employer is asking me to do a major project for free, paying for my coworkers’ water, and more

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

1. Prospective employer is asking me to do a major project for free

I’ve been working in a sales role for a brand represented my company. With full support of my existing employer, I have pitched myself to the brand for a future role. It would be a hybrid marketing/sales and management role, all of which I have done in previous jobs. It didn’t exist as a role but I identified gaps in their existing and future markets and thought it was worth a shot.

While I realize they weren’t expecting this and need to test my abilities and thinking, as well as my theories, I have been asked to complete a task, and I really don’t know if this is normal. The brand has been very positive and responsive, but have come back to me with a brief, and asked me to give a “formal brand response,” upon which which they would then develop a strategy and implement while theoretically taking me on in the role. They have given me almost two weeks to complete the task, it involves a lot of research and planning, and in exchange they can’t provide me with a reasonable answer to what kind of a role I would have, if it would be part or full time, or what the salary would be. They have asked for actual costing, budgets, projections, new market entry strategy, target audience research, growth drivers, setting KPIs, and targeted sales and marketing plans for three countries for three years.

My gut is saying “beware.” I’m reluctant to provide a full-scale plan without an indication of whether I have the role – what if they take my strategy and move on? I realize that equally they could take the strategy and hire me, but is this normal? I fear it may be a case of them taking the milk without buying the cow.

It’s increasingly common for employers to ask to see candidates in action at some point during the hiring process — to do exercises or simulations that demonstrate what their work is actually like. This is a good thing when it’s managed properly because it can dramatically improve hiring decisions (and that’s good for candidates too, because it decreases the odds that you’ll end up in a job that you’re not right for). But those exercises should be no more than an hour, or two hours at the most — not the sort of project that you’re describing here. What they’re asking for is way, way too much unless they’re going to pay you for it.

I’d say this to them: “I absolutely understand the need for you to get a sense of my work, and I’d be glad to provide a short simulation to let you see my work in action. I don’t feel comfortable taking on a project of this magnitude without an employment agreement, but perhaps we could talk about whether there’s a less intensive version that would get you the information you need so you can make a decision? Or, I’d be glad to do it via a short-term consulting agreement.”

Of course, be aware that whenever you push back on something during a hiring process, there’s a chance that your balking will make the employer balk and things will fall apart. I think that’s a reasonable consequence to accept here — because, again, what they’re asking you to do is unreasonable — but you’ll need to decide that for yourself before you act.

2. I’m paying for water for a bunch of my colleagues

I need a way of asking my coworkers to chip in on the water for the cooler. Our employer will provide water cooler jugs, but we have to pay for it ourselves. The five-gallon jugs cost $5 each and we go thru at least 15 a month. So far, a manager and I have absorbed the complete cost and we are not happy about it. It seems that since folks have found out that there’s a working cooler here (from my understanding, before I arrived it had been dry for three years), they come and come and come. I need a creative way to say “hey, pitch in!”

You don’t need a creative way to say that. (Why do people always want to put creative spins on straightforward messages?) You just need to be direct. It’s likely that your coworkers don’t realize that you and another colleague are personally funding this water supply, since it’s pretty normal for employers to cover that cost. So let them know, and ask if the other water-drinkers are willing to work out an arrangement to share the costs. I’d say this: “Jane and I have been paying for the water jugs for the cooler ourselves. It’s $5 a jug, and about $75 a month. If people want to continue having water there, can we come up with a system for sharing the costs?”

That said, this stuff can often be hard to work out fairly, and it sounds like you might also have people from outside your team coming and drinking from it … so if you can’t find a pretty quick solution that feels fair, I’d be prepared to just stick to individual water supplies (like bottled water that you buy for yourself rather than using the cooler).

3. What’s the ethical approach in this weird temp employment mess?

I’m currently in kind of a strange position at work. Company A hired Company B to do some administrative work. Company B pushed that off on to Temp Company C, who hired me, along with two other workers, for what was supposed to be a two-month project. This was my first job out of college, and I received no training at all for the position. A solid year later, I’m still working on the project, while the others were let go.

Over the last couple months, Company A decided that they want to step up the speed on the project, so they asked Company B for more people. Since then, it’s become uncomfortably clear that Company B lied outright about their recruiting and training methods. They’ve been claiming that they have a stable of well-trained employees ready to be dispatched at a moment’s notice, while they’re still using the same temp company that recruited me to find people, and (as of the last month) having me train them on the job. This feels wrong, for obvious reasons, but I’m not sure if I can speak up without endangering my position. Do I have any obligation to tell them that the new hires are, well, new and inexperienced, and actually slowing everything down? Who would I even talk to, to confront them about this? Am I just overreacting?

Ugh. Your employer here is Company C and to a lesser extent Company B, which puts you in a particularly difficult position with Company A.

Absent any other information, I’d say that you shouldn’t go out of your way to speak up about this, but you shouldn’t lie. If you’re asked about it, you should be honest and straightforward.

But it’s also possible that there are specifics of your situation that I don’t know that would make it easier for you to speak up proactively. For example, if you work closely with decision-makers at Company A and have the kind of relationship with them where you could tip them off about this without it coming back to bite you, that would be an argument in favor of doing it.

4. Giving notice right before my boss goes on vacation

I work for a small (10 people) company. I am a member of the management team (one of two directors), and my boss is the principal. The only other person more senior than me is my boss’ wife, who serves as the COO.

I have been in talks with a new company for a while, and an offer might be coming soon. Here’s the twist: I expect the offer to come either late this week or early next. My boss leaves for vacation next Thursday, and will be gone through the following week. His wife will be away with him as it’s a family vacation.

Based on the timelines I’ve discussed with the potential new employer, I would like to tender my resignation Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. I’d be giving 2.5 weeks notice in that scenario but I have 1-2 days off already scheduled in there (thus my desire to offer slightly more than two weeks).

How should I handle resigning right before he leaves? I don’t want to ruin the man’s vacation and I don’t want to burn any bridges with this job. Realistically, though, I’m not sure I could wait until the Monday when he returns.

You’re probably not going to ruin his vacation, but even if you do, you don’t have a choice; if this is the timeframe that ends up making sense for your notice, that’s when you need to give it. This kind of thing happens, and he’ll survive.

You’re being more courteous by giving it earlier than waiting until he’s back and giving him less time to plan the transition. Yes, it means he may end up doing work on his vacation, but it should be his choice whether or not to do that — with full information about the situation — rather than you trying to manage his reaction for him.

5. How to reclaim tips from an employer

This is a question on behalf of my husband. He works for a husband/wife catering team who basically focus on corporate catering (but also periodically will handle full-serve events). Right now, he is working for them as a “jack-of-all-trades,” including food prep, delivery, and as a bartender/event staff. He found out through one of the sale managers that many customers are including gratuities on both deliveries and events. His job is not gratuities-based; he does make a decent hourly salary from this company. However, because he has worked for them for the past year, the missing gratuities total probably works out to over $1,000 (totaling more that he makes in a week, actually.)

He has (non-aggressively) confronted the owners about this, and has been told that they did not keep track of these gratuities (basically considering them income for the business). There IS a way for the tips to be tracked through the ordering software, but it consists of comparing the order total to the actual payment, and would take a pretty significant chunk of time. One of the owners promised him that it would be sorted out “by March,” but, of course, nothing has been done yet.

I know that it’s pretty small beans in the grand scheme of things, but $1,000 would really help us out. Is there a diplomatic (but firm) way for him to demand his money? (I’ll also note that he is actively looking for another position to get out of that company, so is not super worried about keeping that job long term.)

If your husband qualifies as a “tipped employee” under federal law (meaning that he regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips), then it’s illegal for his employer to confiscate his tips. They are allowed to require tip-sharing among employees, but they can’t just confiscate the money. Here’s the law.

The big question in his case is probably whether or not he qualifies as a tipped employee as the law defines it.

But even if he’s not covered under the law, they told him that it would be sorted out by March, and it’s reasonable for him to follow up on that. (Keep in mind, though, that it’s the early part of of March; I wouldn’t assume yet that they’ve let it drop.) I’d start by just saying, “Where are we on correctly distributing those gratuities to the people they were supposed to be directed toward?”

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 309 comments… read them below }

  1. Mando Diao*

    OP2: Your employer has to provide drinking water for the office. If the employees have access to tap water, bottled water isn’t required, but if there’s a reason why people find it difficult to hop into a kitchen or bathroom to get some water, it becomes the employer’s obligation to pay for it.

    Of course, this is one of those workplace issues that can be more complicated than it seems.

    1. INTP*

      This reminds me of my wacky old workplace where my coworkers would sit around getting dehydrated and accuse the company of depriving us of drinking water when the water cooler ran out.

      The sink was 100% accessible, my coworkers just literally refused to drink tap water to the point that they preferred to become dehydrated. I’m not sure if it was a snobbery thing (as one coworker said, “I don’t even give tap water to my dog!”) or they just truly had no idea that tap water is potable, but they thought they were being deprived of water by only having access to tap rather than bottled for a few days. I almost felt mean for slurping up my tap water in front of them while they were dramatically whining about dehydration, but I got over it when I realized they probably think I’m totally disgusting and classless for drinking it. (Given recent events I know we can’t take for granted that all tap water is safe to drink, but this city’s was perfectly safe with no weird flavors.)

      Eventually we lost our cold water privileges because morale took such a hit if the cooler ran out between deliveries that they stopped refilling the cooler at all to install a filter on the sink. People were willing to drink the filtered water without question.

      1. Remizidae*

        Yeah, I have no clue why people would want to pay for water when it’s already free. If you are picky about taste, well, that’s something you should try to overcome, because drinking nontap costs you money and is bad for the environment.

        1. Seal*

          Years ago I worked in a lovely old library that had been built in the 1920s. Unfortunately, there was something about the plumbing in that building that made the water that came out of the beautifully ornate marble drinking fountains taste like the nastiest garden hose water imaginable. Worse, the building wasn’t air conditioned and it got very hot in the summer; people needed access to potable water. To everyone’s surprise and relief, the normally stingy administration sprang for a water cooler. We were the envy of the other libraries in the system, despite the fact that they had modern buildings with air conditioning and filtered drinking fountains.

        2. TowerofJoy*

          Not all tap water is equal. Flint is an extreme case, but there are plenty of places where they are overdoing or under adding the chemicals they put in to the water to make it potable. Or arsenic or lead or other unwanted chemicals are leaching into the system. That’s not to say bottled or filtered water is universally better, obviously, but I think there are reasons beyond just the taste that people are concerned about.

        3. Searching*

          Also-If any of your coworkers are originally from other countries, there are many many places around the world (and increasingly in the US) where drinking tap water is not safe.

        4. Stranger than fiction*

          It depends where you live. The drinking water around here is questionable. I’ll drink it when out of the bottled stuff, cook with it, etc. But i definitely prefer to drink filtered bottled water.

        5. MsChandandlerBong*

          I have chronic kidney disease, so I don’t drink my tap water due to its high mineral content. The risk of it causing problems is probably low, but when I only have 35% of my kidney function, I’m not going to ingest anything that might damage my kidneys or make my kidneys work harder. That said, I’d be willing to bet for every one person who has a legitimate reason for not drinking tap water, the other nine are just picky.

        6. manybellsdown*

          The museum that I volunteer at has, in the break room, both a refrigerator that dispenses ice and water, a separate water cooler, and a sink. But people have complained that there’s no bottled water in the vending machine. Oh, and we also have a cafe, where bottled water IS sold …

        7. Sketchee*

          I think many people are happy to imagine that much of their lives are out of their control. It is somehow mentally easier than facing the difficulty of buying a filtered water bottle. Normal human psychology is often contrary in funny ways

      2. katamia*

        Eh. I drink tap water normally, but the town I went to college in had tap water I couldn’t drink. It was perfectly potable, but the taste was so bad I couldn’t drink it without gagging. And I know it was just me. Friends who grew up in the area drank it without any problems, while I couldn’t even brush my teeth with it. Not even toothpaste could cover that flavor, and even now it boggles my mind a bit that no one else ever seemed to notice that horrible flavor.

        Not that I’m saying that was the issue with your coworkers, but it’s not always snobbery or ignorance.

        1. Felicia*

          Similarly, i visited a friend half way across the country, and her tap water and all the tap water in that area tasted gross and wrong to me, but she thought it was fine. When she visited me, she thought the same about our tap water. Different areas definitely have differently tasting tap water, and if I moved to wear my friend lives i wouldn’t drink the tap water, but I drink it all the time here.

          Though I would also not complain like your coworkers did and figure out a solution myself

          1. Allison*

            I grew up in the Boston area, and for some reason, Cambridge tap water has always tasted weird to me. I have no idea why, but I get that some places just have different tasting tap water. It’s also normal to feel sick when drinking the tap water in an area you’re not used to. I also think some people are more sensitive to this than others.

            1. bearing*

              I live in a northern city that draws its water from a river. The water tastes differently depending on the season, and is worst in the spring. I never get used to it because it’s constantly changing. A filter does the trick — if I get up in the middle of the night, I’m going downstairs to the kitchen, not drinking a cup from the bathroom tap.

              I’m really sensitive to off flavors though — I am one of those people who habitually sniffs all milk cartons before pouring myself a glass, and won’t drink it or put it in my tea if I detect any scent whatsoever.

              1. Artemesia*

                I lived in Nashville for years and there the tap weather tasted and smelled like tent canvas during parts of the year when algae and such was blooming in the water source. I grew up in a town that drank mountain water and it always tasted great and now drink great lakes water and it tastes fine — but there are lots of towns near the southern coast and that rely on lakes and rivers where the water tastes gross year round.

            2. another IT manager*

              Somerville resident here. Cambridge tap water is the WORST. Boston, Somerville, and Arlington are all sweet, but Cambridge tastes stale and metallic. I have a friend on Cambridge water, and I always make sure to fill up my water bottle before I go to her place.

            3. Just Another Techie*

              Hah! I just moved from Cambridge to a neighboring (cheaper) suburb and the tap water tastes *so weird* I’m forcing myself to drink it because what else are you gonna do? But it’s still bizarre. So much so that when I visit friends in Cambridge I avoid drinking their water because I don’t want to remind myself what water is ‘supposed’ to taste like.

          2. INTP*

            I totally get preferring the taste of some waters over others and tap water isn’t my favorite type – I just didn’t get sitting around becoming dehydrated instead of taking a sip!

            1. the gold digger*

              My aunt and uncle own a commercial stables and give trail rides lasting one or two hours to tourists. This is in the mountains and it is not very hot.

              The customers will be shocked that my uncle will go out on a horse for two hours without a bottle of water for himself. He tells them, “I am 81 years old and have not dehydrated to death yet.”

              1. ZuKeeper*

                I used to work at a livery stable in the Rocky Mountains, we never had water on rides. If it was hot we’d come in and drink straight out of the hose (best water ever, I swear!). The biggest problem was dust. But tourists actually need to drink more water here, since the altitude can really make you ill.

                I’ve been spoiled by the water here, when I go back to visit my mom in the Midwest here water tastes terrible.

            1. Windchime*

              Or buying themselves a Brita filtered pitcher. When we moved into this building at work, the water tasted terrible. I bought a cheap Brita pitcher and had clean, delicious water until they finally installed a filter on the tap.

        2. Kelly L.*

          Yes! My college town too. It tasted like bad milk or something. Too much calcium? IDK. The only way I could drink it was to either drink it so cold I couldn’t taste it, or make coffee or tea out of it.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Ick. Ours has a slight bleach taste. (it’s probably chlorine or something used in the processing).

            1. Hornswoggler*

              I use a Brita filter but then leave the water for a day. The chlorine disappears (I wouldn’t like to hazard the exact scientific term – but basically after a day there is no more chlorine in the water). It always tastes lovely.

              The reason I filter it is because my office is in a very old house with horrible pipes. We’re not even really sure how old the house is – 250-300 years, but there has probably been a house on the site a lot longer.

        3. ThatGirl*

          Orlando-area municipal water has an odd, swampy taste to me. When we go to Disney World etc we take a filter water bottle along (the Bobble bottle, it’s great) and that really helps with the taste. I’d drink it if I were desperate, it’s not quite so bad as you describe, but I can certainly understand not wanting to drink otherwise potable water in some cases.

          1. Squeegee Beckenheim*

            Orlando water immediately came to mind for me too. I’ll drink it if there are no other options, but I’d prefer not to drink swamp water if possible.

          2. Cleopatra Jones*

            YES! this.
            I’ve visited several cities in FL, and to me the water either tastes and smells like dirty fish tank water or swamp. I can’t stomach the taste or smell. yuck!

            1. Velociraptor Attack*

              I’m from north Florida originally and the tap water there is pretty awful. A friend of mine recently visited Orlando and she asked me ahead of time how the tap water was. I went off on a very long rant about it.

              South Florida’s water wasn’t too bad when I lived there but I’m just in the habit now of never drinking tap water. I spent too much of my life avoiding tap water because it was bad, I don’t trust it now.

        4. INTP*

          I know there are specific places with bad tap water, but I don’t think that was the case here. For one, they discussed their annoyance at length every two weeks when the water ran out, and no one ever mentioned a specific taste or chemical concern or anything like that. One person mentioned preferring the taste of bottled (which I get, but not even choking it down when you’re dehydrated I don’t get) but the rest had no real complaints other than it’s tap water and you don’t drink tap water. The city published its annual water quality report to the public so it was far less likely to have sketchy chemicals no one knows about than most brands of bottled water. They would all drink any brand of bottled water without worrying about taste safety and when we got the filter no one asked for details to see if it was actually an effective filter that would filter whatever chemical they cared about.

          TL;DR I get what you’re saying but in this case it really was weirdness about tap water.

          1. Marketeer*

            The town I grew up in had a water supply that was contaminated so I’m conditioned not to drink tap water; but what I don’t understand is why wouldn’t they go buy a bottle instead of “dehydrating?”

            I always bring my own bottled water places because I know that some people drink tap and don’t buy bottled.

            1. INTP*

              They would go buy bottles, but they would be really angry about it. In their view, an employer should provide access to free drinking water, which I agree with, but since they didn’t think you could drink tap water they thought they were being deprived of water access by not having purchased water available free at all times.

        5. Michaela T*

          I happily drink tap water, and have never had a problem with drinking it in any travels around the USA…

          Except in Phoenix, where the taste literally made me gag. Like, I dreaded showering in case some got in my mouth. So weird! I don’t think of myself as being sensitive to either tastes or smells, I don’t know what it was.

          1. Nanc*

            Oh I’m with you on the Phoenix (and I was born there, but moved away when I was 5). Whenever I go back to visit I stock up on bottled water. It’s not just the taste–it seems to have a funny texture, too.

        6. ThursdaysGeek*

          That’s why I won’t drink Costco bottled water — it tastes bitter and nasty. I like tap water, and the filtered water our company provides is fine. I’ll refill bottles with tap water. The only water I won’t drink is Costco water.

      3. AvonLady Barksdale*

        People are strange about tap water, and some are even strange about water that doesn’t come from a bottle. When I worked for a giant company in NYC (best-tasting tap water in the US!), we had a filtered water dispenser but people still ordered cases and cases of bottled water. I got lots of funny looks when I filled up my plastic cup or bottle from that filtered dispenser. Probably a combination of snobbery and media-instilled fear of plumbing and/or water sources.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I am dying laughing at “I don’t even give tap water to my dog!” What a pretentious bunghole.

        The only time I drink bottled water is when I don’t have a water container of my own. On holiday, I would buy a tiny bottle of water and then keep refilling it because my airplane bottle was huge and I didn’t want to lug it everywhere. I stuck the tiny bottle in my purse. We have a water cooler (I assume it’s filtered) at work here, but I just use the tap. Now if I poured it on my plant and it died, I probably wouldn’t drink it (!!), but Horace seems to think it’s fine. :)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          And I realize that sounded really rude, and I’m sorry. I just cannot understand why someone would choose to dehydrate themselves rather than just buy a bottle of water (or fill it at home and bring it) or drink out of the tap.

          1. INTP*

            They would go buy water eventually, they would just be so angry about it that productivity really slowed down for a few days. They thought that the employer was depriving them of access to free and accessible drinking water by allowing the delivered water to run out and not immediately going to purchase bottled water for them. It didn’t even compute that tap water is a type of potable drinking water.

          2. JessaB*

            Especially since a Brita bottle or something similar is not expensive and has a filter in it. If you hate the tap water (I was always okay in NY, and Florida was fine (I was up in Ocala,) but OMG the water in Ohio? Just no.) So we have filter pitchers (we had one on the sink but we got a new faucet in the apartment that won’t take a filter without a bunch of extra fittings,) so we bought 3 Brita pitchers, and we fill our travel bottles from them. But when we’re on the road going places we don’t know about the water, we bring travel bottles that have their own filters in them.

            1. the gold digger*

              I like that scene in the movie where Minnie Driver is a waitress who gets a heart transplant. She has obnoxious customers who want fancy bottled water, so she gets a bottle from the back, opens it, dumps the contents into the sink, refills it with tap water, puts the cap back on, and takes that out to her customers.

        2. ThatGirl*

          I will say that person sounds awfully pretentious phrasing it that way BUT …my stepmom and dad give their dog filtered water (filtered through a Brita pitcher, not bottled) because she says the minerals aren’t good for the dog’s kidneys or something?? And she’s like the least snobby person I know. That might be specific to their area’s tap water, though. We give our dog tap water and he’s just fine.

          1. Artemesia*

            Dogs happily drink from the toilet, baring a medical issue, I am not worrying about the dog’s water.

          2. Alienor*

            Yeah, I give my cat filtered water from the fridge dispenser because she drinks a LOT more of it than tap water–not sure whether it’s because it tastes better or because it’s cold. Cats have a tendency not to drink enough, which is bad for their urinary and digestive systems, so I figure anything that gets her drinking is a good thing.

        3. Creag an Tuire*

          I’d be sorely tempted to reply: “Sure you do, where do you think the water in the toilet comes from?”

      5. nonegiven*

        I wouldn’t drink the tap water in this town if I was dying. It tastes nasty. I tried filtering it with a pitcher, I ran it through as many as 5 times, it still tasted nasty. Also, the city is required to send out an EPA notice about contamination, periodically.

    2. sam*

      well, based on the recent news that is coming out of various jurisdictions after the Flint water crisis, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that tap water is potable without further evidence (Actually listening to NPR at this very moment report on the fact that Newark apparently has “neglected” to read any of their water reports *ever* and now it turns out their water is also entirely filled with lead).

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        Yup…it just came out that 45% of water suppliers across Texas failed to test for copper and lead. And all they needed to was send out a notice saying they failed to test.

      2. INTP*

        This city publishes its annual water quality report online to the public, in a whole pamphlet meant for the public with explanations of what things mean. No one ever mentioned having read the water report, so I don’t think they were concerned about what was in it, they just blindly trusted all brands of bottled water and all types of water filters but refused to drink tap water on principle.

        1. KC*

          i think people can be incredible ignorant about the sources of something as basic as water. they probably don’t realize that the source of some bottled water is the same as some tap water (ex. municipal water supply).

    3. AnotherAlison*

      Does no one else’s office have those water filter/cooler/heater things that are plumbed in?

      Ours have ongoing costs because they’re managed by a 3rd party company, but I’m assuming you could buy one and install it in your office yourself. Filters can be expensive, but I would think it’s less than $75/mo, and no one has to replace a bottle.

      1. ThatGirl*

        We have a big water cooler/ice machine that filters the water (and a separate hot water tap on the coffee maker). Tastes pretty good to me.

      2. AVP*

        Yes – we have this too, managed by Poland Spring, and I think it’s more like $15-20 / month. It plugs into the wall like a normal cooler but it’s also hooked into the tap system so it’s just filtered tap water. It can heat and cool. It’s sooo much cheaper than the jugs we had been going through before this!

    4. WaterLover*

      I work for a government agency, so my office does not pay for filtered water. My office has a “water club” for people who want filtered water. Members of the water club each pay $5 per month. To prevent non-water club members from “stealing” filtered water, there are several signs on the water cooler informing people that only water club members can drink the water, along with a list of the paid members. There are still water options for those that do not wish to join the club: sink water, a non-filtered water fountain, and the non-filtered fridge water. The water club appeals to people who really like the taste of crisp, clean water. Water clubs are very common throughout my agency.

  2. Bee Eye LL*

    Op #1 – If it doesn’t feel right, go with your gut instinct. Sounds like they are trying to get free work out of prospects. I once had an interview like that once where the guy wanted me to create a customized computer program complete with his branding and expected me to turn it in the following day. We’re talking several hours of work involved. I told him I was no longer interested.

      1. MK*

        I think’s that’s a pretty long stretch in this particular situation. This company didn’t advertise for a role, the OP went to them and basically told them they should create a position for her. Probably they do need this position, but it also makes sense that it’s on her to demonstrate why and how it is necessary, the way a normal candidate wouldn’t have to. That being said, I wouldn’t do two weeks of work for free. Even if they aren’t being devious about this, it’s too much to ask from someone who doesn’t work for you.

        1. neverjaunty*

          I don’t think it is a stretch at all given they want her to prepare a two-week project. That’s not “show us your skills.” That’s “we’ll trade you the hope of a job for hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of work.”

          1. LBK*

            But it’s the OP who made that kind of big, risky proposal in the first place, which was “trade me tens of thousands of dollars in salary and benefits for a job you haven’t even decided needs to exist yet.” It’s not at all comparable to if they’d asked for this in the course of a normal hiring situation.

            1. #1*

              If I understand this correctly, the OP is not asking for tens of thousands of dollars. She is asking for an at-will employment opportunity with the potential to earn tens of thousands of dollars were she to stay on the job long enough. The hiring organization can keep her work and employ her for a month, a week, a day, or not at all. The risk is all on OP with zero consideration in return.

              1. LBK*

                I get the sense from your comments that you’ve been burned before in this regard. The dynamic you’re setting up here isn’t reflected in the reality of the situation – I don’t think you’re giving enough weight to the fact that the OP is the one who went to this company and proposed this whole idea. It would be a pretty bad business model for the company to just sit around hoping consultants will show up to pitch them ideas so they could rip off their work and/or hire them and quickly fire them just to get cheap labor

                Also, there is absolutely risk to the company, as there is with any hiring decision. Sure, in the long run big corporations aren’t going to go out of business because they made one bad hire, but to suggest there’s no risk in hiring forgets that there’s people at the company other than those evil, greedy executives at the top. Bad hires hurt morale for everyone around that employee, they tank productivity and they often do have a serious monetary impact to that department’s budget, which in turn affects everyone else in the department.

                1. TootsNYC*


                  And sure, the company can lay any employee off any time they want (barring contracts), but if they start down the road she is suggesting, they’re going to “give it the old college try” by sticking with it for a while at least.

                  I sure would side-eye any company who created a new position and then 3 weeks later eliminated it!

                2. #1*

                  I didn’t say there was zero risk in hiring. I said that the company is assuming zero risk *in this arrangement*, where the OP is asked to deliver a significant project with no obligation from the company to provide anything in return.

                3. LBK*

                  But that risk is in balance to the risk the OP is asking them to take. If she wants them to take a risk in hiring her for this position they aren’t sure they need, it’s equitable for her to take on some risk that after doing this work, they still won’t want to hire her.

                  As I said elsewhere, I agree with everyone else that 2 weeks of work is way too much, but I don’t think it’s uncalled for that they’d ask for a little more than a 1-2 hour exercise.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Which is why it absolutely makes sense for them to want to evaluate her work carefully – by reviewing her portfolio/past work, by asking her to do a short simulation, and so on. But a two weeks’ project is not just ‘are you any good’, it’s ‘do this work for us for free and perhaps we’ll agree to your proposal’.

              1. LBK*

                And I’ll say again that I agree that 2 weeks of work is too much, but I also understand and agree with wanting more than just 1-2 hours like you’d expect for a normal skills test. It doesn’t sound like the OP has done a role like this before either, just done the type of work it will require in a few separate roles, so I can understand their skepticism.

        2. Shami*

          MK, I was actually referring to Bee Eye’s statement, i.e.:
          “I once had an interview like that once where the guy wanted me to create a customized computer program complete with his branding and expected me to turn it in the following day.”

        3. INTP*

          She’s already made her business case for the position, though. If they aren’t convinced enough by the concept to invest even a little time in discussing or looking at possible budgets, I don’t think that the fine print details that the OP is expected to put together are going to convince them. I don’t think they intentionally commissioned free work out of her to rip her off, but I do think they’re wasting her time.

        4. LBK*

          I agree completely. This is a pretty unusual situation – it’s not that common to pitch a new role within your own company, never mind at another company (even one that you know as a client). I think 2 full weeks worth of work is excessive, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them to expect more than just a 1-2 hour simulation. They’re not trying to have the OP prove that she’s competent enough to do the role, but that this is a role that needs to exist in the first place, and for that I would want to see a pretty fleshed-out example of what this role is going to do that isn’t already covered elsewhere.

          I suspect that’s also why they aren’t able to give any details yet – because they don’t understand enough of how the role will fit in their organization to decide what kind of value it has to them.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I agree–and I think the OP should try to “drive” here by coming back with some proposal of how to give them the info they need that doesn’t take quite this much time.

        5. Yetanotherjennifer*

          It’s the unpaid part of it that bothers me. My husband worked for a week for another company as a pre-offer trial, it’s not uncommon in his industry, but he was paid for it. He didn’t even have to ask; it was a given that the company would pay for his time and expertise.

    1. INTP*

      Yup. Ideally, an example project shouldn’t be something that the company could use as an actual work product. It would be fine to try to get some ideas about their business as an example of how you think, but if for some reason they need to see a major project before they hire you, as a demonstration of good faith it should be an assignment they have no intention of actually using.

      I’m also not convinced they’re actually really open to hiring the OP. They’ve seen her work in sales, they have heard her pitch and know her ideas – she’s already much less of an unknown risk than the typical candidate they hire, yet they’re still not invested enough to even noncommittally discuss what the budget and hours might be, let alone pay the OP as a consultant for the work they’re asking her to do in mapping out the position in far greater detail than positions are normally mapped out when they are officially created and hired for. At the end of the day I don’t think they’re actually open to doing the work required to create this position, they are just procrastinating the decision.

      1. #1*

        “as a demonstration of good faith it should be an assignment they have no intention of actually using”

        No. No matter what they intend to do with the work product, they should not be consuming someone’s labor for free. Period.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hmmm, really disagree. I coach managers all the time to use exercises and simulations (including written work) in hiring and would never hire without doing that myself. It’s crucial to see candidates in action; often that gives you far more crucial info than you get from simply interviewing and talking to references (who may have a different bar for performance or different contexts than you do). Two weeks is absurd, but the overall concept (when kept to an hour or two) is not.

          1. Stephanie (HR)*

            I agree Alison! Demonstrations of skill through exercises and simulations is invaluable in hiring!

            But, I have a big concern, here. I can’t tell from the OP’s post for sure, but it sounds like the labor she will be providing will be on an actual project. It is illegal for the employer to have an applicant do work that benefits the company without paying them, even as a demonstration of skill. The demonstration of skill must not benefit the employer, or they MUST provide compensation. Normal skills tests and presentations are on theoretical projects, but from what the OP wrote, it sounds like she is working on an existing project and will provide significant benefit to the employer. I hope I’m wrong on that count, but I just couldn’t be sure.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Oh yeah, totally disagree with what this particular company is doing. It should be work the employer won’t actually use. Hope that’s clear!

            2. Erin*

              100% agree with you. I don’t think Alison made that super duper clear here, but I knew what she meant from a different post. She’s definitely mentioned before that work done for training purposes cannot actually be used by the company. So unless I’m missing something, if that’s what’s going on here…that is illegal.

          2. #1*

            I know you disagree, and I accept that. Our management philosophies simply differ. I’ve paid many people for small trial projects—I found an excellent editor that way; at the time, she charged $45 an hour, a minor enough gamble—and will continue to do so. Acknowledging people’s labor and compensating them for it is such a small, simple courtesy. It bewilders me that some would-be employers fight it so much.

            1. LBK*

              If it’s a simulation then they aren’t actually doing any work for you, though. Do you compensate people for the time they spend in interviews? What’s the difference asking them questions in an interview (which is basically just a business meeting) and having them prove the answers to those questions?

              1. #1*

                To your point about a “simulation,” let me reiterate that you are still consuming someone’s labor, even if you choose to apply it to something you won’t use. So they are, in fact, doing work for you.

                Your questions are good ones. Consultants (of which I am one) deal with this all the time. The answer is, the conversation should center around the client’s (or employer’s, in this situation) business needs and objectives. Obviously it’s fine to produce qualifications and samples of prior work. It’s also fine to share best practices that are general to the industry or function. Where you draw the line is in producing any work (tangible or intangible) in response to the client’s specifications.

                It’s also a good idea to keep interview discussions to an hour or so, although I’ll generally agree to a followup call or visit with the client’s associates.

                1. LBK*

                  So if an interviewer said to you “Here’s a situation we’ve encountered in our work before. How would you go about resolving this?” you’d stop the interview and request payment before you answered? Because that’s basically all a skills test is, only the answer is in a file instead of in words. I think you’re overestimating what people mean when they talk about a skills test – it’s exactly what you’re talking about, in that it’s a test of generalized industry best practices. It’s not asking them to actually solve an open problem your team is working on with live data.

                2. #1*

                  You can spend all day if you like answering questions and offering advice. I won’t stop you. Neither will I criticize, because some people may have few alternatives but to comply. I merely suggest that folks’ time has value. I believe employers (or clients) should respect it. This is not a bad belief.

                  My suggestion—which you are free to reject—is that an hour of talking shop and presenting qualifications is reasonable. Three hours of sit-down work is not. Where the line falls in between is a judgement call that should give the benefit of the doubt to the laborer.

                3. Sketchee*

                  I agree with the basic concept that time has value. Just as you, the original poster, and Allison have all weighed in, we each have different concepts of how to offer our own value. I personally prefer a grey approach, where I definitely would be willing to do a small bit of work in good faith.

                  If it takes an hour of my time to show what I can do, there’s more value to me than the $100 I might get paid for it. There is more value than pure money. It’s definitely something to be careful of. This isn’t an uncommon approach, I’d certainly have a free conversation or consultation in many circumstances. As a designer, I avoid doing spec work and actual design projects when samples of my work will suffice.

          3. Anon For This*

            Yep. We just recently had a situation where a new hire had to be let go during their probation period because it was REALLY not working out. I’m going to be sitting in on the interviews for the next hire and the hiring manager has suggested the candidates be asked to give a brief presentation on our org based on what they can find online. The reason is the person in this role will be doing outreach and presentations about our program and we want to be able to evaluate how they do.

            However, it is not a two week project. :)

      2. The Butcher of Luverne*

        They have asked for actual costing, budgets, projections, new market entry strategy, target audience research, growth drivers, setting KPIs, and targeted sales and marketing plans for three countries for three years.

        From what OP1 says they expect her to produce, we’re talking in the $25-50,000 range. That is some serious consultancy money. OP would have to work 12-hour days for 2 weeks to get it done.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, that’s a lot of money and a lot of work. A brief proposal would be better, and they could hire the OP as a consultant for the actual project if they didn’t want to create a position for her.

          Just because she approached them doesn’t mean they should take advantage like this. I would run, not walk.

      3. Jennifer*

        I had a friend who applied at Eat24–that’d be the business that fired Talia Jane–and they wanted her to give free work “suggestions” as part of the application process. Skeezy people.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      I agree. But I’d expand the hour or two Alison recommends a bit. My BF has been a product manager and project mgr and he generally spends about a day’s work on whatever assignment a perspective employer gives (admittedly he’s anal so that might be a half day’s work for a normal person though). Probably depends on the job’s level. It’s supposed to be a mock assignment not something they could just use as free work product, but a couple times he has found after being hired they did in fact use or implement what he created so who knows if other places that didn’t hire him are also using his work for free!

  3. INTP*

    #2: I totally agree, just be straightforward. To be honest, if I see a water cooler in a communal location, I assume it’s communal water and that if I were supposed to chip in for the water I would be asked. I would take no offense to being asked to chip in – if anything I’d be embarrassed myself that I had been drinking water people were paying for. You might have some people stop drinking from the water cooler but don’t read anything into that, they are probably just weird and cheap like me and don’t want to pay for cold water when tap water is free.

    1. Artemesia*

      We had one in the area by our bosses office and he invited all of us to use the water. We were horrified to learn much later that the administrative staff were the ones paying for the water. (The boss may have kicked in, I am not sure, but he wasn’t paying the whole tab and the business wasn’t paying for it either) Some people will mooch but most people if they know others are paying for it will kick in or not participate.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        That reminds me that in my work group of around 20 people, we used to have cake and ice cream celebrations for each person’s birthday. Later, when a few of us junior people wanted to plan a nice celebration for one of the assistants, we started asking around how that would work with the company, and we found out that the handful of assistants had been the ones paying out of pocket for all the party food the whole time. And we are a group of well-paid lawyers. It was so mortifying to realize that that practice had been the norm for so long, especially that the partners had been okay with it! (I think it was a hear no evil, see no evil type of scenario because as soon as we questioned it, the practice completely changed.)

        1. Case of the Mondays*

          We had all been eating communal candy in our reception area for a long time. The partners thought the office manager had given the receptionist petty cash to buy it. Turns out, the receptionist had been buying it herself the whole time. No idea why. No one said she needed to have a candy dish and the office manager had given her money in the past to buy candy around the holidays. No idea why she didn’t just say “time to refill the candy dish.”

          1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

            I first started at my job (receptionist) around the holidays; I had a cute candy dish that didn’t go anywhere at home, so I brought it to work and filled it (cost me about $7 – $10 a bag, which was a little painful out of my first few paychecks, when I owed some money to my support system from job searching), but I had my reasons :
            I didn’t mind people coming by to grab some (because A) I was still new and meeting people, and B) not everyone is always very nice to the receptionist/assistant, and virtually no one grabs candy in a malicious/condescending way), but as soon as they found out I was paying for it, I started getting random bags of candy and candy gifts left on my desk.
            Soo not helping my sugar habit..

            Anyway, maybe your receptionist has reasons to do it herself. It would have felt unreasonable for me to go to my office manager and say “Hey, no one talks to me at work, and it’s pretty lonely; I’m alone in my department and completely deprived of meaningful contact/bonding with my coworkers, and yet expected to give them highly individualized results and support; give me some money so I can bribe them to make time for chocolate(and me!)?”

            A five second conversation sounds meaningless, but when it’s all you get and you’re new and can’t leave your desk at all during the day or people complain they can’t find you in a one-minute interval to tell you to do something that “isn’t urgent”…. well, you’re willing to fill a candy dish, for one.

            1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

              I wish I could leave a sign that says “take a candy and a number; I’ll get back to ya!”

          2. Retail HR Guy*

            As someone who used to buy their own candy for the candy dish as an admin, it never bothered me to do so because there was no more cost effective way to purchase good will from your coworkers. (Especially if you made sure that the bowl included certain people’s favorite candies.) I saw it as an indirect investment in my career with the company and money well-spent.

            1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

              Yes! this. It’s a price, although the currency doesn’t mean the same to everyone.

        2. BananaPants*

          When I was pregnant with our second baby, my then-new boss scheduled a “team morale lunch” for the team that ended up being a very uncomfortable Surprise! baby shower of sorts. He paid, but I found out later that he emailed the rest of the group afterward to say, “By the way, everyone owes me $22 for the lunch.” Since then whenever we get together to say goodbye to interns or people leaving the company or whatever, the organizer of the lunch always clarifies in the invite that it’s pay-your-own-way.

          (Note that I had specifically asked him NOT to have any sort of party or celebration, as it was our second baby and there had already been a large informal gathering in the office several years earlier when I was pregnant with our first. I did *not* want my colleagues to be asked to contribute AGAIN to a baby-related gift for me.)

    2. Kelly L.*

      Yep. I think the likeliest answer is that they just don’t realize how it’s paid for, and would chip in if they knew.

  4. Nico M*

    #2 : Put in an expense claim for the water and see what happens.

    #3: Its not an ethical issue – you dont owe loyalty to scoundrels – its a practical one .

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Maybe not an expense claim, but maybe someone could get a quote for monthly water cooler service with delivery and see if the company will pay for it. It’s probably cheaper per bottle than buying them one at a time.

  5. Nico M*

    #1. The employers stance seems suspiciously nice. If i had an employee who had underused skills that could benefit a major client, id be angling for a way to sell them as a service. (And if the pitch was successful, i would reward the employee fairly for bringin in the revenue)

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Agreed — what jumped out at me on this one is that this is an existing client. I’m reading this as OP’s employer being glad to let OP try for this new role because it would be a new role *within OP’s current company*, and would allow the company to start charging the client more for a higher-level service.

      I don’t think that what the client is asking is particularly unusual — at least in the ad agency world, when you pitch for new business, sometimes even when you’re pitching to add new work with an existing client, you have to do a pretty involved demo for free to land the business.

      But! If that’s what’s going on here, I think OP needs to talk to her manager and say, “This is what they’re asking me to do. I’m going to need to take some of my regular duties off my plate to get it done. How can we do that?”

      That is, OP should continue to be paid her full salary by her employer. If she’s still going to be employed by the same company, just selling different services, then her company should be bearing the risk of this new business proposal.

  6. Susan C*

    Ok, I’m gonna be the annoying non-American here: What’s wrong with the scenario in #5? I’m dead serious. Hospitality/food industry basically always operates on paper thin margins, so I’m not sure the employer is capable of just passing on the additional money without cutting down on the base hourly wage in exchange – which is the normal American way, I understand, but by sticking to a reasonable, fixed wage for the employee and taking the less dependable factor of tipping on themselves, I’d say the company is doing him a favor, if anything.

    Related: coincidentally, this week’s Freakonomics podcast featured a New York based restauranteur who is pushing for doing away with tipping in general (albeit for a set of reasons that apply specifically to upscale dining) and has recently implemented a ‘hospitality included’ policy with so far encouraging results (forgot the name of the restaurant – the one within MoMA).

    Again – I understand that this is the way ‘it is done’ in the US, and plenty of people, including servers, like it just fine so I’m not judging. I’m just trying to contribute some outside perspective, so to speak.

    1. Nicole J.*

      That’s interesting. I’m in the UK and I actually work in events for a small caterer, and we pay our staff (all part-time) a decent hourly rate (very close to the living wage rate.) That rate is built into the pricing. We don’t include a gratuity in the billing. If a tip is given we share it out equally among the staff team. I guess really I’m saying that the idea that the gratuity is income for the business feels off to me.

      1. Susan C*

        No, I really completely agree with you. I’m in Germany, and our tipping culture is quite similar to what you describe. I tried to clarify in a reply below, pricing appropriately and making tipping truly optional is imho clearly the better way, but it’s hard to go against cultural norms and customer expectations in this, so I can see this whole thing make sense in a twisted kind of way as attempt to compromise.

    2. Kate*

      There are at least a couple of issues here. Firstly, when a customer or client tips, it’s widely assumed that the tip is going to the person/people providing the service. It’s understood that there might be a tip-sharing system wherein tips are either divided up evenly between all servers, bartenders, etc, or that the server might be required to “tip out” another person or people that assist with the service but aren’t directly tipped (bussers, server assistants, etc.) but I can’t think of any time that I have tipped and assumed that money is going directly to the business. From the other side, it doesn’t sound like this is a policy that is known by the employees either. It sounds like OPs husband was not aware that these tips were being given, which is different than having an across the board policy about not accepting tips. So in this case, it appears, at least to the employee, that the company took something that rightfully belonged to the employee and just hoped he wouldn’t find out about it. That’s a great way to lower your employees’ morale.

      1. Susan C*

        I can see where you’re coming from, and in the end I agree that this was handled badly by the company, but look at it this way – there is no earthly reason why the customer should have any immediate influence on the compensation of their server (and ONLY the server). And yet, the system as established in the US basically takes a large percentage of the wage the wait staff arguably deserves, and says to the customer “you decide.” This is why not tipping is such bad form; it’s essentially a legal form of withholding wages.

        Now, if a company wants to remove that insecurity from their staff* and pay them an adequate wage directly, they have two options – incorporate tips into their pricing structure (arguably the right way, but also a gamble wrt alienating your customers who are used to the ‘normal’ way), or keep the prices low and hope for the best (as usually the servers do).

        *(not unreasonable, especially given that the employee in question is presumably paid the same hourly rate for every gig and e.g. a whole months of kitchen work would be a pretty raw deal compared to one where tips come into play)

        1. Koko*

          But in this case, the company is already paying an adequate wage and has priced their services so that the business stays afloat whether or not the customer tips. It is optional, and it is extra money they have voluntarily decided to give to the cater-waiter because they were pleased with his service.

          This is a very different situation from a waitress at a restaurant making sub minimum wage and depending on tips to scrape by. This is a well-compensated person whose clients are trying to reward him with a bonus, and his employer is taking the bonus.

        2. bearing*

          “there is no earthly reason why the customer should have any immediate influence on the compensation of their server (and ONLY the server).”

          Sure there is. It allows us to reward good service and say “meh” to poor service. Or it allows me to compensate a server if I am part of a table that I know caused extra work (for instance, if my child made a mess or if I spilled a drink).

          For the record, I don’t like the fact that the tipped wage is lower to account for that, and I wish that were otherwise. But I like that I have a direct way of paying more for good service.

          And don’t jump on me about the “meh.” I tip every server I encounter, and 20% is typically the minimum that I tip (I guess if someone was truly awful, and it didn’t appear to be because they were still learning the ropes, I might go down to 15%). 25% is the minimum I tip if I have children with me, as their food costs less and they make more work.

            1. Ineloquent*

              That’s an interesting perspective. Do you have any stats on that?

              I mean, I’m sure that there are jerkfaces who tip based on gender, race, beauty, etc., but I think the vast majority of us tip best for good service and just the standard 15% or whatever for less than awesome service. I will leave an insultingly small tip and a note of explanation on my receipt if the service is truly awful – but that also usually results in me not returning to the restaurant.

              1. fposte*

                I’ve noted some researchers below–if you Google “studies on tipping and attractiveness” or “studies on tipping and race” you’ll find a lot of summaries that will lead you to research.

                Interestingly, it seems to be true in cabs as well–research suggests black drivers are tipped lower than white drivers.

            2. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

              Woah.. was racially majority a typo?
              You’re saying that a person would get tipped better for being part of the racial majority for that area?

              I mean, I’m not arguing; maybe you are right. It’s just that most of my jobs in the past have been as a waitress (at lower-scale bars and higher-scale restaurants), and as I’ve worked in three radically (and racially) different parts of the country, so I feel like I have at least a cursory, general sense of the waiting experience.

              Again, not starting a to-do; just wanting to make sure I understood what you meant there; I’d like to think about that in the context of my own experiences.

              1. Natalie*

                That’s what research has suggested, yes – conventionally attractive and/or racial majority servers get tipped better, regardless of service quality.

                1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

                  So weird!
                  I’m from a very racially-charged, metropolitan part of the South; growing up there, you are subjected to extreme and persistent segregation left over from history that takes over your world view, and contrasted/compared with the racial issues going on in other areas, leads you to take some pretty decisive perspectives on race – either racism is rationalized, fought against tooth-and-nail, or you fall somewhere in the middle, and recognize that it is just a reality you can’t change or embrace.

                  I get the attractiveness bit, but considering that where I come from, the person I meet on the street is just as likely to ignore me or start a fight as a product of my race; it’s such a mixed and dynamic bag, that I really would be interested to know what studies were conducted on this, where they took place – just as someone else mentioned, what the general stats were on this issue. It’s an interesting result, to be sure!

                2. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

                  Also, is it the majority that tips this way?
                  Or just enough of the population to *significantly* sway how the majority tips?

                  Those are different.

                3. fposte*

                  @Oh–there have been a few different studies, and I don’t remember the specific methodology. Michael Lynn is a big tipping researcher, so you could look for his stuff; I’m seeing Matthew Parrett as another.

                  But it looks like I misremembered the female thing–apparently male servers actually tend to fare better in tipping than female servers do, though the attractiveness quotient still matters.

              2. fposte*

                Yup, not a typo. Put more crudely, pretty young white women benefit the most from a tipping system.

                1. Anna*

                  I’ll be interested to see if the idea of not tipping but servers being paid well takes off. I know it’s getting more common in the San Fran region and there are one or two restaurants where I live that are trying it out.

                2. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

                  You know, the gender bit might be enough to explain my experiences.
                  Maybe it has to do with how genders are sexualized?
                  I worked with a guy who was a flirter, and good at it. We worked as servers at a popular chain where the server will sing opera-style for your birthday. He had a very nice voice, and the ‘older’ gals really loved him. One lady asked him, “Do you sing like this anywhere else?”
                  He responded, “Yes, in the shower.”
                  Try to imagine a female saying this and having it come off as ‘cute,’ and not some janky invitation to her shower.

                  But I am absolutely interested in those findings! Thanks for pointing me in that direction.

          1. Myrin*

            I think what Susan meant by the passage you quoted is what The Cosmic Avenger below phrased as “Somehow, we’ve let employers get away with not paying their employees’ entire wages, and putting part of that back on the customer!”, not that tipping itself or wanting to reward an excellent server is bad.

          2. Susan C*

            What fposte and Myrin said; also, by that logic you should also have a say about the pay cheque of your bank teller, car salesperson, doctor, or even the cook who is arguably even more important to your dining experience. But you don’t – because as much as you might maybe *like* to have that power, society has deemed *them* worthy of operating under standard rules of a free market (ie don’t like, don’t return). Presumably there’s someone in this restaurant who is responsible for managing the FoH staff, including rewards and reprimands. Why are should you be doing their job?

            (note again that I’m not trying to pick a fight with you specifically, or anyone really, you seem like a thoroughly decent person – I’m just trying to give you some perspective on how truly odd this is to people outside US culture)

            1. fposte*

              It’s odd in the U.S., too, honestly. You’ll hear the friction mostly on the increase of tip jars for positions that don’t receive tipped wages, but you can also see how it’s culturally determined–there’s generally a food and drink element to it, or a hospitality industry element, rather than anything to do with actual wages.

          3. Koko*

            One of the advantages of the tipping system in some contexts, where services continue to be rendered after the tip, is also that by tipping well you get better service.

            Whenever I go to a bar I always try to pay in cash instead of on a credit card. Leave a $2 cash tip on your first drink and the bartender will spot you and come over right away every time you come up to the bar after that, even when it’s super busy.

            1. fposte*

              Interesting point. My first reaction is that that’s a bad thing, but then I reconsidered–is it just an informal version of paying extra for a seat upgrade, which we’re all pretty okay with? Or is this like trying to buy your way to the top of the transplant list, which we’re really not?

      2. Artemesia*

        This. It is unethical for the business to steal the money and that is what they are doing. Who says ‘Oh time to pay the bill, I’ll just pay more than they ask.’ When they tip, it is for the service staff; it is why I always tip in cash in particular types of restaurants that are notorious for abusing staff. I figure that at least the staff have a crack at slipping some of the money into their pocket before the owner takes it.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      There’s an old school rule about tipping in the US that you never tip a business owner. Not only isn’t it expected but it’s against rules of etiquette*. So when a client give a gratuity of free will, they are not giving it to the business, they are giving it the servers.

      There is some wiggle room in all of this for these particular owners. If it’s not a tipped position, if the employee wasn’t hired with an expectation of tips, I don’t think he is clearly due these extra gratuities. It’s utterly shitty and Un-American ;-) for owners to just throw the tips into the business though. Worse, to put them in their personal pockets and you tell me they didn’t do it that way.

      * yeah, okay, great rule. now go to a small hair salon, have your hair done by the owner and walk away without having given her 20%. It’s a rule but in practice, you do tip small proprietor business owners anyway.

      1. Susan C*

        Again, I’m not judging (much ;P), the system is what it is, but I’m just gonna say – if I ever were to spend an extended time period in the US, this alone would probably cost me my last nerve. I really really don’t want to lie awake at night obsessing over how many people hate me because I tipped wrong. (Factor in that I was raised to find over-tipping in extremely poor taste, and you’ve got a perfect anxiety spiral. Yay!)

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Eh, that part is easy — the owner gets all the profit from every transaction, so they’re invested in every customer. (The hard part is more esoteric, like do you tip sanitation workers? What about the “waiters” who refill your drinks at a self-serve buffet or cafeteria? This is also why we need to do away with tipping as a wage supplement.)

          But as WTL indicated, the real problem is that customers are adding a tip to the bill. I would go up to one of the wait/catering staff and (preferably within earshot of at least one or two others), say “I saw 8 people on the floor, was there anyone in back I didn’t see? I want to thank you all for such great service.” And then give one of them (hence having others present) the total tip for everyone, preferably in a form where they don’t have to make change for each other. But then, I waited tables in my youth, I take my tipping very seriously.

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            This is what I do for catered events. I bring cash tips for the staff and give them directly to the folks (the company I work with a lot send an onsite manager I trust implicitly and often I just hand him the cash).

              1. F.*

                My husband not only tips the pizza delivery guy in cash, he tells them when he orders by phone how much the tip will be. We get the best service that way. He likes his crust crunchy, not soggy.

              2. Windchime*

                I always tip the pizza guy/gal in cash, too. I want to make sure they get all of it. I give great tips to the pizza delivery people and I think the word is out, because my pizza is almost always hot and fresh out of the oven.

        2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          Eh, it’s not that complicated or anxiety ridden as a visitor. In all ordinary service circumstances, you put 20% on top of your bill for a gratuity and you’re good. This is sit down restaurants, bars, taxis, hair/nail salons, etc.

          Tipping at hotels, just google it. I don’t stay at hotels enough to remember the rules for housekeeping, bell hops and such. I do remember $5 a bag for airport baggage guys but that might have changed.

          As a resident, it gets a little more complicated because there’s holiday gifting for regular service people and I do find that anxiety producing sometimes.

          1. Susan C*

            Ah, but here’s the rub – who exactly is “etc.”? Because that is NOT intuitively clear. :)

            Also, there’s still the ‘getting over myself’ part where in most of these cases tipping 20% as a matter of course feels like saying A) I don’t think you know how to run a business and design a reasonable price structure and/or B) I make so much more money than you anyways that I can just throw this cash at you out of pity. But then, that’s indeed my problem, not yours.

            1. the gold digger*

              When I was a cocktail waitress, I was very happy to accept pity cash from people who had more money than I did. I will profit from your guilt and not be bothered at all. :)

              BTW, I worked a lot harder as a tipped waitress at a bar than I did as a straight wages waitress at my college faculty club. We spent a lot of time at the faculty club doing crossword puzzles at the credenza while the professors tried to catch our attention to refill their tea.

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                To be fair, you were working for the WORST per capita tippers on the planet (professors)….

                1. the gold digger*

                  It was a no-tipping environment, so it was even easier to ignore them!

                  The only incentive was if it was your prof. I spilled a pitcher of iced tea on a civil engineering prof once. My comment to him, after my profuse apologies, was, “Good thing I am an English major,” to which he replied, “Yes, it is.”

            2. TowerofJoy*

              But you’re putting non-American socio-cultural norms on Americans and that doesn’t work. No one thinks you don’t know how to run a business because you’re tipping. Tipping is a way of saying thanks – you did a good job. Theoretically its a way for top performers in the service industry to earn more. And no one thinks that “I have so much money than you – here’s some cash!” Depending on the restaurant and your job, they might be making more than you. That doesn’t even come into play or the thought process of most people here. You’re over-analyzing. I get it. I have the same issues when I go to Europe and their tip system is so different from ours. And yes, you have to be a member of the culture to understand “etc.” but there are also plenty of places you can look it up via the internet if you need the information.

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                Sorry, but in the USA tipping is NOT a way of saying thanks, it’s part of the mandatory minimum wage. As someone hinted at elsewhere, if you don’t make up the difference in tips between the tipped minimum wage and the non-tipped minimum wage, your employer is supposed to make up the difference. However, anyone I knew who ever brought that up to an employer was either fired or threatened with termination if they reported so little in tips that the employer would have to make up the difference.

                The law considers tips to be a part of wages, not a “gratuity”. Somehow, we’ve let employers get away with not paying their employees’ entire wages, and putting part of that back on the customer! That’s why it should be ended ASAP; the customer doesn’t always realize that tipping in the US is NOT considered optional (barring horrid, hostile, dangerous service, or other service conditions that might prompt a full refund from the business), and the employee’s actual wages are up to the whims of the customers.

                1. Koko*

                  In a lot of places that’s true, but the scenario in letter #5 is not that. The husband is already paid a standard wage and isn’t expecting/depending on tips to get by. Based on my experience as a cater-waiter who was paid a full untipped wage but occasionally got a nice tip from generous hosts, the customers likely know their tip was optional in this case. It’s not like a line they add tip to on the bill. He just wants to claim them now that he realizes they were being given.

                2. The Cosmic Avenger*

                  You’re right, Koko, I got dragged into the tangential discussion on the merits of tipping in general.

                3. TowerofJoy*

                  I’m the same one that said elsewhere that your employer has to make up the difference if there is a discrepancy. Something can be both mandatory and a way of saying thanks. 15-20% is standard, more than that is optional. It also depends on the industry you’re being tipped in – restaurants, yes. Other kinds of service – including catering – not always.

                4. Anna*

                  I feel like that continues to be the case mostly in the middle part of the US. It is not like that at all on the west coast. In all 3 west coast states servers earn minimum wage with tips on top of it. I don’t know if that’s how it works on the east coast, but I feel like when I hear about it being “normal” it’s mostly people talking about Mid West states.

            3. LQ*

              Nothing about tipping is intuitive. It is all a learned cultural thing, which is I think why you are having such a hard time with it. There is nothing intuitive about “The price is X, so I should give/pay X+X*.2 (or X*1.2 if you prefer)”. It’s a thing that you learn from living and working in a culture where that is the norm. You really have to set aside your own cultural expectations to understand other cultural expectations, which is what this is.

              1. Natalie*

                And not all of us like it, FWIW. I hate tipping and tipping culture. I still do it, because I’m not going to take my annoyance at this dumb system out on someone making $2/hour, but I will patronize no-tipping places as much as humanly possible.

                1. LQ*

                  Oh I totally agree. I despise that I have to tip because what are the rules and you can tell me and I can have a handy info graphic but HOW do you tip and what do you do and how does everything work or not and I hate it. Just tell me how much it costs. Tipping is like negotiation. Not a fan.

          2. Graciosa*

            $5 a bag at the airport – wow! I thought it was still $1-2 a bag (like bellhops).

            I admit that I haven’t done this in quite a while, but I’m surprised to hear it’s gone up that much.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

              erm, don’t go by me. I don’t travel a lot by air. I was told by somebody $5 a bag and that’s what I do but if i traveled more and that made $$$ impact on me, I’d look harder.

              1. Koko*

                $5 a bag is for when you’re smuggling liquor onto the cruise ship and you want to make sure the bag doesn’t get a thorough search. Otherwise $2 is generous, $1 is acceptable.

            2. TowerofJoy*

              I think its still $1-2. I tip more though if they are particularly helpful or answering my questions while moving my items or the like. $1-2 is just the standard – “Okay, you did this – thanks!” in my book.

        3. FowlTemptress*

          Overtipping is not considered to be in poor taste here; it’s considered generous and is much appreciated.

        4. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

          Were you raised to find over-tipping in extremely poor taste by people who worked for tips?

          I’m curious.
          (I am a chronic over-tipper. I’ll go 50% or more if I feel it was worth it. My best tip ever? $32 on a $35 ticket. I didn’t speak their language, we had no menus in their language, and only one person in the whole restaurant could communicate with them – the head cook. Still remember him taking their order in his chef’s hat – very weird in a higher end touristy restaurant! I offered to split the tip they left with him, but he refused; I think he made a lot more than me, even after tips.)

      2. Allison*

        “* yeah, okay, great rule. now go to a small hair salon, have your hair done by the owner and walk away without having given her 20%. It’s a rule but in practice, you do tip small proprietor business owners anyway.:

        I was gonna say, I always tip my stylist even if she is the salon owner, and I’m afraid it’ll look bad if I stop doing that.

      3. Manders*

        I’m not sure if that rule is always true anymore–I was taught to tip small business owners, although I usually do assume that if they were working with employees that tip will be split between the team. It’s also not hugely uncommon to tip freelancers like artists and tutors.

        I’d still expect at least part of my tip to go to the person I saw doing the work, whether or not that’s the company owner.

    4. V Dubs*

      Daniel Meyers at The Modern, with Union Square Hospitality Group. A great restaurateur, for those interested in that side of the business.

    5. No Longer Passing By*

      I don’t know how it works for catering but in NY the minimum wage doesn’t apply to the tipped industries such as bartenders and wait staff. So they actually can earn a small hourly wage because the perception is that they are paid primarily through tips. So the owner pocketing tips essentially is stealing from the employees. I believe that there have been lawsuits over this exact issue.

      1. Susan C*

        I do believe you’ve missed my point. When the OP stated that the employee was making “a decent hourly salary”, I assumed that meant this company was exactly not participating in that underpaying insanity (also see my reply above re: different positions within this job).

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          My experience in the US is that caterers are generally paid untipped minimum wage. When you’re not collecting a bill and you’re hustling around to tables, there’s little to no opportunity to receive a tip. The only one who might is a bartender, and good luck with that, whether it’s an open bar (in which case no one pulls out their wallet) or a cash bar, in which case people still aren’t as free with their money as at an establishment that has a bar at which they can sit (and face the bartender). Tips are better with the latter, but still not the same as in an actual bar.

          1. FowlTemptress*

            I’m not sure this is correct – my BIL worked as a catering waiter when he writing his dissertation and made a base salary of 50K plus tips (15 years ago). I think it depends on the type of catering – my BIL worked for a very high-end caterer in DC so probably made on the high end of the scale. Fun aside: he got fired for giving a bratty kid the finger at a bah mitzvah (the kid broke my BIL’s glasses on purpose).

            1. Koko*

              Yes, I did cater-waitering for a high-end company in the DC area and made $16-20 an hour depending on what position I was working (bartender, server, back of house).

            2. TootsNYC*

              I wrote a story for a wedding magazine about tipping and caterers.

              Clients often give a single large tip to the caterer (yes, often 20% of the bill), and ethical caterers divide it among their staff. Either evenly, or according to a formula that means the maitre’d gets more, etc.

              And of course a few guests break the rules and tip their waiter directly (my FIL always hands them a $20 or a $50 at the beginning of the night and says, “if you take good care of me, there’s more where that came from,” then gives them the same amount at the end. he never runs out of wine!)

              And often caterers’ employees are paid a reasonable wage as well–and so working for a caterer can really net you money.

        2. C*

          This is being overthought. Tipping is a cultural phenomenon, and varies from country to country. This conversation is starting to get off-topic from the OP’s situation/dilemma.

        3. Three Thousand*

          If you don’t want your employees to be tipped because you’re paying them a wage that would match a typical tipped employee’s wage, the understanding I have is you should be very clear with customers that tips are not expected/wanted. Customers absolutely do expect that tips will go to servers and generally very much do not want to tip restaurant owners.

          Raise prices if you need to to cover the increased server wages, but don’t accept tips and just keep them as business income (and most likely pocket them under the table, as someone pointed out). Whatever the ethics of that might be, it really pisses customers off when they find out. Hell, it’s pissing me off, and I’m just reading about it. I dislike having to tip as a customer, but I understand that I’m being put in a position of directly paying my server’s wage, so I always tip the expected amount no matter what. If I found out I was tipping the owners, I would stop tipping immediately and have a terrible taste in my mouth about the business after that.

          1. sam*

            It’s not quite the same situation, but in certain states, if someone pays a tip or gratuity, employers are simply not allowed to keep such money – Of course, the case I read about yesterday got some press because of the presidential candidate involved…


            In that case, the gratuities were mandatory, so like I said above, not exactly the same circumstance as here, but there’s some good information about the fact that tips and gratuities really need to get to the employees (at least in the six states where the law is clear) – it really doesn’t matter if you’re paying the “full” minimum wage or the tipped minimum wage – the people making those payments intend for them to go to the employees.

      2. TowerofJoy*

        Doesn’t the business have to kick in if the total with tips ends up being under the minimum wage though? I think thats where lawsuits come into play.

        1. Artemesia*

          This. If they are paid a good wage (and since when was minimum wage a good wage?) then let the customers no you are a no tipping operation — don’t encourage and then steal the tips.

          Every time I have done something large: conference, wedding, rehearsal dinner — the tip was included automatically in the bill. I’d be pretty steamed if the workers were not getting that tip.

    6. PeachTea*

      I’m going to have to disagree. I work for a small restaurant chain that also has a catering division. We can cater events from 10 people to 10,000 people. Our catering employees are paid very well, ranging from $12 an hour to over $20 an hour depending on experience and other factors. No where near the tipped minimum wage of $2.13. Regardless, we wouldn’t ever dream of keeping tips for the business. We collect the tips and distribute them based on hours worked on a monthly basis.

      Honestly, if the business is going to keep the tips, they need to have a disclaimer posted telling their customers that their tips are not going to the service people working their event. I guarantee 90% of the tips they’re currently receiving would disappear. This is exploiting customers to pay higher prices than advertised and its 100% wrong and unethical.

      1. Susan C*

        Fair enough, and good for your company to operate the way they do! I suppose I just don’t see the innate difference in expecting your customers pay more than advertised to cover, say, produce VS applying the same principle to employee wages. But there’s certainly a point to make about it being deceptive. (also let me reiterate that I don’t think this was handled *well* in any shape or form by the company)

        1. fposte*

          Susan, if it’s any comfort, a lot of USAns don’t like the tipping practice either, but it’s too ingrained a cultural practice to change now.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Oh, it could change. But it would have to be an across-the-board change, and people just can’t be arsed to do anything different. Look how long it took to get people off their asses with the digital TV switchover. You could do it, but you’d have to basically say, “Here is what we’re doing; suck it up, buttercup.” So you’d probably have to legislate it.

            1. Creag an Tuire*

              There’s also the minor issue of the National Restaurant Association (the -other- NRA), lobbying tooth and nail to prevent any change in the “tipped minimum wage” law.

      2. TowerofJoy*

        Yes. I would absolutely want to know that the business was keeping the tips because I would not be giving one if it wasn’t going to the people that were serving.

    7. OP#5*

      Hi all – I’m the OP of #5. To answer a couple questions – yes, my husband is paid a good wage for his work, well above minimum wage. Gratuities are NOT included on the bills the company sends out and they are actually one of the higher priced companies in the area. (We live in a major metropolitan area on the East Coast, I do much of the event planning/food ordering for my large company, so I can say that with confidence. I actually DON’T use my husband’s work because they are overpriced compared to the competition.) So these gratuities are something companies are adding of their own accord after events and deliveries. He HAS gotten tips from time to time when clients have done exactly what the Cosmic Avenger mentioned – walked up to one of the staff members at the event and handed them a bunch of cash at the end and thanked them for a job well done. The problem basically the company is keeping the credit card tips.

      And Kate is 100% right – his employers just took the tips and never said anything. We actually think it was less of “hoping that no one would ever find out” (although I’m sure there was some of that) and more of the fact that they are not great business owners.

      My husband has worked in the service industry for over 2 decades at this point, and has been everything from a busboy to a line cook to a restaurant manager. He took this job basically because it’s a M-F early morning to late afternoon job, giving him nights and weekends off. At the previous catering companies he worked for, they would distribute the delivery tips, split between the delivery drivers, quarterly. Event staff would get their tips included on the paycheck after the event.

      The tips that these companies are adding are totally voluntary, and is DEFINITELY no expectation that every delivery or every event will result in a tip. So, I agree with PeachTea – if the company notified their clients that tips would not be distributed to delivery and event staff, I am fairly sure that no one would include any gratuities any more. (I know I wouldn’t in my role.)

      He’s super frustrated because he’s been asking since last year (actually probably Sept/Oct. of last year, when he found out) and they keep putting him off. I think they’re hoping that he’ll just let it go, but at this point, I think he’s really upset about how they’re handling it and won’t let it go on principle.

      1. OP#5*

        (Sorry – my point about his previous work was that he does know 1. what it’s like to work for tips and 2. what it’s like to manage people who are working for tips and having to be worried about overhead/food costs/etc.)

      2. TowerofJoy*

        “I think they’re hoping that he’ll just let it go, but at this point, I think he’s really upset about how they’re handling it and won’t let it go on principle.”

        I’m wondering if the money isn’t already “gone” so to speak and that’s why they are hoping he’ll let it go. If its a $1000 back that they owe him, and there are 20 or more employees that starts adding up to a big chunk of money.

        1. OP#5*

          Actually, that’s something we were wondering too. It’s strange because – they are a very small company (less than 10 full time employees, including the owners) and not all of their employees do the deliveries (so, probably they owe to about 5 people for deliveries and 5 – not necessarily the same – people for events.) The sales manager told my husband that they were definitely going to hit over a million in sales this fiscal year. They definitely could be mismanaging their money, but my husband doesn’t get the feeling that the business is scraping by.

          1. CAA*

            Has your husband investigated the laws regarding tips in your state? Alison gave you the links to federal law, but your state may have different requirements.

      3. Erin*

        Hmm, yeah I don’t know a lot about this industry, but this doesn’t feel right. I think you’re right that they’re kind of hoping he’ll just let it go.

        You’d mentioned he non-aggressively approached this before, and I think he should again – as Alison said, we’re not at the end of March yet, so maybe not right this second. But he should absolutely follow up and be firm (but polite) about it. The fact that he’s been in the industry for over two decades and knows the norms makes it kind of insulting that they’re almost pulling one over on him.

        Are there other people, I’m assuming, not correctly receiving their tips? Can he point that out, or maybe they can band together?

        Another possibility – although he certainly should not have to do this – is to offer to help out figuring out who is owed what. I understand going through the records comparing order totals to payments would be a tedious and time consuming task. But if no one else is stepping up maybe he could offer to help out to ensure it actually happens.

        1. OP#5*

          So, actually he HAS offered to go in on his own time and figure this out for them, but they don’t want to give him access to the catering software.

          I found out that apparently their (salaried) manager went in one weekend recently and DID do all the work comparing and figured out a total for the delivery tips, and the owners yelled at him for doing that. The number of events they do is pretty small compared to the number of deliveries they do, so I think it would take much less time for them to go through those records.

          1. Erin Nudi*

            Oooh, so they won’t do it, but won’t let other people do it, either, great sign. :P

            Maybe he could give himself a timetable for bringing it up once a week or something. In a week or so say, “I wanted to check in with you about the gratuities situation – you’d mentioned it would be done in March, and the end of the month is coming up – do we we look like we’re still on track to have it sorted out by then?”

            One week later: “Hey Bob, we’re at the end of March now, where are we on correctly distributing those gratuities?”

            Following week: “Bob, we’re passed the agreed upon time table with the gratuities. I’m sorry to keep harping on it but I’m concerned everyone isn’t receiving their fair share. Remember I’m happy to help out with that in any way, if there’s any of that you could pass onto me please do.”

            And then get more firmer as time goes on. Maybe approach him with another employee who’s being screwed out of this.

            As you said, it’s probably not malice. They’re probably just not dealing with it and hoping it will go away, but by consistently “checking in” with them on where they are in the process will reinforce that your husband (and other employees) aren’t letting it drop.

      4. Interviewer*

        I get that these people should be distributing the tips. If they’ve haven’t done it, it requires what sounds like a busy catering company to dig through their records and comb over every invoice, compare it to every payment, and see where the payment might have included a tip. Then they have to confirm who worked the event as a tipped employee, and figure out the split. Of course they’ve put it off, and of course they’re hoping he’ll let it go.

        Can he talk to them about “starting now, going forward, this is what should be done, so it doesn’t become a bigger task than it already is” and see if that gets results? Maybe check on the past-due once they’re in the habit of doing it for every event?

        But if this goes nowhere, I think his best option is to file a wage complaint with the state. If they’re withholding tips, the state DOL might like to know about it. They can make them go back in their records for years, if they figure out they’re doing it willfully. Of course, it may create a lot of ill will and he could lose his job over it, and the process may take a lot longer than you expect – but at least he’d have the back pay, right?

        Good luck!

        1. OP#5*

          I think that one of his biggest frustrations is that he brought this to their attention 5 or 6 months ago, and they have done nothing to change any of the policies or keep track of tips in that time period (and now).

    8. TootsNYC*

      I will say this, as a customer:

      I intend those tips to go straight to the workers. If I want to give the OWNERS something extra, I’ll pay them a bonus, or they can set a price that makes them a fair profit.

      I’m giving those tips to the workers, and owners who keep them instead of delivering the on my behalf are frauds. It’s stealing.

    9. Stranger than fiction*

      I believe some restaurants have already implemented this. The one I remember also had to raise their prices 17%. The thing is the company is receiving the gratuity on top of what they’re already charging, theoretically that’s supposed to go to certain service staff, that’s where the customer thinks it’s going, not in the owners pockets. The normal catering charges should cover the other costs. But we don’t know what the arrangement was here, like did he and the employer discuss tips previously?

  7. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*


    I am shocked, shocked, to find there is gambling going on in here!

    This is soooooooo common, ungrounded claims to obtain a contract, and you think that I’d feel sorry for Company A in the set up here but I don’t. I could pick up the phone at 9am today and have 50 companies who promised me wild things by 12pm, but I’m not signing a contract with them or basing my business plan on their wild claims.

    Don’t sweat it, OP. Get a job that you want, that you feel good about doing, as soon as you can but don’t lose sleep over Company A. The decision makers will learn (hopefully) from their experience.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Right. As Uber is finding out (Google “Uber ZeroChaos” to read the excellent Buzzfeed report), you are ultimately responsible for the people and/or contractors you hire. A one-off is one thing, but willful ignorance is not an excuse.

      1. Chinook*

        “you are ultimately responsible for the people and/or contractors you hire”

        I am a little late to this but this phrase is 100% true. I work for accompany that has contractors who then subcontract out ad we recognize that each layer is responsible for those they hire. ex: If something goes wrong on site and Company C doesn’t have insurance, than Company B, who subcontracted them the work gets the bill. And if Company B can’t cover it, than Company A is responsible because they obviously didn’t vet company B well enough. But, in the regulator’s eyes (as well as the public’s), company A is the one responsible because it is their worksite and they should be able to verify that everyone there is qualified.

        That being said, I would hope that the OP would have someone they can trust at Company A to let them know about these shenanigans because, if this were my workplace, we would get rid of Company B (who are violating their contract) and look at Company C as a possible replacement because their employee was ethical and reported the fraud.

  8. AmyH*

    OP#1: Don’t do it. Offer to do a smaller project or get a short-term contract. I once did a large project for a potential employer that I reallllly wanted to work for. It took the better part of a day, plus I spent another 2-3 hours on a presentation of the work I had done. They told me to “prepare to answer questions” about the project. When I got to the interview, I was told that none of them reviewed the project and that a presentation would be pointless, so I did all that work for nothing.

    I didn’t get the job, but frankly, their inconsiderate behavior made me no longer want to work there.

    1. Lola*

      I applied for a social media job and had to submit a sample of tweets and Facebook posts along with the cover letter. I then had a phone interview. They then sent me a project to work on that included composing 10 tweets, 10 Facebook posts, and to come up with a whole plan of attack for a new thing they were launching, including ideas for videos, a proposed budget, metrics to measure success by, new platforms and how best to utilize them for this new launch etc, etc. It took seven hours of a Saturday, because of course they wanted it ASAP. I worked really hard on it and was proud. I never heard back from them again. They didn’t even respond when I wrote back three days after submission to make sure they’d received it. Radio silence. But I just found out they laid off a ton of people, so I probably dodged a bullet there.

  9. Rebecca*

    #2 – I know tap water is free, and I found out quite by accident why we have bottled water at work vs just getting it out of the bathroom sink (there are no other options). I rinsed my water bottle out, and thought I’d just grab a quick drink, and YUCK! The water out of the tap tastes horrible, to the point I spit it out immediately. It smells like clorox and dirty socks. I’m sure it’s “potable” in the strictest sense of the word, as in it wouldn’t make you sick, but palatable is a totally different story. I can see why people use bottled water in those situations. This is hands down the worst city water I have ever tasted.

    If the water is costing $75/month, depending on how many people are using it, if everyone chipped in a few bucks a month you’d be covered. If you can’t get cooperation, I’d invest in a personal water filter pitcher, fill it up, put it in the fridge with your name on it, and be done with this.

    One last thought – $75 is a small cost to boost employee morale, IMO.

    1. Mirilla*

      #2 I have never heard of an employer offering a water cooler but not offering the water to go with it. Are you expected to buy your own office supplies also? It seems like extreme frugality to me.

      1. Graciosa*

        Actually, I haven’t either, but I could see this as someone thinking of it like the microwave (business provides the equipment for common use, but does not provide what goes in it).

      2. Erin*

        Agreed, if I were an employee there I’d be really, really put off by asking to contribute to the cooler water. If it’s literally not in the budget I would honestly just get rid of entirely.

        Is there any way to put the water in the office supplies budget? In my experience things like water and coffee are designated office supplies for this purpose, just like staplers and etc. would be.

      3. Carly*

        We have two water coolers in our office, one in the warehouse hooked up to the water supply and one right outside of my office that they refuse to get water for. I don’t get it either.

      4. Koko*

        This is one of those things that pops up all the time in government jobs because the taxpayer is a miser who hates the idea that one penny of their money has been used to make a government employee’s life more comfortable when it wasn’t a strictly necessary expense.

        So they offer the cooler as a piece of office equipment, same as they might provide a refrigerator, but the water/food that you put in them you either bring in yourself or start a Water Cooler Club with your coworkers to fund it.

        1. KR*

          We installed a new projector in our public meeting room a few months ago and one of the main board members for our town looked at it and said, “What are we, rich now?”I totally get you about the taxpayer dollars thing – I see it all the time.

        2. oldfashionedlovesong*

          I’m a consultant assigned to a government office and boy is this ever true. We are doled out pens, writing paper etc one or two units at a time. Many people bring their own supplies because we only order the cheapest stick pens and legal pads. We have a kitchenette with a sink, but if you want to wash something you have to bring your own soap. (There is hand soap in the bathrooms though.) I have documented back and neck injuries that are exacerbated by sitting, so I asked if I could work standing up. I was told I could make my own “standing desk” out of cardboard boxes stacked on my regular desk, but they wouldn’t buy a standing mat (which can be had for $30-50). There is no first aid kit, as I learned when I ripped my thumb open on something and had to walk to Rite Aid to get my own ointment and bandages. I understand as well as anything the importance of careful stewardship of taxpayer dollars – it is literally my job to monitor this – but sometimes I feel like optics outweigh any concern of comfort and morale of employees.

          1. No tissues either*

            I’ve posted this before but gov’t agencies are not allowed to provide their employees with tissues either. (For people outside of the US, I’m referring to nose tissue, not bathroom tissue that we call toilet paper). They can provide it for taxpayers using the agency but since they don’t want to constantly be policing the employees from using the tissues they just won’t provide them. This usually results in the employees buying the tissues that the taxpayers use.

          2. Koko*

            Your story about getting 2 cheap pens at a time reminds me of when Jack Donaghy went to work in Washington for “Cooter” (as nicknamed by W Bush) and he was using his fingernail to scratch memos on post-its.

        3. LCL*

          We did bottled water for all of our remote installations at my government job. Costs got too high, so we now supply bottled water only to those installations where the water is not potable. And yes, there were many complaints. Personally, when we did have a cooler, I stopped using it once I observed people taking their bottles, that they had been drinking out of, and hold them onto the spout. Bleah.

      5. Rusty Shackelford*

        Since the LW reported the cooler had been there, dry, for years, I suspect the company started out paying for the water, then stopped but didn’t remove the cooler. And now aren’t willing to pay themselves to start the service up again.

      6. Former Diet Coke Addict*

        It’s a great way to kill morale, is what it is. My certifiable boss used to pay for a water cooler, then quit doing so because he told our admin to pick up the water from the place off the clock. She said it was a work duty and she would do no such thing, but she would be happy to fetch the water while doing the other office errands (post office, bank, FedEx). My boss said that was ridiculous and since then no more water. We refuse to do so unpaid, my boss won’t get it because he doesn’t care, now we just all bring our own water.

        We make fun of my boss a lot.

      7. TootsNYC*

        Well, maybe they’ve owned the water cooler for a while, back when they felt they could afford to put the water in it. Now they don’t want to pay for water, so they say, “Hey, the cooler is just standing there–you can buy your own water for it if you want.”

  10. AdAgencyChick*

    OP4, if you have a good relationship with your boss, I’d also consider asking the new company for a later start date so you can resign the day they return. Doubly true if they don’t come back with a fully official offer until their vacation has started.

    Only if they’ve treated you well, though!

    1. TootsNYC*


      I wouldn’t say “resign when they get back”; I’d say “resign when you get the offer, and ask for a later start date that allows you to give more than 2 weeks’ notice.”
      You’re director level, so you’re more deeply involved in the business; I think it’s much more common to have a longer transition period.

      AND, that means you can give notice, and while Boss is on vacation, you can put ads, etc., into the papers and maybe even do initial screening. (It’s not uncommon to be involved in the search for your successor.) And then have 1 to 2 weeks to overlap w/ Boss when he’s back, and you can do the “knowledge transfer” bit.

      Even if you just ask for one more week, for that overlap, you can argue that at your level, this kind of “sense of responsibility” is an important part of your value to your NEW employer too.

  11. Overeducated and underemployed*

    Another reason to have bottled water is that not all tap water is safe in the same area. I went to school in a historic area where not only was there a water cooler in my department, there were warning signs about possible lead in the tap water. (Newer buildings at my school had fountains.) Similarly, last year my employer floated water coolers as a potential cost cut and people absolutely freaked out – our building is over 100 years old, we don’t know if the water has been tested for safety, and we work outside a lot so not be able to refill a water bottle in the summer is a health issue. Of course, all that did mean the employer needed to pay for safe water!

    1. Natalie*

      When I was doing an internship in DC, I would sometimes run into signs in the bathroom indicating that the sink water was not potable. They had installed different lines for water fountains, I guess, but hadn’t retrofitted the sinks.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I’ve run into signs at some businesses that say the toilet water is not potable. I’ve always wondered who the signs are for — who is getting their drinking water from the toilet anyway!?

  12. Granite*

    For the caterer, I could see how this could happen without intent. Business starts out as a single person, so they process the tips the same way as other revenue. As the business grows, they already have it in their mind it’s just part of gross revenue and factor it into prices and so forth. And then the employee says something, and they have to stop and think about their whole business process, and it takes time to come up with a new policy like this that impacts all parts of the business. To me it’s one of those, don’t assume maliciousness until simple ignorance and incompetence has been ruled out.

    1. OP#5*

      Granite – I/we actually agree with you (see my long above post). We really think it’s due to incompetence rather than malice. The problem is (and I should’ve included this on my original post) is that my husband brought this to their attention between 5 and 6 months ago, and nothing has been done yet – INCLUDING nothing about setting new policies in place or a plan to rectify the past situation.

      I’ll also mention that this business still is extremely small – I think they have less than 10 full time employees.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        In a different post, you said I found out that apparently their (salaried) manager went in one weekend recently and DID do all the work comparing and figured out a total for the delivery tips, and the owners yelled at him for doing that. So, someone tried to fix the problem for them, and make it easier to distribute the tips to the people they were intended for, and got yelled at for doing that. What part of this says “incompetence” instead of “malice” to you?

        1. OP#5*

          You’re right (and probably my husband should be writing these comments, but he cooks/delivers/is on his feet all day, and I sit at a desk all day). Based on what he said, I *think* it’s because the owners are super mega micromanagers, and they don’t want to give my husband’s manager any actual authority.

          1. OP#5*

            (Sorry – continuation). So they were angry that he took it upon himself to do it. But you’re right. It could very well be malice and that they don’t think they should have to give their workers the tips. (Which, actually looks like is illegal according to our state laws.)

  13. Graciosa*

    Regarding #3, I think generally the employee needs to stay out of it (although Alison is correct that no one should ever be expected to lie).

    However, there is an exception for government funded projects. If Company A were a prime contractor to the U.S. government and the services of the employee (and the untrained temps) were ultimately being charged to the government, then causing the government to overpay by paying for training time that should be unnecessary can be considered a type of fraud.

    I’m assuming that if this were the case, the OP would know it and mention it, but I do think this factor changes the ethical balance. Commercial customers are considered to be on their own, and overpaying some of your suppliers is a normal risk of doing business.

    Expecting the taxpayers to overpay is different, and there are a lot of reporting options (from anonymous to qui tam suits) when tax money is involved.

  14. #1*

    “But those exercises should be no more than an hour, or two hours at the most”

    The problem with this is that a dishonest (or perhaps merely incompetent) hiring manager will demand work that would take several hours to do properly, and call it a one-hour “exercise.” I’ve run into this more than once.

    If employers want to hold tryouts, they should give candidates something useful to do and pay them at a rate that is mutually agreed upon in advance.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      It’s not work to be paid for if there’s no intent for use of it. There’s no appreciable difference between formal skills testing of job applicants and giving them a test exercise. Would you expect to be paid for an hour of your time for a test on Excel, Word and Powerpoint skills?

      I agree that asking for anything that take more than 1 -3 hours of an applicant’s time is rude. And I agree that not acknowledging the time and effort an applicant puts into their project is very rude. I also agree that should an employer use any work product that came from an unpaid test, that’s a legal and moral issue — but really, this really doesn’t happen with any kind of frequency. It would be the stupidest time suck way somebody could ever go about trying to get Free Stuff.

      So test or don’t test for jobs but the most prudent employers are going to have testing to make sure everybody has a good fit.

      1. #1*

        If a client decided not to use my work, that’s their prerogative. They can put it in a pipe, light it up, and blow smoke rings with it for all I care. But they will pay me for my efforts.

        If for some reason a client wanted to “test” my Excel skills, they would have to pay me my usual billing rate to do that. So they might as well give me something to do that they can use.

        I realize we’re talking about a would-be employer rather than a client, but the analogy holds. Folks need to respect themselves and stand up to this nonsense. If an organization can afford to hire an FTE, it can afford to pay $25, $50, or even $150 (depending on the competency required) for an hour’s worth of useful work.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          There’s not even an analogy to hold there. A business isn’t going to pay you to interview with them. Testing is part of the interview process. It’s a test. It’s not work.

          1. #1*

            An interview is (or should be) a business conversation. It’s a normal part of business development. My point is that employers sometimes “test” job candidates by asking them to create new work products that are specific to their company. The employer may not value the work product, but it is indeed “work” to the candidate and, if unpaid, crosses the line into exploitation.

            1. LBK*

              If you feel obligated to pay people for skills tests then that’s certainly nice of you, but to call it exploitation to ask someone to run through a few fake Excel scenarios that serve no purpose other than testing their skills and will never be used again after the test is laughable. How is that any different from proving your skills by giving examples of how you’d address those problems in an interview? Is it just putting fingers to keyboard that suddenly makes it work? Because if that’s the case, 90% of my job isn’t actually work since it’s just answering questions and explaining to other people how I would do something.

              My value isn’t just how many functions I can list off but in my ability to think critically, and that is absolutely a skill I’d expect to use in an interview. Why shouldn’t I be compensated for that but I should be compensated for making a pivot table? I think your reasoning is actually a bit insulting, as it reduces the value of someone’s work only to their technical knowledge.

              1. #1*

                I believe that ideas should be compensated as well if they specifically solve a problem that the client has put before you.

                This is a fine line that consultants routinely must tread. It’s especially an issue with software development and also with tax accounting. In those cases, much of the value is in the consultant’s knowledge and ideas.

                I’m sorry my arguments are laughable and I apologize for insulting you.

                1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

                  Well, first, a consultant trying to gain business is different from someone interviewing for a job but, there’s enough places it crosses in certain jobs that we can run with that for a sec.

                  A good consultant is going to give half an answer to a prospective client. They need to present themselves as knowledgeable, competent and tuned into the prospective client’s needs, right? They’ll spend time putting together a presentation that makes the client want more, and the more is what they get paid for.

                  We spend: So. Much. Time. on RFPs. So much time. So many days and days worth of time for a big RFP, none of which we get paid for. We certainly have ideas in our RFP! All of the ideas are geared for our “unique” abilities to execute them, and the execution is what we’d ultimately get paid for.

                  Could a client leapfrog off of some clever idea and have it executed by somebody else? Sure, it’s possible and I’m sure it’s happened, but that’s the price of admission to doing RFPs for multi national corps. And they aren’t going to pay us to do RFPs.

                  This is all really really far from having an employee do pre-employment testing for an hour.

                2. #1*

                  In response to Wakeen below—yes. RFPs are particularly problematic. I’ve been involved in pursuits where we absolutely believed the RFP was simply an effort to solicit ideas for the client to execute internally. It is something firms try to manage; you want to give them nuggets, as you say, without giving away the solution. Sometimes the right answer is to walk away from the opportunity. It’s hard.

          2. F.*

            I agree with you, but do think there is a difference in the situations here. A test on Excel skills during an interview yields no usable work product. No company is going to have an applicant take a test using their live system with actual data. #1 has been asked to produce a product that the company can keep and use. I know I have read letters and comments here about employers requiring an extensive demonstration of an applicant’s skills (in marketing, for example), not hiring the employee, but then using the produced work product. Although there was probably something allowing this in the fine print on the application, I would consider it a theft of my services to be used in that manner.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

              Honestly, as long as I have been reading AAM, I don’t remember one instance of anyone actually finding their work had been used. There probably is one I’ve forgotten about but I’ll be $100 there isn’t two. What I do remember is a lot of people thinking somebody might use their work. And I definitely remember multiple cases of potential employers asking for assignments that crossed the line into reasonable requests as far as time go.

              It’s not A Thing that employers are running around trying to get free work out of people, from assignments, in the guise of interviewing them. I’m sure it happens but it is not A Thing, say on the lines of places that try to get writers to write for free For Exposure or graphic artists to do the same.

              Now we do all of our testing in a more formal manner than “go off and produce an XYZ promotional thing for us to look at” but, at it’s heart, it is the same. Here’s what we do for an entry level marketing artist:

              30 minute time window, not hard timed but they are encouraged to not take a lot longer.
              Done in house, at a Mac station.

              They are provided the basic elements to create a one page flyer. This includes images (which need clipping paths), copy, etc. Basic instructions, and go! (Somebody is available to answer questions.)

              What we’re looking for:

              1) basic skills in Photoshop and Illustrator
              2) ability to do clipping paths
              3) ability to remember to use spell check
              4) choice of fonts
              5) overall eye for composition

              We’ve been giving this test for years and at no time in history has any one of the 4 billion people who have taken the test produced publication ready product.

              It’s a test!

              1. LBK*

                I remember at least one situation discussed on AAM where the company did implement a solution a candidate had proposed in an interview, but that’s still different from a company going out and maliciously interviewing people in bad faith solely to get free work out of them (and I believe in that situation a) there was no way for the candidate to know if the same solution had already been in the works anyway, and b) it wasn’t something that was so unique that it wouldn’t have occurred to someone at the company eventually anyway).

                1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

                  I remembered that one but didn’t count it. It was pretty speculative that the candidate’s work had been used. (And really, if a candidate had that terrific an idea that you had to snag it, that great right out of the gate without any experience in the company, wouldn’t you hire them because what amazing stuff could they do once they actually got their feet wet!)

                2. TootsNYC*

                  I was asked to provide story ideas during the interview for an editing job. It’s possible that they might use one of those ideas. That wouldn’t be that fair–but the actual work of finding a writer, shaping a story, etc., is theirs (and I might not be that skilled at it). A single idea is not that terribly valuable.

                  I don’t think they did, actually.

                  If I were the publication, I might really want to use a great idea from an also-ran candidate. I would probably feel honor-bound to offer them some sort of compensation. Not everyone would.

                  That’s the only situation I can think of in which people might not be paid for something they provided during the interview.

              2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

                InDesign, I meant to say, not Illustrator.

                We have another test, in Illustrator, for production artists. The marketing artists are tested in Photoshop and InDesign.

                (The Illustrator test is also a “live job” situation but the live job is an order that was placed quite a few years ago. )

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No, that is just not how this works. As Wakeen says, employers are not going to pay you to interview with t hem, and asking for that would look really tone-deaf.

          1. #1*

            I started to reply that this was a strawman argument, but then decided we just have different ideas on what an interview is. I think reasonable people can disagree whether employers are entitled to an hour or two of unpaid labor to complete an assignment or “exercise,” as well as whether such a thing is really an interview since there’s no dialogue.

            1. #1*

              Interesting question. I’m not familiar with those fields, but my impression is that an acting audition doesn’t usually last very long. And sports are recreational, so I’m not sure it’s the same thing. My kids went out for sports in high school, and enjoyed the tryouts because they involved…playing games.

              If an interview involved playing an hour of ping-pong, I wouldn’t charge for that!

              1. LBK*

                So it’s not about doing work but the amount of time spent that matters? Because even if it’s only 15 minutes, acting in an audition is still acting. And callbacks can often take a whole day, especially if it’s for a musical where you’re typically expected to learn and perform a few minutes of choreography, a few pages of the script and 1-2 songs from the show.

                1. announcergirl*

                  I think it is more about the possibility of stealing her intellectual property. As part of an interview once, for a job I was offered and accepted, I had to present to a panel what I envisioned for a program the company wanted to create. This included goals and more. The process took research and a lot of thought on my part. I created a program. I had huge concerns that they could hire someone else and still use my ideas. I did it anyway and it paid off, but it could happen. I’d be pissed if it had and I found out about it. Her concern is valid IMO.

              2. LBK*

                It should also be obvious that high school sports try-outs are not the same thing as trying out for a professional team, which I’m fairly positive is what Alison meant.

                1. #1*

                  I’m fairly positive that’s what she meant, too. I answered the best I could with the information I have, but I shouldn’t have taken the bait. I don’t work in sports or entertainment. Neither am I’m not under the impression that this blog has much to do with casting a show or building a sports team.

              3. Al Lo*

                An acting audition, depending on the project, can involve your prepared monologue, a cold read, a dance audition, where you learn a combination with other candidates and presents it, a singing audition, where you may present your own peace or prepare an excerpt from something in the show, and then callbacks, which are often at a different time, and place you with other candidates for roes to test chemistry and so on. Different shows incorporate different parts of this, but those are definitely not uncommon elements to an acting audition process. It’s certainly possible for its to be very short, but if you move on in the process and actually get the job, it’s usually more extensive.

              4. Salyan*

                I’d have to disagree with the idea that having a job/sport/activity be enjoyable implies that one doesn’t have to be paid for it. I enjoy my work, but if a business asked me to recreate their organizational system, you can bet I want to be paid for it!
                Athletes might have other concerns, as well – if they got permanently injured during a tryout, who’s WCB covers that?

              5. #1*

                Well, again, I don’t work in sports or entertainment. I work in a business management field in the private, for-profit sector. If folks insist on donating their time to a Fortune 500 company beyond what is reasonable for business development and relationship management, I won’t stop them. But I don’t agree that prospective employers are entitled to it, nor that it’s 100% ethical, especially when the solution—pay candidates for a small project—is so very, heartbreakingly simple.

        3. Almond Milk Latte*

          The jobs I’ve applied for that require Excel skills tests aren’t the kind where the applicant has enough unique value to push back on things like that.

          I’m a writer/editor, and I’ve never gotten a gotten a job without a 20 question editing test.

          1. #1*

            That sort of thing does remind me of the tests the temp agency gave me back in my student days. I remember an editing test that took 15 or 20 minutes. But I wasn’t a professional editor (or professional anything), just an unproven kid.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      That depends on what it is. I had to submit an editing sample when I applied for my job — they sent me some copy and asked me to edit it and send it back before I even got to the interview stage. I spent a couple of days working on it–there were no guidelines, so I googled the hell out of it, made up some formatting, and submitted as polished a sample as I could. I could have edited the copy in less than an hour and sent it back without any presentation and it would have sufficed. They couldn’t have used it–the copy was only a snippet and all they were looking for was basic proofreading and correction. My extra effort got me the job, according to my boss. :) But it was on me–they didn’t ask for it.

      Conversely, I did once have a content job where they wanted a full sample article (like a wiki entry) with specified guidelines and they actually paid for that. It took much more initial effort than the copy edit because we had to show our research. If they had asked for it for free, I wouldn’t have even applied!

    3. TootsNYC*

      There are tryouts, and there are tests.

      I’ve done both–sometimes both with the same candidate.

      I don’t pay people to take a test anymore than I pay them to share their thoughts on an interview.

      I pay people to try out–to come in the office and do actual work.

      And it’s not cool to make a test long, nor is it cool to make a test be real-world tasks.

      Like, giving someone a typing test is OK; asking them to enter real data into your database is not. Having someone write a sample news article from material provided is OK; asking them to write an article they research and that you will print is not.
      But then, w/ a test, it’s really only useful if you have everyone do the same test (write the same article; type the same material in a speed test).

      1. #1*

        I agree with you about the typing test. The “sample” news article? Depending on what you ask, that could be a fair amount of work to complete properly. Again, whether you use the work product is irrelevant.

        Labor may not be tangible, but it has a cost just the same.

  15. Jess*

    I work in a place where the tap/water fountain water doesn’t taste that great, so many offices get coolers/jugs. If you want to drink the water, you join the “Water Club” for the cooler.

    Each office runs their water club a little differently, but generally:
    – The cooler has a sign on or near it that gives contact info for the person who runs the Water Club (POC) and a list of the people who are members.
    – Depending on the club, you either join by contacting the POC, or by writing your name on the list.
    – The POC collects the money each month and contacts the company to arrange delivery of new jugs and pickup of old jugs.

    Where personnel is more stable and water use is more predictable, water clubs generally charge a set amount per month due on the first of the month. Where personnel turns over more frequently (as in my office where we are contractors) and water use varies, the POC splits up the charge and lets us know how much we owe. It generally stays within the $5 – $8 range. We did have to move the water cooler from a hallway area into an unused cube next to our POC because we had a few jugs go missing and random people wandering through using the water.

    For transition, I’d say just post a sign that explains that two people have been paying for the water themselves (not the company) and that effective XX date, it’s moving to a water club model. Leave a pen nearby and ask people to sign their names if they want to join, then go from there.

    1. Jess*

      Oh, and for what it’s worth, I’m at a government facility, which is why “the company” doesn’t pay for the water.

      1. lulu*

        We do exactly the same (also government facility, in a historical building where the plumbing needs to be replaced). We pay about $50/year and someone goes around every year asking for contributions from members. A sign makes it clear that the water is reserved for dues paying members. Not a big deal.

      2. SMGWiseman*

        Can I ask a dumb question about that? Why doesn’t the government pay for water–is there a legal issue involved?

        I ask because when I was a temp, I was placed at the FAA for about two weeks. I walked in my first day and there was a water cooler in the kitchen with a large ‘IF YOU DO NOT BELONG TO THE WATER CLUB, DO NOT DRINK THIS WATER’ sign taped to it. Nothing else in the kitchen other than a microwave, fridge, and sink. No cups, no plates, no cutlery: nothing. Had I known to bring my own cup to drink tap water, I would have, but I had to spend the day either cupping my hands and drinking bathroom water or just going without liquid all day.

        (It was not the happiest place.)

        1. LQ*

          Because it would be a “waste of taxpayer money” because some day some news paper did an expose on how terrible it was that government employees got coffee while they worked.

            1. Master Bean Counter*

              Depends. In Washington State anything like coffee or donuts could be interpreted as a gift of tax payer money, which isn’t allowed.

            2. Sigrid*

              My wife works for the state of Michigan, and yes, it is a legal issue. I don’t remember the exact wording of the law, but providing food or drinks (including bottled water) for state employees is illegal, except during things like full-day off-site inservices. Her work has free food available all the time, but it’s always potluck-style — it’s brought in (and paid for) by employees, not by the state (and NEVER by outsiders, that’s “bribery” and even more illegal).

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

            Yup. I work for the state government, but our department is entirely federally funded, and we’re not allowed to pay for food of any kind any more with federal money, because it’s wasteful to feed people apparently. So, 8 hour conference for teachers of students with significant cognitive disabilities? Sorry, we can’t give you lunch, or a snack even. You’re on your own.

        2. Master Bean Counter*

          Because taxpayers assume that all government employees are well compensated and/or overpaid. So if they want nice things like water they can drink and donuts during a meeting they can pay for it themselves.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            They’re not, though. I applied for a county job and the pay was so low that I could barely have fed myself at home, let alone on the job!

            We’re so spoiled at my workplace. We get free tea, coffee, and cocoa and house elves clean up our messes after we go home for the day. If we leave dishes in the sink, they wash them.

        3. Creag an Tuire*

          Because it’s politically impossible to admit that at some point we’re actually going to have to end some services people have gotten used to or, quelle horreur, RAISE TAXES, so we engage in ever more fruitless and nitpicky searches for “waste”.

        4. doreen*

          It’s not always a legal issue- my state agency used to pay for water and then 2008 came and it stopped for financial reasons. And it will probably never start up again.

  16. Not Karen*

    #5: You refer to the gratuities as “missing” as if the owners stole the tips that he was supposed to get, which is only true if he was promised tips in the first place. Yeah, the tippers are probably intending that their tip go to him, but from the description it sounds like he never expected to get tips in the first place.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I don’t understand this logic. If the tippers meant for the tips to go to Bob, how are they not truly “missing” if Bob’s boss decides to keep them? As a tipper, I would certainly consider them to be missing.

      (And this whole thing reminds me so much of the Amy’s Baking Company/Gordon Ramsey extravaganza!)

      1. OP#5*

        Thank you Rusty, that’s actually what I was going to ask.

        Not Karen – you’re saying intention counts for nothing? Companies added these tips expecting they would go to the waitstaff/delivery staff, but because this is not a tips based job, it’s fine for the owner to keep the extra money?

        1. Not Karen*

          It may not be a “good” or “nice” thing to do, but if the owners never promised the employees tips, then the employees shouldn’t expect tips.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Whether or not the employees expect tips is irrelevant. If someone gives them tips (and there is no doubt that this is what the tippers intended to do) it’s not okay for the owners to take those tips just because the employees weren’t aware of them. Honestly, I find your stance mind-boggling, if I understand it correctly.

          2. Natalie*

            That’s not how the law works, though. If an employee is considered a tipped employee (which is based on how many tips they typically receive, not their employer’s opinion) tips are their sole property. The employer can’t keep them.

          3. OP#5*

            I went and looked up the law in my state, and for events at least, they DEFINITELY legally owe him the tips. For events, our law would classify him as either “Wait staff employee”, a person, including a waiter, waitress, bus person, and counter staff, who: (1) serves beverages or prepared food directly to patrons, or who clears patrons’ tables; (2) works in a restaurant, banquet facility, or other place where prepared food or beverages are served; and (3) who has no managerial responsibility or “Service bartender”, a person who prepares alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverages for patrons to be served by another employee, such as a wait staff employee. The part of the law that apply says: (d) If an employer or person submits a bill, invoice or charge to a patron or other person that imposes a service charge or tip, the total proceeds of that service charge or tip shall be remitted only to the wait staff employees, service employees, or service bartenders in proportion to the service provided by those employees.

            Nothing in this section shall prohibit an employer from imposing on a patron any house or administrative fee in addition to or instead of a service charge or tip, if the employer provides a designation or written description of that house or administrative fee, which informs the patron that the fee does not represent a tip or service charge for wait staff employees, service employees, or service bartenders.

            (e) Any service charge or tip remitted by a patron or person to an employer shall be paid to the wait staff employee, service employee, or service bartender by the end of the same business day, and in no case later than the time set forth for timely payment of wages under section 148.

            1. Natalie*

              The FLSA does as well: anyone who customarily received $30 or more a month in tips is a tipped employee. If he’s only worked there for a year and the tips are $1,000, he clearly exceed that threshold.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Yeah, this logic is like finding out you were in someone’s will, but since you didn’t know about it when they died, someone else just took the money.

        1. LQ*

          Yes, I was trying to come up with something work related and I think this idea is like if the CEO decided everyone should get a $500 bonus and told the payroll person, the payroll person went, oh they didn’t tell anyone else, but the employees aren’t expecting it so, I’ll just take that money myself.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I would be furious if I found out the gratuity envelope I gave to the caterer at my wedding didn’t go to the servers. It’s clearly intended for that use – to not do so is unethical and a breach of trust.

    3. Elsajeni*

      I don’t think so — in your second sentence you say the tipper intended the tips to go to him, so how is that not “tips that he was supposed to get”? This is like saying that, if one of my friends decided to send me a lovely surprise birthday gift, but I didn’t know to expect it, I have no grounds to complain if my postman steals it because I was never promised a birthday gift in the first place.

    4. neverjaunty*

      C’mon. If the owners don’t want to give the employees tips, then don’t put a tip line on the check, don’t have a tip jar out, don’t have a ‘service charge’, and make it clear that your employees do not receive tips. Letting customers tip (or encouraging them to tip, e.g. through a ‘gratuity’ charge) and then keeping those tips is theft. The fact that OP’s husband doesn’t know he’s being stolen from does not make this okay.

  17. Rex*

    OP #5, IANAL, but my recollection is the law is different when it is described as a “gratuity,” which the employer has some discretion in disposing of, and a “tip”, which is required to go to the employees. Don’t know the law where you live, but it’s worth looking into.

    1. OP#5*

      So – that’s my mistake, I assumed they were the same thing. In this situation, I think I’m talking about tips, not gratuities. (His company does not add a service charge)

    2. Erin Nudi*

      That had occurred to me too, but the important thing is that they told him they’d sort it out and distribute the money to employees and they haven’t.

    3. Natalie*

      The only legal difference I could find is about how the IRS treats automatic gratuities (the 15-18% added to the bill for large parties) – they consider them regular wages and subject to withholding, but they still belong to the server. I don’t think the various state & federal laws care what you call it. If the customer has reason to believe it’s going to the server, you can’t keep it for the business.

  18. KR*

    At our office, they had two water coolers that took jugs. They quickly realized how expensive it was and replaced the one that was kept in our main upstairs meeting room with a cooler that takes water out of the tap and filters it. They don’t have to pay for water, just the upkeep on the filter. Granted, our town water tastes fine without filtering and since we’re municipal government if the water started tasting bad we all know who to go to to get it fixed. This might be a good option to reduce costs.

  19. Katie the Fed*

    #2 – I recommend getting a filter installed – maybe even one of those water bottle fillers that you see at airports and other places. People can fill up their own bottles.

    Otherwise you need a water club. I used to manage mine and they’re a pain. We did 6 month memberships – you paid for the membership and then could get water for the entire time. We put the cooler in a place that wasn’t easily accessible to outsiders.

  20. TootsNYC*

    You don’t need a creative way to say that. (Why do people always want to put creative spins on straightforward messages?)

    I used to be the etiquette person and message-board minder at a weddings magazine.
    People were always saying stuff like,”I need a poem…,” even something as specific and heartfelt as “I need a poem that will tell my new son-in-law how wonderful I think he is.”

    I used to say, all the time, “Can I make a case for prose?” Just say it!

  21. neverjaunty*

    OP #5, wage theft is very common in the food/service industry. There is also a lot of pretty clear law on when and whether it’s OK for employers to keep tips. Given that the owners didn’t mention the tips and then gave him a sketchy excuse about actually handing them over later, he should probably 1) talk to a lawyer and 2) start looking for another position.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I don’t think a lawyer makes sense for this. You won’t find one to take a case this small on contingency, and you’re paying hourly otherwise. That’s a LOT of money for little payout.

      complaint with DOL is a better idea.

  22. Msquared*

    #1, something similar happened to me when I was job hunting last year: I sent a cover a letter and resume in to an organization. Eventually I got a response back saying they were considering moving me to the interview stage, but first I would need to complete a very specific project (detailed instructions were attached to the email) which would take 4-5 hours. Only after turning in the completed project would I be considered for an interview, and even then only if they liked the results of my project. So I was being asked to do 4-5 hours of work without even the guarantee of an interview.


    Also, the interview was a day-long group interview.

  23. JJL*

    #5: I’m confused by this part of the answer “qualifies as a “tipped employee” under federal law (meaning that he regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips)”

    Doesn’t this seem circular? In this case, he does not receive tips…because the bosses take them. So can a boss make someone NOT qualify as a tipped employee by confiscating tip money before the employee ever sees it? It’s OK to confiscate tip money as long as you do it 100% of the time?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is outside my area of expertise, but I suspect it means “more than $30/month are directed his way by customers in the form of tips.”

  24. Ruthie*

    I think the advice to OP #2 to just bring your own water is the best bet. Anytime someone is optionally subsidizing others in the workplace (labor or financially), just stop! We have a dishwasher in the office, and I was one of maybe two people who ever started it or put dishes away. I finally realized I was wasting time and emotional energy being annoyed about it, and just stopped using the dishwasher. I now wash my dishes by hand, dry them, and return them, and no longer worry about others putting in their fair share.

  25. Husband of OP#5*

    I’m the person referred to in this post. To answer a few questions a little clearer. At least initially I don’t think my employers maliciously withheld gratuities from me. They really aren’t very business savvy. As another poster stated they grew a small business beyond their capabilities to run it. That’s part of the problem, the other part is that the couple I work for don’t handle the financial side of the business. The business has a financial backer who does not have any day to day involvement. I’ve worked there for almost 1 year and I’ve seen him once. The other issue is that his wife is our accountant, but she doesn’t really want to do it, so she does the bare minimum. I think it’s just a perfect storm of incompetence, ignorance and poor planning. I know it was mentioned that I was given a deadline for getting my gratuities, but I believe that was given just to shut me up. Another thing mentioned was to get a group together to attempt a unified front of sorts. We were given this opportunity and it was even discussed between fellow employees that during our meeting with our boss we would all bring up gratuities. Unfortunately everyone else used the meeting to ask for a raise instead of bringing up gratuities. My biggest issue is I’m at the higher scale of what I can make in my current position within the catering industry at my position. I’m working towards a better position but I’m not there yet. My job affords me the luxury of nights and weekends, which to anyone in food service is almost unheard of. Obviously I want my money, I just don’t want it to come down to legal action. With the help of a couple of my co-workers I’ve managed to put together a list of all of the events I’ve worked and what companies they were for. I’m about to email this list to my employer.What I need advice on is what I should and shouldn’t put in that email. I want to keep it professional, yet let them know that I want my money.

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