and our child care expenses go down by $50/week; $200/month doesn’t seem like much but we have a lot of debt to pay off and it will help.

        To Amy the Troll: my husband was the one “working for free, looking after the kids” for most of the last year because it was the only way we could get by financially. My employer didn’t give me a raise to pay for daycare; my childbearing and my spouse’s income is not their concern. My boss doesn’t even know that we’re back to being a two income household because it’s none of his freaking business unless it impacts my ability to do my job (i.e. I now cannot travel for work on very short notice due to my husband working an afternoon/evening shift). There are major issues with income inequality in our society and the fact that the typical American family now needs two incomes in order to make ends meet, when a generation or two ago most could get by on one if they chose – but jumping to this particular employee being unpaid is a serious stretch.

    6. TheLazyB (UK)*

      “She wants a female relative or some other saint to work for free, looking after the kids. That’s how she thinks employers should get labor out of people: have a lot of people working for free.”

      What?! That’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.

      (Why am I feeding the troll?!)

    7. Erin*

      Have you ever read any money/budgeting books or blogs?

      Even if it was plausible for the CEO to give him a raise, that would not be the answer to his money problems. He needs help learning how to budget his income and expenses every month, and throwing more money at him would only be a band-aid on the problem.

      Even if someone paid off all his debt right now, while that would certainly help, it would not teach him how to manage his money going forward.

      Even if if you’re in the right – which you’re not – your rude and abrasive manner clouds any fair point you might actually have. I suspect you’re well aware of what you’re doing, though, and are just trying to stir up trouble.

      1. TootsNYC*

        We don’t know that he doesn’t know how to manage his money. He may simply have more expenses than income. Or, he’s behind right now and can’t get ahead fast enough, or doesn’t have enough time or energy to come up with solutions that give him the boost to get past the hump.

        When you get behind in cash flow, it’s not always that easy to get back ahead, even if you are pretty good at managing your money. Once you DO get back ahead, it might not be so hard to stay there.

  28. Amy*

    Really? The comments seem to be gone.

    You keep talking about how he maybe has giant medical expenses that eat his ability to feed his kids. I’ve said that’s deeply unlikely, and why. Then you point to childcare. And I point out what’s wrong with your bizarre notion there. What is it exactly that I’m remarking on that misrepresents you?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, they’re still there.

      However, once I ban you — which I will do if you continue spamming my blog by trying to post the same hostile comment on multiple unrelated posts and/or if you continue to be rude and hostile in general — then I think it does disappear. But I haven’t done that as of now.

      1. Liz T.*

        A bit off-topic, but this led me to the Facebook page…and I don’t see *any* comments on *any of the posts.* Is there more than one page?

    2. NurseB*

      Did you read ANY of the responses? This is NOT about him having a “living wage”. By all accounts, he makes a fair wage for what he does. His boss is NOT responsible for giving him a raise just to get him up to what was presumably a two wage household and back in to a better financial situation. He had two major life tragedies happen that affected him and apparently didn’t have life insurance. That is NOT his bosses fault. I wouldn’t expect a huge raise if my husband died. There are resources for a reason and this man now has them. He was too proud to ask but the situation played out and now he’s getting back on his feet. This is a positive outcome and nothing less.

    3. Apollo Warbucks*

      The facts presented are that the mans wife died this will mean the family no longer has her income, there is a very good chance that there were medic bills, if someone dies chances are they were in hospital at some point! And there could have been funeral costs to meet. After losing his wife his mother in law died which meant an increas in childcare costs.

      Do you see how a decrease in income with an increas in bills could lead to this man having trouble meeting all his expenses? Not to mention the emotional strain of keeping things ticking over at home and work.

      I’ve no idea what your beef with Alison is, but she runs this blog with a very light touch with little to no moderation, (I’ve seen recently where she sets the bar for removing comments and it has to be petty offensive) and she hasn’t passe any judgement on the salary being paid or the guys family situation so the conclusions you’ve drawn that Alison is defending the practice of paying people so little they can’t live or that a femal relative should have to stay at home with the kids is widely off base, unsupported by any single peace of evidence you will find in any post she has ever written for this site, and to cap it all is really rather offensive to her personally.

      As already pointed out your comments are not conducive to the type of civilised conversations most of the commentoers here like to have, dissent is welcome rude obnoxious jackassary is not.

    4. Katie the Fed*

      I’m responding to your FB comments because I want to remain anonymous.

      -Bankruptcy only works if you declare it. This guy clearly isn’t ready to declare it.
      – Medical bills are very likely, especially given his wife recently died.
      – He also lost his mother in law, who had been providing free childcare.
      – As far as the CEO, based on the OP’s description of this person he is way too proud to take charity and I get the sense he would be humiliated if the CEO called him and offered him gas money. But this was a face-saving move that allowed this man to preserve his job and his dignity.

    5. Sunshine Brite*

      Wow. I’m all about income inequality, but that to me represents big business a lot more. This sounds like a smaller company which may not have the means to raise wages past the norm. He had 2 huge losses very close together resulting in (at an absolute minimum) regular childcare costs that he never had previously had. I don’t know how you find it bizarre that a household based on 2 incomes dropping to 1 and losing childcare isn’t stretched to the max.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Yeah, if this guy works in the same physical office as the CEO, and the CEO is in a position where it wouldn’t be SO weird for him to personally say, “let’s have you work from home one day a week,” then it’s not a huge corporation.

        Of course, that means he would probably have more say about salary levels than he might at a big corporation w/ managers under him who are arguing for another financial pattern, so yes, he should probably look at that.

        Who knows–maybe he will.

    6. OfficePrincess*

      I don’t know what’s going on in your life that’s got you all in a twist, but you’re at a point where you’re being not only rude, but also just not making sense. His wife died. It’s pretty impossible to do that without at least SOME medical expenses – even an ambulance trip to the ER to be pronounced dead can run into the thousands and it any medical care she received would just drive it higher, which is far from “deeply unlikely”. While some hospitals will let you set up payment plans, others have pretty strict criteria and the minimum payment can be pretty high. Then there is the cost of the funeral, which would also be in the thousands. Between those two things alone, you would have expenses totaling two or more months salary based on the median household income. But that household just dropped to one income, so 4+ months for OP’s coworker. But needs like gas and groceries haven’t gone away. Then you factor in that the MIL had been providing free childcare, but also passed away. I’m not sure what’s bizarre about the idea that something that was once free can then have to cost money, and an not insignificant amount at that. Suddenly having a need for childcare also means that he can’t be picky and get on the waiting list for the best option for his budget, he has to take whatever has an opening.

      I’m not sure where the idea that the CEO owes the OP’s coworker a salary that fits his expenses comes from. He is owed a fair salary at the market rate for what he does. If John and Bob have the same job and same performance, should John be paid more than Bob because Bob’s wife makes a good salary and John is single? What if then Bob’s wife loses her job, should he get a raise?

      1. TootsNYC*

        Well, the argument might be that both John and Bob should earn enough money that they can support a family on a single wage. And I can go along with the idea that people who work full-time ought to be able to support a family of 4 on one wage if they live very frugally.

        But as you point out–our OP’s colleague probably *is* living frugally, and he’s just behind because of the crises (yes, “-es” not “-is”). He may be fine once he gets past this hump!

    7. Not So NewReader*

      I’d like to meet someone whose spouse got sick and died and they did NOT have giant medical expenses. I don’t see what is so unusual there. In three months time, my husband’s out of pocket medical was $20K, plus funeral, plus attorneys, plus…..

      And I was not working at the time, so we had been spending down our savings for those three months and the bills for him rolled in for months after he died. (I had been doing 24/7 care for him.) It got a little nerve-wracking there.

      If you are angry about how people are under paid in this country that is fine, but that is a separate issue at the moment. A person in crisis cannot wait for an entire country to revamp what it is doing. That person needs help now. OP’s question was “what do I do now?”. And Alison plus the AAM group answered her, “Here is what to do given our givens at this time…”

      To extend that answer out to what is wrong with our society does not provide any immediate help for OP nor her coworker.
      Think of it this way, if your house is on fire do you argue with the person who writes the housing codes for the electrical wiring or do you call the fire company?

      1. fposte*

        Yes, apparently Amy’s moral indignation is so great she can’t bring herself to actually read about the man she’s defending.

    8. nona*

      Alison, one L.

      She never actually said anything that you’ve claimed.

      You also seem to have mistaken other commenters’ posts for Alison’s. Which, what. Knock it off.

  29. Letter Writer*

    So I feel compelled to address the weirdly hostile accusations towards the CEO and my company.

    My coworker has a similar job to me (same level) but has been there a bit longer. It is not an incredibly skilled job, does not require higher degrees or technical training. We are in a rural area where these jobs are the norm.

    My salary is enough to pay for my rent on a small one bedroom, all of my bills and living expenses, with some left over for fun/clothes (about $150 a month) and savings (about $300 a month). I’m single with no kids, so that’s a very comfortable living for me.

    My company also gives 5% to our 401Ks, regardless if we contribute or not. We have very generous medical benefits.

    My coworker makes a bit more since he’s been here longer. His wife worked, and they did live quite comfortably while there was 2 incomes. She did have cancer and was unable to work for a time, and left medical bills when she died, so he got hit both with those bills, the lack of a second income, and the need for childcare when his MIL died.

    My coworker is good at his job, but like I said, our job isn’t specialized or highly skilled. If he left to pursue another company, our salary is pretty consistent with other employers in the area. He would have to travel about 2 hours to get to the nearest city for a better salary, but the cost of living is much higher that way.

    Our pay is well above minimum wage, and as I said, for a single person, it’s plenty. And while he had childcare, he was managing his family of 3 on this salary too. I think it’s more shocking how expensive childcare is!!!

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I think most people realised from this and the previous post that this was the most likely situation, I do wonder if Amy is for real or just trying to stir up trouble?

        1. Stephanie*

          Ha. I am amazed at your ability to control the Internet. My friend was looking for book recommendations and I emailed her a book open thread and she’s like “Wow. That’s like the most civil Internet discussion I’ve seen ever.”

          1. Jennifer O*

            I started reading this blog a few months after Alison started it. It’s one of my favourite sites. I love the advice and perspective Alison offers, as well as the community that she hosts.

            I also *really* value situations like this, where we can see her advice in action.

            When responding to letters about how to fire/discipline people, Alison is consistent in her advice: be clear about what the problem behaviour is; explain the bar that needs to be met; be transparent about the consequences. Not only does this allow the individual to not be blindsided / shocked with the consequence, but also allows others witnessing it to know how conflict and consequences are handled.

            Although it’s unpleasant to have situations like this come up – especially in such a heartwarming update – I must say that I *really* value them because I can see Alison follow through with the advice she shares with us daily (including how she phrases things): how she interacts with people, states expected behaviours, stays calm, gives warnings, follows through, and also addresses the concerns of other commenters.

            The way she is handling Amy is consistent with how she responds to letter writers asking to fire/discipline people. Thanks again, Alison!

    2. Chrissi*

      Those benefits sound great!! I used to collect compensation data as my job, and back then benefits were about 13% of total compensation (national average across all job types) if you monetize everything (leave, insurances, and defined contribution/benefit plans). In this case, it sounds like the benefits in comparison w/ the pay might make it significantly more, which really raises the total compensation package significantly. Which is another point towards the company paying ok – you always have to look at the whole package. A lot of time people think of the salary and benefits as two separate things, but they are both compensation.

      Thank you for updating us, and thank you for being a wonderful person who was willing to take action in an unobtrusive way to help someone in dire straits, rather than just staying out of it like many people do. You are awesome.

    3. Knit Pixie*

      Hello LW, I hope that a few months down the road you can update us again? I hope the good news continues, as this man and his has been through alot. Kudos to you for your unwavering support.

    4. Jill of All Trades*

      She seems to be envisioning the CEO as a cigar chomping cartoon fat cat bad guy no matter what anyone says; I don’t know what is going on with her but the level of blame slinging and unsupported assumptions driven by outrage toward the CEO and Allison makes me sad. I would hate to be that angry.

      I’ve been in the situation of burning PTO because I couldn’t afford gas, and what put me in that position was having an unexpected and untimely vet bill for a sick dog at the time I was paying off old misspent credit, moving out of my ex-fiancé’s house, and putting down deposits on an apartment – I ended up with a negative checking account balance for 8 months and a constant, stressful juggling act. In other words, nothing compared to your coworker and his family tragedies. I made okay money at the time and I got out from under it with time and serious scrimping, but this can happen to anyone who gets near the edge for any reason, regardless of income level. Sometimes things fall apart, and the lynchpin can be pretty small. It’s not the CEO’s responsibility to match pay to employee expenses, but this guy did a kind, face saving act that is providing relief to the coworker and buying him time to get his new reality in order. I wish I’d had that kind of relief when I was in trouble (and too proud as well).

    5. Elizabeth West*

      Wages tend to be lower in more rural areas, too–the cost of living is mostly lower, but after the recession, prices went up everywhere. So losing an income like he did, and having all those extra expenses on top of that, it’s no wonder he’s been floundering.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I always think, “sure, your rent, etc., is lower–but GAS!” I guess I pay plenty for a subway pass, but I don’t have to use the subway for everywhere I go.

  30. Sparky*

    The CEO is giving the employee one work from home a day a week, which will save on gas money. The LW indicated that he probably won’t be able to do a full day’s work from home, so the CEO is paying him the same amount for less, which is kind of like a raise. If he can take calls and check e-mail and put in some work, he might also be able to catch up on laundry and dish cleaning, especially if the kids are in daycare while he’s working from home. He can throw a crock pot meal together or catch up on other small chores, or have an appointment with his social worker. I’d guess that with these recent losses he is probably just barely getting through the minimum of everything that has to be done, and now he is solely responsible for his children, who are also grieving the loss of their mother and grandmother. He might also use this time working from home to just collapse with grief, if that is something he needs. The CEO is giving him a great gift right now allowing him to have a day a week to work from home, and this is a great example of someone making reasonable accommodations for a good employee to fit their current situation, instead of being rigid about the no telecommuting.

  31. Kristine*

    Thanks for the update – this is a story I could not forget. I’m glad that the CEO was willing to be flexible.

  32. Fish Microwaver*

    OP, you are a kind and generous person and I wish you all good things in life. You have thrown your poor colleague a life preserver and I’m so glad that he is doing better.

  33. JustTeaForMeThanks*

    I was hoping for an update for this! Wonderful to hear the great outcome. Nice to see compassion in the workplace! This update made me feel good about society, both the update itself and everybody’s thoughts and kind words.

  34. Krystal*

    Oh this made me cry! What a lovely update to read, also i think i would have blurted out the situation as i think its better not to lie in the workplace. Things can get twisted and messed up very quickly and lots of people can get into trouble. I love how his managers handled it and let him keep his dignity as well. How lovely :)

  35. spocklady*

    Oh wow this is so great to hear! I’m glad things are looking up for this man and his kids. Thanks for the update, OP; makes a person feel good about humanity!

  36. That Marketing Chick*

    Thank you for caring! Without you getting involved, he might be in a very different place right now. Bless you for paying it forward!

  37. Coach Devie*

    I’m late responding, as I’ve been sick and am playing catch up now on my favorite blog ever! lol.

    But okay… this is the first AAM post that as made me cry. I am very happy to know that people have to come together to help someone out when life really took him through a loop. This is a great update and I hope things continue to get better over time for your co-worker. I am so happy to know your company came together for him, that you are doing kind gestures and that he reached out for help that he wasn’t aware was there.

  38. OldAdmin*

    I am very happy to read this update.
    The CEO’s actions also will inspire confidence in the widower’s colleagues in how other emergencies will be handled, as in better morale and retention.
    This is how business should be conducted – get the relevant information, be clear, be flexible, add a dash of human kindness.
    Firing him and hiring/training a new colleague would cost way more, disrupt processes, destroy trust.

    I hope we’ll hear another update on how things went!

  39. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    This is great!

    I actually had this happen to me once, and I was hourly. But if I couldn’t get to work, I couldn’t make the money in the first place!

    I had just passed the bar exam but no permanent job, and my wife and I had to move at that time, since our landlord was awful and my wife was going to have a surgery the next month and needed a ground floor apartment. We ran into problems and used a our money on the deposit and move, so I literally did not have the $5 for gas and 25 for bus fare to get to the park and ride and then to work.

    Had to push my start date to the next Monday instead. These things happen, when one loses or hasn’t established a stable income.

Comments are closed.