can I keep this vendor gift, jobs keep hiring me quickly and then it doesn’t work out, and more

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

1. Do I have to give this vendor gift away?

Last week, I scheduled a demo from a vendor for today on a project I was leading, and the next day I had an interview and accepted the job. I immediately gave notice to my boss, who delayed announcing it to the office until this past Monday. On Monday morning, after it was determined who would take the lead on this project, I emailed the vendor contact, informing him of the change in leadership, but apparently not informing him I was departing the company.

Today I received a nice gift of a canvas and leather picnic tote, with plastic wine glasses, a fancy bottle opener and blanket… and I want to keep it. Part of me believes I shouldn’t, for some intrinsic reason held over from a previous job where all gifts were to be turned over to the company, and if only because I am leaving. This gift was sent FedEx overnight too, addressed to me, but I can see on email timestamps that the vendor may not have read my email until after the gift was sent.

Logically, I think I should give the gift to the person taking over the project – I know he happens to appreciate wine too, and he’s the business owner’s son. I imagine if I gave the gift over to the company, one of the family members would get to keep it anyway.

Help! I’ve hidden the gift away and my last day is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

If your office doesn’t have a policy on gifts, I don’t think it’s the end of the world if you keep it — but I also think keeping it is a little shady, since it really was intended to be a gift to your company, and more specifically to the person managing the project because they want to maintain that relationship.

A good litmus test: Would your coworkers or manager think it was shady if they found out you kept it? If so, you should turn it over. (And the fact that you’ve hidden it away probably indicates that you do think it would be an issue.)

2. Jobs keep hiring me quickly and then it doesn’t work out

I applied for an $11/hour, part-time (30-35 hours/week) litigation paralegal position. The job was posted on November 9. I applied on November 10, I was called about an interview on the 11th, I interviewed on the 13th, and was offered the position on the 17th. I was the only person interviewed.

Usually, when I’m the only person interviewed, am offered employment rather quickly, and am told, “no experience, no problem because we’ll train you” for the purposes of “giving me a try,” it never really works out for me in the long run. Several days or weeks later (it never lasts longer than a month) I’m, without fail, given a check and shown the door. The training promised is either nonexistent or piss poor to begin with. I leave feeling deflated and always feel like I was never really given a fair chance to begin with. It then makes me wonder why I ended up rushing into it and giving the employer a benefit of a doubt rather being somewhat apprehensive about it. Over the past 2 ½-3 years, this has happened to me four times and the last two times it happened to me, it happened twice in a row. It’s happened four times too many and I wasn’t going to let it happen three times in a row so I ended up declining this firm’s job offer, explaining why and encouraging them to continue with the interviewing process.

I could never understand why I’m the only interviewee for the position and there’s such a rush to offer me employment. I’m starting to learn if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. I just can’t understand employers who interview one person and then rush to hire that person without sifting through and interviewing other applicants because the first one may not be the right one, so why stop at just one applicant?

Because they’re bad at hiring. It would be one thing if you were an incredibly strong candidate and it was clear that they weren’t going to find someone better and they had to snatch you up quickly because you had another offer pending, or something like that. But that doesn’t sound like the case, so … bad hiring.

For what it’s worth, this reads to me like there’s an issue with the jobs you’re applying for and/or how rigorous you’re being in your own screening and vetting before accepting an offer. What you’re describing is a fairly unusual way of operating, and if it’s happening with this kind of frequency, it says to me that you need to do stronger vetting yourself (just as much as they do!).

3. Hiring assessments that weigh heavily against newly arrived immigrants

I work at a nonprofit that helps newly arrived refugees find jobs. For context, refugees are legal immigrants who are background checked, invited here by the US government, and have a legal right to work. Obviously, our clients have a variety of backgrounds and many have been in the U.S. less than three months.

The fad these days is the “assessment” attached to the online application, which seems like a combination of the psych evals that cops have to take and a variety of intrusive questions, which also weight heavily against any immigrant. (And probably many native born Americans.) Some examples: “How far away do you live from your nearest family member?” (or some variation on that theme) “How long would your commute be if you took this job?” and “How many friends did you make at your last job? How many of them are your still in touch with?” The perverse part of me wants to answer, “All my friends were genocide victims” but… inside voice, inside voice.

These assessments add 30-60 minutes to the already cumbersome application and are being used even for low-paying, entry-level jobs. What gives? Do companies want to hire or to give tests? Also, isn’t this a way to get around questions that would be either illegal or borderline if asked in an interview? I’d appreciate your perspective.

It’s unlikely that it’s usually a deliberate attempt to get around questions that would be illegal if asked outright. (And actually, the interview questions that most people think are illegal aren’t — it’s making a hiring decision based on the answers that’s illegal, but the act of asking isn’t.) It’s more likely that it’s a combination of thoughtlessness, a sometimes legitimate concern about commute length, and buying into silly pre-packaged assessment tests without really evaluating what they’re getting out of the questions.

But if the impact has a disparate impact on refugees — or more specifically, people of a particular race or national origin — then yes, that could indeed be found to violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

Your organization might be in a good position to point that out to some of these companies.

4. My boss won’t pay for mistakes or non-billable work

My boss is very concerned with wasted time and has the belief that it is not “fair” for his employees to be paid for mistakes. I am paid hourly, and work in a very small office environment, so there is no HR department to handle issues. As an example, my boss has given me work assignments, which aren’t billable hours to our clients, but are learning exercises to prepare me for the work when it is billable. I can see how that is reasonable to do it unpaid, since my dedication to doing those assignments prepared me for new tasks at work, which I wouldn’t have been given if I hadn’t done the assignments. Then there are times when my boss has asked me and other coworkers to redo work unpaid because the first time it was done wasn’t good enough. I am pretty sure that is not legal – having hourly employees work for free just because they made a mistake or did not follow directions.

At what point does it become illegal to work for free? Is it true that work assignments that aren’t crucial to my daily duties but only prepare me for getting more responsibility at work are not required to be paid? And in the case of mistakes gone unpaid for, is that illegal? And if so, how do I approach my boss about that situation without hiring a lawyer? I work in California.

None of this is legal — none of it! It wouldn’t be legal in any state, but California takes this kind of thing incredibly seriously.

You have to be paid for all of your work, even if it’s not billable to a client, even if it’s just to help you learn, and even if you do it poorly. You can be fired for making mistakes, but you can’t not be paid for the time you spent making them.

I’d say this to your boss: “I’m concerned that we’re running afoul of state law, which requires that people be paid for all hours worked and doesn’t allow exceptions for mistakes or non-billable work. California has pretty steep penalties for violating that law, so I think we need to change the way we’re handling this.”

If you get pushback, the California Department of Labor should be your next step.

{ 214 comments… read them below }

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      I had a boss who didn’t pay for non-billable work once, too. He asked me to work on a project, which I did, then after the fact he told me it had been a “favor to a friend” and he wasn’t being paid for it, so I wouldn’t either.

      I quit that job without notice a few weeks later. Some bridges are worth burning.

      1. Charityb*

        Exactly. He’s basically stealing and wasting your time, and someone who does that deserves the same amount of consideration as a shoplifter or a vandal.

        1. neverjaunty*

          He’s not “basically” stealing – he’s a thief. Stealing an employee’s wages is no different than walking into a store, ordering something and then walking out without paying it.

          OP #4, you should call your county bar association ASAP to get a referral to an employment attorney. In California, every county I’m aware of has a service where you can talk for a half hour or hour to an attorney specializing in that area for very little money (free, or less than $50 usually). Even if you plan to stay at this job and just talk to the boss to fix this, you should know what documentation you need to keep and what you should do if, say, your boss just fires you or the business disappears without paying you.

          1. Golden Snitch*

            That’s being penny wise and pound foolish. The huge red flag you get permanently pinned to your back labeled “HR disaster waiting to happen” when you take any former employer to court is very hard to remove, even for legitimate complaints.

            1. neverjaunty*

              That is false and it’s fearmongerimg.

              1) Calling a lawyer for advice is not the same as “taking your employer to court”, any more than seeing your doctor about a headache is the same as undergoing brain surgery.

              2) It is simply not true that every employer im every industry keeps an eye out for every employee who has ever talked to the Department of Labor, sent a demand letter or filed a lawsuit and blackballs them forever.

              1. Golden Snitch*

                Every potential employer might not known about the lawsuit, that’s true. But if they ask why you left a job, and you say, “I took my employer to court for X”, X had better have been in the news. Union shops are sympathetic to employer lawsuits, but non-union shops? If there are two candidates of roughly equal skills and experience, why would HR choose the candidate who has a history of suing their employers? It’d even be worth taking the candidate who wants a higher salary just to avoid the potential legal fees.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  So, in the first place, we’re talking about an OP whose employer is stealing her wages, not a serial litigant who is foolish enough to say “because I used my employer” as the reason for leaving their last job, which, why would you ever do that?

                2. Myrin*

                  In addition to everything other commenters said, taking action against one employer stealing your wages hardly qualifies as “a history of suing […] employers”.

                3. Jerry Vandesic*

                  It wouldn’t be leaving because you “took your employer to court,” it would be “left because the company could no longer pay me.”

                  In any event, don’t go first to a lawyer. Rather, go to the state labor commission. They have a lot of power. You could receive what you are owed x 3.

                4. neverjaunty*

                  @Jerry Vandesic: you’re right that this is likely to be handled by the DOL, but a lawyer can explain how the OP should approach that process for best effect, and what to expect.

                5. Mike C.*

                  This is utter bullshit. It’s trivially easy to say to a potential employer, “my last employer refused to pay for work”.

                  Seriously, stop trying to spread FUD about people who are trying to be paid for their work.

                6. Father Ribs*

                  To all those who would keep the vendor gift:

                  Do you think the vendor gave the ($100) gift as a thank you for scheduling one appearance, or for (for want of a better term) “warm fuzzies” for a long term relationship?

                  I think if it was supposed to be a quick thanks, it would be some bagels. Gifts that exceed that level are more like on-going relationship warmers.

                7. Observer*

                  She doesn’t have to say that she left because she sued him. She left because he had financial problems. Being “unable” to pay wages is a big a financial problem as you are going to find.

                8. Elizabeth West*

                  Talking to a lawyer is not the same as filing a lawsuit. OP would be asking the lawyer for advice about documentation. That’s not a lawsuit. It’s a consultation and there’s no way anyone would hear about it unless the OP told them.

                9. HRish Dude*

                  This is terrible advice with no basis in reality or the question. I hope the number of responses telling you precisely that prevents any future person who might stumble upon this question while looking for advice from taking your advice.

                  You’re basically telling someone to suck it up because it might affect their future employment? That is total bullshit. If an employer is not paying their employees, that’s on the employer and NO ONE else.

              2. collegeemployee*

                I agree. Unless the lawyer takes some action for the client (one example would be sending a letter to the employer), how is the employer supposed to know if the employee talked to a lawyer?

                Depending on where the OP is in California, the OP might also want to check into whether or not any of the local local law schools offer free clinics for the general public. Maybe they have one in employment law.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Nah, not in a case like this. For one thing, this wouldn’t be a court case — it would be action from the department of labor, which is usually no more than a demand letter. Highly, highly unlikely that another employer would ever hear about it.

              Really, the only time I’d ever worry about this is if it were a high-profile case with news coverage, and that’s just a small minority of them.

          2. Evelyn*

            That’s very helpful, thank you. I unfortunately have not been keeping a record of the hours I’ve spent doing unpaid work. I will definitely start.

            1. Hlyssande*

              That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get paid at least in part for some of them. Definitely check with a Labor Commissioner or employment lawyer, as others have said.

            2. no name*

              If you have any emails (or other forms ‘in writing’) in which your boss refers to you redoing work without pay or assigning a project that you won’t be paid for print those out and keep them.

    2. KH*

      When I was 20 I worked for a family owned insurance business as a file clerk. They moved offices when I was working for them and said everyone had to come in on Saturday at 10 a.m. and help with the move. As often happens, the moving truck didn’t show up until almost noon, and so we sat around and waited for 2 hours. (We weren’t allowed to leave and come back because “the truck could be here at any minute”.) Later that week when we were filling out time cards, we were told that we wouldn’t get paid for those 2 hours because we weren’t actually working.

      At the time, being young, and needing the job, I never questioned it. Looking back now I realize they did a whole lot of things like that; things that were totally illegal and for which they should have been reported. (And, in fact I thought about putting this same job in a comment about batshit crazy boss’s wife from a few days ago – we had one of those, too.)

    3. Lisa*

      So basically my company hates unbillable hours. If you are more unbillable than billable then you get fired.

    4. Miles*

      I’ve had that kind of boss. He was fired for this within a few months after I left due to numerous complaints from basically his entire staff. I still never got the rest of my pay.

  1. Green*

    #4 can likely seek backpay if she’s ever fired or leaves. I’d try to address it with boss and keep a contemporaneous log.

    1. Graciosa*

      Strong support for having the individual logging ALL hours worked and keeping the record out of the office. It is harder to recover back pay when no one knows how much it should be.

    2. CAA*

      She can file a wage claim with the CA DIR while still employed. She doesn’t have to wait until she leaves. However, that will undoubtedly make the work environment very uncomfortable, and there can be subtle retaliation, which though illegal, may be hard to prove.

      1. neverjaunty*

        She should look into the wage claim ASAP, though, because she doesn’t want to miss a deadline.

    3. Golden Snitch*

      Work Diaries are a good idea. If you take your employer to court, you had better win, and win big, as it will be harder to find jobs in the future once it gets known that you’ve taken court action against a former employer. Work Diaries help a lot, as they provide an alternative paper-trail.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Just to be clear, with something like this, it’s not suing or taking anyone to court. It’s simply reporting to the department of labor, who will then deal with it. You don’t go to court over something like this, generally.

        (Also, as I wrote above, if you did go to court for another kind of case, it’s unlikely a future employer would learn about it unless it gets news coverage.)

        1. neverjaunty*

          And even if a future employer did, well, shady companies are often well-known as shady in their industries. I can think of a number of places where, if I heard a candidate had sued for harassment or wage theft, I wouldn’t bat an eye.

          1. Blurgle*

            There are companies here whose reputation is such that I would look kindly on an ex-employee with the guts to file an LRB report.

        2. Miles*

          Aren’t court records part of your background check though? It’s trivially easy to put a name into your state’s public records database search & get everything from speeding tickets to lawsuits.

      2. Mike C.*

        Stop saying stuff like this. Do you actively search court records to discriminate against people who have had to take legal action against bad employers or something?

        1. Green*

          There are some industries/claims where there will be repercussions and some where there won’t be. It’s unfortunate but it is something people can and do consider when deciding to file claims. People do read the newspaper and Google prospective candidates. (Ironically, the legal field is one where everyone is too scared to file claims against their employers.)

      3. Camster*

        I am in California and some years ago I reported an employer to the DOL for unpaid wages. Not only did I win, I had NO trouble finding a job (actually a couple) afterwards!

      4. eplawyer*

        No it won’t. This is simply not true. Sure if you sued every employer you ever had, it would be a problem. But if you only sued one company, once for not paying you, that is a whole different story.

        People are not usually punished for exercising their legal rights. Nor should they be afraid to exercise their legal rights.

  2. Green*

    #2 — I would be somewhat wary about jobs that typically require some form of training, certificate program, etc. (i.e., litigation paralegal) if they’re hiring you that quickly. It sounds like you might be applying to everything you see (or Craigslist?). I can understand the inclination, but time you waste on jobs that aren’t a good fit (applying, interviewing, working and getting fired or leaving) is time you’re taking away from better opportunities.

    1. Klem*

      Agreed – but I would take it a step further. Any firm hiring a “litigation paralegal” for $11 an hour is huge red flag to me, as well as their 30 to 35 hour per week “part-time” hours. Paralegals, at least in California, have to comply with Business & Professions Code 6450, which mandates the education, experience, and the amount of continuing legal education they must have, and it’s fairly rigorous. Anyone who is compliant with the requirements of this para-profession should not be making $11 an hour!! And law firms should not be billing their clients for paralegal work done by people without the required training or experience. I recently saw a Craigslist ad for a paralegal position in San Francisco – a very expensive place to commute to, impossible to affordably live in – requiring a bachelor’s degree and a paralegal certificate that paid $12 an hour, no benefits. (Heavy sigh…)

      1. Suburban Gal*

        The paralegal field has only recently come into its own. In the past, attorneys would typically teach their receptionists and secretaries the paralegal side of working in a law firm. Most PLS (Paralegal Studies) programs are fairly new and have only been around for the past 10-15 or so years. Generally, all you need is a Bachelor’s degree. Most firms are going to expect you to learn on the job and learn rather quickly. No amount of classes will ever prepare a legal assistant or paralegal for the pace/urgency of a law firm, just getting your feet wet will.

    2. Suburban Gal*

      Actually, the litigation paralegal position was advertised on College Central Network (CCN). It was posted exclusively to college.

      Though, I won’t lie, I do have a lot of luck with Craigslist. I have more luck there than anywhere else when it comes to applying and getting responses.

      That said, I NEVER apply for jobs that want experienced applicants. I only apply to entry-level positions for legal assistant and paralegal, as I’m still in the process of earning my certificate.

  3. Sarak*

    #3: IRC by any chance? They do great work and we’ve volunteered with them.

    I second what Alison said about reaching out to these companies. You’re actually in a position to do it without it hurting you, unlike the applicants, and you might be able to do a lot of good.

    1. Fluffer Nutter*

      OP for # 3 here. No, not IRC, a VOLAG west of the Mississippi. I agree they do great work. :) I’m bothered most by the data mining, the lack of discernment between a test for a laundry position or a management one, and the assumptions behind these questions. The thing is, our state has a booming economy and a huge number of transplants, so many people don’t live near family and still do a fine job at work. Mr Fluffer Nutter does a great job but doesn’t socialize much at work. This must be a case of “Company X is attaching the GRE to all their applications so I want that too.” I don’t think employers realize how much they’re shooting themselves in the foot with this. In my city, at least, most places are paying at least $2/hr above minimum wage and they can’t fill vacancies. Given 2 downtown hotels with housekeeping jobs at the same pay rate nobody is going to put up with the 2 hour intrusive online application process when Hotel Down the Street still uses a paper one.

        1. Fluffer Nutter*

          Are you comfortable saying what state you’re in? There are different VOLAGS in different areas.

        2. Fluffer Nutter*

          Katie- check with IRC as mentioned, or contact one of the Big 3- Lutheran Family Services, Ethiopian Community Development Council, or Ecumenical Refugee (Immigration?) not sure- Services to see if there’s an affiliate in your area.

        3. Green*

          I was hesitant to start volunteering with an organization that was religious-based. (I’m atheist.) However, I was really comforted by the volunteer training at my local Church World Service. They have specific non-proselytizing rules and non-discrimination rules. In fact, out of respect for the reasons that people are fleeing their home country, you’re not allowed to invite them to church, to ask them what religion they are, etc. If they ask you about your religion or for resources related to their religion, you can politely engage. Other than that, nope!

      1. Sigrid*

        I do volunteer work with asylum seekers here in Michigan, so I have some idea of the difficulties they face and hurdles they have to jump through to get to stay in this country and even after they’re approved, and I wanted to say thank you for the work you’re doing. It’s incredibly important.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Yes, I think you need to point this out to these companies. A well-intentioned company would be horrified to learn that they are asking questions that could legitimately be answered with “I did not make friends at my last job because you could be shot for engaging in ‘subversive talk’ at work” or “My family were all murdered in a massacre”. A less well-intentioned company should get the message to knock it off.

    2. Anon for this*

      I work for IRC!! Our employment team is also highly annoyed by this … some of the “assessments” our beneficiaries have taken have become office jokes. I distinctly remember one that asked whether you liked fishing, for a grocery store job that was not outdoorsy at all.

      1. Sarak*

        How totally bizarre!

        We sadly had to move away from the family we were working with (they invited us to a family wedding and we NEARLY flew back for it), but I just discovered there are volunteer opportunities in our new area so I should hit that up again. Thanks for all the good work you do.

  4. Giulia*

    #1 if it was addressed to you then I’d keep it, I doubt that your client will be expecting you to check time stamps on emails to see if you’re entitled to keep it and it seems a bit rude to pass it to a colleague when it was specifically sent for you. It’s not like he bought it with his own money, it will have been expensed so if they want to send another one to the new project leader I’m sure they will!

    1. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today*

      YES!! They most likely will, once they develop a relationship with the new project manager, give them their own token of appreciation! This one was addressed to YOU. It’s your gift. Enjoy! &cheers!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But the thing is, it really wasn’t to her — it was to the company, who they want to establish a business relationship with. It wasn’t a personal gift.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          I was confused on the nature of vendor relationship. At first I thought the OP was the one who had selected the vendor for the project, and the gift was a thank you for being their champion, in which case it probably would be intended for her rather than the company.

          But it may also be that the OP only just scheduled an initial demo with the vendor, and this is just the beginning of the process, in which case it probably wouldn’t be intended for the OP personally (Though that seems like an extravagant gift just for scheduling a demo–the vendor can’t be doing this everytime?)

          1. MK*

            A gift as payback for pushing to hire them would be completely inappropriate; the OP being their champion would be totally inappropriate too.

    2. MK*

      Even if it was sent to the OP by name, it wasn’t sent to her personally, but as the project manager for this particular vendor. I think it matters that it was sent at the beginning of their contract, so it wasn’t a thank-you for past services, but an expression of good will for the future, sent to the person they thought they would be working with closely. Also, not all companies have unlimited budgets for gifts like that; if it’s a huge company, it might not matter, though I doubt they would sent another one to the next manager, but a small bussiness might find it iffy that someone they didn’t even get to work with them snagged the only present they could afford to sent to their new client. In any case, it’s not just what the vendor will think, but the OP’s former employer; I don’t think a picnic set-up, no matter how nice, is worth getting a reputation for being grabby.

      However, I think it would be perfectly appropriate for the OP to call the vendor, explain that they are leaving the company and asking whether they want her to pass the present to her successor. They will very probably tell her to keep it and she can do so with a clear conscience.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I like this approach!

        I once sent a thank you gift to a client after a pretty crazy campaign, and when she called to thank me, she said, “I’m also calling to tell you I have accepted another position at XYZ, Jon Snow will be your new contact, so I have passed the tickets on to him.”

        Since she had already given the tickets away, we sent her a new “thank you and good-bye” set.

      2. WorkingMom*

        Or, OP could take the same approach with her current supervisor. Before she leaves, she could tell her supervisor that vendor ABC sent this kind gift, should she give it to the new project manager? The supervisor might say “oh go ahead and keep it – you worked really hard on that project.” or they might say, “Yes, that’s a great idea!” That way the decision is out of your hands to make, and there’s a 50/50 chance you get to keep it. (If you don’t – then treat yourself to one later!)

    3. hbc*

      It wasn’t specifically sent to her for letting her do a demo. It was sent to the person they assumed would be making the decisions to kiss up. If they were near the end of the project, that’d be one thing, but just for scheduling a demo? That’s not what any of my suppliers would have intended with a gift like this.

    4. Momiitz*

      I think it was specifically sent to you so you can keep it. I think the vendor did read your email and knew you were leaving so the vendor sent it overnight mail so you would receive it before you left the company. Why else would it be sent overnight mail.

      You did work on the project as the project lead and will most likely work hard to transition the project to the new lead. Keep it.

      1. MK*

        Why do so many people reply as if the OP did work with the vendor, when she says the project hasn’t even brgan? Am I reading the letter wrong?

    5. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      I disagree. The vendor sent the gift to the person managing the project as both a thanks and a warm, feel good for the ongoing. For frame of reference, that’s about a $100 gift.

      It would be not right, and not in the spirit of that gift to take it home vs handing it over. How good do get to feel saying “Thanks vendor for this lovely gift! Because I’m not going to be staying with the project, I’ve passed it along to Frank, who will be managing it” vs how good you don’t get to feel knowing vendor spent $100 giving you something that r-e-a-l-l-y wasn’t meant for you. Sales teams have budgets and that $100 is charged to them somewhere.

      Vendor could say, “Oh Gladys, please keep this gift and we’ll send another one to Frank! We appreciate everything you have done so far.” Possible! And then you get to feel good + have a lovely $100 picnic set.

      1. Blight*

        I agree that it is definitely better to send this kind of notification to the vendor just to test the waters. If the gift was meant for her personally, they probably will tell her… I can only imagine the awkwardness if it came up later on and the company had no idea that a gift had been given. I do find it weird that they’d just give her a gift before the project is completed – so unless she has a history with them then it was meant for the company and she was the contact to send it to.

        To keep it without saying anything is just unethical, even if it is just a quick chat with the boss or the new lead and ask if they are okay with her keeping it. I know my boss would constitute this as either theft or fraud if I just took a gift that was not personally intended for me.

        I personally would NEVER be able to use it because I’d always be paranoid that someone would see me and say “Hey, isn’t that the basket you stole when you left?”

        1. Tatiana*

          But this gift wasn’t meant for her “personally”, because this isn’t a personal relationship.

        2. RMRIC0*

          It’s not weird at all, it’s a gift from a vendor that wants to secure the company’s business before the project. I can’t quite articulate it, but a picnic basket seems more like a “personal gift” (a gift to a particular person) than a corporate gift (which is usually like a muffin basket, lunch or a bunch of tickets to a basketball game). Some clarification from the vendor wouldn’t hurt, but dollars to donuts they meant it for the OP (after all, worst case scenario for them is that they get another gift for the new manager)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’d argue they meant it for the OP only in that they thought she was their contact there. In the broader sense, though, they meant it for the person handling their potential business … which is no longer the OP.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

              Right, it’s the vendor I’m thinking about. We have a gift giving industry with no company policies about what you do with gifts you receive, so we’re sensitive to gifts ending up with the right person so that the giver’s money is spent properly.

              If one of the principals of our company received a $100 picnic set from a vendor he’d no knowledge of, he’d take the time to make sure the gift was routed to the proper decision maker, not take it home himself. I reroute gifts sent to me to the proper decision makers on my team, ’cause it’s the right thing to do with somebody else’s money.

    6. Oryx*

      I work in an industry where we frequently receive advanced readers copies of books to review and keep. I’m on a small team, so the publishers all know our names so when they send these packages they pick a person and mail it to them. But it’s meant for the entire team, not just the person they addressed the package to and if we found out that Person A had been hoarding all of these books and packages simply because the box had been addressed to them, there would be issues.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        There are plenty of circumstances where receiving and sending personal gifts is okay. I do both. You don’t give a picnic basket to a team. If you intend a team gift, as the giver, you send something that can be shared, like food, or something with office utility. When I send a gift like a picnic basket, I expect the person I send it to to take it home.

        Advanced copies of books to review aren’t quite the same thing as a personal gift, although that sounds like a fun perq you all share.

        1. Oryx*

          Oh, I know it’s not the same. I was just using it as an example that just because the package was addressed specifically to the OP doesn’t mean it was meant for her personally.

    7. Person of Interest*

      #1, I would think about this way: If the situation were reversed and you were taking over the position from a departing colleague, would you find it shady that your colleague had kept the gift? Personally, I probably would and would err on the side of turning it over, for some of the reasons mentioned by others, but especially the idea of “is this gift basket truly something that I need in my life?”

      1. JoJo*

        I don’t think I’d care one way or the other. I wouldn’t get bent out of shape about a gift basket.

  5. Milton Waddams*

    #2: There’s a whole underworld of white-collar jobs like this. People who are privileged enough to have never had any contact with it sometimes have trouble being convinced that it is real. They are the mirror opposite of “perma-temp” jobs where someone hires a temp but treats them like a permanent employee. These companies hire “permanent” employees and treat them like temps, usually with disastrous results to the unsuspecting employee’s resume, especially if the employee has had a few of them one after the other.

    1. Mando Diao*

      It happens a lot in small, new businesses. The owners are green enough to think they’re getting away with something

    2. Former Litigator*

      I’ll add that while it depends upon where you are located, $11/hr for a litigation paralegal sounds ridiculously low to me. I would expect paralegals to be paid at least twice that much; it’s a skilled, and often quite challenging, professional position. That may be why no one else interviewed for this job and why the company was so keen to hire you. In general do your research to make sure you know the normal range of pay for the jobs you are applying for – that might help you spot the shady ones who are trying to get away with something.

      1. Green*

        And it sounds as though OP has no training as a paralegal. Given low pay, no training and the likelihood that the attorney will inevitably over rely on the paralegal, I agree with OP that this had disaster written all over it for both parties.

        1. Annonymous*

          Usually law firms will call “paralegal with no experience” a legal assistant or legal secretary. It’s been my experience with law firms that of they cheap out on salary, they’re cheaping out on other things too, which makes for a ton of toxic stress. Try handling a 500 page file when your boss won’t spring for pronged folders!

        2. Suburban Gal*

          That is correct. I’m currently in school working towards earning a paralegal certificate.

      2. Portia de Belmont*

        I’m in Chicago, a litigation paralegal with 10 years of experience, and $11 an hour is pretty standard salary offering today. The legal market here is glutted, with attorneys ready to work for $20 an hour.

          1. Broke Law Student*

            $14/hour??!? that’s insane, given cost/lengthiness of law school, although I guess that’s what happens when law schools keep popping up even though there’s no more demand for lawyers. If I could only find a legal job paying $14/hour, I’d just tutor the LSAT or something.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Those firms are going to be very sorry the first time they expect an attorney to fix a copier or correctly format a document to comply with court rules…

        2. ABJ*

          For Chicago? That’s insane. Here in Minneapolis I have seen attorney jobs that pay only $15, but those are usually temp document review jobs that hire either attorneys just out of school or paralegals. I was at one for a few months and every single one of the attorneys left because they got better jobs while I was there. (which is why I left, too)

          The better paying paralegal jobs in this area that I’ve seen all require a bachelor’s in legal studies or a bachelor’s and a paralegal certificate on top of that, and those start in the $17-20 range and go up with experience. If you have only an associate’s or no training at all, it drops to about $12-13.

      3. Suburban Gal*

        I did some googling. According to, the average starting pay for a litigation paralegal is $17/HR while the average starting pay for an estate planning paralegal is $13.50/HR. That’s The estate planning agency in Kenosha, WI was only paying me $10/HR to assist their attorney in the drafting, proofing and delivery of trusts, wills, POAs and QCDs. (That job lasted a month. I was underperforming and making too many mistakes. I simply wasn’t learning quick enough for their liking. In the end, their expectations and my expectations were two completely different things.)

        In the future, I’ll make it a habit to google and research starting pays so I have a better idea going into the interview what I should be compensated rather than simple accepting whatever low pay they want to give me for the sake of not having to pay a person more than they absolutely have to in order to do the job.

        That said, it seems like the absolute the lowest I should probably be accepting is $13/HR. If employers don’t want to, in the very least, pay me what I’m asking, then it’s probably better to say, “thanks” or “thank you” and move on.

  6. Techfool*

    Ditch the gift, are you really going to use it and is it worth the space it will take up. The footage in your home is the most expensive thing you own. Is it worth giving it up for another bag?

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      I don’t think it’s the nature of the gift that’s going to determine this one.

      1. fposte*

        I think it’s a useful consideration, though. Right now the OP is all “Ooh, shiny!” and if she realized that her needs for a canvas picnic tote are really not that great (nobody’s are, OP, I promise) and that it would fall on her head when she took stuff out of the closet and she’d give it to Goodwill in six months, that would give her an answer without even having to parse the ethics of it.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          This is why I always pass along vendor gifts to my team and colleagues. Especially this time of year when my office is filled with things.

        2. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          I find it kind of patronising, though, to try and tell the OP that they don’t want it.

          1. A Cita*

            I think it probably depends on where you live. In NYC, yeah, that’s a real consideration everyone makes, and it wouldn’t be condescending to bring up at all–it’d just be obvious. :)

  7. Can't Think Of A More Clever Anon Name Today*

    #1 – You’d have kept the gift had you not interviewed until a week or two later – you didn’t KNOW the interview was happening when it did. Once you opened it, you would not have then packaged it up and given it away once you accepted the new position. I feel like it was given to you, because they enjoyed the experience of working with YOU. It was given to YOU. I don’t know… I kind of think you’re within your rights to keep it. If it will BOTHER you immensely then give it up, but I have a strong feeling your co-workers wouldn’t have thought this hard about it, and kept the gift addressed to them. But perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about.

    #4 OH MY WORD. NO. No. No. No. It is NEVER okay to work and not get paid. Simple as that. Whether outcomes are what are desired or not (could you imagine how ridiculous this would be in the grand scheme if every time a desired outcome was not met, in any business/line of work, the employees were not paid… I’m thinking of hospitals and doctors and surgeons right now, for example, lol) No. You are to be paid for any time you spend working. You might want to also start job hunting – but even if you do leave, I think reporting this is very important. This boss is taking advantage of clearly green employees or people who don’t know any better (or are having a hard time finding work elsewhere) But under no circumstances is it okay for you to not be paid – and this includes working on things to “better yourself” as an employee! What kind of madness is this???!!!

    1. MK*

      Re Op1, she actually hasn’t worked with the vendor at all, she was the person who hired them. Since their co-operation hasn’t really started, it wasn’t a thank-you-for-your-work gift. I would agree with you if she had co-operated with them for some time, but this sounds like a gift sent to the company as an investment for future goodwill.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        That’s how I read it too.

        At my last job, I finished out a couple of RFPs for new vendors before I left and was sent quite a few goodies. All were either passed on to the new contact, or shared with the team (cupcakes/cookies/food stuff).

    2. Sigrid*

      (Actually — speaking as a medical student here — the way Medicare reimbursement is currently structured, hospitals don’t get paid if they make a mistake, or if they don’t achieve certain outcomes. But healthcare reimbursement is a weird beast, and shouldn’t be taken as an example of how the rest of the business world operates.)

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          Actually, it’s still relevant. Maybe not due to
          That specific regulation, but fee-for-service healthcare workers don’t get paid for time spent doing legally required paperwork, or when their patients don’t show, or for any time spent traveling for work or making phone calls, mailing and writing letters, etc. It’s a travesty. And they’re not independent contractors.

  8. Umvue*

    A tangent on OP4: Alison, I’ve noticed that when employers are doing something illegal, in your scripts for employees, you’re careful to frame it as “we,” as in “I’m afraid we’re running afoul of the law.” Can you say a little bit about why that is? My best guess is “polite fiction,” but the veneer seems so thin here.

    1. Three Thousand*

      The guy is breaking the law left and right and may well know he’s doing it. He’s not the kind of person I’d want to direct open accusations at, because that could end really badly.

      If it were me, I’d probably skip the conversation with him, line up a new job, and then hit the labor board, but I’m underhanded like that.

        1. Golden Snitch*

          Not unless the pay-out is big enough to retire on. Union shops will be sympathetic, but for most businesses any sort of evidence that you’ve brought legal action against any previous employer for anything pegs you as an HR disaster waiting to happen. You might as well have a felony conviction.

          1. neverjaunty*

            You keep saying this and I don’t understand why. It simply isn’t true. Most employers wouldn’t even bother to look to see if you have filed a wage claim or a lawsuit (especially given that it isn’t all that easy to check state court records).

            1. Evelyn*

              I agree with both sides. My boyfriend is a recruiter and he never checks on stuff like that. However, he submitted a candidate to his superior for review once, and they discovered that the candidate had filed suit against a former employee, and the candidate was taken out of consideration immediately–no further conversation about it.

              That has completely prevented me from pursuing anything regarding a lawyer for work issues. It’s unfortunate because it takes power away from the employee to handle serious work problems.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Again: talking to a lawyer doesn’t mean jumping to filing a lawsuit. This is like saying “I had a friend who had a stomach ache, and she went to a doctor who ordered immediate surgery and she had complications, so now I never go to the doctor.”

                That aside, sounds like the candidate dodged a bullet. If I leaned a potential employer would immediately round file a candidate for ever having filed a lawsuit, that would tell me I was looking at a seriously shady company.

                1. Myrin*

                  Yeah, I feel like if they had concerns regarding the lawsuit and were otherwise interested in the candidate, they could just… ask about it in the interview? (Especially if the person isn’t a seriel offender when it comes to filing suits against every single one of their employers.)

            2. Golden Snitch*

              Not knowing is not the same as not caring.

              You can sue the potential employer too, as the EEOC considers refusing to hire someone for having brought a lawsuit against a former an employer a form of retaliation, but again, you’d better win, and hope either way that it remains out of the news.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                You seem to have a very pervasive idea that talking to a lawyer or talking to the labor board is the exact same thing as filing a lawsuit in court. THEY ARE TWO DIFFERENT ACTIVITIES.

                I’m not sure why you think this.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Golden Snitch, this is just not true in the majority of cases, as I wrote above. It’s only true if there’s news coverage, which is actually pretty rare. And a complaint to a labor board won’t fall in that category.

            1. VideogamePrincess*

              I have actually gotten back wages from a fairly large company that I worked at as a teenager, through the labor board. I was fine. There have been no consequences as far as I can see, and it was very easy. Don’t be afraid to do so if you need to as well.

            2. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

              Something I’m curious about, if anyone wants to weigh in:

              For almost two years, I worked for a nonprofit. For the first year, I (and many of the other ~20 full and part-time employees) were incorrectly classified as salaried and exempt, so we worked a LOT of unpaid overtime. Around my first anniversary, this mistake was recognized and several of us were switched over to being hourly.

              After a leadership change, some other shady things were allowed to happen. When there wasn’t enough money to pay X and X’s assistant, one or the other of them would be allowed to record their (working) hours as “volunteer hours” and just not get paid. Leadership said the board had “figured out a way” this arrangement was legal. During a busy time when they couldn’t afford to pay me overtime but really needed me working more than 40 hours a week, I was asked to accept comp time instead. I didn’t realize at the time, but that wasn’t legal.

              Then I was laid off and (perhaps foolishly) signed all the stuff they put in front of me. I signed a “Severance Agreement and Release of Claims” that released them “of and from any and all claims, in law and equity, arising out of my employment or separation of employment, including but not limited to, any and all claims for damages, compensation…” etc.

              I don’t really care about getting any money back from this nonprofit, and I realize I foreclosed that possibility when I signed what they asked me to sign. But would there be any point in contacting our state department of labor—just in the hope that this place will stop doing rotten things to current and future employees?

              1. Anomanom*

                YOU CANNOT SIGN AWAY YOUR RIGHTS UNDER FLSA. Sorry for the shouting, but I run into this a lot at my job, “oh well the employee signed saying they understand.” Doesn’t matter, if we legally are required to, we legally are required to. An audit is often the only thing that eventually makes some companies comply unfortunately.

              2. Development professional*

                The claim wouldn’t be related to your separation, though, so what you signed shouldn’t have an impact.

          3. Observer*

            Not only is this not necessarily true, it’s not even relevant. Most places don’t the kind of background check that will dig out this kind of information, even when it’s available. In the case of a labor board complaint it’s not even part of the public record.

          4. I know it's you*

            Golden Snitch: You sound like someone who is vehemently trying to discourage hard-working people from seeking unpaid wages they are owed. And your screen name “Snitch” seems to be an attempt to paint people who file claims (whether in court or with the labor board) in a negative light. I can’t help but wonder what your motivation is.

            Regardless, when a worker sues a company and wins — no matter what the amount — it makes the company look bad, not the worker. It shows that employer to be unscrupulous and unethical. And, in case this hasn’t been made clear, CRIMINAL. Because not paying people for the work they did is against the law.

            Personally, I look upon people who are willing to take on they employer for wrong-doing with admiration. It takes an incredible amount of courage to do that.

            1. Liz*

              That’s probably reading too much into a Harry Potter-inspired screen name, but I agree with the rest of your points.

          5. SJ McMahon*

            This is a couple of days old, and I wasn’t going to say anything, but I’ve read several of your comments here stating information that’s completely false. So, I have to say something.

            Going to the labor board to get back pay does *not* equal suing one’s employer *at all*.

            Suing one’s employer is potentially problematic, but is *not at in any way equivalent to having a felony conviction*.

            Please stop saying this.

            1. mander*

              Seriously. My sister once worked for a place that developed financial problems and wasn’t able to pay her on time. She went to the labor board, and even threatened to sue after the company went under completely (and it was in the local papers to boot).

              She had another job within a few weeks. Granted she’s in a relatively high demand field, but everyone she applied to knew exactly what had happened and did not treat her as though she was some sort of pariah.

              Maybe you had a problem, Golden Snitch, that has led you to believe this, but I really don’t think it’s true across the board.

    2. hbc*

      Most businesses are set up so that the business is liable for the bad actions, not the individual making the decisions, even if he’s the owner. It’s a bit of semantics in cases where you’ve got one boss/owner making the decisions and everyone else suffering, but it’s still true that he won’t have to pay out of his own pocket for this.

      Plus, people are just going to respond better to “I’m worried the big bad government will do bad things to [y]our business” versus “I think you’re screwing me over.”

    3. Sunshine*

      I don’t want to speak for Alison, but I think the intent for that verbiage is to give the employer the chance to respond and correct, without coming across as adversarial. A bit thin, perhaps… but being more direct may but the boss on the defensive and cause more drama.

      Now, if they don’t respond to this approach, the next discussion would be very different.

    4. Dynamic Beige*

      My best guess is “polite fiction,” but the veneer seems so thin here.

      My guess is that it’s less confrontational and “softer.” When you’re confronting someone about their unreasonable behaviour, especially a superior, the last thing they want to hear is “you.” As in, “you are breaking the law”/”you are being unreasonable”/”you are at fault.” By putting it into “we” it’s more about the company as a whole rather than one individual.

      1. Umvue*

        I see what you’re saying, but I still wonder whether anybody is fooled by it. It feels like the sort of gesture that might allow the boss to save face in the moment, but there is no real ambiguity about the power dynamic in play, specifically the veiled threat. “Nice car you got there… shame if anything were to happen to it.” Nobody interprets that wording literally, you know? I still wouldn’t say “we” were violating the law here without having an escape plan.

        1. Colette*

          It’s not about fooling people, it’s about starting with the assumption that the person you’re talking to wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know what that is.

          1. Umvue*

            Ah yes! I can see how that would work in situations where that’s a possible interpretation. I have a hard time believing that applies here; maybe that’s why it strikes me so oddly in this case.

            1. Charityb*

              It likely isn’t a good faith error, but I think the hope is that the boss will get the message and try to fix the problem – not because it was an honest mistake on his part but because he doesn’t want to get into trouble. It’s more about preserving face and giving the person an “out” to remediate the problem rather than trying to trick them.

              1. Dynamic Beige*

                Exactly! If you want to keep your job, you can’t call your boss out. You can point out that there is something wrong going on, but you can’t really assign the blame in an obvious way — because you’re not the boss.

                “You can’t dump toxic waste in the river! That’s against the law!” vs.
                “Are we allowed to dump toxic waste in the river? I thought that was against the law?” <– you know that it's against the law but by acting unsure, it gives the person giving the order the chance to back off and check with someone else or defer it to another day or whatever. If they still insist on it "Are you sure? Because I could have sworn that I saw ABC Teapots in the news recently being given a stiff fine for dumping their toxic waste into the river."

            2. Colette*

              Keep in mind that a lot of these issues happen with tiny companies, with no HR or real knowledge about what laws affect the business. If your experience with having employees was, for example, hiring the local neighbor kid to mow your lawn, you’re used to thinking about employment as a fee for service – if they don’t deliver, you don’t pay them.

              That’s not how having employees works, though – but it could be something you just haven’t thought about in that way.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yep. It’s really common for small businesses to not realize this stuff is illegal.

                Frankly, if most people here started a small business, they’d probably end up breaking a few labor laws; there are a bunch of them and you have to go seeking them out to realize what they all are, and even then you’ll probably miss some.

                1. Mike C.*

                  I have a hard time seeing this as a legitimate excuse.

                  I see programs like in Washington State where the Labor Board is more than happy to go through things, tell you where you’re going wrong and let you fix them without penalty. Many regulatory agencies (local/state/federal) have extensive educational materials and are much more concerned about helping people understand and follow the rules rather than punishing people for honest mistakes.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  That’s not been my experience — my experience is that you pay the penalty, even if it was out of ignorance of the law.

                  I once messed something up with a lone employee in California (the rest of us were in D.C. and we didn’t realize we needed to handle vacation accumulation differently for the California guy), and there were stiff penalties and no “here, let us help you fix that” forgiveness. Which is fine; we messed up. But it genuinely hadn’t occurred to us to check that there could be a difference, and it’s not because we were idiots or jerks.

                3. Evelyn*

                  You’re right. But in this case, it is a small business that has been open for over 20 years, so you can imagine how many employees he has done this to-even if it is a small firm. This practice of not paying employees for subpar work, to my knowledge, has been going on the entire time. Also-not that it matters- the position requires a bachelor’s degree. Not just a neighbor paying a kid to mow his lawn.

                4. Colette*

                  Mike C., no one here is saying that the boss is right or that the OP shouldn’t bring it up – we are saying that it’s possible for people operating in good faith to make mistakes that seem obviously wrong to others. I know I don’t know ever labour law in Ontario, and it’s likely that if I started a business I’d be busy building the business and not make time to get up to speed on all of them. Since I’m the kind of person who reads contracts and makes sure I understand the legalities of what I’m doing, I would probably figure out most of them, but someone who is more of a big picture person probably wouldn’t focus on those details. (That’s also, IMO, someone more likely to start their own business.)

                5. Observer*

                  @Evelyn, if no one has called him out on this, though, he may not realize that it’s wrong. Keep in mind that there are other types of situations where you don’t pay someone for mistakes. If you accountant tells you that she’s going to charge you $200 to do your taxes, and she messes up the first time she does it, she doesn’t charge you for that time, right?

                  I’m not excusing the employer here, but it is at least possible that the boss really does not realize that this is totally illegal.

    5. Green*

      It’s framed that way so that OP is part of the business and is just trying to do what is right for the business (and boss as well). It’s more likely to preserve the relationship with the boss (which we assume OP wants) and has a higher chance of being effective than open accusations (that would put boss into defensive mode).

    6. Josh S*

      The simple answer for why Alison frames things this was is because she’s focused on giving the language that will give the letter writer the OUTCOME they want.

      LW is asking “Is it legal for them to withhold payment for this stuff?”
      Answer: No. Not at all.
      Unspoken follow-up question: “What should I do/say to GET PAID for this work?”
      Answer: Find a way to convince the boss/powers-that-be to pay for training, mistakes/re-work, etc.

      Strategy 1–
      Employee “You’re breaking the law! You need to pay me for all this time!!!!! DO IT NOW!”
      Boss “Go screw yourself. Get in line, and if you don’t you’re fired!”
      Outcome: No back pay, no current pay fix, future pay lost. Desired outcome not reached.

      Strategy 2–
      Employee “I’m afraid we’re running afoul of the law…”
      Boss might reply with either “Oooh! I didn’t realize….let’s fix it!” OR “Not a chance–that’s not how I operate.”
      Outcome: More likely to get the current pay fixed and almost certain to not be fired over it. HIgher likelihood of achieving desired outcome.

      There’s no guarantee in either case, but the more tactful answer that positions employee as ally to boss (Let me help US get into compliance!) as opposed to an adversary (You wronged me and need to fix it!) reduces the downside of raising the issue while increasing the likelihood of getting the upside.

      1. Evelyn*

        This really hits it on the head. My perpective on the situation is that my boss does not realize that he is breaking the law, it’s just the way he’s done things for years and hasn’t run into issues with it. It is a very toxic work environment though, and somehow he can’t connect the negative effects with the actions creating them.

        It is definitely best for me to approach this issue in an educational, non-aggressive way-at least to start. Especially because i have been on the job search for a few months and am still unsure how long before I will be out of that situation.

        Thanks Josh for the insight.

    7. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The idea is that when you need to preserve the relationship (when you’re still working there, for instance), you’re likely to get better results if you use a tone that’s collaborative, not adversarial. Saying “we” rather than “you” helps frame it as you looking out for the company’s best interest, not making a legal threat. There’s less overt threat of legal action.

      You can always move to a move overt statement later if you need to, but there’s no need to start that way, doing so will generally harm the relationship, and you’ll usually get the results you need without doing that.

  9. Three Thousand*

    #4 I’m having an incredibly hard time imagining the boss doing anything but laughing off the OP’s warning that he’s breaking labor laws. Except maybe getting hostile about it. He’s either shockingly ignorant or completely crooked, and either way I just don’t see him taking such a comment from the OP at all professionally. If you’re this ignorant, it’s usually because you already think you know everything and you don’t want to hear that your subordinates might know more than you. If you’re trying to scam people, you usually aren’t going to be happy to find out they’re not as stupid as you thought.

    1. knitchic79*

      Yeah I agree, at least in this circumstance. The “reasoning” is just so weird. He doesn’t think it’s fair to have to pay for training or subpar work? Well we’ll all be in a pickle if that’s how the world works. If this truely is ignorance of the law I’d be suprised.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        “He doesn’t think it’s fair to have to pay for training or subpar work? Well we’ll all be in a pickle if that’s how the world works.”

        Right? For instance, I could have looked at my Starbucks latte this morning while at the register and said to the barista, “Nope, I won’t be paying for this; you put too much nutmeg and too little foam on it. Thanks! Bye!”

        1. neverjaunty*

          Oh, there are people who pull this, believe me.

          Back in my wayward youth, I worked at a copy store. Routinely, we’d have people come in and throw a fit that a copy job somehow wasn’t up to par, and then after ranting a while and having fetched the manager, they’d insist on some kind of discount to make up for the supposedly shoddy work. Our manager would firmly tell them that he would not allow subpar work to leave his store, that we prided ourselves on doing the job right, and we’d be happy to discard the mediocre copies and immediately do it over again and do it right.

          Invariably this took the wind out of their sails, and they’d start uh-ing and eventually would mumble something about how it was okay after all before slinking out.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot*

            Hahahaha, that’s awesome!

            Those are the same people who go to a restaurant, happily snarf their meal, then complain that it was sooo terrible and they want their money back or a free dinner in the future. (I assume they’re also the same people who don’t tip, and who try to haggle with the employees at big box stores because some dumb article told them “the price is always negotiable!”)

        2. K.*

          Ha – I occasionally read “Behind Closed Ovens” and it has taught me that there are MANY people who will refuse to pay for coffee using just that “logic” – and in some cases, will even assault the barista with it.

        3. Helka*

          Actually, to some degree, people can do that. Every major credit card lets you dispute the charges for goods or services that were defective/subpar.

        4. Michelle*

          Yeah, but if I order a caramel frappe, and they give me a green tea, I don’t have to pay for that. I can request that they take back the incorrect drink and make me the correct one, and then only pay for one drink even though they had to make two.

          Seems like this is what the boss thinks he’s doing. Only paying hourly employees is not the same as paying for a product / service where you only pay when they get it right.

    2. Green*

      It’s possible that he’s confusing his own ethics with regard to his clients (i.e., that he doesn’t bill for things that are not directly beneficial to the clients) and transposing them on his employees. The difference is that these are hourly employees, and not independent contractors deciding what to bill for (and he’s assigning them “good for them” work, they’re not just reading a trade magazine or something at home!).

      1. Evelyn*

        It’s funny that you say that actually. I believe my boss at one point had people working for him as contractors. Then he started bringing people on as permanent hires, he must not understand fully how those two situations are different.

        Either way, it’s true that he is just ignorant of business law. He has no background in business and has been figuring things out as he goes along.

    3. Valar M.*

      While I think this one probably knows, you’d be surprised at the number of shockingly ignorant bosses out there. Plenty of people get into those positions without being appropriate for them. I’ve had my share. And the not wanting to pay for “training” is not that out there to believe. Especially where there are entire sectors where people stay in unpaid internships for years “training” when they are doing real work for free. (I am not saying this is right, I’m just saying its not surprising someone would think its a thing you could do.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Again, yep.

        Seriously, it’s ignorance rather than malice much of the time.

        And the ignorance isn’t necessarily because they’re idiots. I suspect we all have reasonably functional loved ones who could commit these errors if they started a small business, if not ourselves.

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          I love the phrase “reasonably functional loved ones.” I’m going to be using this at Thanksgiving. :)

  10. Xarcady*

    #4. There’s a research paper in there for someone–a study of how toxic bosses can so undermine employees’ morale and common sense that the employees get to the point where they seem grateful to have any job at all and “can see how that is reasonable to do it unpaid, since my dedication to doing those assignments prepared me for new tasks at work, which I wouldn’t have been given if I hadn’t done the assignments.” And also not get paid if they make a mistake.

    The OP seems so accepting of so much of this, when it should have been raising red flags from the start. I hope she gets out soon. Even if the employer can be brought to pay everyone fully for their work, I think the workplace is toxic enough that everyone should leave as soon as they find other employment.

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      I was coming here to say “Oh, HELL, no!” to the not getting paid for training and the OP just accepting it — because OP, you’re at work. You’re using your valuable time doing something for someone else. If they aren’t going to pay you for your time, you could be using that time to do things that directly benefit you, like laundry or walking your dog or brushing up your résumé.

      But Xarcady brings up an excellent point about how demoralising that kind of thing is. At OldJob they passed a law that you couldn’t bill any time unless it went directly to a client docket but you had to bill 8 hours a day — and they required all bums in seats (these were the days before telecommuting). They didn’t set up a “Training” docket or a “Time in Lieu” docket (because we were not paid overtime, but time in lieu which was hard to claim). So if you wanted to learn something new, you had to ask for access to whatever program it was (since all software was kept in a locked case) and see if you could pass the first hurdle. Because it became a “why do you want to do that? What do you mean you aren’t working on any client work?” 3rd degree. Which then became a “I can’t let you install that program because it was bought for Wakeen and we can’t have two serial numbers running on computers.” So, in other words, we were left to our own devices of how to look busy — and therefore appear to be billing — instead of doing something/anything to improve ourselves. At least they didn’t have the utterly insane idea to dock pay during down times, I’m sure if they were still in business, they would be pulling that.

    2. periwinkle*

      I’m a doctoral student in business management. There are many, many existing research studies on toxic management and its impact on employee morale, engagement, productivity, retention, etc. That doesn’t make the problem go away, and as we’ve seen on this blog, some of the worst managers are in academia – where they have free and easy access to these studies!

      1. R2D2*

        I always assumed that this was due to unequal bargaining power, especially at large companies or universities, mostly from housing issues. It seems to me that most potential employees are far more likely to be evicted for non-payment of rent before a company of any reasonable size experiences unmanageable financial difficulties due to firing or not hiring any particular potential employee, unless they are part of a boom-bust industry like oil or software where waiting out the labor is much riskier.

        What have you found?

  11. OutlawedArts&Letters*

    Oh, the fun games shady employers like to play.

    My first job out of college was with a telemarketing firm. This company made you clock out to go use the restroom. Then when their sales numbers were low, they would open up on Saturday for an “optional” work shift that was mandatory if you hadn’t worked your assigned set of hours for the week. This included bathroom breaks, so it meant *everyone* in the office had to come in.

    Some of us got wise to our rights, and flat out refused one afternoon. So our boss went into his office–where the circuit breaker was located–shut his door, and shut his blinds. Half a minute later, the power in the whole office went out. Five minutes later, it came back up. A minute later, bossman opened up his blinds and walked out the office with a grin.

    Before the end of the day, he sent out an email telling every single one of the sales reps that they were now required to work the Saturday shift since we’d “lost power” and missed five minutes of work. I laughed in his face on the way out, turned off my cell, and did not come in to work.

    Shade city! About a month after I left, I hear from a co-worker that they had all shown up to work in the morning the find everything in the office being loaded onto the backs of trucks. Some of them stood around for a whole trying to figure out what was going on when the boss showed up with final paychecks and told everyone they no longer had a job. The kicker? More than half of the final paychecks bounced!

  12. Collarbone High*

    “How far away do you live from your nearest family member?”

    How would this question be at all useful in assessing an applicant? I live 1,800 miles from my family. The only thing that “says” about me is that, unlike them, I don’t think four months of subzero wind chills is a pleasant way to live.

    1. Escalating Eris*

      And “How many friends did you make at your last job?” would tempt me into replying “I was there to work, not make friends.”

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      It’s crazy, but I am probably emotional closer to my family now that we are all spread out across the country. I talk to my mom and dad every couple of days, text daily with my siblings, and when we all get together for long holidays we are all engaged and spend the time together (it’s amazing to see everyone put their phone away).

      It also has nothing to do with my job performance. I moved away from my hometown for an incredible job opportunity and built a life there.

    3. Cajun2core*

      I would honestly respond to that question, “About 2 feet.” I consider my wife to be my nearest family member. However, I have a feeling the question is most likely worded as “How far do you live from your nearest family member, excluding those you live with.”

  13. Fluffer Nutter*

    Collarbone, you just made me spray coffee. I think the assumption is if you have a low paying job AND have to take the bus AND are maybe a single parent you’ll quit if you don’t have people nearby to drive you/ babysit if you have to work a double, etc. but again, A intrusive and B a lot of assumptions and tenuous connections.

  14. Mean Something*

    #1, I too would be tempted to keep the vendor gift, but I would be more motivated not to be the person who, on her way out the door, took the nice gift that the vendor gave to mark the beginning of the relationship with the company. I would thank the vendor and say you’re passing it on to their new contact, person X. It could happen that the vendor will say to keep it and that another one will be sent to person X; it could also happen that person X says, “Keep it; you did all the legwork with the company.” But either way, I look better than if I sneak the thing out the door while my former coworkers are dealing with the ramifications of my departure. I can just see the kind of joke that would turn into in my workplace!

  15. Brett*

    #1 Am I reading this wrong or was the gift sent just before or just after signing a contract (since there is a product demo involved)? This is a clear ethical violation for my profession; receiving gifts that could have the appearance of influencing contract decisions made on behalf of an employer is spelled out as a violation in the code of ethics I sign to receive my certification.

    I thought at first the question was more whether it was ethical to receive the gift while no longer an employee, and did not realize until reading comments that the OP would keep the gift if still an employee!

    Is receiving gifts from vendors allowed and ethical in a lot of workplaces? (Besides the professional ethics aspect, it is also illegal for me to do that in my current job, but I know that is something unique to the public sector.)

    1. MK*

      I agree that accepting a gift before signing a contract is inappropriate and might leave you open to accusations of impartiality at best. But after the deciion has been made, why would it be inappropriate to send and receive a gift to mark the beginning of working together? Assuming the gift is the sort of thing companies give away to clients and vendors, as opposed to a personal and costly present to a specific person.

      1. Brett*

        There is no way to know if the gift was agreed upon or expected before the decision is made, and it could influence evaluation and continuation if he contract (or the decision on future contracts).
        That’s why “appearance” is often part of the laws or ethics rules governing potential quid pro quo impropriety.

        1. MK*

          Which is why I think the nature and value of the gift matter. Companies often buy inexpensive and impersonal gifts in bulk and give them to all sorts of people in the conext of promoting goodwill; appearances matter, but no one reasonable is going to think you chose a vendor because they later gave you a calendar for the new year (even if it was a nice leather-bound one).

    2. Colette*

      A lot of companies I’ve worked for didn’t allow employees to keep gifts worth more than a token amount ($50 or so). They were to be refused or, if that wasn’t possible, turned over to the company. I’m kind of surprised many people think it’s ok to keep it.

    3. periwinkle*

      Agreed. Oh boy would I get in big time trouble – as in suspension without pay or outright dismissal – for accepting a gift from a supplier that is trying to win a contract. I also cannot give the supplier anything during that time. I needed a specialized software product for my main project so I identified several vendors, sent them an RFI, and then invited them to give a demo before we developed the RFP (all of this was done in conjunction with our procurement department because only they can talk money or contracts with suppliers). It sounds like #1 had just completed this stage – post demo and pre bid solicitation? Yeah, if one of the suppliers had handed me a logo pen after the demo I would have had to refuse. After we had selected one of the suppliers, I couldn’t even buy the vendor rep a latte when we met at a conference because the contract had not yet been finalized.

      Now that we’re all official and working together, I’m still limited in my options for showing appreciation. We ordered pen & pencil sets for our project and I’m trying to figure out if I’m allowed to send a few of these $4 giveaways to our vendor. Stupid corporate ethics, how dare they force us to be all fair and equitable and stuff, grumble… why, if I worked for the boss in #4, I wouldn’t have to worry about such things as ethics and stupid legal stuff…

  16. alice*

    I was in a similar situation in college – a restaurant wouldn’t pay us for required cleanup at the end of the night. I brought it up with my manager about five days after being hired (nothing happened) and so I called the department of labor the next day. And that night I was fired, but not before I let all the other employees know how much they were getting ripped off. Losing a job is a real consequence, but it’s worth it in the long run. That place had to pay a ton in backpay to each of their employees, past and present.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I wish I would have had the guts to do that in college. I bar tended and we were only paid until 2 a.m. not matter how long it took us to clean up and close out.

      The worst was they inventoried the liquor every Saturday night, which meant we were there until 1:30 a.m. or 2 a.m. unpaid for the extra time.

    2. I know it's you*

      Good for you! People almost never regret standing up and doing the right thing, they usually regret not doing anything about it.

      Your story is an example that even if you get fired, if you’re owed wages you can get backpay plus interest in the U.S.

  17. Beancounter in Texas*

    OP #1 here. Yes, the fact that I’ve hidden it is telling. More to the story after I emailed Alison: the vendor joked about sending me a webcam at the demo and then did so, addressing it to both me and the new project leader. So I gave the new leader the webcam.

    Now that I’ve gotten over the “ooo, shiny” aspect, I realize I want to keep it because I’ve never received a corporate gift that wasn’t consumable and therefore automatically shared with the office with joy. Plus, the bag would make a great diaper bag. I think I’ll probably leave it with the boss’ son, who is the new leader in the project because the gift is meant to sweeten a relationship that I am ending with the vendor by leaving. Maybe the son will offer to let me keep it? If not, it isn’t as though I’m too poor to buy another diaper bag.

    Thanks all.

    1. fposte*

      I’m glad you came to a conclusion that works for you. I totally get the feeling of being sent a big, fat, unexpected present full of toys, too; my first reaction wouldn’t be how wonderful it would be to share :-).

    2. Kas*

      I think that’s a great decision, and I’m glad you’ve replied. My thought on reading your letter was: if you’re not sure about whether to keep it, think about how you would feel each time you used it. If you’d feel uncomfortable, there’s your answer :) And you’ll always have the warm feeling of knowing that they liked your work enough to send a sign of appreciation.

    3. Beancounter in Texas*

      So I gave the picnic tote to my colleague this morning, having forgotten about the wine bottle opener. He was very pleased to receive it, especially the wine bottle opener, which I admit gave me some pangs to see, but I am happy to have been honest instead of shady. I’m ignoring his comment of giving the tote to his girlfriend, but it isn’t as though he was going to keep it at the office and use it for work purposes only…

      And now I know what to put on my Christmas list: a wine bottle opener.

      1. Development professional*

        Just think of it as an investment in having a good relationship with these colleagues after you leave. In many situations, that can be priceless in the long run!

  18. SAHM*


    I was in a similar situation. It was expected that you stay every night until the work was done (never mind that I was the owner’s assistant so the work was NEVER done, there was always more paperwork and emails) and to work from home at night/respond to emails at 3am without overtime pay. So after almost a year (and being told via email that I couldn’t take a lunch unless a project was completed, i.e. Never take lunch) I went to the CA Labor board. The biggest surprise to me was A) I didn’t need to keep track of how many hours overtime I worked/hoe many lunches I missed. I could estimate how many and it was up to my employer to provide proof of whether I had or hadn’t worked those hours. If they had no proof (i.e. Time sheets) then my estimates had to be paid out.
    B) it was very simple, I filled out like two sheets of paperwork and didn’t say anything to my boss and 4 months later (I had been laid off in the interim unrelated to this)I was scheduled a “hearing” which involved me sitting down with ex-employers lawyers and a person from the Labor Board to see if we could come to resolution. We did, I had email proof that Ex-Boss had told me I wasn’t to take a lunch (big no-no) and after some browbeating tactics by the lawyers I walked away with a significant sum.
    C) The one thing I DID NOT like about the process was my husband, who had come with me, was not allowed in the conference room with me for emotional support. It was little old me against two suave lawyers and a Ca Labor Board Rep who wanted to hurry this up and head to lunch. Of course her attitude changed a bit after she saw the email, but still …. I would have gotten a better deal if I’d had someone there with me.

    1. I know it's you*

      Dear SAHM:
      Don’t beat yourself up about not getting more. You won. You triumphed against an employer who was operating against the law. You stood up for yourself and probably ended up helping past, present or future employees of that business along the way. Be proud of the path you took.

      1. Observer*

        I agree. Even if you walked away with just the amount that you were owed in work time, you won. And you almost certainly did something to help future employees. Because paying you back is not the only cost to the employer of an action like this. You can be sure that her lawyers got paid a pretty penny – they aren’t working on contingency, so they are getting paid for every minute in that office, as well as every minute they spent with her preparing. Which means that “what do I have to lose by trying” really doesn’t work.

    2. Development professional*

      I’m curious: if you’d had a lawyer, could you have brought your lawyer into the room with you? I’m assuming so, but not sure. And obviously, hiring a lawyer in the situations isn’t necessarily needed or cost efficient.

  19. I know it's you*

    Dear SAHM:
    Don’t beat yourself up about not getting more. You won. You triumphed against an employer who was operating against the law. You stood up for yourself and probably ended up helping past, present or future employees of that business along the way. Be proud of the path you took.

  20. JennG*

    #1 – is swag really worth your grace and integrity? Because honestly, go buy yourself the same kit and go into the future light of heart and conscience. It is really, really not worth it.

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