my boss told me to write the same sentence 500 times as punishment for a mistake

A reader writes:

I’m a currently an office manager, and I recently messed up and did not submit some health insurance forms that were required and cost my boss $1,000.

I have been here for four years and never made a mistake, but for some reason my boss wants me to write 500 sentences stating, “I will not screw up another insurance case.”

Is this even something she can do?

She can, but it would be really, really weird to require an adult to do that. (I think it’s also really weird to require a kid to do that, but at least there’s some cultural context for that being A Thing that some parents and teachers used to do.)

Any chance she’s not being serious and was instead just making a bad joke about wanting you to understand the seriousness of the mistake?

If she’s serious, it’s ridiculous — condescending, insulting, and really poorly thought out.

She also shouldn’t ground you, wash your mouth out with soap, or send you to your room for a time-out.

I’d take a broader look at how she treats you in general. It’s hard for me to imagine someone who thinks this is reasonable treating you respectfully in other ways.

{ 276 comments… read them below }

  1. Jordan*

    What a bizarre situation. Hopefully it was just a (possibly poorly presented if it was taken seriously) joke. At least I hope it was anyway!

      1. Alma*

        Please be sure to send an update. Are you and your boss contemporaries? or is s/he from another generation? (Can you do this on the computer? copy and paste…)

          1. Prismatic Professional*

            i = I will not screw up another insurance case.
            for i in range (499):
            print i
            I <3 Python. Though, if the boss actually meant write (handwritten) neither this, nor the copy-paste method will work.

            Do you work for Dolores Umbridge?

              1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                I remember Bart Simpson having to write on the blackboard “I will not waste chalk” over and over again.. nice one…

        1. NJ Anon*

          I would like to write “kiss my ass” 500 times and hand it to her. Maybe that would be my resignation letter.

    1. VintageLydia USA*

      When your punishment is reminiscent of one of the most vile villains in children’s literature maybe you need to rethink your approach.

    2. Gandalf the Nude*

      OP, did you inform her of the mistake, or did she spot it with the magical eye affixed to her door?

  2. Cambridge Comma*

    Perhaps because this is the first mistake you have made, this is the first time you are seeing this side of your boss.
    It isn’t a very nice side at all.

  3. Amber Rose*

    I really, really hope she was joking. Something like that is both incredibly demeaning, and a huge waste of your time/the company’s money.

    If it is a joke, i’d be sooo tempted to fight back with “You’re not the boss of me!”

    My sense of humour is pretty embedded in grade school.

    1. Adam*

      “Something like that is both incredibly demeaning, and a huge waste of your time/the company’s money.”

      Or worse: what if it’s assigned as “homework”?

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*


              1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                Or in Excel, type in one cell and drag to fill the remaining 499. Voila! Done in seconds.

                Seriously, about the boss – what a maroon! what an embezzle.

              2. Bio-Pharma*

                Just looked up what F4 does… interesting…… For Word, it seems similar to the “locked” format painter.

                1. periwinkle*

                  Wait, what? You can lock the Format Painter? OMG.

                  APA formatting for academic papers means switching between flush text, first line indents, hanging lines, and different formatting for five levels of headings. I’ve been using Format Painter but had no idea I didn’t have to re-copy the format between each application.

                  *happy dance*

                2. Splishy*

                  @Periwinkle: Click the Format Painter icon twice and it “sticks” with the selected formatting until you de-select the icon. You can do something similar with the Highlighter tool if you want to highlight a bunch of areas without clicking the icon every time.

                  That being said, like Laufey mentioned, using styles are a much better way to format a document.

                3. Splishy*

                  F4 is used across the MS Office suite. It repeats the last action. In the case above, it would repeat whatever you typed last, but it can also be used for stuff like applying a style/format, or re-sizing images.

                  You just have to be careful that you didn’t decide to delete something then use F4 to do a different action (like apply formatting), otherwise you end up deleting something instead of doing whatever you intended to do. Not like I’ve ever done this by mistake myself, or anything…

                4. Mabel*

                  F4 does something different in Outlook, but in that case or in any other situation where it fails to repeat the last action, you can use CTRL+y instead.

              1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                500 individual text messages. During an important business unit meeting with her leaders.

                For some reason, I think this boss has her phone set to “twinkling” when a text comes in and she doesn’t know how to run it off. When her child fixed it that way, she made the child write, “I will not play with Mommy’s cell phone” 100 times on slate with a charcoal pencil while she rocks slowly and mumbles, “See, Mommy? I’m a *good* mommy.” repetitively –

                Or, uh, er – maybe not.

                1. pony tailed wonder*

                  Why not have the texts spread through out a 24 hour time period? Or maybe just when she leaves for the bathroom or other matter?

              2. Lily in NYC*

                Ha! I was thinking she should perform the punishment and then bring in a doctor’s note saying it gave her carpal tunnel and that she needs to take the next month off to heal.

              3. super anon*

                set up a mail merge and your source file be 500 entries in excel that are all her contact information.

          2. Three Thousand*

            If she’s stupid enough that she’s serious about this, there’s a good chance she’s stupid enough to let you type it.

      1. super anon*

        i was assigned homework at work this week as part of a team building/relationship building workshop. i wish i was kidding.

  4. Adam*

    I’m also on the side of hoping this was a not explicitly clear joke, because if it isn’t that’s pretty kooky.

  5. Kristine*

    Considering the control freaks I have worked with who talked to me as if I were a teen, I do not think that she is joking. What happens if you simply do not do it?
    I mean, what is she going to do then? Discipline you for that? I wouldn’t write those sentences. It sets a bad precedent.

    1. Retail Lifer*

      I don’t see how the boss could justofy to upper management or HR any disciplinary action for NOT doing it.

      1. Alma*

        Applying for Unemployment Benefits: I was dismissed because I didn’t believe my supervisor was serious when she directed me to write sentences 500 times.

      2. Lizzie*

        Insubordination would work in my area. In this state they also don’t have to tell you why you’re being let go, just to get out and not come back, so there would be no way to really prove it if they did fire you for that.

    2. Chinook*

      “Considering the control freaks I have worked with who talked to me as if I were a teen, I do not think that she is joking. What happens if you simply do not do it?”

      In DH’s case, when he was in the military, you didn’t want to find out. But, then again, the only time he had to do repetition as punishment was when he went to update his personnel record the day after we eloped and he forgot the date of the change in his marital status. The two (female) office clerks then made him stand at attention and recite his anniversary date 10 times before they would stamp and approve the change. Ahh – the joys of being a no hook private (but atleast he never forgets the date).

        1. Chinook*

          Yes he does remember it, better than me. Though, in my defense, we do have two dates – our marriage date and our wedding date.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      This. She has painted herself into a corner, OP. She cannot write you up for failing to do your lines, she will look incredibly unprofessional. As a boss, she should have better tools in mind than that. By better, I mean something that is appropriate for the “crime”. I think she should have told you to come up with a plan so that this will never happen again. If you came up with email reminders or calendar notes or something like that, it should suffice. But, jeepers, you don’t shoot good, long term employees. How short-sighted of her.

  6. KathyGeiss*

    The idea of punishment for an adult at work is weird overall. Repercussions I can understand if it’s super serious (e.g. Harassment or something) but mistakes happen all the time. Punishment feels super weird here. A request to report on what happened and how it can be fixed so it doesn’t happen again makes so much more sense.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Yes. Punishment like this is designed make the act (usually a fun/enjoyable/easy one) unpleasant so you don’t want to do it again.

      This makes no sense in a work context or really for an honest mistake. This is bizarre and I would want to run as fast as possible from a boss like this. Now, your letter seems to imply that this is the first time you’ve encountered something like this from her so if this only happens every 4 years or less often and there’s no other craziness and no other reason to get out, it’s probably sensible to stay, but I would be on the look out for other weird things. Because this is weird and pointless.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I’m an elementary school teacher, and even with kids the idea of punishment is dated. We focus on consequences of misbehavior.For example: You push people in foursquare – you aren’t allowed to play foursquare for a few days. You chat during work time instead of doing your work – the teacher moves you to a table by yourself, and you have to finish the work during silent reading time. You call a classmate a name – you have to write a letter to the classmate apologizing.

      Punishments that aren’t related to the problem behavior (like you push people in foursquare – you can’t have dessert today at lunch) are artificial-feeling and only change the kid’s behavior by fear – not by helping the kid understand *why* the behavior was wrong.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I went to public school in the 70s and 80s and have never seen the “writing out sentences” punishment in practice. The closest I’ve ever seen is a teach assign students an essay in which they discuss why what they did was wrong, but that’s it. I thought this was something that ended after the Baby Boomer generation – like having your mouth washed out with soap…

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          I was in school in the 80s and 90s and filled notebooks of “I will not” blah blah blah.

          Of course, every teacher had a paddle and freely used it.

        2. Kelly L.*

          The one I mentioned upthread–his thing was making you write out the Preamble of the Constitution a certain number of times. I’m an Xer, but this was an older gentleman who probably taught Baby Boomers too. He had some other old-school quirks in addition to this one.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            I had to memorize the Preamble, but that was part of Civics, and we had to pass a test on the Constitution (both state and federal) to graduate high school.

            1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

              Was raised a JW – so many teachers in school marked me down in Civics classes because of my refusal to pledge allegiance to a flag or sing a song every morning. Yeah, that seemed fair.

              1. Charlotte Collins*

                We did not need to do either in HS Civics. However, I seem to know more about the electoral process, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights (and amendments!) than many people where I now live (different state), so I’m glad for it. We also had to learn about our local government by attending public meetings (of our choice).

            2. Kelly L.*

              We had this as well, but like you said, that was later, in high school. This was specifically what this one teacher did as a punishment.

            3. Natalie*

              My middle school history teacher made us memorize it via School House Rock, so I still remember it *and* it’s set to music.

              1. That a song, was as merry*

                Yes, me too…it was funny during the test to hear people humming a few lines and then furiously writing. I love SchoolHouse Rock–and so did my kids; we got the DVDs and they watched them often.

            4. Jessica (tc)*

              We had to memorize the Preamble for our 8th grade Constitution test. We also were tested on the federal and state Constitutions as a whole in both 8th grade and 12th grade. You weren’t able to pass 8th grade without passing the test to get into high school, and then you had to pass them again (completely different tests, so you had review in a class) to graduate from high school. I’m pretty glad, because I know a lot about my (former) state’s government as well as the fed.

          2. Nea*

            Could you get out of writing it if you sang it from memory? That particular Schoolhouse Rock *really* stuck.

        3. Connie-Lynne*

          I wrote lines in school as recently as the 80s, but even then teachers were working on switching to stuff like E the Ginger describes.

          Our lines tended to be examples of why what we did was wrong.

        4. Ad Astra*

          I went to school in the mid/late ’90s and can remember at least one teacher assigning me sentences for hitting a kid who made a mean joke about my weight (He was a year older and quite a bit bigger than me and of course completely unhurt, but I guess you really can’t just hit people in the 4th grade). Halfway through, I got fed up and started writing something like “I will stop hitting when I am no longer harassed.” It didn’t go over well.

          My parents also made me write sentences at least once, but I don’t think they used that punishment very often. It didn’t teach me anything and it took away from time I would have otherwise spent reading or doing chores.

        5. MegEB*

          I went to Catholic school in the late 90s/early 2000s and we would have to write the Lord’s Prayer over and over as punishment. It never bothered me as a kid since I always liked writing things by hand, but as an adult I look back and am mildly horrified.

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            Wow, that’s even less relevant than writing “I will not do [the thing that I did wrong] again.” over and over.

            1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

              Also, using a text as a tool of punishment seems like a good way to make the punished resent that text – which is not how you’d think the nuns (or whomever) would want the kids to feel about a prayer.

              Same theory as not using your favorite song as an alarm to wake you up in the morning – it’ll quickly become your least-favorite song by association.

        6. Elizabeth*

          My older brother only had to do it once, in around 1984. 5000 times writing a sentence that filled 6 lines of notebook paper.

          My mother was an English teacher. It always infuriated her that writing was used as punishment. She felt that no one would ever consider forcing kids to do pages of math problems as punishment, since it might make them hate math, but most didn’t have a second thought about using writing in that way.

        7. Shan*

          My high school would make you copy sentences in detention. This was in 2007.

          If you got detention, you had to copy the school rules. It was a full page typed front and back. Once you finished copying the document, you could do whatever you wanted at your desk, but you had to be silent (no electronics, obviously, but you could do homework, read a book, stare at the wall, etc.). You could leave after 2 hours, whether you were done copying sentences or not.

          It was terrible! I got detention one time for being late to class. I was a straight A student and I was just late because of traffic (I was a senior so I was driving to school). Halfway through copying sentences, my hand started cramping really badly, and then I realized I was working at my normal pace and should just slow down – it didn’t matter if I finished or not! I took my sweet time but still managed to finish copying, then worked on homework.

          Looking back I get mad because 1) that punishment made no sense. I would have been WAY more devastated to lose my parking spot for a day or something. 2) What good did it do? Wouldn’t it have been more beneficial for me to use that time for homework and learn?

          1. 2horseygirls*

            OMG! My daughter got a full-day in-school detention (aka “the box” ;) ) in 8th grade for being late multiple times.

            She said she had quite “the rep” afterwards. LOL
            “What are you in for?”
            “Being late.”
            …stares and blinks at her ……

      2. TootsNYC*

        My kid’s Catholic school made him write lines a lot–and this was 9 years ago when it was at its worst (his 3rd grade teacher did it to him a lot–frustrating, bcs he has ADD, and writing to no purpose was actually a trigger for his symptoms; his psychiatrist was livid).
        Once he had to write a whole bunch of lines because a chunk of the kids–but not him–had been loud in the hallway. He says that pretty much every teacher made their whole class writes lines at least once. He thinks (I just asked him about it) that he had to write lines in 8th grade even.

    3. Anonicorn*

      A request to report on what happened and how it can be fixed so it doesn’t happen again makes so much more sense.

      Probably not a bad idea for OP to go ahead and do that in lieu of the 500 lines assignment.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      Exactly. I made a costly mistake at Exjob once and my boss was upset with me, but the first thing out of his mouth was, “Is there anything you can do to fix this?” Not “OMG you need to write 7000 times, ‘I will not forget to put a value on a shipment so when FedEx loses it they only have to pay $100 on an item that is worth $4000.'” Yep. And we had to remake the part for the customer, too. >_<

      He ended up having a conversation with them and they agreed to pay half, and I made sure I never sent out anything worth more than $50 without a declared value on it ever again.

  7. Hlyssande*

    Wow. That’s just. Wow.

    If she was serious, I would seriously reconsider if I wanted to work somewhere a mistake results in such a childish punishment. That’s so ridiculous I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around the mindset that makes it seem reasonable. It’s like making someone sit facing the corner with a dunce cap on.

  8. Carrie in Scotland*

    She isn’t Spanish is she? The made the media somewhat this week (originally from 2013) where a Spanish judge ordered the accused to tweet the sentence for 30 days.

    Link to follow.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Actually I agree with that one. Newspapers are sometimes required to recant their errors with all the same fanfare as the original offense (front page, etc.)

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    There was a Member of Congress from Texas who ordered her Legislative Director to write a memo entitled, “Why I’m Incompetent.”  I’m paraphrasing the title of that memo, but a little Googling will reveal who this person is.  She’s well-known for being a horrible boss.

    I can’t believe your boss was serious.  Are you sure she wasn’t kidding?  (I believe what you’re saying, but I can’t wrap my head around it.)

    If she was serious, you need to quit.  There’s no reasoning with someone who thinks punishing staff like this.  She clearly doesn’t understand that anytime you introduce the human element into any scenario, you also introduce the element of error.  Such is life.  If she doesn’t understand that, then there are no solutions to that problem.

    I never saw the benefit to this punishment either.  When my parents would make me do it, they went bigger.  I was supposed to copy an entire essay about disciplining children over and over again.  I handled it by writing it verbatim the first three times and then leaving out whole sentences.  Because it was all on one page, my parents only counted how many times the first sentence showed up rather than the whole thing.

    If anything, that punishment taught me how to be creative.  I’m still like that today!

    1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      I’ve had to write a contrite essay or two. I would amuse myself by burying acrostics – sometimes the first letter of each paragraph, first letter of each word, first letter of each sentence – different games to make it interesting. I would typically spell out rude and vulgar epithets that went unnoticed.

      Ah, the heady days of teenage rebellion!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Best punishment-fits-the-crime ever:

      As children, we were only supposed to draw on the patio and driveway outside with chalk. One day, Mum and Dad were at work and we got creative. We used crayons. We covered the entire patio. I am not kidding.

      That Saturday, we spent all day scrubbing it off with bleach and soap. I mean ALL day.

      We never did that again.

  10. CrazyCatLady*

    Ugh, when you treat people like children, they begin to act like children. Such a poorly thought out punishment. Besides, you shouldn’t be “punished” at work – mistakes should be addressed, sure, but this is just silly. It’s not 7th Grade.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I’d like to know why this is not universally understood yet. OP, sounds like a very sharp employee. This boss is going to lose a great employee in the near future. Stuff like this ONLY triggers job searches.

        My husband was sent home with no pay for a week because he damaged a $300 part. His immediate supervisor said to the boss, “What did you do that for? You just gave him a week to job hunt!” And my husband did just that. He applied at three places and two made offers. (He knew his stuff and interviewers could see that after a few minutes of talking with him.) Boss went right to the last day of work, proclaiming how right he was. My husband saw that as proof that leaving was the right solution to the whole matter.

  11. Isben Takes Tea*

    I can imagine that if it’s an insurance error that cost the manager $1000 personally (as opposed to the company), she might feel the urge to create repercussions that alter from cultural norms (not excusing her, because it’s still wacko, just trying to make sense of the context). Of course, if it was personal insurance paperwork, then I don’t see how it would be the OP’s job to take care of, as she’s not a personal assistant.

    I definitely agree that demanding the OP write lines is not okay, though I’m not sure how I’d deal with it.

    1. Bostonian*

      I think a benefits administrator could fail to switch an employee to a different health insurance plan before a deadline and therefore leave the employee with higher premiums, so a business mistake could result in a personal liability. But this whole thing is still totally weird and inappropriate.

      1. Boop*

        That’s totally possible, but it can be fixed retroactively by returning the money to the employee. Perhaps the boss had to pay the difference from a doctor’s visit or prescription? But even then, it can be fixed by working with HR/Benefits and the insurance company to retro the coverage.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          That’s what I was thinking. It seems like something that could be resolved with the insurance company. Unless the OP is submitting the boss’ paperwork, in which case that would be odd.

        2. Anon for this*

          My insurance benefits were cancelled for non-payment when the controller thought the two bills s/he was receiving were duplicates. They were not. I was in a different market. This was during the diagnosis, PT, MRI, consultation with the surgeon, and spinal surgery phase – and there was nothing that could be done to retroactively reinstate my insurance. I had to file bankruptcy. This has haunted me in every background check, and crippled me financially, for about 15 years. To make it worse, I assumed s/he had explained the dilemna and consulted the Big Boss. S/he did not. So Big Boss had assumed I was irresponsible and an idiot the entire time of my employment. Never ass-u-me.

          1. Beancounter in Texas*

            I think the only way it “could not” be reinstated retroactively is that the company refused to pay for the period of time in which you should have had coverage. That’s a crappy controller.

    2. Liztomania*

      Also, while it seems like a big number, $1000 in the context of a business error is just not that much money. (I mean, have you seen what benefits breakdowns are for even a small company? My eyes nearly popped out of my head the first time I had to review our health insurance bill.)

      I mean, yeah, it’s bad, but I’ve heard of business mistakes costing so, so much more.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I made a $60k error once. I think I died in that moment. However, the boss just had me watch and listen to him describe how to fix it. He thanked me for telling him right away.
        I got very, very lucky on that one. I have seen bosses totally fall apart over a twenty five cent error.

        1. 2horseygirls*

          My ex-boss refused to allow me to approve a $.10 coloring printing charge from the duplication center. “What do you mean, you’ve been approving these charges for a year? It’s not up to the department chairs [OP: whom I always checked with before approving the charges] – they have no idea what their budgets are. Ultimately I am responsible for the budgets, therefore I have to approve EVERYTHING!”

          Oooookay …. I forwarded her the charges for the past year, and informed the Duplication Center Coordinator that Ex-Boss was to receive them going forward. Her response: “Really? Since when? No other dean does …”

  12. Mike C.*

    Hey folks, you know when some of us talk about really toxic, crazy bosses? This is the sort of thing we’re talking about.

    OP, if for some reason this wasn’t a joke get your resume and get the hell out as soon as you possibly can. People like this are only concerned about the short term things you can do for them regardless of the cost to you. And that cost will be high, and it won’t end with this.

    1. haley*

      This is my article and yes im serious I did have to write the sentences and when I asked for another option she refused and said she would just simply fire me if I did not do them.

  13. Apollo Warbucks*


    Are you serious what on earth is your manager thinking, I’e not had to write lines since I was a school boy.

    I can’t believe any manager thinks this is an appropriate way to treat a professional adult.

  14. Ad Astra*

    This really bothers me. What a demeaning waste of an employee’s time. The message she’s supposed to write isn’t even instructive. At least if it was something like “The account is settled every third Wednesday” the boss could argue that she’s trying to make a piece of information stick — though a post-it would be a better plan. But “I will not screw up another insurance case” is exclusively punitive and so far from appropriate that I don’t even know what to think.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes, that is what I was going to say too. If the issue had been screwing up paperwork, I could see the boss making OP fill out the same paperwork over and over again, so that it “stuck”. I could see her making OP do some kind of redundant repeated procedure to make it stick in her mind, or to do something like put a million notes on calendars (both paper and electronic) as to due dates, or even hand copy out a procedure (Step one, fill in forms on lines blah through blah, step two make copies, step three mail to address XYZ) multiple times, but writing “I will not screw up” is just a waste of everyone’s time. I seriously hope this was a joke, or at least said in frustration but not somethign the boss actually meant OP to do.

  15. LadyMountaineer*

    If you want to just make this go away can you write the sentence once in Excel, drag the corner down 500 times, copy/paste into Word (changing the font to Comic Sans 20 pt) and turn it in? How cookoo for cocoa puffs is this person?!

    1. CrazyCatLady*

      This is even what I used to do as a kid! I would type it in whatever word processing software was available back then and copy paste a bunch of times! Or I would solicit my friends to help if I needed to hand-write it.

    2. Charby*

      I’m surprised that anyone who would do something like this would accept a typed version instead of handwritten.

      1. ImprovForCats*

        Maybe OP could distract the boss with a fake online dating profile? “I like holding hands and dinner by candlelight. And oh, yes. I really hate yo-yos.”

  16. Katie the Fed*

    This is effing crazy. Your manager is on a power trip and out of touch with reality.

    My dad used to make me do this as punishment all the time. It’s terrible. And stupid. And makes your hand cramp. And THIS ISN’T YOUR PARENT.

    Better solution is to discuss what went wrong and how to fix it in the future.

    I would absolutely refuse to do this and loop in a senior manager or HR if I could.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Really hard not to picture The Simpsons as I read this letter. Who would the OP loop in? Principal Skinner – who was boinking Miss Krabappel for a few seasons? Yeah, I sympathize with OP because this is a type of belittling and degrading that could really sit with someone for years after the fact. I too would refuse to do this.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The nuns used this all the time. Hey, it did not improve behaviors the first 100 times they did, so best to keep doing it until behaviors improve, right?

  17. Kelly L.*

    This was my sixth-grade teacher’s favorite punishment, in 1989. It is not a thing you do to adults. (It was kind of pointless for kids, too, I think, but like Alison says, it was traditional for some time.)

  18. puddin*

    Regardless of what the boss intended, I would treat this as a joke. Frankly it IS a joke. This is so far outside the realm of normal management, let alone highly competent management, that there is no way I would give it any credence.

    If asked where my sentences were, I would reply with, “I was certain you were joking because the premise is just too ridiculous.”

  19. Lou*

    Umm wow I can’t think of anything that can describe except are you at Hogwarts? I understand you made a big financial booboo but treating you like a child won’t solve it.

    My bosses always treat me like a child, I think I have permanent baby face at 26 so that probably leads them to such. lol. Not good for my morale because I never get taken seriously no matter how I stand my ground.

  20. Koko*

    LW didn’t ask what to do, but I would try, “Boss, I had planned to work on Projects A, B, and C today. I won’t be able to complete this without causing delays on those projects. Which project would you like me to delay if I must do this?”

    ie call attention to the fact that she would be PAYING YOU to do this rather than work of substantive importance to the company.

    1. Anonymous Ninja*

      I had a toxic boss like the OP and when I asked that very reasonable I was told to cut it out and just do everything.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Another ToxicBoss response from the repertoire: “Do it on your own time!”

        Also acceptable “I don’t care how you do it, but you’d better get it all done [in my literally impossible timeframe]!”

      2. Anony-turtle in a half shell!*

        That sounds like a church I worked at: “You need to get it all done. Perhaps you need to take some time to pray about how to organize your priorities to fit everything in?”

        My only thought was, “I don’t have time to pray about priorities! I’m asking you what is important, because an hourly employee with explicit instructions to not take a minute over my 30 hours/week simply cannot get everything that you and the other five pastors want done.” At every other job I’ve been at, I’ve been praised for my ability to make things more efficient and to take on even more work than my job description had ever had before, but at the church, I was talked down to and told that if I were faithful enough, God would help me get my job done. (I obviously left that job as soon as I could.)

    2. Anx*

      I second an approach like this. I’ve had similar ‘punishments’ at work, and I they always peter out because in hourly positions, their bosses would be pretty mad at them for making me waste time as a punishment. If you’re client-facing or busy, they aren’t likely to send you home, so you can keep your hours and also spend them working. That’s better for both of you. If you can be cut at a moments notice for pushing back, that’s going to look really bad for morale.

      I haven’t tried this push back in a salaried position. But I would imagine it would work pretty similarly.

  21. MashaKasha*

    This is ridiculous enough to make me question how the rest of the business is being run. It’s not constructive, not productive, and does nothing to either remediate the consequences of the error now, or prevent it from happening in the future. And, like others said, a waste of (I’m assuming company) time.

    Deal-breaker for me. If boss insisted that I follow through with this punishment, I’d start looking for other jobs.

    1. Anon for this*

      I’d love to see a thread/post on the “straw that broke the camel’s back” moments that led people to look for other jobs. So much of it is behavior by managers.

      1. Paige Turner*

        Yes, this would be really interesting. Especially for people who had a job that wasn’t necessarily terrible, but that gradually got worse or just wasn’t a good fit. Knowing when to throw in the towel or when to move on for professional advancement is tricky.

      2. TheExchequer*

        Oh, the stories I would have for that thread. (Of course, they all seem to revolve around paychecks . . . )

  22. WLE*

    If she’s not joking (which that’s a terrible joke!), I would seriously consider bringing this to the attention of HR (if your company has an HR department). That is really bad management. As others have said, what a waste of labor costs! Unfortunately you made a mistake that cost $1,000, but now your boss is essentially throwing away more money on a pointless task. That doesn’t make much sense.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      And not working on solutions so that the same mistake doesn’t happen again… Because as other commenters have said, this is a punishment, not a solution to prevent future errors.

  23. Katie the Fed*

    And seriously, MISTAKES HAPPEN. If it’s not a pattern of behavior, you do a quick review of what went wrong and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and you move on. Berating your employees over mistakes makes this 1) less likely to tell you when they do make mistakes and 2) less loyal in general.

  24. Retail Lifer*

    I’ve had so many horrible, irrational, condescending bosses in my career but none of them have ever resorted to anything so ridiculous. If someone screws up and it costs the company money, then you write them up or take whatever corrective action your company policies dictate….there’s no way this is in your company’s handbook.

  25. Allison*

    Parents punish their kids, schools punish students, but employers don’t “punish” employees. There’s disciplinary action, like suspension without pay, for people who break the rules, but usually not for honest mistakes, unless those mistakes are egregious and either hurt someone or make the company look bad. Otherwise, the consequences for a mistake generally just mean cleaning up the mess you made, being taken off projects or just not being put on new ones, losing out on upcoming promotions, and maybe attending a seminar to really drive home the importance of doing a thing, or not doing a thing in some cases.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      As I said upthread, punishment is falling out of fashion in many schools, too. Punishment is vindictive-feeling and is about making the kid feel bad for what they did; consequences are about making the kid understand why what they did was wrong. Appropriate consequences for kids are similar to the ones you listed for adults: cleaning up the mess you made, being taken out of an activity you like if you’re not able to act appropriately while doing it, losing out on privileges when you abuse them, and maybe getting talked to by the principal to really drive home the importance of a thing. :-)

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Oh, you didn’t miss it – I hadn’t written it yet by the time you wrote your comment – I just wanted to acknowledge that I was repeating myself. :-)

      1. sunny-dee*

        It’s largely a distinction without a difference, though. In the four-square example, the reason that kids shouldn’t push is because it’s violent (worst) or discourteous (best case) and being violent or losing your temper or being a bully or being a bad sport is inherently bad. It makes you a bad person. A consequence may be that you don’t have friends or can’t play the game, but the training there is for a larger reason. It is (to use the old term) moral instruction. The punishment of “no dessert” is only slightly less related than “no more four square.” Neither are really related to the true consequence or lesson.

        That’s one reason punishment is inappropriate for adults — you are training children, but you deal with adults as they are.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          I partly agree with you. You’re right, the consequence the teacher can’t control is whether other kids like you and want to play with you. However, I don’t think taking the kid out of the game is unrelated, any more than a professional athlete getting taken out of the game for breaking the rules is. With kids, it is more necessary to have a conversation around it. I’d probably say something like this to the foursquare kid: “Piper, we’ve talked before about not pushing people.I know it’s frustrating when you’re playing a game and things don’t go the way you want, but being a good sport is part of the game, too. Your friends don’t like it when you push, and it makes them not want to play with you even though they like you. It’s also my job as your teacher to make sure that everyone is safe and no one gets hurt. For the rest of the week, you need to take a break from foursquare and do something different at recess. On Monday, you can play again, but you need to follow the rules that keep everyone safe.” I’d also brainstorm with the child about alternate strategies for the times when she pushes – e.g., practice saying “Nice job” to someone who gets her out, or addressing conflicts more calmly if there’s a disagreement about who was out. When I saw her using those other strategies, I’d let her know I noticed her doing the right thing.

          I disagree with you, though, that you always have to deal with adults as they are. I think we’re all still able to train each other throughout life. It’s harder with adults, definitely, and how effective you can be at training someone depends on their personality and what your relationship is to them.

          1. TheLazyB (UK)*

            My small child (4yo) was refusing to get off his scooter and walk across the road. Consequence: he didn’t get to scoot to school the next day, because I needed to know he would listen to me. It wasn’t a punishment, and I did explain that, but I’m sure he saw it as one. 20 minutes hysteria at the roadside is my evidence :-/

            Lines? Entirely unrelated to the mistake.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I allowed my preschool son to run ahead of me on the sidewalk as long as he stopped immediately when I said “stop your feet!” Usually we did “stop your feet” as a game, but its ultimate purpose was to install a “panic button” that I could use when safety or convenience was involved.

              One day he didn’t stop his feet, and kept going; it was definitely an obedience/defiance issue, not that he didn’t hear me (he didn’t stop for any of the times I called it).
              So when I caught up with him, I told him, “you can’t walk ahead, and now, because I can’t trust you, I have to hold your arm.”
              His arm, not his hand. I held onto his forearm as if he were an object. He HATED it; it was much more emotionally frustrating than if I’d simply made him hold my hand (as a person).

              But he never, ever again failed at “Stop your feet.”

              So it was a consequence, but also a little punishment rolled into it. I think if I’d made him hold my hand, it wouldn’t have had quite as much of an impact.

    2. A Teacher*

      Restorative Justice is the route that many schools (including mine) are taking and we follow a PBIS concept that works to some extent. We track the big 5 offenses that occur monthly on the PBIS committee. (Tardies are number 1–10,000 of them last year in a high school with 1400 students).

  26. Kyrielle*

    Honestly? I would just not do it, and if at any point she called me on it, stare at her wide-eyed and say, “Oh – I thought you were joking.”

    Because if she wasn’t joking, I would be searching for a new job anyway, so alienating her by saying that wouldn’t bother me in the least.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is the solution I am leaning toward, also. If she pushed, I would say, “Well, I have worked for you for 4 years and this is totally out of keeping with your ways and what I know about you. So I assumed it was an expression of frustration and not a real task that I needed to do. I understand your frustration, as I am frustrated with myself. I have never made a mistake this large before now. I used the time I would have spent writing to hammer out a system for myself to insure this mistake never happens again. I want to tell you what I have done here to remedy this….”

  27. Mimmy*

    Whiskey Tea Foxtrot. That’s about all I have on this one.

    I mean….I’ll admit to being rather incorrigible in school (and even at work….), and I’ve never been made to do that!!

  28. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I really, really hope your boss was joking. Even then, it’s an inappropriate joke (has she never made a mistake?) but at least that would be somewhat palatable.

    I just wouldn’t do it. I’m sorry, but there is nothing she could say to convince me that this was a valuable use of my company’s time or my personal time. You’re getting paid to do work, not to sit in a time out (which is essentially what this would be). If she had the nerve to go above your head, I’d simply tell her boss/hr/whoever came next (if anyone did at all) that you didn’t feel it was an appropriate use of company time or resources and suggest an alternative training or something that would actually be valuable.

  29. weasel007*

    I’m looking past the ridiculousness of this punishment and seeing something I don’t think anyone has mentioned yet: It appears that this had something to do with a health insurance reimbursement account. The only way I can see how this cost her boss $1000 is that some expenses that would normally have been paid back to a patient have to be submitted by a certain date. If the date was missed, and the account rolled over, that money was lost. So, is it really legit that an office manager would be filing personal insurance reimbursements for a boss? I mean, I know that office managers and assistants get stuck doing all sorts of stuff that seem personal, but this sounds a little extreme.

    1. Episkey*

      I worked for an insurance broker who made me handle one of his girlfriend’s medical claim issues. I was the client service rep for the brokerage, but she was NOT a client. When I politely told him that I would not be able to really do much because the insurance company wouldn’t speak to me seeing as how we were not her broker, he told me to pretend I was the girlfriend to get the info! Not one of the most outrageous things this guy did either. So IMO it’s not legit, but it happens.

  30. Lizabeth*

    How about doing pages and pages of a subtraction math problem? Large number minus a certain number until you get zero. My “favorite” parochial middle school teacher did that one…a lot.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I like to find the square roots of numbers as a meditative exercise. So, I totally get where you’re coming from. :)

      2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

        Whenever I’m in a lecture where I have to take notes by hand and I get bored I flip over the paper and do long division by hand. Really long numbers, like telephone numbers. It takes up the whole page and I look busy. My husband thinks I’m a total nutjob.

        1. Broke Law Student*

          ah yes, I do this during classes when I lose focus. Usually what I do is do powers of a small number until it gets really big, and then divide out until I end up with the original number. Weirdly soothing, but very confusing to anyone who looks at my notes (law students are scared of numbers).

  31. AndersonDarling*

    If the boss comes back and really wants the OP to write the phrase out 500 times, I would simply respond:
    “And when I’m finished, what should I do next, Mom?”

    1. Kelly L.*

      Huh, you know, I can see that! Obviously it is when Umbridge does it. ;) But even in normal cases without a blood pen, I think for some teachers it was more about inflicting the discomfort of repetitive writing than it was about the message sinking in (the teacher I mentioned upthread picked repetitive writing that wasn’t related in any way to the offense).

  32. Emmie*

    I hope you don’t injure yourself writing these 500 sentences. That would be an interesting ADA or Workman’s Comp claim to read and review.

  33. Tomato Frog*

    This reminds me a bit of a (far, far, far less egregious) experience I had with my boss. I had been at the job less than two months and got the feedback on a draft report that a section needed to be shorter. With this feedback (which I was hearing for the first time) came the request that I do a couple of drafts with different subject matter, keeping it to 100 words, just as practice. After I was done silently fuming, I instead rewrote the section of the report that needed rewriting. I sent her two versions, one at 100 words, and one being exactly what I would have handed in if she’d just said, “We need this shorter.” I told her I’d do the practice writing if she wanted, but hopefully this would meet her needs. To her credit, she accepted the rewrite and didn’t dig in. But I’ll never forget how much it set up my back to be assigned exercises like a student instead of approached as an adult professional.

    1. LQ*

      I don’t know it depends. I’ve written grants where word count was strictly limited and I’d sometimes send a section back saying I need this to be X words because that was what that section of the grant required. Or if you were brand new and had written 5,000 words then saying something about 100 words would be different than saying make it a little shorter.

      1. Tomato Frog*

        Well, yes, obviously, but that’s a different situation. She was asking me to create unusable products with an artificially low word limit for practice, not telling me a required word limit.

  34. Gene*

    Yeah, if she’s serious it’s time to look for other work.

    I’d simply refuse to do it and keep on doing what they are paying me to do. If she fires you for failing to write lines, there’s no way that unemployment will be denied. And the Unemployment folks will talk about this one at conferences for years. Maybe a quick call to the TV news and generate nationwide ridicule?

    That said, if you see it going that way, document.

    1. sstabeler*

      even if she was joking, it was such a poor joke I’d be considering finding a new job, quite honestly.

  35. Could be anyone*

    I would like to know what these insurance forms were. Were they company forms that cost the company money or were they personal forms that cost the boss her own money? If they were the boss’s personal forms she was completely out of line to have even asked you to take care of them. And how often are you doing personal services?

    1. Haley*

      It’s form that some patients insurance policy require we have them fill out then we submit online to get approval visits

  36. cataloger*

    What’s next, she’ll put your name on the board? (My husband the college teacher actually did this to student who was misbehaving in some childish way in one of his classes. After he put their name on the board, the student looked shocked and said “you can’t do that!” so he put a check next to their name! Just a joke of course, no consequences.)

    In fifth grade (1980s) not a day went by that I didn’t have my name on the board with at least one check by it (it took three checks to send you to the principal’s office). I wrote so many lines so often that one evening I accidentally wrote 100 lines when I’d only been assigned 75. I asked if I could have those extra 25 lines as credit toward the next time I got in trouble; the teacher was not impressed. I still remember that lengthy line (that started with “I will remember to…”) though I rarely remembered to do the thing the line said I should, so I don’t feel these things are even effective, just punishing.

    I do hope she was joking.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I was so afraid of my name on the board as a kid! :D I think I thought it was all going on my permanent record.

    2. simonthegrey*

      I think by the time I was in sixth grade I was up to writing “I will not read books while the teacher is talking” 150 times at recess. It happened 3-4 times a school year that I got caught and had to write lines. I wasn’t being disrespectful; usually I would be reading ahead in the textbook for whatever class i was in, though sometimes it was a book for fun. I have ADD and could listen at the same time, and my teachers would try to trip me up and ask me questions when they saw me reading, which I was generally able to answer. Writing lines was purely putative, and didn’t do anything because I just got better at pretending to listen.

      1. Amy UK*

        Teachers don’t want to stop you reading in class because they’re worried you’ll miss something. They want to stop you doing it because:
        a) It irritates people, and part of schooling is to train you socially to get along with people and survive outside the classroom.
        b) It breaks other people’s focus if everyone else is looking at the teacher and your head is turned down to a book.
        c) It encourages the other kids to do the same, and they can’t necessarily keep up like you say you can.
        d) It doesn’t matter if you intended to be disrespectful, you are being rude. There are some things which are categorically interpreted as rude, and doing something else while someone talks to you is one of them even if you’re “listening”.

        So while writing lines isn’t a punishment I agree with, I feel you’re expressing the sentiment that what you were doing wasn’t poor classroom behaviour that needed punishing. A disruptive pupil needs to be brought back in line for the benefit of the class, even if their disruptive behaviour isn’t traditional “bad behaviour”. If you want to focus on your child’s personal academic achievement alone, home school. Public schooling is about social learning, and one student shouldn’t be able to break the rules or distract other children, even if they’re doing fine themselves.

        There are plenty of techniques to deal with ADHD that don’t include “let them break the rules that suit them”, and certainly don’t let them do so in front of the other children.

        1. Amy UK*

          And you can tell I’ve been on a training course recently because even typing ‘punishment’ rather than ‘behaviour correction’ or similar is making me twitch.

    3. sstabeler*

      I remember when I had a teacher that had a system that you name was put up on the board with check marks, I regularly got exactly one less than the number of checks required to get further punishment. I was not the only one. ( eventually, the teacher got a clue that it was just causing people to try for the maximum disruption w/o getting actually punished.)

  37. Workfromhome*

    I’d probably just ignore the request. Chalk it up to a bad joke.
    If they were serious (moron) and asked you where the lines are I’d make it a point to ask loudly enough for coworkers to hear “Oh I though you were joking about asking a longtime employee to write lines like a schoolchild because they made one mistake in 4 years” Let them decide if they want to look like an A hole in front of others and tip others off to their behavior or save face by saying “Of course I was joking” I fully realize some people are going to react badly to being called out like this so your mileage may vary

    Failing that I’d write the line out once on a paper and then make 500 photocopies and leave it on their in box.

  38. voyager1*

    I think I would write the sentences. Many of the commenters are saying what will she do if you don’t:

    Take the money out of your check.

    I would start looking for a new job too. That is all sorts of crazy for punishing a employee.

    1. Observer*

      Taking the money out of the check is almost certainly illegal. If it’s for a personal loss, it is DEFINITELY illegal. Also, even when it’s legal to take money out of the check, it can’t be so much that it puts the person under the minimum wage.

      In short, not so easy to pull that one off.

  39. Greg*

    My advice to the OP: Proceed under the assumption that it was a joke, even if that turns out to not be the case.

    BOSS: Hey, did you complete your punishment?
    OP: Ha, ha.
    BOSS: No, seriously, did you do it?
    OP: You almost had me for a second.
    BOSS: I wasn’t joking. I want you to write that out 500 times.
    OP: Really? You want to punish me like I’m some 19th century schoolgirl?
    BOSS: Yes.
    OP: Ha, ha. Do I also have to clean the erasers? Anyway, let’s get back to our actual work …

    In other words, just ask like it’s such a ridiculous request (which it is), it couldn’t possibly be real.

  40. spek*

    Go ahead and do it, search for a new job, and hopefully soon you can present your boss with a resignation letter, just reading, “I QUIT!”. 500 times….

  41. NDQ*

    While this is absolutely ridiculous, and yes, I’d be finding a new gig, this whacko will unfortunately be a future reference after now four years on the job.

    Protect the reference as best you can. Move on, but do what you can to maintain the relationship. Write them an apology and explain how you will do things differently to prevent the mistake. Tell them you are mortified and that you take pride in your work. Keep a copy for your records.

    A real jerk can haunt you in the future. I would mend this enough to make work bearable while job searching every minute outside of work.


  42. Ruth (UK)*

    In my highschool (in the early 2000s) I had a teacher who set lines as punishment. The typical punishment he would give would be ‘8 sides of lines’. ie. on lined A4 paper, one ‘line’ (eg. ‘I will present my homework neatly at all times’ or whatever) per line on the page, on every line on the page, for 8 sides worth of paper (handwritten only).

    He would check that they were all there etc, and then immediately rip them up and throw them in the bin. I suppose to show the student how much time they’d been forced to waste?

    I was between the ages of about 13-16 and typically thought this was a stupid and pointless punishment and it was considered a pretty old-fashioned etc over 10 years ago when I was in school. I can’t imagine it happening at work as an adult. I’d find it baffling. I am trying to picture my boss trying to tell someone in my office to do this. There’s no way they could manage it without it seeming like a joke.

    I sincerely hope that this was a joke that the OP didn’t quite get. If not…no words.

    1. Ruth (UK)*

      Ps btw if you do it, do it on work time or submit your hours for it. Treat it as work being set by your boss. If it is not optional then it is certainly work and you should be paid for your time!!!

  43. fred*

    Here’s what I would do:
    Assume it was a joke, and just don’t do it. If the manager asks for it, say “What? Were you serious?” Make a bit of a scene.

    And start looking for a new job. Your boss is insane

  44. Haley*

    So this is my article and yes she was serious and yes I did ask for another form of punishment and she said that she would just simu fire me if I did not do the sentences. So I did them and turned them in. I’m am currently looking for another job. She has also made our doctors go home a write book reports about mistakes they have made.

    1. Beti*

      Wow. I’m sorry you are in this position and now have to find a new job. Good luck with the search! I’m sure you’ll find something fantastic!

    2. 2horseygirls*

      Not to stereotype doctors, but I can’t imagine a single one that would actually do that…?

      I am really sorry you have to work under such s lunatic. Fingers crossed you find a great job soon!

  45. ifeelyourpain*

    my boss wants me to write an email summarizing my screwup every time i make a “huge mistake” (when, in actuality, is a tiny mistake, if one at all…)

  46. Debbie*

    I could almost see the point if you had forgotten to do something important and you were asked to repeat or write it many times to make you remember to do it in the future — such as “When filling out form # __________, the code 1876 always goes on line 5.” But only if you neglected it several times — and even then writing or having you write a post-it or other reminder to put up over your desk would be more useful. And not 500, which is an absurd waste of time — maybe 25 or so.

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