I’m suspicious of my wife’s former boss, my boss told my coworker what I said about him, and more

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

1. I’m suspicious of my wife’s former boss

My wife’s former boss has invited her to apply at his new company to work under him again. He hired her for her current job at the tech company where she is still currently working. This is her first engineering job, and she has worked there for about 18 months. She went frequently to lunch with him and we visited him at his house once for a party. He is married as well. My wife often spoke of him in a very flattering manner, and when they together, it seems that he likes her (in my opinion). There wasn’t anything improper, to my knowledge. I am working in the medical field, and so is her former’s boss wife.

Personally, I think she shouldn’t apply there and work under him again. It seems that there is some favoritism going on. My gut feeling telling me that he is attracted to her. Please advise.

Unless you have a very specific reason to not trust your wife to work professionally with this man, you should absolutely 100% stay out of it!

Favoritism isn’t a bad thing — good managers do favor excellent employees! And given the chance and the right staffing needs, it’s very normal for managers who move to new jobs to reach out to great former employees and offer them jobs as well. Your wife is a known quantity to her old boss; he knows that she’s great at work she does (presumably) and so of course he wants to work with her again. This kind of thing is very normal, and it’s a great thing for your wife. It would be very bad if you discouraged her from taking him up on it just because of their respective genders.

Since men still are the majority in high-level management roles, if women couldn’t take them up on these offers for fear of secret attraction, women would be missing out on a huge amount of career help. And that would be horribly unfair and unwarranted.

2. I gave my boss honest feedback about a coworker, and then he told him what I said

Recently, a coworker who no one likes to work with was given a promotion. For years I’ve heard the same issues from basically everyone who has worked with this person, and I also experienced firsthand how difficult and unhelpful he can be.

Our department manager asked me for my honest feedback, and I felt I owed it to him and myself to be truthful, of course assuming this was in confidence. Turns out the next day he spoke to the coworker and told him everything we had discussed.

This is now a very awkward situation with my coworker and I feel betrayed by the boss who gave the impression that I could trust him. I stand by my statements, but feel like I’m taking the fall for the many people who feel the same way I do (including the boss, who even agreed with what I was saying!).

I thought about talking to HR, but I don’t want to blow this up into an even bigger situation. And I thought about meeting with the boss again, but I don’t think I can take up his time to essentially ask “why would you do that?” I’m not sure what I could say to my coworker as my words were pretty harsh, though true. (He also recently threw me under the bus for something I didn’t do so I’m in no hurry to form a friendship.) Where do I go from here? Is the lesson here to not trust anyone and always keep your thoughts to yourself?

Did your manager explicitly promise you confidentiality? You wrote “assuming this was in confidence,” which makes me think, well, that you assumed. I can understand why you might have figured that, but yeah, if you didn’t explicitly negotiate confidentiality, you can’t assume it. And that makes sense, if you think about it — if what you’re saying is important, your manager will need to act on it, and acting on it will often mean that confidentiality is impossible.

Of course, a good manager will explain that to you, and will also do what she can to protect her sources, and where that’s not possible will ensure that there aren’t negative repercussions for the people who confided in her. But not every manager is a great one, so ideally you’d ask inquire directly about these things if they’re important in the situation.

I wouldn’t take this to HR, but it would be very reasonable to talk to your boss. I’d say this: “I hadn’t realized when we spoke about Bob that you’d share my comments with him. I understand now that you needed to do that in order to be able to address it, but to be honest, I felt a little blindsided that our conversation wasn’t in confidence. In the future, I’ll know to ask, but I wanted to mention it to you, since maybe you didn’t realize that was my assumption.” Also, if your coworker’s reaction is more than awkwardness — if he’s behaving inappropriately or otherwise making your job harder as a result of that — you could add, “Because of this, Bob is doing X and Y. Is it possible for you to ensure that I don’t have to deal with that just for talking honestly with you?”

3. I’m worried I’ll lose my new job offer during salary verification

I just got a fabulous job offer, but ran into a snag with salary verification from my previous place of employment. My last job was terminated after an acquisition. While I was employed there, I had a considerable shift in responsibilities and workload, due to the chaotic nature of the acquisition, and so I negotiated a higher salary for myself for the rest of the time I was there.

Fast forward to my newly offered position. I gave the HR recruiter and background verification company my ending salary, only for the results to come back showing my starting salary only, which is a lot lower than what I ended with (almost 30% lower). I explained the change in salary and provided my W2s as proof. However, upon speaking to HR at my previous job, I was told that my increase in salary was awarded as a retention bonus, so technically, when I disclosed what I believed was my base salary, I was lying.

What do I do now? I’m afraid this will reflect badly on me, and could result in the new company rescinding their offer.

Explain the situation! “The number they sent you was my starting salary. The number I gave you was my ending salary, like you saw on my W2. When I contacted my old HR department about this, they said that they have my last salary increase recorded as a retention bonus, which is why they gave you that different number. It was never explained to me as a retention bonus; it was presented as salary. So I wanted to clear that up and make sure you know that I gave you the original number in good faith.”

Also, poo to employers who ask for past salary information at all, which is none of their frickin’ business.

4. Can’t submit an application without giving a Social Security number

My 16-year-old son is trying to apply for part-time jobs at supermarkets, retail stores, and restaurants. To apply for 99% of these positions, he’s being told to complete an online application first. All of the online applications he’s started ask for his Social Security number as a required field. He can’t proceed with the application or submit it without filling that in.

I’m very uncomfortable with him providing that at this point in the job search process, but when he goes into the store/restaurant to speak to someone, they’ve all been telling him that he has to fill out the online application to even be considered. Do you have any advice? Am I being unreasonable by not allowing him to give out that information in these instances? I’m okay with him giving the information once he’s been hired, but the first step?

Nope, you’re not being unreasonable. It’s becoming increasingly common to require this, and it’s totally unreasonable and unnecessary. They don’t need anyone’s Social Security number until they decide who they’re hiring, and you have no idea what, if any, precautions they take with all those numbers they’re collecting from candidates.

I’d tell your son to just enter all zeros for now. That’ll get his application through their system, and most people who see that will understand why he did it (and that he’s not trying to pass it off as his real number for actual use).

5. Can being a podcast guest go in my job application materials?

I was recently a guest on a podcast about my industry — it was an honor to be invited, and I feel that my answers really showcased my skills, work ethic, and understanding of the ins and outs of the industry.

Is there any way to include this in my candidate profile when applying for jobs, be it on a resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn? Or would it come off as weirdly self-aggrandizing? The podcast episode comes up when I google my name, so should I just leave it to hiring managers to come across it on their own?

I wouldn’t put it on your resume; it doesn’t quite rise to the level of resume-worthy. But you could add a line in your cover letter linking to it and noting that it’s a sample of your approach to issues in your industry like X and Y. (Be aware, though, that most hiring managers aren’t likely to take the time to listen to much of it — listening to a recording takes a lot longer than skimming written materials. But some might, if they’re already interested in you.)

If you do mention it, make sure that it’s clear that your point is “here’s a link to listen to it,” not just to mention the fact that you appeared on the show.

{ 337 comments… read them below }

  1. FiveByFive*

    #2 Interesting. While I certainly agree with Alison’s response from a general standpoint, I’m not sure it applies in this particular situation (or most situations).

    Sure, there are times where someone might be the only witness of inappropriate behavior, and confidentiality cannot easily be kept. But here, the OP was simply asked for “feedback”, and the boss “told him everything we had discussed.” That sounds pretty rotten to me, unless the OP gives us further specifics.

    I personally would certainly assume such a conversion with my boss would keep my participation anonymous. From the OP’s description, it sounds like the boss’s follow-up conversion with the other employee was of the “So I was chatting with Spordelia yesterday and guess what she told me…” variety, and that, to me, is really weak.

    1. FiveByFive*

      However, I completely agree with the advice to have a polite follow-up with the boss to clarify the issue. I just think it was fair of the OP to assume confidentiality.

      1. Sherm*

        I agree — the boss needs some “feedback” of his own, or he’ll wonder one day why his employees never bring problems to his attention.

    2. MathOwl*

      Yeah, I feel the boss is behaving weirdly here. In fact, the whole notion of asking for feedback about a coworker to your subordinate just seems off to me. In such a situation, I’d be worried about what “feedback” people are asked to give about me behind my back.

      1. MathOwl*

        (That’s assuming the conversation is matter-of-fact. If the manager framed things as having serious concerns about a coworker and seeking confirmation, I’d argue it’s different, but considering how casually the boss discussed the situation with said coworker, I doubt it was the case.)

      2. LBK*

        I don’t really agree…I think it’s normal for managers to ask people who work in conjunction with someone for their perspective because they’ll see more in the day-to-day than a manager would (or should, if they’re not micromanaging). People also tend to be on their best behavior in front of their manager, so that can also skew the perception and you’ll need their peer’s input to see how they act when you’re not around.

      3. pomme de terre*

        Consulting with colleagues is a pretty common MO for managers. I worked at a place where it was part of our formal reviews. It was meant to be a countermeasure for cases when someone was beloved by management but was awful to peers. Sometimes it worked great; other times I felt like a one-off comment from a peer became a central part of my goals for the year and that bugged me.

      4. Batman's a Scientist*

        I actually had a manager ask me for feedback about a coworker at the end of an internship. She was technically supervising my day-to-day work, but he was the one who brought me on as an intern (and he was also her manager). I was uncomfortable at first and it must have shown in my face because he reassured me that everything would be confidential. I did get the impression that he already had concerns with her.

        So, I guess I don’t think it’s weird to ask, but I do think it’s weird to mention it to the coworker, especially if it was more general concerns and not about specific incidents.

    3. Artemesia*

      Absolutely. This must be a boss who doesn’t want honest feedback since he threw the OP under the bus. No excuse for that at all. This isn’t a case where only the OP was involved or witnessed something — this was a description of issues many people were having — the boss should never have mentioned her.

      I agree the OP can’t say that directly, but a meeting and clarification is in order. Maybe the boss is just a Klutz but I fear worse.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yes. I mean, yeah one should never assume, but in this type situation the boss knows very well the employee wouldn’t want such negative comments getting back to this person. Otherwise she would have just said them to his face.

      2. AMT*

        And, worse, it sounds like the boss framed it as “This is a problem OP has with you,” rather than saying, “This is something many people, including myself, have noticed about your work.” It’s as if, in order to get out of telling the coworker a hard truth about his performance, the boss chose instead to let OP deal with the fallout.

    4. MK*

      I think there are degrees of confidentiality; or, more accurately, an expectation of discretion. In a situation like the OP’s, I wouldn’t expect my manager to keep my name out of it under all and any circumstances, but I would expect them to involve me only if there is a valid reason to do so.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I agree! Sometimes you have to reveal the source, but it doesn’t sound like it was all that important in this case. And you can also link the person’s name without making it sound like the person trashed his colleague.

      2. Sparrow*

        Yes, agreed. I once attended a meeting for all the “senior” people in my office – ~15 people, at various levels of seniority and representing different departments, and the boss asked the group for feedback on a new hire. Said new hire wasn’t doing well, but only 5 of the 15 people in the room had any interaction with him. Boss was annoyed that all five of us balked at airing specific complaints in front of a bunch of people who weren’t involved with the issue or the hire in question. I never thought of it in these terms, but it was really the feeling of indiscretion that made me so uncomfortable with the situation. I think it’s a reasonable thing to expect of anyone in the workplace.

    5. Take Me 2 Atlanta*

      Agreed. I think it’s strange that the boss agreed with everything the OP says and then went to the employee only with the OP’s grievances. Sounds like the boss wanted to address the issues, but didn’t want to address it himself/herself.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Yes. Sounds very much like a spineless boss who wanted to play “this isn’t how I feel, Fergus, but these other employees said…… So I have to talk to you”.

      2. Anonymous in the South*

        Agreed. I think the boss could have addressed the issues without mentioning OP’s name.

    6. Kaz*

      For #1, my advice is simple: Do you trust your wife?

      If you do, stay out of it.

      If you don’t, then your marriage has a trust problem. Maybe you (husband) alone can talk to a counselor or to a trusted personal friend about your feelings just to express them face-to-face to a living human being (not the internet) and maybe then you will feel better.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, this is not a work problem, though I think the OP may not have been aware how common it is for a manager to want to work with a terrific former employee again. In fact, I’ve had managers I’d love to work with again, but I can’t because they retired.

        1. TootsNYC*

          We hired a department head who pretty much purged the existing staff and brought her own people with her. There was some skepticism and light resentment here, but when we saw how good the people she brought were–and how much she trusted them (by delegating, which meant that things could get done in her department even if she was busy with something else, which helped all the rest of us tremendously)–we saw a great example of why that tactic works.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Well, I think he should just reflect on how he would feel if the situation was reversed. I didn’t see anything in the letter that indicated flirtation or attraction. She spoke fondly of him? So what, it’s her first job out of college and it sounds like she lucked out with a great boss and there’s mutual professional respect for one another.

    7. TootsNYC*

      I’m going to jump on the bandwagon.

      I really disagree with this: ” but yeah, if you didn’t explicitly negotiate confidentiality, you can’t assume it.”

      I think it’s completely fair to assume that a boss who receives negative feedback about someone else will not go and directly tell that person all about it, complete with attribution!

      Sure, the boss may need to act on it, so it can’t truly be confidential. But it’s one thing for a boss to say, “I understand this is a problem,” and another to say “Fergus told me he thinks these things about you.”

      I shouldn’t have to say, “Don’t tell him I told you this.” Now–is there a risk? sure, because people are human. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out of line.

    8. TinyTim*

      I assume anytime I give someone “actionable” information that it will not be confidential. I know many things my manager would absolutely love to know but I keep them to myself for this reason. The only time I come forward is black and white issues like witnessing someone stealing. But if I witness something that would be more of a slap-on-the-wrist issue, it’s not worth the potential grief.

      Having said that, I still think the manager was in the wrong. If the employee in question is consistently bad, it shouldn’t be that tough to catch him in the act. But I also think OP was a little naive to assume confidentiality.

      1. Chalupa Batman*

        I’d agree with this. I don’t think the OP was completely off base by assuming confidentiality, but there’s a logical connection that if I want action taken on something, I should expect that my name might get brought into it. At OldJob, people were constantly making petty complaints confidentially. The result was that we’d frequently get vague feedback that we couldn’t actually do anything about because all of the context we needed to address it was scrubbed from the conversation. “CB was rude to me” is not helpful if I have no idea what I did, when I did it, or who I did it to.

        Now, I’m not positive that OP was actually seeking action, since they said they were asked about the coworker, but I think the overall rule of not expecting confidentiality for actionable items is a good one.

    9. LBK*

      So I’m confused here…it seems to me people (including the OP) are reading this as if the boss ratted out the OP for tattling on the coworker, but do we actually know that the boss said “Jane told me you’ve been doing x?” I think the OP is assuming that’s what happened because the coworker started acting awkward, but it’s possible he’s just acting awkward because he was put through the wringer and now he’s on edge knowing his job performance is being watched closely.

      I guess I don’t know what people would rather the boss do. What’s the point of taking feedback if you apparently can’t use it without betraying your employee’s trust? This all seems like exactly what we would want and praise in most situations: boss recognizes there may be an issue, boss asks around for feedback, boss addresses the issue by talking to the employee. What’s the problem?

      1. Myrin*

        I think people are reacting to OP’s “Turns out the next day he spoke to the coworker and told him everything we had discussed.” which makes it sound like she indeed knows the boss specifically mentioned her when talking to the coworker. I assumed it meant either the boss himself or the confronted coworker actually talked to OP in a way that made it clear what had happend but I take your point that it’s actually not 100% sure and the OP might well mistake general awkwardness on the coworker’s side as prove for something that isn’t there.

        1. LBK*

          I think sometimes it’s also apparent who the boss’s confidant is – I mean, as far as I know my manager never mentioned me by name when he was going through the process of firing my coworker, but I don’t think it was really any secret to anyone on the team that I was always the person he went to for feedback or insight about the inner workings he didn’t see on a daily basis. I was also the person she interacted with the most, so obviously I’d have the most to say about how she was as a coworker.

          All this to say that depending on the dynamics of the team, it may be unavoidable that the coworker would be able to discern that she was the one who provided the feedback. I wouldn’t focus so much on keeping your name out of it as being glad your manager actually cares enough about that feedback to do something about it.

    10. Beezus*

      I think it really depends on how the boss worded the conversation with the problem employee, which is impossible for us and maybe for the OP to know. I’ve gotten feedback from my boss that was appropriate and direct and didn’t reference another person complaining, but since I work without a lot of supervision and my boss isn’t involved in my work at a specific task level, sometimes I know the only way the feedback happened was because someone said something, and sometimes I can pinpoint which individual it had to be.

    11. Turtle Candle*

      I was a little surprised too. If my boss said “How do you think Jane is getting on?” and I said, “She’s mostly doing fine, but she’s picking up Spout Design really slowly, which could be a problem,” I would be really pretty surprised if boss went back to Jane and said “Hey Jane, Turtle says you’re slow to pick up your new project!” And that’s not even as sensitive as something more personal, like “is rude and abrasive” or etc. I mean, I wouldn’t go to HR or get really mad or anything, but I’d be a lot more circumspect in the future when giving feedback!

  2. Ann Furthermore*

    #4: Using all zeros in the SSN field is a great idea and I’m going to remember that. I don’t understand why people ask for that, because then they have to make the effort to keep that information secure. Or at least they should be doing that.

    When my husband filled out a form to set up an auto pay for my daughter’s martial arts lessons, the form had a field for the SSN. He completed if but left that blank, and told the guy there was no good reason for him to have that information, so he wasn’t going to provide it.

    1. Jen*

      In the adult world, where they may want to verify certifications, I could perhaps see it. But not for teens getting their first jobs or things like that

    2. Joseph*

      Sadly, I have little doubt that most companies aren’t making much effort to keep your SSN secure. Definitely not from their own employees. Sure, the companies probably say “well, we know our employees aren’t identity thieves or running scams” or whatever. But (a) you don’t know that since you don’t know them and (b) they don’t actually know that either – after all, no company plans to hire someone who later gets caught for theft or fraud or so on.

      Personally, I’ve found that while apparently everybody asks for SSN’s for everything now (martial arts lessons?), usually if you straight up ask “do you need the SSN?” and cite privacy/security concerns, most places will usually say no even though it’s on the form. unless there truly is a real legal reason they need it. And if there IS a real reason they need it, they’ll explain to you why they need it.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        When I was in college, I tried to sign up for a rewards card at a popular supermarket chain. The application asked for a SSN and the service desk member said I couldn’t get the card without giving my SSN, which I thought was ridiculous because it wasn’t even a debit card, just a plastic card you use to get the sale prices at the supermarket.

        I ended up leaving and going out of my way to another grocery store, but I always wondered how many other college kids they fooled into giving up their SSN for a rewards card.

      2. Natalie*

        I’ve told this story here before, but a few years ago when I was cleaning out old files I came across an unsecured paper file with a bunch of people’s names and social security numbers. We had collected them to issue effing *parking hang tags* for the garage. Utterly baffling.

      3. Ann Furthermore*

        I have plenty of gripes about my company, but at least this isn’t one of them. They are very, very stringent about information security and keeping PII safe.

      4. Witty Nickname*

        Yeah, no way am I going to put my SSN on anything it’s not absolutely necessary for. I’ve worked at a company where (before I worked there) the FBI showed up and confiscated someone’s work computer because that person had been committing identity theft. It surprised everyone who worked with him. He wasn’t in HR, but it could have just as easily been someone there.

        I’ve also had my debit card # cloned numerous times (like 5 times in a year, until I was able to figure out it was corresponding to visits to a particular gas station. I stopped going there, and it hasn’t happened since) and had to get new credit cards because of breaches. That’s really only been mildly inconvenient, and it was bad enough. SSN issues would be much, much worse.

    3. Not Karen*

      It screens for people who don’t have an SSN, aka illegals or those without work permits.

      Yes, it sucks because it also screens out people who don’t want to give out confidential information.

      1. Juli G.*

        Yes but you can do that after an offer is accepted. We changed out process to only get SSN from people that accept an employment offer.

        If you properly disclose that you’re an E-verify employer, most people without authorization know what that means and quietly bow out.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Hahahaha. Nope. My husband’s work place E-Verifies, and he said he has stood there and watched illegals with a stack of SS cards just cycle through them until one doesn’t get kicked back.

          1. Observer*

            Well, asking them for a SSN at the beginning of the process is not likely to make much of a difference.

        2. Not Karen*

          These are companies that don’t want to bother interviewing people without work permits because the company isn’t going to supply them.

      2. Cleopatra Jones*

        Actually, it’s so if you don’t pay the agreed amount they can submit your info to a collection agency or do a skip trace to find you.

          1. Cleopatra Jones*

            No for the martial arts lessons. That’s part of the reason they ask for that info at the doctor’s office.

            1. KS girl at heart*

              I just don’t fill out that portion and have never had anyone say anything to me about it. It is in case of collections but I just don’t tell them why I don’t fill it out and no one pushes it.
              I own a property management company and I’m shocked at how many applicants just give me their ss# with no question.

              1. Stranger than fiction*

                Hmm I always assumed to lease a property, they’d turn down your app if you didn’t complete that part. If that’s not the case, I’m not doing it next time I move. It was pretty worrisome last time. We filled out so many apps for places we were interested in only to be told “we took it off the market” or “we just rented it last night” or ” we rented to a relative”. I think we got the sixth place we applied for. (and no, we don’t have any credit or income issues where they were just being polite about declining us)

            2. BethRA*

              Ah – sorry, managed to miss that part of the chain (although I would think a credit card # would be a better, less risky way to collect money)

            3. Windchime*

              I work for a medical facility and we don’t even collect SSN when we register patients. We did when we first went live on this computer system, and then we determined that it wasn’t worth the risk. We didn’t necessarily need the information and we didn’t want to have it in our system at all, so we purged them all out. That field is blank for all our patients in our system.

      3. Katniss*

        Your point about screening is valid, but am I the only one who is uncomfortable with calling humans “illegals”?

        1. Daisy Steiner*

          I didn’t like it either. But it’s probably best not to pull on that thread or we might be here all day.

          1. LabTech*

            (Though I do agree with the gist of the comment, that it’s a terrible practice that bars undocumented immigrants from working, be it unintentionally or by design.)

            1. Anon Moose*

              Also people who have lost their identification documents. This is the case for many many people who have escaped domestic violence situations or are dealing with homelessness. Its really hard to get those back sometimes. These horrible applications are a burden for a lot of vulnerable people who need jobs.

              1. Kelly L.*

                I remember what a pain it was when my SS card was lost, and there wasn’t even any trauma involved to add stress to it. They want your birth certificate to issue a SS card, and a SS card to issue a birth certificate. I would have had sooo many more hoops to jump through if my mom hadn’t luckily had my original birth certificate in an easy-to-retrieve place.

                1. Anon Moose*

                  Exactly, when you lose everything it is much much harder because you need at least one form of ID. Its a major problem for homeless populations- if they don’t have a safe place to store their documents they can get stolen/ seized or lost and destroyed. If you have to apply for 20 other services that day you may not be able to jump through all the hoops. (Also why stuff like voter id makes me angry but that’s way off topic).

                2. AnonT*

                  Ugh, yeah, that’s the most irritating pain in the butt. I’m working on getting my name changed on all of my legal documents, and boy is it a confusingly cyclical process.

      4. QualityControlFreak*

        Ok, pet peeve here. “Illegals?” Illegal WHAT? “Illegal” is an adjective. I believe you are using it to describe human beings. You may not like human beings who are in this country “illegally” (heck, this would be a very different country if we had had anti-immigration laws in place a couple of hundred years ago!) but they are human beings.

        To me, most of you are descendants of illegal immigrants. But you’re still human.

      5. Grapey*

        Not at first. “Illegals”, or undocumented workers, often put in random SSNs to get these jobs. I worked at a grocery store with a LOT of people that did this. Every so often management would be contacted by the IRS because of unreported income and find that a lot of these workers were using other people’s SSNs.

        So it was “stealing” someone’s SSN, but it’s not like these workers were claiming taxes that were taken out of their paychecks at the end of the year. When they got caught by management, they would provide another fake SSN or just quit on the spot. Our management never reported anyone as far as I know, and they also wanted the labor so they never did follow up SSN checks since they knew the game.

        Tangentially, they weren’t “stealing anyone’s jerbs” since that grocery store was always hiring.

    4. orchidsandtea*

      You can also use Nixon’s (567-68-0515) or Elvis’s (409-52-2002) if the consequences are fairly low. (Not getting a teenaged job: fairly low. Filing taxes: fairly high!)

      1. Liz*

        I wouldn’t recommend using a fake number that looks real.

        As someone who has to deal with students/parents entering incorrect data, it can cause many, many problems, not least of which is getting your records cross-referenced/mixed up with someone else’s. (Believe me, you don’t want that.) Just use an obvious placeholder like 000000000 or 123456789 so they *know* it’s not valid.

        1. Sanity Lost*

          Unfortunately, using all zero’s, all the same numbers (ex. 1111111111) or consecutive numbers no longer works on the online applications. I spent a year job hunting and most company’s have amended their software to prevent this. It will not allow you to proceed without a “valid” number. In my case I used binary “010101010” to overcome this.

    5. Karowen*

      I had to provide mine the other day to do pre-employment testing (which, as the first step in the process, was annoying in and of itself). It didn’t bother me that much until I showed up to do that and they had it printed out on pieces of paper for any random employee to see. Like…really?

    6. OP*

      The all zeros didn’t work – it kicked his application back. And I think we tried 123-45-6789 and it rejected that because it already showed that belonged to someone else — I might be wrong about that, but I recall there being a problem doing that. They might be using SSN as a unique identifier, but it’s making me crazy how many jobs are closed off to him because of this.

      1. Anon Moose*

        LW, I understand your privacy concerns but sorry, he’s going to have to give it to them if he wants a retail/food service job. These application systems won’t let him through without it. They are using it to prove work authorization/ citizenship. And the managers at the stores rarely have the ability to overrule the company-wide system. There is no “reasonable” person doing the screening, and it will automatically kick people out for any number of things. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. Otherwise he could also get dinged for giving a different number than his own and then certifying at the end of the application that everything is true to his knowledge. If you want your son to get a job, you need to give him the correct number. Obviously, caution him to not give it out when its not necessary and not to keep the card in his wallet. But in this day and age, it is not negotiable on these type of applications.
        And just FYI, you’re going to have to put it on every college application as well.

        1. OP - SSN Mom*

          I don’t love the college application asking for it either (the FAFSA form, I get it, but the application, come ON!).

          FWIW, yesterday I sent an email to a large, customer-friendly employer here, who does ask for SSN on their application, and I asked them why they require that. I’ll be interested to hear if they have a compelling reason that I had not considered.

          He’s been working weekends for almost a year at a restaurant that still uses paper applications, and he left SSN blank. They don’t give him enough hours though, which is why we’ve revisited the larger chain stores. (Really Target? After your gigantic, public data breach you’re still going to require SSN on your online application?????)

          1. Liz*

            I can explain the college application. You wouldn’t believe the number of students who send test scores as “Nick Smith”, apply as “Nicholas Smith” and send their FAFSA with their real name of “John Nicholas Smith”. And quite often the birthdate or address is typo’d or different, and a different email address given. Our school uses SSN as one of the criteria (others being various combinations of first/middle/last name, address, email, birthdate) to help ensure all records get matched up correctly and in a timely fashion, so your application is processed quickly and correctly and your financial aid can be packaged and offered as fast as possible.

          2. Anon Moose*

            I’m glad he’s lucky enough to have some kind of choice in the kinds of jobs he’s applying for and what information he/ you wan to give out. I wish you good luck in challenging the stores’ policies, though in my experience they don’t like to grant exceptions, much less change whole systems. But do it because there are so many people who have this same concern but cannot afford to.
            The Target breach was in their customer system- redcards not their application system which I think may be handled by an outside vendor. The sad thing is this is just industry standard right now.

            1. Retail Lifer*

              This has been a required field on 99% of the hundreds of online applications I filled out over the past few years when I was job hunting. You can try zeroes, but many places I’ve both applied to and worked at would not accept that. If you can afford to be picky, like a high school kid looking for an entry-level job, you can certainly look elsewhere. But with the job market being so awful, you might not have any choices left if you want to avoid handing over your ss# before it’s actually needed. It sucks. It’s not needed until they do a credit/background check, which is further in the process. For jobs that don’t do those at all it’s not even needed until you get hired. Why EVERYONE asks for it up front is beyond me.

            2. OP - SSN Mom*

              Yes, first world problem for sure, but I still don’t want him giving out his SSN for Joe Random working at the A&P to have access to, and it still would be nice if companies didn’t ask for this information at that point in the process when they don’t need it.

              So the interesting thing about Target is their extensive online privacy policy says it covers everything except – and then it lists 6 areas that aren’t covered: Target debit card, Target credit card, Target Health application, completing an application for employment, etc. All of the exceptions then link off to their own privacy policy. Except for the application, which has none. So…no expectation that any of the data on the application will remain private.

              1. Anon Moose*

                He likely will not get a retail job then. I guess that’s your/ his prerogative but if I were him I’d be kind of angry if my mom stopped me from getting a job for this. It’s his SSN and he’s 16. Getting work experience now may help him with $ and later if he needs another or job.
                How about giving it to him and also signing up for a credit monitoring service? Or checking credit karma with him every six months? Sounds like a better solution to me.

                1. Anon Moose*

                  Bottom line (and then I’ll stop harping):
                  Your kid has to compete in the job market that exists, not the job market as you think it should be. This applies now and will apply later when he’s applying for his first internships and entry level jobs too. There are going to be many things you’re going to think don’t make sense or are unfair. He’s a minor now and may not need this job particularly, but *at least*once he is over 18 I urge you to let him use his own judgement and not try to excercise control over his job search (and actually I think now would be a good time to start letting him use his own judgement). Advise when asked, but don’t pressure down a path that may very well be unrealistic (see yesterday’s letter re: mom pressuring her child to ask for housing from their internship!) Accept that you may not know the situation on the ground and your advice may not be valid at all times. Accept that he may choose differently than you would have, and you don’t have veto power on his adult work decisions.

                2. Anna*

                  I think the “oh well, SHERRUG” attitude is why it’s become standard. Don’t give up, OP. Ask for an explanation that makes sense, ask for how the information is stored, get every reassurance you can. Your child’s potential irritation with you versus breaches to privacy that we should all be thinking about is not a difficult choice, in my opinion.

                3. Anon Moose*

                  Anna, erm I think it’s become standard because people aren’t able to stand up to a company they need an hourly job from. Or if they complain the company has little to no incentive to listen. Less of a shrug than no power. By all means complain I guess. But this may not be something that’s able to be fixed by mom complaining on behalf of their kid.

          3. Chalupa Batman*

            Liz is right, keeping all of a student’s information tied to the correct student can be tricky, and there are legal consequences if private information gets stashed in the wrong file. If it helps, at my institution and others I’ve worked at, once a student number is assigned as that student’s unique identifier, very few people (if anyone) on campus have access to more than the last 4 digits. I have access to a lot of student information in my role, but I doubt I could get my hands on a student’s full social security number.

      2. Person of Interest*

        It seems likely that for the jobs he is considering there are a significant number of undocumented residents also in the potential pool, and so the corporate hiring system is using SSN to make sure they can verify work permit status at early stages. Not ideal, but probably par for the course for typical teenager jobs. I agree with others that for more professional jobs SSN is really not needed until the offer stage (by which I mean office-type jobs with a more limited applicant pool, I’m not saying that retail work is unprofessional. I have done both kinds of jobs).

  3. Engineer Girl*

    #3 – I’ve never heard of a bonus that is given every paycheck. If you are getting a higher paycheck every pay period then thats your new salary. Do you have old pay stubs? That should show your salary on it. If it were a bonus it would be a separate line item. If there is no separate line item the the old HR is spinning tales.

    1. #3*

      You’re right, the difference in pay was on my paystubs as a separate line item, almost like incentive comp. With direct deposit, I never even noticed. There’s no question that I earned the amount I said I earned (a little more actually with my performance bonus). Unfortunately, I was asked specifically for base salary without any bonuses or benefits added in

      1. hbc*

        Your explanation makes total sense, so I wouldn’t worry that they think you were trying to get one over on them or anything.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        I think it’s going to be completely fine, it’s a totally understandable mistake

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah, you’re fine. Just clarify it with the HR person over there. The numbers add up in the end.

    2. newreader*

      In my industry, bonuses might be provided in each paycheck for a specified time period for temporarily assuming additional responsibilities. For example, I once agreed to take on a higher level role for about nine months during a transition period. I received additional compensation each paycheck during that time frame to compensate for the higher level of responsibility. It did appear on my pay stub on a different line than my regular salary.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        We did this for a consultant who was spend six months in a high cost of living area.

        During those six months, his paycheck had his normal salary, and then his COL stipend.

    3. LBK*

      Bonuses and salary are taxed differently, so even if it’s a flat monthly amount there’s reasons to separate it.

      1. Judy*

        The withholding on bonuses and taxes are calculated differently, but the taxes are the same. With the tax brackets, any bonuses have taxes withheld at the marginal tax rate, otherwise you’d owe more at the end of the year.

    4. Case of the Mondays*

      I’ve heard of it in a few professional jobs. It’s like a signing bonus. They really want you to come so they will pay a higher than market salary for the first 2 years and then your salary returns to market year 3. This is disclosed up front. It leads to people just changing jobs every 2 years. Most common in very high demand fields like specialty docs.

  4. FutureLibrarianNoMore*

    While all zeros or 12345… as your social works sometimes, most of these applications are actually programmed to only allow a real number. No, I’m not kidding, though I wish I were. It will actually recognize it isn’t real, and won’t allow you to continue.

    Unfortunately, if you want to work in a part time, customer-focused position, be prepared to give out your social every time you apply.

      1. Nico m*

        So can an SS expert spill the beans?
        I doubt that they are checking the number actually exists. More likely some places can only be certain values and others are checksums.

        1. Nighthawk*

          There’s no checksum in a social security number – this was an oversight when it was designed. Some of the fields are meaningful, like the first three digits tell what state your number was assigned from. Some blocks are reserved, and won’t be opened up for use until later.

          It’s possible that a system could perform a quick credit/background check using the name/SSN pair, and see if they match up. If the number is invalid, that could cause the whole application to be rejected. It all depends on the implementation.

          1. Anonymous in the South*

            A little off-topic but I was born and issued a ss# in one state and my oldest son was born and issued a ss# in a different state, but the first 3 are the same on both. It could be coincidence.

            1. Dan*

              Were these neighboring rural areas? What you describe would surprise me only, if say these numbers were issued in California, New York, and Florida.

          2. Liz*

            Although this used to be true, the first 3 digits are now completely random. It changed a year or two ago.

      2. LBK*

        I’d guess they have very simplistic hard-coded checks for common fake entries (eg all the same number, 123-45-6789, etc.).

      3. Retail Lifer*

        Even entry-level retail jobs will often run a background check because you’re handling cash. Normally, they run the check with the information you provide in your application. So you could get through the interview process with a fake number as long as you remember to tell them to correct it before you get that far into the process.

      4. Joline*

        Just as a north of the border side note: Canadian SINs (Social Insurance Number) can be validated with an algorithm. So a lot of programs/applications up here actually do kick back an error if it’s a number that couldn’t be a valid SIN. It’s actually rather nice as a data entry check since if you’re entering a SIN it’s more difficult to accidentally put in the wrong number by swapping a couple of digits.

    1. Mephisto*

      Yes, I’ve tried the all zeros or the 123s trick but 80% of the time the system will detect a fake number and kick it back to me.

        1. Jack the treacle eater*

          Think it depends on the form (talking generally, not specifically SSNs). Some seem to autodetect only whether the space is filled; some autodetect an obviously mickey number (or email, or whatever) e.g. all zeros, 12345 and so on; some detect correct formatting (i.e. correct letter and number combinations / positioning); some a combination (i.e. correctly formatted and not obviously bogus).

          I’ve never come across a form that detects whether a validly formatted number is actually legitimate (and / or correct to the form filler) except where they have access to original information, e.g. where you put a card number on for an online purchase and they check with the bank for authorisation. I don’t imagine that would be the case for SSNs but I don’t suppose you can risk making up a legitimate looking number.

              1. WIncredulous*

                I used to order pizza from a place that wanted my drivers license number on my check. Oops. I always messed up that one number . . . Darn it.

                1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under A.A., B.S.*

                  I always hated this. Illinois DL#s are loooooonnnnnngggggggg.

              2. LSCO*

                But then you’d have to explain later in the process that you filled out your SSN wrongly. At best it’ll make you look like you don’t pay attention to detail (if you try to explain it as an “honest” mistake”), at worst you’ll be suspect for trying to play the system and your materials would be looked at very closely to see if you’re trying to hide something.

                Using all zeros is a great idea (when it works) because it shows that you’re not trying to defraud anyone, but you’re just not providing your SSN upfront. Using any form of a “real” SSN (either totally fake, or based on your actual number with one or two switches) is much harder to explain without sounding like a bit of a flake.

                1. A Cita*

                  I don’t think that would sound flaky at all. People know about identity theft and account hacking and fraud. If you explained why you didn’t provide your actual number, I think most people would understand. They’re probably just too lazy to change their application app to remove that field (or don’t even realize it’s there).

                  I would definitely put a fake number in and explain right away. If they want to look at my application materials more closely because of that–well they should be looking at them closely anyway.

                2. Cambridge Comma*

                  I think there are a tonne of ways to explain it that don’t sound flaky.
                  I’ve done it a couple of times because mislaid my national insurance numbercard for a while and didn’t want to wait until I found it. I just said by the way, I think I may have misremembered my NI no. when filling out your form; here’s my card if you want to verify it. It was no big deal.

                3. TootsNYC*

                  And the biggest risk, to me, is that you might not get it properly updated later, even after you’ve explained. People screw up. Or they’ll see that it’s so much alike, and they’ll leave the earlier one, etc.

              3. MK*

                I have no idea how U.S. SSN are allocated, but if you make up a legitimate-looking number, isn’t there a danger that you have accidently entered someone else’s actual SSN? That could lead to all sorts of trouble.

                1. mull*

                  No it couldn’t. Any random 9-digit number has a good chance of being somebody’s ssn, but it’s not like it would be linked to any other information about the actual holder of the number, like birth date or name.

                  The weird thing would be walking it back if you actually got the job, when you would need your real number.

                2. Cambridge Comma*

                  But places you apply for a job at that don’t want to employ you shouldn’t need to do anything with your SSN that gets anyone into trouble.
                  And if you are offered the job, you correct it then.

                3. MK*

                  But it could be used to find out more, at least by government agencies. I was actually involved in such a mess, when a stranger got a speeding ticket and gave the officer my own tax registry number. All the other details were their own and they claimed it was a mistake, but my number was entered into the computer system and the ticket showed up in my online tax statement.

                4. Anna*

                  Right MK, but that person was specifically trying to get out of consequences for something illegal. It was essentially ID theft since you got it attached to your record. The difference here is that an SSN on an application isn’t used for anything when you first apply. It’s unlikely the hiring company does anything with it unless they run it against old payment records to see if you have worked for them previously. They don’t actually need to know anything until you’re filling out your hiring paperwork and at that time they’re checking your SSN or birth certificate to verify you’re legal to work. Basically, it COULD be someone else’s number, but it’s not likely and the people trying to get around the needless request for their SSN would eventually correct the “mistake” anyway.

              1. Apollo Warbucks*

                Bar codes and EAN numbers do to, I’ve still spent most of this week sorting out duff data :( that’s been entered wrong

                1. Colette*

                  And credit card numbers. Basically any long string of numbers has a pattern and/or a checksum to make sure they are entered correctly.

                2. Rusty Shackelford*

                  At one time, there was an industry standard fake credit card number you could use for testing purposes (when developing a system that required CC data). I wonder if there’s one for SSNs?

                3. Kimberlee, Esq*

                  I know there’s a whole range of SSNs that are reserved for us on TV shows, movies, advertising, etc! So presumably you can use one of those without consequence.

            1. V.V.*

              I wish there was a petition to sign to enact a law to ban the practice of collecting SSN# before extending an offer, or that a handful of states would just pass a law without a petition, just so the rest would have to follow suit.

              There are a lot of unscrupulous people out there, and it seems like the places that refuse to proceed without your SSN# are the ones you probably you need to worry about the most. I would say let’s all take a stand against this (generally) indefensible practice and do a mass boycott of these employers, unfortunately it means asking people to forgo job possibilities they may decide they are in dire need of.

              From what I have experienced, many of the kinds of employers OP#4 mentions have no incentive to change their practices, unless they suddenly wise up and identify the liability. The places I personally know of, receive so many applications that any “incomplete application” is happily discarded… or never accepted in the first place. Combine this with employer reluctance to explain why you weren’t selected, and you wonder if that was the reason you never heard from them again. (Sometimes it was.)

              Many times, in a case such as that of OP#4’s son, one has to decide whether to fork the info and hope everything is legit, or decline to give it and accept being forever stalled at that point of the application process.

              Shouldn’t have to be this way. And neither should someone have to make up a damned number to get past this nonsense.

              Good Luck OP#4, I hope you find a place who will respect your family’s concerns about this issue, and will hire your son with or without having this on his application.

              1. Yetanotherjennifer*

                I think there is a law, or maybe only a rule, limiting the use of SSNs for other purposes but many places ignore it. I remember when Blockbuster asked for the SSN number to create an account to rent videos. They didn’t check your credit but they wanted the number anyway. There was also a time when some states used the SSN as a driver ID number.

                I suspect many places just don’t think about why they’re asking for the information. Maybe to save time later. Or to signify the applicant is serious. If they have no intention of using it for nefarious reasons they many not stop to think that others might. And for programmers it comes down to how thorough do you want to be. Do you want to verify that the question is answered, that it isn’t an obvious fake number or that it is a valid number. I can see where including the check sum would be kinda fun; but I’m a geek. They can’t and won’t check that it is the correct number for that person at that point in the process.

                1. Lore*

                  When my brother got his first drivers license, his SSN was the license number. That’s how he learned his SSN. Unfortunately the state transposed two digits and he therefore memorized someone else’s SSN and used it for years (pre Internet obviously). It wasn’t until he tried to get his first car loan that it was untangled. Screwed up his credit history for years.

                2. T3k*

                  I know my university, years ago, used to use one’s SSN as their student ID number. Of course, by the time I started there, they had changed that system when they realized the ramifications of it.

              2. A Cita*

                If you want to start raising awareness around this, Demos is a good place to do that. They work on a lot of employee rights issues, including pushing to get credit checks removed from the application process.

              3. Anon Moose*

                Agreed. If you are outraged this is a thing, then we should start a movement that SSNs should not be asked for on the first application. A successful model is the Ban the Box movement- the box being “have you ever been convicted of a crime” that was used as an automatic weed out. In several states and jurisdictions, you can not have that box anymore and can only inquire about criminal records at a later stage in the process. Advocates are also working on similar measures regarding credit checks by employers.
                I would think privacy advocates should be all over the SSN thing. Retailers and companies should verify citizenship later and use different identifying numbers. But I think this and other practices affecting low wage workers are invisible to many people in the professional world and by and large affects the most powerless segment of society.

            2. Mallory Janis Ian*

              What if you entered ones and zeros until the computer accepted it? Still obviously enough to be spotted as fake, but not obvious enough to trigger the program to reject it. Or throw in a strategic two or three with the ones and zeros. Like: 010-02-0003

        2. Chelsea B.*

          My HRIS system will take all 5’s as a valid number – that might work in this instance. It’s not running the risk of being a person’s real number, but it is clearly not your SSN either.

          1. Mae North*

            One of my payroll systems does as well – we use it for our employees in non-US locations, since it’s a required field. Might be worth a shot, OP.

    2. Emily B*

      This is why my first action as manager (of a couple of franchised ice cream stores) was to remove SS# from applications. The employer doesn’t need it unless you are hired and quite frankly can leave opportunity for it to be stolen.

      1. I've read that study!*

        I did the same with my program’s professional registry. The SSNs weren’t being verified in any way. They were just extra information on the application form.

    3. Anon Moose*

      As a person who has applied for these kinds of jobs in the past few years, the systems catch this now. People saying that someone should lie on an application system to protect privacy, that is now outdated and bad advice. Too many tries at giving a dishonest SS# could get him not hired for dishonesty reasons, or put on a no hire list. You have to give the SS#. There isn’t any way around it if he wants a job with a company that has these electronic applications. It will only work if he applies somewhere like a mom and pop store that doesn’t have this kind of screening system. Its just reality. Stop telling her/him to fudge it. Its really bad advice.

      1. KellyK*

        While that’s true, I think it’s irresponsible to encourage someone to give their SSN to any employer who asks for it without mentioning the risk involved. Yes, he probably has to do it to get a job, but recognize that a lot of companies don’t protect this data at all and that it’s opening him up to identity theft. (It’s really stupid that this is the way it works, but you’re correct that it is.)

        If you’re in a position where you need to provide that information to be considered for positions, you should consider some form of identity theft protection as part of the cost of applying for a job, just like interview clothes or gas money to go around picking up applications. If you can’t do that, at least get your free credit report every time it’s available and review it diligently.

        1. Anon Moose*

          I think the kid has gotten the idea that its sensitive information that shouldn’t be given out willy-nilly. And I agree, everyone should know that and maybe some people don’t. Credit education is vital. What is irking me, honestly, is the idea that this kid should go around the system or try to get an exception somehow. When you need the job to survive, you don’t have a choice to try to game the system. You give your info to a hundred different places. Getting stolen from later down the line is not the top thing on your mind. (You probably don’t have extra $ to budget for identity theft protection either- not saying its a bad idea in general, just saying many people applying for these jobs are already stretched by the bus fare/gas money and a clean shirt and a hundred other seemingly minor things.) I think companies need to take these off their applications, and people should be more aware that its not just teenagers applying for after school jobs that are negatively affected by this stuff.

          1. Dan*

            ID theft “protection” is a joke anyway.

            I do agree that this stuff has no business at the application stage anywhere. If you’re serious about me, then we can talk. But if we’re still at the stage where I’m not supposed to “see if you have any questions about my application”, then we’re still at the stage where you don’t need my SSN.

      2. Anna*

        It’s not lying, unless your making a very weird case for lying by omission. It’s refusing to give someone information they don’t need. He has a right to do that.

        1. Anon Moose*

          And the employers have a right to say “that’s our application process, if you don’t want to fill out an application then you won’t get the job.”
          In general I think putting wrong info on your application is a bad thing to teach a kid but hey, ymmv.

    4. I've read that study!*

      Yeah. This may be a good time for the OP to discuss with his son the need to perform regular credit checks. My University actually lost a bunch of student information (including mine) and had to pay for credit monitoring for a while. They weren’t hacked; they left all of their student identification paperwork in an unprotected lobby. Truth is we have a stupid system setup where all someone needs is your name and a 9 digit number, and while it’s best to protect that number as best as you can (try Allison’s trick first when asked for it, change your driver’s license number if your state hasn’t already), it’s still bound to get out, so you need to do other things to protect your identity as well.

      1. Anon Moose*

        Seems way more sensible than stopping the kid from getting 90% of part time jobs.

    5. TootsNYC*

      Maybe this a class prejudice, but I’d actually be more worried about identity theft when applying to those sorts of companies than I would w/ a corporation like my own.
      Partly I’d expect their HR and manager turnover to be higher, so the mere odds of having someone nefarious in those jobs would go up.
      Also, because credit-card fraud is such a big thing, and those businesses deal with credit cards, I’d expect them to be targeted more aggressively by identify-theft entrepreneurs.
      And then there’s the whole “this industry is staffed mostly by people at the lower end of the economic spectrum, and crime is committed more often by those at the lower end of the economic spectrum,” and throw in the sheer numbers of people, bcs of large staffs and high turnover, and I’d just consider it to be a much riskier proposition.

      1. Anon Moose*

        Actually, statistically financial crime occurs most often in the white collar sector, by people on the higher end of the income spectrum who have more privileges. I’d be more worried about a rogue person in corporate.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          I was just about to say this. And people in management are statistically more likely to steal because they have better access to sensitive information.

    6. AMT 2*

      Try 999-99-9999 – my husband used to work for a furniture store in sales, and apparently anyone without a SSN could still get approved for credit using all 9s….

    7. Master Bean Counter*

      I wonder if they are e-verifying the number at the time of application. This could be useful to save time by not interviewing people who won’t pass an e-verify check. Not that I think it’s right, but I can see why they might do it.

    8. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      For those wondering how SSNs are generated:

      When first introduced, SSNs reflected where and when where you were born. States were assigned certain three digits, birth years were coded in the two digits, and the four digits were assigned to you. This convention was in place well into the late 70s when states began to run out of numbers combinations and began issuing number numbers in a different way (which does have a type of checksum code digit to confirm legitimacy),

      Why do I know this? I worked in check cashing and payday loans in a previous life. I’ve seen a lot of green cards and picture ID requests. I have seen many SSNs and had to verify risk when cashing a check, which meant knowing these conventions. It was fascinating in its own way.

  5. Katniss*

    LW one, you say you don’t see any evidence of impropriety. I think it’s important to remember that this is then an issue YOU’RE having, not one your wife is having. You’re uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean anyone is doing anything wrong. Even if the former boss is attracted to your wife, hopefully you can trust them both to be grown ups, so that he won’t act on it. Jealousy is not a good reason to push your wife away from a good job opportunity.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      It’s definitely all about the OP — he or she doesn’t mention the key concern that most people would have: did this person make my wife feel uncomfortable when she was working for him? Does he say or do inappropriate things that will make her feel unsafe? The innermost thoughts of the boss are both unknowable and irrelevant, and have nothing to do with whether the wife can be trusted.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        This, exactly this.

        In addition, I think it’s very telling that the OP — who should be his/her wife’s biggest cheerleader — doesn’t seem to be visualizing a possibility that the boss wants to keep working with OP’s wife because she’s a great employee!

        1. Doriana Gray*

          Yeah, that caught my eye too. Like, yikes – you think the only reason he wants to give her a job is to try and sleep with her?

        2. One of the Sarahs*

          Yes, the OP really needs to think about this – and I’d totally advise getting some solo counselling from a relationship specialist, to try to work some of this through. (I used to think it was about stopping divorce, or making it easier, but it’s really useful at any stage in a partnership)

        3. LBK*

          Agreed – the description just sounds like a someone who’s a good employee that gets along with a good boss. I rave about my boss all the time and there’s certainly no attraction there (our gender/sexuality compatibility kind of precludes it).

          I’m usually not a big fan of the “would you say the same thing if ___?” exercise, but in this case I think the OP should at least try to envision if he’d feel the same way if she were saying the same things about a female boss.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      To be honest, I can’t see how, even if the boss was attracted to the wife, giving her a job would facilitate an affair. They’re already hanging out and in touch, and working together would be the best option. It’s stressful, yeah they’d be together a lot, but that’s in a work context, and if the affair went wrong, it would be incredibly uncomfortable, not to mention the HR issues. If the boss had nefarious intentions, there are far better ways to try to seduce the wife!

      BUT! What I also want to say is surely the husband trusts the wife, and respects her ethics and values. This is a really terrible view of the wife, that either she wouldn’t be able to help having an affair, or she’s naive enough to get taken in…

      1. MashaKasha*

        “If the boss had nefarious intentions, there are far better ways to try to seduce the wife!” This * 1000! Why would the boss put his career in jeopardy by bringing a new employee on board only to immediately start an affair with her, that *will* leak out into the workplace, and *will* cause him problems at work?! This defies common sense.

  6. snuck*


    Nope. Nope. Nope. Don’t get into it. If you trust your wife it won’t matter whether someone else is infatuated with her. If you don’t trust your wife then that’s something you have to work out.

    If he’s sent out any weird vibes of stalker strangeness then that’s reason to be cautious, but if it’s a straight offer to come and work, then it’s kind of normal to ‘poach’ good staff from previous work relationships – he knows her professional qualities, knows they’ll work well together, why wouldn’t you employ what you know in that situation. This is why many places have non-poaching clauses and he’s lucky to be able to do this. It’s that common that places have non-poaching clauses in contracts yeah?

    If he’s all weird, he’s inviting her to multiple events and she’s putting healthy boundaries and polite excuses in and he’s steam rolling her and them… and he’s sending her ‘gifts’ that are oddly personal (flowers, notes, etc) then sure… I’d take a step back and think about it.

    1. Jack the treacle eater*

      Does sound as though there’s some jealousy going on. Hope it’s just misreading. As said, if you trust your wife, trust her. If you don’t, that’s something independent of this job offer. Off topic, beware jealousy – it can eat away at a relationship.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        And actually, if jealousy and non trust become a pervasive problem in a relationship, it can become a self fulfilling prophecy. The untrusting partner ends up pushing the spouse away and they end up having an affair or cheating after all. There’s an old saying to the effect of “if you don’t trust people then you can’t be trusted”. Often times, the ones who are so untrusting of their partners is because they cheated in the past themselves.

    2. rando*

      Plus, relationship building is important to an advanced career, especially in my career (law). Every single attorney at my firm who had developed a strong career has a close mentoring non-romantic relationship with attorneys senior to them. Because earlier generations of partners at my firm were all men before a certain point, the women (and men) who advanced to partner level ALL had close relationships with men senior to them. The men advised them, mentored them, and advocated for them.

      When I read #1, I see the way things should work! I regularly have lunch with male colleagues and have male mentors. One mentor plans to have a dinner at his home and invite several attorneys over, including me. This is all good and normal.

      I am thankful I dumped an insecure ex boyfriend, because his jealousy would have created problems in our relationship. My husband is 100% secure, and it makes me love him and respect him more. Be like my husband!

      1. Tammy*

        Yes, this – relationship building is so important in a career. Much of the success I’ve achieved in my career has been because I’m very intentional about building a web of relationships across my organization, and especially in my field (I’m a female manager in high-tech, so I’m never going to win the “I’m the biggest baddest alpha geek in the room” contest against the guys) those relationships have been so critical. And, by necessity, a lot of my work relationships are with men. That’s just the way it works.

    3. Librarianna*

      Our new university president asked his former administrative assistant to come work for him at his new job. She (and her husband) actually did move several states to take this job (I suppose it pays pretty well). I thought it was a little strange, but if they have a really good working relationship, its great to have someone you already know and work well with!

  7. Chrissie*

    If you specifically mention this opportunity, you can use it for a show-don’t-tell-like “Through my involvement in xyz industry and the network built up over many years, I have gained particular insights into xyz aspects of the field. I enjoy opportunities to share this knowledge, such as the interview for abc.”

    Actually, wouldn’t this fit better in terms of outreach/service to the community? Maybe you can bundle it with a blogpost or an article in professional society magazine if you have done something like it?

  8. Daisy Steiner*

    #1 – I hope this doesn’t come over too harshly, but this letter absolutely smacks of ‘Ross’ from Friends. He acted in an unreasonable, overprotective and jealous way towards his girlfriend – and what happened? Rachel got so sick of him suspecting her of infidelity, and of simultaneously undermining her professional credentials (“It couldn’t possibly be your skill he’s interested in – it MUST be romantic”) that she broke up with him. And fair enough.

    I don’t mean to say this is exactly the same situation – this is more a cautionary tale to think about.

    1. LSCO*

      Yes.. my first thought was that the OP in #1 is undermining his wife’s skills by assuming her boss would only be interested in her for romantic reasons and not because she’s a good worker.

      (love your name btw!)

      1. Random Lurker*

        Mine too. I despise letters asking for relationship advice under the pretense of a career question and tend to skip over them. But glad I read this one.

        OP – being a female in a male dominated industry is tough. At times, it flat out sucks. And often because male counterparts make assumptions about women like you have – that it’s unfair when a male hires them, that they are there only because the male is attracted to them, etc. Women put up with this crap their entire career. Hopefully you understand now that you are contribution to this toxicity, but even worse. Now this perception has transcended into her home life.

        Do you trust your wife around other men? Are you proud of what she has accomplished in her career thus far?

        1. Tammy*

          Don’t even get me started on sexist cr*p in the workplace, but this x 1,000,000! I’ve been in IT/software engineering roles for my whole career, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been on the receiving end of this stuff.

          (Begin “scary vulnerable authenticity” section) And frankly, it’s been worse for me because I’m not just a successful professional woman, but I’m a successful professional transgender woman. I’ve actually had people suggest to me (sometimes to my face, sometimes in snide comments to others) that I chose to become a woman so I could sleep my way to the top. The mind boggles. (End “scary vulnerable authenticity” section)

          1. Tea*

            What the ever loving frick frack?!??!?! I’m sorry, I have nothing useful to contribute, but that is absolutely appalling and I cannot believe the gall of some people.

          2. One of the Sarahs*

            Whenever I read things suggesting Transpeople go through surgery etc so they can have some nebulous ‘benefit’ like using a women’s toilet (or whatever), I just boggle!

            (I’m a gay woman, and I get super-twitchy when I see people saying I chose to be gay, because while I’m completely at peace and happy in my sexuality, the idea I’d choose a harder path just to get, I dunno, ‘cool’ points, is just *weird*)

            1. Tammy*

              It really is – I didn’t “choose” to become a woman, so much as I “chose” to make the only life decision (transitioning to living as a woman) that I could make that wasn’t “commit suicide to put an end to the pain”. That anyone would be sufficiently un-empathetic as to think that I’d put myself through all that transition has cost me – financially, emotionally, physically and relationally – just so I could “sleep my way to to the top” (or use women’s restrooms, or whatever) – is such a trivialization of my experiences as to be insulting.

              1. Elliot*

                Not to derail this, but it is absolutely crazy being a transsexual in the workplace. I was sent a letter once requesting full release of my medical information to use any restroom in a workplace which was near enough to walk to on a break. I refused and took an extra long break until the problem solved itself. I have had entry level employees out me to clients they hardly work with (I don’t “look trans.”)

                I have had two supervisors ask me about my genitals.

                I began my career before transition, and can confidently say that being trans in the workplace is truly a bizarre experience. There is never a dull moment. Or a moment where people aren’t talking about your body or attributing every aspect of your personality to your gender or assigned sex (whichever is more stereotypical to that trait), either.

                1. One of the Sarahs*

                  Ugh, my sympathies to you and everyone else in this situation. Some people are arseholes, and I’m sorry they are arseholic to you.

          3. Tammy*

            Thanks for the support, those that commented. I was gobsmacked the first time someone said that to me. And then I heard it again. I think about a half dozen people in the last 17 years have tried that argument.

            I don’t know what’s worse – that they thought that, or that they actually felt it was acceptable to say it aloud.

  9. mander*

    It’s perfectly possible to be attracted to someone but never act on. I’ve been in the situation of finding a colleague attractive, but since I’m a professional and loyal to my husband, I didn’t do anything to jeopardise either my job or my marriage.

    Unless there is more to the situation than is in this letter, #1 should assume that his wife is also a professional and is faithful, and drop the pretty jealousy. It could damage his wife’s career for no good reason.

    1. MK*

      There isn’t even much indication that the boss finds the wife attractive in a sexual/romantic way. “it seems that he likes her, in my opinion” hardly qualifies as that.

      1. Yetanotherjennifer*

        And even if the boss does find the wife attractive that doesn’t mean she would automatically find the boss attractive.

        1. JMegan*

          And even if the boss does find the wife attractive, AND the wife finds the boss attractive, that doesn’t mean they would automatically act on that attraction. Workplace affairs are a big deal, especially when both parties are married. I’m not saying it never happens, because obviously it does, but most people are not willing to jeopardize two marriages and at least one career for an attraction like that.

          TL;DR, it’s a long way from “it seems that he likes her” to “they’re having an affair.”

          1. Judy*

            It would actually be much better for their careers if they ARE having an affair for her to not go work for his new company. Most companies don’t care if their employees are having affairs, just when it happens in the workplace, especially between a manager and their employee.

        2. Kelly L.*


          I had one ex in college who worried about this kind of thing all the time. He didn’t want me to go to various events (like parties) alone, because “guys might hit on you.” I would ask if he trusted me and he’d say “Yes, but I don’t trust guys.” I pressed further on this, and he didn’t even mean sexual harassment or assault. He either didn’t realize I had agency in whether I cheated, or felt that even an unsolicited and unreturned flirtation was an affront on him by the hypothetical other guy, I wasn’t quite sure which.

          It didn’t work out.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            When I was a teenager, my mother barred me from several activities with the excuse that she trusted me, but not my friends.

            It was only a few months ago that I realized that the crux was really that she didn’t trust me. Blaming my friends was a deflection.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Seriously. I like to think I’m in a healthy relationship. We can talk about others we think are attractive and it doesn’t even phase us because we both know we’d never act on it. And sometimes when one of us is too tired to do “it” we can joke “eh, call up so and so (coworker)”.

  10. Macedon*

    #2. Heavy disagreement. Manager/employee one-on-one exchanges should be treated as confidential by default. If anything, it should be the manager’s burden to “explicitly negotiate” disclosure, if s/he wants to relay or act on submitted information. Making this somehow the employee’s fault for not double-checking implied privacy was actual privacy offends the spirit of mutual trust between manager/employee.

    1. Colette*

      This isn’t something to negotiate. Perhaps the manager should have been clear that she was going to talk to the coworker, but if an employee brings feedback about a coworker to their manager, the manager does not need consent or agreement to investigat or act on the complaint.

      1. Macedon*

        If it’s not in the form of an official complaint, I disagree. If you don’t want to receive informal input, make that clear with your report — but otherwise, if what you are told is not declared as a formal complaint, why would you not treat it as confidential?

        1. Colette*

          The manager’s responsibility is to do what’s right for the business, which includes solving problems they’re aware of. If I raise a problem to my manager and she believes it impacts the business, she needs to solve it, whether or not I want her to. That may mean she needs to coach me in how to handle it, or that she needs to directly intervene, but I don’t get a vote about whether she addresses it.

          Now, the way this manager handled the situation sounds poor, but that’s a different issue than whether it’s a negotiation.

      2. hbc*

        Yeah, but “investigate” or “act” does not usually involve going to the complainee and saying, “Fergus says you’re a pain to work with.” I mean, the manager even said that he saw those things too. How hard would it have been to say, “I’m seeing that you do X and Y and at least some of your coworkers are seeing the same thing”?

        I’m in the camp that asking for honest feedback absolutely carries the implication that you aren’t going to share names and details. If only for selfish reasons, because next time, Manager willl only get the information that OP would say to Coworker’s face.

        1. Tomato Frog*

          Yes. A single complaint should be confidential not only for the complainer’s sake, but because “This person said you suck” is not helpful or necessary information for the manager to convey. And given that the OP is not the manager’s only source regarding the problem employee’s behavior, there is really no reason to break confidentiality in this scenario.

        2. CM*

          Yes, exactly. There was no reason for the manager to name names. Especially when the OP’s views were widely shared among coworkers and the manager agreed. I think the manager was way out of line here. I understand that Alison often offers softening language to help people be more receptive to negative messages, but if I were the OP here, I’d leave out the stuff about “I understand that it was necessary for you to share…” because it really wasn’t.

      3. Rafe*

        But in the OP’s situation, the managers specifically pressured the OP to speak honestly. So I’m definitely on the side of Bad Manager. The manager might not explicitly have negotiated confidentiality — but there’s a very real power difference here where an employee pressed for honesty might not really think he/she has much choice (and really might not). And I can see where a manager who puts the pressure on like this would have no problem with implying but not explicitly negotiating confidentiality. It’s a lose-lose for the employee if the manager gets his cake and eats it too by tearing into it in a feeding frenzy in the office.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Me too. I’m a bit paranoid about things like this, but if I was ever asked for feedback on a colleague, I’d absolutely clarify what was on the record and off the record at the start, and ask specifically about how it would be used at the end.

          It’s gutting for the OP that this unfolded like this, of course.

      4. TootsNYC*

        In most instances, I think a manager does need to negotiate consent. What part will I keep mum about; how will I word it; how will I characterize the concept of who started the conversation (it’s a big difference between: “I pressured Fergus, and he told me reluctantly” and “Fergus came to me to complain.”

        At the VERY least, the manager needs to warn and alert.

        Confidentiality is the default.
        Deviating from the default needs to be done openly and with prior consultation.

        1. Colette*

          Totally disagree. From the OP’s account, the manager handled this poorly, but that doesn’t mean she needs the OP’s permission or agreement to act. Her job is to manage the team, and if keeping something confidential interferes with her ability to do that, confidentiality is not appropriate.

          By the same principle, sharing information inappropately is also wrong – but that would be stuff like medical info, sharing one employees performance evaluation, with someone who didn’t need to know, etc. – sharing information about an employee’s performance with that employee does not qualify.

    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      As a manager, I can’t always garuntee confidentiality. Yes, I can try to work to fix things with out explicitly telling people who said it, but sometimes I can’t.

      For example, my writer Arya comes to me stressed out because Joeffrey the project manager keeps foisting tasks that are his responsibility on to her and adding to her responsibility. In this case, even if Arya asks me to keep it confidential or says she’s just venting, I need to step in and speak to Joeffrey’s manager.

      I the case of this letter, I agreed the manager handled it poorly. She should have solicited feedback from multiple people, not just the OP and then shared it with the coworker in a way that presented it more as “here are the behaviors I need you to work on” rather than “OP said…”

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yeah, but your example isn’t the same. In your example, a complaint was made to you. Here, the manager sought out the OP to get her take. To me, that’s the difference. If a problem is brought to you, you have to investigate, and sometimes there’s no way around revealing who told you what. But when you go to your employees for confirmation about something that you yourself **have already noticed** it’s not great to reveal what was told to you.

        1. TootsNYC*

          To me it doesn’t matter who starts the conversation, and who seeks confirmation, etc.

          Whether it’s Aya, or Not the Droid who started the conversation: The manager would properly investigate and observe on her own, and verify the complaint. Once the manager has done so, the manager acts on her own authority and her own observation and decision. It’s not necessary to say, “Aya tells me you’re dumping your work on her,” or “I asked Aya and she told me you’re dumping your work on her.”

          The manager says, “I have determined that you are dumping your work on other people, and I need you to do things differently.”

          Perhaps Aya is the only person who’s getting work dumped on her, and so her name needs to be part of the conversation, but the complaint is the manager’s complaint. Partly because the manager is the only one with standing to make a complaint official, but also because it’s the manager’s responsibility to own the problem, own the discipline.
          (whereby “discipline” = “providing standards, guidance, teaching, expertise” and =/= “punishment”)

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            I guess I should have been more clear. I think we mostly agree. What I was trying to say was this–

            It’s a rare occasion that a manager will need to say “Jane said you haven’t been doing the blergyblerg, and our clients are mad about their blerglessness.” But the manager needs to tell the employee that he has to do the blergyblerg, and sometimes the only way the manager would know about the lack of blergyblerg is if Jane tells her. So it will be obvious to the employee that Jane is the information source.

            If, on the other hand, the manager has **already** noticed a lack of blergyblerg and just goes to Jane for confirmation/to see if there’s any other information about it she should know, there’s no need to bring Jane into at all. And if she uses her own observations in talking to the employee, it’s not obvious that it was Jane. “I’ve noticed you have been not doing the blergyblerg,” not “Jane says you haven’t been doing the blergyblerg.” So either way the manager doesn’t need to name names, it’s just that sometimes it will be obvious. And sometimes the manager will need to say that she’s spoken with Jane if the employee tries to pass the blame to someone else or argue that the manager is mistaken. But the vast majority of the time, though the problem must be dealt with, the manager does not need to say this is all coming from Jane.

    3. Former Retail Manager*

      100% agree! I feel like it’s basic common sense for a manager to keep negative feedback about a co-worker confidential unless there is absolutely no other option, such as in the case of single witness to an egregious act or something of that sort. However, generic “Fergus sucks” feedback, that the boss agrees, does not appear to be one of those situations based on what the OP has disclosed in my opinion. The manager could have easily stated that he “spoke with other staff members who expressed concern about the co-worker doing X, Y, and Z.” There was no need to specifically state that it was OP, by name.

      And you can rest assured, that if I worked for a manager like that one, I would never bring any future issues to their attention. After this incident, it is unlikely that any of the co-workers who agree with OP will want to get involved or go “on the record” to express the issues with the troublesome co-worker. So now you have a situation that may make it difficult for management for move forward with disciplinary action for the troublesome employee if doing so is dependent upon the manager seeking feedback about how the employee works with others. If everyone is saying everything is great and/or covering for him, because they don’t want to get involved, it makes it that much harder to move forward in dealing with this employee.

  11. Carrie in Scotland*

    Is a US Social Security number similar to the UK’s National Insurance? Can any British-Americans help? I did look it up but I still don’t really understand…

    1. Colette*

      Canadian here. :) I believe a social security number is a unique identifier issued by the government and used to track financial information (such as how much you got paid and what taxes have been taken off your check). It’s a lifetime number, and should only be used when necessary, since if it gets compromised, it means years of headaches. I think it’s tied to your ability to work legally, too.

      1. Carrie in Scotland*

        Well we have a national insurance number which sounds the same and applications ask for it all the time and I see no issue or have heard of no issues with providing the info.

        1. ace*

          Social Security numbers are linked to your financial history, so can be used to open credit cards or otherwise commit fraud under the name of the SSN holder. While casual use of SSNs was more common several years ago (eg, my college used SSNs as student ID numbers in the late 90s before phasing that practice out in the early 2000s), casual use is increasingly less common. Particularly on light of the recent major data breaches on the US, I think OP’s concern is very reasonable.
          Hope that helps, Carrie.

          Hope that

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            I was *just* telling someone how our college ID’s had our SSN printed on them my freshman year!

            1. Elizabeth S.*

              Mine too, back in the mid-80s. And recently I was watching an old 1960-something episode of “Let’s Make a Deal” and he offered $20 to anyone in the audience who could produce a social security card – another $20 if they could recite the number from memory. On the air.

          2. Murphy*

            A retail job I had back in university (so, almost 20 years ago) used the last four digits of my SIN (social insurance number – Canadian equivalent to SSN) as our code for punching in and out on the electronic time clock and for logging into the cash registers.

            1. OfficePrincess*

              A restaurant I worked at up until mid-2012 used it to log into the system to enter orders. And since you could only access your own tables, there was lots of “Can you print 25’s check/throw a slice of pie on 7/cover my break? I’m 1234” going back and forth.

        2. Chocolate lover*

          In this day of online identity theft, many people, myself included, prefer not to give out any more information than necessary. One example I think of is criminals using your social security number to apply for credit cards and causing damage to your financial standing and credit history.

          At the point of applying for a job, there is no genuine reason for an employer to need your social security number. They don’t need that information unless they hire you, for associated tax purposes.

          1. Retail Lifer*

            There’s absolutely NO reason for it on the application, which might get filed away without eevn being looked at, but you often can’t get through the hiring process without providing it up front.

        3. TotesMaGoats*

          Many people don’t want to give out their SSN because of the change of identity fraud and the time and money needed to fix it should someone get their number. With an SSN and the right info you can get credit cards, buy a car, get a mortgage and do other expensive things to someone else’s bank accounts. It’s a valid concern but at the same time we do have to give it out for certain things. I think too early in the application process makes no sense. I need students to do it so that I can connect it with a federal financial aid application and they don’t seem to understand that I can’t give them federal funds without a matching SSN on the application.

        4. Apollo Warbucks*

          Our NI numbers are only limited to employment and benefit use they’re not used in our credit applications, banking or for proof of ID. In fact the NI card I was sent when I was 16 has my full name and number on but also says this card is not proof of ID.

          1. Judy*

            My original social security card says the same thing. But with the advent of computers, it’s a really good database key, since it’s pretty much the only unique number we have in the US. Driver’s Licenses are given by each state, and there could be duplicates between the states. The social security card my kids received doesn’t say that anymore.

            So there are the truly legitimate uses, like employment and taxes. Any banking and investment account would need to have that because of taxation. And then there are the uses that have sprung up like credit cards, health records, sometimes even down to to the video rental store.

            1. Judy*

              I’d also say that even though SSN was used for employment and companies need to have it, it’s just been in the past 15 or so years that companies routinely hand out “employee numbers” that aren’t the SSN. In the early 90s, I wore a badge daily with my SSN printed on it, and one company had them in the online phone directory.

    2. dr_silverware*

      American here.

      It looks like the US social security number is very similar to the UK National Insurance number. Both are used in the social security system for administering benefits, etc.

      The difference is that the SSN has really taken off. Wikipedia tells me that the National Insurance number “is used for some limited purposes to check identity,” but the SSN is used for many, many purposes to check identity. So you need to give an SSN to get credit and check credit, to do a background check, to steal an identity.

      1. Rafe*

        The U.S. social security card of course is tied directly to the amount of taxes the government has withheld from an individual’s paychecks for social security/retirement — which I’m guessing right there is probably already a bit different from the UK number. What I’m saying is an individual’s entire money-making lifetime financial work history as the U.S. government knows and identifies that individual is connected to the U.S. social security number (it surely almost has to be unique in the world, and yes, this very direct connection to a lifetime of financial documentation is in part what makes stealing it ripe for theft of an individual’s banking etc., social security benefits, and identity.)

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        Yeah, NI isn’t about identity, it’s about tax and benefits. Passport/Drivers’ License are the classic ID documents (and I would expect to be asked to bring one of those to an interview, or to a sign-up meeting with a temp agency, eg, and to have photocopies taken – but they’re so much harder to use in fraud I think)

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          To fill out an I-9 at the beginning of employment, you can bring a passport or a state-issued photo ID PLUS another form of government-issued ID. So if you bring your passport, you only need your passport, but if you bring your driver license, you need that plus another form of ID, usually the social security card or birth certificate. So it is used for ID in certain instances, but it’s not great for ID in general because it doesn’t include a picture.

          I used to work in HR in an industry that hired lots of teenagers and recent immigrants (mostly Hispanic because of the area we live in), and I saw my fair share of fake Social Security cards in my time. Also saw lots of Permanent Resident Cards too, of course. We also had a lot of trouble with the teenagers bringing their Driver License but not another form of ID, and we had to send them home if they didn’t bring it after three days.

        2. AVP*

          Here in America, on the first day of work you usually have to provide either a Social Security Card PLUS a Drivers License (or green card, which is a card that someone from a foreign country would carry in order to prove that they’re authorized to work here) OR a passport. I think he idea is that for the passport application, you have to verify your legality as a citizen plus your current address, whereas the license and SSN prove only parts of that. Many people in America don’t have passports so it’s hard to make that a standard requirement. Either way though, you’ll need to provide the social security number itself so that Payroll can sort out your taxes and make sure you’re withholding and paying properly.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        More places are now asking for your driving license number, which as someone pointed out upthread, could duplicate across states–but I’m far more comfortable with that. My bank asks for it if you don’t have a passcode. They’re almost the only ones these days, other than student loan collections.

        Rewards cards for shops only ask for my phone number. Plenty of shops ask for zip code (postcode) and phone and email, but I don’t give that out unless I’m opening a rewards account because I don’t need all the mail/email spam.

        1. Natalie*

          The places where I’ve had to enter a drivers license number also ask for the state of issuance, which should take care of any possible duplication in multiple states.

    3. LBK*

      Your SSN is basically your password to being an American – it’s used as the key piece of identifying info that’s not supposed to be accessible to anyone else (whereas your address, phone number or other pieces of info are more public knowledge). Giving someone access to your SSN pretty much locks up their ability to steal your identity, because if someone can provide that it’s pretty much always assumed that means they’re you.

  12. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    #1 – Hoo boy. You’re jumping a whole hopscotch of conclusions here, OP, and I think you need to take several steps backward and start questioning those gut feelings of yours.

    – Why do you think this is favoritism? What would make you call favoritism, rather than her boss recognizing that she’s a great employee and wanting to give her career a boost?
    – Even if there is some kind of favoritism at play, why do you think she shouldn’t take the job? ‘He might be attracted to her’ isn’t enough of an answer for this — what do you think the negative consequences of her taking this job will be? Break it down, be specific. Do you think he’s going to harass her?
    – Do you think she doesn’t deserve the position he’s offering? What makes you think that? Using a term like ‘favoritism’ seems to indicate that you don’t think she has earned the job offer. Why?

    Having gut feelings is useful, but they aren’t some kind of mystical psychic always-right superpower. Interrogate those feelings, try to trace down evidence to back them up or deny them, and treat them as datapoints, not certainties.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      And I have more thoughts about this, so to add:

      Questions you should ask that are not about your gut feelings-
      – What are your wife’s feelings about her boss? Does she think he’s being inappropriate? She’s in a much better position to know than you are. Is the notion of continuing to work with him uncomfortable for her?
      – What are your wife’s feelings about this offered job as compared to her current one? Would it represent a solid step forward for her, a move in a direction she wants, a bump in pay and/or benefits that would improve your lives?
      – Have you discussed the job (rather than the boss) with your wife?

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Haha, thank you! Every day needs a little ridiculousness, and I got inspired by the Star Wars meme.

      1. The Butcher of Luverne*

        Exactly. What does the wife feel; will this job be a good career move for her?

        OP1 — You should feel proud that a previous boss wants to poach her — not suspicious.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I thought OP’s use of the word favoritism was a bit weird. In most of the working world, while you don’t want to “play favorites” in the sense that you don’t give the best assignments to people that are your “favorites” based off of non-work reasons like shared hobbies or being buddies outside of work. However, “favoritism” based on the person that does the best work is not a negative thing.

      If OP thinks his wife was the boss’s favorite because of non-work related things, then yes, him offering her a job based on “favoritism” would be weird and inappropriate. However, offering a job to someone because they are “one of your favorite people to work with” is absolutely normal and how the working world is.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yeah, it’s especially weird to me in the context of the OP’s spouse being the employee in question. Usually when you hear this kind of thing (“The boss is only reaching out to her because he’s attracted to her, undue favoritism!”) it’s coming from a coworker who feels they’ve lost out. It’s very… hm. Very competitive. But the OP isn’t competing for the boss’s favor.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I think the OP feels he’s competing for his wife’s favor. And perhaps that his wife is competing with the boss’s wife.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I think some of that “favoritism” charge comes from school, where the teacher did have an obligation to treat everyone somewhat equally (and from childhood, where parents are expected to treat all their children equally).

          But the paradigm for work is so different. Bosses *are* allowed to have “favorites,” especially when it’s based on skills and intelligence. Those people get promoted.

          One thing for the OP to think about, when changing the paradigm, is this: The boss is going to a new job and needs to perform really well–he has a reputation to establish.
          When you are a manager/boss, the people who work for you are the ones who create most of your reputation. And so you need people you can count on–who are good; and yes, even who will communicate easily with you. That’s the legitimate reason behind some of the old-boy network: that they speak a common language, and communication is easy.

        3. A Bug!*

          It makes me a little sad to read the letter, to be honest. Nothing in there suggests anything hinky on the wife’s end or the boss’s. When the letter-writer’s wife told him about the offer, his response was to question the boss’s motives. Is it not enough that his wife is simply a competent, strong performer in her chosen field; must there be something more to explain why the boss would want to have her back on his team? Same thing for the reference to “favoritism,” which calls the boss’s motives into question indirectly by the implication that the “favor” is unexplained unless the boss has a sexual attraction to the wife.

          I do get where he’s coming from, though, because I know the insidious influence that insecurity can have on my own feelings. So I’m not suggesting he actually believes that his wife’s professional expertise is lacking in any way. What I am saying, is that by questioning the boss’s motives, directly or indirectly, that’s the message he sends to his wife. And that’s poison. As someone who has allowed her own insecurity to jeopardize her relationship, I sincerely hope he’s able to recognize that entertaining his baseless suspicions he’s risking actual harm.

    3. Artemesia*

      Yeah. I really didn’t get the ‘favoritism’ part. Of course a boss who reaches out to hire a top notch former employee is doing so because she is terrific. There is nothing illegitimate in hiring top notch people. Favoritism is giving unearned privilege to people due to friendship, romantic interest, whatever. Rewarding good work, hiring good people — have nothing to do with ‘favoritism.’

      It is possible there is potential for a personal romance there. There always is. But if the marriage is bad or the wife is likely to act on the perfectly normal attractions she will encounter many times in her worklife that is likely to occur eventually with someone. The issue with a future relationship is the OP’s issues or the wife’s character. Crippling her career due to personal jealousy is inappropriate and sad.

      I say that as someone whose career was rescued by a man I went to work for after he hired me after a merger in which my entire department was laid off. We loved working together; I don’t know if there was any attraction on his part — maybe; I found him attractive but it never crossed my mind to attempt a personal romance with him — because I was happily married, he appeared to be so as well, and I don’t do that sort of thing. Working with him for that next 12 years till he moved on (leaving me well established in the organization) was a great pleasure and made my career. Men have always prospered by being mentored and sponsored by the men above them; it works the same way for women.

  13. Erin*

    #2 – I don’t think your assumption that it was confidential was crazy. If it were me I would have felt silly saying, “You aren’t going to tell Bob this, are you?”

    Also, your boss really didn’t have to throw you under the bus – I’m assuming he could have phrased it to Bob like, any anonymous coworker brought this to his attention. Since everyone severely dislikes the guy, it probably would have been difficult for him to pinpoint you as the person (unless your office is really small).

    Is your boss the one who promoted this guy…?

    I don’t think you’re in the wrong here, but I also expect going to HR would only make things worse.

    At least take comfort in the fact you said what everyone else was thinking, and didn’t have the guts to say. Your boss/higher ups were probably asking people about Bob because they’re picking up on the fact that he sucks. Maybe your comment to your boss is the first stepping stone to them getting rid of this guy.

  14. Mookie*

    LW1, I don’t know if you ever read Captain Awkward, but in addition to dispensing cracking good advice she’s a master at titling her posts. One that sticks in my head is “Four Questions from People Who are Basically Fine” because it does what it says on the tin. You are basically fine. Your wife is basically fine. Literally everything you wrote, minus your obvious and understandable distress at the thought of her having a romantic or sexual relationship with her former boss, is basically fine. Read, if you can, your letter again with new eyes; set aside temporarily any unspoken fears (justifiable or no) you have and just process the facts. Your wife is good at what she does for a living, she enjoys what she does for a living, somebody who helped fostered that talent and enthusiasm wants her to work for him, and in the meantime you and she and he and his wife have socialized together. Unless you’ve left something out, this is decidedly a basically fine situation.

    And there’s no “favoritism” here, it’s not uncongenial, unsporting, or unfair to value a former employee enough to want to hire them again. Not all applicants are built equally. By their very definition, hiring and recruiting are fundamentally undemocratic practices. You choose whom you believe is best. It’s not a lottery. You’re allowed to have “favorites” and having them does not mean you want to have sex with them. Men and women, and men and men, and women and women, and everyone and everyone manage to work together all the time without ever having to have sex. As other commenters have stated, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that your wife is just that good, that somebody values her as more than a potential lay. You know this. You yourself know this.

  15. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under A.A., B.S.*

    Tangentially related to #5 – what if you had your own podcast? Could that go on a resume? Even if it’s completely unrelated to any kind of work? (Hey I’ll take what I can get!)

    1. Mandi*

      I recently included this in my resume as “volunteer” experience, as the skills used in the podcast actually did relate to the job for which I was applying (which required familiarity with audio and video editing programs, creating engaging content, being comfortable in front of a camera, etc.).

      I was selected for an interview! During the conversation, the interviewers mentioned that they were impressed with that experience and asked a lot of really great questions about it. Although I did not get the job, they presented me with a highly personalized rejection letter — part of which mentioned how they enjoyed hearing about my experience with podcasting.

      Having said that: unless it’s related to the job for which you’re applying in some capacity, I wouldn’t include it. There are a lot of skills that come with running your own podcast (especially if you run a website alongside it!), but those skills don’t necessarily apply to all jobs.

      1. Naomi*

        Yeah, the podcast is relevant in one of two cases: a situation like Mandi describes, where the skills involved in podcasting would be qualifications for the job, or if the content of the podcast is related to the job. (e.g., “In addition to my experience in the teapot industry, I write and record Teapotcast, in which I discuss my opinions on chocolate vs. vanilla teapots and interview well-known teapot makers.”)

    2. LQ*

      I think if it is really unrelated to your work it likely doesn’t belong. (Unless you are going into a job where producing a podcast would be part of the work.) Sort of like the questions of other “side gigs” I think it can make employers think you are looking to do that as your full time job or any of the other questions that come up with that. Doing something that is specifically industry related would make sense to put on your resume.

  16. Tsalmoth*

    I’m currently reading Disrupted (like a lot of us, I suspect), and while it’s great at skewering the the tech industry in general (and Hubspot, which sounds like something Joseph Heller would dream up if he were alive today, in particular), every once in a while, it clearly reads like the work of someone who’s never worked in an office setting before. One instance reminds me of what OP2 describes, in which he writes a memo to his boss about how the company’s blog could be improved, and is then shocked that his boss shares it with the team running the blog. Confidentiality is often at odds with results, which doesn’t make it less obnoxious to share that info (especially without warning), but it’s really, really hard to get anything accomplished if people can’t act on the information or advice we give.

    1. Tsalmoth*

      And reading my comment here, I sound a lot harsher to OP2 than I mean to be — I don’t think they’re operating on the same level of naiveté as Lyons is in his book at all (and I do think his boss should have given him a heads up, at a minimum). I do think this suggests that his boss needs to be told explicitly that information is something that OP2 would like to keep in confidence, since the boss seems a few points short on the common sense scale.

    2. neverjaunty*

      There’s a difference between using feedback an employee has given, and using an employee as a shield against confrontation.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        Oh! I wish I had read this statement before posting my comment above! This is a nice one sentence summary of what I was trying to say!

  17. Dr. Ruthless*

    Want to hear a horrifying tale re: SSNs?

    When I was in high school (and one summer in college), I worked at Six Flags. We had to “clock in” every day by writing our name and SSN on a clip board. At our ride. So there must have been thousands of pieces of paper floating around with our names and SSNs. Cool, huh?

    1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under A.A., B.S.*

      Which Six Flags? I was at Great America for 3 summers in the early/mid 90s. I do not recall writing our SSNs down on the clipboard though. :)

      1. Dr. Ruthless*

        Six Flags over Texas, early 2000’s. (And upon further reflection, there might have been a pre-printed list of SSNs that we signed our names next to…not that that’s better). It is how 16-year-old-me learned my SSN though.

        1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under A.A., B.S.*

          Hmm. I just remember there being my name written in by my team lead. Of course by the early 2000 ownership had changed from when I worked there.

        2. Shelby Drink the Juice*

          I worked at Six Flags Over Texas during high school as well. I was in Guest Relations in the late 90s. It was a preprinted list of employees that you wrote your time on.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      Many years ago, I worked in a facility that used time cards. They were kept on a giant rack next to the time clock, and each had the employee’s SSN typed on them (that was part of my job). Once someone used another employee’s SSN as proof of identity to cancel her phone service.

    3. Bowserkitty*

      Geesh, that IS horrifying. I hope they’ve since changed that practice, because that’s a disaster waiting to happen.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      My college previously used SSNs as student IDs. And the IDs were used for library holds, signing into the dorms, on-campus charge accounts for meals and books, and about a gazillion other places.

      1. Ama*

        Yup, mine too. The plus side is at least I have my SSN memorized now since I used to have to put it on everything in college. God forbid someone ever hacks the old records at my alma mater, though.

    5. Cleopatra Jones*

      I have something even more horrifying than that…when I was in the military in the late 80’s & 90’s, they used our SSN for our service number.
      We had to stencil our SSN all over our dufflebags and other military issued property. Imagine using your military dufflebag* as luggage while flying a commercial flight to your next duty station. Ugh, I shudder to think how many people’s hands my SSN went through as I traveled domestically and abroad for military duty.

      *we had to transport our own personal military equipment, so the dufflebag would be stuffed with our uniforms, boots, etc. which is almost as horrifying as using a SSN for a service number.

      1. OfficePrincess*

        In the late 90s/ early 2000s my dad (retired Army) brought me in to get a military ID card so we could get on base for the commissary and whatever (I went like twice, but ok dad), use his insurance, and so that I would have a picture ID for going to Canada.The ID card had both my name and SSN as well as my dad’s and until I turned 16 it was my sole ID and I was still using it for insurance until college.

    6. JMegan*

      I’m a privacy officer – I don’t deal with SSNs, but I do deal with a lot of sensitive health information. Y’all are giving me the vapours over here with these stories!

      1. KR*

        TD Bank in the US has this Coinstar-type thing called Penny Arcade. The thing is, if you’re not a bank member in order to use the machine you need to provide them with your SSN. The kicker is that they don’t tell you that you need to provide your social until you have the voucher and you’re cashing it in, so they pretty much force you to give them the number in order to collect your cash. The teller told me that they collect it for “tax purposes”. Uh, okay. One of the many reasons I don’t use that bank.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          Well… to a certain degree, I can see their point. If you’re a waitress, you might get a lot of your tips in change, which you might want to deposit or exchange for bills. Of course, the government wants their bite out of that. This may not be a TD* policy, but a banking/regulatory policy, whereas the coin counters at supermarkets are not under the same regulations? When I wrap coins up to deposit, I have to write my bank account number on them. I asked why and one teller told me that they had found some people were putting in things that were not coins. But of course, the bank has all my information and I’m sure they’re tracking that deposit in some way (which is silly because I’m just saving my coins, it’s not some form of additional income but how are they to know that?).

          *Note: not sticking up for the bank.

          1. doreen*

            The bank had you write your account number on the rolls because people really do put other things in the rolls or short the roll by a few coins, and with your account number written on the rolls, they know who deposited those particular rolls. Without your account number written on the roll, if the rolls were short ( because maybe the first and last coins were quarters with something else in between) they wouldn’t know if they came from you or from another customer.

  18. Lily in NYC*

    #1 – I am so disturbed by everything OP wrote. HEY OP! Don’t you trust your wife? You are giving all the power to her former boss and acting like she’s some sort of weak woman who can’t stand up for herself. I think the problem here is your jealousy/insecurity.

  19. Erin*

    #1 – I don’t think favoritism is a bad thing. And, if your gut is right and he is attracted to her, trust your wife to handle that appropriately.

    Whatever you do, don’t tell her you think she’s getting this job because of her looks and not her skills. ;)

  20. Kaz*

    For #1, my advice is simple: Do you trust your wife?

    If you do, stay out of it.

    If you don’t, then your marriage has a trust problem. Maybe you (husband) alone can talk to a counselor or to a trusted personal friend about your feelings just to express them face-to-face to a living human being (not the internet) and maybe then you will feel better.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      OP never stated they were male. (I mean, most likely they are, but can we not jump to that conclusion?)

      1. Erin*

        Eh, I don’t think we need to nitpick over these details. We often default the OP to a female, and we use names like “Lucinda” and “Fergus” to refer to employees in the questions – they’re just a placeholders. Kaz’s advice is still applicable either way. :)

        1. Yogi Josephina*

          I can see CBF’s point here. It’s not really “nitpicking” to try and employ more inclusive language even on internet forums, ESPECIALLY when it comes to gender/sexuality. It differs from the “Lucinda/Fergus” stuff because we use those placeholders in examples given about specifically work-related scenarios that have nothing to do with sexual orientation or gender. When we’re talking about marriages/relationships, there are a lot of very problematic/heteronormative assumptions out there. And as long as we keep calling pointing that out “nitpicking people’s words,” that’s not going to change.

          For reference, I’m gay. If I read that comment that I’d automatically been assumed – again – to be a husband just because the person in question was a wife, while it wouldn’t really bother me personally, I’d definitely notice it. It’s JUST as easy to say “spouse.” It’s not nitpicking details to ask folks to consider broadening their terms.

          I know Allison won’t want this to detract from the discussion so I won’t say more about this and don’t mean to start a long thread that goes off topic, but just something to think about.

  21. One of the Sarahs*

    OP #1, leaving aside the relationship implications…

    I just want to reiterate Alison here that it’s super-common in tons of industries for managers to recruit staff they’ve worked well with in the past. This can be anything from a top-flight manager in a big company getting a job at a new place, and hiring ex-colleagues, to things like start-ups, coffee shops, all kinds of industries. It’s so common that I’ve heard some places will try to add “anti poaching” clauses into employment contracts.

    Now, if you’ve only worked in industries like the public sector, with different kinds of recruitment structures that are deliberately in place to try to have transparently “anyone can apply” approaches, then it might seem weird. For example, in the UK, *in general*, bringing staff with you into Council or Civil Service jobs wouldn’t work like this – instead the new manager would encourage ex-colleague to apply, and ideally make a declaration of interest if they were part of the recruitment. I think the National Health Service works this way, and a lot of university jobs here – BUT I’d say recruiting colleagues would be seen as pretty much standard in about 50% of industries here.

    As others have said, it’s not about playing favourites, it’s about the manager recognising what a great employee and colleague your wife is, and whatever she decides, it’s a big compliment to her.

    1. LQ*

      Agreed, I think other people have covered the relationship parts very well. But I had a long sit down with a previous boss to talk about if she wanted to bring me along with her to a new job at one point. We decided that our career directions were going in different places. It was an extremely natural thing to do. We’d worked in a very small place together and she was extremely confident in my skills and was building a brand new team. It made perfect sense for us to have that conversation, and would have made a lot of sense for me to join her if I’d been going that way. (Also she was the best boss ever so I talked about her frequently in glowing terms.)

    2. MashaKasha*

      As someone who’s been poached twice, by two different people, I’d like to add that, in addition to being a big compliment and a major recognition of OP’s wife’s work, having been poached looks good to future employers. I’ve had people visibly do a complete 180 at job interviews, after they’d suspiciously ask, “so why did you only work at your first job for thirteen months?” and I’d respond with “my boss changed jobs and brought me in.” OP’s wife has just recently started at her first job in a male-dominated industry. Her career could most certainly use a boost like that.

  22. Oryx*

    For #2, I may be coming at this from a different narrative because this is how our managers do our annual reviews: they solicit feedback from our co-workers since those are the people who closely with us on a daily basis. But when they ask for feedback it’s always with the knowledge that it’s specifically for an annual review so we know that the information will make it to the co-worker in question, although anonymously.

    What I’m not entirely sure about from reading the post, but does your co-worker actually know it was you who made the comments? I only ask because it’s not explicitly stated — there’s nothing indicating that your co-worker confronted you or that your co-worker has even said anything to you about your criticism, all we get is that’s an “awkward” situation which could mean any number of things happening. If your manager point blank told him, “OP says you’re X, Y, and Z” then, yes, that’s Bad Management 101 and he probably should have at the very least protected his sources.

  23. voyager1*

    LW1: Unless the guy contacting her. had any contact with her while she wasn’t working for him, I am inclined to say you are over thinking this. You mentioned going to a party at his house together, so you have to have some idea what he is like….

    The important thing though is this job actually good for your wife and her career? If it is a move up then she should go for it. A lateral move with more money is good too. After that meh, just depends.

    So, I don’t think you have much too worry about, this isn’t like your wife is modeling clothes and got a std on her skin in her gential area. Yes that was a real letter on here back in the summer….

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      But even if they met for coffee/drinks after they were working together, I wouldn’t see anything wrong at all – that’s classic networking.

      I feel really strongly that there should be no difference in how ‘we’ (as society) views male-female and same-gender work-related interactions. Professionals are professionals are professionals.

  24. Sharkey*

    #1 – I totally agree with Alison’s advice. In regards to some of the comments, however, I’m not sure that the writer is worried about not trusting his wife and wanting to control her because of it. It may be that he’s worried about a situation in which the wife may get preferential treatment because the boss likes her, which may make him worried that if the wife doesn’t reciprocate, the boss may “retaliate” (for lack of a better word.)

    Again, I don’t think that this negates Alison’s advice in any way but I see comments about the OP not trusting his wife and whatnot and thought it might be less about that and more about whether a person should take a position knowing the boss has feelings for that person (regardless of gender.)

    1. Elizabeth West*

      “He seems to like her” doesn’t tell us much, though. So it’s hard to tell if OP thinks the boss has feelings for the wife or if he just thinks she’s awesome as a colleague.

    2. Artemesia*

      It isn’t my husband’s business how I manage my career. It is not the OP’s business that the boss might show her ‘preferential treatment and retaliate if she doesn’t’ provide sexual services. His wife is not a child who needs his patronizing concern for the details of her worklife. It is totally inappropriate and insulting for him to be meddling here. If the guy has this kind of reputation, presumably the wife is aware of that. It is her career to manage.

      If the move meant the husband had to give up his job and move (as Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s husband did when she became a judge or my husband did when I took my first post PhD job) then it is of course his business to have an opinion on how they work the two career balance. The future of her job as well as difficulties relocating his come into play. But it is not his business to judge or meddle in her career choices that don’t involve uprooting his career.

  25. MissDisplaced*

    #1 A lot of people are coming down on you to stay out of this. And YET, I think I see what you’re getting at. Basically, what you have is a “gut feeling.” Now, I can’t say why you’re having that or the state of your marriage and insecurities therein. You say there has been nothing improper, yet you still have that feeling there “could” be ulterior motives. I don’t know, you could be very wrong about all this, or you might be (somewhat) right and the guy is attracted. Personally, I do pay attention to my gut feelings.

    But basically, you have to trust your wife on this, and let HER decide if this would be a good move for her and her career. As others have said, it is totally normal for former bosses to reach out to former good employees. IF (and it’s a big IF) the guy does have attraction/ulterior motives you have to trust that your wife is a professional and will handle this in a professional manner.

    1. Mrs. Psmith*

      I see a lot of the other comments taking OP to task for implying his wife is being offered the job because of attraction and not her competency as a worker. But MissDisplaced has given the best advice I’ve seen so far.

      I worked for a manager who did the exact thing you are worried about (not to me, to some other coworkers). We used to joke that he had his little office harem. Yeah, they were super competent individuals and excellent at their jobs, but they were all exactly the type of women he was attracted to. And he did have affairs with at least two that we know of (not that the same time, I guess that’s something?). So, it happens.

      If you haven’t already, I think you are entitled to take your concerns to your wife ONCE. Not accusing her of anything, of doubting her ability to be valued for her excellent work, but just to say, “I get a worried that your former boss values you for other than professional reasons sometimes, and that makes me concerned about his motives.” Nothing accusatory toward her, reiterate that you aren’t undervaluing her excellence as an employee. A solid relationship can handle these types of conversations between spouses without it derailing into accusations of jealousy and cheating. (And if you don’t think your relationship can handle it, do not bring it up). But that’s what I think. You get to bring it up once, non-accusatory, and then you have to let it go.

  26. Anon Moose*

    HEY EVERYONE STOP TELLING THE KID TO LIE. Its really really bad advice. It will not get him a job. It may even get him disqualified for a job at that company (or possibly any that uses the same company’s application system) if he uses a fake #. There isn’t a reasonable person behind these first screening applications. There is just a computer and the purpose of the SSN is to denote citizenship/ right to work. Its often also used for a credit check (agreed upon on a later screen). All these applications also have a certification at the end that you have told the truth to the best of your knowledge. You can get kicked out of the hiring process later if they find ANY discrepancy with your application, including your SSN. No in store manager has the power to override the decisions of the national application system.

    Is requiring this invasive? Is it not right? Of course, I am totally with you there. Computerized job applications for chain retail and food service jobs are *ridiculous* nowadays. They take 30 minutes to an hour to fill out sometimes, with a ton of personal info and also behavioral quizzes that can get you kicked out- ones that purport to test your honesty. I see myself as an honest person but have failed one of these before. How do you think a fake SSN is going to gel with that kind of screening?

    No, this is not a good practice and you’re probably right to be uncomfortable that Starbucks and Target and Jimmy Johns have so much personal info. But they do. And the kid is just not going to get any job with a national chain without giving up the correct number. If you think that should change, well then go for it- people have been successful at changing some ridiculous things about applications such as Ban the Box laws, and people in power should challenge some of this stuff because the reality is that people applying for these jobs have little to no power to challenge or change any of it.

    But STOP telling this kid and his mom that he should not provide his SSN. That’s just absolutely incorrect in 99% of cases. Yes, he shouldn’t have to. But the reality is that he can take a stand or he can get a job. He’s not going to get any special exceptions. There are too many people who need these jobs who will give the SSN.

    1. LBK*

      I don’t think anyone is going to view this as lying if there’s an obviously fake entry…I think you’re also totally wrong that the computer is doing any kind of automated credit or citizenship checks before an actual person can review the application. Having been involved in hiring for a national chain, the info’s just being collected for administrative convenience so it doesn’t have to be collected later. We could absolutely view and move forward with any application that came through, regardless of how it was filled out.

      1. LBK*

        Also, it’s true that you’ll have to give it *eventually* (I mean, you have to put it on your I-9 no matter what). The argument is giving it out so early in the process, before you’ve even had a phone interview.

      2. Anon Moose*

        That’s what it seems like from applications. The same initial application also requires you to give consent for background and credit checks. There’s a person looking at these applications and the computer doesn’t arbitrarily screen out for things like fake SSNs? Color me very surprised (and doubtful that its true across the board). like I said I’ve been screened out before for littler things than that. It all depends on how the system is designed. If its administrative convenience that’s ugh, that makes me mad. They don’t need it, but the systems still penalize those who don’t give it.
        The conversation above had gone from “use an obviously fake one” to “can’t you just put in random #’s- do they know if you used someone else’s?” I guess if you don’t need the job you could go ahead and try it but it seems like a really bad idea to me to put in something fake. When I was applying I didn’t have that luxury.

        1. Anon Moose*

          Seriously- everyone should go try to fill out one or two retail applications as an experiment (though you might get called). People in the professional world truly do not realize how ridiculous they are. I had trouble with some as a college graduate needing a retail job in the height of the recession. People with less education- even harder. Local librarians near me spend hours and hours helping people fill them out. Discrimination is baked in at several levels- requiring SSN is just one issue.

        2. LBK*

          I think it’s more likely to reject the fake SSN on the front end (ie flag it and require the candidate to re-enter before it will accept the submission, like it would with an email that’s not in username@provider.com format) than it is to accept it into the system, then screen the application out before it hits the employer’s side of the system.

          We could absolutely still see applications with potentially disqualifying entries on them, like not consenting to the background checks – it was up to the store’s discretion to continue to follow up with those people. IIRC there was some kind of “best match” feature that would bring the applications the system thought were most relevant to the top, but we could still go in and look at the raw submission database and pull out whatever applications we wanted.

          We also did not conduct background or credit checks by default on anyone who applied – those things cost money and we certainly weren’t wasting it on hundreds of people who would never even get to the phone interview.

          1. Anon Moose*

            Honest question- how often did you go back into the system to pull out other applications? From the applicant perspective, you send out hundreds (not an exaggeration, I counted) of applications and it all seems to go into a giant black hole and there’s pretty much no guarantee a human will ever look at it. This isn’t only retail, but a huge problem there. How often do managers decide to override the system to let people through if the system has flagged them? Are you sure you’d be able give a kid, or anyone really, with an all nines social a chance even 50% of the time if they met most other parameters for the job? Or would it get lost in the volume of other complete applications? And how industry-standard is that?

            1. LBK*

              I don’t think we ever actually used the filtered results, as far as I know we only used the raw database that showed everything and we went through every one. That’s why I’m not even sure the filtered results existed, I only have a vague recollection that it was a thing. I have no clue how standard that is across the industry but I think it’s probably more common than you’d assume.

              Honestly, an all-9s SSN would’ve been the least of my worries. That at least seems clearly intentional. It’s the sloppy, careless mistakes that were more concerning.

            2. LBK*

              I think you also underestimate how many applications are seen by a human but just aren’t ever followed up on because you have way too many qualified people to contact everyone who might be able to do the job. You have to pick the best of the best because frankly, anyone with a decent ability to speak, read and be polite can probably be a decent retail employee. The qualifications are so low that you can’t do some of the baseline filtering you can do with higher function jobs – almost everyone is qualified.

  27. animaniactoo*

    I am currently reporting to my boss about my co-worker. She asked for it, the issues are real issues which cannot be covered up without exposing the company to legal and financial issues, and what she’s really asking for is “are the issues I’m seeing as bad as they seem, or is this just smoke”.

    Based on that info (not just from me, from several others and including her direct interactions with him), she’s been addressing it with him. However, she’s been very careful to be discreet about what she says when, and I trust her judgement. I have never had a reason to think that something I told her was going to be repeated back to someone in a way that was anything but strictly necessary. If I did, I would not be as honest as I am. I would be honest, but I’d downplay (vs my general give almost every benefit of the doubt).

    I do everything I can to help him (short of outright holding his hand, because I can’t and won’t), and I’ve been very upfront and honest with him including that at one point she wanted me to be looking over his shoulder and checking his work regularly and I didn’t want to just do that behind his back. Part of that was me giving him the hint that “there are serious issues going on, you need to take this more seriously”, part of it was just that I don’t like doing stuff behind people’s backs if I can help it.

    Unfortunately when I went home on Thursday, things had gotten so bad that I estimate 3 months before he’s out the door. As of Monday, I had to shorten that to 6 weeks. The sad part is that he knows there are all these issues all the time, but I think that everyone around him EXCEPT him is completely aware that the level of issues mean he’s going to be let go soon. That’s even after my boss talked to him last week to be very direct about what issues need to be fixed.

  28. Kat*

    #4 – I work at a company that makes HR software that processes job applications, usually for employees applying to hourly positions. After receiving many complaints like yours, we removed SSN as a required field during the application process. Like you guessed above, it wasn’t used by us as any type of actual screening tool, only as a unique identifier. It has created all sorts of backend drama for our customer service department, because now people create so many accounts on our system they can’t keep them straight.

    I don’t have any actual solutions for you (sorry!), but just wanted to offer the perspective that there may not be any malice behind the request, or a way around it.

    1. Meg Murry*

      yes, I wondered if the SSN was used as a flag to say “you already have an account in the online tracking system” or as a way to track “we already rejected this guy 6 months ago” or “this person has been employed by this big box employer in the past in another city” because there isn’t another unique ID you can really use for that purpose.

  29. TinyTim*

    “Also, poo to employers who ask for past salary information at all”

    I’m sick of constantly being asked about previous pay. Either I’m worth $X or I’m not. The only exception might be if I was considerably overpaid in my previous job. But even then, I’m either worth the extra salary or I’m not. If a job pays $50K and I say I was making $60K at my last job so that must be the starting offer, am I suddenly not worth the extra $10K if I was actually making $55K? In the discussion of why I’m worth $10K more than the starting salary, how is “because my last job gave me that much” even a factor?

    1. TootsNYC*

      if your past salary is none of their business, they’ll never know whether you were overpaid. They’ll just offer you what they believe is a competitive salary for your skills and experience, and for the level of responsibility they’re offering you. That’s capitalism.

      Insisting that they get to base their pay for you on your past earnings isn’t capitalism. It’s feudalism/serfdom or something.

  30. Mimmy*

    #4 – I’m not an HR profession so I may be off-base, but….I’m wondering if this issue is because of how applicant tracking systems are designed. Employers may feel that, because an SSN field was included in the design and cannot be changed, they have no choice but to require the field be filled in before an applicant can be moved forward. So I don’t know that I would always blame the employers directly – blame the companies that develop ATS programs.

    1. Anon Moose*

      It absolutely is how the system is designed. Its out of control of the branch managers and even sometimes corporate (if its an outside contractor). But I think you should blame both the designers and the companies that use them- its not going to change without pressure on the employers to invest in a system change.

  31. boop*

    #1. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I’m slightly creeped out by OP’s mention of working in the same industry as boss’ wife. Why is this tidbit here? Are you planning to hunt her down or what?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think this is just humans being humans and not being totally sure what details are and aren’t relevant to the question, so just describing the things that stand out to them.

    2. Ultraviolet*

      I do think that’s reading too much into it. The connection is probably clear in the OP’s head but didn’t come across on paper, or disappeared as they were editing the question.

      For what it’s worth, I’m guessing that either the OP’s wife’s previous job or the job she’s just been offered are in the medical field too, so it seemed relevant to OP to mention that they and the boss’s wife are as well.

  32. Cyberspace Dreamer*

    Referencing #2 – That issue reminds me of what was going on at OLDJOB.

    The new department head “Kerry” had rejected my request to train a relatively new hire “John”. I wrongly assumed that John would be molded as I had been. I had great mentor and was able to develop the skills needed to be productive. John needed training if he was going to contribute. But I needed to make sure that I was cleared to train him to avoid problems with another manager I was also working for. Kerry was still new to the company and was still getting acclimated. John went to Kerry personally to ask for training. John came to me some time later, extremely upset. During their discussion Kerry proceeded bash me, throwing me completely under the bus and backing it over me. She told him I was uneducated and that the area of responsibilities I had needed to be taken out of my hand. (It was already in the works on some level). He was shocked and I was surprised because up to that point Kerry had not revealed this side of her personality. Up to that point everything appeared to be going well. After that everything went off the rails. ( I guess he was technically revealing a confidential discussion but it certainly helped me )

    Kerry told John to forcibly take what he needed from me, access production IT systems and learn them on his own as I had. Kerry later lied about me and tried to have me fired for a situation she created along with that other manager I was assisting. They found out how much knowledge I had and how much work I was actually doing only after I quit. Kerry fired John a few months after I left. One of the grounds for John’s termination was his not forcibly taking what he needed from me to figure out how those production systems worked. In truth it was probably retaliation because John called a “confidential” hotline and filed a complaint about Kerry.

    Kerry left the company shortly after that.She apparently had some type of falling out with her boos, the Division head “Sally”. A manager Kerry hired named “Peter”, was filling in on an interim basis. He had been a CIO at another company and by all accounts was qualified to lead an IT department. He did not get the job. Sally told Peter that a member of the department “Jessica” said Peter would not be a good manager. It is obvious that Sally wanted her own person in place and this was probably the reason Peter was not promoted. But for some reason Sally told Peter what Jessica said. There really was no reason for that information to be shared, except to stir up more dissension.

    We eventually learned that Jessica was the one going to Kerry and Sally getting people trouble. So much so that Kerry suspended an employee “Chad” based solely on a complaint made by Jessica. This was not harassment but a complaint about workload and availablity. Even HR knew it was bogus but they still signed off on it. Even after this Jessica still kept at it and gave Kerry the impression that Chad was not doing his job. Kerry told Peter that she was going to fire Chad. Since Chad reported to Peter, Peter asked Kerry and asked for a little time to assess the situation. At least this time Kerry did not say no. Peter was able to prove that Chad was pulling his weight and then some. As a result Chad was not fired. Up to that point Jessica’s involvement was not know to others in the department, but it could not be kept a secret for much longer.

    Kerry finally figured out that Jessica was the problem. Instead of firing her out right, Kerry have her a bad performance review. HR defended Jessica. It was shortly after this that Kerry left the company. Jessica also tried to get Peter fired but failed.

    Incidentally, Jessica was also involved in John’s termination to some extent as well.

    Surprisingly, Jessica still works there, but has finally been exposed and is not trusted any more.

    This does not actually parallel #2’s story but I enjoyed sharing it. Needless to say the way managers were handling their business led to a lot of awkwardness that still persists.

  33. animaniactoo*

    OP#1 – I’m going to give you my standard “somebody might be attracted to my partner or my partner might be attracted to them” advice.

    Do you trust your wife? Do you trust her to be able to handle herself professionally regardless of what anybody else’s thoughts or intentions are? Do you trust her to be able to handle the situation and potential fallout if it turns out she was wrong about what someone’s intentions were? To deal with the situation in the moment and after?

    If so, you have nothing to worry about, even if his intentions are what you think they are. You can, at best, bring up to your wife that you think it’s weird – as a question of HER evaluating it for herself, and then leaving it for her to decide based on what she knows and/or feels comfortable with.

    However, if you don’t trust your wife to be able to do this – and that might be with very good reason, maybe she shuts down at conflict, doesn’t think well on her feet in awkward situations, doesn’t stand up to pressure or perceived (or implied) threats well – then that’s something to address with her on that basis. Not in the name of “don’t take this job”, but in the name of “if you end up in this situation, it’s important to me that you feel able to handle it”, and addressing her coping skills on that front. So that she can improve them and be better prepared for such a potential situation.

    That said: You knew who she was when you married her. If this potential is there because of who she is, you can’t protect her from every instance that she may come across, or ask her to hinder her career against a possibility (rather than an evaluated likelihood with a particular person), and you have to accept that at some point, she may very regretfully end up in a situation that she doesn’t like and ends up doing the “wrong thing”. At some point. Not all the time. But at some point. And if you’re not okay with that – if you can’t get yourself okay with that – then divorce the woman now, because if it ever happens, it’s not going to be fair to blame her then for what you know now. And if you already know you can’t deal with it, you shouldn’t be with her.

  34. cataloger*


    At a tutoring lab where I worked in school, patrons had to sign-in on a clipboard at the front desk, providing their name, subject to be tutored in, and SSN; we did not need the SSN for any reason. I was unable to get the form changed, but whenever I worked the desk I just told people not to fill in that field.

  35. Jill*

    #1 – I’m a female 30 years younger than my boss. We worked so well together that people would comment on the fact that we finished each other’s sentences – which is also a typical marker of a crazy in love couple.

    But he’s 30 years older, has smelly feet, uses too much gross hair gel, and is, again, 30 years older. Are we having an affair? Heck no. Is there attraction there. Heck no. We just work incredibly well together to the point where we can anticipate what the other is about to say or what they need. Let this suspicion go. AAM is right – he probably values her as an employee and wants her on the team at his new position. Unless there are REAL indicators of an affair assume is a professional relationship and don’t stifle your wife’s career growth!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      LOL! I know. I was once the manager of a guy and we happened to get along great. So great, that one of the other workers teased us “Gah! you two sound like an old married couple.”
      Believe me, there was absolutely NOTHING going on. Not even flirting as we were both married. It just happened that we both were more or less the same age, same background, same career/interests, and same taste in music.

  36. Salary Sally*

    RE: Salary history/requirements I hate this- just say what you are willing and able to pay publically. Can help avoid dction and makes thgs aier on potentl employees. When asked for salary requirement by jobs I’ve been using the line from AMA that my salary requirements depends on full benefit package. Is that okay to put if they are requesting salary history as well, or would that not be considered as addressing the request? Thanks

  37. Ruthie*

    OP #1: I had a great professional relationship with my former boss. When I was hired, I was a recent college graduate, and he was a married man in in his 40s. We worked closely with each other every day, and we would often go out to lunch or happy hour. I was invited to parties he hosted several times. He was very generous and supportive, even giving me pretty extravagant Christmas and birthday gifts. I don’t doubt for a second that he would have treated a great male colleague the same way, and am immeasurably appreciative that he didn’t let our age or gender difference get in the way of our working relationship for fear of appearing inappropriate. I would have lost out on a lot of opportunities and a great mentor. I think too often powerful males are reluctant to get too close to younger woman in the workplace, so it’s the younger men who get the opportunities and special favors that come with those relationships. Gender differences alone should never be a cause for concern when it comes to professional relationships.

  38. JennyFair*

    #1 My boss would take me with him to a new job in a heartbeat (he’s said so, anyway). He took me to lunch for my one year anniversary at a very nice place, and we buy each other small things like iced tea and cupcakes. I respect and admire him and I’m also very fond of him, *and yet* there is no sexual tension whatsoever between us! The mere fact that one of us is a woman and the other a man doesn’t place our affinity for one another in the ‘suspect’ category.

    You say you’re suspicious of your wife’s ex-boss, but don’t you really mean you’re suspicious of your wife? Because a thousand men could be attracted to your wife and it wouldn’t matter at all unless she said yes to one of them.

  39. Observer*

    Am I the only one who thinks that OP1 may actually be jealous of his wife’s success? For all the people who say that he is “implying” that she’s not good enough to be hired on the merits, I say it’s far more than that. He CLEARLY doesn’t think she deserves the job – and has a problem with her taking advantage of a perfectly legitimate relationship to further her career.

    OP, think about it this way. Retell the story but this time leave out the spouses and everyone is male. So “my Buddy Jake was just asked by his former boss to take a job for him at his new company. Jake has always admired his old boss, and from what I can see, Jake’s old boss likes him, too. I think Jake shouldn’t take the job. There must be some favoritism going on.” Would you really expect “Jake” to not take the job?

    1. Panda Bandit*

      It’s totally possible but hard to tell without more information. Either way he needs to not meddle with his wife’s jobs.

  40. Cheryl Becker*

    #5. In academic and public library circles, I would put this kind of thing on my resume in a section on “presentations” or something like that. But we may be different than other occupations. (I wouldn’t exactly call librarianship an “industry.”)

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