I’m in trouble for being too tired to work the day after Halloween

A reader writes:

I wanted to get advice on a circumstance that happened this weekend. Unfortunately, I might be getting written up for needing to leave work early on Sunday, the day after Halloween. I should first mention I’ve never been late, have perfect attendance, excel in sales, and deliver excellent customer service. Sunday morning, I was unable to finish my work shift because of the night before ended horribly.

On Saturday night, a group of friends and I celebrated Halloween by going out and grabbing drinks. Unfortunately, a friend of mine accidentally took my purse, because he thought it was another person’s in our friend group. I didn’t realize he had my purse until the morning. So, I actually ended up staying up all night trying to get into my apartment and didn’t get any sleep. I was fine for the first couple of hours, but the fatigue hit me like a wall around 1 p.m. The assistant manager understood my predicament and even joked around with me about the details. However, around the time I started to really show signs of serious fatigue, the assistant manager mentioned that not only are the manager and boss “disappointed,” but I will most likely be written up if I am sent home early.

I could understand, if for some reason I was really hungover, drank myself silly, and wasn’t able to function at work for those reasons. However, the reason why I decided to go home is because I care about the face of our company and I know that I am not ideally fit for work due to fatigue.

Ultimately, I am really disappointed that they are having a hard time understanding that I mean well for the company. If anything, we have made sales goal every month since I’ve been hired, because I do care about my job and excelling. Also, don’t people mess up? Doesn’t life just sometimes happen? I don’t feel as if my manager will see it from a compassionate viewpoint. This is the first time anything like this has happened before. However, the assistant manager did mention to me that on Halloween the manager was upset that I didn’t show up to work with my costume on (because I needed help putting on the toga). Also, sometimes I have a tendency to show up to work right on time but a little flighty, so I make myself useful by not directly dealing with the public for a few minutes. In my eyes, the issue is showing up to work prepared.

On Tuesday, my manager and I are going to have a long discussion about the events that happened Sunday and it will more than likely end up with a write-up. What would you do in this situation? Do you think I have a right to take a “sick” day off when I haven’t all this time?

My bet is that she thinks you were out drinking and came to work either hungover and/or exhausted from a night out.

If that were the case, it would be reasonable for her to take issue with that and to expect that you’d manage your Saturday night however was necessary to ensure that you’d be able to work the following day, and for her to be concerned that you didn’t.

But assuming that that’s not the case — that it was really just about not being able to get into your apartment all night and thus not sleeping — then yes, that falls in the category of “sometimes life happens.” As long as you’re normally reliable, there shouldn’t be an issue here.

However, I do wonder what you mean when you wrote that you have a tendency to show up for work on time but not ready to deal with customers. As your manager, that would concern me — and if I were already concerned about that, a post-Halloween “I’m too tired to work” incident might look like it fit into a pattern that was already worrying me.

Here’s what I’d do if I were you: When you meet with your manager tomorrow, say something like, “I know that being exhausted the day after Halloween looks like I just went out too late the night before. But that’s not what happened. I wasn’t able to get into my apartment and I spent the whole night dealing with that. It’s not something that will happen again.” If your manager continues to seem concerned, say this: “To me, my track record seems like it’s been very reliable. Is there something beyond Sunday that’s making you concerned about my reliability?”

If your manager still wants to “write you up” (a silly concept that needs to be banished, but that’s a different post), at that point there isn’t a lot you can do about it. But you’d be right to be annoyed that the first time you needed a sick day, you were penalized for it … unless she does tell you that it’s tied to a concern about your pattern of not-quite-prepared mornings. If it’s really about the mornings, then she should address that as the actual issue and leave Sunday out of it, but it might be that you were going to take the hit over the mornings eventually anyway, and it just got a little jumbled up.

Either way, I’d say to work on figuring out how to be more “on” when you arrive in the mornings. You don’t want that sullying what sounds like otherwise excellent work.

{ 176 comments… read them below }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    AAM> Care to expand on your thoughts about banishing the “written up” disciplinary measure?

    I remember being written up at my high school job and thinking my work life was over. Now it’s a story I tell at cocktail parties.

      1. F.*

        I third the request! As an HR manager for a small, cash-strapped company, our quiver of behavioral incentives/disincentives is pretty much empty. Even I realize how futile “writing up” someone is and threatening not to give them a raise, especially since most of our staff haven’t had raises in four or five years or longer. We can’t suspend/fire employees because of a shortage of qualified people with the required certifications. A number of our most challenging employees are also relatives or friends of the owner, but that is another problem in itself. Please suggest some workable, real-world alternatives to get people’s behavior back to where it needs to be.

        1. TL -*

          I think if you can’t fire people or give them raises, there isn’t going to be any incentive. They have total job security and no reward for doing a better job.

          1. Ad Astra*

            There may be things that managers can do to reward high performers: more interesting projects, perhaps more flexible hours, some public recognition of successes, etc. Not as good as a raise, but at least it shows that management is taking notice.

      2. JessaB*

        Personally, I think writing up is a smart thing. It documents problems and the employee cannot later say they had no idea they did something wrong. Also if later you put them on the next step of discipline you have the original paperwork that shows you actually DID use your discipline policy. Because otherwise you end up with people getting fired who swear they never did x or that you’re discriminating because y. Being able to pull out timed evidence in the current litigious society we have is good.

        1. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

          I think you can effectively document addressing a performance issue without issuing a write-up, though.

    1. Gazelle*

      I was written up at a retail job because I misread the schedule and didn’t show up on a day I was scheduled to work. I didn’t have a cell phone yet at that point, and went out all day and didn’t get the message from work til I got home. I completely understood, as I made life more difficult for my coworkers that day.

      I don’t know what other sort of punishment would be dealt in that situation. Three write-ups and you got fired.

        1. Malissa*

          I got written up for working more than 37.5 hours in a week. In an environment where I practically had to beg for a break and couldn’t leave with-out permission. They weren’t amused when I pointed that out. Nor when I asked if I should just start showing up late.

            1. Malissa*

              To sign the paper and shut up. Apparently. This was the job that motivated me to go to college so I’d never have to be a cashier again.

            2. Elsajeni*

              In my experience, the answer is: you should have told your manager, when you asked for permission to leave on time, that keeping you late would put you over whatever hours threshold they’d set. Never mind that you may have no idea what that threshold is — I didn’t until I agreed to cover a shift on my day off, then got a call back 20 minutes later telling me not to come in after al and chewing me out for accepting a shift that would put me over — or that, even if you do, it’s actively against your interests to point it out, since the goal of the hours cap is to prevent any risk of having to offer you, gasp, benefits.

          1. ZuKeeper*

            That seems to be hideously common in retail. I never got the required breaks when I worked retail and rarely managed to get to lunch on time, because hours are so darned tight. I finally snapped when I was sent a text one Sunday night telling me there was a big job due Monday evening and I should probably come in early. I came in at 7 am instead of 9. By 3 pm (normal shift was 9-5) I still hadn’t gotten lunch, or any assistance with the job though I’d been asking all day.), so I finished the section of the job I was working on, called my manager over and told him I was going home.

            The next day he tried to write me up. I just laughed. I’d worked my full 8 hours, without the 2 required breaks or a lunch. I wasn’t about to work extra hours for him anymore, since the week before I’d ended up in overtime and he CHANGED my hours so HE wouldn’t get in trouble. I refused to sign the write up and asked him if he was writing himself up for timeclock theft. Then I left for good.

        2. anonanonanon*

          I was written up at a retail job in high school because I asked, months in advance, not to be scheduled to work on the date of my senior prom and my HS graduation.

          1. Lindsay J*

            One of my previous jobs was like this. Prom night, the day before and after Christmas, etc, were all considered blackout days and people couldn’t request them off, and would be put on final warning or fired for calling out on one of those days.

            I fought against it, but to no avail. But it pissed me off. There is no way I’m telling a high school kid that their crappy minimum wage job was more important than prom or graduation or possibly their last family vacation.

            We needed staffing on those days, but the correct way to get it would be to incentivize working on those days, not punish kids and force them to be there so you have resentful teenage workers and parents. Especially because we have adults who would happily work, sophomores and juniors who would work, etc.

    2. Nervous Accountant*

      I was written up back in June, and (embarrassed to say) I was blubbering and ugly-crying throughout the thing. I really thought I was going to be fired. I was mortified, checked the archives for “cried in front of my boss” and used that exact same script with her the next day when we spoke (we were both in much better moods!)

      1. Afiendishthingy*

        A few months back at a going away lunch for a very beloved coworker, my boss spoke for a few minutes and then said “I have to stop talking, I don’t want to break my record of never crying at work.” I thought “huh. I have the opposite record.”
        I think I’ve cried at work than most people (probably?) but I’m pretty sure that she is an outlier too.

        1. Lindsay J*

          I don’t know if she’s an outlier. Just like plenty of people are on the emotional side, there are also plenty of people on the unemotional side. I definitely am unemotional. I don’t get upset at things I’m “supposed” to get upset at. I’ve never cried at work. The only time I came close was leaving a place where I worked for 10 years when I was going to be moving across country.

          1. Julia*

            I’m actually on the emotional side and still, you won’t catch me crying at work. I somehow hold it together until lunch or the end of the day. (Or cry in the bathroom.) Which is ironic, because people here seem to be rewarded with help for crying to my boss, whereas I, when the whole stress is foisted unto me because I’m “unflappable” feel punished for trying to act professional at work.

    3. hbc*

      Yes, I’d love to hear them as well. Having gone through a patently false accusation of discrimination (the former employee stupidly emailed the owner admitting to that later in the process), I can tell you that the investigator was very interested in what we had documented. We had left on his own accord, but when we had to justify why we might not have been chomping at the bit to create a special managerial position for him, the fact that his supervisor hadn’t documented his aggressive behavior seemed to mean that it hadn’t occurred.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s because it’s juvenile. These are adults. If there are problems, have a direct conversation. If they’re serious problems and it’s a pattern, you should document the conversation, but there’s no need to frame it as a “write-up.” (You can go through an entire process of warning and eventually firing someone while documenting the whole thing without ever “writing someone up.”)

      At least in white collar/professional jobs, employers that treat employees like grown-ups don’t do “write-ups” — it’s the province of employers that treat people poorly.

      1. F.*

        I’m sorry. I guess I misunderstood what “writing someone up” means. We speak to the person and issue a written warning for a sufficiently serious offense (otherwise just a verbal warning) or if the behavior continues. Thanks.

        1. Green*

          “Written warnings” aren’t necessary either. The exception is where you’re governed by some serious regulatory schemes and need to have consequences in place for even minor infractions and progressive discipline that you can demonstrate to the regulatory body.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yep. You might choose to do it if you’re doing something like a PIP, where you have specific measures the person needs to meet and you want them to be able to refer back to the document later (versus relying on their memory from their conversation), or you might do a quick email summary of a serious conversation because that can then easily double as your documentation, but they’re not necessary. You do want documentation once it gets serious, but it could be documentation in a file, versus a formal thing sent to the employee (and sometimes the latter can tone-deaf or like you’re berating the person when you already talked to the person and they already got the message from your conversation).

          2. Ornery PR*

            It depends on if you want to win an unemployment case or not. Sometimes the case can be won or lost depending on if you have records of giving the employee written warnings or not.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              At least in the states where I’m familiar with unemployment cases, as long as you have documentation of serious conversations, it serves the same purpose.

              (That said, I tend to think employers shouldn’t fight unemployment except in egregious cases. Unemployment is there as a safety net, it’s the price of making the wrong hire, and fighting it often turns a former employee into a bitter, trash-talking one who will start thinking back about whether she has any valid legal claims against you.)

              1. anon for this*

                I was let go after a merger. We were watching “one from Team A then one from Team B” be sat down at 4:30, the door closed, and they were never to be seen again.

                My complication was that I had been on PIP. I was completely working with the understanding that “we have to be official and ‘write you up'” entering the 1st step. I had recently been moved to full time, but was expected to be in two towns each day. The double team meetings, the drive between the offices, and the reduced time that allowed for seeing clients and doing paper work was impossible without overtime (I was exempt). I had constant UTIs because I’d put off bathroom breaks.

                When we sat down to review, and I was moved to Step 2, I was stunned. I asked for check in meetings with my supervisor – to keep on top of the “am I doing this correctly” so it wouldn’t get to stage 3. My supervisor missed most of the meetings without notice: both she and her supervisor were interviewing for jobs outside the organization, and we’re gone before step 2 ended.

                My “new” supervisor was not part of my team. She had been promoted to VP over the new area caused by the merger. She moved me to step 3 without ever having a supervisory role over me. She was out of the office effecting the merger. I asked her two weeks into my 3rd step if I could make an appointment to review and ask questions (my role was 90% out of the office) . That day, two weeks early, she sat me down, closed the door, and fired me.

                TL, DR:

                They contested Unemployment benefits – and I was told by a legal aid attorney that if I disputed the UI ruling that my benefits would not start until 3 months later (!!!), there was a real possibility that the hearing officer could decide to deny me benefits altogether.

                I was stunned. I was let go on Friday of the second week in December – so my insurance ended December 31 (and I was scrambling to get appts with my health care providers around office holiday closures).

                I could not do without Unemployment – and couldn’t risk it being withdrawn – so I didn’t contest the ruling.

                So it can happen. And my state cut Federal extension of Unemployment benefits, and has not expanded Medicaid. This has put me in really dire straits.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  An it’s this type of thing that Alison is talking about. Anon, I am sure you did not sit there quietly, you told 16 of your friends and they in turn each told ten of their friends and so on. Now, there is a cluster of people that know the name of the company and EXACTLY how this company operates.

                  I am sorry this happened to you. May the company reap what it has sown.

              2. Mel in HR*

                I normally don’t have issues with people getting unemployment. We have rid ourselves of some employees where I was incredibly happy to see them go, though. One in particular was telling people that we were discriminating against her because we disciplined her for her excessive tardiness. By the time she was terminated, she was already incredibly bitter and trash talking, so when her unemployment paperwork came in, I gladly sent all the relevant documentation. They must have talked to her further because they called to follow up and stated that she informed them of XYZ which were completely untrue. I fought her claims far more than I normally would have, simply because she was lying to get the benefits. That was the only time I cheered about someone not being awarded unemployment. It didn’t help that she had a personal issue with me as I sat in on her termination as a witness. She spread around that I was single-handedly bringing down the business and made some serious accusations against me because she thought I had some personal vendetta against her (you know.. because I did my job to ensure she was treated fairly?). To this day I have no idea what she thought I would gain by making my employer’s company fold.. it would only leave me jobless!

              3. Carol*

                “making the wrong hire” sounds like the responsibility of hiring someone is on the boss and if the employee screws up, than it’s the fault of the boss for having hired that person. As if the boss would know how truthful that person is, how reliable that employee can be. There are no crystal balls. You only know if you hired someone good after the person is working for you.

          3. Sarahnova*

            Eh, the vast majority of companies here use a written warning as a “one strike” kind of thing. If you commit misconduct, you get a WW; if you then commit it again, you will be fired. If you commit gross misconduct, of course, you will be fired immediately. I’m not sure if this process is formally enshrined in law, but in my experience it’s near universal. But then you need an actual reason to fire someone here.

      2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        Writeups just feel like detention. I forgot to put the memo on the TPS reports again, so I have to stay late tonight. Just pointless and continues to treat children like adults?

      3. doreen*

        I’m not sure that “write-up” means the same thing everywhere. At my job, it’s sort of slang for a memo that documents a conversation including the nature of the problem , the employee’s explanation if they give one, references to any applicable policies or procedures , any suggestions/ideas that were discussed to solve the problem and the supervisor’s expectations for the future. It also advises the employee of his or her right to submit a rebuttal if they choose. It would never be used for someone being ten minutes late to work once or twice – it’s too much work. It’s not discipline , as there is no penalty. It’s probably not much different than what you describe keeping in a file. It’s just that the union employees have a contractual right to have a copy of what’s in their personnel file- and if they didn’t get it, the information in it can’t be used in the future.

        It’s a real pain as a supervisor/manager, because it often means that you have to start from scratch if you begin supervising a problem employee whose previous supervisors never wrote these memos. But looking at it as an employee , I’m not so sure I’d like the idea of my supervisor having written documentation of a conversation without any way for me to disagree with it – maybe he got the details of the conversation wrong or he mischaracterized something I said.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      *voice of doom* It’s going on your PERMANENT RECORD!!!

      I thought the same thing, and when jobs asked for transcripts from high school, I thought they’d see my PERMANENT RECORD and I’d be screwed.

      1. M&M*

        Oh goodness – this “permanent record” phrase reminds me; years ago I was a lead project manager on an account, and an associate was working with me, with 2 other associates, on that account. This one associate made a poor judgement call and mishandled a situation. My boss asked me to sit down with the associate and discuss how she could have handled the situation differently; what could have been done better, etc.

        I did; she asked if she was “in trouble” and I said no, of course not. But it would have been better to do XYZ, and so on. Nothing she did was *wrong* – but just not great, you know?

        Anyway, that associate later went on to complain to our director that I pulled her into my office after her “mistake” and told her she was in trouble and that this situation would go into her “permanent record.” What?! I was furious when I got coached on *my behavior* – like I was some power hungry crazy person. I had worked there for about 5 years at that point – no such thing as “permanent record” that I had ever been aware of, and this was NOT how my company we managed, we just had conversations, like I had with this associate. I was LIVID that she made that story up, an attempt to “get me in trouble.”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        As a kid, I was, umm, a free spirit, let’s say. The nuns told us that our IQ tests were going to be a part of our permanent record. OH BOY. This is a BIG deal I thought. Then someone asked, “Who gets to read our IQ scores?” The answer came back, NO ONE.

        So why are we doing this if NO ONE reads the IQ scores, I said to myself, this is a waste of time. I made pretty patterns on the bubble sheet and handed it in. Some where out there is absolute PROOF that I am dumber than a box of rocks.

      3. Audrey*

        The idea of being scared of your permanent record is so funny to me now that I’m an adult. I work at a school district and while, yes, every student has a permanent record, they’re all packed on shelves up to the ceiling in a warehouse that no one goes to. Seriously, no one is ever going to want to see your permanent record.

    6. Amy*

      I got written up for “frowning.” It was actually just my. . . serious resting face, but the manager thought I was frowning at him throughout a 90 minute presentation, and wrote me up.

  2. The IT Manager*

    I agree with Alison. I feel like you over-explained in the letter. “I lost my keys and couldn’t get into my apartment all night.” “A friend mistakenly took my purse and keys, and didn’t return them to me until morning.” Don’t go into an elaborate story.

    It’s bad luck that it happened on Halloween because to suspicious bosses it could seem that you’re trying to cover a bad decision to party all night.

      1. Daisy Steiner*

        Definitely. To me, nothing smells more suspicious than an elaborate explanation with loads of unnecessary details!

        Just keep it simple, and don’t lean TOO heavily on the ‘not my fault’ part – I understand that it wasn’t your fault, but I feel like the more important distinction is that this was, as you say, ‘life happening’, rather than an irresponsible bender the night before you had to work. If I was your employer I wouldn’t be all that interested in exactly where the fault lay for your keys going walkabout.

      1. Mona Lisa*

        Yes, exactly. I came down with the flu on New Year’s Day and had to call off from my retail job for the rest of the week. I had to deal with a lot of that “Uh-huh, suuuuure”, too.

      2. alter_ego*

        I woke up with a migraine on new years day once, and no amount of explaining that I don’t drink alcohol EVER would convince my manager that it really was a migraine, not a hangover, and it was go to work or be fired.

      3. simonthegrey*

        This. My husband took one of his “occurrence” days at work and called out for an event that they wouldn’t let him trade shifts for (I didn’t agree with him doing it but that’s his job, not mine). Then three days after calling out for this event, he got sick and had to call out for three days. There was definite suspicion that he was faking it and he was asked to provide a doctor’s note. His company does not always require them; it is at the boss’s discretion.

      4. misplacedmidwesterner*

        Stomach flu on my 21st birthday! My friends kept calling, “are you already throwing up? You’re not drinking with us?’

  3. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    I’m sorry you were locked out OP – and yes, life does ‘just happen’ – but I wonder if it’s worth reflecting on how this might look to your coworkers who don’t know what happened (setting aside that you might be hurt if they didn’t take your word for it) Even if this is unrelated to your flightiness in the mornings, it sounds like, for better or worse, this is a workplace which values fighting through the day come what may (I think that’s for worse, but that’s another story) and if any of your coworkers had to pick up the slack, that might help to explain it.

    The costume thing sounds more ridiculous, but it’s perhaps also providing you with valuable clues about how your workplace operates and where you may need to look at adapting more to the culture.

    1. Judy*

      However, the assistant manager did mention to me that on Halloween the manager was upset that I didn’t show up to work with my costume on (because I needed help putting on the toga).

      About the costume, my interpretation is that they did wear the costume at work that day, they just didn’t wear the costume to work, they had to change into the costume at work. And also take up another employee’s time to help. And maybe even not before their shift.

      1. UKAnon*

        Hmm, that’s true – although the weird emphasis on “not wearing it to work” rather than, say, wearing a costume at all, or wearing a costume which interfered with work, added to my impression that this was an “all in this together best play with the popular kids” type setup. I’m happy to be wrong though!

        1. Koko*

          Based on the context I am assuming that OP used the first few minutes of her shift getting help putting her costume on, so she wasn’t prepared to begin work at the start of her shift.

      2. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I also read it as either “didn’t wear a costume at all that day” or “showed up and needed someone else to help them put on the costume”.

        I think, as someone else pointed out, these 2 things, plus the overall “sometimes I have a tendency to show up to work right on time but a little flighty, so I make myself useful by not directly dealing with the public for a few minutes.” is reading as “OP is not ready and able to work during her shifts”. I will admit – I am not a morning person, and therefore I am not ready to face customers first thing in the morning. But I have an office job, so I can ease into the day with coffee and email. On the rare days when I need to be customer facing first thing in the morning, I have to get up early to give myself plenty of extra time to let my caffeine do its job before that first meeting.

        Plus, I hope OP is only using the phrasing with us, and not her managers. OP, do not tell you managers that “sometimes you are a little flighty” at the start of your shifts. That is NOT painting yourself in a good light, and not helping your case at all.

  4. Traveler*

    If you’ve never taken a sick day, I think its a little ridiculous even if you were hungover. Honestly, it sounds like your company is more worried about a butt in a chair over quality based on what you’ve described here. Trying to sell this “face of the company” stuff to them probably wouldn’t work. I’d just note your previous track record, explain you weren’t hungover but had lost your keys as AAM suggested and move on from it. It’s pretty out there that they’re writing you up for missing a half day when you’d never taken a sick day.

    1. Allison*

      “it sounds like your company is more worried about a butt in a chair over quality based on what you’ve described here”

      This sounds like a retail job, or some kind of customer-facing service role where coverage is important, and having someone out sick or leaving early means needing to get someone else in so they can provide adequate service to the customers.

      1. Zillah*

        That’s my read as well.

        While there absolutely are companies who are overly focused on “butts in the chair,” it’s important to remember that there are also plenty of jobs where punctuality really is important. If the OP is primarily public-facing, that is a valid concern. I’m not saying that their workplace is being reasonable here, but I do think that it could be affecting how her manager is reacting to this situation.

      2. Traveler*

        Right – but retail jobs are more worried about someone being present than what condition they are in. That’s what I was getting at with my comment. Retail, food service, etc. are infamous for wanting people to work ill, and threatening to fire people if they don’t come in sick. Telling them you are sick and not up to the customer facing quality you’d like to be isn’t going to matter to them.

        1. Tiffin*

          I was once working as a waitress and had to come in sick and work a double. By the end of the first shift, I had almost completely lost my voice and they still wouldn’t let me go home. It was ridiculous and the customers were irritated because they couldn’t hear me. Sometimes it really is better to stretch the crew you have than to make someone stay who isn’t up for it.

  5. Ihmmy*

    re: being ready at work – that’s why I try to show up a bit early. I do my best to arrive about 15 min early so I can eat a quick breakfast, get my music set up, have coffee ready, basically get settled in so that when our doors officially open I’m not going to just stare blearily at walk-ins. I’m not exactly excited to see people that early still, but giving myself 10-20 min in the morning to get organized and comfortable really helps my mood.

    1. KT*

      This. I am NOT a morning person and would come in at 8am on the dot and would be grumpy and miserable.

      It wasn’t fun (not for me, not for my coworkers!)…so I started waking up earlier and showing up to work 20 minutes early. That way I can actually eat, get myself organized, read something funny (NotAlwaysRight always helps!) so I’m in a better mood when everyone else rolls in. It makes the day much better and makes me way more productive

      1. Shan*


        In high school and college, all that mattered was that I was there by my starting time. Whether it was class or my job, nobody showed up early because you didn’t need to, and as someone’s who’s definitely not a morning person, I was cool with that. But once I graduated and got an office job, that method was terrible! I arrived to work stressed every morning. It took me a year to figure it out, but waking up with enough time to take the dog on a walk, get to work early, and have a cup of coffee while my computer boots up made my life much more relaxing and made me a better employee.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. I totally need this time in the morning to just ease into my day. I don’t deal with the public, but I still feel I need this time. I tend to be a bit grouchy and disorganized when I have to launch right into work. Reading AAM is part of the morning routine, so I make sure I have enough time to do that before I start my work for the day.

    3. Justcourt*

      This is one possible reason why the employer might have an issue with LW; however, I had one workplace where it took up to 15 minutes for the computer to boot up and there was other prep that needed to be done before an employee could help customers. That employer set start time right when the organization opened to the public, and the employer was insistent on not clocking in before start time because of overtime concerns. The LW could have similar issues.

      1. CMT*

        I don’t think this is legal. Isn’t the law that if you have to be there (including the time it takes for the computers to start up), they have to pay you?

        1. Justcourt*

          Technically they didn’t require you to come in early. You were supposed to be at work by 8, which was they same time you were supposed to interact with customers.

          As long as you were able to handle the customers professionally during the delay, I don’t think it would be an issue, but I could see where an unreasonable manager might raise a stink.

          It’s not clear if that’s happening with the LW, and I’m guessing it probably isn’t, but it isn’t absolutely clear to me she isn’t coming into work unprepared.

          1. Sunflower*

            Its probably similar to when I was a waitress, you were expected to be ready to wait on a crowd of 100 people when you clocked in. You were kind of expected to be there at least 5-10 minutes early to get in the building, secure all your stuff away, make sure your uniform(hair up, sneakers and apron on) was good to go, get a cup of coffee if you needed it. Of course we never had 100 people show up so often times people would show up at 10:59am (restaurant opened at 11), clock in and do all that stuff after. So the first 15 minutes they weren’t really ready to go. And most people preferred to do something like cut up fruit or polish silverware before they had to actually interact with people. So it could be something like this happening?

      2. Observer*

        What your employer did sounds illegal. But, that’s not you being “flighty” and unable to deal with customers because YOU are not ready.

    4. Formica Dinette*

      This is a smart solution! Just last night my brother, who owns his company, was telling me about a former employee who would prepare and eat breakfast right after getting to work. It really irked him because the employee was hourly and frequently late to work but never early.

      1. Nobody*

        Lots of people do that where I work, and it blows my mind. We have a department meeting first thing in the morning, and after the meeting, some people will go to the cafeteria or break area and have breakfast, and not just something quick like a granola bar — they will often heat up a plate of bacon and eggs or toast a bagel. We’re not allowed to eat in our work area, so they’re not just munching while they work; they’re basically taking a breakfast break 30 minutes into the work day (and we are all non-exempt hourly). One time, something urgent came up right after the meeting and our manager told one of my coworkers to go deal with it immediately, and she whined, “But I haven’t had breakfast yet! It’s the most important meal of the day!” But apparently not important enough to eat on her own time.

  6. jhhj*

    Writing someone up is typically just a not-veiled euphemism for “we’re using this to build a file if we need to fire you”, as far as I can tell.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes, everywhere I’ve worked had some kind of progressive discipline such as:

      Step 1: verbal warning
      Step 2: written warning (write up)
      Step 3: PIP

      Or for places that didn’t do PIPs, it was X number of written warnings and you’re fired.

      Most places written warnings came in one of 2 varieties. One was “our policy says we’re supposed to give you a written warning about X, so consider yourself warned” and it was understood that it was just checking a box by management, and carried no real weight as long as you didn’t have any other major screw-ups. The other was “this is the last formal warning before we put you on a PIP, so consider this an informal PIP and start figuring out with your boss how to fix the issues, because if it makes it all the way to a PIP you are pretty much done.”

      I think OP doesn’t need to flip out about the write-up in and of itself, but she does need to figure out, what does being written up mean at this company? Is it one step away from firing? Or is it a “check the box, now we have it documented that you were talked to, don’t do that again” mild hand slap?

    2. Retail Lifer*

      Not necessarily. People screw up and it needs to be documented, but every place I’ve worked has had a pretty liberal write-up policy. We COULD fire someone after three write-ups, but unless they were all close together and/or for the same thing, that rarely happened. Upper management here dislikes me but I’ve only had two write-ups for two completely different things, over a year apart. Per company policy, that’s nowhere near enough to fire me and the oldest one can’t even count against me anymore.

    3. Rat in the Sugar*

      Depends on the company. In some places it’s a death knell and you only get one if you’ve screwed up really badly, but in others it’s more like a slap on the wrist to embarrass/annoy you into following the rules. I have mostly seen it not work at all when used the second way.

    4. Clever Name*

      i used to work for a municipality, and we had a whole progressive discipline system that went from verbal warning to letter of reprimand to a suspension to a PIP and then firing.

  7. Former Diet Coke Addict*

    This sounds like retail, yes? If so, I wonder if management is frustrated about your non-readiness to jump right in at start time, especially if they’re short of staff, and this is a reflection on that instead of the Halloween thing. And especially if someone else had to come in to cover your shift, which can be a gigantic headache.

    I spent lots of time in retail and customer service, and I get that sometimes you are just Not Ready to deal with customers on Minute One. But retail is also a cesspool of poor management practices, and one lousy habit could be unfairly colouring your manager’s impression of you.

    Writeups are dumb, yes, but if I were you, I’d make a concentrated effort to show up early and ready to be in front of customers first thing. Yes, in a perfect world life happens, but retail can be such a messy place to work that sometimes the most beneficial thing to do is keep your head down and do what you can. Good luck!

  8. hbc*

    So if I read this correctly, two days this weekend involved the LW not being able to work a full shift? And it’s also a regular thing to not be 100% ready to work at start time?

    I think there’s a few possible reasons for the write-up, maybe in combination. 1) Life happens, but life happening twice in two days is too much. 2) Management isn’t thrilled with the on-time-but-not-ready behavior but has a harder time coming down about something so vague, so they’re latching onto this one incident as much more documentable. 3) This might love LW, but they have a strict policy about write-ups for things like this, and they don’t want to get caught by someone saying “You let LW off and not me so it must be because I’m [protected status.]”

    If it’s only the latter, the good news is that places that are strict about write-ups usually have tons of people with write-ups. As long as it’s not a pattern and you’re otherwise performing well, no one cares.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      “Management isn’t thrilled with the on-time-but-not-ready behavior but has a harder time coming down about something so vague, so they’re latching onto this one incident as much more documentable.”

      I think you may have it right here.

      1. Rat in the Sugar*

        Personally I think that if that were management’s issue they would/should just say so. I had an issue with this at my first high school job, and my manager (also a teenager only a few years older than me) had no problem pulling me aside immediately when they noticed it and telling me I needed to be completely ready before clocking in, no chit-chat or adjusting of uniform (or Halloween costume, I suppose). Of course, if these aren’t good managers they might not be open and straightforward the way they should, but I don’t think it’s really a vague, difficult thing to talk about.

    2. Ad Astra*

      I’m only seeing one day where she was unable to work her full shift — the day after Halloween, when she’d been up all night trying to get into her apartment.

      But I do think OP may be underestimating the seriousness of, in her manager’s eyes, not being ready to work when she clocks in. The manager is likely seeing a pattern while the OP sees this as an isolated event.

      1. hbc*

        I’d say showing up at 7:59 for an 8:00 shift and then needing help to get dressed isn’t exactly on time. It might be peanuts in the larger scale, but if you’re not available on time (and whoever is helping you isn’t either), leaving early the next day is going to take on a different meaning.

        1. Allison*

          OP didn’t say they were late starting that shift, they just said they needed help with the costume before their shift started, rather than being 100% in costume and ready to go.

          1. Kelly L.*

            This. I didn’t see any times attached to this at all. It sounds like the boss was upset that they didn’t arrive at work in costume, no matter what time it was, which is silly because there are all kinds of costumes that could impede driving or otherwise not be ideal for wearing during the commute.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, that seemed weird to me. And a costume is an unusual burden that it seems logical to me would require a little unusual adjustment and timing, so unless there was some special kickoff event where everybody clearly needed to be dressed as cell phones and at the front door by 8 a.m, I wouldn’t fuss about a few minutes used to take on this extra task.

              1. fposte*

                Oh, I misunderstood and thought the costume was required; other commenters are correctly pointing out it’s not clear that it was.

            2. Koko*

              Which is why I think based on the context, even though OP doesn’t mention her arrival time, it makes more sense to assume that the reason for being upset was because she used the first few minutes of her shift to get help with her costume. Occam’s razor would dictate that it’s more likely to be that than she has a manager who cared that she showed up not yet in costume.

              1. fposte*

                Though I think they’d be getting into murky areas there unless they planned to compensate the OP for the time changing into the costume. (Yes, it’s arguable that that’s not a required uniform, but I think it would be wise for a business not to bet on that.)

              2. Kelly L.*

                IDK, this appears to be an employer that requires employees to wear a costume, so my default assumption is already…less than perfect reasonableness.

                1. Koko*

                  Possibly, possibly not. It may have just been an option but with the expectation that you wouldn’t dilly-dally at the beginning of your shift if you chose to wear one. All OP says is that she was in trouble for not having it on when her shift began

  9. Oryx*

    “Also, sometimes I have a tendency to show up to work right on time but a little flighty, so I make myself useful by not directly dealing with the public for a few minutes.”

    I get this, I do, but part of working in a public facing role is needing to be in customer service mode from the start of your shift. That may mean waking up earlier to give yourself time to pep up before getting to work or getting to work a little bit early to give yourself time to get in the mode. But if this is happening frequently it’s possible that the Halloween incident is being viewed through a different lens than the one you think your work reflects.

    1. Gazelle*

      I know often if I showed up early to my retail or fast food job, so I could have a few minutes to sit in the break room and collect my thoughts, they’d just tell me to get on the floor as soon as I walked in. I learned fairly quickly not to walk in the door more than five minutes early. But yes, I agree about perhaps waking up earlier or giving yourself a pep talk before going in so you can go right to it.

      1. Retail Lifer*

        This is why I get up an hour earlier than I need to. I’m not ready to cheerfully speak to anyone until I’ve been up for a couple of hours, so I need to factor that in when deciding when to wake up.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Same here. I’m like that morning poem I saw on Facebook (you can get it on a mug too):

          Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee.
          Coffee coffee,
          Everyone shut up.

      2. Observer*

        I think the key in that type of situation is to be ready a bit early, not necessarily coming into the workplace early. Although I think your retail bosses were not being smart – but apparently that’s not too uncommon.

    2. Ad Astra*

      People always think I’m crazy when they find out I wake up at 5:45 to be at work by 8 (which means leaving the house by 7:35), but the extra time to eat breakfast or check my email or whatever makes a huge difference in how sharp I am by 8. Personally, I think the people who wake up at 7:15 to get to work at 8 are the crazy ones, but to each his own.

      1. KT*

        That’s me (but worse). I am remarkably slow in the mornings, so I wake up at 5 to be at work at 8 (I leave for my commute at 7:15). I take a long walk with my dog, I have a good breakfast, sip my coffee, read, straighten up my room, and get ready. And I’m able to leisurely get ready and get into work relaxed and focused, rather than feeling rushed and harried.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Are you me?

        5:30 wake-up to catch a bus at 6:50 to arrive at 7:30 for an 8:00 start time. I’ve got all kinds of gradually-becoming-conscious time baked in there.

        1. Ad Astra*

          If I were smarter, I’d leave at 7:20 or so to give myself a little more time to get settled. Fortunately, my office seems to be one of those offices where everyone arrives right at 8 and grabs their coffee and isn’t truly working until about 8:15. I’m not a coffee drinker, so that puts me ahead of the pack.

      3. Gazelle*

        I just need the sleep! I had to be at a job once at 6 am. I got up at 4:30, left the house at 5:10. Getting up any earlier made me feel like I would murder someone.

        I still never felt like interacting with anyone until 11 am.

      4. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I used to sleep until the last possible moment (ten minutes after I had to be up) and then rush like crazy to get to work right on the dot. I was miserable and frantic, which is not a great combination.

        Once I started waking up early to run, I realized I had such better days when I didn’t feel rushed and I was actually awake before I got in the car.

      5. xarcady*

        I get up at 6 and leave for work at 8. Work starts at 8:30–takes me 20 minutes to drive there, and 10 to sign in and actually get to my desk. I’m usually turning on the computer at 8:28.

        But I hate being rushed in the mornings. So I have time to make a cup of tea and read for half an hour, check the news, tidy up a bit, make my bed and get ready for work without rushing. Makes for a more pleasant day all around, getting a good start.

      6. Koko*

        Waking up 2 hours before you’re supposed to be at work seems totally reasonable to me! I leave at 8:15-8:30 to be at work by 9, and I get up at 7 (OK, it’s really 7:15 after I hit snooze). Who are these people who not only need less than an hour to get ready in the morning, but think that 60-90 minutes is crazy-excessive?!

        1. NK*

          I was this person! I need 30-40 minutes to get ready, and thought it was nuts to get up any earlier than absolutely necessary, because essentially it cuts into my waking hours in the evenings. But my husband likes time to have coffee and relax a bit before leaving the house and we commute together, so I get up earlier with him. I do like a more relaxed pace in the mornings, but we go to bed really early to accommodate it!

      7. Cath in Canada*

        Me too! I get up at about 6:45 to be ready to leave by 8:30. My husband thinks it’s really, really weird (he gets up at 6 and is out the door by 6:15), but I really like that time to have my tea and toast, snuggle with my cats, listen to a podcast or two, play some Words with Friends, etc. before I have to talk to any humans.

    3. Koko*

      I’m also curious what “a few minutes” is. If it’s less than 5 minutes I can’t really see how it’s going to make much difference in her mood to delay working with the public for such a short time. And if it’s more than 5 minutes, it’s probably hurting the store for her not to be ready to face the public for the first chunk of her shift.

      I’m imagining a situation where there’s a long line at the registers and OP is spending the first 15 minutes of the shift doing go-backs. If it’s something like that, it wouldn’t matter that she’s technically doing routine work tasks – she’s doing something low-priority to avoid doing something high-priority.

  10. CC*

    Alison, can you please write the post about why write-ups need to be banished? I’m really curious to hear what you think! :)

  11. Allison*

    Getting written up usually isn’t the end of the world unless it’s en egregious offence, or if your performance has been noticeably poor and this writeup finally gives the management a good reason to let you go. Since you’re normally a good employee, I wouldn’t sweat it too hard. Go in, explain the situation, maybe have a friend or two willing to vouch for you if needed

  12. Retail Lifer*

    No matter what your excuse is, managers have to treat the end result (in this case, not working your entire shift) the same way. Otherwise great liars would never get in trouble and honest employees always would.

    The first person I ever had to fire was let go due to being late all the time. She was 16, didn’t have a car yet, and had to rely on family members to drive her to work. Her family sucked and made her late all the time. Regardless of the reason, it still had the same impact on our business (we were short-handed, someone couldn’t leave on time, etc.) as people who just flaked out and didn’t show up on time. You have to treat everyone equally.

    If I was going to write someone up for having to leave early because they were hung over (and I’m not sure if I would) then I would write up another person who had to leave because they were too tired. The end result in either case is that we were short-handed.

  13. Green*

    Getting “written up” is a little too grade school for me. You can document a conversation (or a string of poor behaviors) without calling someone in for a formal “write-up.” You should also be documenting positive work behaviors and all kinds of things, so there’s no real need for a “NOTE TO FILE” listing your demerits. I don’t know of any peers in working environments where they use that style of “punishment” (punishment isn’t usually needed, just an instruction to correct the issue), and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to treat adults in that fashion.

    1. Gazelle*

      When I got written up, I wasn’t called in to the office or anything. The manager said, “I have to write you up for this,” and I said, “I understand.”

    2. Kai*

      Exactly. It kind of reminds me of middle and high school where teachers were always warning about misbehavior being put on our “permanent record.”

    3. Retail Lifer*

      Every retail establishment uses this process. It’s probably because that industry employs so many young and inexperienced people that it’s necessary. It’s usually not called that anymore, though. Here we call it “counseling” and previous places referred to it as “coaching opportunities” or something similar.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That sort of proves the point, though — lots of retail workplaces are pretty notorious for not treating employees as professional, trustworthy adults.

        1. Retail Lifer*

          Absolutely true. We’re pretty much all treated the same way our new 16-year-old employees are treated, even as managers.

    4. Green*

      I’m going to do the lawyerly thing and write myself an exception here: The exception (where written warnings might serve a purpose that justifies their use) is where you’re governed by some serious regulatory schemes and need to have consequences in place for even minor infractions and progressive discipline that you can demonstrate to the regulatory body. While we don’t use written warnings for the vast majority of our company, I did realize that we do use them for a subset of employees who are heavily regulated but work independently. But that’s less as a “punishment” for them and more of a demonstrable escalation to comply with government requirements. Some of them are even auto-generated when we notice an error in a report (this is a reminder of policy X). But even there we also distinguish between non-disciplinary memos and disciplinary action.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        This sounds like how verbal warnings (side note: it always makes me laugh that a written note of a verbal warning will be recorded in the employees HR file) and write ups are used in the UK, it’s part of a progressive discipline process.

    5. Snarkus Aurelius*

      At my mom’s state job, only negative feedback went into personnel files. So if you reviewed her entire office’s files, you’d think everyone was a nightmare. They’d all been there for 20+ years.

      That’s why she kept her own file of positive feedback. She explained why whenever anyone wanted to send a positive letter to her boss why that person had to send it to my mom directly.

    6. xarcady*

      At my retail job, I had to sign a “write up” a few weeks ago, because I didn’t go on my lunch break in time–I was 10 minutes late. My state has a rule that meal breaks need to happen if you work 5 consecutive hours, or basically you have to take a meal break by the end of the 5th hour or you get a write up.

      Of course, the reason I didn’t was that I was the only person in my department for three hours on a weekend day, and pretty much couldn’t go to lunch during those three hours.

      I was told I should have taken my break before then–that would have had me eating lunch one hour after I arrived for an 8.5 hour shift, leaving me with a 15 minute break that I could take sometime later in my shift–if I could. Those 15 minute breaks are observed more by their absence than their presence. And since my shift was 11:30-9 pm, it would also have meant that I would have had to eat about two hours after eating lunch at 11, and not really had time or food for an evening meal before 9 pm, when the store closed.

      I did inform two managers of the situation, but the problem was still mine. The managers tried to get someone from another department to cover, but couldn’t.

      But retail is like that. It’s the same thing when they tell me that when I’m alone in the department, I need to be at a specific register in case customers who’ve placed an online order come in to pick it up, but that I also must keep an eye on the entire department, which is 40% of the floor of the building we’re in. Short of cloning myself, I can’t see how one person can do this.

      Nothing will happen to me. But corporate rules demand that I sign the form.

      And yes, I felt like a little kid who ran in the hall at school and got caught.

      1. Retail Lifer*

        My state doesn’t have any laws regarding meal and break times, so when someone’s breaks (or lack of breaks) don’t fall in line with company policy, nothing happens at my company. I’ve worked for some places that still enforced company break policies despite this, though, and write-ups would sometimes result. Those were never a big deal, though, and no one ever got fired for that. They were just a formality. And honestly, you could probably take that to your company’s HR. There was no way to avoid that write-up due to bad scheduling and that’s pretty obviously NOT your fault.

      2. Formica Dinette*

        Slick. Employer breaks the law and then covers their butt by shifting the blame to the employee. BRB–gotta go bang my head against the wall.

        1. xarcady*

          This is my first retail experience and I tell you–the banging your head against the wall feeling pretty much sums up the whole thing.

          1. Retail Lifer*

            I’ve been in retail for over 20 years now. There’s been a lot of banging my head against the wall over the years…and that really explains a lot with me these days.

    7. Ad Astra*

      I don’t think any manager of mine has ever documented anything positive about me. Meanies. :(

      If you’re going to attach negative consequences to a performance issue or some kind of infraction, you can do that without a formal write-up. My favorite, though, is when companies have to document verbal warnings. It’s not a verbal warning if you have to document it in writing.

      1. Lindsay J*

        Yeah, it amused me that at one job verbal and written warnings were on the same form. For a verbal warning, you checked the first box. For a written you checked the second. Everything else was the same.

  14. OK*

    Showing up “right on time but flighty” is a problem. It means you are strolling through the door when you should be starting work. Instead, you waste time putting your stuff away and composing yourself to work. You should be there a few minutes before your shift starts so you are ready to work on time.

    It sounds like you have a time management problem.

    If YOU describe yourself as flighty, I bet management is thinking you are a flake. People tend to minimize their faults.

  15. PizzaSquared*

    I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way, and I want to be really clear that I don’t know enough about the O.P.’s situation to know if this directly applies. But I do want to add a little bit of perspective from someone who has managed people who are earlier in their careers.

    I think that part of being a professional is being able to ride out these “life happens”-type events without it directly impacting your work. Yes, we all have weird things happen sometimes. And it’s not always 100% possible to avoid impact on work. But as a manager I wouldn’t find this to be a very satisfying answer. For example, why wasn’t there a spare key somewhere, or a manager you could contact for help? Why weren’t you keeping track of your purse, or at least carrying a phone and ID on you? And if you truly didn’t get any sleep, why didn’t you call in sick?

    My visceral reaction to this situation reminds me of employees I’ve had who had regular “events” that caused them to miss work or perform badly, always attributed to something one of their friends did, or something that happened when they were out drinking. It seems like too often it becomes a pattern — I don’t know if it’s because they tend to hang out with irresponsible people, or are irresponsible themselves, but I’ve seen it happen over and over again. While each individual incident seems reasonable on its face, this kind of thing seems to always be a sign of an employee who is going to continue to have problems. That’s proabably not fair, and maybe it really is isolated in the OP’s case, but I’ve seen it enough times that I honestly would probably react in a similar way to how her manager did.

    1. Allison*

      I get where you’re coming from, people should do everything they (reasonably) can to get to work on time and work through their shift with as little interference as possible. If it were me, I would have taken 2 extra strength 5 Hour Energy shots to work, one to start my shift and another 5 hours in. Calling out sick the day after Halloween, or any other “party” holiday like St. Patrick’s Day, New Years Eve, or the 4th of July, would seem really suspicious; heck, just calling into work on a Monday and saying you have food poisoning can seem suspicious. So I can see the OP wanting to at least try working, and if they couldn’t make it, at least people would (hopefully) see that they weren’t hungover, just sleep deprived.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I totally agree if it were part of a pattern. But the OP says she’s had perfect attendance until now, so I think it’s probably unfair to hold her to that standard here. But yes, there are definitely employees where “life happens” is more like “life seems to happen to this person every week,” and in those cases it’s reasonable to say “we need you to figure out a way to make your life stop interfering with your work obligations.”

      1. OK*

        But, in certain types of jobs, “on time but not ready to deal with customers” isnt perfect attendance. You’d be considered late and it would be a problem. Clocking in at the time you should be working, but then taking 15 minutes each time to get into the correct mindset to deal with customers isnt ok.

        That mostly applies to shift work though. So it would be viewed a lot differently.

    3. LBK*

      Yeah, I agree. I think empathy is obviously important and for a high performing employee in particular, being understanding about life events is key in retaining them. That being said, it’s usually the high performing employees that try to minimize the impact of those life events on their work to begin with. They also tend to have fewer self-caused problems so that when a true freak incident occurs, it stands out as uncharacteristic rather than blending in to a pattern of issues.

      For someone who has a history of problems that are at least vaguely their own fault, you end up with a “boy who cried wolf” situation when something genuinely out of their control happens. We don’t have enough context to say if that applies to the OP, but like PizzaSquared, I also can see that as a viable reaction from management. Combined with the toga thing, there’s just a certain sense of…thoughtlessness, maybe? Like, not truly bad decisions, but maybe things that could’ve been thought through one step further than they were.

    4. SophiaB*

      Very much this.

      My car got broken into a few weeks back. I texted my boss to let her know and she called me as soon as she got into work. We came up with a plan for sorting things (my work laptop was stolen from my car), she sorted out a work-station for me and I made all the necessary reports.

      I was only ten minutes late to work in the end (I’m normally 1/2 an hour early, fortunately, in case there’s traffic), and had minimal impact on everyone I was supporting. Granted, my boss was fantastic about the whole thing, but I was still conscious that I wanted to do everything in my power not to disrupt the rest of my office.

      I think the communication aspect is important here. Did the OP explain at the beginning of the shift that they’d been caught out? Was there any way they could take on lighter duties, or otherwise make arrangements for a shorter/easier shift through swapping tasks with someone and making them up later? I tend to find people will work with you if you meet them in the middle of these things.

      I’m also a person who is not 100% first thing in the morning, which is why I set out to arrive 1/2 an hour before I need to. That way, traffic causes me fewer problems because I have built-in time, and when I get to work (I’m in the UK and not hourly (non-exempt?)), I can boot up, grab coffee (and breakfast!) and do my non-essential ease-in tasks before officially starting. Even if you can’t go into work before your shift, it might be beneficial to drink some coffee and psyche yourself up so you’re walking in all ready to go.

    5. EM*

      “My visceral reaction to this situation reminds me of employees I’ve had who had regular “events” that caused them to miss work or perform badly, always attributed to something one of their friends did, or something that happened when they were out drinking.” This was my first thought too…I’ve had friends who were like that too, where it feels like it’s always SOMETHING but it’s also magically never their fault? And these are the same people would also totally say they had perfect attendance if they had never technically taken a sick day but still came in late or “not ready to work” a ton of times. So…I can definitely see how this could have been perceived differently from the manager’s POV.

    6. TL -*

      But life does happen!

      If it’s a pattern, than it’s the person. If it’s once, it’s life. OP said this isn’t a pattern and I believe her. Once in a while is fine when it happens if it truly is once in a while.

    7. Ad Astra*

      I know what you mean about those employees who are constantly finding themselves in “life happens” situations. In my experience, people who are living in poverty find themselves in these situations all the time because their margins for error are so tiny. There are some interesting articles about Showtime’s show “Shameless” that give some examples. Plenty of people are just flat-out flaky regardless of circumstances, but your comment immediately made me think of the show.

      I feel a little weird, though, questioning the details of why someone couldn’t get back into their house. Plenty of people don’t have spare keys, and most people carrying a purse wouldn’t have their phone and ID in their pockets, and it’s just… I can’t put my finger on exactly why it bothers me so much.

      1. LBK*

        Oh, I love your point about margins of error and I love Shameless and the Gallaghers’ unwavering persistence in the face of a ridiculous unending stream of bad circumstances. I think it’s either season 2 or 3 when Fiona realizes she can’t stick with the club promoting job and after having a brief freak out, she takes a breath and then solemnly washes the dishes. It’s such a simple act but the implications are haunting – that she’s so trapped by her family obligations to the point that she even has a limited amount of time to feel emotions before she has to get back to work. The show really opens up the idea of people who seem to be followed by drama and bad luck from the inside.

        Having been a retail manager in a city I certainly had my share of “followed by drama” employees. The ones who got the leeway were the ones who were realistic about their problems – not a “woe is me” attitude but “yep, bad things will probably happen to me and I just have to keep on living and doing what I need to do”. It was really admirable, especially for some who were younger and whose main drama source was their parents.

      2. Zillah*

        Plenty of people don’t have spare keys, and most people carrying a purse wouldn’t have their phone and ID in their pockets, and it’s just… I can’t put my finger on exactly why it bothers me so much.

        I’m right there with you.

        For me, the emphasis on “well, you should have done X” is that it’s removing the focus from what actually matters: the cost to the business. That’s ultimately what matters here – fixating on what the OP “should” have done makes the exchange feel a lot more personal and judgmental than it should. It also comes off as disingenuous to me, because it’s combing through everything the OP did to find some reason that she’s at fault, no matter how much of a reach that reason is. When I have a purse, it’s because my clothes don’t have pockets. If I have my keys with me, why would I bring a spare? Sure, I am generally careful about where my purse is when that’s the case, but… seriously?

        1. Anx*

          I also feel like expecting people to have a back-up plan for every little possibility to ensure life never interferes with work is a recipe for an anxiety disorder.

    8. Lindsay J*

      Yeah. I have some friends like this.

      If you just knew about one or two events happening to them, you would think it was just rotten luck (or even just plain life happening) and if they said that their employer wrote them up over it you would think they were being really heartless.

      However, as you get to know them you start to realize that the rotten luck is the result of a lot of bad decisions.

      (And it sucks because often the more the bad stuff adds up, the harder it is to get the ship righted.)

      However, realizing this made me resolve not to become one of those people, which was sort of the path I was going down.

      For me the bad decision chain would have looked something like:
      Poor budgeting habits = moving into an apartment above my means = struggling to pay rent + still poor budgeting habits = skimping on car care + still poor budgeting habits = not replacing tires when necessary.

      Poor decision making skills = driving to another city with bad tires = tire blowout + still poor budgeting skills = no way to pay for tire repair = being stranded waiting for bank transfer to come in = missing a day of work.

      Missing day of work = being short $$ on next paycheck + paying for unexpected tire repair = being very broke + poor budgeting skills = not being able to afford gas back and forth to work for the week + poor decision making skills = sleeping in car to avoid using gas to drive home = being tired and smelly = poor job performance = writeup

  16. schnapps*

    My understanding about work start times is that you’re there and ready to go at a certain time.

    For example, my kid takes swimming lessons, which start at 11am on a Saturday. I expect that lesson to start on time. The instructor’s shift may also begin at 11am, but if it takes her 10 minutes to sign in, get changed, grab her stuff and get out on deck, that’s my kid missing 10 minutes of lessons that I’ve paid for. Its very common in that industry for shifts to be scheduled to start at the same time the lessons start, whether you’re doing actual shift-work or are regular full time as a lifeguard/swim instructor.

    Personally, I don’t see the difference between retail and that situation. It has the potential to affect customer satisfaction and that is a concern for any front facing, customer based, business.

    Computers taking 15 minutes to boot up – that’s another thing. That’s something supplied by the employer and the employer isn’t making it possible for you to login in time because the computer is a POS :)

    1. Kiki*

      What I find really unfair about this expectation though is the amount of unpaid time workers are forced to give their employers to be ready to start at X time. I had a horrific call centre job for a year before finally getting something better and it took 10-15 minutes to get logged in to the slow system at the start of the day and then 15-20 minutes to log out and enter information about your calls and generate a report. That means that every day, I was forced to give my employer half an hour of unpaid time, sometimes more if I had tons of complex stuff in the log which is honestly unfair.

      1. the_scientist*

        Former lifeguard/swim instructor here, can confirm that I worked a LOT of unpaid time. I had a saturday morning shift from 9:00- 1:00 p.m. with a 30-minute break for lunch. The first lesson started at 9:00, which meant I basically needed to be there by 8:30 to get changed and set my stuff up for my first and second classes (because, of course, there was no downtime in between lessons for setup). When the shift ended at 1:00 we were expected to stay and clean up all the equipment. Unpaid, of course.

        Lest I sound bitter, it was actually a pretty sweet gig for a teenager: paid well above minimum wage, fun, flexible shift scheduling and it was marginally skilled work. But my employer got a LOT of unpaid time- all that setup/teardown time, plus all the time I spent doing “report cards” at the end of each session (usually about 3 hours). Plus I spent a lot of my own money on supplies, stickers, etc.

        1. schnapps*

          Yeah, I was too – that’s why I used it as an example. It’s a pretty good gig and the ones who stay in it forever are really skilled. And report cards are brutal – a lot of places here are now paying for that time because it’s a requirement of the job.

          (I now teach people how to be swim instructors, so my expectations are pretty high, but it’s not unreasonable to expect lessons to begin on time, and as a paying customer you can bet I will complain if the lessons start late and/or end early)

  17. Diandra*

    I hate to say it, but while I understand that “sometimes life just happens”, the reason OP couldn’t get into their apartment was due to events that would not have occurred had she spent her night differently. It sucks to have to work the day after a holiday (I had to work the day after thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years last year), and yes, a write up and penalizarin sounds very silly for someone who is normally reliable and good, but a late night out, drinking or otherwise, was OP’s choice. And based on the “I didn’t realize friend had my purse until morning”, it sounds like she was out late enough anyway. Especially in customer service, workers need to take care of themselves so that they can be somewhat cheerful when greeting customers, regardless of the ungodly hour they may need to work. It sucks, but I think there could have been some reasonable contingencies planned in case of semi-disasters (leaving earlier, finding a friends place to crash at, etc), that even rowdy college students could have figured out. So I’m on the fence, OP. I feel for you, but at the same time…

    1. Ultraviolet*

      I don’t think “I didn’t realize friend had my purse until morning” means the OP was out until nearly morning. I think OP got home late at night and discovered that she didn’t have her purse, spent hours trying to get into her apartment, and didn’t find out until morning that the reason her purse was gone was that her friend had taken it.

      It’s hard to tell how much time OP spent trying to get into her apartment, but I wouldn’t really blame her too much for not having a margin of error of several hours for contingency purposes.

      1. Lindsay J*

        But still, I feel like having a backup plan for lost keys is something adults have.

        What would happen if a stranger walked off with the purse and the keys were just gone for good? What if they fell out of her purse onto the street or the floor of a bus or something?

        Either you have a set you keep with a neighbor or friend for such emergencies, or one of those fake looking rock keyholders, or have a friend you can crash with until morning, or know that your apartment complex will let you in 24 hours for a fee, or suck it up and pay a ton of money for the emergency locksmith call.

        I say this as someone who has had to use my emergency plan when she left her keys in a hotel on a business trip and had to wait (and pay) for them to be fedexed to her the next morning. I feel like most adults have some sort of contingency plan in place for getting into their house/apartment if they are locked out.

        Similarly, when I travel I always have an extra ID and a couple hundred bucks tucked away in cash somewhere in case I lose my wallet in the middle of nowhere and need to secure a ride or a hotel or something. I haven’t had to use it yet, but it’s a comfort to know that it is available should I need it.

    2. LSCO*

      “I hate to say it, but while I understand that “sometimes life just happens”, the reason OP couldn’t get into their apartment was due to events that would not have occurred had she spent her night differently.”

      I don’t think that’s particularly fair. The last time I called out sick, I’d been for a meal out with some friends the evening before. Had I “spent my night differently” and stayed home and cooked for myself, I wouldn’t have been ill. Does that mean I shouldn’t eat out the night before a work shift, in case I get ill? Similarly, should the OP not schedule any social activities the evening before a work shift, just in case something happens?

      Sometimes, life just goes awry and something unpredictable happens. That doesn’t mean employees should do nothing but go to work to minimise the (already very small) risk of *something* happening which means they have to miss part of a work shift.

    3. Ad Astra*

      I don’t see any evidence that OP was out unreasonably late. The same situation could have occurred if she’d chosen to spend her evening at a Bible study or volunteering at the soup kitchen or really anything that involves leaving her house to spend time with other people. Sometimes people grab the wrong purse.

    4. Int*

      Life isn’t fair. Something bad happening to someone doesn’t mean that the bad thing is their fault. You don’t have to stretch to make it LW’s fault.

    5. Green*

      It also generally isn’t your employer’s business what time you get home or go to bed or what you did the night before. It’s similar to getting into a car accident: sometimes it’s your fault, sometimes it’s circumstances you created (you were on X street at Y time), but it’s an extenuating circumstance. The problem I’m concerned about is the OP showing up not ready to work as a trend.

      1. Lindsay J*

        But what you did the night before generally doesn’t affect your employer at all. And if it is affecting the employer (like it did in the OP’s case when she was unable to complete her workday) it does become their business in a way.

        That doesn’t mean that the employer gets to tell you how you spend your time, or interrogate you about what you were doing or what happened. However, OP’s employer isn’t doing that.

        All they did was say that not completing her shift was a write-up worthy offense, and write her up for it.

        I see no evidence that they were passing judgement on OP’s previous nights’ activities whatsoever. It might be that any employee who fails to complete their shift for any reason (or any reason that isn’t an illness documented with a doctor’s note) gets written up – in retail that wouldn’t be uncommon.

  18. Observer*

    I’m wondering if there is not also an attitude issue at play. This caught my eye:

    Also, sometimes I have a tendency to show up to work right on time but a little flighty, so I make myself useful by not directly dealing with the public for a few minutes. In my eyes, the issue is showing up to work prepared.

    Coming in unready to do your job is NOT “showing up to work prepared” and I’m trying to figure out how the OP squares that circle. Also, saying that not doing your job is making yourself useful really sounds like self-justifying double speak.

    It’s great that you care about the company. And the fact that the company has been hitting and exceeding goals is great. But, it’s possible that your manager won’t see that as being to your credit, but rather DESPITE your not always being up to doing your job. Or he might feel that although your contributions are significant when you are actually working, the fact that you have a habit of needing extra time to actually get started places a burden on your co-workers and it’s also of concern that you don’t see this as an issue.

  19. Van Wilder*

    It sounds like you work in retail or something related. I feel like it’s hard to find reliable, enthusiastic people for hourly sales jobs. I just wish that managers would reward people that actually care about their work and not get hung up on these petty things. If it was a pattern, then sure. But it just sends the wrong message to treat your employees like children.

    Ok, I might have baggage from that time I worked at the Gap and this new store manager came in and wrote me up for being 10 minutes late one Sunday morning, when I was one of the few employees that really liked working there and tried to do a good job and wasn’t stealing from the store. I quit a couple months later after a few instances of her talking down to me. But anyway.

    1. Kiki*

      I once got written up and a stern lecture about ‘image’ at a clothing store for showing up with my hair not looking great. It was pouring rain so heavily you could barely see more than a metre in front of you and there is only so much an umbrella can do in that kind of weather.

      Anyway. I didn’t enjoy my job because I’m someone who doesn’t enjoy sales/customer service, but I was one of the few people there who put on her big girl panties about it and pretended to care and was nice to customers and showed up on time and didn’t steal or call in such every time there was a football or basketball tailgate on.

      But after that? I completely checked out of the job before quitting a few months later because I just went ‘you know what? You’re ridiculous. Up yours’.

  20. aaa*

    OP, they told you that you’d be written up if you went home early. Then, you chose to go home early because you weren’t “ideally fit for work due to fatigue” and didn’t want to not be at your best in a public-facing role. This seems to me like they made a judgment call that it was more important for you to be present, even if not at your best, and then you went home early because you made precisely the opposite judgment call — not that you couldn’t have managed, but that you thought it was best to do the opposite of what your manager told you.\

    I wasn’t there, so I don’t know, but you should consider whether that interpretation is possible. If so, it could be important to how they view this event.

    1. CE*

      Exactly. I work in retail right now and the culture demands that you be physically present. I worked through a serious contagious illness recently, 103 degree fever, and as stupid as it is to have a worker spreading illness, calling in without a doctor’s note (when we’re all uninsured) or having earned a whole lot of sick time is very much frowned upon. During this time, I took the evenings off from my second job in health care where the expectation is that you do not show up with any illness to avoid infecting the residents. It’s important to know and abide by the official and unofficial rules in place at your company. Even when I was in a cushy office job with a ton of personal time, coworkers would roll their eyes if I went home for not getting enough sleep the night before. As an adult, it’s generally accepted that you do your job after a restless night. Otherwise, all of us parents would be coming home early for a year after FMLA leave was up. I would definitely get written up for leaving early for being tired. But if you’re a stellar employee with no other issues and this is truly an isolated event, you sign the write up and forget about it. If it’s your first and only one and you’re performing well, nobody cares about it anyways. At my last HR job, we had managers whose files were thick with write ups from when they were new. Most managers desire to retain and promote good employees.

  21. ExWaitress*

    This just kind of reminds me i got fired after working about 3 weeks at a restaurant. Costumers always raved about me to the owner always complemented my service to them. I did everything he wanted me to. He had the waitress being waitress, hostess, and bustier all at once. So I was always busy and moving. I had a major headache one day but only he seem to notice cuz i zoned out rolling the silverware. I was told i was being fired because my morning job is making me to tired to preform at my evening job. When two hour before he was telling me i was the hero of the shift because we had a table of 30 people come in with no reservation! I took care of everything for the table while the other two girls on staff look flabbergasted.

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