how do I give a reference for my awful boss, employer will fire anyone who job-searches, and more

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

1. How do I give a reference for my awful boss?

I just found out that my boss is a final-round candidate for a position elsewhere. As a result, it’s likely that people from that department will come to our department to see him in action / ask us what he’s like to work with. (I work in education, so this isn’t as weird as it might be other industries.)

Thing is, Boss is a very nice person, but a terrible manager. He’s made a number of policy choices that I really disagree with, but he’s also just a mess: not on top of things that are supposed to be his job, he can’t run a meeting to save his soul, he takes critiques ultra-personally, he plays favorites with staff…everything you want a manger NOT to do. If I’m feeling charitable, I can see where the new job might be a better fit for Boss – it seems to involve less direct management of people, for one – but the fact remains that working with him has become increasingly nightmarish over the past several years.

My colleagues are pretty much prepared to lie through their teeth to get this guy out of here. I can see where they’re coming from, but it makes me feel gross – plus, there’s no guarantee that whoever replaced Boss would be any better on a policy level. (And if I tell the truth, and my comments keep Boss from getting New Job, and he finds that out? I believe the technical term is yikes.)

So. Do I have a good way out of this – ideally one where I get rid of Boss without having to feel like I’m selling snake oil? Or should I just arrange to be “out sick” when the interviewers come around?

Ugh. It’s really your call, but I’m going to argue that the ethical thing to do here is to answer the reference-checker’s questions honestly and straightforwardly. Yes, it means that you may be stuck with your terrible boss much longer. But it means that you won’t be responsible for foisting a terrible manager on to an unsuspecting team that tried to do some due diligence about him and then got intentionally misled.

Of course, you could also argue that the reference-checkers should know that they can’t rely on your boss’s current employees to speak the truth because of the power dynamics in play, and that they should also be vetting him with lots of other sources (including even former employees who he no longer manages and who might feel more comfortable being candid).

If nothing else, though, you should at least ask the reference-checkers what systems are in place to ensure that your feedback doesn’t get back to your boss. (And frankly, even asking that will signal something, and you could possibly stop there and say that you’re just not comfortable commenting since you currently work for him. That will send a pretty strong message to anyone who knows how to pay attention.)

2. Employer announced it will fire anyone who interviews for another job

I work in a not-for-profit, private college with multiple sites. Recently, the campus presidents at these sites have told employees that if they find out that a person is interviewed for another job, the person will be automatically terminated from employment. In some cases, emails have been sent to program chairs/deans requesting that they report employees that they know who are interviewing and move to terminate them. This has never been the policy or attitude of this organization. Now employees are threatening to leave, and given time, many will leave.

Is this appropriate? Although I am not planning to leave, I get inquiries from recruiters all the time and have conversations with them. Because I interview, that does not mean that I am resigning.

Nope, it’s ridiculous, out of touch, and fairly horrid. The college expects employees to … stay there forever? No one should ever leave? They’re absolutely going to drive away good people and will have trouble attracting new good people if word gets out.

It’s gross. I urge you to push back loudly and encourage others to do the same.

3. My organization is supporting a controversial charity — should I speak up?

I work in the communications department of a quasi-governmental organization. The head of our philanthropy committee recently put forward several candidates for a benefit walk in which our organization’s employees can choose to participate later this year (entirely on a voluntary basis).

One of the organizations put forward is Autism Speaks, an organization that I consider legitimately harmful for reasons that can be found through a Google search. But more to the point, it’s controversial enough that I think it would be ill-advised for our org to be out there supporting it.

I feel like I should bring this up. The thing is, I’m not on the philanthropy committee, and presumably someone (or multiple someones) who are on it suggested Autism Speaks because they do support it. I don’t want to make anyone feel attacked by bringing this up. Is this even a legitimate point for me to bring up? If I were to mention the controversy surrounding Autism Speaks to my coworker, what would be a good way to bring it up?

Absolutely you can bring it up — anyone could, but you especially have standing since you’re in communications. I’m sure that they think it’s an uncontroversial health charity and don’t realize how very controversial it actually is (I didn’t realize it myself, until people discussed it here recently, and I think that’s pretty common for people outside of the autism community).

I’d say this: “I’m not sure if you realize this, but Autism Speaks is actually extremely controversial and considered harmful by many in the autism community. Here are a couple of links to articles that explain the concerns. I think it could be problematic for us to publicly support it, given the controversy around it, or at least that we shouldn’t be doing that without more internal discussion.”

To be clear, this isn’t about adjudicating the controversy in any way; it’s about recognizing that there is a controversy, and that sponsoring the organization is taking a stand on one side of it. That shouldn’t happen unless your leadership makes a deliberate decision to do that, with a full understanding that that’s what they’d be doing.

4. Do I have to give back my computer when I leave my job?

I worked at a place for five years. Four years ago, my computer failed and my boss bought me one that he wanted me to have because he wanted certain specs.

I became unhappy over a giant pay cut and was in talks with a headhunter for a new position. They wanted me bring coworkers with me. I talked to one about the opportunity. She told my boss, who fired me.

He said he wanted the computer back, but I have been using it as my personal computer also and he knew that all along. It was not just a work computer; it replaced my personal computer and he knew it all along. Now he says I have to take all my stuff off of it and give it back. There was nothing in writing that said I had to give it back if I left. He also told me that I could not talk to anyone still working there. Can this be legal?

Yes. If your company bought you a computer for work, it’s their property unless you had a specific agreement that you would own it, even though you were also using it for personal things. And while your former boss can’t control who you talk to now that you no longer work there (you can talk to whoever you want), he can certainly tell his current employees not to speak with you.

5. Should my resume include volunteer work with an informal organization?

I was let go from my job a couple months ago, and in addition to looking for a new position and doing some volunteer work with an established nonprofit organization, I’ve been spending a good deal of time doing some less formal volunteering activities. In particular, I’ve been working with a group of people to help create a new advocacy group surrounding a local issue. As part of this, I’ve developed a website, facilitated strategic planning meetings, ensured regular social media postings, coordinated activities, and become the “expert” in the group on the issues we are working on. Our group was even invited to represent our constituency in a city-initiated discussion process.

However, given that this is not an official nonprofit and has only been existence for a few months, is it appropriate to put on my resume? On the one hand, it demonstrates that I’m using my job skills even while I’m not working; on the other, it could be seen as more of a “hobby” type activity, since it isn’t really connected with an established organization. Also, I’m assuming that if I do put it on my resume it should go at the bottom with volunteer work, even though it is my most recent experience?

Yes, absolutely that’s appropriate to put on your resume! I’d put it in a Volunteer or Community Involvement section, rather than Work Experience, unless (a) you’re spending really significant amounts of time on it and/or (b) the work directly relates to the jobs you’re applying for. If either (a) or (b) is true, I think it’s fine to include it with the rest of your work experience.

It doesn’t really matter that it’s not a formally registered nonprofit; it’s real, it exists, and you can prove the work you’ve been doing.

{ 282 comments… read them below }

  1. Alanna*

    LW#2 – I had no idea the hotel California ran private colleges! Does your management want to be human traffickers when they grow up?

        1. RVA Cat*

          Also, note that they are treating OP#2 and the other staff like steerage passengers on the (movie version of) Titanic. The question is, is it better to run for the lifeboats and maybe be shot, or stay and definitely drown?

          1. starsaphire*

            Gives me horrors thinking about what the “exit interview” is like. ;)

            And now I think of it, “Exit Interview” would be a great title for a murder mystery…

            1. RVA Cat*

              It takes place on board a boat at sea, with the interviewee’s feet in a bucket of concrete….

    1. Ama*

      When I worked in academia, I used to complain about upper leadership at my university expecting a level of loyalty and commitment from the staff that was more appropriate for alumni; this feels like someone took that attitude and developed it for a satirical novel. (I don’t doubt that it happened, it’s just that logically ridiculous).

    2. Laura*

      As someone who has attended and worked at private colleges, this letter horrified me. That practice is extremely aggressive and inappropriate and I’m astonished that multiple administrators would think it’s a good idea.

      I encourage OP to (covertly) look for outside employment. Get out as soon as possible!

      1. OhNo*

        Agreed. The only logical conclusion to draw from this kind of behavior is that they are going to fire you one way or the other – either it will be because you’re actually interviewing elsewhere, or because someone just thinks you’re interviewing elsewhere.

        At least if you’re actually doing it, you’ll be prepared when you end up on the chopping block.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This happens in insulated groups that regularly validate what other group members are saying. It’s sort of an example of group think. I have seen it happen in a lot of groups and I have worked for places like this. You learn to lie because you have to learn to lie.

    3. Classy*

      #2 I wanted to provide you an update to the question. My fear was this behavior would stimulate exits and, unfortunately, the last few weeks, resignations have increased. Many have been with short or no notice. It was interesting that one of the managers who sent the email with the “fire if you interview” threat just resigned immediately and many were surprised that the person announced they were leaving to take another job the level of which indicated multiple layers of interviews. I did share my concerns forward in the organization and I hope (believe) it is (will be) addressed upfront. In the meantime, I continue to look at my options.

  2. Brooke*

    I can’t think of an instance where I would have expected to keep equipment purchased my job, much less a semi-expensive item such as a computer. Maybe in niche fields?

    1. dragonzflame*

      Me neither. It’s a business expense for THEIR business, so it belongs to them. It was bought as a tool for you to make money for them.

      That said, the computer is four years old, which is pretty long in the tooth. I wonder if you might be able to arrange to buy it off them? This would depend on the company, but may be worth a shot – I had that option with my work cellphone at OldJob.

      1. Artemesia*

        I had an 8 year old laptop with the letters worn off the keys when I retired and I still had to return it (I offered to buy it — at whatever its current value would be) I am sure that they didn’t recycle it for use — it was so old, but they still wouldn’t let me buy it. Policy. I assume it was a general policy to avoid ambiguity and abuse in acquiring company property. I cannot fathom why anyone thinks they should be able to waltz off with company property for free; most places it is also very dangerous to mix personal and professional use. This was not the case in my profession but it really is in many places. The OP is lucky they will let her download her own materials; often especially after layoffs or firings you have great difficulty getting access to things produced on company equipment even if it is your personal work or family budget. Downloading and taking home any files you will later need — either personal or those related to your potential law suit if you were fired unjustly should occur before giving notice or when you sense bad things in the offing. It isn’t a bad plan to routinely back up anything personal in a portable hard drive that you keep at home.

        1. JoJo*

          “I cannot fathom why anyone thinks they should be able to waltz off with company property for free; ”

          Remember the guy who wanted to keep his work truck? I always wondered what happened to him.

      2. T3k*

        This was what I was thinking too. It’s probably not worth much and the LW could probably offer a better price than what the boss would get if they sold it back to the manufacturer. However, if the boss isn’t willing to sell it, I’d give that laptop a thorough scrubbing (because I’m paranoid like that).

      3. Violet Fox*

        Speaking as an IT person, if someone returned to use a four year old computer, a five year old computer.. we would trash it, not reuse it. If someone returned to us an 8 year old laptop, it would go straight into the recycling bin after having it’s hard drive destroyed.

        The only reason I could think of returning an old computer to a work place is because of informational security, i.e. what is on the hard drive, and it has nothing to do with the hardware itself. If it has anything to do with the hardware itself, then quite frankly people are taking the piss.

        1. MK*

          Would you trash it on principle or because it genuinely can’t do the work anymore? I use a six year old computer for work; it is in excellent condition and perfectly adequate for the needs of my job. If I left, why on earth would my organization throw it away instead of getting a couple of more years out of it?

          A big company (who I assume buys computers in bulk) might afford the policy you mention; there is also the issue of some jobs needing the latest technology. But for a small bussiness that uses computers in a mundane way, it makes little sense.

          1. Violet Fox*

            Both. I would also doubt a 6 year old laptop is really in “excellent condition”. I’ve been handed enough laptops that are in “excellent condition” except that the hard drive is mostly dead, or the battery hold half an hour of charge if you are lucky, or the onboard graphics card causes it it’s screen to stop working periodically due to overheat, or someone spilled a glass of wine on it and didn’t want to tell us..

            There is also the whole cost-benefit thing. It would cost us more in man-hours to actually repair older hardware, or have it sent out for repair then it does to just replace it. Especially after it has spent years running scientific computations. Then again I’m also not responsible for making sure a few people have a few computers that work, I’m responsible for a few hundred computers, laptops ontop of that, and if I have to run around putting out fires repairing old things, I don’t have time to do development, build computational infrastructure for needs down the line etc.

            That and who would you give a 6 year old laptop to? Would you give it to a new employee to make sure they don’t feel valued? Maybe an employee who has been around to show them that their work just isn’t that important? That’s also a factor as well.

            1. Violet Fox*

              Really though, a lot of it with returning computers is about work products on the hard drive, which rightfully do actually belong to the workplace.

              1. Busytrap*

                This. 100%. We had this go down with an employee about a year ago where he refused to return his laptop after he was terminated. We almost had to get the police involved. We didn’t give two shits about the laptop itself, but we DEFINITELY cared about the data on it!

            2. Yetanotherjennifer*

              I don’t know about a 6-year-old computer, but my husband’s employer donates their old laptops once they are too old to run the business software. Lots of them go to Lego leagues around the country.

            3. Camellia*

              Yet they will force that same employee to keep using that laptop no matter how old it is.

              If you wouldn’t give it to a new employee because that would make her/him not feel valued, how do you think it makes your existing employees feel when they have to keep using the same old stuff and watch the new employees get the good stuff?

              I actually WORK in IT and we usually have the oldest, cheapest laptops, office furniture, ice machine (Seriously! We just moved locations and our rather nice ice machine went to the new executives’ floor and we got the one that is corroded.) etc. My laptop is five years old, large, and very heavy, but the last new guy got a new smaller faster one.

              Increased salaries aren’t the only thing that often comes with a new job.

          2. Violet Fox*

            Really though, a lot of it with returning computers is about work products on the hard drive, which rightfully do actually belong to the workplace.

            1. Elysian*

              Right – this is the real concern, not the equipment itself. OP has already proven to Boss that he isn’t making a graceful exit by trying to take another employee with him. If he would take Boss’s people, why shouldn’t Boss think he would take the company’s client lists or whatever confidential information exists in the industry? It isn’t about the computer’s cost, it is about what is on it.

              1. fposte*

                I don’t see how getting the laptop back prevents that from happening, though. If it’s copyable, it could be copied off the laptop, even if it’s within locked files.

        2. KR*

          I second this. Most of the time, all of our computers that are older than 5 years are tossed. It’s not worth the upkeep and the cost of fixing them. Also, if we don’t budget to replace the computer and then it breaks because it’s 6 years old, we won’t have a way of replacing it so we replace it sooner rather than later. I’ve been without a personal computer for a few months now, and unfortunately our company doesn’t allow us to sell off our old PCs or I would buy one of these older machines that we throw out every year.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Our company sells them off every few years, and it’s a win-win for everyone; the IT team spends some time on it, but since the company charges $10-50 for monitors and $20-100 for PCs, they probably break even, and the IT staff would have to spend time wiping drives and hauling equipment to dispose of it anyway, so it’s not all an extra expense. I love my surplus equipment, it makes for a great backup computer setup!

        3. I'm Not Phyllis*

          Yes … the computer would be pretty outdated by that point! However, you’d probably still expect them to at least offer to return it.

        4. Liza*

          Violet Fox: Speaking as another IT person, I too would put a computer that old straight into recycling, but OTOH I understand the reasoning behind requiring them to return the computer despite its age: since the computer is a company asset, even if a very old one, the finance department would need to be involved in figuring out how to handle the taxes etc.

        5. A Non E. Mouse*

          We recycle most old ones – we usually take laptops out of service at 5 years, but will run one for 6 if the user is happy and not complaining.

          We do keep some around as “loaners” – there are times newer ones are in for warranty repair, reload, etc. and we’ll give the user a spare for general email/access purposes.

          We usually want them returned so that we know absolutely positively 1) the data is wiped and 2) we are in compliance with our Microsoft agreement. We keep a list of assets that *should* have software on it under our license agreement, and a list of all those we’ve deactivated and rid ourselves of.

        6. Artemesia*

          This was why I was so annoyed. It was clear my ancient laptop would be trashed but I still was not allowed to buy it. I can only assume it was to avoid situations where people abuse the process. It would have been convenient for me to have the old one so I could conserve my work. I did lose a number of things when I transferred files because it was a huge job and I made mistakes. There was no question at all of proprietary information on the laptop; the machines really functioned like personal computers and our work was our own.

        7. Marcela*

          Well, in the universities I’ve worked users need to return their laptops for inventory reasons, as they were bought using money from grants or projects that last several years and need to have everything 1000% documented, including where it is everything we got. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter if the disk is there, or if the laptop doesn’t have the charger or stuff like that. As long as it has a sticker, it needs to go back.

      4. TootsNYC*

        well, the OP might have been able to purchase it off them if they’d asked BEFORE the boss said, “you have to give it back.

        The OP was fired, so that’s not good; but if the reason is given as “she was trying to recruit people away,” lots of sane new employers will think it’s unimportant.
        But “she stole the computer”? Instant death.

      5. Brooke*

        I’ve done this – but yes, I definitely bought it FROM the company. I certainly had no expectation I could just keep it, even if it was aging.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      The only thing about this is that I got a slight impression that the OP may have been using a personal computer that she bought before the boss bought this one. . .if she had her own computer, and it failed because it was being used 40 hrs a week on the job, I can see why she may think the replacement should be hers. (Not 100% clear who owned the first dead computer). If that is the case, that’s why byod isn’t great. Too much confusion over who is responsible for wear and tear and replacement.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Also security issues, usually, since the byod either isn’t under the company’s control (security issue for the company) or it is (security issue, albeit predictable one, for the employee).

        Though I had a computer for about four years, a while back, that the company paid about half the price and I paid the rest. It was explicitly a work/personal machine that I owned. (I did that because I asked for an upgrade due to lack of disk space – in a role where disk space was needed – and got an old machine that had maybe 10% more disk than the one it was replacing. Another reason reusing old computers as-is is not a great idea – and yes, it was a refurb.)

        When a change in company policy required me to either put it on the company domain under IT control or retire it, I retired it (at work, kept using it at home) and got a company-paid system.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          I don’t see how they thought it was “theirs” and not company’s, but then again I don’t believe I’ve ever worked somewhere (outside of pure freelance where I definitely bring my own) that didn’t provide a computer for employees. Maybe there is more of this nowadays? Kind of screams “cheap” on company’s part.

          I would never trust a company-supplied computer or phone, as I know they also install spyware on them. It’s just too much cross into personal space, and I’ve seen people fired over what they thought was private, so the work machines are purely the work machines for me.

      2. LBK*

        Yes, this was my understanding – she’d be using her personal computer for work, so when that died the company replaced it so she could continue working. I think that does blur the lines, but I still ultimately fall on the side that the company bought it for her for work purposes, not as a gift for personal use, so it remains company property after she leaves.

      3. Nancy*

        Yes it was my personal computer that broke. I was willing to purchase a new one with my own money, but he wanted to get this one. There was nothing said about who owed what. I think I will be more careful next time.

        1. Violet Fox*

          Much of this sort of confusion is why it is policy where I work for us to not give out advice for people as to what to buy for their own personal computers.

    3. Finman*

      My last company had a policy to give someone $X to buy a laptop of their choosing based on minimum requirements and it was theirs to keep whatever happened. However, you had to maintain, support, insure, etc. If the hard drive crashed, it’s your problem not the company. It was their way of pushing off maintenance costs and what not.

    4. J-nonymous*

      I can’t either – but it’s possible if the employee were using his or her personal computer to perform work and the company purchased a replacement that the implication was it was a gift.

    5. SystemsLady*

      My old manager implied that I should view the company laptop and phone as a benefit during the offer stage (and used both of his personally to a pretty large extent).

      Let’s just say I ignored that, but I doubt he’s the only manager out there who’d said that.

      Personal use is tolerated about as much as he used his phone and computer, particularly with regard to phones as we do a lot of on call stuff – many will bring in their cell phone number and take it when they leave (not the phone itself of course). But if you’re putting games and tax software on the computer, I think that would be frowned upon.

      So yeah, my perspective is I wouldn’t be surprised by somebody erroneously thinking they get to keep the phone, but I would with the laptop.

      1. Oranges*

        At my work (software company) we ALL have games on our work computers. You really need to know your work place though before doing something like that.

        IT actually helped me figure out why I couldn’t download my steam games while at work, (Firewalls) and what to do (switch to a different wifi at lunch).

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          A couple of places I’ve worked have had specific “no downloading” policies, and staff can’t put anything onto work machines. These have been big Public Sector bodies, but the reasons are to stop ppl inadvertently adding viruses etc. 2 places had a “company USB only” policies too, so I’m guessing there’s a big spectrum here.

  3. Stephanie*

    #4: Boss probably wanted you to have the specs so you could do work for the company (like you needed a certain level of graphics card for design work or something). I’ve seen ads for tech startups that list the ability to pick whatever computer setup you want as a perk, but never assumed that I owned the computer.

    I don’t think you have much of a leg to stand on, unless your IT department has some sort of agreement where you could buy the computer off the company.

  4. Artemesia*

    On the awful boss, I think I’d just say ‘Oh I can’t really talk about him, he is my boss.’ and leave it at that. It is a dilemma.

    1. NJ Anon*

      I agree. There’s no way employees should be asked for a reference for a current boss. What if they tell the truth and he doesn’t get the job? It wouldn’t take rocket science for him to figure out what happened. The results could be disastrous. I would do as AAM suggested. Decline.

      1. M-T (LW#1)*

        I mean, he’s one of a few finalists for the job, and he’s expressed to other members of the department that he’s not sure that he’s what they’re looking for, so I might have some plausible deniability? But I’d really rather stay out of the thing entirely.

        1. LBK*

          I think it could certainly be inferred that you only have bad things to say if you decline to comment, but that’s still better than directly giving negative feedback, where there’s no question of your intent.

          1. NJ Anon*

            Yup, let them figure it out. Heck you could even say what if I gave a great review and then, well he wasn’t?

        2. Artemesia*

          Well if I thought the boss were fabulous, I would say so. So yes declining does have a message. But it is deniable. ‘Oh, when they contacted me I told them it would not be ethical to talk about my boss since I still work here. I just think that is not my place.’ Hard to fault that.

        3. TootsNYC*

          “Well, if I think he’s awful, I’d be tempted to lie and tell you he’s great, so you’ll hire him and get him out of here. If I think he’s great, I’d be tempted to tell some little lie so you won’t hire him, and I don’t have to get a new, awful boss. So I think I’d rather opt out.”

    2. M-T (LW#1)*

      Yeah, that’s where I’m leaning…and as Allison points out, expressing hesitation about answering is its own kind of commentary.

    3. LBK*

      Totally agree. I think you just point out the awkward position it puts you in and decline to comment.

    4. INTP*

      Yeah, I was thinking that an excuse like, “Oh, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable giving a reference about a current boss” would be a way out of it. You certainly don’t owe anyone a reference about your boss – that’s not a fair position to place you in – and if they are smart they will realize that you not giving a reference means that you would have given a negative one.

  5. Stephanie*

    #1: Oh heh. So during my company’s busy season, the sent a few of us from the Winterfell and Dorne facilities to the King’s Landing facility (as that one was going to have a huge uptick in volume and needed extra help).

    -King’s Landing supervisor (who was there during the rest of the year): Oh, which facility are you usually at during the year?
    -Winterfell supervisor: Winterfell.
    -King’s Landing supervisor: Oh hehe. We sent you Theon. We were so happy when that position opened at Winterfell and we could get rid of him at King’s Landing.
    -Winterfell employee: Oh my God, he is terrible.
    -King’s Landing employee: Oh, we know. We were thrilled to get rid of him. We kept checking at Dorne, at Riverrun, at the Eyerie, at all of them just to see what would open up. And you guys at Winterfell posted a job first! When they asked us for a reference, everyone was like “Oh. Yeah, he’s a supervisor! He works at this company! Sure does!”

    Anyway, don’t do that. Someone will get stuck with him as the dud. I get the impulse, though.

    1. likeOMG*

      That’s terrible.

      …I’d still probably prevaricate or make vaguely positive mumblings though.

      Because you’re right— in the end, *someone* has to deal with Theon and I don’t want that someone to be me.

      1. AnotherFed*

        “No, you touched him last, he’s your problem now!”

        No useful advice, but if these interviewers think current employees are going to give them good information, they have gullible written on their foreheads.

        1. the gold digger*

          They are the same people who think you will get honest feedback on the anonymous annual employee satisfaction surveys. Where results are broken out by department. And there are only five people in your department.

          1. M-T (LW#1)*

            …to be fair, that is 100% something my organization has done, so at least they’re 100% in character as a bunch of morons?

          2. Lindsay J*

            I like the little surveys that they hand out at the end of trainings asking how the training (done by in-house HR) was.

            They’re “anonymous” but in a couple of my companies they were handed in at the end of the meeting directly to the trainer. Like that’s really anonymous.

            One time the HR director got so mad about the negative-but-factual responses that I gave that he tried to get my department’s director to tell him whose hand writing it was. She, for her part, told him that she was going to do no such thing and that he could either fire her entire department or that he could drop it and maybe worry about why his department was getting negative feedback rather than who was giving it on a supposedly anonymous survey.

            I abstain from filling out any of those types of things anymore. A couple times there was a lot of pressure as there was a big push to get 100% participation on an employee engagement survey, but I learned my lesson the first time. I’m also not going to lie and say that thing’s are actually great when they’re not, though.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I had to do this once for a course I waited and waited for–and it turned out to be the most disappointing thing ever. My review was honest. I didn’t want someone else to try and take the course the way it was, because it was so unfocused that I didn’t learn anything. :(

          3. Lizketeer*

            My favorite one of these was when the survey asked for “big department” and then “length of time/role”

            As the only intern in the department, there wasn’t much that was anonymous about my responses

          4. Lily in NYC*

            How timely – I just had a disturbing conversation with my sister about this last night. She is the #2 at a large well-known agency and told me about a survey she sends to the senior staff to find out their issues, what kind of support they need, etc. She said she tells them that the survey is confidential, and it is. But the scary part is that they also assume it’s anonymous, but it’s not. She never comes out and says it’s anonymous or not, but most people assume it when they hear “confidential”. It really made me think and now I’m going to be much more careful about these things. I told my sister that I’m glad she’s not my boss (even though her staff seems to love her).

            1. Lore*

              I temped at Radio City for a while back in the day, and worked in the marketing department before and during Christmas Spectacular season one year. The department prepared customer surveys to give out with programs, and they’d used various incentives to encourage people to return them at the end of the show–one year it was candy canes, one year it was silver dollars (if I remember correctly). That year, they were offering discount coupons to next year’s show. Great…except that they wanted to send the coupons to people when tickets went on-sale the following year. And the survey said “ANONYMOUS AND CONFIDENTIAL” in big letters at the top, then asked for your name, mailing address, and email address (this was 1997 or so, so it wasn’t such a given that everyone had email). No one who actually worked in the office could understand AT ALL why this was a problem. I spent an entire morning trying to come up with new ways to explain the meaning of “anonymous and confidential” and eventually gave up.

            2. TootsNYC*

              well, maybe that just trust your sister about the “confidential” part; maybe they don’t care that she knows what they said, and they totally trust her to not repeat it.

              1. Lily in NYC*

                I don’t think they realize it because she said there’s an EVP who doesn’t like her and wrote nasty things about her in the survey. This EVP is the source of so many awesome stories – she’s like 20 crazy Ask A Manager anecdotes rolled into one.

          5. Stephanie*

            Ha, right? Ours asked something like “Even if I got a higher salary offer elsewhere, I wouldn’t leave the company.” Like, what?

          6. nerfmobile*

            My company has multiple sites, and groups can be spread out across sites and roles in many different ways. Once the director of my group sent out a “anonymous” survey with a some questions about site, role, etc to help in analysis. I wrote back to her and pointed out that I happened to be the only person in my role+location+other characteristic so if I answered those (mandatory) questions accurately my response would not be anonymous.

        2. M-T (LW#1)*

          I mean, in defense of the interviewers, they’re also going to be observing him on-the-job, I think (again, I’m in education, where this kind of thing is pretty standard)…but, yeah, I can’t imagine that they honestly expect to get 100% honest and unfiltered responses from his current staff.

          1. OhNo*

            I hope they don’t expect to get a 100% accurate view of what he’s like on the job when they’re observing him, either. If he knows they’re going to be watching, of course he’s going to be on his best behavior and try to look good.

            It’s a prime example of the observer’s paradox, honestly.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      Happens ALL the time in government. Too much work to actually take disciplinary action against a poor performer so just pass them along to the next sucker.

      1. Washington*

        I actually have a rule in place now with my team. “No free headcount” If anyone is trying to give us someone, you can be sure I’m exiting them inside of 12 months for poor performance.

      2. Xay*

        Or worse, you have someone whose work products are fine or even very good, but their soft skills are awful. So you hand them off to another office with assurances that they are a hard worker and leave out the alienation.

      3. Caffeine Free*

        Not just passed off, but recommended and promoted.

        My former coworker was “passed off”. Nice person, but not the most capable. I spoke with them recently and they want badly to come back because they hate their new position. It’s too difficult and they feel alienated (probably because the person can’t keep up with the work that the bosses recommended the person for). Honestly, it’s pretty crappy all around.

      4. Liana*

        My ex works in the federal government and said a few times that if someone was really bad but they just couldn’t get the paperwork together to fire them, they’d be re-assigned to some remote location (Alaska was pretty common). Most of the time, the person would leave because they didn’t want to move.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          My most recent ex-bf is in federal law enforcement and it’s typical to start people off in backwaters–they ask you for your top choices, but then they assign you where they need you anyway. And I read a book by an FBI hostage negotiator who started in my city and basically said that’s what our local office was, LOL. But I can totally see how the backwater offices could end up either being understaffed or full of people who aren’t so great.

          1. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

            oof. This is really horrifying re: police brutality, excessive force, and civil rights violation complaints. Putting less than great people in a community with marginalized and oppressed residents is a recipe for corruption.

      5. Stephanie*

        Yup, we do that, too. (Private corporation, however.) Actually firing someone (especially in a supervisory role like that) is pretty much limited to egregious things like stealing or punching a coworker. You just learn to work around that person, which is frustrating.

      6. One of the Sarahs*

        Yes! This happened in a team I worked in, where a terrible employee was approved by his manager as suitable for promotion, to try to get rid of him…. He fluffed the interview, AND the team leader couldn’t then put him on disciplinary for not being up to his grade, because she’d just said he was great. It was a massive shitshow, and when I joined the team a year later, it was still rumbling. Nightmare. Bosses, don’t DO this!

    3. OfficePrincess*

      I had a similar situation pop up at a meeting I was at with multiple facilities a few weeks ago. I had a former employee who was a giant PITA. Nothing she did was explicitly fireable, but she was just miserable to be around (but the problem was us, the building, the company, etc, not her). She put in to transfer and the prospective new manager didn’t ask me for a reference, just if I had any objections to the transfer. Hell no. Flash forward about a year and a half to the meeting where I found myself at a table with three other people who had worked with her and found out she had transferred two more times since she left my facility. At this point, she has enough of a reputation in the company in our region that I don’t think she’ll be offered any more no-questions-asked transfers. I didn’t intentionally deceive anyone when she was up for that first transfer, but if you’re not going to ask questions, you get what you get.

      1. M-T (LW#1)*

        Yeah, mostly my concern is that they are going to ask questions, and that, since this is my boss we’re talking about, a negative/honest response now could spell trouble down the line. Still, as has been pointed out, sometimes we say the most when we say nothing at all…

        1. OfficePrincess*

          Exactly. Note I didn’t say anything like “we’ll miss her” “our loss is your gain” or even object to the request for her to start at the beginning of the next week instead of giving two weeks. There should have been an orange flag waving at the very least.

    4. Bookworm*

      Plus, now they’ve completely torpedoed their credibility if they ever actually want to refer someone they like to you.

  6. Fred*

    The computer wasn’t a present. It was “given” to you so that you can do your job. It’s really weird that you think you can keep it. It’s not your property, and it never was

    1. NJ Anon*

      Not that weird if OP was using her personal computer for work which boss replaced. Another lesson learned: GET STUFF LIKE THIS IN WRITING!

      1. Graciosa*

        It doesn’t seem likely that she would be able to get a written statement that the computer was hers if it wasn’t. It really does surprise me that anyone would think that a corporation (which is charged with making money for its shareholders) would just give an employee a computer as a gift. I guess I could see this for a raffle at the holiday party, but that’s not the case for a computer being used for work.

        I do think other commenters have made good points about being able to ask to purchase the machine, but I don’t think it will work for the OP. Former Employer is probably concerned about her trying to recruit employees to another company *while she was working for Former Employer* which is a major breach of the duty of loyalty.

        Absent an agreement otherwise, recruiting after you leave is pretty normal. Wandering the halls and recruiting while you’re still working for the company you’re trying to recruit from is definitely bad form.

        Even if the OP could have convinced Former Employer to sell her the computer upon her departure under other circumstances, I don’t think she will be able to do so now.

        Hopefully, she saved up enough in the last four years to be able to replace the machine she didn’t have to replace four years ago.

      2. INTP*

        Yeah, I got the sense that this was the situation. OP’s personal computer broke, boss wanted her to have certain specs so she could do work at home, and purchased the computer for her since that’s really the only fair way for a company to dictate the specs of your home computer. Boss got pissed at OP for speaking with a recruiter, fired OP and is also demanding the computer back out of vengeance.

        If this was the laptop she’s been using in the office AND at home, different situation, of course.

        1. NJ Anon*

          Yes, and I am guessing this isn’t a large corporation. More likely a very small operation.

        2. Eliza Jane*

          Yeah, I had the same thought regarding whether the boss would have let her keep it if it hadn’t been for the bad blood…

      3. fposte*

        Yeah, still weird. Work computers belong to work. You don’t expect to keep stuff work buys you, whether it’s the company car or the company desk lamp.

        I get that the OP is alarmed at the prospect at having to pull her personal stuff off of it. People shift between BYOD and work devices at my workplace too, and we definitely put personal stuff on work provided devices, so I’m not condemning that. But that’s not a reason why the company-owned computer becomes yours–you just have to learn how to get your stuff off of it and then let the thing go back to the company.

      4. Observer*

        Still weird. The boss paid for it so she could work. The fact that he didn’t say “Ok, so now that we own the computer, you need to stop using it for personal work” doesn’t change that.

  7. Nancy*

    I was not thinking I would “waltz” off with company property. That never occurred to me. It also never occurred to me that he would want it back after this long and after he knew that I don’t have another computer. Not worldly savvy I guess.

    I did not want him to buy me a computer and I do not know how to take my stuff off, that is personal so that he cannot see it. He is a computer engineer and could most likely find or see what ever I thought I had taken off.

    The program for work has already been disabled and I just deleted that.

    However, I understand that he wants it back. The next question is, how do I get all of my stuff off? And I will have to be able to get all my stuff on a computer I will have to buy now.

    I would appreciate any help on that.

    1. AnotherFed*

      The easiest answer is to buy an external hard drive and copy all of your files to the hard drive. Some hard drives even come with software that will automatically back up all of your stuff, so check for that when buying one.

      As for deleting your stuff so your boss cannot recover it, assuming there are legitimate work files on the computer you can’t destroy, there is no foolproof way. All you can do is make it difficult enough that it is too much work. Clear your browser history, delete all your files (including searching for and removing all the MS office autorecover files), and empty the recycle bin.

      1. I'm Not Phyllis*

        That would probably be easiest … second easiest would be flash drives or CDs, but with an external hard drive you could probably save everything in one place.

        This probably isn’t helpful to you now, but for the future it’s best to keep your personal information off of your work computer. I would like to assume that your boss has better things to do than try to recover files that you delete before giving it back, but you never know. To make sure they’re not recoverable, you’ll probably have to seek some external help (which, sadly, you’d have to pay for).

    2. Lizabeth*

      Whomever you buy your computer from should be able to help you with the data transfer. Ask them if they offer it or ask around for the best local independent computer fix it shop.

      1. themmases*

        I agree with this if the OP isn’t confident about how best to handle the transfer. This service is not uncommon in retail electronics, although it does cost extra.

        If it’s obvious which files are personal, the OP might even be able to pay to have just those recovered before the computer is reset. If the computer will take some going through, I’d upload personal stuff to Google Drive or Dropbox and let them just delete everything on the old computer.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I would suggest getting a free Dropbox (or other cloud storage) account, and moving your stuff there. You can do that today, without a new computer, and you can access it from any tablet or smartphone. If you need more than the free 100GB of storage, consider paying for a month of additional storage, and you can get rid of it once you have a new computer.

      Then, once you’ve moved everything and deleted the files, use File Shredder or Eraser (or just Google “permanently delete files”, and then Mashable and MakeUseOf have fairly reliable information) to make it almost impossible for anyone that isn’t a huge intelligence agency to recover any of your files.

      Just make sure you de-authorize that computer from all your accounts, like Dropbox in particular, but also clear all cookies and browsing history, so that the browser doesn’t log into any of your accounts automatically (never good security practice, but heck, even I do it for computers that I feel I’ve secured adequately).

    4. Afiendishthingy*

      Did your boss use his personal money to buy your computer? I can’t tell from your wording.

    5. Harper*

      The thing is, even after you delete things, they can be recovered for the most part. There is a free program out there called DBAN. You can create a bootable CD or USB and boot from it, then the program over-writes the hard drive with 0’s. I would do something like that since you say he is a computer guy. Just to be safe.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Yes, DBAN is great, I use it myself, but it’s only written to wipe everything on an entire disk drive. That’s why I suggested either File Shredder or Eraser.

      2. moss*

        The user does not sound like a person who could easily use DBAN although I agree it’s a great product.

    6. Not Karen*

      You keep on mentioning that your boss KNEW you don’t have another computer as if that’s relevant. It’s neither his business nor his problem that you don’t have a personal computer. If you want one so much, buy one yourself. You shouldn’t expect your boss to supply you with items for your personal use. Nowadays you can get netbooks for $200. Even in this day and age, one doesn’t need to own computer anyway. There is always free access to computers and the internet at the library.

      1. LBK*

        Agreed. The reason the company bought you the computer was because they needed you to have one in order to do work, it doesn’t really matter whether you were also using it for personal stuff or not.

      2. KR*

        Yeah, this stood out to me too. Your boss doesn’t owe you a computer. You work for a living and make money, so budget out the cost of a laptop and buy your own. People do it all the time.

      3. Becky*

        I read it as the OP was just mistakenly under a certain impression, not trying to make it into her boss’s problem. Now she knows, and is concentrating on how to get her files off.

        And $200 is relative. Good tip on library computers!

        1. Not Karen*

          I was keeping in mind that $200 may still be a lot for her, but my impression is that industries with headhunters must pay well. But I don’t really know much about that.

      4. Allison*

        Agreed, that computer was supplied for work purposes. If OP needed one for personal use, OP really should have bought their own computer in addition to the work computer. Most companies that make computers offer financing for those who can’t afford to drop hundreds of dollars at once.

        And while I agree that it’s easy to access the internet from a library computer, most people do use a personal machine to store family photos, financial documents, music libraries, etc.

    7. Erin*

      Move everything you need to some sort of external drive, as others mentioned. Try using Google Drive.

      Then, find the model number on the computer and google it along with “factory reset.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No, wait, don’t do a factory reset! The boss is expecting that computer to come back with work data on it. Removing work data (rather than just personal stuff) would look like an act of hostility and frankly be really wrong.

        1. Nancy*

          No the reason he wanted it was that he was mad. I offered to pay him FMV for it and the monitor and he accepted it. I took off all the company downloads. ( they were disabled anyway.) and burned all paperwork.

          For the record, I was NOT trying to be difficult or mean or sneak and use his company info. I was leaving, I did not want it. I did not think I was Entitled to it. I thought it was mine as nothing was said or signed.

          It is settled now, I believe that I did the right and it was because of another poster who suggested offering FMV. It worked great.

    8. moss*

      I’m sure he COULD look but I’m also pretty sure he probably won’t. Things that are important to us are often not important to other people.

      Do you have email? I think if I were in your position I would try emailing things to myself. What types of things are you trying to keep? Pictures, videos… these can be emailed to yourself. Something like installed software, you will not be able to just transfer that to a new computer, you will have to reinstall it.

    9. animaniactoo*

      Nothing to add on the transferring your files front, that’s been pretty thoroughly covered already.

      But FWIW, it sounds like you got burned by going along with the headhunter, not just by looking for another job. Whenever somebody says they’d like you to bring other people from your current company with you, push back on that. Tell them you’ll be happy to talk to them *after* you have accepted an offer, etc. But never as part of your own job hunt.

      Any realistic and ethical headhunter will completely understand that and not pressure you until you’ve secured your own exit. Because as it was I suspect that you were fired not so much for looking for a new job, but for attempting to pinch employees to go with you on your way out the door. That’s a MUCH bigger threat to the company than somebody who is just ready to move on. It’s understandable that a company would want to protect itself from several employees clearing out at once.

      The *only* time you can even think about bringing somebody with you is if you have a close relationship with them, and know that they are also looking and desperate to get out. That person has little to no incentive to turn you in.

      1. Erin*

        Yes, all of this. I almost commented on this because it sounded really fishy to me, but I wasn’t sure if that was a norm with headhunters I wasn’t aware of.

        It would be the same deal if they wanted you to quit without giving a proper two weeks notice. They’re clearly okay with having you screw over your current employer – that’s not someone I would trust to get me placed in a decent job.

      2. BananaPants*

        I agree, I think that’s part of why the OP’s boss is so pissed off. Leaving for a better opportunity is one thing, trying to take other employees with you is an entirely different one. It’s a huge threat to the company and I don’t blame the boss for telling other employees that they can’t communicate with the fired OP.

        Red flags should have gone up the instant the headhunter asked her to bring other employees – frankly, if a headhunter wants to woo my colleagues, he’s going to have to do it on his own; it’s not my job to help him meet a placement quota.

    10. BananaPants*

      You not owning a personal computer is not your former employer’s problem. If the computer was paid for by the company, the age/obsolescence of the property is irrelevant; they want it back and legally it’s theirs.

      Get a Dropbox or Amazon Cloud Drive account, move everything personal off of the laptop, give it back, and buy yourself an inexpensive Chromebook or something.

  8. Spectrum Contractor*

    #3 hit home for me: I’m in a somewhat similar position at my current job. The company I’m working for is supporting Autism Speaks, which really rubs me the wrong way, especially since I’m on the spectrum myself. Thing is, I’m a very junior contractor, and it’s a very large organization, so I’m not sure how to even start pushing back. Does anyone have any advice or tips for navigating this situation?

    1. Alis*

      Depending on how you feel, you may want to consider asking an Autism advocacy group for support to do this.

    2. Newbie*

      I think Alison’s advice could work for your situation, too. Pointing out to the company that Autism Speaks (or any group for that matter) is controversial and then providing links for more information about that controversy might be all that it takes. You don’t need to bring your own personal situation into it. The people choosing the charities to support may not be aware of the controversy and would appreciate having it brought to their attention so they can then determine if that is really a group the company wants to be aligned with in any way.

    3. Kyrielle*

      What they said, but also be aware some big companies will feel that one or two data points against are irrelevant – I’m not sure I’d feel safe pushing back in your shoes. I reached out last year to a company – let’s say a teapot company – that was supporting Autism Speaks and said, basically, “I love your teapots, but I’ve just learned you’re donating to Autism Speaks. This is a problematic organization because (reasons). I’ve included some links below. I’m asking you to please drop your support of them and shift it to a better organization, such as the ones mentioned at those links. As much as I love your teapots, I won’t be buying any as long as you are supporting Autism Speaks; I don’t want any of my money to go to that organization.”

      I got a reply saying that AS is a good organization that does good and they stand by their decisions.

      If they’re willing to say that to an actual customer walking away with actual money, a concerned employee or contractor would get no traction. Depending on how strong the feelings of the people who made the decision are, they might jeopardize their job.

      That said, maybe it’s worth taking a stand on – it’s a question of risk/benefit and only you can weigh that in your situation. I like Alis’s suggestion, too.

    4. Sassy AAE*

      I’d fly it by your boss first. Just a simple, “Hey I Googled Autism Speaks and I found some really unflattering articles about how they spend their money. You’ve seen these, right?”

      Side note; In communications and PR it’s so, so important to bring up stuff like this. We’re in reputation management. Donating to a very polarizing charity or candidate (I’m looking at you Brian France), could near permanently taint the reputation of the company.

      1. LBK*

        Oo, I like this. Make it sound like you had no clue before and found the info while doing some casual research. It implies that others could easily find the same info without having to dig for it, which I think is important for creating a sense of urgency about this.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I wouldn’t make it just about how they spend their money because, frankly, that can be said of a lot of charities and may not be convincing on its own — at least not convincing enough for the boss to say “yes, let’s raise it with the decision-maker.”

        The issue that’s more likely to get the decision-maker’s attention is that they’re extremely controversial but many people don’t realize that. Most companies don’t want to support highly controversial organizations — or at least not without making a deliberate decision to do that, which probably wasn’t the case here, since they probably just figured “hey, good organization” without knowing the whole situation.

      3. snuck*

        If you can… could you follow up with something like ” BUT… the Autism community seems to be very supportive of *alternate local or national agency* so why don’t we throw the publicity and support that way instead? That way we’re still supporting Autism, but seen to be in touch with community expectations and understanding around the issue.

  9. Milton Waddams*

    #2: It’s not appropriate, but it’s very common in certain business cultures. It’s a little frustrating for both applicants and potential employers, though, because it breaks some of the standard hiring mechanisms. For instance, an unemployed applicant who is missing industry-standard certs and is evasive about having us contact their last employer would normally be a red flag, but could also be perfectly explained by a company that refuses to sign off on certs and that gives automatic bad references to all ex-employees.

    Usually the only way to avoid this is to keep good tabs on the “infamous” companies in your field (or region, for less specialized roles) so you can identify false flags more easily.

  10. CQ*

    #4 – Am I the only one who thinks this LW’s boss is really shitty? I mean, yeah, the laptop goes back to the company, but what about the fact that s/he was FIRED for simply TALKING to headhunters? I mean, ohmygoodness. That’s wild. I can’t imagine how upset I’d be right now, out of a job and with no personal computer.

    1. AnotherFed*

      I think the issue was that the LW tried to bring other coworkers with her… It is one thing to look for another job for yourself, but a totally different thing to try to poach your company’s employees, especially if you have any kind of authority over them.

      1. I'm Not Phyllis*

        Yep! I’d never fire an employee for seeking employment elsewhere, whether because they weren’t happy or simply looking for different opportunities. But I’d definitely not be ok with them trying to poach employees.

    2. Anonymous 123*

      Not defending the boss here, but she was doing more than talking to a headhunter – she was trying to take other employees with her.

    3. Jo*

      Actually this struck me as well – and if we take the LW’s word for it, after a “giant pay cut”. Minus the computer stuff, it smacks a little bit of the situation in Letter 2! As for trying to take colleagues with them I think it depends rather on what happened – saying “hey, I talked to headhunter X, they are interested in others” is one thing, trying to persuade them into it is another.

      But yeah, I rather felt for the OP of this one. I still wouldn’t expect to take the laptop with me, but I can understand feeling a bit peevish over the situation!

      1. Nancy*

        The pay cut was in the 10’s of thousands. I never offered anyone a position, and it was never implied. I talked about my choices with a person who then said I was soliciting.

        We have since settled the Computer issue. I paid him FMV for it and he was fine.

  11. AnotherFed*

    #2 If they are firing people for going on interviews, I can’t imagine them reacting sensibly to strong push back. It sounds like it is time to take one of these recruiters up on an interview/job offer!

    1. Anon Accountant*

      Agreed. They don’t sound like reasonable people and probably wouldn’t take well to push back.

  12. Katie the Fed*

    “I became unhappy over a giant pay cut and was in talks with a headhunter for a new position. They wanted me bring coworkers with me. I talked to one about the opportunity. ”

    Jeez OP! You gave a big middle finger to your employer – you can’t be surprised they want their property back!

    1. Juli G.*

      Yeah OP, do not do the headhunter’s job for them. Let the headhunter call your colleagues and tell them who referred her.

      And while Allison is right, I would suggest backing off of talking to any former coworkers short term. You don’t want to put their jobs at potential risk.

    2. Monique*

      For what it’s worth, the employer also gave her a big middle finger with their giant pay cut. What did they expect?

      I don’t think the OP tried to take as many people with her as she could in retaliation. If they’d all received a pay cut, it would be conceivable that she thought she’d be doing a co-worker a favour by also showing them a way out. From the OP’s posts above, she’s new to how these things work, and probably didn’t realise it was a faux pas. I’m not saying it was the brightest thing to do, but I don’t think it was necessarily malicious either, and the employer set themselves up for a bit of upheaval when they started handing out giant pay cuts.

      1. Beezus*

        This. Giant pay cut = I am unhappy and looking elsewhere. Duh. Giant pay cuts across the board mean that a lot of people I network with are looking as well, and of course we’re talking to each other. I’d be relatively discreet about it, but come on. If pay raises are a well-understood retention strategy, what are pay cuts supposed to be?

        1. the_scientist*

          Yeah, I’m really having a lot of difficulty working up any outrage towards this OP. Yes, it’s weird to think that a company-purchased laptop belongs to you. But other than that, employment is a two-way street. A reasonable employer can’t hand down a pay cut and then be surprised or upset that the person is looking for a new job. Come on. Talking to a single coworker about a recruiting opportunity is not “trying to take as many coworkers as possible with me in retaliation”.

          Also, isn’t it illegal to prevent coworkers from discussing working conditions (including salary)? If you know a coworker is looking for a new opportunity or is unhappy at their current opportunity, what is wrong with passing on an opportunity that you have knowledge of?

          1. Graciosa*

            The reason employees can discuss working conditions is to protect the ability to unionize – not really what the OP was trying to do here.

          2. Nancy*

            It was a desk top computer, I have my own laptop.

            The pay cut was enough to make it hard to pay my bills. I never offered jobs to anyone, I did discuss my situation and what I felt was an ethical issue. I did not want not hurt my bosses business, I just needed more money that he was paying.

      2. Lindsay J*

        This. It doesn’t even need to be a giant pay-cut. Just substandard pay in general I think.

        I left my previous job for this new one starting in December. I was the third person from my previous job to come here. There have since been three more.

        Most of them have been recruited by the first guy, (recruited in that he’s pretty much told his friends that were working there “hey, we’re still hiring and I can get you an in with the boss. Pay is great, benefits are great, and you won’t have to put up with as much bs here.”

        When you can go down the street and get a $5 an hour pay raise, better benefits, and better working conditions I feel like you would be crazy not to. (And my last company wasn’t a bad place to work, just financially strapped.)

        And especially, not only is a paycut a big FU, but I would take it as a sign that my company is in dire financial straits and in-danger of closing or at least massive layoffs because pay-cuts just aren’t done at functional companies. I would imagine my other co-workers were probably feeling the same way and would likely pass on any leads I knew of.

        1. BananaPants*

          You don’t do the headhunter’s work for him – if I knew my new employer was hiring I’d reach out personally to former colleagues who I knew were looking to get out, but only after successfully making the move.

          Nothing is owed to a headhunter in this scenario and there’s a very high potential cost to helping the headhunter poach additional employees, as the OP learned the hard way. An ethical recruiter would not pressure someone to do this before they have a new job locked up.

          1. Anna*

            I guess it depends for me. I don’t see anything wrong with someone saying to a coworker, “Hey, I’m working with this headhunter and they say they have a lot of openings at X. I thought of you. Here’s contact info.” To me it is literally no different than knowing a coworker is interested in a certain field letting them know about a job opening in that field.

            1. LawBee*

              It’s completely different, even in your example.

              A: Employee is working with a headhunter – someone who is paid to get people to switch jobs.
              B: Employee is not working with a headhunter.

              A: Employee tells Coworker, “I’m working with a headhunter and they have a lot of openings. I thought of you, here’s contact info.” Inference/implication: Employee is leaving and thinks Coworker should as well.
              B: Employee tells Coworker “Hey, you’re interested in working in X, and I saw this job opening.” Inference/implication: Employee doesn’t care either way, Employee is remaining at her job. What Employee isn’t doing is tempting others to leave.

              Basically, headhunters have one of the most accurate job titles in the workplace for a reason. In LW#4’s instance, her headhunter literally asked her to hunt heads FOR her by talking to coworkers. Whether that was LW’s intention or not is irrelevant, it’s about the perception that her boss had of her actions. It sucks, but I would have at least considered letting her go as well.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              I tend to agree with you, Anna. The OP’s relationship with the headhunter has little bearing on the story in my mind. OP is not making money on the getting a coworker to talk to the headhunter. If an HR person asked OP to find more candidates, the HR person is still getting paid to recruit people but in this case the HR person is paid by the company directly as part of her job. In this case, HR may or may not give OP an additional bonus at sign on for bringing people with, which is another separate discussion. But in short- both a headhunter and an HR person are paid to recruit people.

              I think the company was reacting to the potential OP has of taking several people with her. They saw a threat and they took action.

              My feeling has been that I should get myself to a safe, secure spot first, then if I can go back for other people. Clearly, I don’t take people with me when I go, because life very seldom follows a multi-step plan like this one.

              I do believe the company is naive. In bad or even not-so-hot work places employees can encourage each other to look for jobs else where. OP encouraged someone to look else where. This happens all. the. time. Going forward, people will keep doing this but they will handle it in a more cautious, discreet manner. And most certainly, no one will tell the person who went to the boss about new job openings.

          2. One of the Sarahs*

            There’s a cynical motive to wait too. Headhunter does not care about me, they care about the bottom line. If I bring three colleagues to headhunter, there’s a huge potential there are only 2 spots, and headhunter picks my colleagues, leaving me in a depleted team in a job I hate.

      3. Murphy*

        From the OP’s posts above, she’s new to how these things work, and probably didn’t realise it was a faux pas. I’m not saying it was the brightest thing to do, but I don’t think it was necessarily malicious either…

        This. I think this was a hard lesson learned in work norms. Maybe a bit clueless on the part of the LW, but not intentionally duplicitous or malicious.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        You know what – I just re-read this and I was way harsh this morning. Sorry, OP – I had my morning cranky pants on.

        I think you’re right, Monique – she’s just new to the working world and didn’t realize what the norms were for both this and office equipment.

    3. Nancy*

      I did not word that properly. I talked to one about the opportunity for me and told her what they wanted. I wanted an ear to talk to. I did not offer her a job or even an interview. The headhunter knew that after I left, he could call on them. Not before.

  13. Not Today Satan*

    #3 Why does it seem like employers ALWAYS choose to support large, controversial charities? (Basically the Autism Speaks, Susan G Komens, and Wounded Warrior Projects of the World.) It’s like they don’t want to spend more than 5 seconds vetting the org and just choose whatever org they’ve seen the most marketing for. It’s SO annoying, and then you’re in a position of looking not generous if you don’t want to give your hard earned money to the questionable organization.

        1. the_scientist*

          So interestingly, my company just chose our new charitable partner for the year….one option was a local charity and the other was a national United Way partner. I live and work in a large metropolitan area, and it was interesting to hear other’s opinions…..people who live in the city almost uniformly preferred the local charity (which ended up being selected by popular vote), while the nearly 50% of the workforce who lives outside the city and commutes in to work preferred the other option, with the rationale of “I don’t really see the effects of a local-to-the-office charity in my home community”. I prefer local charities, but I thought this was interesting, and a good reminder that “local” means different things to different people at a big company.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yup. We had a conversation about charitable giving at work recently, and I pointed out that I only donate to organizations I work with or have worked with or my friends have worked with. People looked at me like I had two heads. The “little guys” need my money far more than the big guys do.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Yes, my company does this and I’m much more likely to participate in activities or directly give money/items when they do. They’re very big on giving back and though I don’t like to volunteer, I do like to help when and how I can.

    1. Charityb*

      It’s definitely the fact that those organizations have the best marketing and the most visible public profile.

      Hopefully, if they don’t put a lot of thought into the charity they chose, they won’t have a hard time switching if enough people point out the problems with those organizations.

    2. kk*

      Because the big charities always have big team building types of volunteer work available. Everyone wants to build a house or do a fun run with 50 of their coworkers. No one wants to give up their free time to spend 5 hours working on a charity’s expenses by themselves.

      I organize the charity events for my org. I wish I could get people to support local charities.

    3. TootsNYC*

      “It’s like they don’t want to spend more than 5 seconds vetting the org and just choose whatever org they’ve seen the most marketing for. ”

      And then donors complain when a charity spends on marketing. So no wonder those other organizations don’t get as much in donations.

  14. Rebecca*

    #2 I think this is a case where Glass Door reviews might be helpful to anyone thinking of applying to this black hole, and perhaps this needs to be brought to light on a more public basis. I’d like to think that people attending the college, and paying tuition, would be interested in how the employees are treated. Maybe not, though, but it would be nice to think that.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      In my experience colleges tend to be pretty concerned with image and bad publicity. If this policy has been emailed or distributed in writing, maybe you should leak it to Inside Higher Ed or something? Anonymously, of course.

      1. Anna*

        Especially since it sounds like the school falls in to the category of institutions that have received a lot of scrutiny lately.

  15. Puffy*

    #2 – I would really question managements motivations for this policy… in my old workplace we had people who job searched on company time. They would edit their resume on company computers, search for jobs, email resumes, print documents and then need to step out for ‘a doctor’s appointment’ wearing their best clothes (or they call in sick and are spotted out and about all dressed up). I remember when one coworker had been fired because he was simply job searching, I had initially thought it was outrageous and wanted to quit in solidarity but then I realized that is why he was so distracted and uncommitted to getting things done – he had one foot out the door and was using company time to get out the door.
    While this would mean that anyone job hunting could be fired, it may just mean that anyone job hunting during the workday will be fired. If you are able to squeeze interviews into a lunch break or completely outside work hours, then I really don’t see how it is likely for anyone to know.

    1. John Wayne*

      This is why I dress up at least once every two weeks at any job I’ve ever had, including ones that required crawling around in dust looking for stuff. If it’s just part of my wardrobe, nobody gives me the “Oh, got an interview today?” joke when I come in dressed up.

      1. esra*

        Same. Bust out the fancies every now and then and people get used to it.

        Otherwise you need to have a lot of “big dates.”

        They don’t need to know the date is with a potential employer :x

      2. Anon for this*

        Yep, I’ve got a reputation for dressing up “when I need to do laundry,” which most of the time is actually true, but could come in really handy sometime.

          1. Witty Nickname*

            I’ve used, “Oh, this? I know it’s dressy, but I just bought it and really couldn’t wait to wear it!”

    2. Erin*

      Hmm, I don’t get that from the letter, but if that’s the case, then that would certainly change things. Job searching on company time on company computers is pretty bad.

    3. themmases*

      Unless the people in question get no PTO and their days off are totally at the discretion of the company, it’s not “job searching on company time” to have a job interview on a weekday or to not be forthcoming about the reason for the time off.

    4. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      I’ll never forget the first time I asked an employee if they were job hunting. He looked completely shocked and wanted to know how I knew.

      I told him that between the running to the printer, the cell phone calls, and having a guy who skirted the dress code every day come in wearing a suit it was really obvious.

      I then told him I appreciated his work immensely and would be happy to serve as a reference. Oh, and I taught him how to use the secure print feature.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Lol! “How did you know” is a little funny to me. And it’s a cardinal rule of job searching that you don’t use the company printer for your resume.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          He was young and this was his first job after college. He seemed genuinely surprised I had noticed.

      2. teclatrans*

        Ha! What fun to get to be both omniscient and contrary in a generous way. Employee’s head must have been spinning.

    5. Meg Murry*

      Yes – give that this is a college, I think it is possibly valid to fire someone for canceling class sessions to go on interviews or otherwise taking days off and leaving co-workers in the lurch to interview, especially if it happens multiple times. But a straight up “Person A went on an interview, fire them!” approach is crazy.

  16. Dangerously Cheezy*

    I don’t understand the logic that OP4 should keep the laptop, the company provided her the benefit of not needing to buy a new one for her personal use and she thinks she should get it for free? Why shouldn’t she have to pay to replace that original broken laptop on her own??

    I had a friend who broke his truck up, his boss needed him driving so he got him a new truck. He brought my friend to the dealership to pick it out but it was of course put in the company’s name. Then when he broke his cellphone, his boss did the same and gave him a new phone to use. Both the truck and phone could be used for whatever personal business he wished – when he left, the first thing he talked about was going out to get a new truck and phone. I don’t think there was any hesitation in giving back company property because he knew it wasn’t bought for him personally.

  17. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    #3 – Oooh, I was just in this position. My company is for-profit, but tries to project a “we really care!” attitude via charitable participation and tons of company fundraisers and the like. A few months ago, they held a raffle to benefit AS, with some pretty fancy prizes (and therefore a hefty level of buy-in). I flagged it via my manager to HR — end result, that raffle still happened as per usual, but after that one event they switched to supporting a different autism charity. No idea whether it was a result of me bringing it up, several people bringing it up (if they did — no idea!) or a company decision to switch to a local charity… but at least they’re not funding AS anymore.

  18. Oryx*

    Ooof. #2 sounds like my old job, which was also at a not-for-profit private college with multiple sites. I can absolutely see them getting together and deciding this.

    For #4, going forward to retrieve your files comes down to what your budget is like. If possible, buy an external hard drive and transfer all files over. This is what I did when I bought a new desktop and it made it super easy to get everything onto the new computer. For something free, look into cloud storage, you can just upload everything and always have access to it no matter what device you are. I also have a Chromebook and absolutely love it — I always used to have to carry flash drives around but not any more.

  19. The Cosmic Avenger*

    Let #2 and #4 serve as reminders to employers that if you try to force your employees into staying rather than incentivizing them into staying, you’ll wind up with the dregs who have no other options. Most of the valuable, useful, smart, and resourceful employees will find a better employer somehow.

    1. Not an IT Guy*

      This is exactly the reason why I detest at-will employment…it allows employers to legally use blackmail and threats for the sake of employee retention.

      1. Graciosa*

        I’m not sure I agree with your conclusion. The Cosmic Avenger made a very good point that good employees leave bad employers (regardless of “threats”). Employers who behave badly end up with only people who either cannot get a better job or at least believe that they cannot.

        How do you think limiting an employer’s ability to fire employees will improve the situation? Are we trying to make it easier for sub par employees to skate by doing sub par work without having to worry about losing their jobs? That doesn’t make sense to me – and anyone truly being blackmailed could seek recourse through the judicial system. I’m not sure this qualifies, but the easy solution for an employee is to take advantage of the benefits of at will employment (which requires less notice than other systems) and find a different job.

        1. Anna*

          The ones with the least power should have the most protection. It seems people always use the “cheaters, subpar, lazy” excuse to avoid making changes that will protect the least powerful. The vast majority of people who would be protected by stronger pro-employee laws are not the cheaters and subpar performers. Plenty of those subpar employees are already skating without consequence so why should the rest of us suffer because a few will slip through?

          1. fposte*

            Though without at-will you’d be stuck with your toxic manager until your contract expired, too–it goes both ways.

            1. The Cosmic Avenger*

              Right, my original comment wasn’t an ode to the wonders and benefits of at-will, free-market, Ayn-Randian employment relationships, but more of a warning that you can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to take advantage of at-will employment laws, remember that your employees can (and will), too.

              1. fposte*

                Agreed–I was responding to Anna’s discussion of being stuck with subpar employees by pointing out that you’d also be stuck with subpar managers.

                I’m actually on a contract, and it has its strengths and weaknesses, and a lot of countries do fine without at-will employment. But there are a lot of other things different about those countries, too, and I don’t think you can change just the one thing without having cultural consequences.

          2. LBK*

            But that’s the point – as it is with virtual zero legal requirements before you can fire someone, there are already too many companies that are unbelievably lax and will let bad employees slide. You think increasing the bureaucracy surrounding firing is going to make that better?

            There are many topics where I also hate the “some people abuse the system so we shouldn’t protect anyone” argument (welfare/EBT being the big one). To me, employment law isn’t one because there would be a direct impact to my day-to-day life if it got even harder to fire the terrible employees that bring down my morale and make my work life hell.

            1. Anna*

              But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We all benefit from bad systems (this is true of all bad systems), but that doesn’t mean you should forego improving the bad system because of the loss of those benefits.

              1. Anna*

                I should say, we all get some benefits from bad systems, not that bad systems are good for us.

                1. LBK*

                  But it’s not just pure benefits for the people who wouldn’t abuse the system. Yes, I get security in knowing I can only be fired for cause, but I might also hate my job because the slackers around me also can’t get fired. I don’t know if the net gain is necessarily worth it, or at least as big as you’re making it sound.

        2. Not an IT Guy*

          In the case of #2 it’s not about letting sub-par employees sliding, it’s about good employees having their lives ruined by wanting to job search. A firing will most likely lead to a bad reference from the employer, not to mention it’s been proven that those who are unemployed have a harder time finding work. Plus what hiring manager wants to hear that someone was fired for job searching?

  20. Eliza Jane*

    So, #4, I want to start by reassuring you that I might well have done the exact same thing as you regarding your computer.

    If I understand correctly, you had a personal computer you were also using for work, it died, and you said, “I need to replace this.” Your boss said, “You know what, I want to be sure you get a good enough one for our needs as well as yours, so let me get it for you.” You said, “Wow, thanks!” and didn’t buy a separate computer, since you had started with one computer and still had one computer, so assumed it was in the same role.

    Now, I am NOT a lawyer, I don’t think this is as clear-cut as it looks on the surface. If you’ve had this computer for 4 years, I’d ask questions like, “Was there maintenance done on it, and who did it?” and also, “Is the norm for people to have company-issued computers, or use their own?”

    If you’ve been the one handling maintenance of the machine, if the expectation was that you’d pay for repairs or upgrades, if everyone just uses their own computer instead of company-issued ones, and if it was never stated verbally or in writing that the computer belonged to the company, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the computer was a gift rather than a piece of company equipment issued to the employee.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I don’t see it as a gift at all, unless OP won it in a raffle or as a prize or something.
      If company give me a computer I would definitely assume it is the company’s computer (or phone) and not mine for personal use.

    2. LiveAndLetDie*

      I disagree. The boss paid for the computer so that OP could continue to do work, that makes it company property.

      I would never assume a computer I did not pay for myself was mine to keep permanently without it being made explicitly clear in writing.

    3. Oryx*

      I don’t think we know if the first computer was a personal one or not. She does say “my computer” but I also refer to my work computer as “my computer.” It’s the company default, everyone gets the same model but if it dies I can see certain managers offering to get an upgraded machine because of certain work requirements. And because it was purchased specifically BECAUSE and FOR work specs, then I’m less inclined to feel sympathetic towards the OP thinking she could keep it as a personal computer.

      1. I'm Not Phyllis*

        Yes … I read it as “my (work) computer” but others seem to be reading it different.

        Either way though, the computer was bought so that she could do work on it. It’s nice that her boss didn’t mind her using it for a personal computer as well, but that wasn’t the intended purpose.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        It was not just a work computer; it replaced my personal computer and he knew it all along.

        Since the LW says the new computer “replaced my personal computer,” I think it’s a safe assumption that the first one was personal.

        1. Oryx*

          Oh you’re right, I missed that.

          Even then, the OP’s boss bought this specific computer because of the specs he wanted for the OP’s job. This was meant as a work/company computer.

          1. Eliza Jane*

            I just don’t understand why the boss pulled this crap in the first place.

            If he wanted her to have a work computer, he should have issued it when she started.

            If he wants his employees (or contractors, or whatever) to use personal computers, then he should have had her replace her own personal computer herself and do things.

            This irritating grey area of “my personal computer became a piece of work equipment” is annoying. If he’d said, “Let me issue you a work computer” when hers died, then the issue is clear cut. If she said, “I need to buy a new computer because mine died,” and he said, “Oh, let me buy that for you so I can be sure the specs are good,” then I don’t think it’s as clear cut as it seems.

            Every piece of company equipment I’ve ever received has been clearly denoted as company equipment. This wasn’t.

            I would still return it, because it’s not worth dying on this hill, but I don’t think OP’s confusion and annoyance is inappropriate.

            1. The Cosmic Avenger*

              That’s a great point, we’re all used to having work-issued computers, but the OP apparently was using their own personal computer for work for a while, and this could have been their first job that required one. While I still think the OP assumed too much, it’s certainly possible that the manager should have communicated more clearly about the requirements and expectations up front, especially since they’re the manager and the OP is the direct report.

              1. Eliza Jane*

                I’ve actually worked in places where I had to use my personal computer for work, which is part of why I am annoyed with this boss. I had to do things like virus scans, updates, and maintenance on my own time, and I could have replaced or upgraded at any point, at my own expense (if I’d needed more RAM, even for work reasons, or wanted a better video card, or anything similar).

                If my computer had died while I was working there, I would have scrambled to replace it. If my boss had said, “Hey, there are certain things I’d like your computer to have: let me buy it for you,” I would hope I’d have clarified the situation, but I think it’s equally likely I’d have just assumed it was a nice thing to do and considered the new machine my new personal computer which I use for work.

      3. KC*

        Exactly. Even with the ambiguity of whether OP used a personal computer for work prior to getting the new computer, the fact remains that OP’s employer owns the new computer. OP’s decision to view the new computer as both a work and personal computer, for whatever reason, was a mistake.

    4. LBK*

      The only reason the company gave her a computer was because she needed it to do work. If everyone were issued company laptops as a standard and the OP’s personal laptop had died, I highly doubt the company would have offered to replace it just out of the goodness of their hearts. To me, that makes it pretty clear it was intended as work equipment, even if they were lax about letting her use it for personal stuff as well.

      1. Anna*

        I think Eliza Jane does a great job of explaining why it’s not that clear cut. OP was using their personal computer for work, so the employer was willing to let it slide as long as it benefitted the company. As soon as the personal computer died, the boss decided at that point it was worth the investment to replace that computer. Not so easily separated.

        1. fposte*

          I’m still not seeing it. There’s no indication that he was “letting it slide”–BYOD is an acceptable policy at a lot of workplaces, and she wasn’t, as noted below, taxed on it.

          I can see that the OP may not be familiar with workplace practices and may not have understood this. But it’s really not ambiguous from the employer’s standpoint.

        2. LBK*

          Well, yes, of course the company is only going to provide devices as necessary in order to allow their employee to do work. Why would the company buy her a new computer for personal use?

          1. LBK*

            Also, consider if the OP had replaced her personal laptop in addition to her job giving her one to use for work. Do you think she still would’ve been entitled to keep the work replacement? I think it would be pretty obvious that she would have to give it back – definitely when she left, if not as soon as she had the replacement.

            The only reason she got to keep it as long as she did is because she didn’t have any other way to do her work. What’s the alternative? The company forces her to spend hundreds of dollars to replace her personal laptop immediately so she can keep working? That’s clearly not the better solution.

  21. RVA Cat*

    #2 – Does the college also expect employees to purchase houses on land the college owns, so that if the school goes belly-up they won’t be able to sell? While it was amazing that alumni managed to rescue Sweet Briar, google that s**tstorm of when it was going to close last year. I have to wonder if they’re putting through this policy because the college is in financial trouble and they don’t want rats to leave the sinking ship?

  22. Erin*

    #4 – I sympathize with you, but you absolutely do have to give it back. Make sure you completely erase absolutely everything personal on it – in fact, have a computer knowledgeable techie friend do that for you just to be safe.

    Can you blame your boss for being upset? It’d be one thing if you were just interviewing, but you were also actively trying to take away his other employees. And the pay cut you mentioned – is it possible he bought you this computer, and let you use the *company computer* for personal use, because he wanted to make up for that pay cut? Obviously I don’t know for sure without more context but this is what it looks like to me on the surface – like you kind of screwed him over a little bit after he did you this favor with the computer.

    Anywho. Hopefully this headhunter got you a new job so you can save up for a new computer. I’m sorry you have to eat the cost on this one, but this is normal practice when a company buys an employee a computer. Your boss probably felt that the personal use was a perk for you, because it was, and then you turned around and did what you did. It was really never *your* computer.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Exactly, and lesson learned. Never, Ever put your “personal” items on your work computer or phone.
      Never. Ever.
      Not only is it not professional, but it crosses too many boundaries into your personal life. As company-owned property, the company has the right to monitor everything done on it, emails, calls, files, browser history, etc. Companies can and do use spyware to do this, and no matter how innocent you think it is, it can and will be used against you if they want. I’ve seen it done.

      So lesson learned. Keep your private things on your private equipment.

      1. Anna*

        Except the reason the OP as the computer in the first place is because their private equipment (that they seemed to have been using for work) died.

    2. Nancy*

      No, there was no poaching, there was discussing my opportunity and the fact that headhunter wanted people to come. An ethical situation that I thought I was talking to a friend about. It got turned around. No offer was made and her book of business would not have qualified anyway.

      The computer that died was my own desktop. He got me the new one, never said it was for work, I never signed anything that said it was for work only and I would have to give it back. If that was the case, I would have put another desk in my office ( we all work from home) and kept my personal stuff separate.

      I did make a huge mistake in assuming. However, I offered him FMV for the computer and he accepted.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I guess with smaller employers there is more of a chance to misconstrue these situations, but unless they say it is definitely a “gift” for your personal use you should probably assume it’s work property.
        I’ve done a lot of freelance and contract work, and always set personal/work equipment boundaries as a general rule. I’ve seen nice people get burned by email spying when they thought they were using “their” computer.

        It’s good it worked out for you though and they weren’t a jerk about it.

  23. Not Karen*

    #2: My previous employer expected employees to stay there forever. When I put in my notice, they were honestly confused as to why anyone would want to leave. The stranger thing was all my coworkers felt the same way! A biased sample, sure, but you’d think there would be someone who understood the concept of career mobility.

    #3: The only reason I know Autism Speaks is controversial is because I follow people on tumblr who reblog posts about it, so I would give them the benefit of the doubt and let them know (and I don’t say that often).

    1. I'm Not Phyllis*

      Yes … I’m with you there. I didn’t even know Autism Speaks was all that controversial until I read this very post. And I’ll be doing my research on why right after I finish reading these comments. But ultimately, I think it would be best to at least bring this to your company’s attention. If they persist with the relationship even after your concerns have been raised there’s probably not much you can do about it. But still, I think you’ll be more at peace after bringing this information forward.

    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      The only reason I know is I have a friend who describes herself as an “Autism Mom.” When her son was diagnosed she jumped into the research, into support groups, and advocacy.

      She had a “oh h@ll no!” post about them on FB.

  24. MissDisplaced*

    Employer announced it will fire anyone who interviews for another job
    WTF! I mean, yes, they can fire you for anything (at will workforce and all) but to have the gall to actually ANNOUNCE this as a policy? Nuts.

    1. I'm Not Phyllis*

      Honestly, this would just make me want to leave even if I wasn’t already thinking about it.

    2. Michaela T*

      I thought that too! I’ve known places where immediate termination is a known risk of job hunting, but they’d never announce it.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I saw more of this when I started working, decades ago. I assumed most employers had gotten the “do not do this” memo, but apparently not. I see a lot of that antiquated thinking in government and because of reading here, I see it in education, too. Stuff that most businesses have decided does not work, it seems that other sectors are just now deciding it’s a good idea.( NOT.)

  25. Jerry Vandesic*

    OP4: “… He also told me that I could not talk to anyone still working there. Can this be legal?”

    While Alison is correct that your former employer cannot prevent you from talking (in general) with your former coworkers, if you have signed a non-solicit agreement you would be prevented from trying to lure a former coworker to join your new company. Non-solicit agreements can contain financial penalties if the agreement is violated, so you should review any non-compete/non-solicit/non-disclosure documents you have signed.

  26. Former Retail Manager*

    #3: I truly had no idea that Autism Speaks was a controversial charity. Thanks to everyone who mentioned it here…I have been enlightened.

    #4: Yeah, it’s their computer….give it back. However, for all the commenters who believe that OP was in the wrong for trying to poach other coworkers, I think there is a lot of gray area there. Saying “Hey, I’m working with Bob the Headhunter regarding a great opportunity at ABC Company and he said that they are hiring for more than just 1 position. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll get you his information.” I wouldn’t consider that egregious or grounds for termination. Also, employees that are truly satisfied with all aspects of their job can’t be “poached” anyway.

    And in general, I don’t understand the surprise/outrage at this happening. Throughout my career, I have witnessed this happen on both sides, although it’s typically timed so that the employees aren’t leaving at the same time, but rather within a few months of each other. I’ve seen this occur from low level employees all the way up to the executive/partner level. It’s not that uncommon IMO. Maybe the people I’ve known to do it are a little more discreet, perhaps?

    1. Kyrielle*

      OP’s mistake in that regard was apparently reaching out to a coworker who wasn’t as friendly toward OP, or as ready to leave, as OP thought. I’ve absolutely seen cases where person A mentions the opportunity to person B because they know person B is looking, or because person B is a good work friend, or the like. (Heck, two of my former coworkers just left that company for the same other company, with the same last day at their previous job. I doubt the previous company minds, since I *think* everyone in that office had final end-dates sometime this year anyway, though.)

    2. LBK*

      Saying “Hey, I’m working with Bob the Headhunter regarding a great opportunity at ABC Company and he said that they are hiring for more than just 1 position. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll get you his information.”

      Eh, I think it might be more appropriate to at least wait until you’ve already left and started the new job. It’s one thing to tell a coworker “I love my new job and they’re hiring if you want me to connect you with someone.” But recruiting people for a company you can’t even vouch for yet sounds like the purest form of poaching there is, because you’re essentially just trying to grab as many people as you can without even having enough information to decide if it would be a good idea for them to work there.

    3. themmases*

      I think that much like job searching in the first place, this is something that’s absolutely not wrong to do but you should assume your employer will be upset if they find out.

      And because most people know that, you’re supposed to be discreet about it. Only a terrible employer would be mad that you’re moving on once it’s a done deal, but conducting your job search out in the open would still be seen as a big FU (rightfully, in most cases). Same thing with trying to bring other people with you– the difference between networking and poaching is partly about who initiated it and how open about it you were. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help out a colleague you know is looking, but it does mean not all ways of going about it will be viewed the same.

      1. CADMonkey007*

        Right. I can’t imagine informing a coworker about a job opportunity unless I knew them well enough to know they were looking. And even then, it’s only a very, very small pool of coworkers who I’m close enough to to even know that.

        I’d also be weirded out by such a memo from a coworker, although I wouldn’t rat to the boss about it.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, I am not understanding the big need to go tell the boss about OP. I guess the coworker was hoping to get some brownie points by doing so. She could have just told OP, “NO, and don’t tell me about other jobs either”. And that would have been the end of that. As it stands now, none of her coworkers will ever tell her about a job opening ever again.

  27. Lalitah*

    Regarding point#2, “Employer announced it will fire anyone who interviews for another job”: this is borderline ILLEGAL but a very gray area because it depends on the state you are in and if you can successfully argue that the clause/policy violates an employment contract if you have one. If you are a union employee, then it’s probably illegal but I highly doubt that. This is the bad part of those “at-will” labor laws in states that basically make it legal to be fired for any reason other than a legally protected class (which people get away with ANYWAY, like age discrimination, racism, sexual orientation, religion or lack thereof, etc.).

    Be careful if you challenge it because it will probably brand you with a scarlet letter of the first one to be let go in case of layoffs.

    1. LBK*

      Almost no one in the US has an employment contract outside of a union. It’s wildly unlikely that this is illegal.

  28. KC*

    #2- That’s a great way to get people to interview at other places…

    #4- Never use a device paid for by your employer (laptop, phone, etc) for personal use. Whether or not your boss knew that you used it for personal use is irrelevant. Ideally s/he should have advised you against using it that way once they found out. If you have a personal phone and get your work email setup on it that’s different.

  29. HRish Dude*

    #4 – Let’s put this as simply as possible.

    If your company bought you a computer to keep, it would certainly not qualify as a de minimis benefit. Thus, it would have been considered part of your wages and you would have had to pay taxes on it.

    Did you pay taxes on the computer when it was gifted to you? If yes, then it’s your computer. If no, it’s not yours.

  30. motherofdragons*

    #5 – seconding Alison’s advice! I have no paid management experience, but I have been the lead for a local fundraising event for the past five years. I included all of that experience on my resume for a recent nonprofit leadership job, and it helped me land an interview. The skills are still marketable even though you weren’t paid for them!

  31. OP #3*

    OP #3 here — a big thank you to Alison and commenters advising me on this situation. One additional detail — the beneficiary of our employee benefit walk has already been put up for an employee vote via an electronic survey.

    First, I went to my coworker (the philanthropy committee head) and mentioned that there was a certain amount of controversy surrounding Autism Speaks. She responded that she was aware there was controversy, but pointed out that all charities are potentially controversial. She also shared that Autism Speaks was probably unlikely to be the chosen beneficiary, based on the data she had so far.

    It continued to bother me a bit, so I went to our mutual boss (head of communications) and let him know about the general situation, just so he would also be aware of the potential for controversy. He probed a little about the nature of the controversy, so I gave him an overview in what I hope was reasonably neutral language. He thanked me for letting him know and told me he’d take it into consideration. It’s possible he might decide it’s just Internet cranks complaining, but at least I got the information out there.

    Thanks once again to Alison and commenters for giving me the courage to mention it.

    1. Sassy AAE*

      Great job! I’m serious when I say that flagging this really looks good for you. Your coworker is right (in a way), that companies really have to weigh a bunch of different factors when deciding these things, but it’s very important to point out the worst case scenario in our jobs. You’ve got to do your due diligence and flag any potential issues for your company and your clients. Perception is reality, and you don’t want to support something that could majorly backfire.

  32. newlyhr*

    #2: this is something that the Board of Trustees should be made aware of. Not only is it antithetical to the spirit of inquiry and openness that academia should foster, it threatens the very existence of the school. One thing they don’t understand is that sometimes people interview and realize that they are happy where they are. Looking at new job opportunities sometimes renews your interest in and commitment to the job you have!

  33. dear liza dear liza*

    #2- this is cray-cray. I’m in academia but cannot imagine this happening on a traditional campus. Is this “not-for-profit private college” accredited? I’m so shocked because one of the (usually super annoying) norms on college campuses is interviewing in order to get a raise. You say you want a raise, your chair/dean/supervisor says, “Go find a counter offer and I’ll see if I can match it.” It’s a total PITA, and in my opinion, a terrible message to send to good employees, but it’s very, very common. So to then forbid people from interviewing makes no sense at all!

  34. Employer/Agency*

    No no no, DO NOT add volunteer work to your CV. It only shows you are willing to work for nothing while those at the top start thinking free labor is a good idea. The US did not fight the Nazis and Soviets only to adopt their slave labor ideas.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What? Volunteer work is for nonprofit organizations — charities, community groups, etc. That’s not slave labor (!) and what you’ve written here is not how employers look at it.

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