we’re all suffering because our dating coworkers broke up, my coworker got a vendor’s employee fired, and more

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

1. My coworker got a vendor’s employee fired … and I want to help the fired employee

I work for a company that hires an outside company to run our mailroom. When the guy who had worked in our mailroom retired, that company sent a replacement, Kathy. We loved her; she was breath of fresh air, very approachable and easy to work with. She had an excellent work ethic and always eager to help the staff in our building. Unfortunately, she and the person she technically worked under (Dawn) butted heads. I can understand Dawn calling that company and asking for a different person because they didn’t get along; we would all be sad that Kathy was gone, but we could keep in touch when she was placed at a different company. But that’s not what happened. Dawn instead called Kathy’s boss and told her things that weren’t true, like that she lacked customer service skills, had a bad attitude, and was difficult to work with. 

Yet the reality is that Dawn is the one who cannot get along with anyone; she is very rude to everyone in our building, very condescending, and thinks everyone is below her. She tends to pick on people, and I am speaking from experience. In any case, Dawn made such a fuss with that other company that instead of replacing Kathy, they fired her.

There are numerous people throughout my company who are appalled that this has happened to Kathy and would like to contact that other company and tell them what Dawn said about Kathy simply isn’t true and how much we all loved working with her. We all believe her dismissal was unjustified and would like to tell the other company what a joy she was to work with.

Is there anyway this can be done without causing problems? Can we write letters or sign petitions, or is anything we can do to help Kathy maybe get her job back?

I think it depends on who handles the contract with that company. Hopefully it’s not Dawn but instead is someone above her, and you could talk to that person about what happened and share your desire to reach out to the company that staffs the mailroom. However, it’s really that person’s call; they manage that relationship and they need to be able to call the shots on it, not have letters or petitions from your company going out to the mailroom company without their approval.

Meanwhile, someone should talk to Dawn’s boss about the fact that she appears to have gotten someone fired without justification, as well as about the other concerns you have about how she treats colleagues.

All that said, do be aware that it’s possible there’s more to the story that you don’t know, and you want to approach the whole thing with that in mind. While Kathy sounds like a nice person and Dawn doesn’t, it’s possible that Dawn did have legitimate concerns about her work, which is another reason not to contact the company without the okay of whoever in your company manages that contract.

2. We’re all suffering because our dating coworkers broke up

I have two coworkers who have dated and lived together for seven years. They recently went through a messy breakup, and now other staff members – mostly myself – are being asked to rearrange our shifts so they don’t have to work the same shift together. We are a very small staff, so I didn’t mind helping out to keep the peace. Now, their requests are interfering with my typical days off (Saturdays, Fridays), so I’m increasingly having to adjust my schedule – and now, even a vacation – to make accommodations for the end of their relationship. It’s been a month now, with no signs of our management improving the situation.

Is there a way for me to “manage up” here, or do you have any recommendations for how to best assert my needs and also alert folks that this situation is not okay? I feel like I’m the only one.

I’d say this: “I was willing adjust my schedule a few times, but it’s not something I can keep doing. And I can’t change my vacation dates.”

If you get pushback from your manager and you have decent rapport with her, then I’d say this: “It doesn’t seem reasonable for Fergus and Jane to expect other people to rearrange our shifts because they don’t want to work together. I’d hope that anyone who has a personal conflict with another employee would be able to be professional at work, and not place the burden of their conflict on other people. If that’s not something they can realistically do, what’s the plan for making sure that this doesn’t continue to impact the rest of us?”

3. Nervous about starting new job and not knowing much about the team I’ll work with

I recently accepted a new job that I’m excited about. I start in about 3 weeks. I do like my current job, which I’ve been in for about a year and a half now. It was my first real job after graduating from grad school, and I’ve learned a ton. The best part? I’ve become extremely close with about three women there, and I dare say they have become some of my best friends.

I’ve been looking for a different job for about four months now, and was surprised how quickly I was able to land a new one. It has a slightly higher salary, and definitely more experience and autonomy. My question is…now that I have the new job, I feel so much anxiety about leaving and I’ve actually started to doubt my decision. The source of most of my nerves is that I haven’t met any of the members of the new team I will be joining, except the woman that will be my new boss. She’s been the one interviewing me and along with HR, has been my only point of contact with the new company. Is it normal not to meet the members of the department you will be joining before starting a new job? I really like my new boss and the company I’m joining, but I definitely feel some anxiety leaving my best friends for a team I’ve never met. Any tips or advice?

Yep, it’s not not uncommon to only meet the manager and not the full team. And it’s very, very normal to feel anxious about leaving a familiar job for a new one.

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t go into any job expecting or even wanting to make best friends there. It’s nice if you can develop close relationships at work, but there can be real downsides and complications to that too. Ultimately what really matters is whether you have pleasant coworkers who are good at their jobs, easy to work with, and people you can learn from.

4. Boss flies first class while the rest of us are in coach

Is it illegal in any way for my boss to always fly first class while explicitly telling myself and other lower employees to fly economy class? The flights are for business (obviously). Just curious!

Nope, that’s perfectly legal (and not terribly uncommon; the idea is that there are perks of seniority).

5. Confusing health insurance forms from former employer

I was recently laid off from a small company (fewer than 10 employees). This employer had provided me with insurance throughout my tenure, and notified me that our insurance benefits would be ending shortly after I’d been laid off (I was given the option to purchase a COBRA plan through this employer, but didn’t wish to do so). I subsequently signed up for health insurance through the Healthcare Marketplace, and am about to pay my first premium to officially enroll in the plan. Recently, my former coworkers and I received an email from our former employer asking us to complete some forms to “terminate coverage.”

Upon inspection, these look to be enrollment forms; they say nothing about termination or the like, and seem to assume the person completing them is an active employee of the company. Based on the email from my employer, it seems as though he is asking us to “waive” our option to be covered through the company even though he isn’t actually offering us that option at all.

I suspect that the employer is attempting to maintain the same group policy we previously had by making it look as though we former employees are still employed by him (thus qualifying him to purchase a group plan), and that we are merely declining the coverage he’s offering. I am concerned about jeopardizing my right to coverage through the Healthcare Marketplace because the application I completed asked me if my employer was offering me insurance and I replied in the negative.

Am I correct to think that this is, if not actually illegal, at least unethical?

If your suspicion is correct, absolutely. But that might not be the case; I’m pretty sure that I remember at least one case in my own experience where an employer’s insurance termination form was the same as its enrollment form. But you definitely shouldn’t sign anything that isn’t completely clear to you, so as a next step I’d contact your former employer and get more clarity about exactly what the forms are for.

{ 255 comments… read them below }

      1. Ella*

        My point was that, to the extent the question was asking if it is fair/legal for the boss to have a more expensive seat, it may not actually be more expensive if she has status and is upgrading for free.

        1. F.*

          Fair and legal are two totally different concepts. Fair is subjective. Legal is objective. I would go so far as to venture that it really is none of the employee’s business how management flies.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            I think Ella wasn’t saying they are the same thing so much as saying that either way, the seat might not be more expensive, so it could be both legal -and- fair.

        1. charisma*

          Right? How this would be “illegal” (as in someone took the time to write a law, have it passed, it’s enforceable, etc.) is beyond me. If it were illegal, what actions would OP take? Would that matter? I am just really curious how this (and other things) go from “seems unfair” to “potentially against the law” in the minds of some. This is such a stretch, I’m having trouble understanding where from where the question is stemming.

          Not everything that seems unfair is illegal.

          1. SG*

            I was coming here literally to express that same sentiment. I’m often really confused by the “is this legal” questions.

    1. MK*

      I am not sure that’s the point. OP says their boss explicitly told everyone else to fly economy; if this means the company will only pay for economy for lower-level employees, that’s reasonable. But I wonder if the manager is making this a rule regardless who pays for the upgrade, which does sound off.

      1. A Dispatcher*

        Hmmm… interesting point. I didn’t think about it that way. Still not illegal, but would be a pretty annoying policy. I suppose I can think of reasons for it (we don’t want the other employees to think Jane is getting her upgrade paid for by us), but one would think that a policy clearly stating the company will pay for economy and employees may choose to upgrade on their own would cover that.

      2. hbc*

        I think there’s pretty much zero chance that the rule isn’t that you can’t pay for your own upgrade, or that you have to turn down an offer to move up for free as you board. To someone who would never consider paying for an upgrade, the company not paying for it is exactly the same as saying “You can’t do it.”

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          That was my read — that it was more the company will only pay for your economy class ticket.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Actually, think about some of the nonsensical policies we hear about here, through both letters and comments. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if non-managers were told they were not allowed to upgrade their work trips. “It builds camaraderie/teamwork” or some variant of that bullcrap.

          I mean, chances are you’re right, but I wouldn’t bet good money on it myself.

      3. Allison*

        Yes, there seems to be some information missing from the letter. I wonder if the LW will comment here and clarify, or if these comments will inspire them to see clarification. That said, I could see a manager wanting to fly in a different class as a means of getting some “alone time” away from the rest of the team.

    2. Colette*

      It’s also possible the boss flies more or on longer trips or has more meetings soon after landing or that there is some other reason (other than that she’s the boss) that makes it important for her to fly more comfortably. I once flew to Botswana with the president of the company and a colleague – all of us in coach. The difference was that the president was there for three days before flying somewhere else (Thailand, maybe?) while the rest of us were there for two weeks. If he’d wanted to fly business class so that he’d be more functional in the time he was there, it would have made sense for him to do so.

      1. Judy*

        Most of the companies I’ve worked for had rules about which flight level was chosen. Usually, coach for domestic and your first trans-ocean round trip of the year. Your second and further international round trips could be business class. So generally, the higher ups were travelling more and were flying business class most of their trips, while the rest of us might have an international flight every few years.

        1. michelenyc*

          I know most of the companies I have worked for it has been something similar. Any international flight over 6 hours is business class and almost all domestic flights are coach. If you want to use your miles to upgrade on the domestic flight then it is fine.

    3. Traveler*

      What if the other employees have frequent flyer status and the boss is still explicitly telling them to fly coach? If they could upgrade for free and the boss won’t allow them, does that change the situation any? Or is that the boss’ prerogative since its a business trip? (That’s how I originally read the question but I see now that’s not necessarily how it was meant).

    4. That Marketing Chick*

      #4 – Sorry; get a real problem. If my boss flies up in first class and I’m in coach…who cares?

  1. J*

    What’s behind the questions about legality? Seems like a lot of people think all kinds of innocuous things are illegal and flying first class is the most innocuous one I’ve ever heard of where someone thought it was illegal. Really curious how these rumours start.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think a lot of people absorb the idea when they’re young kids in school that institutions are supposed to be “fair” and treat everyone equally, because schools sort of work that way. Then they carry that idea with them to the work work and still expect that there’s some kind of neutral authority that continues to enforce standards of fairness into adulthood. Labor law is surprisingly misunderstood/shrouded in mystery … but then it’s hardly the only area of law that’s like that. Look at how many people aren’t clear on their civil rights, for instance (and mistakenly think that they have to consent to a search if stopped by the police, and so forth).

      1. J*

        Interesting psychological processes for sure.

        I see employment related “legality” issues discussed on other forums and I’m always the first to say “yeah, that’s unfair and crappy, but legal.” People will fight that to the death, it’s amazing.

        I find people also tend to think certain police actions are illegal (like cops have to identify themselves if asked) and they misunderstand Miranda. Also people think that you can be successfully sued for all kinds of things that are not at all likely.

        1. Three Thousand*

          I really liked how Breaking Bad illustrated the fact that cops are allowed to lie to you even if you directly ask them if they’re a cop, to the point of encouraging you to ask them and lying that they will have to tell the truth if you do. I bet a lot of people learned something from that episode.

            1. Three Thousand*

              True, but a lot of people seem to think a cop lying about being a cop constitutes entrapment in itself, because of course you would never have sold drugs to a cop if you knew they were a cop.

            2. MegEB*

              A cop lying about being a cop (especially while undercover) isn’t entrapment. Entrapment is, essentially, a cop convincing someone to commit a crime they would have been unlikely to commit had it not been for the cop’s involvement.

              1. Anna*

                There was recently (within the last few years) a case in Oregon where a man was arrested for plotting an attack on a public event and the defense argued it was entrapment since the cops had seen this guy’s posts and then drew him in to carrying out the plot by providing fake explosives. The defense failed at making that argument, but there are plenty of people who felt it fit the definitions.

        2. Jaydee*

          I try not to sound like the annoying teacher who asks, “I don’t know – can – you go to the bathroom” but a seriously huge part of my job involves breaking down questions about whether the other party “can do” certain things. Really there are three components to that question:
          Is it physically possible for them to do the thing?
          Is it legal or consequence-free to do the thing?
          If they do or try to do the thing, what can you do about it?

          “People do illegal things all the time” is right up there with “the judge can’t make him/her be a better parent” on my list of oft-repeated phrases.

          1. Aunt Vixen*

            Tangentially, I once had a conversation with IT about a new feature of some software package or other that we had been using and I was slowly becoming more familiar with. The guy said “But you can’t do [x thing],” and I said “Oh, great, then I won’t do it by mistake” – and he came back with “I will be clearer: we would prefer that you not do [x thing.]” I was like, “Dude, I don’t want to be That Person, but I work with words and language and this is exactly why we have ‘may.’ What you mean is that I may not do [x thing.] But it’s good to know [x feature] is not disabled, so I can check I haven’t done it accidentally.”


      2. Artemesia*

        Well the confusion on searches is understandable since apparently if you are a minority you can be tasered or worse for ‘not complying’ in the most ridiculous circumstances.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          This is a related issue where your legal rights are violated, but the consequences of standing up for your rights can be worse than those of the initial violation. We get examples of that here as well – when standing up to illegal employer practices carries a risk of being fired if it’s traced back to you.

          These situations typically share the characteristics of a strong power differential, serious consequences, and often a low likelihood of receiving justice or recompense.

          1. Anx*

            I was about to say, I think employment law is so shrouded in mystery because for so many people it’s inconsequential. What’s a little wage theft and working a 14 hour shift with no guaranteed bathroom breaks/lunch break if it means keeping your job, especially if it’s lucrative.

            Meanwhile, certain classes of jobs do have more legal protection than others, whether because there’s more actual governance or because the industry norm is to challenge, not ignore, labor law breeches. And people in social groups and families, even if they’re in the generally same economic class, may belong to different labor classes.

            So you have some people telling their friends and family that they should fight back against something that’s either illegal or applying norms from their industry onto others, which I think muddles up people’s understanding of the law.

        2. voyager1*

          That’s because most people don’t know how to NOT give consent to said search. They also don’t know the law around when and when not consent is needed.

      3. Green*

        I guess I just don’t see what’s “unfair” about this. My boss also makes more money than me and has more vacation time.

        1. Three Thousand*

          I think it’s because it’s more blatant and obvious that the boss gets first class and you don’t. Flying is one of the last social situations in America where we don’t pretend to be egalitarian.

            1. The Strand*

              Isn’t that the (new) American dream in a nutshell, though?

              I’m OK with inequity because I intend to benefit in the long run?

              Which is not to say that I wouldn’t, myself, accept a business class ticket if I had the added responsibilities a lot of executives do.

              1. the gold digger*

                I’m OK with an inequality like this because it is not a result of something that is completely out of a person’s control. It’s not an inequality as a result of sex or race or education – it is an equality that results from someone who (almost always) has worked super long, hard hours to get to where she is.

                I really don’t worry about the execs flying first class – I have seen what it takes to get to that level and I think it is a well-deserved perk.

                1. Katter*

                  I’m actually with you on this one. Seeing what our director goes through on a weekly basis…man, his job is legitimately much more difficult than mine. I’m sure there are instances where the execs taking the perks are useless at their jobs, but seniority generally isn’t something that just happens spontaneously.

                2. I'm a Little Teapot*

                  Except a lot of people work hard and long and never rise to the top. And a lot of people will never have the opportunity due to things they can’t help (disability, etc.) This kind of attitude – “I don’t care if life’s not fair because someday I’ll get mine” – is a destructive delusion.

                  (I’m not talking about the first class thing, which is no big deal. I’m talking about this kind of thinking as applied to the larger economic scene.)

                3. Anna*

                  Side Note: The Strand’s comment still stands, though. There exists plenty of thought on the idea that the reason so few people who are already economically precarious support policies that would hurt them is because in the long run, they see themselves as one day being a member of the Haves. So while flying first class as an exec may be something that you could actually attain, the attitude is something that is seen in policies relating to poverty and people on benefits.

                  End Side Note.

                4. Green*

                  I think I am OK with inequity when it’s a slightly larger seat for more money, a hot towel and a free beer.

            2. Charlotte Collins*

              I prefer a flying chariot pulled by a team of pegasuses (pegasi?).

              Or Wonder Woman’s invisible jet.

        2. Ad Astra*

          I don’t think it’s a good look for the boss to fly first class while the rest of the team flies coach — for the same trip, anyway. In this case, it’s less about being equal and more about being together. But I would also rank this about 37th on the list of things I care about.

          And if the boss is just generally flying first class alone while other people generally fly coach alone, I care even less about the policy.

          1. ted mosby*

            ugh I can’t imagine anything WORSE than being forced to sit next to my boss for hours at a time making stilted small talk. “please! you fly in first class! I’ll fly in the bottom part with the dogs!!”

            I’m sure that makes a lot of sense in the context of working on a flight :), but that’s never been the nature of my trips

            1. Koko*

              Truth. I liked my coworkers at my last job, where I managed all travel arrangements for our small office. But whenever we all flew to the same place, I booked us all seats in separate areas of the plane. Mostly billed as, “Everyone gets a window or aisle seat according to their preferences!” with the fact that we didn’t have to be in each other’s constant presence for an entire weekend an unspoken benefit.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                Yes, this.

                In my last role I traveled 50%. Most of that was by myself, thank goodness, but I definitely would intentionally select seats away from my coworkers on the plane. I want to use that time to read/sleep/watch a movie… anything but have to “present” myself to my coworkers.

              2. Arjay*

                I think my boss is super, but last night I made an unnecessary trip to the bathroom to avoid having to ride down in the elevator and walk out to the parking lot with him. I mean, either we’re going to talk about work when I’m already checked out for the day, or we’re going to talk awkwardly about not-work. Eep.

              3. Anna*

                I fly out of state at least once a year with my boss. We go on the same flight, but do not sit together. I think we’re both really okay with that.

          2. Lia*

            I agree. It looks out of touch to me.

            I’ve only traveled with my boss on the same flights once before our policies changed and we had to start fronting our own travel. Boss relaxed in business class while a co-worker and I squished into coach. We had to walk past boss to get to our seats. Annoying, yes, but that was about all.

            1. Cath in Canada*

              I’ve been in this situation a few times and I really don’t mind. I travel for work maybe twice a year, on average; senior people fly aaaaaall the time and rack up lots of air miles. Work doesn’t pay for business class tickets regardless of the person or the length of the flight, but it’s unusual for a senior person not to have enough points for an upgrade. I figure they’ve earned it – I enjoy occasional work travel, but if it was a frequent occurrence it would become a chore pretty quickly.

              The only time it’s caused a problem was when we’d started a game of Monopoly on my phone in the airport and hadn’t finished by the time we finally boarded; we had to keep walking the phone up to the front so the senior professor could take his turn :D

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              Boss flying first class would have to be justified somehow if you’re in government or government contracts. Taxpayers don’t like to pay for extra seat space. (But if there’s a Business Need, it would be OK.)

        3. Stranger than fiction*

          I’m kind of with you. Big bosses can also draw multi-million dollar bonuses, and that’s legal too, and to me that’s much more shocking because sometimes it’s at the expense of underpaid employees.

      4. Ad Astra*

        Many people also mistakenly believe something is law because it happened to be the policy of every business they are personally familiar with. You see it a lot with termination procedures. “Can they fire me without warning?” Yes. “Can they fire me for this?” Almost always, yes. It doesn’t help that “wrongful termination” sounds vague when it actually covers some very specific circumstances.

    2. vox de causa*

      It seems as if there are a lot of people who, when they run into a policy or practice that they do not agree with, immediately decide it must somehow be illegal. Google fails to confirm their suspicions, so they write to Alison.

      1. Mike C.*

        If the person decided it was illegal, why did they bother to ask in the first place?

        I think folks really need to lay off complaining about others who ask questions they don’t know the answer to. That’s the whole point of an advice column.

        1. The Strand*

          Said perfectly.

          I appreciate that people share these questions in an open forum. They provide entertainment and food for thought. So what if sometimes, a new reader writing in gets it wrong? None of us had to get up to speed, ever?

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I like how Alison explained it in terms of fairness, and I think you’re right. And I think they’re looking for a way to call somebody on it and make it “fair.”

        It’s a hard lesson for some people to learn that life isn’t always fair.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Actually, I love how Alison handles that: “It’s legal, but it’s unfair and pretty crappy.”

          Or, “it’s legal, and it may seem unfair but it’s actually common.”

          She does a great job of laying it out, and of sympathizing with someone’s outrage all while being VERY realistic.

          1. Anna*

            It would be amusing if she had a shortcut for the phrase, depending on the situation the writer sent in. “Oh, this is a Shift Control C for Legal but Crappy!”

    3. De (Germany)*

      While the flying first class example is probably not illegal anywhere (though who knows), a surprising number of things that people ask here *would* be illegal in some other countries. So it’s not like it’s impossible for there to be laws about that.

      1. Ruth (UK)*

        Agreed. Many of the ‘is this legal?’ Questions get a ‘yep it’s legal’ answer on here, especially to do with firing etc but are not so much here. I’ve been checking the UK gov site a lot on it when I suspect our laws differ. In the UK the law protects workers much more (though not entirely) especially because you always have a contract of employment and because you may often have a case to claim you were fired unreasonably (not just on grounds of discrimination). However a lot of people have zero hour contracts and a store I worked in used to just simply stop giving people shifts (but not actually fire them) so that remaining in employment there became useless and they’d quit. Since our jobs typically carry no perks like health insurance etc (since healthcare is free here) there becomes no reason to stay in a job with no, or very few hours so it’s a way to push people out…

        1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          We’ve also now made it nearly impossible to enforce workplace rights – see the sharp rise in pregnancy discrimination at the same time as an, iirc, 90ish% drop in cases – through tribunal fees and now limiting unions to almost nothing. Unfortunately, our workplace rights are essentially becoming meaningless, and I wish more people realised it was happening.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I live outside the UK and I can see it happening (I read your papers and news sites)–because it happens here, and I’m getting frustrated that your government is turning into ours. You’re supposed to be our older, wiser big brother! Don’t do what we do! I will have no escape!!

        2. BTW*

          I’m in Canada and once had a boss that did this. If they (boss & mgmt team) didn’t like someone but had no reasonable grounds to fire the employee, they would just slowly pull back on their shifts over a period of time, forcing the employee to quit. It was terrible and he was a manipulative jerk. I’m sure he could get into legal trouble because of some of the things he’s done but around here it’s more work than it’s worth going to the labour board so he’s been safe thus far. *shakes*head*

      2. MK*

        I think it’s more a case of “it might be illegal in country X, assuming conditions A, B and C also apply and under circumstances Y and Z”.

      3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        Learning about labor laws in other countries is one of my favorite things about the comments.

        I find the contrast between the US and other countries really interesting!

        1. neverjaunty*

          It depends on where you are in the US, too, which is why AAM answers a lot of questions with “California law is different”.

      4. NerdyCanuck*

        I actually remember a question a little while back from someone who was working at (I think) Burger King, and the boss was posting schedules late the day before they began.

        Up here, they wouldn’t have been obligated to show up for a shift that following day – labour code mandates 24 hours notice on schedule changes, employee initiated changes aside (so you can swap a shift the day before, but they can’t inform someone they have to come in for you the day before).

    4. Charityb*

      I kind of thought it was a bit of a running gag at this point, and the “is this legal??” questions are more about venting about something that the letter writer thinks is unfair rather than seriously thinking that it’s actually illegal for a company executive to have better perks than their subordinates.

      (I mean, presumably no one would think that it’s actually illegal that their boss has more vacation days than they do, or has a higher salary than they do, right?)

      I don’t think that it’s actually based on any specific rumors though, if only because I’m having a hard time imagining what this rumor would be based on…

    5. Three Thousand*

      I also think people are casting about for a way to say “is it fair,” or “is it socially acceptable,” or “is it something I should tolerate or expect others to do” and settling on “is it legal,” because it sounds like a weightier way to ask the question.

    6. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Actually, I think part of the problem is that, since we have so much information available from so many sources, people look to simplify their lives in ways that make sense. A lot of people simplify by having a mental category of “rules to follow” that doesn’t distinguish between civil/criminal law and the policies of corporations. That’s why so many security guards or employees will say it’s “illegal” to take pictures in their stores, when it is NEVER illegal to do so. They can ask you to leave if you take pictures, and if you do not leave they can charge you with trespassing, but you cannot legally be preemptively barred from taking pictures (with a few usually obvious exceptions for national security). (Link to follow)

    7. RG*

      I can’t remember exactly who said it, but once someone made the comment that most people tend to think of labor law as a bunch of laws specifically allowing and disallowing most actions instead of a few laws that employers have to obey, but are otherwise free to do what they want.

    8. Mando Diao*

      Sometimes people don’t want to keep debating with dumb, incompetent management and they want to be able to say, “This isn’t a discussion; the law says such-and-such.” In small businesses, you almost always have people running things who haven’t ever taken a business course and are just making up policies that sort of sound right.

      “You have to get more soap for the bathroom and fix the door so it locks. It’s the law. It’s not sufficient to tell me to wedge a trashcan in front of it.”

      “No, it’s not a law in this state that I have to take a lunch break, so please be up-front with me that this isn’t actually a 40 hour/week job instead of pressuring me to clock out for lengthy breaks at odd times.”

      “No, calling my pay a ‘salary’ does not mean you don’t have to pay me overtime when I’ve done the work. The law doesn’t work that way.”

  2. neverjaunty*

    OP #4, yes, this is probably illegal – IF and only if the boss is retaliating against rank-and-file employees for attempting to unionize, or because the boss perceives them to have some protected characteristic (i.e. Boss thinks women don’t belong in first class and it just so happens that all the employees are women), or if it is a violation of an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement.

    Absent that: are you out of your freaking mind? WHY would this be illegal?

      1. neverjaunty*

        My comment came across as a lot angrier than it was intended. I’m just sitting here being baffled :/

      2. J*

        The “ask someone if they speak English” one struck me as odd, as did the follow up comments. Why would it be illegal to ask if someone speaks a language, or to not hire someone who can’t speak it?

        We have no official language in this country, we have a lot of immigrants from non-English speaking countries, and there are a lot of jobs that require you to speak English fluently. Hell, my job would be impossible if I didn’t speak it fluently, just because I wouldn’t be able to communicate with my coworkers. And we have a lot of people who aren’t native speakers of English, but are fluent, and there’s no way they could do the job if they weren’t fluent.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          This ended up getting way off-topic from the post, so I’m asking that we not post additional comments in this thread. Thank you.

          (Moving this up here so people see it before hitting reply.)

        2. Shell*

          I’m an immigrant and a child of immigrants, and I think the difference is if you’re asking “how’s your [X language] ability” when X is the language the interview is being conducted in and the expected default.

          My parents aren’t very fluent in English. It has definitely held my father back professionally. You wouldn’t have to ask him “can you speak English well?” because a few sentences in you can tell.

          I am fluent in English and Mandarin. English I have native proficiency. Mandarin I have vernacular proficiency. If an interviewer is asking me “so, how’s your Mandarin?” when the interview is conducted in English, I think that’s a completely normal question; the default languages here (in Canada) are English or French, so while I’m in a very multicultural city and multilingualism is useful, the first language people expect is English. If the interviewer asks me “so, how’s your English?” I’d raise my eyebrow a bit. I’m talking to you in English, presumably you can tell? If you have questions about my technical understanding in teapot spouts, well, presumably you know enough about the subject in English to quiz me on it? If chatting with a white-as-milk applicant is sufficient to suss out their English abilities, the same should apply to me.

          It’s mildly insulting, and while it’s not an illegal question, it seems like an utterly pointless question. And I do know lots of immigrants who are more well-spoken in English than those who were born here, so I don’t like it as a question for those who are visibly “not from here.” Now, if the interviewer asks this question to everyone I’d just find it pointless but not that terrible, but somehow I doubt that’s the practice.

          I agree language proficiency and communication skills are important. But if that’s the common language being spoken by interviewer and interviewee, I expect the interviewer to have a bit of finesse in figuring out the answer (and it’s likely to be much more accurate that way, as one applicant’s “expert” proficiency is another applicant’s “rusty”).

          1. Three Thousand*

            Exactly. If the interview is being conducted in English, you can figure out if you think someone’s English is good enough for the job without having to ask. If you’re only asking people who aren’t white, that’s a more serious problem. If you can have a conversation with a non-white person who speaks fluent English and your brain is still pegging them as “foreigner, probably doesn’t speak English,” you have your own issues to sort out.

            1. the gold digger*

              The times Spanish has been essential for a job, I have been interviewed in Spanish. That’s how they figured out I was not lying on my resume – that I do speak Spanish.

          2. matcha123*

            I agree with you.
            In a similar vein, I live in Japan, had a first round interview (in Japanese) and at the end of the second round of interviews (again in Japanese), I was asked if I could speak Japanese.

            If someone’s language ability is in question, you can suss it out almost as soon as they start talking or by looking at what they’ve written. Asking someone if they can speak English, while not illegal, is insulting. How is someone supposed to answer that? “No”?

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              The smart-ass in me would want to say, “Remember two minutes ago, when we were speaking Japanese together? That was me speaking Japanese.” I have to curb a lot of smart-assness, as it is my second language.

            2. Julia*

              Oh GOD, this. It’s SOOOOO annoying. Especially when they ask in Japanese.
              Sometimes I’m tempted to answer in perfect Japanese: “No, sorry, I don’t understand Japanese at all!”

              It’s completely baffling how their minds work. Even my boyfriend sometimes assumes I didn’t understand him and not that he just mumbled.

              On the other hand, if you do speak it well, they sometimes forget you weren’t Born and raised in Japan. :D

          3. Harriet Vane Wimsey*

            I can’t help being “white as milk” any more than you can help whatever race/ethnicity you are. Pretty unkind. If you reversed that statement to stereotype another race I can hear the outrage.

            1. Revolver Rani*

              I think you have misread Shell’s comment and seen racial stereotyping in it when none is there. Shell’s statement is hey, employers, if you can judge white people’s English sufficiently just by talking to them in English, then you can judge non-white people’s English by talking to them just as well. What do you see as unkind or outrageous in that?

            2. JB (not in Houston)*

              Love your username, but as Revolver Rani pointed out, your comment isn’t responding to what Shell said at all.

            3. RG*

              Did you actually read the comment? She’s talking about the fact that if you’re conducting an interview in a particular language, you don’t need to ask the person if they’re proficient in that language. First of all, it’s silly and a bit worrying. My proficiency in a language should be obvious if we’ve been conducting an interview in that language, unless you haven’t actually been paying attention to what I’ve said, which doesn’t exactly endear me to you. But more importantly, it’s insulting. What exactly about me makes you think that I’m not proficient in a language, despite the fact that we’ve been conducting the interview in that language?

              1. Harriet Vane Wimsey*

                Yes I did read the comment and could not agree more that to ask a person who is speaking with you in English about their English language skills is just insulting and really stupid, and it would not happen (in all likelihood) to a white person. BUT, if someone used the expression “yellow as corn” to describe an Asian person I would find that highly offensive. So why cannot I find “white as milk” offensive as well? We are all decrying racism, but “white as milk” IS racist. Why should any of us add to the racial pile-on of one another?

                1. CA Admin*

                  White people haven’t been the subject of racial oppression–so the “racism” that’s directed at us is the harmless, no-teeth variety, since there’s no systemic inequality to back it up.

                  Frankly, I’d let it go. Is it the best way to describe someone? No. Is it a bit offensive? Yes. Is it worth derailing the entire conversation over? Definitely not. There just isn’t the same historical context, so it’s not actually harmful.

                2. Shell*

                  I do believe that one can be shitty on the basis of race even to people who are the racial majority, whether we term it “racism” or not (I am so not touching that debate). So you’re right, that term was uncalled for. I apologize.

                  Alison, sorry for posting this after you stopped the thread. I won’t add to this any further; I just want to add an apology where it’s due.

                3. Julia*

                  Because Asians aren’t actually “yellow as corn”, but I would definitely call my not-to-be-found-in-MAC-foundations skintone “white as milk”. Of course it’s a difference because I’m talking about myself and not someone else (just like a black person can use the N-word when I should never), and also, as others have pointed out, because White is not an oppressed race. Seriously, I lived in Japan and I know we can be discriminated against (“oh, White Person speak Japanese!”), but it’s still not racism.

          4. Aunt Vixen*

            The husband of a former colleague of mine is of South Asian descent and has a long and (to Americans) difficult-to-sound-out name. She says people are always telling her how impressive his English is and how they can barely hear any accent – to which she replies, yes, in fact you can’t hear any accent at all, because he’s a native speaker from Philadelphia. #thingsthatdon’thappentowhitepeople

            1. Arjay*

              My mom, God rest her soul, was “afraid of foreigners.” Obviously I can’t defend that position, but it’s my mom. On a trip to the emergency room, the first doctor she saw was of Indian descent. The second doctor she saw was white. She asked the second guy, “Hey, where’s that other guy from?” I could have kissed him right on the mouth when he answered, “Oh, Dr. Patel? He’s from St. Louis.” She grew to love Dr. Patel too; he became her primary care physician for the last years of her life.

          5. Chinook*

            “My parents aren’t very fluent in English. It has definitely held my father back professionally. You wouldn’t have to ask him “can you speak English well?” because a few sentences in you can tell.”

            I have been called on by the odd manager to check someone’s English level (minor in ESL and experience doing this as an ESL teacher is noted on my resume) but not once did I ever ask someone if they can speak English well because it will give a false answer (because can anyone of us truly gauge our own skills?). Instead, I would have a casual conversation with them asking leading questions that can either be answered with simple sentences or complex ones depending on how confident you are when you speak. I still feel bad for the one temp we were sent who didn’t have the right proficiency but I pointed out to her that it wasn’t her that was the problem but the fact that we were dealing with clients who also spoke ESL but were from a different language group and there would be communication issues (heck, these clients often had issues with my Canadian English).

            Why do my managers call me in? Usually because they want a second opinion to ensure that there isn’t an underlying bias at play and they knew I could do it subtly and give concrete reasons that could be documented. I have also been asked by ESL speaking colleagues for clarification on what an native English speaker was saying because said English speaker had a particularly different accent (whether it be Newfie or Scottish).

          6. J*

            You’re assuming the question is being posed in English. What if it were one Mandarin speaker asking another Mandarin speaker, in Mandarin, if they speak English?

            That’s why it would be a silly law.

        3. MK*

          Eh, saying the U.S has no official language sounds disingenuous to me. English is the one used by the government and all authorities and institutions, correct?

          But I think Shell’s distinction is crucial: asking about fluency in a language other than the one used in the interview is reasonable, but asking about the one both the candidate and the interviewer are speaking at the time makes little sense. If a non-white interviewee speaks without difficulty and the interviewer asks about fluency, it’s hard to avoid thinking that it’s about race.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Nope, the U.S. has no official language. There have been bills introduced to make English the official language practically every year, but they’ve never passed. Some states have made English their official language, but as a country, we don’t have one.

            1. De (Germany)*

              Well, still, all your government documents, all your laws, all your court hearings and Senate debates and whatever are in English. They don’t get translated to all languages just because there’s no official language. Applying for citizenship requires a language test unless you have lived in the US for more than 15 years. What MK is saying, I think, is that officially, English might not be the official language, there’s not that much of a difference in practice.

              Besides that, though, I fail to see what that has to do with fluency required for a job anyway. Germany has an official language, that doesn’t mean you can just assume everyone here can speak it fluently. We usually write language skills on our resumes.

              1. ConstructionSafety*

                English? Anyone who listened to Sen. Howell Heflin, (D-AL) during the hearing might dispute that.

                1. Beezus*

                  The “Sen.” is a title for Senator, the (D-AL) means he was in the Democratic party for the state of Alabama. He was a US Congressman. He died a few years ago.

                2. Bird*

                  I, too, am confused by this comment. Are you referring to his vocabulary, his syntax, his pronunciation, or his accent? Admittedly I only watched a few video clips to try to understand what you are getting at, but I didn’t have any trouble understanding him.

                3. Bird*

                  Oh, of course, how silly of me: obviously you are referring to his strong Southern accent. Nonetheless, accented English is still English. So, unless you are insinuating that his accent (or any strong accent) precludes him from speaking English with any proficiency, I’m still not sure why this comment was necessary.

                4. De (Germany)*

                  Beezus, I actually understoof the “D-AL”, though I don’t think anyone outside of the US really needs to be able to understand that ;)

                  The comment made me think maybe this Senator spoke Spanish or another non-English language, but if it’s just an insult to his accent, that’s really not cool :(

              2. grumpy career changer*

                Actually, some government documents are available in other languages. At least in my city, which — while not perfect — is welcoming to immigrants and new Americans who help drive our educational and technology sectors, we have bilingual ballots (in Vietnamese and Chinese for sure, maybe more). Link to follow.

                1. De (Germany)*

                  We have that over here, too, and we have a national language, though. You can take your driving test in other languages etc. The point is that they are always available in English and many things are expected to be in English, though, so while it may not be the official language, that distinction seems to be rather pointless for me.

                2. The IT Manager*

                  I agree with you De that the distinction would be pointless in practice except it is a big political deal that the USA has never designated an official language. Some politicians and voters make a big deal about it and they seems to think an official language would mean that you couldn’t have government forms in other languages to accommodate immigrants.

                  So the lack of an official language does make a political point which is important.

                3. MK*

                  But that’s non-sensical. We have an official language, stated in the part of the Constitution that cannot be altered no less, and there has never been an issue about making accommodations when necessary.

                4. Ad Astra*

                  Like The IT Manager says, the distinction is quite important within the United States. It’s very much a “melting pot” vs. assimilation issue. It’s hard for me to think of a good European parallel to that situation because Europeans are so frequently bilingual and Americans, on the whole, are not. There’s a lot of fear that making English the official language of the U.S. would close the door to all other languages.

                5. Chinook*

                  “The point is that they are always available in English and many things are expected to be in English, though, so while it may not be the official language, that distinction seems to be rather pointless for me.”

                  The distinction becomes important when it comes to official documentation and your ability to access services. In Canada, I have the right to ask for English service at a federal level even if I am in the middle of Northern Quebec. A francophone can ask for a French judge in the middle of B.C. At a provincial level, when official languages are declared, it means you can ask for healthcare services and education in the official language (French or English in New Brunswick or in Inuktitut/Inuinnaqtun, English or French in Nunavut) regardless of how many people use it.

                  In the American context, if there is a community where 99% of the population are Spanish speaking, the government could technically offer their services only in Spanish because it doesn’t make financial sense to guarantee English access. And yet, that same Spanish speaking resident would have no right to the exact services in Spanish the next community over. As well, your government officials are not required by law to speak a given language.

                  On the plus side, though, national organizations in the US aren’t required to translate everything they produce (though the backs of cereal boxes are a great way to pick up French here in Canada).

                6. Not Myself*

                  US Customs forms must be presented or translated to English. It prevents people from from saying ‘Oh, 20000 kilos of ‘ananas’? That’s just French for medical syringes’ (which has a very very different rate of duty from pineapples). CBP is not a particularly trusting government agency, since a significant portion of their work is to drag money from people kicking an screaming…

              3. matcha123*


                If you can’t speak English well enough to get around, but live in a community with others who speak your native language, you’ll probably be fine. There are whole communities where members, mostly immigrants, cannot speak English well enough to go to IBM or wherever and get a job. What’s great for them is that those who are bilingual are able to offer their services and serve as a bridge. A person who’s English is that limited probably isn’t applying for a traditional job in the first place.

                If I lived in Germany for as long as I’ve lived in Japan and spoke German as well as I spoke Japanese, I’d be insulted if I went to an interview conducted in German and the interviewer asked if I could speak German.

              4. Jubilance*

                It depends on what level of government you’re talking about. Federal documents I’ve seen in English and Spanish. Locally, we have a lot of Somali and Hmong immigrants so I’ve seen state/local government documents that are in those languages, along with Spanish. It realy depends on the area and the population of the people in the area.

                1. Bagworm*

                  There are federal (and often state and local) regulations requiring that access to many government services not be limited by English language proficiency. The smart communities and organizations figure out what the most common non-English languages spoken locally are and make information readily available in those languages (Jubilance, I’d guess Minnesota based on your comment, too; around our town it’s Bosnian and Vietnamese) but if someone shows up speaking a language you’ve never heard of, you better have a plan in place to make sure the two of you can understand each other.

                  In the US, it seems a national language might make it easier to not require and disregard those kinds of accommodations. I’m glad that’s not the case in other countries that have a national language.

                2. Charlotte Collins*

                  A few years ago, my sister had to pay to have a relative’s birth certificate translated into English. It was issued in Illinois in the early part of the 20th century, and it was in Polish. So, that’s a government document that was definitely not in English.

                  Where I live now, it is common for there to be Hmong versions of government forms available, as well as English and Spanish.

                  English is the traditional language of the US, but not the “Official Language.” And years ago I read an essay by a linguist who pointed out that in a case like language, tradition is often stronger than law, so if you want English to continue to be used, you should *not* support English-only legislation.

            2. MK*

              I didn’t dispute that what J said was correct about there not being an official language; merely that it make little sense as an argument, when English is used by the goverment and authorities. My country has an official language, which means, among other things, that you cannot submit a document written in a foreign language to the goverment without an attached translation. Are you saying that I could submit a document written in Ratoromanisch to a U.S. goverment department and they would accept in without question because, hey, all languages are equal ther?

                1. MK*

                  If you say so, but I really would like to see how it would work in practice. My sister just started working for a well-known university in the U.S.and they asked for translations of all her credentials.

                2. Kelly L.*

                  @MK–well, again, this pertains to the federal government, not state or private institutions. Your sister’s university can make its own requirements. If she were sending them to the government, the government would theoretically need to go find a translator for her stuff.

                3. Charlotte Collins*

                  Also, the government makes a distinction between employees and citizens. An employee can be reasonably required to speak the dominant language (and even be able to speak other languages, if that is needed for the job description). However, the government has a responsibility to a citizen to make sure that documents and communications are understood by that person.

              1. CAA*

                Actually yes, if you have limited English proficiency, then you can submit documentation to the U.S. government in your own native language without having to provide a translation to English. You are also entitled to receive services and vital documents from the government in your own language. This is exactly what we mean by not having an official language, and these rights are codified in law (Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 13166), which is what the “official language” bills that are introduced regularly are trying to change.

                That doesn’t mean that the government has to conduct all of its business in every language, but it does have to conduct business with you in your language if you don’t have enough English to manage (there are exceptions for very rare languages). Also, this only applies to the Federal Government. States make their own laws, and many of them do have English as their official language.

            3. Ad Astra*

              The United States also has the largest Spanish-speaking population outside of Mexico, if I recall correctly. I would actually argue that the “This is America; we speak English!” crowd is in the wrong here. Particularly in border states, many Spanish-speaking families have lived in America longer than many English-speaking white families.

              And, because the U.S. has no official language, it’s possible to get government documents translated into Spanish or Vietnamese or a number of other languages. California, for instance, allows you to take the driver’s license test in any of 32 languages. And Puerto Rico does all its legal documents in Spanish. So the “official” part is sometimes an important distinction.

              But, to someone who lives outside the U.S., I can see how you’d think of the U.S. as an exclusively English-speaking country.

                1. Not me*

                  Some people in the U.S. are attempting to establish English as an official language in order to make these things unavailable.

                2. Ad Astra*

                  My understanding is that making English the official language would release the federal government from any obligation to provide documents in other languages. Some agencies would find it beneficial or even necessary to continue using other languages, but many might prefer to save themselves the expense. It’s possible I’m mistaken, but it’s also possible that your government and my government operate differently.

                  Most importantly, I think, is that changing the official language to English doesn’t do anything to help the U.S. So why bother? Remember, most English-speaking Americans do not speak a second a language.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          The cafe I worked at in CA required English speakers. It was fine if you spoke another language–Japanese would have come in handy, actually, with all the tourists we got–but you had to speak English.

  3. Thinking out loud*

    #4 – also, some people who fly so often that they are consistently upgraded to first class for free, so it’s entirely possible that the boss is not charging the company any more than you do if she flies more often.

    1. ginger ale for all*

      We are allowed to upgrade ourselves if we pay for the difference from our own pocket, or so I have heard. I wouldn’t do it myself but if I had to be ‘on’ as much as my managers, it would be tempting.

      1. periwinkle*

        My employer will pay for economy-class but we keep any frequent flyer miles and are welcome to upgrade (using our own miles or money) if we want. I’m a Delta frequent flyer which puts me in the Preferred seats at no charge; for flight segments longer than 3 hours I’ll usually pay for the upgrade to Comfort+ since my status isn’t high enough to snag an upgrade (yet). After one trip I went to the airport with two colleagues on the same flight. One was in regular Economy, I was in Comfort+, and the third was fortunate enough to get the upgrade to First. Same cost to the company for each of us!

        I don’t expect to see our executives in Economy. It’s one of the perks of being a top banana.

        1. SystemsLady*

          I am silver medallion and, almost all the time, those seats are still available for me 24 hours before the flight starts. I usually pick exit row at booking and, even though I fly busy hub to busy hub, I’m almost always able to upgrade for free.

          It’s like most people with status don’t realize free Comfort+seats X hours before departure is one of their perks!

          But for longer flights, I could certainly see it being worth the guarantee.

          1. periwinkle*

            I’m Silver and didn’t know that was an option. Thanks for the tip! I do check the seat availability at various times leading up to my travel dates and even E+ is limited to a middle seat or two on many of my flights. In fact, I just checked my November 6th flight (SLC to SEA) and it’s already down to one middle seat left in both E+ and Preferred. Ack. It’s a busy route.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Is Delta’s premium economy still just an economy seat with a hot towel, or is it any better than that now? Or did I just get lucky? :P Not worth it, IMO.

          I like that you can use your own miles/money to upgrade. I’d be ticked if I had to travel a lot and wasn’t allowed to do so.

  4. Ann Furthermore*

    #4: SMH. It’s very common for managers to be granted more privileges for business travel. At my company anyone at the director level and above can fly in business class.

    And like others have said, the boss’s first class seats may come from upgrades, which means he or she travels very frequently. And if that’s the case, believe me, those upgrades have been earned. Being consistently near the top of the upgrade list means you have spent A LOT of time with your butt in a plane seat. And these days, that’s a pretty unpleasant proposition.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      I remember being in the same flight as my boss once and walking through the airport with him. I was amazed at how many people he knew by name. It made me realize how much time he really spent traveling and made me question if I wanted to move up.

    2. JC*

      Yup. The president of my organization is explicitly allowed to fly first class, while the rest of us fly economy. We have been on the same flights as him where we were in coach and he was in first class.

  5. going under cover for this one*

    I work with my ex-fiance and his ex-wife also works at our place of employment. There has never been a problem between the three of us and I even have a much higher opinion of his ex-wife after seeing how great they are with their kids. Other people have created problems by their weird comments on the situation but as long as you act like an adult and stay professional, it shouldn’t be a problem for exes to work together. If they can’t, then call that person on their behavior. Don’t take sides or dig for any he said she said on the private relationship. I had a problem for about a week with the ex-fiance and then I got over it. We just kept the difficult things to work out like returning wedding gifts and writing thank you notes for our off work time.

    1. going under cover for this one*

      Oh, just to add, they were split up for several years when we first started dating so there was no added drama.

      1. Anon for today*

        I’m sorry you had to go through that (returning gifts, etc.) – it sounds very painful. (I’m going through a breakup now, so I’m extra sensitive.)

    2. F.*

      Acting like an adult and staying professional is the key. The OP’s manager needs to sit down the warring couple and give them an choice of getting over it and being professional toward each other or facing disciplinary consequences. Other employees (and presumably customers) should not have to suffer because of this. And people wonder why there are “No Romantic Relationships between Employees” policies at many companies.

      1. ConstructionSafety*

        This is a classic example of the many paying for the sins of the few, just poor management.

      2. Allison*

        I agree that it’s important to learn to peacefully coexist with one’s ex if you’re gonna be around them often, even if that means not speaking or pretending they don’t exist for a while, but depending on the nature of your work that might not be possible. I can’t blame two people for wanting to avoid each other for a little while after the breakup, but that’s something they need to handle themselves; there’s only so much you can expect others to do to facilitate that avoidance.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Exactly, and rearranging the shifts was a nice gesture of the Op, but what if it was a typical office where everyone worked the same typical business hours? They’d just have to deal with it or one of them quit.

    3. The IT Manager*

      The whole “is it legal?” took over the comments, but there’s just not that much to say here.
      1) Exes who are now co-workers need to act professional around each other. They are a month past breakup so months past needing to “learn” how to be professional. They need to just be professional about it now or one of them needs to find a new job ASAP.
      2) This is not your problem to deal with, but your boss. Boss needs to tell them that he can no longer accommodate them never working the same shift, and that they need to work together professionally or suffer the consequences.

      As for managing up, I think you need to just tell your boss that you want to stop re-arranging your schedule for their comfort. You want back your previous normal days off and to be able to take your planned vacation time. That puts the ball in your bosses court. If your boss decides that it’s easier (less uncomfortable) to tell you to keep working odd schedules to keep them apart, then you may need to start looking for work. It’s not fair, but some bosses desperately want avoid the difficult conversations and lose good people to keep the unprofessional ones because of it.

      1. neverjaunty*

        This. OP #3, you were helpful to these people for an entire month. You don’t owe them (or your boss) an indefinite period of rearranging your life, including your vacation (!!!) while they manage their feels. If they can’t be professional adults at the workplace, one or both of them need to go elsewhere.

    4. INTP*

      I honestly don’t know if I could work with an ex – I tend to get very emotional during breakups and do best pretending the other person doesn’t exist – BUT that’s why I’d never date someone I work directly with or work directly with an SO. When you choose to start dating a coworker or start working with someone you’re already dating, you’re accepting that eventually you might be working with an ex, imo, and you need to make that your own problem, not your coworkers’.

      As for managing up, I might be reading the question wrong, but I don’t see where it’s even necessary at this point. Just say “no” when they ask you to switch shifts (and continue to say “no” however pushy they get) and let the manager deal with the fallout. If it’s the manager demanding that you switch shifts, then that’s trickier, but maybe just say that you were happy to help for some time but you just won’t be able to continue accommodating it, as to ensure no conflicts with work and personal commitments, you need to have a regular and predictable schedule.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      Yep, two of the big wigs here at my work used to be married, but you’d never know it unless someone told you.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I used to work for someone who was married to someone in a different department/division that we often had to work with. They had different last names, and people were often surprised to learn that they were married, as they were so good at keeping their work and personal lives separate. (And to her credit, my boss always backed my department when there was a difference of opinion between our departments. When she was at work, she was our boss, not his wife.)

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          There were two people where I work who I found out by accident were married – someone had said something like “I wouldn’t have put Wakeen and his wife together”, to which I said “I can’t really comment since I don’t know his wife” and the reply was “He’s married to Persephone Mulberry, didn’t you know?”

  6. Chocolate Teapot*

    3. I still remember an interview during which the interviewer was going on about how important it was to get on with a particular person. Fair enough, since they would be working together closely, but then why was this person not part of the interview process?

    1. Legalchef*

      We are hiring right now, and the person who gets this position would be working very closely with a team member (essentially sharing duties). I mentioned to my boss that we should try to schedule the interviews for the days when the current team member was in the office, so he could sit in on the interviews and meet the person, and my boss reacted like it was some crazy idea.

    2. SystemsLady*

      Ugh, no kidding. I found out a year later that the person I work with most was at the work party I was invited to so I could meet people and nobody introduced me to him! He wasn’t involved in the interview process, either. Still baffles me to this day.

    3. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      When I was a hiring manager, I often included the lead for the team and myself, but when we were hiring for a niche role I would invite the other members of that project team.

    4. neverjaunty*

      …and am I the only one who hears that as “Wakeen is really difficult, but I’m not going to come right out and tell you that, I’m just warning you in advance that you’re going to have to stay on his good side”?

  7. African Sun*

    #4 Not illegal in my country. The boss has paid his or her dues so not surprising that he or she would be in first class.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      I kind of see this like the boss getting an office with a door and maybe access to an executive bathroom, while everyone else is in cubicles. The power differential that is normal in the office is suddenly highlighted when you go “out into the world.”

      1. African Sun*

        Yes I see what you mean but I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to highlight rank in a workplace. Might encourage staff to work harder to get office perks such as the corner office, office with a door or the exec bathroom like you said.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Actually, I would rather that management was just honest about the fact that there is a hierarchy. I think it makes for less confusing messages/management.

          On the other hand, I know for a fact that I’d be more productive in an office with a door that closes. And I’d be OK with it being smaller than my cube.

  8. misspiggy*

    If the avenues Alison suggests for OP#1 don’t work out, I think I would be tempted to send an anonymous letter to Kathy’s employer (while doing my best to communicate stability and soundness of mind). They may very well ignore it, but at least I’d feel I’d done something to help, even if it had a very small chance of being effective.

    Probably of more use would be for OP and her colleagues to get in touch with Kathy and offer to be references, as well as seeing what their network can do to put job offers her way.

    1. F.*

      As an HR Manager, I can tell you that an anonymous letter sent to my company in this situation would be ignored. If the intent is to make yourself feel better about the situation, then do whatever you want, but if the intent is to help Kathy, then I agree that offering to be a job reference would have a much better chance of being productive.

  9. Project Manager in Germany*

    Removed because off-topic. I don’t allow off-topic posts here because the comment threads get so unwieldy as it is.

    Regular commenters, I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t respond with answers to off-topic posts because it means I’ll need to come in and remove them (and it also encourages people to do it). Thank you.

    – Alison

  10. K.*

    Ugh. I’m annoyed about the exes. If you’re gong to date people at work, leave your relationship, no matter what stage it’s in, at home. Don’t bring your drama to work! OP, you absolutely should not change your vacation! Hold firm.

    1. OPQuestion2*

      Thanks! It’s super annoying. Obviously, we aren’t the most amazingly managed organization. I’m more upset now by the constant stress placed on me of being asked to cover shifts/take shifts/adjust my shifts for other people who aren’t being adults/professional.

      Even if a firm “no,” is the answer, that doesn’t exist in a vacuum – I still have to negotiate my guilt for feeling like I’m not helping them out. But that guilt is quickly going away. :)

      1. KatSD*

        OP#2 –
        You so should NOT feel any guilt. You’ve been overly kind to accommodate these requests for changes but at this point the exes need to be professional and not expect everyone else to rearrange their shifts/time off because they don’t want to be around each other.
        When you talk to your manager you could say that you were sympathetic and wanted to help out when the break up first happened but after a week or two.. Really, after a week or two, the exes need to either learn to work with each other or find alternate employment – it shouldn’t fall to their co-workers to insulate them from each other.
        I have some experience with this as my ex-bff (we dated for 5 minutes a gazillion years ago and then became bffs) works right across the aisle from me.. daily week in week out.. it was rather an ugly and protracted but it never impinged on work. Neither has said anything to any co-workers nor have we asked for any accommodations.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Agree. You DID help them out, OP, by rearranging your work schedule so they could avoid each other while the wounds were still very fresh. But grown-ass adults don’t need endless help from co-workers to behave professionally.

      2. Artemesia*

        Next time the boss asks how about ‘I am not willing to keep adjusting my schedule like this; they need to be professional if they are going to continue to work here.’ period. The boss obviously needs this little kick in the pants.

      3. Anna*

        I get feeling guilty, but you start feeling less so after the first or second time you say no and it becomes obvious they’re able to figure it out. Rooting for you!

    2. Ama*

      One thing that’s not entirely clear to me — are the exes aware of the extent of the shuffling, or did they just ask “hey, if it would be possible not to work together for a few shifts that would be great” and management has gone overboard? Because I’ve definitely worked for busybody managers who *loved* running interference for reports who had confided personal issues to them — even if said report didn’t want them to, and sometimes, completely without their knowledge.

      1. OPQuestion2*

        They never said anything up front like that. Instead, it was decided that I would cover Saturdays indefinitely, and other coworkers would shuffle their schedules around to accommodate. Everyone, I think, did this to be helpful at first and assumed this was temporary. The problem is management hasn’t been involved at all – to say “stop, continue, etc.” so the staff is left to have to navigate this themselves. Which has left us feeling guilty, annoyed, and frustrated. We feel for them, but also, we have our lives too and it’s a workplace.

        1. Worker Bee (Germany)*

          Still not clear who decieded this? Go back and use Alison skript that you can’t cover saturdays anymore etc. Good luck!

        2. ted mosby*

          At a certain point, it moves from you’re all suffering because of your coworker’s break up to you’re all suffering because you’re pandering to your spoiled, immature coworkers. You were asked to change your entire schedule and work an extra weekend day. That’s not reasonable for them to expect or ask of you. It’s very immature and insensitive to think everyone else should rearrange their lives for your breakup. There’s no reason you should feel guilty saying no.

          What do you mean “it was decided?” If management wasn’t involved, who decided this?

          I’m confused as to why you would feel guilty for saying no to a ridiculous request.

        3. neverjaunty*

          Do they ‘feel for you’? Do they also feel guilty that you guys are rearranging your weekends and vacations because of their nasty breakup? I’m guessing not so much.

          From your phrasing it sounds like something you guys all decided on informally and just did, which means you can un-decide just as easily. “Wakeen, just so you know, now that it’s been a month and things are a little calmer, I’ll be going back to my regular schedule.” That’s it.

  11. Fred*

    Salutations! Ugh. I never know how to start an e-mail. “Dear” just sounds weird. I prefer to just skip all that crap and get to the point. And how do you end a mail? “Umm. Yeah… that’s it”

    Regarding the formerly dating co-workers: I don’t understand how they can make it your problem. Their breakup is their problem. You keep your private issues at home, and behave like a grown-up at work.

    1. Fred*

      I see the salutations thing was one of yesterday’s topics. Just in case somebody reads this and thinks “huh?”

  12. IntheInsuranceBiz*

    #5 Well since nobody addressed the insurance termination forms…I will. :) Insurance carriers will accept an employer’s word that an employee has left the company and their insurance should be termed. If you are still actively at work and wish to term your coverage then a form with your signature is required to do so. There is no reason for you to sign a form to terminate your coverage if you are no longer employed and no longer eligible for coverage. (As for COBRA, that would be a separate election form and not the same form to enroll or waive coverage as an active employee).

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      This, OP. Your ex-employer does not need you to sign anything, and if he’s making you think otherwise, he’s either shady or a bonehead (you’d probably know better which). Just ignore them. You should be fine on the Marketplace coverage. If for some reason you get asked about it down the line (unlikely), you can truthfully say that your coverage with your employer was supposed to end when you were terminated and that if you were still covered under that plan, you didn’t know.

    2. RHo*

      Doesn’t open enrollment start in November for 2016’s insurance? Yes, I can see now why OP is made nervous — and maybe in this scenario the best thing for the OP’s peace of mind is to simply not return the form.

      1. Anx*

        If they are applying on the Marketplace, they most likely qualify for special enrollment right now, since there’s a change in employment.

        1. K.*

          Yep, if there’s a life change (change in employment, marital status, etc.) that affects your insurance coverage, you can enroll no matter what time of year. I was laid off in April and got coverage through the Marketplace then. I can change my coverage in open enrollment in November if I like.

    3. BRR*

      I’m surprised I had to scroll down this much to get to a comment regarding #5. Agree with everything. I find it strange you’re no longer employed by a company and they’re sending you any insurance form you to fill out at all. COBRA is usually handled by a separate company from your insurance company (might be wrong on this one) and would be a different form.

      You should ask your employer for clarification but I would be cautious as there’s nothing I can think of that you should have to fill out as a former employee for the insurance company. Your marketplace coverage should be safe.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        That’s exactly right. Cobra will send the Op a letter about enrollment info, and if they don’t enroll in a certain period of time, they don’t get it. Otherwise, there should be nothing to sign, so the Op’s suspicions about wanting it to appear current employees are simply opting out in order to keep a certain rate I think is spot on.

    4. Lindrine*

      Yeah if I got strange forms like that I would contact the insurance company directly and ask about it.

  13. blackcat*

    #5, you can also call the insurance company directly to ask if you have the right form. There should be a phone number on it.

    1. NYCAPANJ*

      OP of insurance question here to follow up! I *did* call the insurance company, and spoke to a few folks who confirmed that this form is NOT the same one that is used to decline COBRA coverage.

      They also let me know that their system still shows me as being actively covered by my employer’s health plan until Nov. 30! My employer never gave me a firm date for termination of benefits (he said he *thought* they would end on September 30) so I subsequently purchased my own insurance to begin October 1, which leaves me double-insured and frustrated that I spent money that I didn’t have to.

      Their system also shows that I’m signed up to re-join/renew the same small group plan as of December 1. This could explain why I was given the “enrollment/waiver” form by my former employer, as well as why he apparently never notified the insurance company that I was terminated and should be removed from the plan.

      It may be relevant to note that my coworker and I were pretty aggressively pressured to enroll in my employer’s insurance plan (as opposed to getting our own insurance) because it would allow the company to meet the minimum size requirement for a small group plan, thus saving them a good deal of money. So it wouldn’t surprise me if my former employer is trying to hang onto this by making it seem as though my coworker and I have been offered insurance through him for the coming year but have simply “waived” our option to enroll.

      1. Anx*

        Oh man is that frustrating!

        Not only did you have to spend the extra money, but if you need to actually use the insurance, you may end up with a headache (I don’t know if that’s still a problem, but I wasn’t even doubly insured and I still ended up in a battle with my insurance who tried to get a former insurer to cover a hospital visit).

        I was going to ask if you received a termination of coverage notice. As slow as insurance mail can be, I’ve always received my termination of coverage notice very promptly, as you need to it prove your insurance history if you sign up for a new plan (although the preexisting condition 63 day coverage gap isn’t as dire as before, I believe it’s still relevant for the mandate/Marketplace).

        1. NYCAPANJ*

          No, I never received a termination of coverage notice (which should have been my first clue that something was weird about the situation), and as recently as yesterday afternoon the insurer said they’d received no communications from my former employer regarding termination of coverage for me.

          I’m also worried about the double-insurance thing because, when I enrolled through the Marketplace, I had to affirm that my former employer was NOT currently offering me coverage (though I know I can explain this discrepancy pretty straightforwardly to the Marketplace people if they should ask). As a result of this (and my income level), I qualified for a small government subsidy. But according to the Marketplace guidelines, a person who’s eligible for ACA-compliant coverage through an employer (but buys a Marketplace plan anyway) is ineligible for such subsidies. I’ll be pretty upset if I end up losing (or having to repay) the subsidy because of my employer’s bizarre handling of the insurance situation.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Wow. Have you contacted your former employer yet? I’d be straightforward with them, as in “Listen, I haven’t received my proof of termination of coverage and will lost my subsidy on my new plan, can you please send it asap?” They may still drag their feet or not cooperate, but at least they’ll know you know, and there’s a chance that’d be enough for them to suddenly be worried about getting in trouble for insurance fraud.

          2. F.*

            Was money taken from your paychecks for the empl0yee portion of the employer-sponsored insurance premium? When your insurance terminates depends on how the policy is written. For example, ours terminates on the last calendar day of the month in which employment terminates. Insurance for someone leaving today would terminate October 31. Any premiums taken out of their pay for coverage past October 31 would have to be refunded, as we take out one month in advance. As far as having “double insurance”, do not count on having the employer-sponsored coverage past the date it should have been terminated. It can be terminated retroactively by the employer. Your insurance company should be able to tell you when your insurance should have been terminated. THAT is the date at which you were no longer eligible for coverage through your employer for Marketplace purposes.

        1. neverjaunty*

          VERY shade. And yes, OP, you should immediately get this straightened out with the insurance company, because double coverage and subrogation and all kinds of nightmares.

    2. NYCAPANJ*

      Sadly, the insurance company refuses to confirm or deny the appropriateness of the form. I’ve asked several different customer service representatives and all of them say that they can’t tell me whether or not this form is one that a laid-off employee should be submitting to “terminate” their coverage. Oh, bureaucracy.

  14. schnapps*

    #4 – Not illegal, however if your company has a policy that restricts travel to economy class only, and your boss isn’t paying the difference she’s in violation of that policy.

    With my org, there’s a policy to the effect of: Org will book travel for you on economy class only; if you want to upgrade to business or first, you pay the difference out of pocket (whether you’re a lackey like me, a senior manager or an elected official).

    1. Aam Admi*

      Same with my employer. It doesn’t matter if the person is a VP or an Admin Asst. The same policies apply to all employees. Default is economy class and if the flying time exceeds a certain number of hours, business class is allowed.

  15. Sunshine Brite*

    I experienced a similar situation, coworkers dating 7 years, living together. Broke up at our small-ish place of business that had a lot of personal connections with other coworkers formed, etc. Unless there’s a restraining order in place, the avoidance stage should have been super temporary. Even my coworker who was pretty torn up over the breakup wouldn’t have asked that of anyone else. Start saying you aren’t able to make the requested changes.

    1. Sunshine Brite*

      I left out, that they did switch around with some floats for a little bit as there was some flexibility but they both were working on working together because they both needed the job still and there wasn’t a lot of switching after a couple weeks tops.

    2. OPQuestion2*

      Thanks for your support – crazy our situations are so similar!

      I think that’s probably it. This is new-ish, so just saying “no,” while uncomfortable, will become very comfortable because I can’t keep feeling bad about this. It ultimately isn’t my problem!

      1. BadPlanning*

        And you did help! No need to feel bad. Now it’s their turn to figure things out.

        Something that I’ve learned on the job is that you have to be firm about things you can’t/don’t want to do (within reason). If you keep doing them, it’s pretty rare that someone will say, “Hey, Athena’s been working every Saturday, that seems unfair, let’s swap weekend coverage around.” (assuming Saturday work is a less than desirable thing). It’s sort of a combo between squeaky wheel (gets the attention) and momentum. Why change something if it seems to be working?

      2. Ad Astra*

        It’s kind of you to swap shifts when it’s reasonable to do so, and I would guess that in such a small office there’s a bit more expectation for that than there might be in a larger office. But, once it starts affecting important things like your vacation, you have to say no. I’m sure it’s really tough to work with someone you just broke up with, especially since this relationship sounds pretty serious, but being civil to your exes is a big part of acting like an adult and a professional.

        Are you close with either of the exes? Now might be a great time for one or both of them to take some time off, but it’s not clear if that suggestion would make sense coming from you.

  16. azvlr*

    #3 When I was a dependent military spouse living overseas, I developed some very close life-long friendships with other military wives. When I moved back to the US, I had an expectation that I would develop similar close relationships, but it simply did not happen. I felt very lonely and troubled by the fact that I wasn’t “friend-worthy”.

    I realize now that the two situations were so completely different. As military spouses a world apart from any other friends or family, we became each other’s family. We were all we had (it was pre-internet). When I moved back to the States, I was trying to fit in to lives and friendships that were already established. They had no need for me in their lives. That sounds harsh on them, but it’s only meant to sound matter-of-fact.

    My point to all this is to manage your expectations when you go to your new job. Expect NOT to make friends. Be helpful, friendly and a team player. Don’t force a relationship where none is meant to be, and the bonds you do make will be that much dearer. Best of luck in your new job!

    1. Ad Astra*

      I definitely expected to make friends with coworkers when I first entered the professional world. You make most of your friends at school, right? So it followed, in my 22-year-old brain, that I’d make most of my friends at work.

      In my first job, I made one close friend (at one point, I moved into her house) and maybe three casual friends (people I would occasionally spend time with outside the office).

      In my second job, I made one or two casual friends and was sort of hurt when my manager, who was right around my age, didn’t seem to want to hang out.

      In my third job, everyone is just a “work friend.”

      Every office is different, but I agree that you’re better off if you go into it not expecting to make close friends. To be honest, making friends as an adult is kind of hard.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        That is so true – it is different at every company. And I for one am so glad my current place of employment is very light on the friendship side of things. I thought it odd at first, but reflecting back on some of the other places I worked where those lines were so blurred and all sorts of drama ensued as a result, I’m kind of glad to have the nice separation now. We’re friendly with one another, but it’s rare for any of my current coworkers to get together outside of work.

    2. The IT Manager*

      This is a great point. I don’t know if there are actual studies (there might be), but anecdotal evidence shows that post school (high school / college) it’s a lot harder for people to make friends. In high school and college you’re all in the same boat, have similar schedules, opportunities for activities, have tons of time to hang out and talk an get to know each other deeply (like being a military spouse). Once you graduate, that ready group of people like me doesn’t exist anymore. You’re new and trying to insert yourself into groups that have already formed before your arrival and people are just busier with jobs, spouses, kids that there’s little time to get to know each other deeply.

      I recommend you avoid looking for friends at work; it could cause trouble. Instead keep hanging out with your friends from your old job. If you really are friends (and not work friends) they should be happy to make time to hang out after work and on weekends.

      1. Kelly L.*

        It’s just so much easier to accidentally never see people again. I even experienced this moving from high school to a larger college, though it improved the second year of college when I moved to a dorm with more community activities. In a small, contained setting, even if you forget to get Persephone’s phone number after you hit it off, you’re going to run into Persephone tomorrow in the cafeteria anyway.

  17. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    My husband’s former employer had lots of restrictions on employees’ appearance of wealth/spending large sums. For example, they did not allow empl0yees to park luxury cars on their property. It seems possible that they also restricted business travel to coach class (even for higher-ups).

    1. Gene*

      ¿Qué? You’re saying I wouldn’t be allowed to park my early 70s, $13,000 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow next to your $35,000 Toyota Camry? That’s just crazy-pants.

      Let me guess, the employer was a non-profit?

  18. KatSD*

    #4 – Actually depending on what kind of organization one works for it could be prohibited to fly in a class other than economy. For example, most sponsored research funding has restrictions on flying business/first class as well as requiring an American Flag carrier when flying internationally. There are some exceptions but for the most part reimbursements are limited to the economy class fare. Of course, as others have stated, one can always pay for an upgrade out of pocket.

  19. Chris*

    1. My dad works a union manufacturing job, and they recently had some non-union contractors in doing electrical work. One of his coworkers saw that one of the contractors was violating a safety standard. Not a critical one, he was just 4 steps up a ladder without attaching a safety cable (this is not at all a real safety issue, it’s just a technical standard they’ve set as a CYA measure). Instead of talking to the guy, or mentioning it to the guy’s site supervisor, my Dad’s coworker contacted the contractor company and reported him. They had to fire him, because they can’t be seen to ignore safety complaints. This coworker was smug, whereas every other worker, including the union reps, were furious. First of all, you don’t snitch on some minor procedural issue like this. And second, this guy acted like it was entirely appropriate to get this guy fired instead of saying two sentences and resolving the issue.

    The point is, some people love the power to ruin someone’s life. They have no real power at the company (or in life), so they revel in hurting others.

  20. Nervous Accountant*

    Dawn sounds like an awful person. I’m surprised there’s not a lot of comments about #1..

Comments are closed.