coworkers leaving love notes for each other, how to pick interns, and more

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

1. Coworkers are leaving love notes for each other

I recently started working in a high-end retail setting selling a luxury item. The team that I’m working with seems really great for the most part, except for this one young couple who can’t seem to keep their private lives out of the workplace.

It’s not enough that everyone knows that they’re dating; one of them has begun taping small love notes to cash registers that are shared between 5-6 of us, in full view of our customers. Now in fairness, the notes are usually pretty short and subtle (“Happy Thursday!!!” followed by a series of hearts), but the most recent ones had what were unmistakably tiny breasts drawn on them, circles with dots in the middle.

I know it’s maybe none of my business and I should probably keep my head down, but every time I have to work with either of them I feel angrier and angrier that they’ve made us all so involved in their private lives. To complicate matters further, the male recipient of these notes is up for a promotion and I’m worried that their relationship will have a negative impact on our team dynamic if he gets it. Am I just being an over-sensitive grouch? None of the other employees seem bothered. What’s your take?

It’s not appropriate for anyone to be leaving drawings of boobs around a workplace, and it would be perfectly reasonable for you to say to the culprit, “Dude, I really don’t want to see this at work — can you cut that out?”

As for “happy Thursday”-type notes, I can see why the hearts are making you roll your eyes and think it’s a bit much to have on public view (and I agree with you that it is), but I’d let those go, especially since you’re new and the rest of your team doesn’t seem bothered, as long as it doesn’t cross over into outright love notes (pet names, mushiness, sonnets).

But you’re certainly right to be concerned if he could be promoted into a position where he’d be supervising someone he’s dating. The company shouldn’t let that happen, although retail is often more relaxed about that kind of thing than an office setting might be.

2. My coworker keeps prying into my performance rating

I have a colleague who always asks about my year-end performance rating. I have said that I don’t like talking about it, but without fail at the year end, she asks me the dreaded question.

For the last couple of years, I have exceeded my manager’s expectations, but this is private and I don’t like sharing it. So she asked me today and I led her to believe I just got the standard “meeting expectations” because I’m newer to my role. I feel bad for lying or misleading her because she’s a friend too, but I didn’t know what else to do.

What would you recommend in this situation? What’s the protocol with discussing performance reviews/rating?

If you don’t want to discuss your rating with her, it’s totally fine to just say that. You can simply say, “Sorry, I’d rather not discuss it” or “Eh, I consider that private” or “You remember me telling you that I don’t like talking about it, don’t you?” or “I would give you top ratings for persistence in asking me this despite my requests not to.”

3. Is there something wrong with how I’m selecting interns?

My team runs a three-month internship program that’s aimed at people fresh out of school with minimal experience. The organization is quite prestigious, and the internship gives interns great admin and event management experience.

When deciding which applicants to interview, I often reject applicants who have done similar internships and already have a lot of experience of doing the same kinds of tasks, as I feel this role would not offer the opportunity to learn anything new. While it’s a good internship for people with very little experience, the scope is fairly limited and I think the role is much more useful to some people than others. However, some coworkers feel it’s unfair to reject someone for being overqualified – if they are the strongest candidate, they should be given the position. What are your thoughts? And how would you give an applicant feedback if they have been unsuccessful due to being too experienced?

It really depends on the goals of the internship and who you’ve found does best in it. If it’s intended to give experience to people who have little or none, that’s a reasonable (and generous) goal and it would be fine to look for applicants who fit that profile. Or, if you’ve found that candidates with more experience get bored in the position, that’s worth considering too.

Really, though, it sounds like the core question here is what the purpose of the internship is, and that you and your colleagues need to get aligned on that if they have a stake in how you run the hiring process.

4. Promotion comes with tiny raise

My girlfriend works as an hourly non-exempt employee at a hotel. She took a move a couple years ago from accounting to the front desk, which was a cut in pay but worked better with her school schedule. They reduced her wages to the normal rate for a front desk person, plus all the merit increases she’s received over her 10 years there. Recently she was offered a promotion to supervisor, but they’re only offering her the base supervisor pay; none of her previous merit increases will apply, so it amounts to about a 45 cent/an hour raise.

Needless to say, she’s not happy about it and I’m not sure what to tell her. I’ve been salaried exempt my whole career, so this is a different area for me. Should she be getting her previous increases on top of the supervisor base rate, and if so how do we make a compelling argument for her to take back to HR? She doesn’t think what they’re doing is legal and wants to ask a lawyer about it, but to my knowledge there’s nothing covering this under law they can offer her anything they want for the job above minimum wage.

Yeah, there’s nothing illegal about it; no law requires any pay other than minimum wage and overtime pay for non-exempt employees. It’s also not uncommon for the salary in a new position not to take into account raises from past positions; it’s common to start fresh with the salary once you’ve been promoted and to set it based on the salary band for the new position. And really, that makes a certain amount of sense; she’s coming into a new role with new responsibilities, where she hasn’t yet proved herself, and it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to pay a brand new supervisor extra because of merit raises she received in non-supervisory positions (which in many ways can be totally different work).

That said, she could certainly try negotiating for more, by pointing out elements of her work that are likely to make her worth more than their normal supervisor starting salary.

5. Paid leave and FMLA leave

I have a question about how FMLA works. Our company’s handbook states that, if you need to use FMLA, you have to use PTO/vacation days first. But if I’m using those paid hours, then how is that FMLA: wouldn’t I get those hours and then the 12 weeks on top of that, since FMLA is supposed to be unpaid? Is this standard practice?

This is pretty common, actually. If you’re are eligible for FMLA, your employer must give you up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave per year for qualifying family and medical reasons — but they can require you to use any accrued paid time off as part of those 12 weeks. That paid leave would run concurrently with your FMLA leave; it’s not the PTO first and then the FMLA after it. Essentially, the law protects your job for 12 weeks, whether that’s paid leave or not. (However, your employer does need to notify you when your leave begins that they’ll be counting your paid leave against the FMLA entitlement.)

{ 194 comments… read them below }

  1. Blurgle*

    OP3: If this was an actual job I might think otherwise, but in the case of an internship I’d take into consideration not just how necessary that experience is for the position but also how it’s usually obtained.

    If it’s truly necessary – the intern can’t do the work she’s expected to without it – that’s one thing. But if it isn’t, and if there’s a social or economic barrier that prevents some groups of people from getting that experience (e.g. if candidates usually get it through extracurricular activities, which poor people often can’t afford or even access), requiring it is in my opinion a particularly insidious form of gatekeeping – and that’s not good for the intern, the business, or the economy as a whole.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I rather like the OP’s approach; it makes an effort to spread the valuable internship experience to people who perhaps had less chance at it during their education. If the internships are intended for people with minimal experience, it makes sense to pay attention to what previous experience they have, including that obtained in other internships. And it does emphasize that the internship is genuinely intended as a learning experience and part of the interns’ education – if the goal were to squeeze out as much free labour as possible, then you’d treat it more like a job, and hire the most experienced candidates.

      1. Artemesia*

        I agree. An internship should be about learning and skill building and socialization to the profession; someone already qualified who is taking multiple internships because they can’t find a job or have the luxury of not needing to do so yet shouldn’t be privileged over people who are newbies needing the experience, particularly if there are promising but less experienced candidates.

        If the internship is a job you need filled for reasons of productivity then you are doing internships wrong and should be hiring a new employee and paying market rate. This very question hints at the gross abuse of the internship as cheap labor that has happened in this terrible jobs market.

    2. A*

      Eh, my personal experience is the opposite. I and my friends from, say, Big 10 universities worked our butts off at internships to go for the gold ring one at the prestige organization junior year — the internship where 99 percent of those accepted were from Ivy League schools, and the vast majority of those applicants had zero previous internships or even basic general work in the field before. So. It really all depends.

    3. Retail Lifer*

      Given that experience is so hard to get, I like how the OP is handling this. People that already have experience can take that experience and apply for a job. People without it can only hope for an internship.

    4. AnotherHRPro*

      The purpose of the internship to the organization is really key for this. Typically, organizations have internships for a specific reason. It might be to recruit talent for full time opportunities, it could be to get some work done while providing students with a learning experience or it could be completely altruistic in an effort to improve the general labor market and help the community. Without knowing what is important to the OPs organization, it is hard to say what selection criteria she should be using. If the OP does not know the purpose of the program, it would be worthwhile to spend some time discussing this with her manager/recruiting department to get clarity.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I was wondering along the same lines as you. I think it might make a difference if they sometimes hire on any of these interns into permanent roles. If so, they may want to diversify a bit on the experience factor. But I do like that the Op is being generous in giving an opportunity to those with no experience.

  2. Mike C.*

    This is pretty common, actually.

    I’m sure Alison is aware but for those who aren’t this is common only in the United States, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga. Every other nation on the planet offers paid family leave to take care of new children or sick family members in some form or another.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      I have the impression that people commenting here, and Alison of course, tend to focus on dealing with the system that they have now rather than on hypotheticals and ideals. The LW mentioned FMLA so it is clearly a US–specific question. I imagine that if you are struggling with a new baby or invalid family member that it is not relevant and perhaps even frustrating to hear about the three years of paid maternity leave, carer’s leave and free daycare on offer in some European countries.

      1. Worker Bee*

        Agreed. But it might smooth your mood when thinking about the consequences. Due to those benefits gender discrimination is a much bigger issue in Europe.

        1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          Hopefully not for much longer!

          …Ok, extending parental leave to men in equal measure (which the UK’s just done) isn’t going to end gender discrimination. But I live in hope!

          (I’m also really curious as to why there’s no paid parental/sick leave in the US. Do I smell small businesses again?)

          1. Perpetuum Mobile*

            I am in the US but work for a pretty sizable British company (over 3,000 all over the world). The US branch is governed by the US and local state laws, and in addition to FMLA the only “family related” benefit available to employees until now was the 2 week pay to female staff when they had a baby – which is still pretty good.

            I am super excited though as our head US office just announced that starting in 2016 the company will be paying new mothers 6 weeks while they are on FMLA and 1 week to new fathers. That’s pretty incredible, especially as I am 4 months pregnant with my second. I will still have to use all my paid sick and vacation days concurrently with FMLA which was my big gripe when I had my first baby but the HR seems to be ok with an idea to allow me up to 5 days non-paid after I come back from FMLA this time. Best Christmas present ever!

          2. BananaPants*

            Can’t do anything to upset the apple cart re: “job creators”. Why should they have to PAY employees when they reproduce or have an ill parent or sibling? They should clearly get back to work and just be grateful they have jobs.
            Besides, women should be at home raising their children rather than selfishly having a career and letting strangers at some horrible daycare raise their children. Men should get right back to work after their SO has a baby, the company is counting on them! As for elderly parents, that’s what nursing homes are for.
            (Immense sarcasm there, in case it wasn’t obvious.)

          3. kms1025*

            to the artist formally…
            “Do I smell small businesses again?”
            What does this mean?
            Many small businesses would never be able to afford the kinds of paid benefits I think you are referring to???
            Should that demonize “small business” decisions?
            not trying to create an issue…just wondering?

            1. Fact & Fiction*

              My interpretation of what this means is that big corporations that can afford to offer better benefits but don’t want to always loudly claim you can’t make laws better for workers because “please dear God won’t someone think of the small businesses!” In other words they try to use that justification to shot down all attempts to I love things rather than seek out actual compromises that can work. Many also seem to pick and choose when it suits them to jump on the pro-small business bandwagon.

        2. MK*

          It is? As far as I can tell, gender discrimination is happening just as much in the U.S., only without the benefits.

          And when you are dealing with juggling a new baby or illness and working, I really doubt it smooths your mood to think that theoretically, your workplace has less gender discrimination. Especially if you aren’t particularly seeing it yourself.

        3. neverjaunty*

          No, those benefits are an excuse for gender discrimination that already exists. And their absence has not made the US a bastion of gender inequality.

          Basically, we never got over the hypocritical hypercapitalistic ideals of the Gilded Age and we still have a national myth that we’d be wise to go back to it.

    2. Liz T*

      …yeah, it would be weird if Lichtentstein or Trinidad applied FMLA the same way, since FMLA is an American law.

  3. Jenna*

    FMLA protects your job. That’s all it does, pretty much. Yes, they can require you to use your pto for this.
    I still bless the people who passed the FMLA, though. For those of us who have needed that time to take care of family or ourselves, having a job to go back to can be life saving.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Baby steps. Unfortunately, we’re never going to suddenly become a more enlightened society, it is always a long, slow slog. Even though free universal daycare would both increase employment and boost the economy much more than it would cost us, we’re a long way away from that, but to me that is the long-term goal.

    2. Not Gloria*

      Yes, a lot of folks don’t understand this. They confuse FMLA with Short Term Disability (which is what replaces your income, if you have it). I used to start STD claims and I remember once a woman sent in a claim for the adoption of a child and included a note that it was “legally mandated” that she be paid out her claim. I’m glad I wasn’t the one to have to tell her she was wrong.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      What I don’t get is why would they want the employee to come back with their PTO completely gone?? Then they have absolutely nothing to use if another emergency comes up before they acrue more or the new year comes and they get their bank of time off again (depending how they do it).

      1. Artemesia*

        This. I didn’t realize you had to burn through your PTO concurrent with FMLA. When the new mother comes back to work, to have no PTO when you have a small baby and will have to stay home from time to time with illnesses and such seems inordinately stressful — almos tlike they really want to drive people out of the workdplace and then whine if that same person needs assistant to eat and live.

          1. fposte*

            Yup. A lot of new parents won’t have any. And of course a lot of new parents aren’t eligible for FMLA, either.

            As somebody who’s been the covering person, I don’t think it’s about trying to drive new parents out of the workplace; I think it’s about trying not to drive their co-workers out of the workplace.

            1. neverjaunty*

              No, it’s about protecting the business. I don’t think the needs of the employees per se enter into it in the slightest.

              1. fposte*

                Sure they do. Not necessarily because employers are deeply concerned with the joy of their employees–though some are, which tends not to be acknowledged–but because employee retention and productivity matter to the business. One of the big concerns in my broke-ass state is that it’s harder to attract talent now; talent is also difficult to retain when it’s being asked to cover somebody else’s work all the time.

                The countries where somebody gets off a year for parental leave aren’t generally depending on the *business* to pay people on leave for that year–that’s why the business can afford subs for that period. I agree that leaves should be longer in the US, but that starts with the government, not business, and I don’t think it makes sense to blame business for not leaping in to fill that breach.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  I don’t disagree with your last sentence, but you kind of shifted goalposts there. I seriously doubt many businesses aren’t thinking ‘gee, if we allow more leave, that’s going to be hard on our existing people and we’ll have retention issues’.

                2. fposte*

                  No, it’s all about the same thing–that the burden on the business is the same thing as burden on the other workers in the current system. And almost all businesses are thinking, “Then who’s going to do the work?” And plenty of businesses are thinking, “If we make Jane do all of that for six months, she’s going to walk.”

                  Of course, they’re going to think that less with lower-level positions with a steady supply always coming along; if Jane walks out because of the unreasonable expectations, they’ll just hire Bob. But “We can’t ask Jane to cover or we’ll lose her” isn’t an uncommon thought at the higher levels.

                3. AcademiaNut*

                  That is an important point. I think the Canadian parental leave system is run through the same system as unemployment insurance, which lifts the financial burden off of the employers. And longer leaves change how employers handle it. If an employee is off for six weeks, you get the coworkers to handle it, the way you would for an unexpected serious illness. If the leave is for a year, it makes sense to hire someone to fill the position temporarily.

                  But employee satisfaction can work both ways – if an employer restricts leave to the absolute minimum so as to not burden the other employees, they may not be getting top employees in the first place, who look at the stingy leave policy, and take jobs somewhere else.

      2. Kyrielle*

        Because it gets the PTO (which is a liability) off the books. They don’t care about the new mother or if she has to take time unpaid to deal with illnesses.

        I love Oregon. If you take all 12 weeks under OFLA for a new baby, you get 12 weeks sick-child leave in the next 12 months. (Admittedly, it’s still unpaid, unless your company is kinder. But it protects your job.)

        .,,how sad is it that this is an impressive benefit for the country I’m in? *weary*

        1. Retail HR Dude*

          That’s almost but not quite how OFLA works. If you as a biological mother only take off 12 weeks total after the baby is born you won’t get the 12 weeks of bonus sick child leave. You need to have used the entire 12 weeks specifically for parental leave (and NOT pregnancy disability leave). So, you would need to end up taking about 6 or 8 weeks of pregnancy disability leave (also bonus leave under OFLA) and THEN you take 12 weeks of parental leave, and THEN you get your 12 weeks of sick child leave. If a single day of your regular (non-bonus) OFLA was spent on anything other than parental leave you won’t get your bonus sick child leave. In my experience few people meet all these criteria. (Did you take a day off work to stay home with a sick kid prior to your maternity leave? Then you only used 11 weeks and 4 days for parental leave, so no bonus sick child OFLA for you!)

          However, the bonus sick child leave isn’t much of a benefit anyway. You can actually only use it for NON-serious health conditions (colds, flus, tummy aches, etc.) and OFLA already was providing that if you hadn’t exhausted your 12 weeks.

      3. fposte*

        It’s not that they want the employee to return with their PTO gone. It’s that covering for an employee who’s out three months is already challenging (and remember, the clock resets on this every year); add PTO to that and you could have to cover that position for six to nine months (my PTO would get me even more than that, in fact).

        Leave is tough to work around; that’s why we get letters from employees who are unhappy that they’re doing extra work to cover their co-workers who are out.

        1. Oryx*

          “add PTO to that and you could have to cover that position for six to nine months (my PTO would get me even more than that, in fact).”

          Yes, I think this is the key. I understand why an employee thinks it’s unfair it has to be concurrent because they want to be able to take off as long as needed to help a sick family member or new baby, etc., but that’s a long time to ask your employer to both keep your job for you (which is all that FMLA guarantees) and also ask your co-workers to cover for you.

    4. Elizabeth*

      I was being treated for a serious illness and filed for FMLA. It protected my job for 12 weeks. Although I had plenty of leave on the books, I didn’t need to take it and took my state’s Temporary Disability Insurance. ( I live in one of few states that has it.) So while I was out, my job was secure, ( actually they kept my job for me for 5 months) and I received 60% of my salary, tax free, which was close to my take home.

  4. Nobody*

    #5 – My friend had a similar situation a few years ago. He requested time off to get major surgery, and he had enough paid sick leave to cover it, so he wanted to use that and save the unpaid FMLA time for later in the year in case he needed it to care for his wife, who has some chronic health problems. The company told him that he had to use both concurrently. This double-dipping sounded totally wrong and illegal to me, so I offered to do some research to find some information he could use to argue against it, but I discovered that I was wrong. Not only can the company require employees to use sick time and FMLA time concurrently, but if they are aware that an absence qualifies for FMLA, they are legally required to designate it as such even if the employee doesn’t want to. (There was a case in 2014, Escriba v. Foster Poultry Farms, where it was ruled that an employee can, in fact, decline FMLA leave while using PTO even if the absence qualifies for FMLA, but it appears this decision was not entirely definitive.)

    It seems to be a common misconception that FMLA leave is in addition to paid leave given by your employer, but FMLA and paid leave are really apples and oranges, not apples and more apples. The law requires employers to give up to 12 weeks off for FMLA-qualifying situations, but in the U.S., vacation time and sick leave are strictly voluntary benefits, so employers have a lot of leeway in how they administer PTO. In the eyes of the law, it’s sort of a bonus if the company decides to pay you during your legally-guaranteed FMLA leave.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Okay, so I’m a little confused–let me see if I have this right.

        You get sick and need to take time off–say, a month for surgery and recovery. You take FMLA leave so you can come back to your job because it requires the employer to protect your job (either place you in the same job or an equivalent when you return) for up to 12 weeks. FMLA leave is unpaid.

        Employers can require you to use your PTO at the same time you’re using FMLA. This way, you get paid (because FMLA is unpaid). If you just took FMLA, you would be off for a month without any money. They can do this even if you say you don’t need the pay; you’re okay with taking a month off because you have savings. If they let you take FMLA without also using your PTO at the same time, you could take 12 weeks if you had complications and THEN come back and take your paid PTO and basically be gone for ages.

        FMLA–4 weeks turns into 12 + Employee’s PTO (2 weeks) = Employee is gone for 14 weeks

        So they make you use your PTO at the same time, so they don’t have you out for 14 weeks. Is that correct? And you have to use ALL your PTO? So if you had to be out for 4 weeks, you would have to use all your 2 weeks and then when you come back, you have no PTO until you’ve either accrued more or you get your 2 weeks at the beginning of the fiscal/calendar year. Right?

        If you had short-term disability, does it kick in at the end of FLMA or when your PTO runs out? What would you do if you didn’t have savings to cover that other two weeks!? You’d be screwed!

        1. CADMonkey007*

          It helps to not think of FMLA as leave at all, but a protection from getting fired for extended absence. You are protected for UP TO 12 weeks of total absence, but the “benefit” just isn’t seen until you overrun your PTO. So the less benefits you have, the more FMLA works for you.

          The issue is, the clock has to start ticking somewhere in terms of tallying total FMLA leave time, and it should be from the beginning. So it might seem dumb to need to formalize a week leave as FMLA, but if you’re in an accident later in the year, that extra week could be a huge place of contention.

          1. fposte*

            Right. It’s not that FMLA is “supposed to be unpaid”–it’s that it’s not about pay at all. If you get paid during FMLA, the government is fine with that; if you don’t get paid, the government is fine with that too.

        2. fposte*

          It sounds like you understand it pretty well.

          Short term disability and FMLA don’t inherently coordinate with each other; STD is generally a private insurance policy and when and how it kicks in depends on the contract and your employer. You can be eligible for one and not the other, or have an imperfect overlap, etc.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      “if they are aware that an absence qualifies for FMLA, they are legally required to designate it as such even if the employee doesn’t want to”

      I don’t think that’s necessarily correct. Although maybe it depends on who is made aware of the reasons for the absence. I blew through 8 weeks of leave this year after an accident, some at one time and some intermittent, and FMLA has never been part of the discussion with my boss. That’s what I want because I want to have a baby next year.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, as far as I know, it’s not correct, at least not across the board. An employer can designate qualifying leave as FMLA leave even if the employee doesn’t want use FMLA, but I don’t know of anything in the law that forces the employer to do that. (I’m using lots of qualifiers here because I’m not an FMLA expert.)

        1. Nobody*

          Well, I’m not a lawyer, but the author of the FMLA Insights web site is, and that’s his interpretation of 29CFR825.300(d):

          “The employer is responsible in all circumstances for designating leave as FMLA-qualifying, and for giving notice of the designation to the employee as provided in this section. When the employer has enough information to determine whether the leave is being taken for a FMLA-qualifying reason (e.g., after receiving a certification), the employer must notify the employee whether the leave will be designated and will be counted as FMLA leave within five business days absent extenuating circumstances. ”

          Several other legal blogs and web sites say the same thing, and this was the basis of a lawsuit in 2014, Escriba v. Foster Poultry Farms, where an employee sued her employer for firing her while she was taking care of her ill father. Although she had specifically requested to use vacation time and not FMLA leave, she argued that the employer knew she was taking the time off for an FMLA-qualifying reason and therefore her job should have been protected. The court actually ruled in favor of the employer, and this decision is the subject of much controversy in employment law circles because it goes against the previously accepted interpretation of the FMLA. If you google Escriba v. Foster Poultry Farms, you can find a lot of discussion about the implications of this decision for employers, but there’s still disagreement as to whether employers must, or even can, allow employees to decline FMLA coverage.

          1. JHS*

            I’m a lawyer and this is confusing stuff, but I don’t think that says what you think it says. There is no FMLA-police that requires the employer to designate certain time as FMLA. However, the law does require the employer to be the timekeeper, which is I think where you are getting confused. The employer is responsible for counting your FMLA days and ensuring accuracy and also giving notice to the employee that their FMLA clock is running. If the employer doesn’t designate the employee’s time as FMLA, that’s on them, not on the employee (and is a problem!). Employers should act as to their FMLA policies with regard to starting the clock (e.g. whether FMLA runs concurrently or not) and how to count the FMLA 12 month period.

            1. Retail HR Dude*

              The EEOC and the state labor boards are very much the “FMLA police”, and they most certainly do require the employer to provide FMLA protections for any time off that could have qualified under FMLA, whether or not it was designated as such.

              If any negative work action results from missed work that could have been FMLA covered (whether the employer appropriately designated it or not) then the employer will be found to have violated the law. So the best practice for employers is to make sure that every single day that could be designated as FMLA does get designated as FMLA. You don’t want a single mark against the employee on the attendance record that shouldn’t be there.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                That’s about a best practice though, not about a law requiring the employer to start the FMLA clock ticking if they’re fine with separately giving the person 12 FMLA weeks later in the year.

                1. Retail HR Dude*

                  Eh, sort of. The notification part is required under the law, even if the designation part is fuzzier (the courts really haven’t provided a clear answer on that). The regulations actually say: “When an employee requests FMLA leave, or when the employer acquires knowledge that an employee’s leave may be for an FMLA-qualifying reason, the employer must notify the employee of the employee’s eligibility to take FMLA leave within five business days, absent extenuating circumstances.”

                  So even if the employer was okay with giving the employee an additional 12 FMLA weeks later on and providing FMLA-level protection to all time missed prior to that (i.e. no disciplinary action or negative performance reviews tied to missing work), then the employer can still be found to have violated the law if they didn’t notify the employee of their rights under FMLA for this particular qualifying leave in a timely fashion.

                  “I left my dying mother’s side and flew back when my PTO ended because I was afraid to lose my job! No one told me I could have stayed with her under FMLA, and they were required by law to inform me of that! That’s FMLA interference!”

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yes — but that’s a very different thing than was in question earlier in this thread (the idea that an employer must count FMLA-eligible leave against FMLA).

                3. Anonsie*

                  That’s interesting. So what/whose regulation specifically requires notification of FMLA eligibility?

                4. Anonsie*

                  Thank you! Yes, this is what I was looking for. I guess it would obviously be under FMLA in general but good lord is finding specific pieces of that thing difficult sometimes.

          2. Stephanie*

            I administer FMLA where I work. The employer **must offer** FMLA if they know of a situation that qualifies, and it is **best practice** to administer is whenever someone does qualify. The reason this is best practice is because you want to avoid disparate treatment and the subsequent liabilities.

    2. NJ Anon*

      Your second paragraph is spot on. The time off under FMLA and what you get paid (or not) are two different things. FMLA guarantees you your job back after 12 weeks. How, if or what you get paid is a different story.

      1. LCL*

        Or, to use the explanation I had to use for one of my co workers who just wasn’t getting it..
        There is no pot of money associated with FMLA leave. FMLA grants you job protection, it doesn’t pay anything.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      My co-worker had a minor surgery and had to be out for 3 days and my employer made her fill out all the FMLA paperwork. And her doctor charged her for filling out their portion of the paperwork! It seemed ridiculous since she was prepared to use 3 days of sick time.
      It makes me think that I should just use vacation time if something similar happens to me. Then I can keep my medical information private.

      1. Mimmy*

        That’s crazy! I had a minor surgery myself in 2005 and took a week off for it. They just let me use PTO without asking for further details. Maybe your employer didn’t realize the absence would only be a few days?

      2. Retail Lifer*

        We had to make an employee fill out FMLA paperwork because she scheduled surgery during a time off when we had NO ONE to cover and it was a huge problem for us. Those were blackout days during a holiday weekend so we had to have paperwork on file because we had denied several other requests off for that same time period. I felt like a jerk for making her do it.

      3. Anonsie*

        Oh yeah, your insurance won’t cover the time your doctor’s office spends filling out paperwork, so that has to be out of pocket.

    4. CADMonkey007*

      Yes, this. It is incorrect to view FMLA as entitled time off. It is a measure of job protection when you need to take off extensive time for personal or medical leave. Also consider the usual “subject to approval” needed to take PTO. Expecting your employer to approve several weeks off for a medical reason but also not count it as FMLA strikes me as wanting your cake and eating it too.

  5. Not Today Satan*

    That FMLA rule (which every employer I’ve had has put into place) has always boggled my mind. I would think that if someone just had a baby or cared for a sick family member (or had their own illness, or whatever) and returned to work that they would likely need to take a day off here and there if their baby is sick or whatever the situation might be. Returning from FMLA with no PTO seems like torture to me.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      I wondered about this. I can see that after a fairly lengthy absence the employer wouldn’t be wild about you then having a week or two more to take off soon afterwards, but it just seems so impractical to have no holiday left for emergencies straight after a major life event, pretty well all of which are likely to entail needing further bouts of time off.

      1. CADMonkey007*

        I always thought the “take your PTO first” had more to do with paid leave and where the compensation was coming from. My maternity leave was a combination of PTO, paid family leave, and then unpaid leave (in that order) with all of it falling under the umbrella of FMLA. I arranged with my employer a comp time arrangement to cover any sick leave after I returned. I also had a family wedding at the end of the year, so we agreed I could save a couple of PTO days for that. I dunno, it seemed reasonable to me that after a 12 week leave that your employer would want an expectation that you’d be fulfilling your work obligations the rest of the year.

        1. Natalie*

          My gut feeling is that it has less to do with responsibilities and more to do with accounting. An employer can always refuse to approve a future vacation, and people get sick whether or not they have sick time available.

          Banked leave, however, is a liability on the employer’s books. They’re not going to want to pay out cash in the form of short term disability or family leave before you reduce that liability to zero. It’s the same thing as a vendor owing me money – I wouldn’t pay them cash until I had used up the credit balance.

        2. OP #5*

          If you see my last comment below, your situation is what I’m hoping for: arranging to save a few sick days in case of emergencies. I asked my question because I didn’t understand how, if I’m using my time, it’s also considered FMLA, which I now understand. I was never trying to game the system.

    2. Betty*

      At my job you still accrue time during leave. When I returned from my leave I had accrued a few PTO days. Our sick time also resets at the beginning of the fiscal year so I just had to sit tight for a month or two. I have no idea if this is common or not.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        We accrue during paid leave, but not LWOP. Which is awesome that I got to blow through every last hour of sick leave this year because of the stupid negligent moron responsible for my accident. Even if I recover the cost of my sick leave in a lawsuit, I lose out on the leave I would have accrued using it.

            1. LCL*

              I even provided a year of our overtime call out sheets to an employee because her lawyer advised her to put in for all moneys lost, and that included lost chances at overtime. Don’t know how it turned out.

    3. Perpetuum Mobile*

      Exactly. I had my baby at the end of March last year, came back to work at the end of July after using FMLA + one month of unpaid leave negotiated with my employer (which I really appreciated). Then for 5+ months I had zero vacation and sick days and it sucked like there’s no tomorrow. I was lucky my baby didn’t get sick during that time but I did – and had no sick days left. Ditto for the vacation time that people normally take around Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s… Yuk!

    4. AnotherHRPro*

      Because of this, I would always recommend to someone that if it is at all possible, not to use up all of their PTO and FMLA time for just this reason.

      As others have said, FMLA provides job protection for up to 12 weeks per year. It is up to the company if they offer more than this or paid time off.

    5. OP #5*

      This was my concern, too. I’m due about two months after our benefit year rolls over, meaning I’ll return to work about 5 months into my benefit year with no benefits left. My thought was, since I can take FMLA for up to 12 months, I could technically come back a week early and then say, “Oh, I’ll use the last week of my FMLA the week after Christmas,” but that seems stupid/manipulative. I’m hoping my boss will let me be a little flexible, since I’ll likely have to work from home during my leave anyway.

      But if I do get sick later in the year, I guess I’d either have to make up the time or take it unpaid? If I didn’t use all my FMLA, maybe it could fall under that?

      1. TCO*

        To use your remaining FMLA as “vacation” time around the holidays, wouldn’t you have to claim that your holiday time off was FMLA-eligible? FMLA can only be used when you or an immediate family member has serious health issues or military-related needs, or has a child (birth, adoption, or foster care). It would be a stretch to say that you need a solid week of additional FMLA at Christmas for the sole purpose of “bonding with your child” (to use the official term) months after you give birth.

        1. OP #5*

          That’s what I was thinking. My example was my attempt at sarcasm, I guess, since what would be the difference between taking unpaid leave now or later, but I guess I didn’t do it very well (this whole thing confuses me, obviously). Also, it wouldn’t be that long after I return to the office, since I’d be due back in early December.

          1. OP #5*

            Sarcasm was the wrong word; I don’t know which word I want (curse you, pregnancy brain!). But you’re right, that theoretical Christmas week would have to qualify as FMLA, which I don’t think I was thinking about when I wrote my example.

            1. Paige Turner*

              I know that things don’t always work out this way in practice, but if you’re on FMLA, aren’t you legally prohibited from working (from home or otherwise)? I could be getting the details wrong, but I seem to remember that there’s a strict prohibition against having people work while on FMLA.

              1. OP #5*

                Damn. Maybe then I won’t get FMLA, because there’s no way I can’t not work for 3 months; there’s too much to do. Mini leaves of absence? Or switching to part time for a few months. I don’t know what to do now.

                1. CADMonkey007*

                  What? You have every right to not work at all for 3 months, that’s the whole point of FMLA. Who is saying there’s no way way you can’t not work? Your employer can’t require that of you, and if you’re putting the pressure on yourself, stop it! Take as much time as you need.

                2. irritable vowel*

                  If there’s too much to do, that is your employer’s problem, IMO, and shouldn’t be yours. You should take the FMLA leave and let them figure out how to cover your absence. You’re already going to have a full-time job at home with a newborn, don’t let them talk you into working for them, too!

                3. fposte*

                  While I agree with the people who say that should be the business’s problem, I will also note that there’s intermittent FMLA. I worked mornings for a while during my surgical recuperation and bailed in the afternoons, which was covered under FMLA.

                4. fposte*

                  Oh, I was just reminded below that your employer doesn’t have to allow that if it’s parental leave. It wouldn’t hurt to ask, though.

                5. OP #5*

                  Well, I’ll be gone during one of our busier seasons, and I doubt they’ll hire someone to help for that short a time; I’m not sure my co-workers can handle all of my duties (I currently have 3 major ones, but one of them *should* be taken away in the ear future).

                  But also, honestly, I can’t afford not to have my income for that long.

            2. Regular Lurker*

              OP#5, won’t you earn additional days once you return to work? I earn 4 hours of vacation/sick leave every two weeks. If you are able to save the new days your earn, you would be able to take off the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

              1. OP #5*

                No, we have a set amount at the beginning of our benefit year, although a certain amount of unused hours can be rolled over to the next one.

        2. Retail HR Dude*

          Actually, parental leave does not need to be taken when the baby is born or when the foster/adoptive child is placed. It can be taken at any time so long as it is completed within one year of the birth/placement.

          Employers do have the right, however, to insist that employees take parental leave all in one chunk (instead of a week here and a day there). This only applies to parental leave; so as an example a new mother could take eight weeks of pregnancy disability leave for the delivery, come back to work, and then take four weeks of parental leave later on in the year.

          It’s not a “stretch” at all to do this, it is explicitly written into the law that this is allowed.

        1. A Manager*

          I work for a state government so maybe the rules are different than for the private sector but we do have people choose to work from home during FMLA leave. We can’t make them do it but they are allowed to do it if they want to. They are also allowed to save some PTO so they will have it after they return. If they don’t save any, they can take LWOP in the case of illness.

    6. AndersonDarling*

      This can be a sticky issue. If you need to use FMLA first thing in the year, it is awful to not have any PTO for the rest of the year.
      But…you don’t want someone coming back from 12 weeks of FMLA and announcing they are now taking a 3 week cruise of Alaska with their vacation time.

      1. just another techie*

        Or you could just trust that your employees have common sense, loyalty, and work ethic. I know, having faith in people is totally un-American, but it seems like a better plan to me than telling someone who just had a baby that she has to work sick and infect all the rest of your staff with whatever contagions are going around the baby’s daycare center.

        Honestly it’s distrustful and infantilozibg attitudes like this that cause people to game the system.

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          Sadly, many employees do try to game the system. My company does not require the use of vacation time while on unpaid FMLA (unpaid is infrequent as we have very nice STD benefits) but in those occasions where this happens, we will sometimes see an employee shortly put in for a vacation. We refuse to rework our policies due to those few difficult employees, but I can understand why other companies do.

      2. OP #5*

        True, but I rarely use my vacation or sick days anyway (I’m one of those who either feels guilty doing so and tries to make up hours). I’d just like maybe 2 sicks days and 1 or 2 vacation days for the last 7 months of the year.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, but a lot of times, when you have kids, if they get sick you get sick because kids are little germ-catchers. Or you have to use your sick time to take care of them.

        2. BananaPants*

          Kids are germ magnets, especially that first year in daycare. My employer doesn’t let you use sick days to care for a sick family member so I’ve used vacation days or worked from home when we have sick kiddos. We’re fortunate that our kids are only rarely sick enough that they can’t go to daycare/school (but having a near constant cold from November through March is normal – so much snot and coughing).
          Thankfully my employer does NOT require PTO to be used concurrent with FMLA so when I had each of our kids I was able to save some vacation and sick time for the rest of the year after my maternity leave.

        3. Oryx*

          You might not get sick now, but your kid might get you sick and/or you may need to use sick time to take care of a sick kiddo.

        4. neverjaunty*

          Your #1 issue is to get over the guilt. Your vacation and sick days are part of your compensation. Feeling guilty about taking them is like feeling guilty about getting a paycheck.

          1. Joanna*

            And not taking them (when appropriate) is like giving part of your paycheck back!

            Boy, do I wish people would stop thinking of their employment as something akin to charity. Employers pay an employee $X because the work that that employee does produces more than $X for the employer. Sometimes, a HELL OF A LOT more than $X.

        5. doreen*

          I get the vacation days- but I don’t get the sick days. Doesn’t it work out the same whether you take take two extra days of unpaid FMLA and save two sick days to use later or get paid for those two days of FMLA and take 2 sick days later? It’s going to be the exact same number of unpaid days.

      3. Windchime*

        We actually had someone just do this, and I don’t see anything wrong with it. We accrue a certain number of days that go into an “Extended Illness” account every year. When a person goes onto FMLA, the first three days they are out is paid out of normal PTO and the rest is paid under EI (assuming they have EI accumulated). Being out on leave is totally different from taking vacation; our employee was out on leave as recommended by her doctor. Once she was released by her doc to return to work, she came back and worked for a couple of weeks. Then it was time for her scheduled vacation, and she took it. That was paid out of her normal PTO.

        Was her absence a hardship on the team? Yes, somewhat, but our employer is required by law to provide FMLA and that is a separate thing from vacation. I’m really glad that we have the EI account that we can use for any illness-related absence that’s longer than 3 days; it keeps people from having to burn through all of their PTO when they need time away for illness or a family issue.

      4. pieces of flair*

        My understanding is that the vacation time wouldn’t be protected. Just because you have PTO dosn’t mean you’re entitled to use it whenever you want. So the employer could simply not approve the time for the cruise and/or fire the employee for taking it.

    7. Anonsie*

      That’s what killed me when I had to take a continuous FMLA covered leave. I had to cancel all my non-FMLA related doctor’s appointments, and also we were coming up on the holidays. I couldn’t take time off for that. So on top of having this big awful sudden illness, I also had to miss seeing my family that year at a time when I could have really really used a visit, and drop off all medical care not already related to my illness. It was ridiculous.

  6. Merry and Bright*

    #2 Alison’s answer is much more professional but when I’m asked an intrusive question like this, I am so tempted to respond “Oh, it was XYZ, how about you?” I never have (sigh) but maybe one day.

    1. LQ*

      I’m not sure it is always true but I’ve experience a few people like this who do want to talk about their own but won’t unless asked so they ask in hopes you’ll ask in response. (This is like people who compliment to get a compliment.) So in those cases a “I’m not interested in sharing, but how about you?” can satisfy them.

    2. AnotherHRPro*

      Sadly this person would probably go into how she got an X rating and it is so unfair. If you don’t want to talk about your performance rating, you just need to be direct and say so. And then repeat as necessary.

      1. afiendishthingy*

        Yeah, it sounded to me like the coworker is looking for an in to complain about her own evaluation.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Depending on the person and depending on other circumstances, I might say, “Hmm, and what did we conclude the last time you asked me about my performance ratings?” Then I stop and let that awkward silence fill the air. After a moment, I would remind the person, “My rule is that I do not discuss that with other people. It works for me and I stick to it.”

      If this person has been a good friend to you, you could cut this down to a soft smile and “My rule is I don’t discuss performance ratings because it’s not a competition between me and you. It’s a competition between the “me” I was yesterday and the “me” I am today. It’s my own internal competition.”

      FWIW, there have been plenty of times where I told people that I got a “meets expectations” and I actually got a better rating than that. Sometimes it feels necessary to do that and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. It’s okay to understate things.

      1. Sadsack*

        Maybe the standard, “Why do you ask?” would work just as well, if not better. Let the person answer and then tell her, “Well, you know I don’t discuss it, so anyway…” and move on to something else.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        I don’t know that I’d want to downgrade my rating, though, because if that person is an office gossip, then soon everyone will think you’re an average employee when you may be above average.

      1. fposte*

        That last is a really, really important lesson.

        I would enjoy very obviously making stuff up. “It was great! They made me CEO. I start Monday.” “They fired me. It was so bad that they fired me retroactively, so I didn’t work here the last two years. You have to redo all my work from then.”

  7. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#2….I have been asked this question by at least one co-worker at every job I’ve ever had. I’ve found that there is usually something behind the question. Perhaps this employee, who you imply has been there longer than you, wants to know how they stack up against you and potentially other employees. Perhaps they have been trying to improve their rating to no avail with only vague feedback from the manager or perhaps they see you excelling at the position, in general, and assume that your rating is good, which seems to be a correct assumption, and perhaps they’d like some feedback on things you may do differently that they can also utilize to improve their own productivity. There really isn’t enough info in the letter to know if they’re just nosy or something is driving the question.

    Either way, I suppose it’s up to you if you try to suss out their real reason for asking or just shut them down.

    And while all of Alison’s responses are legitimate, I tend to say something to the effect that my performance review was “good” and “I’m happy with where I am considering how long I’ve been in the position and areas where I’m still working to improve.” I’ve never been asked anything beyond that. That response has always been sufficient to end the conversation there while letting people believe that you are working to improve some things/your rating and thus you’re not perfect, although your performance review may in fact be pretty darn close to perfect.

    Best of luck!

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I often want to ask (but I don’t) what my co-workers got because

      – All the time we were in school, our grades were based on a comparison with how we did compared to others, so comparing how we do against others is something taught early and deeply.

      – My manager says I’m doing well, but I’m always questioning myself. If I had some more data points, like how someone else is rated compared to how I see their work, maybe I’ll have some more confidence in what my manager is saying. If I know you also do good work, but you got a 5% raise and excellent ratings, then my 2% raise and very good ratings can tell me that my manager isn’t as pleased with me as he says. If you also got a 2% raise and very good ratings, then maybe I am doing as well as they say.

      If you’re a lousy worker, I won’t ask, since either we all get the same and it doesn’t matter, or you get less as appropriate, or you get more and I can’t fight politics like that. I want to compare myself against someone I see as a good worker, to see if I’m one too. Since I can’t ask, I try to work well and improve, and hope it’s as good as it seems to me (when I’m confident of myself) and hope I’m not as bad as I think I am (when I’m having self-doubts).

      It would be nice to have to external data points instead of just comparing myself to myself on a Dali-esqe scale.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        YES! YES! And YES again! I am just like you, but have been fortunate enough in my current job to have a core group of co-workers that all perform the same job and we are all fine being transparent about our ratings with each other with the understanding that we don’t share that information outside of our group. I am currently in a position in which our performance is compared against the “requirements for the position” as opposed to being compared to your co-workers, as most positions are structured to be, or so they claim. I don’t really buy it. At the end of the day, we are compared to our peers, even if it’s unintentional. It helps me personally to know how others are rated and has helped me adjust my performance accordingly in certain situations.

        Someone below mentions turning the question on the asker with “Why do you ask?” which I think is a great idea. This will likely force the asker to disclose why they’re asking to begin with, assuming they’re not just nosy.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Which means, if I ever did decide to ask a co-worker, I’d preface the reasons first: “Sometimes I don’t know if I’m doing well or not. Boss says I’m doing well. I see your work and from my point of view you’re doing a good job, and I think I am too. But, my review was very middle of the road. Would you be willing to say how your review was, in general? If yours was glowing, then there are things I need to work on, once I figure out what they are.”

  8. newreader*

    #4: I completely agree with Alison. I’ve changed jobs and departments several times with the same employer. Each change came with a different pay range based on duties, responsibilities, and my skills and experience. I even once took a significant pay cut to leave a toxic department for a lower level job with more sanity.

    It may be possible to negotiate for a wage that’s higher than the minimum for that position based on relevant skills and experience being brought to the role (depending on the employer), but not based on raises from a different role. My knowledge of my employer’s processes and procedures helped me obtain a slightly higher starting salary in my current role, but wasn’t always possible in other roles that had a larger learning curve based in my skills and experience relevant to the job.

    1. Retail Lifer*

      It works that way at my company, too. Your skills and experience in one area might be beneficial to another area, but that only ever seems to mean that you’ll get the job over someone else. It does’t necessarily mean you’ll get paid more than they would have.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I agree. Merit raises were for the exact work the OP was doing at that time. Merit raises don’t transfer very well because they are specific to the job/title. I know of a few people that moved up to supervisors for about 50 cents an hour more. It happens. They took the job and the modest pay increase for non-monetary reasons. One person took it because she felt she would be forced out if she did not take it. Another person took it to get the experience so she could apply to other places. And another person took it, with the idea that maybe in the future she would get substantial increases in pay.

      I am not sure I would drag an attorney into this. I don’t think it is going to help and I think it could hurt.

      1. OP4*

        I managed to talk her out of an attorney after showing her the responses on here, thanks for that!! Good news is once she read through I think she realized it wasn’t her getting screwed as much as it is the way of the world. She calmed down and managed to negotiate another $0.30 an hour but strangely enough had to go through a different manager to do it. I guess the manager who made the initial offer isn’t very open to negotiation. Thanks Alison and the AAM community!!

        1. LQ*

          I’d say this is actually a great update. I know it doesn’t seem like a lot but from .54/hour adding another .30 is percent wise a good bump. Glad she went back and tried the negotiation.

  9. lexicat*

    OP#2: “I’d rather not discuss it” and “I’d like to keep that private” are perfectly acceptable answers to any questions about your performance evaluation.

    Have you directly told her you want her to stop asking you about it? You’ve said you don’t want to discuss it, but that isn’t the same as telling her to stop asking. Some people aren’t good at picking up hints, and need to be told directly. Or maybe she’s asking to show an interest in you, and is perfectly OK with being told that you don’t want to discuss the topic. If the problem is that she’s pestering you and won’t accept “Sorry, I’d rather not discuss it,” that’s when you need to tell her “I’ve already told you I’m not going to discuss it. Please stop asking.”

    Don’t take the blunt tack if it makes you uncomfortable or if it would simply cause more problems with your friend. But the consequence of that is that she’ll keep asking and you’ll need to keep giving evasive answers. I totally understand not being confrontational and being in a situation where directness will make things worse. My sister’s overly inquisitive, but would react badly to any direct request to stop asking questions, and then keep asking anyway so it’s not worth my energy to tell her to stop. I’ve accepted that this means she’ll keep asking intrusive questions, and I deal with that by giving non-answers, or incomplete answers, or by telling her it’s none of her business. You’ll need to weigh up whether or not directly telling your friend to stop is something you’re comfortable doing, but it’s the only thing likely to actually get her to stop asking the question.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Maybe the Op can answer with a question like “Why do you ask? Is something about your review that’s concerning you?”

    2. lexicat*

      On re-reading this morning I see I wasn’t entirely clear. I got the sense the OP wanted the coworker to not ask in the first place – and the only way to address that is by being direct. Otherwise, the OP will need to get comfortable with saying “I’d rather not discuss it,” “I consider that private,” “why do you ask?” etc. Or take fposte’s suggestion and give obviously ridiculous answers. Repeat these responses until the coworker gives up.

  10. get some perspective*

    @OP#3 Internships must be beneficial in terms of learning for the intern. If you don’t have the ability to provide a “higher-level” experience for more advanced interns to benefit in terms of learning (not just something to list on their resume), then your criteria is appropriate.

    But it’s worth considering if you can possibly produce an internship with tasks that challenge more experienced interns.

    1. A*

      I would just remind folks: OP says this is a prestigious organization. If that’s true, a whole lot of the applicant pool — which OP says is actually people fresh out of school, not students looking for credit — is going to be highly motivated people who either (maybe mistakenly?) believe the internship could be a possible in into this organization, or who just want or need this particular prestigious organization on their resume after having already put in a lot of grunt work trying to climb the ladder to get there.

      I know it all depends on what the purpose of the internship is. But, if it’s not any of those things at all, that’s kind of … different, at least. It’s rejecting a candidate who has merit/worked for the opportunity. Well, I’ll stop, but I can understand why there’s some pushback from people within the organization itself. Maybe OP just needs to clarify, explicitly, the purpose of the internship internally and to candidates?

      1. Temperance*

        I’m going to disagree with you, but I’m coming at this from a vastly different background. I think it’s great that the OP is giving a chance to students who’ve worked hard but *don’t* have the connections to build a resume. I hire interns who perform well in school; the ones who are foisted on me are often the children of clients/friends of some of our highest ranking individuals. I feel like I’m doing what I can in the corrupt system by choosing students wh se parents can’t get them internships.

      2. get some perspective*

        Just keep this in mind: Most colleges wouldn’t accept a student who has bachelors degree in one subject from another school to pursue a bachelors degree in the same or very similar subject. That student would be qualified to excel in most classes but the learning experience would, generally, not be good.

        This is true even if the first degree is from a low-prestige place and the second institution is a high-prestige one.

        Internships must be about learning. Merit should be not just capacity to do the work, but capacity to learn. They can have other goals, but learning must be primary. Otherwise it’s not really an internship.

        1. Liz T*

          I worked at a higher ed institution that had a foreign language requirement, and a student got in big trouble for taking what turned out to be his native language.

          1. Tau*

            I can say from experience that taking your native language as a foreign language class is a) extremely boring and b) brutally unfair to the other students in the class. Never to mention the advantage you get in terms of your overall grades.

            Also, in my case my teachers were well aware of my status from the start (the classes were compulsory). Attempting to sneak into a beginners-only class as a native speaker seems like a badly thought out plan, since there’s no real way to hide your ability.

            1. doreen*

              Oddly enough, that’s not always true. The highest marks in my high school language class always went to me and the one other student who did not speak the language at home. Because the “native” speakers were the children of immigrants who were born in the US and a) spoke dialect at home and b) had no exposure to anything else. It wasn’t like they grew up in that country and spoke dialect in their daily lives but used the standard language at work/school and read books and watched TV in the standard language. I did well in class, but couldn’t have a conversation with my relatives who spoke that same dialect.

              1. Tau*

                This is a fair point – dialects can muddy this, depending on how different the dialect is from the form being taught and whether it’s accepted as an alternative in class, and then there are native speakers and native speakers. We lived in the US when I was a kid and my brother and I went to a German school on Saturdays. This was the native speaker class, and apart from us it was all children of immigrants who’d grown up in the US and only spoke German at home with their parents – and that probably not all the time. My brother and I had grown up in Germany and only recently moved to the US, and I remember a definite difference in language skills.

                (I’m technically not a native speaker of English because I only learned it when we moved, but when I got put into ESL classes back in Germany six years on I was effectively indistinguishable from one, spoke better English than German and really shouldn’t have been in the same class as the kids just learning what the past tense was.)

      3. LBK*

        I’m guessing what “get some perspective” is referring to is one of the legal requirements for an unpaid internship, which is that it must be more beneficial to the intern than the employer.

        I think you’re missing some of the cultural context surrounding internships that leads people like the OP (and myself) to think that choosing someone to give them experience rather than choosing them because they have experience is a valid and maybe even morally obligatory choice. Because most internships are unpaid, they can often only be held by people who have the luxury of financial support from their parents. This perpetuates a cycle where wealthier students end up with better jobs because they have the more relevant experience coming out of college, they make more money in the long run, then they have the money to support their children while they do unpaid internships, and so on. That’s not even to mention the disparate racial impact that goes along with this.

        I wouldn’t necessarily apply this philosophy to a regular job, but hiring for an internship isn’t supposed to be about finding the best candidate for the job to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your workplace. Sure, ending up with a bad intern can be annoying, but it’s not supposed to be for your company’s benefit anyway.

        1. Temperance*

          Not to mention, children of wealthy parents are often more or less handed internships due to family connections, including those few coveted paid positions. Wealthier students have a leg up in everything else (better schools, better activities, connections to good internships, etc.), so when I can personally do the hiring, I exclude them.

        2. get some perspective*

          Yes, legal and, to me, ethical requirements.

          “I wouldn’t necessarily apply this philosophy to a regular job, but hiring for an internship isn’t supposed to be about finding the best candidate for the job to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your workplace. Sure, ending up with a bad intern can be annoying, but it’s not supposed to be for your company’s benefit anyway.”


          You don’t want an intern that is so bad that he/she messes important stuff up, but a less-experienced intern that is perhaps slower at getting things done or less effective in some other, non-negative, way is to be expected from time to time. I want my interns to try hard and to care. Then they’ll get better at what they do. I was the same way as an intern myself.

  11. Temperance*

    Re #3: I really like what you are doing, and it’s what I try to do with my interns. I reject anyone that I know has family connections and a lot of previous experience; I work at a fairly prestigious organization, and I prefer to give that leg up to someone who needs and deserves it, not someone who has a fancy resume because of family connections.

    1. finman*

      You shouldn’t exclude someone because of a family connection. Just because they are related to someone doesn’t mean they may not be the best person for the job. You shouldn’t gift it to someone because of a connection, but IMO the right thing to do is to treat that person like any other.

      1. Temperance*

        You misread my comment. My organization actually does not allow children of employees to intern here, which I wholeheartedly agree with.

        My stance is that students with overly polished resumes, who have serious family connections to jobs, do not need the leg up that an internship at my organization will give them. I’m from a blue collar background and had to fight tooth and nail for every opportunity, so I feel that it’s morally right for me to give back to others in my situation.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I like this organizational policy–it prevents the internship from becoming an opportunity for nepotism. I’m not saying all people who hire family are engaging in nepotism, but it’s easy to see how it could be misused. Plus, it might be better for a kid to not work with a parent (we’ve all seen how that can go horribly wrong in various ways for both the intern/employee and the company).

        2. Not me*

          No, I think Finman read your comment correctly – if you mean to say that you’re hiring based on SES, Finman’s response was “the right thing to do is to treat that person like any other.”

          1. Temperance*

            Fair enough – I was using the term “family connections” in a different sense than he/she read it, but upon a second reading, I can see how it was vague.

            Just to be clear, I don’t hire *based* on SES. I hire extremely qualified and intelligent candidates who would otherwise be disqualified because they don’t have glowing resumes. In my particular industry, it’s quite easy to tell whose parents have connections – someone in her first year of law school with 4 legal internships clearly has some help, for example.

        3. BananaPants*

          And how do you figure that out? I’ve had interns with what seems like blue collar/low pay part time or summer work experience, who went to public high schools, who I’ve later discovered are from families of origin that are far more affluent than mine. They purposely downplay aspects so that they’re not thought of as pampered or spoiled.
          I’ve found that socio-economic status can be very hard to gauge accurately from a resume or even an interview. I try to hire the best intern for the job, whether she’s from a high profile university and had a job at the country club her family belongs to, or he’s from a poor single parent household and works at McDonald’s. I care if the candidate can do the job; I’m not here to play amateur social worker.

          1. Temperance*

            I work in an industry that requires a professional degree, so it’s a bit more obvious who has received boosts from social connections and who has not. (Someone in their first year of law school with internships at 3 prestigious firms and membership in elite groups more likely than not has parental help, for example.)

            I don’t really consider myself to be an “amateur social worker”. There are plenty of people who can do this particular job, so I’m going to choose the one who is going to get the most benefit.

          2. get some perspective*

            “I try to hire the best intern for the job, ”

            You need not go as far as Temperance, but I hope you’re also taking into account how/how much they will learn and not just job performance. Otherwise, what you’re offering is not really an internship but an entry-level job.

            1. OP#3*

              Thank you everyone for your comments and advice. I think a large part of the problem is that the organization (a non-profit) does rely on interns to get work done but I personally feel that this particular internship does not require a lot of prior experience and is therefore really beneficial to someone promising with minimal experience. I really take on board the advice about getting aligned with colleagues on what the purpose of the internship is – and I think it’s something the organization as a whole needs to look at too.

  12. verrlet*

    For question #2, I worked with a woman that would quiz me relentlessly about raises and performance evaluations. I never told her anything but it made interactions difficult. Finally I started saying in an overly enthusiastic way “Oh I would SO rather talk about my sex life!” Shut her right down. Probably not politically correct nowadays though

  13. Persephone Mulberry*

    OP2, out of curiosity – why lie about your evaluation to this coworker? What’s wrong with exceeding expectations, particularly in a new role? That’s awesome! Good for you! Own your accomplishments.

    (And please, for the love of everything, don’t negate it all by apologizing for doing well.)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      One reason I can think of for lying is that knowing the ratings can change the tone of the friendship. If the friend has a lower rating, then sometimes knowing that OP got a better rating can eat away at the friend. “Well, I never flub up X and you always do, how come you got a better rating than me?” It can go into non-stop remarks that continue on all year until the next review. It’s just too draining to deal with and so very preventable.

      I have had people ask me if I was satisfied with what I received for my review. This seems to be more of an empathetic question than a competitive question. It does not directly hit on, “hey, what’d ya get?”. In my case though, my intuition said that inquiring person was taking my answer right back to the bosses. So I simply said I was satisfied.

      1. Liz T*

        Yes! I remember my high school newspaper had an editorial about how we shouldn’t say, “What did you get on the test?” when we meant, “Are you happy with how you did on the test?” and that (obviously) really stuck with me.

    2. Faith*

      One of the companies I worked for used the forced bell curve to assign ratings to the employees. This meant that there was only a set number of “exceeds expectations” ratings to give. So, if your team conceivably had 3 high performers, but you were only allowed to give you EE ratings, one of those people would end up with a lower rating through no fault of theirs. People knew that and it lead to resentment. So, if you got an EE rating, you would not necessarily want to share it with someone.

      1. Anon for this*

        Yeah, that’s how it is at my company. Only two or three people in my department can get exceeds expectations, but many people think they deserve it, and those who don’t get it tend to be very resentful of those who do. There is a lot of discussion along the lines of, “I can’t believe he got exceeds when he sucks at X, made a mistake on Y, and missed the deadline on Z!” It reminds me of reality game shows like Top Chef and Project Runway, where all the other contestants turn against whoever won the latest round. I got exceeds last year, and I was terrified my coworkers would find out. Luckily, nobody asked me point blank, because I’m a terrible liar.

    3. Florida*

      “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
      -Marianne Williamson

  14. majigail*

    #3: It’s not just your company, but can I just say it makes me sad that there are internships targeting new grads and that new grads have to go for internships? Especially unpaid ones (this letter doesn’t specify.) Is it only me who thinks that internships are learning opportunities best used during the time you’re in school and then once you’re out of school, companies should pay you for that knowledge and experience? Internships for people with a bachelors + just feels opportunistic on the part of the company to me.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      Yes, internships should generally be for students, not graduates. We limit ours to active students but many graduates try to apply.

  15. Erin*

    #3 – Are the interns paid? Would that maybe make a difference in how your coworkers are seeing this? I could see an argument for wanting more experienced candidates if the company is shelling out (at least some) money for them.

    Along the same lines, do you hire more than one at the same time? Might it make sense to hire say one experienced and one not, and pay them (or not) accordingly?

    I agree with Alison (shocker) that you should have a candid discussion with your coworkers about the purpose of the internship role and make sure you’re all on the same page. Before you broach the topic with them, I’d also take into consideration:

    1) Who has been hired in the past – what type of people excelled in the role, and do you want to keep in line with what you have been doing or veer off the path. (As Alison said – maybe someone experienced did great, but was clearly bored.) Status quos can change, but you should at least take inventory of what’s been done before.

    2) Any documentation regarding the intern’s roles. Something in handbook, copies of the job description posted on Monster, maybe even correspondence via email. Put yourself into a position where you can say something like, “I went back in my archives and found this email from Jane from when we first started this internship, indicating what we’re looking for in this role – I’d like to make an argument for staying in line with her vision but I’m open to other thoughts.”

    1. OP#3*

      Our interns are unfortunately unpaid (but this is being reviewed). So you make a good point – I feel that there is therefore more justification for taking on less experienced candidates.

      More experienced candidates have become bored in the role in the past. I’ve found the people that do the best are those who have some experience of working (service jobs, bars etc) and possibly experience of volunteering etc but have little to no professional office experience.

      Regarding the second point, I think part of the problem is that these internships have been running for decades and managers have become unaligned on what the purpose is – something we definitely need to discuss as an organization.

      Thank you for your advice and comments!

  16. madge*

    I would love to know from OP#1 about the manager’s attitude towards the couple. I think it’s fair to expect a more professional standard of behavior in, say, Chanel than H&M. The notes are inappropriate, *especially* if customers can see them. There’s just no reason to bring that into the workplace, whether it’s retail, office, manufacturing, etc. When people *need* everyone to see their love, you can bet it won’t end well.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “When people *need* everyone to see their love, you can bet it won’t end well.”

      Without getting too derailed here, this is so very true. When you see a big show like this, you can almost count on a crash at some point. The couples I have seen last in their relationships, were adorably quiet about their relationship. Not sure how to explain it, but you could see both people were just rock solid people, going about their day and their work. Each knew the other was there for them. Sort of a still waters run deep type of thing.

      1. LQ*

        While I’d like to agree I do think that a couple things play into this. When quiet in their relationship people break up, you might not have even known they were with someone so you might be overlooking their failed relationships because you simply don’t see them. When loud in their relationship people last they are often loud about other things so you don’t go out that super loud person is still with someone for the last 40 years, you say, they complain about every job they have, or whatever.

        I still hope you’re right though.

        1. afiendishthingy*

          You make a really good point. Statistically more couples are going to break up rather than be together forever – which is ok! – and we don’t have much clue what’s going on with the quiet ones. Nevertheless, needing to be this public – can you not put the happy thursday heart heart heart heart note in their locker, windshield, etc? – does suggest some insecurity.

      2. Oryx*

        So much yes. I had two friends who were constantly posting on each other’s FB walls with terms of endearment that was sacchrine to the point of obnoxious. But, of course, part of their reasons for doing so were so everyone else could see it and comment and like and all of that.

        Their break-up a couple months later imploded all over FB as well, but in a completely different way.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Ugh, the #blessed humblebrag. I got reamed by a serial offender for posting a meme that made fun of this. Did I hit a nerve there, darlin’? ;)

          I really don’t want to see that stuff at work.

      3. Allison*

        I have to agree. Not that you need to keep your relationship a big secret in order to be strong, but there are definitely times where public notes like the ones OP mentioned (or, more commonly, those annoying, cutesy-wootsie Facebook comments) give me either a “marking one’s territory” vibe, or a “flaunting the relationship as a symbol of status and success” vibe, and neither looks good.

  17. HRish Dude*

    #4 – Obviously, I only know what I’ve read here, but I’m a little concerned that your girlfriend was offered a job and, because she didn’t like the salary she was offered, is considering contacting a lawyer. I feel like when you’re at “contact a lawyer” – whether it be reasonable or unreasonable – you should start looking for another job.

    1. OP4*

      Agreed but after almost 10 years with the company I think she’s just trying to hold out another year until her degree is done and she can move on to something she really loves.

  18. michelenyc*

    OP#1 When I worked in luxury goods; I admit it has been quite a while. If a manager or supervisor was dating someone within the store that person was moved to a different department. It only happened once and the manager was moved to Women’s RTW from Mens RTW. He was/is an amazing salesperson so they did not want to move him from mens since he had such a strong customer base. I know the notes are annoying and I am sure as others have said above when and if it ends it will be messy!

    1. Polly*

      When I worked retail, the store manager started dating an employee. When another female employee finally called HR with the laundry list of sexually harassing things he had said and/or done to other female employees, corporate simply moved him to another store. The employee he was dating quit and moved with him.

  19. Camellia*

    FMLA protects your job. It is unpaid leave. If you want to get paid you have to use PTO, sick days, vacation days, whatever you have. If you also have short term disability with a qualifying absence, for example you have to be out for seven days before STD kicks in, and you want to be paid those seven days, again you would need to use PTO, etc.

  20. Kvaren*

    “but the most recent ones had what were unmistakably tiny breasts drawn on them, circles with dots in the middle.”


    1. Liz T*

      There is a story I tell sometimes when I teach SAT prep that involves me replicating someone’s chalkboard drawing of boobs—just two circles with a dot in the middle. Half the time I draw them they’re obviously boobs, and half the time they look like eyes, and I have no idea what the actual difference is.

      1. Cici*

        Stephen Colbert did a bit about this exactly on his show about a month ago. It’s the smile you draw underneath!

  21. Faith*

    every time I have to work with either of them I feel angrier and angrier that they’ve made us all so involved in their private lives.

    This is a bit over-dramatic, IMO. How exactly did they make you “so involved”? Are they having loud sex in the office bathroom? Are they having fights and creating and uncomfortable and tense work environment for the rest of you? Are they hanging up banners in the hallway proclaiming their undying love for each other?

    Yes, they are posting unprofessional notes in the workplace. I assume, those notes are the size of a regular post-it, so you should not be forced to re-read those notes over and over again. So, while you absolutely should tell them to knock it of with the boob pictures and potentially raise concerns about the promoting someone who would be supervising their romantic partner, “getting angry” is a bit of an overkill.

  22. Jane Gloriana Villanueva*

    I hope, OP#1, that your manager puts the kibosh on open displays of the relationship within the workplace. I had a retail job through the fall and winter several years ago right after my manager got married to a manager of the store just across the concourse at the mall. Meanwhile, my manager took up with another employee and didn’t bother to hide it; plus they ended up locking the door to the back office fairly often, affecting the work of everyone on the sales floor during the Christmas rush. I spoke up to manager about the behavior (do whatever wretched things you are doing on your own time and at least let us work!) and was punished by proxy. Manager made effort to behave while I was on my shifts (other coworkers were not so lucky!), but another coworker felt protective of her work bff (the mistress) and started a nasty rumor about me and a different married coworker. My manager’s wife would come to the entrance of her store and glare at me across the concourse!

    Jeez, when I write it out now, what drama there was! Relationships are possible in the workplace, but should be quieter than quiet.

    I should note that I blame all of this on immaturity but not age. The regional manager made several surprise drop-ins throughout the holiday season and noticed something was awry; right after I quit and moved away, my manager was fired and the assistant manager made head of the store. She was 19 and a born leader. She had always run interference for us as much as she could, but with the right to say yes and no, things changed dramatically for the better. The store was always spotless, there were no back room duck-club-wannabe happenings, the schedule was known in advance, the business did better financially (however, in an unfortunately overall-doomed chain), and the employees were so much happier. Things can escalate quickly in situations like this, so I really hope OP’s manager addresses workplace happenings now.

  23. Jane*

    On #1, I’ve been in a workplace romance before (we’re now engaged and no longer work together) and this sounds nuts. I would be embarrassed behaving this way — sounds like something straight out of junior high. I think Alison’s advice is spot on but also wanted to second the thoughts of the poster who said that you need to try to not let it bother you so much. Being angry at work sucks – believe me, I’ve been there and there is a lot of stress and button-pushing going on at my job (I don’t think people do it intentionally, but I nevertheless find myself getting angry from time to time) and I constantly have to remind myself to take a breath and take a step back and cool down. Regardless of what it is, co-workers will always do something to push your buttons and how you react often has a bigger impact on you than the initial behavior that triggers the reaction. Its so hard not to react, but at least being conscious of it and trying to disassociate from the reaction will make your life at work a lot more peaceful.

  24. Middle Name Jane*

    To Letter #2:

    What is with these people? Sounds like the kids I went to school with who always wanted to know my grades, my SAT score, my GPA, etc. It’s nobody’s business but your own. Stick to your guns and don’t reveal your performance review details. When kids used to ask me about academics, I never would tell them. I once had a “friend” who said if I didn’t tell her what I made on the most recent History of Teapots test, that I must have failed it. Whatever. I like to keep things private, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  25. DEJ*

    I work in a profession where it’s not unusual for someone to have several internships before getting a full-time job. I can promise you that at every place that I worked at, I learned something new, even though I was doing the same kinds of tasks at each internship. I learned how different organizations did things, about working with different types of people and different cultures within organizations. An internship can be about so much more than the job itself. And if you say that it’s a great internship for experience, I’m not surprised that you’re getting people who have experience but are looking to strengthen their resumes before going for the full-time gig.

    It might be beneficial to ask them during the interview process why they want the internship and then go from there depending on their answer.

  26. newlyhr*

    FMLA protects your job during your absence. It’s not about being paid or not paid. . A lot of people get in trouble with attendance issues even if they have the paid sick leave to cover it. (see previous posts on this blog about taking paid sick leave).

    We have a problem here where I work with a woman who has taken FMLA every year for the past 5 years as soon as she is eligible again for it. She doesn’t care that it isn’t paid time. She wants the time off and has about a million qualifying family members who regularly and mysteriously get sick right about the first of the summer. She should be an FMLA auditor for the federal government because I guarantee you she understands the law better than the guy who wrote it. I swear she has a “pocket doc” that she pays to assure that her leave is approved.

  27. newlyhr*

    We have a person here who understands the FMLA laws better than the guy who wrote it. Every year for the past 6 years, like clock work, she has applied for and been awarded FMLA. She has more qualifying family members than I have ever seen. And the same doctor fills out the forms. She has filed numerous EEOC and HR complaints against us, all of which have been deemed without merit, so our boss is reluctant to challenge her. She doesn’t care that the leave is unpaid, she wants the time off and she gets it. We were just saying yesterday that its time for her to submit another FMLA application, and guess what, this morning we received one.

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