restrictions on plus-ones at a company dinner, employee sent abusive texts from a work phone, and more

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

1. Only spouses and significant others are allowed at holiday dinner

Is it typical for office holiday dinners to restrict an employee’s guest to include only a spouse or significant other? I’ve worked as a doctor for more than a decade in a very successful privately owned clinic with fewer than 30 employees. The clinic recently changed hands, making this year its first holiday under new ownership.

Being single, I was looking forward to bringing a close friend to the dinner, but was told by my employers that only spouses and significant others were allowed to accompany employees. Is this a common practice?

Yes, extremely common. Probably more common than not, actually. The idea is that etiquette has long treated married couples (and now other significant others) as a social unit, so they’re invited to social events as a unit. The idea isn’t “bring any plus-one you want,” but rather “we’re not going to ask you to leave out a spouse/spouse-equivalent during this non-work-hours social event.”

2. Employee sent abusive personal texts from a work phone

I have an employee who is off work due to personal reasons. This is a long-serving employee with a good track record. I like this guy, and we have a good working relationship. However, he used his company phone to send abusive texts (non-sexual) to his ex-partner’s new boyfriend. The boyfriend has complained and threatened to go to the police if we, the company, do not do something about it. The phone contract has now been terminated. What can I say to this employee to make him realise how serious this is for the company?

“It’s unacceptable to use a work phone to send messages like this, and you’ve exposed the company to potential legal problems. This has shaken my trust in your judgment, and I’m going to need you to work to rebuild it. As a start, I need you to agree not to use company resources for personal business going forward. Can you do that?”

People who send abusive messages to the new partners of exes tend to have some serious maturity and boundary issues, so you might keep an eye on that as well.

3. Mentioning a recent job offer when asking for new types of work

I am an admin assistant at a university and recently interviewed for and turned down a teaching job offer at a local private high school (the start date wasn’t ideal, the pay increase wasn’t substantial, and it seemed more of a temporary assignment). I have my master’s degree and I love being a part of a university, but my ultimate goal would be to teach in higher education. The job market in academia, however, is not friendly to master’s degree-holders, and even PhD’s, especially in the humanities.

My current supervisor was recently promoted and I would like to request a performance review with him before he begins his new assignment (I have only been at this university in this position for about six months—my current supervisor hired me). I would like to use this opportunity to discuss creative ways I could perhaps integrate more academic research tasks into my current position. I have received a lot of positive feedback so far and think my current supervisor would be willing to hear me out, but how could I phrase it? Is it wise or useful to mention the teaching job offer I turned down to ask for an opportunity for a stretch assignment in an academic department or student activities department? The job offer I turned down offered a couple thousand more than I make now; is it unreasonable to request a raise only 6 months in?

Yes, you really need to wait a year before you ask for a raise, and you should base the request at that point on contributions you’ve made in the past year, not on a different job offer.

In theory, it could be possible to mention the offer in the context of explaining that you’re strongly interested in working in an academic position, but I think that’s trumped by the fact that doing that would make it obvious that you were seriously considering leaving only six months into your job, which is a bigger strike against you than any help the rest of it would provide. So I’d leave it out and just make your ask without that detail (and really, I don’t think that detail would provide so much help that it’s a huge loss to leave it out).

My bigger question is whether it’s realistic to expand an admin assistant role into one that includes academic research. I suspect it’s probably not, but maybe commenters working in academia can weigh in on that.

4. Employees did unpaid work for “contest”

Recently, my company decided to hold a contest to develop a software that, once implemented, will save the company a lot in the next couple years. Participation was voluntary.

A few hourly employees invested 80 hours+ per week to finish in the short time of the contest, but did it outside of work hours. The people who worked on the software volunteered, but the end result is of enormous value of the company–it feels uncomfortably close of the conditions under which many unpaid interns have sued their employers. At the very least, the contest has been incredibly demoralizing for employees; they feel their work is being devalued.

My question is, can this get the company into legal trouble?

You’d need a lawyer to tell you with 100% certainty, but yeah, I’d think so. Calling it a contest doesn’t change the fact that they have employees doing actual work.

5. Can my resume include a company on my resume that went out of business?

If I previously worked for a small company (film editing) that closed down, should I still include it in my resume even though it is unlikely its existence can be verified and I no longer have contact information to my former boss? I’m hesitant to tell an employer that these smaller film companies start and shut down often but that I was too naive to try to make a record or portfolio of my work.

I am a student and it really is the most impressive paid work I have ever done, but I don’t want anyone to think I am a liar if I describe my work without supplying a working reference.

Companies shut down. It’s very unlikely that an employer will think that you’re lying simply because the company is no longer in existence, unless there’s something else that appears shady about the way you talk about it. You absolutely should list it.

That said, you should try to track down your former boss using LinkedIn if you can.

{ 357 comments… read them below }

  1. Sydney*

    I had a coworker bring her dad, and her sister (not the same year) to the holiday party. I had never heard of anyone doing that before. She was really upset when she was told she could only bring spouse/SO.

    1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

      My best former boss used to make our holiday dinner a true plus one.

      It was a really nice gesture and made everyone happy. It made it fell a bit more fair and it was always a fun group.

      1. MK*

        That was nice of them, but not every company can afford to be so generous as to automatically double the guest list. Placing bars on who gets to come along helps to keep it more manageable.

        1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

          But it can also be really awkward. At my former job the senior management team had to have a discussion about what a significant other really meant.

          Sally has only been with her boyfriend two months, but they live together, does that count? John and his girlfriend have been together two years, but don’t live together does that count?

          We ended up making the paid-drinks party staff only (and during the last few hours of the work day), and opened it up for anyone to meet up after 5 when the tab was closed.

          I’d rather plan an event where everyone is happy, rather than a $45 pp rubber chicken dinner where 1/3 of people are forced to arrive solo and feelings are hurt. There are ways to be inclusive and still be under budget.

          1. Sydney*

            If you are dating them/married to them then they can come. If you are related to them and not by marriage then they can’t come. If you are just friends then they can’t come.

            1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

              That just seems so arbitrary (says the party planner). If Jane happens to DTR with the guy she’s been dating three weeks, she can bring someone?

              This thread is actually making me happy that I get volun-told to sit on the planning committee! It’s so easy to find fun solutions that are inclusive.

              1. Emily K*

                Yeah, I think if Jane and her boyfriend feel like they’re serious enough to attend each other’s company parties, then they are. It actually works out really well to just let people self-assess. Most people who are only casually dating aren’t going to want to go to each other’s company party.

                A +1 is an exception to the rule at most events, not the rule, and I tend to favor erring more on the side of letting a few people like maybe Jane scam the system for free food because the vast majority won’t and it ensures no non-traditional couples are excluded. Most people know if they’re part of a more or less permanent social unit that more or less always presents together in social settings, or if they just want a friend around, and their conscience will prevent them from taking advantage of the offer.

                1. LBK*

                  Yeah, I think since it’s a work event, it’s fine to just let people decide on their own if their relationship is serious enough. It’s not like a wedding or other intimate social event where the guest list is supposed to be reflective of the people you want to share in a special moment with you, and therefore you’d be more justified in not wanting the random person your cousin started dating last week to show up.

                2. Mephyle*

                  But some people do feel that they can’t be comfortable going alone to a wedding and will do all they can to bring someone they have whatever tenuous connection to. To them, a wedding is a ‘date occasion’ that requires a partner. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some people felt the same about a work party.

                3. LBK*

                  But it’s not as much of a faux pas to do that at a work party, where really the only person it affects is the one who brings the date. It’s not nearly as awkward as bringing a random person to a wedding since there, it’s supposed to be the couple’s special day and the guest list is meant to be reflective of those they want to share that moment with.

                4. Sketchee*

                  Many years of work parties and I never really thought about it. Couples bring their spouses and I come alone. If anything the married people all seem to enjoy imagining I have an amazing life as free spirit single. The contrast is fun and never thought it was a negative

              2. Oryx*

                I’ve known people to get engaged after a month and are happily married years later and I’ve also known people who have been dating for a decade but are neither married, nor engaged, and keep separate apartments. So, they can’t invite their SO because they choose to not live together despite the longevity of their relationship?

                As Emily K. said, it works in the favor of the employees to let them self-assess the seriousness of their relationship and not the company.

              3. AMT*

                I tend to agree, and how can they even tell? Sounds like a fun game of I-dare-you-to-say-my-45-year-old-drinking-buddy-isn’t-my-partner.

                1. Lionness*

                  That could open an ugly can of worms, too. I happen to be a heterosexual female but because I keep my personal and work life separate my coworkers would only have their assumptions to go on. So if I bring my female best friend…who is going to really challenge me and risk me announcing that she is my partner?

                2. Connie-Lynne*

                  This. My ultra-Christian cousin was SUPER cagey about who she was bringing to my wedding, so I called my mom and found out she was getting a divorce.

                  Cousin proceeded to show up at wedding with a woman named “Rainbow,” who she introduced as her roommate. I immediately assumed cousin was in the process of discovering her lesbian or bisexual side (and felt a little weird she hadn’t been comfortable e nough to just tell me).

                  Its odd enough to have family wondering and guessing these things. Just say “+1” and let the folks who need a friend to make it through social gatherings bring one. Or don’t allow guests at all.

          2. Kate M*

            I agree. I mean, as someone who is usually single, I don’t expect a plus-one to an event. But for those that offer it, it really stands out in a good way to me. What if you’re the only person in your office who is single? Would it really hurt the company that much more to pay for one extra person? Plus, what if everyone gets into a relationship by the time the event rolls around? If you’re going to throw an event, and allowing anyone to bring a date, then I think you should budget for the possibility that everyone might bring someone. You should budget for the event you can afford. If that’s just a punch and cookies thing, then that’s fine. If you can afford to get everyone a steak dinner, great. But don’t plan an event where you say, “well, only 15 of our 30 person staff is in a relationship right now (6 weeks out from the event), so we’re going to budget for exactly 45 people. That’s setting yourself up to fail if anyone gets into a relationship before then. Either have it be just staff, or allow everyone to bring someone.

            Now, I know that isn’t common, so I wouldn’t look badly at a company who didn’t give everyone plus ones, but I also wouldn’t be super happy. And maybe I wouldn’t bother asking a friend or whoever to come with me to a work function, but it would be nice to have the option. It’s really nice when companies try to treat everyone the same.

            1. Sparky*

              Always single here, and one of two single people at work. I would appreciate being able to bring someone I know well to talk to at an event is there was a plus 1. I promise I wouldn’t bring my cats as dates. What we do is have an event during work hours, and no spouses/SOs come, and we get to leave on time. So that works out.

            2. anonanonanon*

              The very first place I worked at out of college was a small office and I was the only one who was single. The first year I went to the holiday party, everyone was with their partners and while I’m usually fine being single, it’s hard not to feel like an extra wheel when everyone is paired off with partners and you’re just chilling by yourself. And it turned into a lot of awkward conversation about how I showed up alone, which made me feel uncomfortable.

              I’m not saying I expected an invite to the party, but those situations are definitely uncomfortable. In the other companies I’ve worked for, people LOVE to gossip about who shows up alone to +1 events and I’m just of the mind to exclude +1 invites company parties or events anyway. People shouldn’t be getting perks just because of their marital status (and I know some people will complain about it not being a perk, but for lack of a better word, it more or less comes down to someone getting something extra because they’re married).

            3. Elizabeth West*

              At Exjob, it was one adult guest. It could be anybody–SO, spouse, or your BFF–but it had to be only one. I liked this, because even though I had no one to bring, it didn’t really exclude me from doing so if say, a friend were visiting or something. Mostly, I just ended up sitting at the boss’s table. :\

            4. Oryx*

              I know my SO is invited, but I just went back to look at the invite for our upcoming party for specific language and it’s “you and your significant other or a guest” are invited, which is nice of my company!

          3. neverjaunty*

            Er, isn’t that a question for another advice column? “Dear Columnist, my work allows us to bring a spouse or SO to a company function, but I’m not sure if I should ask my boyfriend since we’ve only being going two months.”

            If it’s just about making the employees happy, hey, I have adult children I’d like to bring to the company function also. What’s wrong with me demanding that the company pay for them to attend too, if the purpose is “bring somebody you can have fun with”?

            1. LBK*

              Agreed – I think it kind of misses the intended purpose of allowing non-employees to attend to think that a friend or relative is equivalent to bringing a spouse or SO.

          4. SingledOut*

            Thank you for your input.
            It’s not a fancy banquet event, but is to be held at an Italian/pizza rr.
            I would be more than happy to pay for my friend’s dinner/drinks, but that option is not available.
            My friend is a charm with socialization, as she was the event coordinator for a congressperson for several years. We’ve been friends for a long time, and she’s usually the friend I turn to for these types of events, as I for her.
            I don’t really see this event as a “boss-schmoozing” opportunity as some of the more corporate-based places of employment may be. It’s a tiny practice, and everyone knows practically everything about each other.
            Yes, couples pair off in their own conversations for the majority of the evening. I would feel less awkward with a friend.

          1. Oryx*

            This. Inviting Jane’s boyfriend isn’t doubling the guest list, as they are a social unit and need to be invited as such.

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              Though according to Emily Post, plus one only applies to a fiance or a live-in partner for non-married couples.

              So in the Jane example it would be doubling the guest list. Again, this all just seems so arbitrary, rather than inclusive (or in the holiday spirit).

              1. Oryx*

                and Miss Manners disagrees with Emily Post on this, so it really just depends on which etiquette expert you lean towards.

                1. This is She*

                  Yes, but Emily Post writes about manners in the social sphere, and Alison writes about manners in the workplace. The two are not always the same.

        2. LQ*

          It is weird to say this is a financial thing. Because it isn’t like they are saying that people can bring +2. What if someone has more than one significant other? If the majority of people have a +1 then it isn’t that much more expensive to cover the few people who don’t. Why would you budget that 1/3 of your staff will be single? If someone starts dating someone and they weren’t last year are you going to get upset because it threw off your numbers? It has always come across very much as the couples are units thing to me. (In some places it comes across as a bit religious where socializing isn’t supposed to happen without a spouse present.)

        3. NK*

          As others have pointed out, it doesn’t really double the guest list though unless everyone is single. And as someone who was single for several of my working years, I personally wouldn’t have opted to bring a date who wasn’t a SO, and I know I’m not alone in that. So the actual guest count increase is probably very minimal. In a similar situation, we offered a +1 to all our single wedding guests (there were seven). Only one of them brought a date.

          1. MK*

            I didn’t mean the “double the list” literally; I am assuming people wait to have a rough number before makng plans, so if you have 30 employees and ask them if they intent to bring a plus one, you might end up with a 50-, 55- or 60-person list. If you ask them whether they intent to bring their SO specifically (without getting into how long they ‘ve neen together or how serious they are), the singles won’t start looking for a date, those dating casually will not class their boy- or girlfriends in the “SO” category, etc, people will selfselect out and the list won’t skyrocket.

      2. neverjaunty*

        The point of a plus-one is that couples are a social unit.

        YMMV, I guess, but when I was a single I would have felt very weird being told to bring a friend instead of an SO – as if single people truly can’t have fun at any social event without a companion.

        1. Emily K*

          I think this is part of what rubs me the wrong way about it…it’s framing a +1 as some sort of social buffer/built-in friend that married people get to have that prevents them having to interact with their coworkers, and it’s not fair that single people don’t get that built-in friend buffer. But that’s not at all how S/Os function at a company event.

          The company is paying for the event and you’re ostensibly there to bond with your coworkers. Your friend is either going to be distracting you from that task, or essentially ignored by you and just there to suck up free food and drink on the company’s dime. It’s not the same with a spouse – a spouse tends to understand that they aren’t there to have fun, their role is to stand next to you, make you look like a good family person, impress your coworkers, etc. They function more as an extension of you and understand the way they reflect on you. (Which is why most people who truly qualify to be a +1 often rather wouldn’t go to, but suck it up and go anyway because it’s important to their partner.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes — totally agreed. Spouses/partners are invited because society treats couples as a social unit, and when you’re inviting people to an after-hours social-ish event, etiquette says you don’t leave their partner out. But it’s not about “you need a companion to entertain you so you don’t have to talk to your coworkers.” The whole point of these events is (ostensibly) to socialize with your coworkers.

            1. Editor*

              It seems to me that this issue is one of those “fairness vs. equality” problems that keep turning up in family and etiquette decision making.

              Having gone to many holiday parties with my late husband, and now, going to them on my own as a widow, I think the first rule of a company party is to decide if it will be employees only — in which case it should be held during work hours — or employees with guests. If guests are welcome, each employee should have a +1. It may be fair to say spouses or SOs only, but it’s not equal. I have several friends who’ve been single all their lives and have been very supportive now that I’m navigating singlehood. What strikes me, repeatedly, is how much more in benefits and flexibility and indirect cash layouts I received as a married person.

              My feelings about the economics of inequality in the U.S. economy have definitely colored my current stance. I now believe that holiday parties, benefits, and other work perks (even if the party is perhaps an awful event) should be more equal. The only area I don’t care about equality is in providing coffee. As a non-coffee drinker, I don’t care if the coffee drinkers get free coffee — even though if the cost is considered, it may be a considerable benefit.

              1. lapgiraffe*

                My mother feels similarly as a widow, especially in a male dominated industry.

                As for me, I’m a thirty something professional working in a very social industry where I have great friendships with colleagues and others in my field (sometimes even the competition!) and I have two very close friends who are my “people” – a gay roomie of over six years and my best gal pal. I often want to bring one or the other to events so that they can put faces to all the names and actually meet my colleagues, and my colleagues are just as interested in meeting them. They all know that I don’t have a boyfriend and that my relationship with my two people is very close, vacations and holidays and every day boring stuff, I may not be having sexual relations with them but they very much fulfill the “partner” role in my life. Perhaps this will change one day, but perhaps it won’t. I don’t need either one at any parties to help with conversation (and that’s just luckily because I do like most of the people I work with) but I do like to share a little of my personal life at work when appropriate.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Yes, exactly. I’m finding the comments about “but then you have nobody to talk to” or “it’s more fun with a friend” really, really baffling. I also don’t quite understand the undercurrent of resentment about ‘it’s not fair to singles’.

            Interestingly, the same etiquette tradition that holds that couples are a social unit also dictates that couples aren’t seated together at formal events, precisely to avoid the problem of them talking only to one another all evening.

            1. Emily K*

              Yes! It seems like that tradition has fallen by the wayside, too. I had never heard of it until I planned a formal dinner for the members of my organization’s board and their spouses, and the board President actually insisted on switching up the seating because it wasn’t proper that all the married people had sat next to each other! I really like the idea but it seems like it’s totally foreign for a lot of people.

          3. Elysian*

            Yes, this. My job at my husband’s company party is to stand next to him, be a socialite with his coworkers and their significant others (because he is not) and just generally make him look good and like he’s got himself together. He does the same at my company parties. It isn’t to have fun – its to build the partner up and make them look like a well-rounded, interesting, awesome person. A friend just doesn’t fulfill that role.

            I guess its a very silly social convention, now that I type it all out, but it’s the truth.

            1. Maxwell Edison*

              Ugh. I hate my spouse’s company parties. I find it very uncomfortable to stand there with a fixed smile, afraid to say anything or even have a glass of wine for fear of making some sort of faux pas, for hours on end while he talks to people I’ve never heard of about things I don’t understand.

              1. neverjaunty*

                It would probably be a lot more uncomfortable if you were there at a friend’s company party, and had been invited by the friend on the theory that they ‘get’ a +1 and you’ll keep them entertained.

          4. MashaKasha*

            Oof! Now I know why my poor husband was always miserable at my work holiday parties (even at ones he and I hosted at our house)! I did the bonding with coworkers part well, but husband was not good at being an extension.

            I had kind of an opposite problem in my last relationship. During our first holiday season together, academic ex brought me to his work parties; they were usually at someone’s house, and five minutes after walking in, ex would tell me that he had to go network with colleagues and walk away, leaving me to fend for myself in a sea of professors. I’m pretty social, but I only knew a tiny fraction of people there and it was HARD! First five minutes of small talk were usually okay, then a person would ask, “so, what do YOU teach?”, realize I’m not a prof, make an excuse, and run off. The ex would usually turn up at the end of the evening to collect me and go home… Fun times!

            This brings me to the question: what’s the proper holiday party etiquette for both the employee and the guest? How do you successfully, quote, “function as an extension” of your partner? and how do you help your partner be a successful extension? My current partner owns his own business that is too small to do a plus-one holiday party (whew, thank FSM!), my workplace doesn’t do those either, so right now I’m only theoretically curious.

            1. Mark in Cali*

              Seems silly to network with a bunch of people you already work with at a party. Sure, work conversations will happen, but don’t people have hobbies? Watch movies?

              Why get scared off when you’re not a professor? They are probably more interested in what you do in the “real world,” because I hear academia is very insular.

              This is why I don’t even like business lunches. I don’t want to talk business, I want to talk about movies and weekend events because it’s a social event!

              1. MashaKasha*

                I only had one of ex’s business associates positively respond to my answer about what I do for a living. Everyone else would reply, “errr, that’s interesting”, and five minutes later, POOF! gone. This guy’s eyes lit up and he said, “Wow! I could never do that. It always sounded so difficult to me. Tell me more!” I didn’t know whether to cry or hug him. He was not from ex’s school – he lived in another state and worked in research – literally searching for a cure for cancer. I still remember him and his wife fondly. Only two people in that circle who showed a genuine interest.

                1. Mark in Cali*

                  At that point I would head for the open bar and start a showtune singalong at the piano! Someone’s gotta loosen them profs up!

    2. INTP*

      I’ve heard of that. It can be very awkward when everyone else has a +1, so I get it. (Not awkward because you feel weird about being single, but sometimes when people don’t know each other well they can break off into little conversations with their spouses and you’re left sitting there.)

      1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

        It’s super awkward for folks.

        My ex’s company did this and the two single people (Sarah and Sam) seated at our table were from different departments and didn’t know each other. Not only were the rest of us couples, but the four employees all worked together. It totally looked like the two singles were after thoughts.

        Though in chatting with Sarah, she joked that she’d rather be shoved at a random table than a singles table like it was a bad wedding. Sam ended up blowing off the meal and leaving 1/2 way through to meet up with friends.

      2. Sydney*

        She had a boyfriend tho so I’m not sure why she elected to not bring him.

        I on the other hand have no SO and never once thought about bringing a family relative.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Me either! I’m married now, but was single for a long time (I went 6 years in my 20s without dating at all). I would never, ever have brought a friend or family member as a “date.” That seems so much more awkward to me than being on my own!

          1. Allison*

            Ah good, I thought I was some weirdo for not wanting to take a friend as a date. If I don’t have a boyfriend to take as a date, I go by myself, easy as that. Yet some people now think it’s weird (pathetic, sad, lonely, whatever) to attend events solo. It’s like we’ve regressed to an age where it was expected to have someone on your arm at all times.

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              One of my good friends is like this. She’s much happier riding solo than bringing a friend, but I think it’s better when people have the option, rather than just being told no.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I’m not, because everybody is paired off, and like INTP said, I often end up sitting neglected because people are talking to their SOs. My choice is usually to skip it.

          2. Artemesia*

            The idea of bringing a parent as a plus one to anything except maybe a wedding where my parent knew the bride or groom seems beyond awkward. Bring Daddy or Mommy to a business event seems to project ‘childish and immature’ to me.

            1. Ethyl*

              Agree — a close friend is more understandable but a family member, especially a parent, is wildly inappropriate at a work function.

            2. Plus One*

              I have always been my grown son’s “plus one” for weddings (and his company Christmas party. The reasons are:1.I know all his friends and co-workers. 2. Even though my name hasn’t been on the invitations, they have specifically asked him “Please bring your Mom.” (I feel flattered that they want me there!!) Also, he knows that he doesn’t have to “baby-sit” me, and he can trust me not to embarrass him telling stories about when he was little. Alas, I think my party days are about to end; he is now seriously dating someone, and I’m about to be relaced!! :-)

        2. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

          But wouldn’t it have been great if you were given the option of bringing a friend along?

          One of my former coworkers was married to a chef, so there was no way he was getting a Friday night off in December. She always brought a good friend along instead of her SO.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Not so much? I mean, bringing a friend along suggests that my husband is fungible with any other person.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Right. Anyway, I generally believe in making the world easier and more comfortable for people, so I guess I land on the side of inviting non-spouse plus-ones. But it still feels super weird to me!

              (A couple of people brought friends as plus-ones to my wedding. In general, we only invited people in relationships to bring plus-ones – and our wedding was small enough that we knew the relationship status of everyone we invited. In both cases where guests brought a friend, I specifically invited these folks with plus-ones because I knew they specifically wouldn’t be comfortable alone – in one case, because she was the only single member of a friend group, and another because she would be traveling from across the country. I was 100% happy to have those plus-ones there, but it’s a little weird that there were these guests at my small, intimate wedding that never met me or my husband before and will never meet us again.)

              1. Cheeto*

                There were only 80 guests at my wedding, but we gave all the singles a plus one. A few brought dates– people we’d never met before and haven’t seen since. There are a couple of pictures of them in our album, but it doesn’t bother me in the least. They had someone to slow dance with. We moved less than a year after our wedding and I haven’t talked to 30% of the people at our wedding in the last five years, so our whole album is full of people we’re no longer close to. A couple of plus-one strangers doesn’t bother me in the least.

        3. MashaKasha*

          My then-husband skipped a couple of my company parties. He felt awkward around my coworkers and didn’t want to drive across town and then stand in line just to get dinner. (Happened at the first holiday party I took him to during my first year at OldJob; the company hadn’t taken into account how much it had grown in the previous year and rented the same venue – we stood in a buffet line for a half hour before we both decided we’d get to eat sooner if we’d just ditch it and go home.) I went on my own and had a good time.

      3. lawsuited*

        I speak very little with my spouse at my work holiday parties – I network with co-workers, take an interest in my co-workers’ spouses so I get to know them better, etc. The point of bringing along a spouse to a work event is not the have a “buddy” to talk to during dinner, I think it’s more so that the people you work with can meet the person you’re talking about when you say “my weekend was rough – my husband and I spent 16 hours raking leaves” or “oh, actually, my husband and I have been talking about moving to that neighbourhood” or whatever.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Exactly. We co-workers usually try to point out the spouses/SOs at the company party, because otherwise they have to sit there and talk to US and it is nigh impossible to get a bunch of people who work together to AVOID work talk.

        2. Rat in the Sugar*

          In that case, it still makes sense for some people to bring someone other than an SO or spouse. I, for instance, am very close with my brother. He spends nearly every evening and weekend with me, and all my stories start with “Last night, my brother and I were…”. He was the one I brought to our Christmas party last year, and I’ll be bringing him again this year (if I can convince him, he doesn’t like parties any more than I do). I like being able to bring him–as a celibate person, I have no SO and never will, so if I want my coworkers to get a chance to meet the most important person in my life that I love the most and spend most of my time with, then I have to be the weirdo who shows up with family. I’d still go to the party without him, but I wouldn’t stay nearly as long and my visit would only be perfunctory instead of enjoying myself.

    3. MashaKasha*

      Every holiday party I’ve been to until 2007 has been a “employee plus spouse/SO”. Every party after that has been an “employees only”, no +1. It never occurred to me that people could bring just whomever, and be upset at having that changed to “spouses/SO only”. Guess I learned something new today!

      1. Allison*

        the other day I was browsing the comments on a Reddit thread, where some guy had opted to take a friend to a wedding his girlfriend didn’t want to attend, and was baffled that she was upset about that. I was of the opinion that you either take your SO/spouse or you go solo, I learned that that was stuffy and old fashioned, and it’s now totally normal to take friends as dates to stuff like that. Of course in that case the real issue was that he still should have made sure his girlfriend was okay with him taking someone else. But seriously, what’s wrong with flying solo these days?

        1. anonanonanon*

          I’ve taken a friend as a date to a wedding before. It was one of those situations where I knew the bride, but absolutely no one else and I didn’t want to be that single person used as a seat filler at a table of couples. Have you ever been to an event where you sit at a table of strangers who are all talking to each other? It’s awkward. People who bring dates invariably end up talking to each other, so it’s nice to have company so you’re not just sitting in silence during the meal and reception.

          In my experience, it’s pretty normal these days to bring whoever you want as a +1 to a wedding or a party. It’s really only company parties that I’ve ever encountered the “spouse only” rule.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            “Have you ever been to an event where you sit at a table of strangers who are all talking to each other? It’s awkward. ”

            Part of the social contract for guests is to make an effort to be convivial with other guests, especially the ones seated at the same table, not to pair off into exclusive conversation pairings. The people who do this are being rude and not holding up their end of the bargain. It’s a social function, not a private couples date.

            1. Allison*

              Yes, this! If you go to a social event with a date and only talk to that one person without engaging with the rest of the people around you, that’s rude.

              I guess if it’s that common for couples to isolate themselves, I can understand people being worried that they won’t have someone to talk to if they go stag.

            2. fposte*

              Agreed. The point is to talk to somebody other than who you bring. Maybe it’s getting muddied with bringing a date to a show?

              1. Allison*

                I think, as we’re becoming more relaxed about formal functions, people see taking a +1 as a small step above inviting a friend to tag along to a house party. Then again, I rarely invite friends to tag along to house parties either, even when it’s probably a good idea.

                1. fposte*

                  I think that, ironically, people want the rules to be relaxed because they themselves are much less so, whether it’s freaking out about what fork to use or who they’ll talk to.

            3. Mallory Janis Ian*

              Also, I’ll expand this to include groups of couples seated at the same table with one or two people who arent members of their friend group. The group of friends shouldn’t make the conversation about things that are only mutual to their little in-group. They need to make an effort to discuss topics of general interest and invite input from everyone at the table. It should not happen that a person feels awkward and excluded at their table because everyone else is coupled up; they may start off feeling that way, but collegiality from others at the table should be able to quickly smooth that over.

              1. Cheeto*

                This is why I worked very hard on the seating chart at my wedding to make sure one-offs didn’t get seated with a big group of mutual friends. I put people who knew each other together so friend groups could make inside jokes and not leave anyone out. I could care less if different friend groups mingled.

            4. Maeve*

              Well if talking to strangers is a a total nightmare for you then these functions are pretty terrible if you’re not allowed to bring a companion.

              Personally I wouldn’t attend a function where I couldn’t bring someone unless I knew a lot of people there very well and they would be attending without dates as well.

          2. Emily K*

            Whereas I (30 years old with most of my friends starting to marry off in the last 2-3 years) have never been invited to a wedding with a carte-blanche +1. It has always been either “S/Os only, your judgment of whether your relationship is significant is trusted” or “S/Os only, and we will decide if we consider your relationship significant.”

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Right. With two exceptions that I talked about above, we invited specific people to our wedding: Josh and Donna (an unmarried couple), not Josh plus one. But that’s only possible at events small enough that the host actually knows everyone involved fairly well.

          3. neverjaunty*

            Even more awkward is if the only reason you’re at that table if strangers is that a friend of yours invited you to be there, purely because 1) they could and 2) they wanted you to keep them company.

            1. Allison*

              Heck, even being an SO’s date can be either stressful or awkward if you only know your SO and either they’re doing a crap job at introducing you to people or you just aren’t connecting with anyone at the event. A lot of people dislike going to events with their SO for this reason, and it’s often considered more of a relationship obligation than a fun date.

      2. Jane*

        I’ve never been allowed a plus one for a holiday party, all of mine have been employee only! While it’s nice that some places even invite a spouse or significant other, I think my jobs have restricted it to employees because of the large employee pool and the parties have been rather nice, so would be far too expensive to invite plus ones. I don’t think people should even expect to be able to invite a significant other, but it’s a nice gesture. I also think that people should be able to bring a friend in that scenario though.

    4. Ad Astra*

      Sometimes I’m cool with that at weddings if it’s a guest who won’t know anyone there, because it’s nice to have someone to talk to in case you’re shy or you just don’t click with the other guests. But at a work function? You know plenty of people there, so I don’t see how bringing a dad or sister or even best friend would be better than going solo.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I have a few coworkers who have stated to me that they suffer from social anxiety. Being able to bring a guest of their choosing makes it significantly more comfortable for them to attend a large work function, especially if they are the only single person on their team.

        My very first fancy work holiday was two weeks after I started my new job. I was so grateful that during my hiring I was asked to RSVP and told I could bring a guest. Showing up to a 500+ person part where the only people I’ve had a chance to get to know were my boss and employee would have been super awkward.

        1. Ad Astra*

          If I’m the boss and someone comes to me saying “I’d really feel more comfortable bringing my cousin’s sister’s dogwalker,” I’d say fine. Actually, if I’m the boss, I’m probably just going to allow or disallow the +1 without qualifying it. What I worry about, though, is people bringing any random person with them because they feel they must bring someone. You see it a lot with weddings, people posting on Craigslist so they can bring someone they’ve never met to an important milestone in their family member’s or friend’s life. It’s weird.

          Is there a good way, as a host, to make it clear that guests are welcome but far from required?

        2. Arjay*

          I’ve been in a similar situation – hired in October, HUGE party – and I was so glad to have my boyfriend there. We socialized during dinner to the best of our ability, but I would have been lost during the after-dinner cocktails and dancing without him there.

        3. Hotstreak*

          In addition to the anxiety issue, what if someone needs to walk home, or take the bus or subway, and they don’t feel safe riding alone late at night? They shouldn’t be required to go solo, and shouldn’t have to ask for special permission either!

          1. fposte*

            That’s getting into a strange area, though; people invite individuals out all the time and leave it up to individuals to figure those things out without bringing uninvited guests along.

          2. Green*

            Exactly, fposte. We’re all expected to function in society and arrange for our own transportation to obligations. We can find lots of reasons why various explanations may apply (or various suggestions won’t work for people), there’s a limit to what other people should be expected to anticipate and accommodate (and pay for…).

    5. Ihmmy*

      I’ve brought my best friend to work things before… my then partner didn’t participate in that kind of stuff, it was pay for your own drinks/snacks, I’ve known her since grade 5. My boss was delighted to meet my friend because, well, friend is kind of amazingly awesome. If it says you can bring a guest, I don’t really see why your selection process behind that guest is the business of your employer.

      I also have more than 1 SO at the moment. That doesn’t mean I’m going to get persnickety about invites being “you plus one guest” but my selection process behind that guest is nobody’s business but that of me and my partner(s) and guest (if non partner).

      not much of an issue of late since current job does staff only stuff for xmas, and during the work day/lunch so it’s not an additional time sink. other than prepping food for potlucks. that’s a rant for another time though.

    6. Sunflower*

      I’ve went to my sister’s holiday party for the past few years as her plus one. She works at the same company as her husband and she takes me and her husband brings one of our close girlfriends. We know quite a few of the people they work with but me and my friend spend most of the night either networking for ourselves or trying to meet single men(whoops! lol). My sister and her husband spend most of the party schmoozing with higher ups and partners. If I didn’t have the friend to scout guys out with, I think the whole thing would just be awkward for me.

      My current company does not allow any spouses or significant others at our firm party. I think it’s a great idea.

    7. Maxwell Edison*

      Holiday parties are, with rare exception, boring and awkward. I’d much rather go solo to them rather than subject anyone I cared about to them.

      1. Charityb*

        It might be a good way to punish a friend that you’re upset with though. The problem with modern society is that sadistic cruelty isn’t as welcome as it was in the past. You can’t contaminate someone’s drinking water or wither their crops any more, so inviting them to boring company holiday parties is the closest legal alternative.

        1. Maxwell Edison*

          I like that idea a lot. “Hey, High School Frenemy! So good to connect with you on Facebook! Say, my employer, ToxicJob, is having a holiday get-together full of enforced gaiety, low employee morale, and management patting themselves on the back for their disastrous decisions. Also, Powerpoint presentations! C’mon, it’ll be fun, and a great way for me to repay you for all your non-backstabby friendship that did not in any way contribute to my social anxiety issues.”

      2. Cheeto*

        Best holiday party I ever went to was held at the Times Square Planet Hollywood. Open bar, enough food that you could have eaten yourself to death, “party motivators” (pretty women encouraging the men to dance), a DJ playing great music, and everyone having a really fun time. It was employees only, though. No spouses allowed. But that made sense because they were a hard-drinking crowd and the bar tab was probably already $$$$$ with just us.

  2. RG*

    Oh, #4 is tricky. Here are some things to think about:
    How open was the contest? Could anyone submit a solution, or was it limited to just employees? Did the problem rely on any type of knowledge that only someone in the industry would have? Were there licensing requirements for solutions, like having a Creative Commons license? Err, I’m guessing you didn’t award an actual prize, right? You really need to do that – when it comes to unpaid internships or situations like this one, cases tend to hinge on whether it’s is production-level code, and it seems like this will be at some point. Or at least require licensing that allows you to use it for free.

    1. Little Teapot*

      That’s a good point – did they freely give this new software to the company? Can they turn around and say, “We’re delighted you like our Teapots Software. We are charging $X for the company to use it” and reclaim some money that way? Or was there an understanding that whatever is submitted, will be used, free of charge? It’s definitely a little murky and dodgy.

      1. Ani*

        I think this is probably so hard to fight (though not impossible) when companies can and do fight to own anything workers produce (code, a novel, whatever) using company resources on company time.

    2. snuck*

      Yeah.. #4.

      I worked for a Very Large Corporate that did similar… had a company wide competition that was around developing products, process changes etc that would benefit customers.

      The number of proposed ideas that came to fruitition was reasonable… but a lot of good ideas were ignored/thrown out, and there wasn’t much acknowledgement of them which was demoralising.

      While I (and a colleague, together) put forward a rock solid idea that would work, and give a great new product for very little cost to customers, the company awarded to someone else (with an equally good idea, no issues there).

      These things are fraught. Afterwards I felt there should be some reward, I’d handed (along with many others) the company a lot of value even if they didn’t go with my idea then and there they now had a big book of ideas they could draw from across the entire business. It was voluntary, so no reward could be expected beyond the winning prize (a holiday on Hamilton Island if I remember correctly), but it’d be nice if there was more recognition. It made me more circumspect in years to come about sharing ideas and I would be cautious about recommending it as a strategy in the future.

      1. MK*

        If your idea wasn’t used, then you did not hand them any “value” or anything that benefited them at all.

        1. The point is*

          …that labor has a cost. The company consumed the labor even if it didn’t use the end product. If a lawyer draws up a will for me at my request, and I don’t use it, is it okay to not pay the lawyer?

          1. MK*

            The lawyer did not knowingly participate in a contest by you to find the best will. Every time one participates in a contest, they know that, unless they win, their labor, will be for nothing; or at least they won’t receive compensation from the organizers of the contest.

            1. Zillah*

              And every time a non-exempt employee works late without claiming the hours, they know they’ll be getting no compensation for it. That doesn’t remove the company’s obligation to pay them for the time, nor will it be a good defense if the company is told to pay back wages. The “contest” angle is particularly absurd given that it doesn’t seem like there was a prize for the winners.

              Look, “contests” – even contests that are theoretically voluntary – that require 80+ hours of unpaid work to complete do not belong in the workplace. They just don’t. There’s no way to ensure that people don’t feel pressured to “volunteer” and even if there was, it’s inevitably going to lead to people feeling undervalued and exploited – as it did here.

        2. Zillah*

          I disagree. Having more options to draw on has a lot of inherent value – just because something isn’t used doesn’t mean the company didn’t benefit from having it on the table. Not using the full idea doesn’t mean that they won’t integrate certain aspects of it that are transferable into the final product – nor, for that matter, does it mean that they won’t choose to implement the idea in full for the future.

          1. MK*

            I benefit by having many choises when I go to the super-market and buy cleaning fluid; are you suggesting I owe something to the other companies whose products I didn’t choose? Or that the super-market should charge a fee for providing me with choises?

            If a significant part of an idea is used, then reduced compansation is appropriate. If an idea is used in the future, then compensation should be given, when that happens. But to say that all ideas should be compensated, just because people did work, makes no sense.

            When I needed an interior decorator, I asked several firms to make proposals and give estimates to me, but I only paid the one I ended up choosing. I would have thought it appropriate for them to they charge a fee just for the proposal, provided they informed me beforehand; but to come later and ask for compensation, because their ideas were good too? No.

            That being said, I think it’s very shady for a company to hold contests for their employees to participate, if these require work done in their time off.

            1. Zillah*

              You said:

              If your idea wasn’t used, then you did not hand them any “value” or anything that benefited them at all.

              I was pointing out that having options to work with is inherently valuable and beneficial, regardless of whether they’re actually used. You’ve illustrated that with both of your examples.

              They’re faulty examples, though – you’re taking completely different situations and overlaying them onto the OP’s in a way that doesn’t make much sense. The supermarket and the interior decorating firms are both competing for your business – that’s the nature of the relationship. However, in those examples, you are the consumer. While you don’t pay the supermarket or the interior decorating firm for services you don’t use, neither the supermarket nor the interior decorating firms are making paying their employees contingent on whether you use their services.

              1. Charityb*

                This kind of reminds me of that other letter from a couple of days ago, where the OP’s boss didn’t want to pay employees for mistakes or for work that he isn’t billing to customers. This might be OK if we’re talking about a company and an independent contractor, and for whatever reason the contractor agreed to make their payment contingent like that. But it seems kind of loony to apply it to hourly employees. Does that mean that Walmart doesn’t have to pay its greeters if a customer walks in and decides not to buy anything? Do they not have to pay their stock clerks for the time spent putting inventory on the shelf that doesn’t move fast enough?

              2. Elsajeni*

                I think that’s very true for the OP’s situation, but not necessarily the same for snuck’s situation — there’s an accepted distinction between “came up with an idea” and “put hours of off-the-clock work into developing software,” even if the idea was really good and you put a lot of time and thought into it. The OP’s situation is like the supermarket assigning a different employee to build creative displays for each brand of cleaning fluid and only paying them based on how well their brand sells; snuck’s situation sounds more like paying them all normally, but giving a bonus to the employee whose brand sold the best (and maybe adopting their style of display for all brands in the future).

            2. The point is*

              No. Proposals and estimates are not commercial service offerings. They are simply part of the cost of doing business.

            3. The point is*

              I should add that professional service providers are extremely careful about giving away ideas during the proposal process for this very reason—because unscrupulous prospects have been known to take the ideas and (try to) implement them in house.

        3. Mike C.*

          This isn’t true in the slightest. Otherwise, why would companies patent ideas that they never put into production?

    3. #4OP*

      Hi, I’m the OP for #4. The contest was only open to company employees. Many of the people who worked on it were salaried, but enough were hourly that there was some concern.

      Winning submissions didn’t receive any sort of prize/consultancy money.

      1. Gaara*

        If they didn’t get any prize for winning, what makes it a “contest”? It sounds like a voluntary or optional (maybe) work assignment. I’m not a wage and hour lawyer, but my guess is the hourly employees have to be paid for their time.

      2. AdAgencyChick*


        It already annoys me when companies use contests as a way to get a bunch of ideas on the cheap from *outside* creative people. They don’t have to pay for 99% of the ideas they get, and the prize for the contest likely costs the same or less than they would have paid a contractor or worker NOT on spec to do the work. I’m all for a free market and people entering into whatever agreements they find mutually agreeable…and you won’t catch me entering any such contest, because I value my work too highly to enter it on spec.

        This is worse than that, though. At least with the oh-so-common coding/writing/poster design contests that solicit outside contributions, people can decide whether or not to enter the contest. But if the contest is being run by your employer — was there pressure to take part? That, to me, is shady — it’s taking the “contests get us free/cheap work!” idea and adding an element of “do it or else.”

        I’m not a lawyer, but my guess is that Gaara is right and from a legal standpoint, at least any nonexempt employees would have to be paid.

  3. Naomi*

    #4: 80+ hours a week outside of work hours? I have to wonder what kind of prize this contest was offering, because if the employees were also working a 40-hour week, that’s pretty much every waking hour spent working for this company.

    1. Kerry ( like the county in Ireland)*

      I’m sure it was pitched as a contest where the “winners” get to keep their jobs. Corporate “Survivor,” ya’ll!

    2. Felicia*

      I’m also wondering how truly voluntary it was if they spent that much time on it. There are definitely times when companies call things voluntary when there’s subtle, or not so subtle, pressure telling you that they’re not.

      1. Zillah*

        You said 80+ hours a week in the letter – is that a typo? (Not knocking you for it, I’ve totally done the same thing – I just want to be sure I understand the situation. :))

        I agree with everyone else – you probably have to pay them for that time, and even if you spoke to a lawyer and were told that you didn’t have to, it’s incredibly unethical not to. That’s not going to be cheap – remember that once they got into overtime, which I’m sure they did, you’ve got to pay them time and a half.

        I’m actually really concerned about the ethics of this all around. I know that you only wrote in about the hourly employees, but if salaried employees spent the same amount of time outside normal work hours working on this project, particularly if it was over a short period of time, your company should really be compensating them for their work as well.

        Since they’re exempt, there’s almost certainly not a legal requirement to do so, but an extra 10-20 (or even more!) hours a week over a short period is a huge time commitment. It’s pretty unethical that your company is writing that off as part of being exempt unless they show similar leniency in letting employees work 20-30 hours work weeks for equivalent spans of time. It seems to me that either a generous bonus or several extra vacation days (i.e., not just one or two) is the ethical thing to do where they’re concerned.

          1. Zillah*

            Ah, okay – thanks for clarifying! So that’s 40+ hours per week on the contest? Not that it really matters, but for how long?

              1. Zillah*

                Hold on – so we’re talking about 320+ extra hours that people haven’t been paid for?? Legalities aside, that’s pretty awful. :(

  4. fposte*

    On #3–I can’t tell what relationship with research you’re hoping for. In my academic unit, there could be research support opportunities for an interested admin, and it would be kosher to tell your supervisor that you’d love to do some if it’s possible (always allowing that it might not be possible, of course). But it sounds like you might be interested in initiating research rather than supporting other projects, and that’s not likely to be something you’d get to do on the departmental dime here.

    Either way, a high school teaching offer isn’t relevant save, as Alison notes, for suggesting you have itchy feet; I’m afraid it isn’t likely to confer any advantage.

    1. fposte*

      When I reread, it sounds like you may not be in an academic department now but an admin in a more administrative unit; if so, that’s likely a different ballpark for a move to research, because that would mean you changing units and probably budget lines rather than just attending more meetings with researchers you’re alongside anyway. If that’s the case, student activities may be a better shot.

    2. Rana*

      I agree with fposte, that making the transition’s going to be challenging, and you’ll need to think carefully about your goals here.

      If you’re looking to teach, adding research experience to your roster isn’t necessarily going to get you there; indeed, it may actually be counterproductive in the absence of a Ph.D. as there are plenty of hungry Ph.D.s out there fighting for employment (as you note).

      You’d have better luck looking for opportunities to build the skills involved in teaching – lecturing, leading discussions, assessing student work, curriculum development, that sort of thing – as by volunteering in the writing center, joining committees that deal with curriculum, academic advising, etc. (all of which would depend on your position being compatible with such).

      (The only staff I’ve known who did academic research were those specifically hired into research positions – like librarians – or those who transitioned from faculty to admin.)

      1. AcademiaNut*

        It would help to know what field of academia the OP wants to get into.

        In sciences, I know of two possible ways that someone without a PhD could get into an academic position. The first would be a teaching position at a non degree granting community college, teaching introductory courses (maybe – you’d still be competing with PhDs for the job, and the market right now is tough). The job would be relatively stable, but would be strictly teaching, no research. The second would be to get a position with a lab or project as an assistant. You would be involved in research activities, but purely as an assistant, and would not be able to do your own research or publish, and it wouldn’t really lead to anything more senior. It would pay poorly and not be particularly stable – if the project ended, or funding were cut, you’d be out of luck.

        But at a degree granting university, I can’t think of any way that someone without a PhD would be able to apply for either teaching or research positions.

        However, in my field we do sometimes work with keen high school teachers and their classes, with research projects that the students can actively participate in. It’s a good PR/recruitment tool for the university, and the students get valuable experience doing the projects.

        1. Liane*

          I don’t know how true it is now, but some 4 year degree programs do allow Master’s degree holders to teach non-majors courses in their subject. My mentor/supervisor for my science internship did this (second job), back in the 80s. He had a Master’s in Microbiology and taught Biology sections for non-science majors at a fairly well-known (in the region) private university.
          My guess is that with the current practice of keeping many PhD academics as adjuncts it won’t happen much, since those PhDs will want those positions, understandably.

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            I have a masters and teach graduate students as an adjunct (in addition to my regular, non-academia job). I am a “practitioner in the field” and therefore they can have me there without a PhD. Before I had a masters, I taught non-transferrable and continuing education classes at a community college. It is a competitive market, and neither of these gigs pay well, but it could be a way to build your teaching resume. Continuing education pays so badly that it may not be that hard to get into, and the students are awesome because they all want to be there.

          2. simonthegrey*

            I have a MA in one field, but enough course credits in another that I am able to teach transfer level writing courses at a community college. Of course, part of that is because I now have enough years of experience to make up for the degree (Technically my MA is in a “blended” field, think something like journalism but I have enough English credits in that MA program to teach writing, and I had a strong background as a writing tutor going into teaching). However, I am only an adjunct, and without that full MA or PhD I am not competitive for full time jobs because there are SOOOO many people applying for those limited positions.

          1. fposte*

            The odds against getting a university-level teaching position with a master’s only are so high as to be tremendous. If she’s in something like English, she can still write conference papers and articles in her own time, if that’s what interests her, but it’s not likely to be part of her job until she’s a bigger cheese either at her college or in her field, and that’s still a very long shot. If she wants to work in academics, her background makes her most suited to advance in non-teaching, administrative positions. Those are often good and interesting jobs, so that’s worth considering.

            1. BRR*

              I was thinking more in any research terms and if AcademiaNut had any specific suggestions for non science options. I agree there’s little to no hope for a teaching positions with a glut of humanities PhDs.

              1. fposte*

                There’s much less funded team research in the humanities–it’s more individual scholarship. There’s therefore less in the way of research support, and what there is is mostly student jobs.

                The OP can feel free to write her own stuff–humanities is pretty welcoming in that respect–but it won’t be part of her job or something that brings in money.

                1. BRR*

                  Oh I’m way too familiar with the process (husband is a recent humanities PhD grad), my original message was mostly along the lines of encouraging positive discussion.

                2. fposte*

                  Well, I’d want the OP to clarify what it is she’s hoping her career to look like–what she describes in her post could mean several different things.

                  But if you want a research career in the humanities, you get a PhD. There’s really no way around that. Even with a PhD, your chances of a research career aren’t great.

                  If you want a teaching *career*, as opposed to just teaching sometimes, at the college level you either get a PhD or develop your skills in a bread-and-butter market like comp or TEFL. Again, far from guaranteed.

                  A job on the administrative side can mean you’re research adjacent–you might be helping with funding requests, or communicating about projects, or hiring students. However, to do admin and pursue research outright, you usually have to have had the PhD first and be on that track as well.

                3. A Cita*

                  Yes, this. There is rarely much opportunity for providing research assistance in the humanities since it’s typically not grant funded in the way sciences are, and what’s there is very part time and available to students. In social sciences, there is a bit more opportunity because of the type of research they are often involved in (quantitative or qualitative–there is opportunity to assist there, and more grant funded work), but like fposte says, it’s typically not research team oriented.

                  So, going off the cuff here, if there were opportunity (thinking English and History as the most likely candidates), there might be opportunities to assist in literature searches, creating Endnote of like databases, proofing, some small bits of writing/editing (with no authorship credit), transcribing, etc. However, 2 major hurdles: 1) the researcher will need to know the OP personally in order to choose them to work with as these positions are hard to find and rarely available to non-students (and usually researchers pick their advisees for these roles), and 2) the biggest point: there may be no mechanism to pay OP. Since that kind of work is usually paid for by an allowance from the department/university and not through grant indirects or grants, the university will decide who can fill those roles, and it’s typically students as another source of financial support.

                  So the key is to either do as fposte suggested and start writing, presenting, attending conferences on her own to begin establishing herself or find a researcher who knows her who can find way to pay her to do these tasks.

                4. Rana*

                  Yes. Those sorts of scholarly support services are part of what I offer as a freelancer, and the market for them is tiny compared to my other lines in editing and indexing. Most scholars in the humanities expect – and prefer – to handle their own research if possible. The main exceptions I’ve seen are people working with large amounts of data, rather than close-reading more limited quantities of primary sources.

          2. Big10Professor*

            Well, one way to get a (full-time, liveable salary) teaching job with only a master’s, is to be a bigshot in the field first, and move into teaching later. For example, most universities would happily hire David Axelrod or Karl Rove to teach political science.

          3. Overeducated and underemployed*

            Another possibility might be working in a humanities based center on campus, e.g. a museum, rare books library, or interdisciplinary center focused on a theme like race & ethnicity or international studies or gender. I know a few people with MAs who have gone on to organize events and workshops with major scholars, outreach programs to undergrads, and even exhibitions. It’s admin work but with a heavy dose of exposure to research and teaching related tasks if you find the right position. (I have a PhD and am having trouble getting even an interview for one, but you’re already in the system!)

          4. AnonymousForThis*

            I’ve had a non-science academic research job at a top-tier research university without a PhD. They do exist!

            This might not be helpful for the OP, but I worked for a few years doing qualitative field research for a public policy research group. Within the overarching focus on the group, my work was my own and published under my name. Most of my coworkers had Masters degrees, but a couple only had BAs. We did all have a fair amount of journalism experience or came in with other similar skill sets/experience that was unusual. This never would have translated into an academic teaching job,

            1. AnonymousForThis*

              Whoops, last part of that comment cut off. *This never would have translated into an academic teaching job, but I did have the opportunity to give a couple research talks.

            2. pieces of flair*

              Yes, these jobs do exist in the social sciences. I currently work in academia with a Master’s degree, doing a combined admin/research job. It’s within a grant-funded lab, though, not a university administrative office. I wouldn’t expect to find anything like that in the humanities (e.g., literature, philosophy, art), however.

              In any case, I’m not sure how research experience is likely to translate into a teaching position. OP, it might be worth looking into a PhD, especially if your job offers tuition waivers.

              1. fposte*

                I also think social sciences can be very different from humanities in this respect, so if the OP really is strictly humanities-focused, she’s still pretty limited in these kind of opportunities.

                1. Honeybee*

                  Only if she’s strictly humanities-focused in terms of scholarship. If she has a humanities degree but is willing to make the shift to social science type research, then I know several folks with humanities backgrounds who are in these types of roles, particularly when they’re writing intensive.

                2. fposte*

                  Yes, that’s pretty much where I’ve landed–I do a lot of unfunded work in the straight humanities, but I do funded work in the social sciences.

                  My impression is that the OP may not yet have much of an idea of what possibilities are, too, so maybe it’s useful for her to see what configurations are available.

          5. Honeybee*

            If the LW is interested in any kind of scholarship, and not just in their humanities field, it may be possible at a large research university for humanities folks to assist/do some administrative work in some STEM research. I did research in the health sciences at a very large public university, and my center employed several staff members in research support roles – we had an MFA who did grants and research coordination and an English degree holder who served as our editor; she edited all of our grants and publications before submission. We had another guy who was an English major who served as our science writer, and handled all of our public communications about our science (including helping with conference presentations and lectures) and a fourth person who was multimedia support (maintained our website, recorded videos and podcasts about our work). These folks get authorship as appropriate if they contribute to scientific articles or technical reports in meaningful ways.

            In other labs we’ve had research coordinators who get authorship on papers along the same vein, and in some cases they have initiated papers or presentations that are interesting to them. They can’t run new projects, but they can propose projects on existing data and our PIs are quite happy for them to do so. But we had more data than we could ever analyze, and the PI’s name goes on everything, so it’s a net win for him.

            1. Aussie academic*

              I’m also in the health sciences and I don’t know if it’s a feature of this field, but we have staff with a range of backgrounds and qualifications, including public health, nursing, the whole range of allied health, medicine, education, hard sciences and social sciences, and humanities, with people employed with a bachelor, masters and PhD. At the bachelor or masters level, they are likely to be doing research assistant work (interviewing, data entry, transcribing, literature reviews) but will also get authorship if they are involved throughout the project. It is very common for people in these positions to also do tutoring, although lecturing (aside from unpaid guest lectures, which can be good for the experience) really requires a PhD or at least enrolment in a PhD. What I’ve seen very strongly is that ongoing employment (doing research or teaching) is gained through building relationships, so if you have a supervisor who likes the work you’ve done, keep his/her details and stay in touch – you never know when they may later be able to recommend you for a position.

        2. Meredith*

          Or you could possibly teach continuing education courses. CE teachers that I contract with need to at least have a 4 year degree. However, at least at my university, we don’t pay enough to make a living teaching CE alone. We expect that it’s viewed as a little extra money on top of whatever you’re pulling in from your day job. But it’s a good way to get teaching experience.

        3. J. Lynn*

          I have a Ph.D. in humanities and I could possibly (depends on so many circumstances) see OP with a M.A. being able to teach some adjunct classes, if it did not interfere with admin duties. University might prefer to go with known quantity/already in system, than outside person to teach 1 class–if university doesn’t already have enough grad students to teach lower-level courses.

          One bonus I see for OP by virtue that they are at a research/academic position (vis-a-vis independent scholars with no academic institution affiliation) is better access to research libraries/research consortiums. I see this as a plus in some humanities disciplines.

          But if in sciences and that is direction OP wishes to go, I can see not having access to labs, etc. But yes, as fposte wrote, possibly being able to work on someone else’s project.

          1. fposte*

            Interesting–in the humanities departments I know, the only people teaching with MAs would either be luminaries, comp-type worker bees, or doc students. There wouldn’t be anybody with a terminal master’s teaching undergraduates the 18th century novel course, or even the lit survey.

            1. J. Lynn*

              I agree with what you wrote fposte; mostly will be M.A. on a Ph.D. track, etc. But there are always quirky situations that prove those random exceptions to the rule.

              I have seen some MA teaching intro classes (and even some adjunct job calls only requiring MA) — but this was also probably when economy was better/market less glutted by Ph.Ds.

              And I guess it’s all rather off-topic since OP seemed more interested in research vs. teaching.

            2. Rana*

              Or a few grandfathered-in adjuncts.

              I’ve only ever really encountered MA-only adjuncts teaching the most basic surveys, though. (Like World Civ or the US survey.) Anything more specialized gets claimed by those with specific experience in those fields.

              1. fposte*

                Right, or practitioners, as Ashley notes. In other words, people with track records–it’s not a track that there’s an entry-level on-ramp to in most places.

          1. fposte*

            So what kind of career are you hoping for, and is the PhD a possibility or are you focused on where you can go without it?

            1. OP*

              Since getting a PhD in my fields (history, theology) would probably not pay off in the job market, I am trying to brainstorm ways to use my experience and education at the university-level. Many of these comments have me thinking about looking into perhaps going into the student activities side of things, rather than the academic side. I do have a couple years of teaching experience and I enjoy working with students.

              1. Carolyn*

                Academic Advisor – or something student side of the house might be a better fit. Also you may want to look in library job (not librarian level which requires a masters in library science typically), you may find some researcher type positions in universities with special collections departments.

        4. themmases*

          This is my experience too. I originally was interested in the academic humanities (history) and left to do medical and health science research, so I have seen both sides. In every field, there are tons of people who want to be in academia. It’s an environment that many people spend years in and feel comfortable in, and in theory the job is great. It offers the opportunity to follow your own interests, influence others, and have the validation of being an intellectual. Like anything else that everyone wants, getting it requires either a combination of strategy and luck, or figuring out an alternative so you can move on.

          Even extremely talented, dedicated, and highly credentialed people do not necessarily get a job in the academic humanities today. There just aren’t enough jobs, and there are too many hopefuls. It’s like having “rock star” be your dream job. Humanities research is largely solitary, so there also aren’t opportunities to offer meaningful research support. In this extremely competitive environment, being an AA at a university is not an “in”.

          Scientific research is done in teams and is grant funded, so there are more opportunities for someone without a PhD to be on the team. In my field (medicine, then public health), we do have research specialists who do a combination of coordinating and more specialized research activities like evaluation, data management, and basic statistical analysis. It’s possible to move into these roles from an AA role or with a bachelor’s degree and move up enough to justify the masters degree required to keep going. Some people in these roles contribute enough to have input into studies and be coauthors. But it still requires hard work, luck, and a congenial PI. And you still will probably never be PI yourself. Science and medical research funding are also not great right now.

          I don’t want to be harsh, but the academic job market is very harsh and the OP sounds naive. No one should be trying to get into it right now unless their credentials will provide them a solid backup plan. Luckily for the OP, the route they are taking right now to try to get into academia is not likely to work.

          1. A Cita*

            Yes to all of this. This is the reality of the situation. You might, if lucky, get to do some support work, but it won’t be the academic research career you might be imagining. There are no jobs and there is very little funding, even for the best of the best. Hate to be a Debbie Downer, but unless you switch to health, medical, or bench sciences (where funding is also almost non-existent these days with fewer and fewer grants available, the government cutting up to 30% on existing grants, and everyone scrambling for the coins that are left with few alternatives unless your PI/lab connects to industry), you’re not looking at a solid career in academic research.

            1. fposte*

              I don’t like being a Debbie Downer myself, but I see so many people doing the aggregate-adjunct life in hope of a tenure track that almost certainly isn’t going to materialize that I feel like it’s a moral obligation to warn the uninitiated. It’s gotten to be like acting in the hope-to-reality ratio.

              1. Rana*

                Yes, yes, yes. I spent too much time on the adjunct track to ever recommend it to anyone. I have a doctorate, everyone I worked with had high opinions of my research, and all that was available were part-time, dead-end adjuncting jobs.

                And after about 8 years of doing nothing but that, no one outside of academia will even bother with me at this point – there are too many qualified people without that baggage.

                I’ve found a place with my freelancing, but I am far from self-supporting right now, and running one’s own business is definitely not for everyone.

                Do academic research for the love of it – not because you expect a career to come from it.

                1. Kate*

                  I’m in a STEM field and we do have masters level folks who are instructors (graduate level courses – we don’t teach undergrads). They typically have significant research experience, but they do not have PhDs. I’m also in a field that doesn’t really use adjuncts or postdocs though, so YMMV.

                2. fposte*

                  Right. I think most areas of study have ways that people without degrees but significant proven value can be involved.

                  What doesn’t generally work in any of them, though, is to get those positions without having proven value, or to prove that value as an administrative assistant. So if the OP is really looking to be more embedded in the research mission, her idea of looking for another position is her best bet.

          2. Honeybee*

            +1. I was in the health sciences/public health too, and all of this is the reason I peaced out and joined the Evil Corporate World.

          3. OP*

            I get it! Definitely not naïve–maybe I would have had a shot had I gone into a PhD program right out of undergrad 10 years ago, but I didn’t, and I realize that wouldn’t be wise for me to do now. How was the transition from history to the medical side of things?

      2. Editor*

        Volunteering on campus is problematical for an admin, because once again we’re in the murky area of hourly workers needing to be paid for all their work, even if they say they’re doing it voluntarily. My understanding of current payroll standards is that even if the admin was being paid to freelance, the payroll people might see that as problematical and want it paid as hourly wages even if it was overtime, which of course is likely to mean the end of the additional volunteering or freelancing.

        It really helps to live in a two-college town in these circumstances, where the hourly work is at one campus and the freelancing, adjunct work and volunteering are at the other.

      3. Anonymouss*

        You have to be careful using librarians as an example of staff doing academic research. It’s very institution specific. In many institutions, librarians ARE faculty and get tenure and all the other faculty things.

        In others, they’re classified as staff, but still do research because it’s just what academic librarians do as a profession.

        In yet still others, they’re classified as staff and the job expectations are such that they just really don’t have the time available with their other job duties to do research.

    3. Artemesia*

      I spent a lot of time in research universities and I cannot imagine a circumstance in which an AA would be considered for academic work – research or teaching. I can sort of imagine a situation where doing AA work for a research center might bleed into research support and with effort allow a move into research support as a primary job if you were dazzlingly helpful at it — but teaching? With a masters? Even adjunct positions usually require PhDs or occasionally in professional programs, high level professional work. If you really want to teach then I would be looking at community colleges and seeing if there are opportunities locally to adjunct for one with the idea of applying for full time positions. Unfortunately those are often rather political appointments.

    4. LibbyG*

      If getting a PhD isn’t a great option for you, OP#3, another path might be something like academic advisement. With student retention such a high priority, there might be more roles for educators to work with students one on one. In a role like that, you might have more latitude to develop and teach skill-building courses, develop innovative projects, seek grants for them, attend conferences, and write about what you’re doing. If you have a tuition benefit, it might be a good move to seek an applied degree that would qualify you in that realm. Higher ed admin? Student affairs? School counseling? Your supervisor might have some insight, if a path like this appeals to you.

      1. Honeybee*

        Yes, this is a good suggestion. At my graduate institution there were several academic advisors who had master’s degrees and managed to find a way to offer a course or two at the institution, and this was the kind of place that had no shortage of PhDs beating down the doors to teach even adjunct courses. They generally taught intro- or survey-level courses in their discipline, but it’s still teaching. And there’s also the potential to pair up with education faculty and do some research.

      2. OP*

        This is a great idea, and something I am definitely going to look into. I’m just trying to find creative solutions to be able to use my experience and education at a university when getting a PhD is no longer really financially possible…I appreciate this suggestion!

        1. Wanna-Alp*

          Might the university itself sometimes subsidise degrees? I’ve known of institutions that offered discounts for members of staff. Might be a route to a PhD?

    5. OP*

      Thank you–I would be all for supporting other projects, I’m just searching for some ways to augment my current position since I’m finding a bit on free time on my hands. I definitely won’t say anything about the teaching job–I appreciate the advice!

  5. Circumpolar*

    For LW#2: My guess is that you will find this employee of one of two mindsets–either mortified that his private moments of frustration found his way to you (never mind its your company phone), or option two, not so much. One one bodes well for your employee, as both a person and employee. The other, not so much.

    The reason I seem dismissive about the company phone is that I’m seeing this as a heat-of-passion problem. It sounds like employee sent a series of texts, but, perhaps he did within a few hours of breakup/discovery of new boyfriend/whatever. (Not defending it, just offering a mitigator). If so, he’d be mortified at your discovery of his loss of control, and with the company phone. On the other hand, if the texts were a series of escalating threats, and employee is superficially apologetic (or thinks you should agree with him), then my best advice to you is to get that employee out of your office and terminated asap. You’re the next target.

    1. SCR*

      I’m also wondering — does he have another phone? Plenty of people have phones that are paid for by their company but it’s their only phone so of course personal things went down there. That was my mom’s situation for years. Though yes, plenty of people have 2 separate phones — one personal and one work. And I guess the new bf found out it was the company phone because of the number? Otherwise how does he know it’s the company phone and not personal?

      I’m also curious about the liability the company has here. Like what can you do but fire him? He’s obviously trying to get him fired. Which may be fair. But if he is genuinely scared then he needs to go straight to the police and stop taking this up with the company. Are you responsible for all actions your employees take outside work?

      1. nofelix*

        Yeah, at first glance it seems pretty trivial if it’s a work phone , unless the employer had made it clear that no personal calls or texts were to be made on the phone. But maybe that’s me being an always-connected millennial; it’s definitely something to err on the side of caution with.

        From the OP, the new boyfriend only seems interested in getting the texts to stop, and is using the company as a first step before involving the police, which seems reasonable. Trying to get the employee fired would not be the right response. If that was indeed the tone of his letter, it would seem more like revenge than a real solution and would paint him very badly imho. Hopefully that’s not what he wanted.

        1. KH*

          As a person who has been the recipient of hostile texts from a boyfriend’s previous ex, I think you’re way off base here. You are victim blaming the new boyfriend for being angry about what the OP describes as “abusive” messages and describing the situation as “pretty trivial”.

          It’s not trivial to threaten or verbally abuse your ex-partners new partner, no matter whose phone you do it with. The fact that this guy did it at all is a problem … much less that he did it with a company phone. Getting him fired should be the least bad thing that happens to him.

          1. Zillah*

            I could be misreading nofelix, but I read them as saying it’s trivial that it’s a work phone as opposed to a personal phone, not that the abusive texts themselves are trivial.

            1. jmkenrick*

              That’s definitely the sense I got; not that she’s condoning the messages, but that (depending on the company culture around use of electronics) it’s understandable that he used his work phone.

              I don’t think anyone is OK-ing sending abusive texts.

            2. Case of the Mondays*

              That’s how I read it and it was also my first thought reviewing the question. Many employers provided phones/ipads that are for personal and professional use. With that type of policy, I don’t think it is worse that the abusive text was sent from a work phone. I also don’t think the employer really has any duty to here to make it stop. I can think of situations where there could be liability for providing the medium for harassment but I don’t think providing the phone rises to that level.

        2. Ad Astra*

          It’s really tough to make a call on this without knowing a) the agreement/expectations for work phones at this company, and b) the content/severity of the texts in question. If the texts were threatening or constituted harassment, that’s a real issue even without liability. If the texts only amount to being a jerk, well, it’s not a good look but I wouldn’t base an employment decision solely on that information. If he’s violating the terms of his phone agreement with the company, then there’s a lot more reason to take action.

          1. Chinook*

            ” b) the content/severity of the texts in question.”

            To me, the context is important. Did the new b/f text the employee first or do something else that these are response to? At the moment, all we have is the information the complainant has supplied. While it is still inappropriate to use work resources to do this, for me I would need to know if the employee was responding to or initiating the texts before I decide how to response.

      2. MK*

        Probably the employee’s ex told her now-boyfriend that it was the employee’s work number (or that his only cell is provided by his company).

        Not knowing the OP’s jurisdiction, I cannot be sure, but it sounds extremely unlikely to me that the company is liable in any way, just because the employee used his work phone. The boyfriend might sincerely think he can sue them, or he might know he can’t, but threatened to do so anyway. Perhaps he thought it would be more effective in getting the employee off his back if he involved his employer, or maybe he is trying to get him into as much trouble as possible.

    2. Random Lurker*


      I’m dealing with an employee who did something very similar a year ago. He had no self awareness of personal accountability towards the situation, but we let things go because he was spectacularly good at his job. You are 100% correct that future lash outs will not blur the personal/professional line like this one did.

      Pay attention to this red flag. I wish I had.

      1. Allison*

        Very good point. Even if OP isn’t liable for this incident, I wouldn’t want someone who does this working on my team, unless they received some serious coaching or therapy to deal with their anger.

  6. A Cita*

    For 3, it really depends on the department. Best case scenario: you’ll be able to aid aspects of the research (like acting as a research assistant: performing literature reviews, helping to write grants, aiding in IRB or HIC submissions, building data management for projects and writing queries if you have that experience, and other supportive roles). It’s highly unlikely you’ll be asked to do any data gathering or analysis if you have no experience with either (though I could see you being able to run stats in a program like SAS or SPSS if you have those skills, but not really doing qualitative analysis since that experience rarely gained through a Masters program–though then again, you could aid on coding teams). But it really depends on department, and I’m not sure how much room beyond things like aiding in lit review or building an Endnote library there is in humanities. What you most likely won’t be able to do is teach (and teaching assistants are pulled from students, so that will be closed to you) or lead your own research/author grants, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll be added to any authorship for papers, even if you help with them.

    Basically, you might be able to take on some junior research assistant responsibilities and no teaching. You might be able to then take that experience and build out over time to being a research assistant, project manager, or project coordinator. You most likely won’t be leading your own research or doing substantive data analysis or other things that lead to authorship unless you get your PhD.

  7. Former research/admin minion*

    In my observation it is possible for admin staff in a university setting to begin to do more research-oriented work if they are working directly for researchers. The lines get blurry sometimes. For example, in grant preparation, which often require both heavy admin support and benefit if the people doing the admin also know something about the work. My old boss needed countless literature reviews done, and preferred admins around him who had enough research knowledge to do that type of work. They hired the OP knowing she had a master’s degree, so they’ll probably not be surprised if she wants to stretch her wings a little. Most academics expect at least some ambition and get suspicious if it’s lacking.

    One caveat is that it sounds like the OP may not be working directly for the researchers themselves, and if she is one step removed from them her current bosses may need her to just do the job she was hired for rather than having a ‘everyone should be at least somewhat a jack of all trades’ attitude that many labs and research groups have.

    1. A Cita*

      Yes, I didn’t realize Op may not be working directly under a researcher. The options I listed are really only applicable if you admin support a researcher/principal investigator directly or a number of them under the umbrella of a research center within the University. If you serve an admin role for a whole department or within administration itself, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do this kind of work.

      And as AcademicNut mentioned, working directly for a researcher is highly unstable work, so you need to be prepared for that.

      1. fposte*

        Right; it often means your pay is dependent on soft money–people getting grants–than on the university’s budget itself.

        1. Meg Murry*

          And your livelihood is often then tied to that one researcher for the long haul, which could be problematic when/if that person retires or moves on to another institution or their funding sources dry up. I have a good friend that started off working in an academic research lab just as general labor (washing dishes, etc) as an undergrad, and slowly worked his way into a research role. He’s now been there for more than 10 years and is doing the kind of research that would typically require at least a Master’s degree, if not a PhD. It’s been fine up until his PI announced that he would be retiring in the next few years – which is a problem because his research was so very specialized. The work my friend is doing wouldn’t be directly transferable to another researcher, and without the official credentials (Masters Degree minimum) it will be almost impossible for him to get another position doing research. Luckily his PI gave him lots of notice, and pretty much ordered him to take advantage of the fact that he could take classes at the university for free to go get his Masters so he will be employable by other labs once the PI retires.

          1. A Cita*

            Yes, this. And that’s pretty typical of bench science. If it’s for another type of department, you would solve that problem by not being dedicated to only one PI. However, the flip side to that is that there’s rarely enough money in a grant to cover full time for a (junior) research assistant (who is doing support work rather than actual research), so you’re running around trying to patch work up to full time by working for more than one PI if there’s the opportunity to do that–all the while each PI is expecting full time work for part time salary (it’s just the nature of research). Which means patchworking 2 or more part time JRA gigs for full time salary, while working up to full time for each gig. Not ideal.

  8. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    Regarding #2: Is there a risk that the company could be in serious legal trouble here? Of course anyone can sue anyone at any time, so the boyfriend could sue the company, but is there any chance that the company would actually be found liable? Or any chance that the police would take any actions against the company? In other words, does an employer have a legal responsibility to prevent their employees from using company resources to do illegal things? Like if I trespassed on a private road in a company car, could the aggrieved landowner hold my employers responsible?

    1. Circumpolar*

      It depends is the answer to all of your scenarios. The biggest predictor is going to be the company’s response at this point. I’ll save the mind-numbing case law analysis and go straight to the people skills part.

      First, please note that the new boyfriend said he would go to police unless employer did something. This tells me he already went to the police, but the police would not involve themselves in a one-off event easily remedied outside the criminal courts. However, the threat of police action is real should employee continue to make threats/be “abusive.” (Without some specific example, abusive is a pretty vague term. I’ll infer that it refers to threatening language). Anyway, this classic police advice, because . . .
      this information from the new boyfriend puts you on notice of an issue re your phone and employee. This process lays a very firm foundation for a restraining order against your employee and company if you do not take steps to stop it. It also starts a record of when you were on notice that your employee engages in such behavior. Thus, if employee uses the company truck to drive to boyfriend’s house and slashes his tires–you own those tires.

      In short, while the employer was not likely on the hook for employee’s behavior, he is now. It is imperative that he handle this thoroughly, proactively, and with advice of an attorney who knows his state’s laws.

      1. snuck*

        This has to be an American thing! (I’m an Aussie.)

        I can’t see how if in the course of their normal duties and employee performs an illegal act that the company is responsible for it. If a person used a company car in their normal course of duties, drove to someone’s house and slashed the tyres then that doesn’t mean the company is at fault! The person who broke the law is. Now if the employee said on his way out the door “I’m off to slash someone’s tyres”THEN it might be different! Surely this insanity isn’t true!

        Without knowing particulars it’s hard… but a tradie or sales person for example may have a company provided phone (and vehicle)… does that mean everything they do legal or otherwise over that phone is the responsibility of the company? Surely not.

        My gut instinct is that “Do something about it” is code for “sack the prick” and it’s revenge. We don’t know, but generally one doesn’t go busting in to a workplace over this stuff unless it’s very dramarific and melodramatic. So someone is being a drama llama, at least one person. If there’s no history at all about this with this person, this person has never shown histrionic tendencies in any other element of your relationship with them then I’d take it all with a grain of salt and watch the future with polite interest. And tell the new boyfriend you’ve dealt with it as you see fit (and no more information to him regardless of what you do), and have a word with the employee saying “Knock it off, I don’t want to deal with this, if it happens on work resources again I’ll have to reconsider your access to resources and therefore employment” and assume it’s resolved. If it isn’t then you can deal with it with something more severe.

        1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          Actually, although I know nothing about Australian or American vicarious liability laws, a quick Google throws up a fair bit about Australian employers being vicariously liable, including for harrassment, by employees where they haven’t taken all reasonable steps to stop it. Again, a quick Google suggests that there’s something similar in place in America(though I’m only finding it relation to civil law – but I would think there would be a civil claim against an employer in this if any more texts are sent)

          So, IANAAOAL, but I wouldn’t simply write off the possibility that the employer’s implicated here; without legal advice, taking action would seem a reasonable thing to do in order to discharge their responsibility.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          But your analogy is flawed. In it, the vehicle had nothing to do with the act itself. In the OP’s situation, the company phone was the actual instrument of harassment. So, a better analogy would be intentionally running someone over with a company car. While that might or might not be foreseeable, you can see how the company shouldn’t let that person operate heavy machinery after that. (And after such an egregious violation of boundaries, they probably should be fired no matter what.)

          1. fposte*

            But in that situation, there are also damages, which are conspicuously lacking here. There’s nothing for the company to be liable for.

            1. The Cosmic Avenger*

              Without knowing the text messages, we can’t know that, but my point was really that the company may be considered partially responsible if there’s a pattern of abuse of which the company was aware, and they continued to provide that resource that was instrumental (not just involved) in the questionable activity.

              1. fposte*

                Of course we can know that. There’s no cost incurred, as in a physical injury, and the message was sent only to the boyfriend, so there’s no publication and therefore no damages for defamation or libel.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Technically speaking, words can constitute a criminal offense, depending on what was said and what state the employee is in, and can give rise to civil liability outside of the defamation context (libel is a form of defamation, btw). I seriously doubt what was said would rise to that level in this case. But without knowing what was said and the context, we can’t say 100% for sure that the company couldn’t be liable.

                2. fposte*

                  Thanks for the clarification. I’m still betting we can say with 99% that the combination of liability and damages is not going to be met in this circumstance.

            2. Helka*

              It depends on what the abusive texts were. If they were just insults, probably not. However, if they were threats… then that’s a different issue.

              1. Kelly L.*

                Yeah–I think there’s even a US/UK divide on the colloquial meaning of the word “abuse.” In British writing I’ve seen it used to just mean general insults (“You asshole!”), while in the US it’s more likely to be something threatening or -ist or otherwise pretty beyond the pale.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  It depends entirely on the state. As far as I know, in most states, language has to be threat-based to merit any kind of legal/criminal action, but some states have harassment statutes that have legal protections against communications that don’t rise to the level of physical threats.

        3. BuildMeUp*

          It sounds like Circumpolar isn’t saying “any damage or tangible threats to New Boyfriend using company resources make the company liable,” but “now that New Boyfriend has notified the company, if they do nothing and Employee does something else, the company may be liable.” It hinges on the company’s knowledge of what’s going on and failure to address it.

          IANAL, so I don’t know if there’s any potential for the company to actually get in trouble.

      2. CommonName*

        I don’t know that he already went to the police.

        I was in a similar situation a few years ago. I have a common name and I am CommonName at gmail, so I get lots and lots of misdirected email. One day, some random girl started throwing abuse my way (it seemed clearly teenaged random abuse eg, “You’re an ugly slut” kinda stuff). I sent my canned response of “you have the wrong person” and got called the c-word. So I put a filter on my email account to just send stuff from her to the trash. That worked for about two hours until my inbox was flooded with dozens of harassing emails from various new email addresses, some threatening violence (eg “I’ll get my brother to come and rape you.” “If you show up to school I’ll throw acid on your face.”). I played whack-a-mole trying to block the email addresses, but after 2 days and 200+ emails, I was about to pull my hair out.

        Using various information in these emails, I was able to track down the school that these kids went to (Hello, lack of internet safety!). I forwarded all of the emails to the principal of the school and said
        1) As a fellow educator, I’m sure you want to know about a serious cyber-bulling problem at your school, and
        2) If this does not stop, I will go through legal channels to stop it, and
        3) The fact that I could track down this much information on these kids is pretty alarming.

        I hadn’t taken any steps yet to go to the police. I viewed getting in touch with someone in authority over these kids as the fastest means to stop it. I wasn’t aiming to get the kids punished (though I viewed that as a potential positive side effect). This situation is a bit different, but I can imagine that the guy getting the harassing texts is just thinking “HOW DO I STOP THIS?!?!?!” and thought going to the employer would be the fastest way.

        The principal thanked me for alerting him to this and it stopped IMMEDIATELY. It was far more effective and less of a hassle for me than going to the police could have been. So I’m willing to bed the guy getting the texts isn’t all excited about going to the police. He just wants it to stop and was looking for the best way to make that happen. The goal likely wasn’t to get the employee fired, but the harassed guy probably wouldn’t be upset if that’s a side effect.

        1. JessaB*

          Yes, and it does put the company on notice, so if the guy does it again, then the company has an issue. The fact that they immediately took action to prevent further texts, likely takes them off the chain of responsibility.

          It’s like reporting sexual harassment, a lot of the “is the company liable,” is going to hinge on whether or not the company took appropriate action in a reasonable timeline. If they ignore it, the liability potential goes up.

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      I can’t imagine anyway the company could be held liable for the actions of their employee in this situation, it could be that the new boyfriend meant they would report the employee to the police rather than reporting the company to the police.

    3. Elysian*

      Unless an employee is doing something in the course of his employment, it is really unlikely the employer would be held liable for the employee’s acts. If sending texts is for some reason an integral part of the employee’s job… maybe? Or if the aggrieved party is a coworker or customer (but that doesn’t sound like the case)? It seems to me like a real stretch to hold the employer liable for anything here if the only connection between the company and the boyfriend is the phone. Not impossible, but pretty unlikely.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        But as Circumpolar said in another thread, the company could be more open to liability now that the employee has done something with company equipment that may be a civil or even criminal violation, and the company has been made aware of it.

        1. Elysian*

          I guess they could, but its still such a stretch. In the realm of the law, we’d either be looking at vicarious liability, or negligent hiring/retention. I don’t think repeated offenses make a vicarious liability case any stronger – but the offense has to take place in the scope of the person’s employment. So unless texting people is literally the employee’s job, that probably wouldn’t apply here. The employee would really have to be posing a danger to a coworker or customer for a negligent retention case (employers don’t have any responsibility to care for the general public). So while knowledge that he’s a jerk might strengthen this case, if the boyfriend isn’t a customer or coworker, it won’t really matter. Employers aren’t just generally liable when they know their employees are jerks, and thank goodness for that! There are a lot of jerks employed in a lot of places.

          I mean, the company might want to do something because this could open them up to bad press, but I think the potential for a credible lawsuit is very, very remote.

              1. fposte*

                Right. Many things *might* happen. So far nothing that the BF could sue for has. (And I would argue that even if the employee continued to text mean things, there’s not much chance of successful suit–there’s too much opportunity for mitigation. Get a restraining order, sure, but if blocking him works, that’s what you’d be expected to do.)

                And the thing is, it’s really tough to make an argument for its being the company’s job to protect the new boyfriend completely, which is where some people seem to be going. Sure, make sure employee doesn’t use his work phone to harass; sounds like they’re doing that. But we’re getting into that territory again where we hope for maneuvers that preempt escalation, and there really aren’t that many.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  Right, but I think the point was that *if* something were to go very bad down the line – PICD driving the company truck into ex’s living room, whatever – then the OP is in a very different situation now that the company has notice that PICD misused company resources for this purpose. It’s not that a lawsuit is likely (or likely to succeed, or…).

                2. neverjaunty*

                  They should be keeping a written record of it, of course, and having a Very Serious Talk with the employee to find out why on earth he thought this was a good idea. It wouldn’t be out of line to reach out to the SO with a polite “thank you for bringing this to our attention, and it won’t be a problem in the future” (they certainly don’t need to provide more detail than that). If PICD said he did this because he lost his temper or had a few too many beers, I’d sure as hell want to know he was taking affirmative steps not to “oops” in the future.

                  Whether they “should” do anything else depends on a lot of details we don’t have here, like the content of the texts and why on earth PICD thought this was acceptable behavior.

                3. KH*

                  In reply to @fposte above – what else should the company do? I messaged a friend of mine who is an HR director what she would do if it were one of her employees and her almost instantaneous response was:

                  SC: Fire them.
                  SC: Company phone, all communication is work property.

            1. Sue Wilson*

              Emotional Distress (although that’s incredibly hard to meet the standard of/prove/get more than something nominal for as a damage alone).

              1. fposte*

                And it’s not just about meeting the standard, it’s about finding a lawyer who will take the case. Unless you’re willing to pay through the nose up front, you’re not going to get one to take this.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yeah, the only case I can think of is if the company lets him have a work phone again and he continues to send threats. It would depend on the state, and what kind of employer liability laws it has. It doesn’t always have to be in the scope of employment, if the employer knows or has reason to know it’s going on and doesn’t stop it (assuming the employee’s behavior itself would rise to some sort of violation of the law/civil liability). There are some scenarios I can think of under some state laws where the employer could be liable, but it’s not likely.

  9. Cambridge Comma*

    #3, if your university has a language centre, you could consider doing a TEFL certification (can be on-line) and teaching academic English to ESL speakers. At least it would be teaching, and more of an academic environment than a high school.

  10. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    #1 – Have you tried pushing back with your new owners about this? Unfortunately, it is one of the pervasive unfairnesses about business events, but if you’ve always brought a friend, it might be worth pointing that out to them, and that you’ll feel rather excluded otherwise, and asking if it would be possible to vary the rule.

    (I’m envisaging a rom-com type scenario with somebody whose “spouse” is actually their best friend in disguise…)

    # 2 – How would you treat this if he’d started a fight with the boyfriend in the lobby? This is essentially the same kind of damage control for your company if the boyfriend chooses to go public (put any of this on social media etc)

    #4 – It certainly sounds like an excellent way of draining employee morale, at any event. Ugh.

  11. super anon*

    Question on #3 and waiting a year to ask for a raise. I’m looking for a new job due to a host of issues, but I’ve gotten wind that a coworker is leaving and my bosses most likely will add her main project to my portfolio. I already am grossly underpaid (the other person who does a role similar to mine makes over twice what I do), but adding this on will require me to hire staff and manage them to do this project, in addition to the giant list of things I do that aren’t on my job description but have been added since I started. If/When this happens, can I ask for a raise even if I haven’t been there for a year? I already am stretched really thin and have my hands in too many pies as it is, and this project is absolutely massive. It’s quite honestly a full time job in and of itself and I really don’t want to agree to take it and the added responsibility that comes with it on without some sort of significant compensation… but it does seem a big early to ask for more pay. For reference, the coworker who is leaving makes around $25, 000 more than I do, and has significantly less in her portfolio than I currently do.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      If the scope of you job changes significantly within the first 12 months then you can try an negotiate a raise to cover the new role you are taking on.

    2. College Career Counselor*

      I’d make the case that your job description will have changed significantly, including hiring and supervision of other staff, so I would angle for a promotion carrying a raise. In higher ed, at least, often the only way to get a raise is to change the job description and bump the person up to the next level. This may or may not be the case in your field, however.

  12. Gem*

    #4: How open/optional was this competition? Was there any pressure to deliver that could have contributed to people spending so much time on this outside of work? If this work was as valuable as it seems to be, it should have been done inside work, or at least have some perks to all people working on it.

    We’ve done something similar, and we restrict it to evenings after work/lunch times with the company providing food/drinks so the company is involved and time spent is limited. Its a ‘hackathon’ not a competition, so there’s a different vibe.

    1. #4OP*

      It was pretty voluntary. But the software was pretty business-critical, which is why people were upset.

      1. Zillah*

        Out of curiosity, where exactly are you in the power dynamics of this, OP? I can’t really figure it out, but it seems relevant in terms of how you’re evaluating the situation.

      2. RG*

        I don’t want to say the sky is falling, but it’s kinda bad that there was such an insufficient prize for developing a business critical piece of software. I’m not sure how, but this needs to be fixed, especially if it’s having a visible effect on morale.

        1. A Bug!*

          That’s what I’m wondering. It just sounds like a really inefficient way to develop software because you’ve got a bunch of people duplicating work for no reason and no pay. If the company knew what they needed out of the software, they could assign (and pay) a team to produce it. If the company didn’t know what they needed, and it was instead a contest to develop software to solve X business-critical problem, then the contest could have solicited proposals for the software, with the best proposal being assigned a team to implement it.

          Frankly, this whole thing doesn’t seem to pass the smell test to me. But I already have a rather low opinion of companies who use contests as a substitute for paying market value for beneficial work; I lump it in with for-profit companies that rely on volunteers.

    2. Menacia*

      Yeah, I wonder that too because if it were voluntary, and no one volunteered, then what? Perhaps that is what needs to occur the next time the company has this bright idea. One volunteers their time for a charity, or community service, not for building a product that will make the company a sh*tload of money. Unless there was a clause that anyone who worked on said volunteer project would get a bonus if the program was successful?

  13. Rowan*

    #3, unfortunately universities often are not able to give you a raise outside of the universal raise schedule, and they are usually unable to make it a merit raise – you will get the same percentage as everyone else regardless of your performance. Exceptions are if you’ve taken on a level of extraordinary extra responsibility or if the scope of your job has changed massively.

    I’d have a chat with your supervisor at your next regularly scheduled appraisal and talk about career development at that point. University administration jobs vary enormously from one another, so without more specific details about what you do, I wouldn’t like to say how likely a segue into a different type of work is. But beware that HR may be loath to let you take on work of a higher level, because that opens them up to you requesting a review of your role and them having to pay you more.

    Does your university offer continuing education/after hours adult learning courses? They’re often not credit-bearing in the same way, so that might be a better route for you to check out to get some teaching experience.

  14. Nea*

    Re #5: If we couldn’t list companies that have gone out of business, I wouldn’t have a resume. Due to the nature of the job market here, almost half the companies I have worked for were bought by other companies, which were bought by other companies, which then went out of business. My history is a graveyard of defunct names.

    1. Yetanotherjennifer*

      Me too! And I’m a bit daunted at the prospect of tracking all those people down in Linked-in. But knowing where the HR data is with a few of the larger ones would be probably be useful.

    2. RVA Cat*

      Since OP #5’s defunct employer was a film company, if they ever actually released something (and maybe even if not but had something in “development hell”, etc.) is there a listing for any of their projects in IMDB?

    3. Noah*

      I’m thinking the same thing. The first company I ever worked for filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and closed their doors. The second one was acquired by a much larger company and they list the DOH for everyone as the date the company was acquired. I alwasys have to show W-2s to prove I worked there for as long as I did.

    4. Chinook*

      #5, the same goes for schools that no longer exist – if I couldn’t list my high school because it is now an elementary school, I technically couldn’t show I graduated. I too would have gaps in my resume for companies that have been bought out or gone under or even undergone name changes. I think the only time you need to worry about someone or something not existing when on your resume is if you use a reference who has either died or is no longer able to be contacted.

  15. techfool*

    As an admin, yes you can do work outside of the admin role if you put yourself forward for it and do it well. However, you’re unlikely to get any credit or extra pay for it. In fact, you’ll end up being expected to do it on top of your normal admin role or will get people looking at you funny if you try to explain that it will be difficult to meet deadlines as you’re actually doing two jobs. Do it only for the experience and if you can handle the extra work.
    Your best bet if you want to move into a different area is to start looking for jobs specifically in that area and do NOT get sidetracked by admin roles.

    1. Anon Former College AA*

      Yes, I was coming to say something about this. OP, you were hired for an admin role. Unless you managed to do some major streamlining and automating so that your job takes up way less of your time than your predecessor did, or you have some major downtime while waiting for the phone to ring or people to walk in, you probably don’t have time to add in research or teaching without dropping some of the duties you were hired for – and who would pick up those duties? If you really have hours of your day that you are filling with waiting for something to do, maybe you could pick something else up, but if most of your day is full, you can’t just shuffle off “lesser” duties for something you are more interested in.

      I think it also makes a huge difference how your institution classifies your position, and all the other positions. At the school near me, there are 3 major classifications – Faculty (tenure track teaching stafff), Administrative and Professional Staff (IT, Deans, Librarians, Non-academic department heads, Research Assistants and Adjuncts/visiting/non-tenure track Teaching Staff fit here) and Union Staff (Administrative Assistants, IT techs, data entry technicians, Library circulation clerks, maintenance/skill trades and dining hall staff fit here). If OP’s institution either has more divisions, or only has a line at Faculty vs non-faculty, she might have a chance at getting involved in research or teaching, but at the school near me the union keep a very close eye on the Admin Asst job duties and descriptions, and an Admin Asst being asked to do duties beyond that scope (even of her own volition) would not happen for fear of a union grievance. The only exception to this is that any member of the college community (staff at any level, or students) can propose to teach 1-unit classes that are outside the traditional courses offered at the college – for instance, there are courses on beer brewing and fermentation, classes on knitting and weaving techniques, classes on obscure instruments, classes on conversational languages not currently taught at the college, classes on circus and acrobatics skills, etc etc. If OP’s school offers something like this, she could potentially teach there – but it’s considered a completely extracurricular activity, something she would have to do outside her regular hours and duties.

      I think OP can talk to her departing boss about what it would take to move out of an Admin Assistant role and into a role involving more research and/or teaching – but that would almost definitely involve her applying for and getting a different position, not incorporating research and teaching into her current role. OP may be in a good position, now being an internal candidate – or may not, if Admin Assistants are often pigeonholed at her school. Depending on her relationship with her departing mentor, s/he may even have the power to create such a position in the newly promoted role – but OP shouldn’t hold her breath.

      1. fposte*

        Good point–if there’s a union/civil service category, those positions are very tightly controlled.

      2. OP*

        This is helpful insight, thank you. I took over for a woman who had been in the position for more than 20 years, and I have done a lot of updating processes and streamlining. I’m looking for more work…I could probably do my position as part-time, but I need to be working full-time and don’t want to lose my benefits. Perhaps I just wait until something else opens up on campus?

        1. Calacademic*

          There is a risk that if you mention that you have time to do more things, they might cut the position to part-time. On the other hand, they’ve budgeted for a full-time staff member and I can’t think of an academic department that isn’t always overflowing with things to do. I bet you can talk to your boss and get interesting things to work on.

          Here’s an idea: is there anyone helping write grants? We had a staff member who’s sole job was to help professors and students polish grant applications. That said, you’re in humanities, so there might not be many grant possibilities, but could you be the point-person in the department to help students apply for scholarships/fellowships? Caveat: large schools have entire departments devoted to this.

          1. OP*

            This is a great idea. I work at a small private university, so this could be a great suggestion! Thank you!

            1. fposte*

              It’s also possible that they’re underinformed on what grants might be relevant to them–you could do some funding scouting as well as helping prep.

              1. Honeybee*

                Most people who I know who work in grants administration do a combination of these things- finding funding sources, assist in writing grants, edit them, and do at least some of the administrative work necessary for their submission.

  16. Brandy*

    #4. My company does this with our developers. Participation is voluntary and there is a (large, but probably not the equivalent of 80 hours of work for a team- teams are of 4 and i think 1st prize is 10 or 15k) cash prize for the top 3 ideas. We also do a spot award of any of the ideas that didn’t win are used elsewhere in the company.

    There are no set time parameters but we typically do it on a Friday/Saturday. Teams get 1 day of office time and have to give up 1 weekend day.

    We usually have tons of prticiaption. Non participation doesn’t impact reviews / perception at all.

    We call it our hack-a-thon and from what I understand it’s a fairly common practice.

    1. Brandy*

      Actually non developers are encouraged to participate on team too. Usually the winners have a business-side team member.

    2. Blue Anne*

      My husband has recently been promoted from developer to analyst. We live in the UK and he works for a government organisation. They’re doing a hackathon over two days this week. Tonight I’m cooking food for him to bring in for his team and he expects to not be home much Tuesday-Wednesday. Meanwhile, I’m an American expat and could really use the help at home over those two days as we’ll be entertaining my mother, his aunt, our secondary partners and two of his best friends for Thanksgiving on Thursday.

      Neither of us are very impressed with this setup but it’s pretty much required if you want to get a “pet project” (read: developers and analysts think it’s crucial but upper management/politicos don’t get it) off the ground. There is no prize except that you’ve gotten a jump start on crucial work and the politicos can talk about how Agile the organisation is, they’ve got hackathons.

      So yeah. As with many things, it’s becoming widespread, but that doesn’t mean it’s always implemented well.

      1. UK Nerd*

        There’s a perception that developers are supposed to basically live to code. Sure, I love coding – I wouldn’t be a developer otherwise. But I also love going camping at the weekends and spending time with my family. If someone wants me to give up those things to do extra work, they should be paying me for the work and not pretending it’s some kind of fun, cool activity.

        1. Blue Anne*

          Yes, exactly. Developers are all Googly types who want to work 80 hours a week coding because it’s like videogames or something, right? Uhhhhh… no?…

        2. hbc*

          If you’re like me, I would do my job unpaid…if it wasn’t my job. And if my hobby became my job, I’d stop doing it for free as my hobby. Not only is there the psychological impact of being “forced” to do something, but there’s the sheer number of hours that are already dedicated to it in a week.

          1. AnonForThisOne*

            Yep… Hobby photo, and I took a friend’s family portrait a few weeks ago, and now they are trying to give me money, and I’m like, nooooooooooooo I did this because I like doing this and you asked me to do it and I agreed, not for money but because you are my friend and I felt okay doing this!

            I probably wouldn’t have done it for money, especially because I would have put market value on it. Now it’s a little awkward.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            THIS. It stops being fun when it starts being work.
            I would write even if I’m not being paid (I’m not!) but it’s with the goal of eventually being paid to do it. So it’s not really a hobby per se.

        3. Tau*

          THIS. Thank god I am currently with a company which doesn’t do this kind of shit and is pretty clear about how it divides work and non-work.

          Also, if I’m going to be coding in my spare time (big if – 40 hours a week is really enough for me), I will do it for my hobbies and my pet projects. Not the company’s.

      2. Chinook*

        ” Meanwhile, I’m an American expat and could really use the help at home over those two days as we’ll be entertaining my mother, his aunt, our secondary partners and two of his best friends for Thanksgiving on Thursday.”

        Blue Anne, I can understand your frustration, but you do understand that when you are an expat that you have to expect that employers where you are living aren’t required to work around your home country’s holiday schedule, right? It is nice if your husband can get American Thanksgiving off but should they be expected to also let him have the time off before hand for prep work? It is probable that the company picked the time they did because there is a lull between the UK holidays and regular vacation prime times right now.

        As for giving time to get a pet project off the ground, I think this is a great compromise from the company. One group’s pet project may not be something that benefits the company as a whole but the company is allowing a set amount of time for regular business to be set aside to allow for focus on these types of things which may or may not work (because that is the nature of projects – some will fail once energy is given to implement them.) I actually think it is a great idea and would have jumped at the opportunity to do something like this rather than take 4 years to get some of our ideas off the drafting board stage.

        1. Blue Anne*

          Chinook, yes, I do understand that. What I meant was not that I was hoping for him to have time off work on Tuesday and Wednesday, but that I was hoping for him to actually be home after normal work hours on those days. When I said that he expects not to be home on Tuesday-Wednesday I was being literal.

          In this case, it’s not a private company but a government organisation, who have recently taken all of their data storage in-house as a result of new legislation. My husband is one of the people they have planning how to do this, and they are already having to tell upper management that they simply will not meet legislative deadlines due to the delays and lack of support. In this case “pet projects” entail successfully moving massive amounts of legal information safely and securely on a timeline that will not get the head of the organisation fired (again).

          1. Blue Anne*

            Heck, *I* don’t have time off work on Tuesday or Wednesday either. Come on now, I do realize that I’m living in another country…

    3. Elysian*

      Yeah, this letter sounded like a hackathon to me. Usually these competitions seem to be done with exempt software developers, but if the company is allowing nonexempt employees to participate then they might have to be paid. I don’t think we can tell from the details in the letter if that’s so, but its very possible.

    4. QA grump 42*

      I had the impression that hackathons were meant to be used for fun/experimental projects, not business-critical ones.

  17. Hannah*

    #2: I may be in the minority, but it seems uncool of the ex to tell the new partner that the texts were from a work phone and the name of the company. Presumably the ex is angry too and thought getting this person fired would be a good way to get revenge. This is clearly a personal issue, not work related. If I was the OP I would keep that in mind – this was really none of his business and shouldn’t have been brought to him.

    This is why it’s better if the employees get their own phones and then are reimbursed by the company – no confusion about “using company resources” when clearly you’re going to use your phone for both business and personal calls/texts.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I think a lot depends on the intent the new boyfriend and the ex had in approaching the boss about the employee, maybe they just wanted the abuse to stop and didn’t want to involve the police so were trying to find a way to get the abuse to stop in a low key way. If they were just trying to cause drama that’s not great but I can kind of see how the frustration could make it seem like a good idea.

    2. MK*

      When one is being threatened, behaving “uncool” to the person who is threatening you is usually not a priority.

      1. fposte*

        Agreed with the general point, but I think it’s worth noting that we don’t know he was being threatened–abuse is not automatically threat.

    3. Kate M*

      I mean, maybe the guy had already texted the ex/her bf on his regular phone, and they blocked him, so he switched to his work phone? The new bf has every right to take action on threats, but I did find it kind of weird that the topic of it being the employee’s work phone even came up. But that might be one possibility.

      1. M from NY*

        I’m disturbed that so many are downplaying the phone harassment.

        Employee didn’t “accidently” send these texts from work phone. It was done in attempt to hide sender. If the texts were sent from personal phone then it wouldn’t be companys business. The fact that employee used business phone made it the company’s business. If anything happens then everyone says “why didn’t anyone do something”.

        1. Kate M*

          Um, not sure what made you think I was downplaying the harassment. I literally said that the new bf has every right to take action on the threats. Of course threats should never not be taken seriously. Nowhere did I say that.

          But I don’t think someone I text would notice which phone I text from. I was just wondering why the topic of which phone it was came up in the first place.

          1. KH*

            When you get harassing/threatening texts, you notice those things. Really. Especially if it’s a number you’re not familiar with.

          2. jmkenrick*

            I don’t think M from NY was trying to suggest that you were, I think he/she was chiming in with an agreement.

      2. Chinook*

        “ybe the guy had already texted the ex/her bf on his regular phone, and they blocked him, so he switched to his work phone? ”

        Or maybe the employee blocked the new bf on his personal phone and ex gave new bf employee’s work number? And when employee replied angrily with inappropriate words to leave him alone, ex suddenly had ammunition? (Yes, I have dealt with people who are this petty that I have seen them do just this thing. When DH and I were split, he had a gf call the cops from his house to say he was hitting her (his calm response to the cops was to show his military id and say that even his uttering a threat would have him in military jail and his career over) and wanted the cops to take him away from his house, claiming she lived there too. There were so many lies involved that the cops ended up taking her away because she couldn’t show one shred of evidence she lived there because she didn’t.)

        What I am saying is that more information is needed by the OP from both sides to see what happened and to decide how to deal with employee.

    4. Allison*

      If someone was harassing me, I’d probably get the police involved, and they might tell me the calls were coming from a work phone. And if that happened, I’d probably want to tell their employer how the person’s using company property. Just like if someone was harassing me online and I found out it was from an office, even if it was after hours, I’d figure their boss would want to know what kind of stuff was coming from a company computer.

      Reporting someone for something like this is not “getting them fired,” the person’s behavior is what’s getting them in trouble, and you are under no obligation to protect someone by keeping their behavior a secret.

      1. KH*

        Reporting someone for something like this is not “getting them fired,” the person’s behavior is what’s getting them in trouble, and you are under no obligation to protect someone by keeping their behavior a secret.


        I’m baffled by the people who are saying “oh new boyfriend is trying to get him fired and that’s uncool”. Holy FSM on a crutch, people! What’s uncool is sending abusive, harrassing texts to your ex’s new partner. In most states that’s enough to get a restraining order against the person doing the texting and possibly the ex, as well. Ask me how I know that and I’ll tell you that I’ve done it to someone who wouldn’t stop sending me nasty texts and calling my phone at random hours and hanging up because I was dating her ex.

        Why are people victim blaming the ex/new boyfriend in this situation. The person who sent the texts is the bad guy here, not the people receiving them.

        1. jmkenrick*

          Also, this is a work blog, not a romantic advice column. Even if, hypothetically, the new BF was trying to get the employee fired, or the texts weren’t abusive*…It’s still inappropriate for an employee to use company resources to engage in that sort of drama, and the company has every right to set that boundary.

          *I think we should take OP’s word on this, but for the sake of argument.

        2. One of the Sarahs*

          Yes, and also all the “maybe the new BF threatened him first” – I am baffled that people seem to be so quick to try to defend the employee, and cast the new BF as a villain in this.

    5. Artemesia*

      Why the urge to protect a jerk who is being assaultive to the new squeeze? If some ex were threatening my new boyfriend I’d use whatever resources I had to both put a stop to it and hurt him. Revenge while not pretty seems fair enough in this situation where the employee making the threats ‘started it.’

    6. neverjaunty*

      Why the scare quotes? The employee was absolutely using a company resource to harass his ex’s new SO.

      This isn’t third grade where “tattling” is a capital offense. If anyone is getting the employee fired, it’s the employee.

  18. Allison*

    I’ve always been under the impression that you only take someone to a company holiday party if you’re seriously dating. I considered inviting my new guy to this year’s party, but decided against it because we’ve only been dating for two months and that seems a bit soon – I take him to casual parties at friends’ houses, of course, but fancy events? Nah. This isn’t 1933, I don’t need a man to escort me to events. But I get that my viewpoint on this is a tad outdated, and that in 2015, a lot of people feel that taking someone as a +1 doesn’t have to be a big deal, and it’s totally fine to take a friend or relatively new partner with you to events like this.

    So I do see how restricting +1’s to spouses and significant others is a bit old fashioned, but it’s not totally unreasonable. They’re not putting guidelines on what “counts” as a proper date versus an improper one, so you can take someone you haven’t been dating long if you want, but I think the general idea is that they want people to include the people who are very important to them, but they don’t want each and every single person to go to a friend and say “yo, wanna tag along to this thing with me? we can dress all fancy and eat some free food, it’ll be sweeeet!” And as others said, they probably can’t afford to give free food and alcohol to every employee and every employee’s favorite person. I get that, for some people, they’re close enough with their best friend, or sibling, or parent, but the company has to draw the line somewhere.

    At least they are allowing SO’s and, as far as I can see, are allowing people to determine what that means – rather than only allowing spouses.

    1. Rebecca 2*

      Meh, I think you either let everybody bring a +1 or nobody. The married people would be just fine spending an evening without their SO, or alternately, you don’t have to attend.

      I don’t expect everybody to agree with this, but this is my opinion. My company does not invite +1’s to our holiday party, which is usually pretty small anyway.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        Exactly. Trying to sell only SOs as saving the company money is assuming that there will be single people. They presumably could afford to give food and drink to “every employee and their favourite person” if every employee’s favourite person happened to be their SO. I mean, if it was “only opposite sex partners” to save the company money, that’s definitely not cool, so why should “only people you’re having sex with” be any better?

        (Other than that’s traditionally the divide, but that doesn’t make it any less cool)

        1. LBK*

          But part of what differentiates a relationship from a friendship is wanting that person to share in special events with you. Think about it this way: if you’re offered a generic +1 and you’re in a relationship, how often are you going to invite a friend instead of your significant other? It’s usually not even a question – you don’t sit down and decide who among your social circle you’ll invite, you just default to your SO because that’s part of the nature of a relationship.

          When the company invites significant others, the intention isn’t “we’re offering each employee 2 people’s worth of free food and drinks” and you just don’t get to cash in on half of your perk if you’re single. It’s “we’re holding a social event and we want to invite a person that’s special to you to join us because we recognize that you may want them to be involved in this aspect of your life.”

          Also, it’s a little odd to me to think the only difference between a friendship and a relationship is sex.

          1. Allison*

            I dunno man, I dated some guys with weird notions about relationship boundaries, if I was dating a guy who decided to take a female friend instead of me, either because they were closer or because he invited her a while ago before we started dating – or maybe went to a function as a female friend’s +1 for some reason – I’d definitely be super uncomfortable with the arrangement but I also wouldn’t be shocked. Not after the weird stuff some my exes have insisted on doing with their female friends.

            1. LBK*

              I think the fact that you identify that as weird, uncomfortable behavior supports my point. It’s not just the company imposing an arbitrary “socially accepted” rule – you expect to be considered an obligatory part of any special events your partner attends.

        2. potato battery*

          This reminds me of one of the rationales by companies to not extend health benefits to same-sex partners, which was that it would cost too much. I’m not saying health insurance is cheap, but I always did wonder just how many extra people the company would have to pay for to just treat people equally…

    2. Erin*

      My initial reaction to the OP’s situation was, “That’s silly and unnecessarily singling out single people!” But, yeah, you’ve brought up some really good points.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Eh, I think it’s fine for a company to decide that employees are grownups, and therefore capable of figuring out on their own whether their relationship is serious enough that the couple is a “social unit”.

  19. Erin*

    #3 – I don’t work in academia, but I can tell you having worked as an admin at three different companies within the past several years (two at the same time) admin positions do often grow to absorb other rolls depending on what your background is. Mine is in writing, so I’ve been put on many writing/editing/marketing/advertising/social media projects, that I would not have been offered had they not appealed to my specific set of skills.

    I do think you should not mention that other job offer, but do try to grow in your current role. Let them know the sort of academia-related projects you’re interested in taking on. Grow, gain experience, and move on later on if/when it’s a more appropriate time. :)

    1. So Very Anonymous*

      In academia, though, you are competing with a glut of PhDs and graduate students who are also looking for this kind of work. OP #3 might be better off keeping a lookout for jobs on campus which might explicitly include this kind of work as part of the job, and use skills built at the current job towards making that shift.

      1. OP*

        I agree, this sounds like my best bet. Academia has changed so much even from when I was undergrad just about 10 years ago.

  20. Brett*

    #4 I’ll write more on this later (I’ve organized 8+ hackathons ranging from collaborative civic hackathons to competition hackathons with six figure prize money), but the first thing that sticks out is that the company has to be very careful with licensing.
    The normal ideas of “it was a work product so we own it” often do not apply to hackathons. Even with a signed agreement to start with, those agreements are not easy to enforce and may have a lot of loopholes that would require proper compensation for the employees who developed it.
    I think the biggest mistake here though was developing mission critical production software in a hackathon. While sometimes internal hackathons are good as massive brainstorming sessions for new features, using them to develop software is not a great idea. Instead, focus on skill development (especially team programming) and internal recruitment. They can be great tools to recognize talent that is undeveloped and to build new collaborations between design, development, planning, etc.

  21. Sunny With a Chance of Showers*

    #1 — I’m clearly in the minority with my opinion, which is: the company gets to dictate the terms of the guest list because it’s their party.

    It’s one night. A couple hours. Is it that big of a deal to not bring whoever you want/go alone? If you’re not having a good time, slip away, or claim to have two parties that night. “It’s been fun! Now I’m off to the BF’s holiday party. See ya!”

  22. squids*

    I once brought a male best friend to an extremely casual work social event — pizza & bowling. We had a lot of fun, but I realized afterwards that wasn’t common for this group — and for quite a while afterwards people assumed he was my partner (or even that we were married!)

    I had assumed that appropriateness really depended on formality & cost, but lots of people draw the line in different places, I suppose.

  23. Noah*

    #1 – Last year I brought a good friend to the company Christmas party. I don’t understand restricting plus ones. If you don’t want me to bring someone then tell me that I’m the only one invited, that’s fine and it happens with weddings a lot. However, if there is a +1 option then I should be able to bring who I want.

    Honestly, in this case I would bring a friend and just lie and say we were dating if anyone asks. It is really none of their business anyways. The company should budget for the worst case scenario, that everyone has a SO and that everyone will bring them. If they cannot afford that, then they need to increase the budget or edit down the party.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s because society treats couples as a social unit, and when you’re inviting people to an after-hours social event, etiquette says you don’t leave their partner out. It’s not about letting people bring any random companion.

      1. Allison*


        (no pun intended)

        there’s definitely something to be said for a couple being a social unit in a way that two close friends aren’t.

    2. Oryx*

      Like Alison said, the +1 isn’t about giving you the ability to bring who you want. It’s about not inviting only half of a couple to an event.

  24. Shelby*

    My company does a really nice dinner/open bar/dancing holiday party and everyone gets an unrestricted plus one. I’m single and would never dream of bringing a friend or family member (there’s nobody in my life I dislike enough to make them sit through speeches and pictures) but when I RSVP’d the office manager immediately asked if I was bringing someone, although she knows I’m not in a relationship. Another co-worker is recently divorced and is just bringing a friend. I think it’s a kind, inclusive gesture if the company can afford it.

  25. Donna*

    My ex-boyfriend had an aunt who dated the same man for 50 years, but they never married, lived together, or had children together. They started dating when she was 25 and at the time when my ex told me the story, she was 75 (they may still be together if they are alive–he told me the story 18 years ago). It doesn’t seem fair that those two wouldn’t be allowed to attend a company holiday dinner together.

    If I worked for a place that had a spouses-only policy (we don’t have formal dinners, so it’s never been an issue), I’d probably ditch the fancy company party in favor of a humble potluck at someone’s house where everyone can be included.

  26. Gene*

    Re: #2, Boeing just took enforcement against several employees for sexting on company-owned phones.

    Several people I know who work there have said it’s not unusual for someone to see a company phone on a table, and if it’s not locked, to text pictures of what’s in their pants to random numbers in the contact list. Sort of a sport on the production floor.

    Moral of the story, keep a passcode on your company phone and don’t let it out of your sight.

    1. Chriama*

      Honestly that sounds inappropriate enough that I would have fired the perpetrators too. It’s one thing to bring this crap into the workplace — where, if you complain you’re “not fitting into the culture” or “not a team player” — but sending it to random work contacts means you could be flashing your coworker’s preteen niece or nephew. It’s so poorly thought out that I would question their judgement in other things, and Boeing is lucky they haven’t been sued for sexual harassment before now.

  27. Kate*

    Re OP#3, I just wanted to comment on the raise. At my institution (and I think others), the ONLY way to get a raise that is above the 1-2% annual “increase” is to have another offer (with higher salary) in hand. I think this is terrible management, and have said so in not so many words, but it is reality. I still think 6 months is too early to ask for a raise, but if you were 2 years in, yes, you might be able to use another offer to get a raise (it’s obviously more likely to work if you bring a lot of value). Also, get to know your university’s financial calendar – raises are typically given at the beginning of a new FY, and the requests have to go in as much as 6 months or more in advance.

  28. Macedon*

    #1. I see “social unit” thrown around, but find that a bit weak of a defence of an arbitrary rule. What does it mean to be a “social unit”? That you or your SO can’t be expected to function separately or be deprived of each other’s company for an evening? Are SOs literally tied at the hip? Either let everyone +1, or have everyone solo it.

    It’s an outdated and fairly random bit of etiquette that needs an exorcism, not a defence.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s a long-established concept in etiquette that requires polite society to treat established couples* as a unit for the purpose of social events. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be expected to function solo, but it does mean that it’s considered rude to invite someone to a party without inviting their spouse.

      * The rule used to apply to married couples but has been broadened in recent years to include engaged or living-together couples.

      1. Macedon*

        The thing is, we’re defending something on the basis of antecedent, rather than reason. There is no concrete difference between “spouse” and “person you would like to bring along for entertainment and representation purposes”, purely in the context of a dinner event (am by no means arguing there is no difference between a spouse and a friend, family member, random stranger in other contexts). We’re choosing to create one.

        It’s fine to say “That’s just how it is,” but I hope we’re steering away from implications of “That’s how it should be.”

    2. LBK*

      I mentioned this above, but part of this comes from inside the relationship – you would usually expect to be included in special/important moments in your significant other’s life in a way that you wouldn’t expect for someone who’s just a friend, no? The purpose of extending invitations to people who aren’t employees isn’t “we’re offering you the chance to bring someone along to get food/drinks on the company’s dime,” it’s “we’re holding a special social event and want to give you the opportunity to have the special person in your life share in it.”

      1. Macedon*

        I think that casts a lot of assumptions about the involvement of significant others in one’s professional life. If (hypothetical) your single mother worked two jobs to keep you through med school, the hospital you’re working with holds a social, and you’re a new doc – would you say your mother wouldn’t have as much or more of an emotional stake in sharing your first hospital social as a doctor with you?

        1. fposte*

          I’m going to differ from LBK on the origin, though–it’s not “share this with your special person,” it’s “you don’t invite only part of an established couple.” If you and your mother are an established couple who lives and travels socially together, then it’s appropriate you attend the work party with your mother.

          It’s not about why you include them so much as why it’s rude to leave certain individuals out.

          1. Macedon*

            I think that runs the risk of ending up circular: a couple has to be invite together because they’re a social unit -> why? -> because you don’t invite only part of an established couple -> why? -> because they’re a social unit.

            1. fposte*

              I’m not seeing the problem. People who live together and go about together are a social unit. People who are together for the evening because one doesn’t wait for the bus alone or the other looked really good the previous night aren’t.

              1. Macedon*

                The problem is that people don’t have the same preferences or needs. Maybe for Mike it’s important to have his dad at a work function, maybe for Sam it’s a friend who’s constantly lent support and guidance throughout the process of nailing this job, maybe for Chris it’s the charming spouse. In saying it’s just the SO who can come, an employer is making vast assumptions about you, your emotional ties and what constitutes as your social unit. Should your employer know you want to bring in Aunt Ashley or your bff Jessica? No. Too many variables for one employer to introduce into the equation.

                That’s why it’d be far easier on both parts for the employer to say, “Hey, if there is anyone in your life you would particularly like to share this event with, feel free to make them your +1.” Then you can have make that decision for yourself.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Except that you’re making this into a much bigger deal than it is for most people. Most people can attend a two or three hour work event just fine without someone from their personal life accompanying them. Employers invite spouses/spouse-equivalents anyway because that’s how our social norms work, but it’s really not a terrible burden not to bring Person X who you’re very close to.

                2. Macedon*

                  Alison — I agree with you completely that it’s not a terrible burden not to bring person X along – same as it’s not a terrible burden not to bring your spouse along. What I’m pointing at is, we have some pretty arbitrary etiquette rules that dictate the SO / +1 guideline, and, if possible, we should maybe consider moving away from them. Because they don’t make a lot of sense and risk generating discomfort, puzzle or even slight resent.

                3. Kathryn T.*

                  Plenty of etiquette rules are arbitrary, though, right down to what constitutes “appropriate clothing” and what foods you’re allowed to eat with your fingers. We do it this way because this is the way that we do it, because those are the shared expectations of our shared culture. Just because it’s arbitrary doesn’t mean it can be ignored without consequences.

                4. potato battery*

                  ” Just because it’s arbitrary doesn’t mean it can be ignored without consequences.”

                  Yes, this.

              1. Macedon*

                I’m personally all for having a uniform rule for work socials: either no +1s , or +1s as defined by the employee you are inviting.

                1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                  Live isn’t black and white hence, etiquette! We have a solution already that works across good chuck of society. But good luck on the +1 crusade!

                  Basically it comes down to this – whoever throws the party determines the guest list and determines what +1 means. Guests do not, and have never, controlled the guest list. What you propose turns a social convention on its ear and removes the power from the host to plan the logistics.

                  We all have our personal opinions, but sometimes, we have to compromise in social and workspace settings.

  29. Sue Wilson*

    I long for that day when society lets “social units” be something other than romantic. Boston marriages are a thing.

    1. fposte*

      Society has often been perfectly happy to do so; it’s a lot less interested in sex than is popularly supposed.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Yes. I’m not going to rule out a WTF Wednesday where somebody’s boss or HR person demands to know whether an OP’s “+1 invite” is REALLY a romantic partner – but for the most part, if you show up with somebody and say they’re your partner or just introduce them (“And this is Wakeen”), nobody questions that or asks what you do with your clothes off.

    2. KH*

      I suspect far more people don’t care than you imagine. If you’re in a “Boston marriage” (or any other social arrangement of that nature), one would assume that you refer to this person as a part of your regular life, no matter what you call them.

      So you take them to the holiday party and you introduce them as “This is Jane” and everyone goes “Oh, Jane. Sue mentioned you when she was talking about your vacation last summer. Nice to meet you in person” and let the assumptions fall where they may.

  30. Lore*

    I find myself quite baffled to discover how many holiday parties include +1s of any kind! I’ve never worked anywhere that had anything other than a staff-only party, and most of these are evening events. Even our CEO doesn’t bring his wife at my current job. (Nor have I ever dated anyone whose company parties invited any outside guests.) It’s a big company though and not a sit down dinner so maybe that’s part of it?

  31. still looking*

    My former company not only went out of business, the Exec Dir. is deceased. Hard to get a recommendation or reference from her!

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