we need to make up any time we spend at conferences, grieving employee won’t come back full-time, and more

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

1. Grieving employee won’t come back full-time

I’m writing as a a manager of an academic department in a state institution of higher education. I manage a staff of two in a small department and one of my employees tragically lost her husband after the new year very suddenly, and about 5 years before she was set to retire. My department and I are very empathetic to her circumstance and despite some “cut and dry” rules around bereavement, we have allowed her three weeks off and then 11 weeks where she only worked half her scheduled week, utilizing vacation and personal time for the difference.

We have advised her she will need to return to her regularly scheduled full time hours in May, but we are encountering a unique (to us) circumstance. She is refusing to work full-time again. Anyone who works for a state agency knows that if you give up a full-time line, there is no guarantee you will ever get it back, nor can you hire another part time person to compensate. Since neither of those are an option and we are a small office looking to eventually grow, I feel like there is no other option but to write her up for unauthorized absences and eventually terminate her. This feels horrible, given her circumstance. I’ve tried to reason with her, I’ve even offered FMLA if she had documentation showing she needed treatment for mental health, but she is just outwardly refusing to help herself. Any advice?

What about just sitting down with her and explaining that? You could say, “I really appreciate you being candid with me on where you’re at with this. I’ve tried to figure out if there’s any way that we could make part-time work, because I value you and want to keep you, but we really do need the role to be a full-time one. If you’re sure you don’t want to do that — and I definitely understand if you don’t, as much I want you to stay on — we need to figure out a transition so that we can hire a full-timer. I’m sorry that I’m not able to make part-time work; I would if I could.”

If she says she won’t return to full-time work but isn’t resigning either, then you say, “I understand. Given the circumstances, will you work with me on making this a resignation so that we can do this in a way that’s as easy as possible on you? I don’t want to go down the path of framing this as this unauthorized absences, because that doesn’t reflect the real situation. What makes the most sense to you?” If she still holds firm at that point, then I’d talk to HR to see if there’s a way to move her out of the role without going the unauthorized absences/firing route. There should be.

I think you’re going to get a lot of readers urging you to see if you can make part-time work for your team a while longer, which I’d agree with, but I’m assuming you’ve considered that and you really do need someone doing that work full-time by May.

2. We need to make up any time we spend at conferences or workshops

I just started a new job a few months ago, and recently discovered that if we go to any workshops or conferences for PD during work time, we need to make that time up on evenings and weekends. To me, the simple solution is not to attend any PD, but my boss says that it seems I lack passion for our work if I’m unwilling to use personal time to get better at it. I’ve expressed that work-life balance is important to me, but my boss says that the personal-professional line is grey for those who truly love their jobs.

What am I supposed to do? There’s a 5-day conference in a few months that my boss wants me to attend. It’s in another city and my work won’t pay for accommodations, let alone a per diem!

What?! That’s ridiculous. I’d say this to your boss: “I’d be glad to attend this, but I wouldn’t be able to make up the five days of work on top of it. If we can agree that it counts as work time, then absolutely.”

More broadly, it could be worth you (and ideally a group of coworkers) pushing back on the policy as a whole, pointing out that it’s wildly out of sync with how most organizations handle professional development and that the policy is going to make your employer much less competitive (use that word, since it implies all sorts of useful things without you having to say them, such as that they risk losing employees over it and/or having a much less invested staff).

3. My coworker announced all the reasons I shouldn’t get a promotion, in front of our coworkers

At my work, we are currently in-between team leaders, and the position is being advertised. I have been performing many of the functions of this role for some time now, as we had a part-time person who was only “acting” in the role. I decided to put my name forward, but haven’t been very vocal about this to the wider team. My reasons for this are both that I don’t think they need to know at this stage, as well as wanting to save face, should I not be successful (having to explain it to everyone while also dealing with the disappointment, etc., no thanks).

Anyway, today one of the more vocal team members asked me point blank if I had applied for the role. They did so very loudly in a room full of other colleagues. At that point, it felt like my options were to fess up or point-blank lie to them and say no. I chose to acknowledge that I had applied, and this person then proceeded to list off reasons why they thought I wouldn’t be suitable. I felt I did a reasonable good job at responding, but I’m feeling quite annoyed to have been put in that position in the first place. Am I overreacting, was my colleague out of line, should I say something, and could I have handled the situation better?

Your coworker was definitely out of line. The initial question in front of others — well, not great, but sometimes people are really thoughtless about this kind of thing. But then listing off all the reasons why you weren’t right for the job? Really rude and really inappropriate.

It sounds like you handled it fine. You were put on the spot, and you don’t want to say you didn’t apply when you did. He put you in an awkward position, and then behaved like a boor.

I wouldn’t do anything further at this point though; I don’t think there’s anything to gain by bringing it back up with him.

4. My references are being asked to provide more references

I recently moved into the final round of interviews, and my references have been called. However, the person checking my references (not the hiring manager but another employee) has been asking my references if they can give them contact information for another person who can speak to my work ethic.

I don’t want to disqualify myself as a candidate by speaking up about this. With that said, if my job search is confidential, what is the ethic and/or legal code about this practice?

It’s not an unheard of practice. Asking “who else should I talk to in order to get a full picture of Jane?” is a question that shows up in lots of advice to reference checkers (like here, here, and here). I don’t think it’s super commonly used, but it’s definitely a thing that can happen.

There’s no legal issue with it; you’re not required to give legal permission for a prospective employer to ask around about you, and employers are allowed to call people who know you who aren’t on the list you give them without getting your okay first. I don’t think there’s an ethical issue with it either; of course employers have an interest in getting as much information as they can about the person they’re contemplating hiring.

That said, should employers do it? I think it’s a bit much for most positions unless the job is very senior (makes total sense to me to do it before hiring a CEO, for example, but not for your new accountant).  I’ve never done it personally (but I do ask candidates to put me in touch with specific people I want to talk to, generally managers who may not have been on the list they gave me — because I think due diligence means more than “call three people handpicked by the candidate”). But I wouldn’t be outraged if I learned an employer was doing it.

5. Looking for my next job while the end of my internship is several months off

I’m currently in the third month of a six-month unpaid internship. The possibility of there being available paid work at the company in the near future is unlikely, and I’m wondering how soon I should start looking for my next job. Prior to this internship, I was unemployed for the better part of last year, and as a result I’m very anxious about ending this position with no prospects and ending up stranded for god knows how long.

I know it’s unlikely for companies to be listing positions so far ahead of time in my field, but would contacting a few places I’m interested in and introducing myself and perhaps asking a little about their business and the possibility of a chat or some advice too much? Last week a business I would love to work at listed a couple of jobs that are exactly what I’m looking for and would be great at, and of course I know they won’t still be open when I’ve ended my internship, so could I perhaps email them showing my interest in working with them and enquiring if there will be anything available in the near future? This is all rather new to me and I don’t want to step on any toes while also being proactive.

I would actually just apply. Three months isn’t terribly far away, and hiring can take a lot longer than you think it will. It’s possible that it’ll be close to the end of that three months by the time they make an offer, let alone for the start date.

And if that’s not the case and you get an offer with a couple of months left in your internship — well, most employers totally understand if an unpaid intern needs to leave early because they got a paid job in their field. Unless this is a highly competitive, prestigious internship where they explicitly told you up-front that it was crucial that you work the full six months before they agreed to take you on, this really shouldn’t be a big deal.

{ 295 comments… read them below }

  1. Uyulala

    For #1 – I don’t think it is about needing someone full time in May. It is about needing someone full time any time during the year. If they switch the role to part-time, they won’t be able to change it back to full-time later or hire another part timer since The Powers That Be will say “you did fine with someone only part-time so that is all you need”. It’s the same reason a money surplus is always spent — you need it to stay in your budget so you have it for years that it is needed.

      1. Liz in a Library

        So is the issue that, once out of PTO (which she’s been using to make up full time hours), there’s no discretion to change the hours temporarily without reclassifying the position? If that’s the case, I can see where OP1 is coming from with a concern about how that would work long-term for her department.

          1. OP#1

            Yes, she will be out of PTO by May and does not accrue enough time to keep her in a part time schedule. At that point we would have to reduce the position which is not feasible. This is our front line position and her not being there half a week is causing our administrator and others to take time from their tasks, which has negative repercussions for the department, and is simply not sustainable long term. :(

            1. Exponential Vee

              Would setting up a job share be an option? Then she would be able to work part time, while you have full time coverage (and retain the position as a full time one for the future). I’m not sure if that’s a thing in America, but it is an option I’ve heard of here in the UK.

                1. Marzipan

                  Strictly speaking, what the OP ruled out is creating a second part-time post to compensate. A job share doesn’t technically do that; it’s basically retaining the full-time post but allowing two people to split it between them.

                2. Colette

                  I’m not sure there’s a substantial difference between a job share and two part time positions – you are hiring two people part time and they share the job. In other words, the job is full time but the employees are not, and if one of them quits the other doesn’t have to quit. Any benefits would also be individual.

                3. One of the Sarahs

                  Colette – this may be a UK/USA thing, because job shares are a separate thing from 2 part-time posts here in the UK.

              1. Mallory Janis Ian

                No, not the way my state university works. The position number is assigned to one employee. If another employee were brought in, they would have to be appointed into a new position, which would require having a new salary line approved through university HR, who would have to follow state regulations in order to approve or deny the request. The current employee is going to go into leave without pay status, which at my university would take the discipline out of the department’s hands, and the employee and the department would be in trouble with the university HR, while university HR would be in trouble with the state if they didn’t correct it. The employee will be drawing a full-time salary for hours not worked or covered by leave, and that will be a huge problem that surpasses the department’s authority to deal with.

              2. Lily in NYC

                I would be shocked if a government agency allowed for job shares. Government offices tend to be way behind innovative work trends because it might “look bad” to our constituents. At least that’s my office’s excuse as to why we aren’t allowed to work from home (I don’t mean permanently work from home, I just mean a random day here and there). And we are hard-asses about part-time workers. We allow women to come back part-time after having a baby, but only for a month or two. One woman refused to go back to full-time after three months and they told her it was full time or nothing.

                1. MissLibby

                  I went from a full time admin position to a .5 job share when I worked in local government. It actually saved them money because .5 employees were not eligible for some benefits and it really helped with back up and coverage during vacations, illness, etc. as we were both willing to switch hours when needed. We worked under this arrangement for about 4 or 5 years and when I left, they offered the other person the position full time. This was not common where I worked, but it is definitely not unheard of.

              1. Colette

                I’d be worried this is just delaying the problem. Personally, I’d be leery about trying to inconvenience everyone else to give her more time off without some level of assurance that she is working on being able to get back to work. I’m sure she’s still grieving, and I would expect that to continue, but it sounds like she’s still at a point where she can’t function normally. If she takes off another month or two and then doesn’t come back, they’re back where they are now – with the added wrinkle that it’s summer and the OP may have to start denying vacation requests since they need someone to cover.

                1. the gold digger

                  I’d be worried this is just delaying the problem.

                  I have done the math on the insurance, etc. If my husband died tomorrow, I would not go back to my current job. OK – I would go back for a month or two to get things in order, but then I would quit, throw away all the junk in the basement and in his office without even opening the boxes because if you have gone eight years without touching it, you don’t need it, take the cats, and move back south.

                  Then I would look for something part time and easy where I do not have to write software release notes for a product I do not understand at all and where I would get health insurance.

                  But – I would not waffle on this, either. My boss would know from day one that this would be my plan.

              2. kac

                I agree that this would be a good solution. I imagine that is what the OP wants to set up with FMLA, but s/he would need the employee to cooperate and provide some documentation in order to arrange for that.

              3. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

                To do that, she would likely have to go the FMLA route and it sounds like her employee is not able to do her side of things.

            2. misplacedmiswesterner

              I had this situation at my state agency (not bereavement, but close enough – FMLA exhausted as well as all paid leave banks). And we had to draw the line in the sand. We did end up authorizing some unpaid leave to extend their leave and it only gave this person more grounds to argue that they should be allowed to be part time for a longer period of time. They come back but there were a lot of bad feelings. And a lot of people who had covered for this person’s absences were really bitter especially because other employees had not been given as many changes/unpaid leaves/policy exceptions.

              Is it possible for your employee to apply for a transfer to another admin position in the university/agency that is part time?

          2. Green

            Allison, I wouldn’t say that it doesn’t reflect the “real” situation. First, you shouldn’t document something that doesn’t reflect the real situation, and second, that undermines the argument for firing when you’ve suggested to her that you’re going to fire her using false write-ups. It’s very confusing, and could result in problems when it comes time to fire her.

            “I understand. Given the circumstances, will you work with me on making this a resignation so that we can do this in a way that’s as easy as possible on you? I don’t want to go down the path of writing you up for unauthorized absences, but unfortunately all deviations from a part-time schedule after May 1 will be unauthorized. What makes the most sense to you?”

            1. ZenJen

              para 2 makes perfect sense to me, as a boss–if this is what the situation is, then OP1 doesn’t have any other choice. The grieving employee doesn’t seem to be thinking clearly about whether she’s dealing with mental health issues, and this obstacle is directing her attendance as an employee. unfortunately, it sounds like OP1 has been as lenient as she can, and now her hands are tied.

            2. Rusty Shackelford

              when you’ve suggested to her that you’re going to fire her using false write-ups.

              What do you mean by false write-ups? If the employee works less than she’s scheduled, without permission, how is labeling it an unauthorized absence a “false write-up?” As Alison said, it doesn’t reflect the true situation – that the employee isn’t coming in because she’s possibly distraught enough to the point of being temporarily disabled – but it’s still the absolute truth to say that her absences would be unauthorized.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I think Green is objecting to this line in my suggested language: “I don’t want to go down the path of framing this as this unauthorized absences, because that doesn’t reflect the real situation.”

                I suppose that strictly speaking unauthorized absences are ultimately the real situation and it’s inaccurate to say that they’re not … but there’s much more going on here than just someone going AWOL, and I think it’s helpful to acknowledge that.

                1. GH in SoCAl

                  Subbing in “whole situation” for “real situation” would probably work — it conveys the same idea without Green’s legal concerns.

              2. Green

                It conveys a mixed message to the employee; from a legal perspective, it could suggest that OP knows the employee is disabled and is firing the OP for issues related to the disability. It also suggests that the write-ups are a pretense to fire OP for issues related to a disability. When communicating to an employee you may need to fire, I’d do everything possible to make sure there’s no potential ambiguity in what you mean. If an internal client were to suggest that script to me, I’d strike it and change it to what I suggested.

                1. Rusty Shackelford

                  To me it’s more like “If you can’t work because you’re disabled, you need to do what it takes to make that official, because otherwise you leave me no choice but to write up your absences and you’ll eventually be fired.” Because the OP isn’t allowed to just decide this employee is disabled.

                2. Green

                  And, I’m objecting to that line from a lawyer’s perspective. I absolutely agree that you can acknowledge that she’s dealt with a serious loss. OP has already done what she can for the employee on the FMLA or disability accommodation front. Her employee has to ask; OP can’t assign those to her.

                3. Stranger than fiction

                  No, I think the Op s employee has not gone out on disability or fmla for depression but needs to to protect her job.

        1. MissDisplaced

          Yeah, I think with government jobs like this there is far less flexibility in part-time hour arrangements. I don’t understand why the worker will not take FMLA if they need more time off. It’s completely understandable in this case, and if the worker is out on FMLA they can likely then be allocated funds for a temp or other resource in the budget until worker comes back. It was offered as a solution, so not sure why employee won’t even consider it.

          I feel sort of sorry for the worker… It seems they’re in a situation where they just seem unable to deal and/or make any choices, and instead just shutting down and refusing to work the full time job they had, thus kind of creating a limbo for themselves that can’t be sustained in the department. It’s unfortunate, but I agree with the OP that this can’t continue that way it’s been going and you need to speak to HR about options.

          1. Just Another Techie

            I suspect she is just incapable of doing all the steps required to go on FMLA. She’d first have to find a psychiatrist, see the psych at least once or twice, fill out a metric f***load of paperwork. That all might just be too overwhelming for her. I’m sure I wouldn’t be capable of jumping through hoops like that if my husband died suddenly.

            1. Pipkin

              OP1 just how much or little is she actually engaging with you on this? You say she’s refusing to come back full-time and that she’s outwardly refusing to help herself. Is she giving any reason or rationale? Grief is a vicious beast and whilst I know life goes on some people can’t…or feel there’s no point in trying to. In some ways it sounds like she’s hoping you’ll pull the trigger so she won’t have to (in the work sense!)

              I think you’ve been perfectly supportive to date and are being reasonable but are there any other supports you can provide internally (counselling, being able to speak to a manager who isn’t you etc.) so that exiting her is literally the last resort after every avenue has been exhausted? She may not be accessing support services outside of work and at least if they’re work sanctioned there more of an impetus for her to engage AND as an employer you know you’ve done everything you can. Never underestimate how earth shattering grief and bereavement can be.

            2. fposte

              It’s probably just her regular doctor and a single form in reality. But when you’re suffering (or if you don’t know that), that can seem pretty insurmountable.

              1. OP#1

                There are other components to this as well I should mention. She seems to be deep in her grief, but also feeling like she doesn’t want to work for the department anymore in light of this change of life event. In addition, on the few days a week she works, she is between 30 minutes to 2 hours late, and really not working even close to full capacity. There were performance and attendance issues previous to this. This tragedy happened as I prepared to address them, so obviously, there wasn’t an opportunity to do so yet. Another issue is I can’t have an employee demanding in an unprofessional matter that we accommodate such a drastic change with so few staff to begin with. History has shown in our area, that reducing hours of one employee puts immense strain on the others, and has only created high turnover. I am determined to not have that happen.

                1. fposte

                  Adding weight to my theory that she’s setting up a job-suicide-by-manager situation.

                  Are you guys on a pension system? Is she fully vested or will being fired make a difference to her pension?

                2. Meg Murry

                  Another unfortunate person here to add +1 to job-suicide-by-manager, possibly with a side dose of depression causing her to not bring herself to care.

                  You mentioned below that she is in a union, and that she has told you to go ahead and write her up. Sounds to me like she’s not just going for job suicide, she’s actually playing chicken with you, “daring” you to write her up. I’d say call her bluff – read the union contract, determine what offenses you can write her up for (like coming in 30 minutes to 2 hours late without calling) and start the writeup/paperwork process now.

                3. Dan

                  I think you’re being too accommodating, TBH. Yes, cutting people slack during a time of need is the right thing to do. But you do that to retain what was otherwise a high performing employee that you don’t want to lose, and that you expect to return to high performing status.

                  We all recover from grief on our own schedules, but that does not permit us to hold our jobs hostage. When I went through a divorce, I was up front with my boss(es) that things were going to be rough for me for a few months. My immediate boss said to me, “I really do need Work Product X from you in two months. Beyond that, I’ll cut you whatever slack you need.” (Work product X wasn’t two full time months worth of work.)

                  It’s good that you’re sympathetic, but once that employee runs out of personal time, I wouldn’t bend over backwards to accommodate her. She needs to try and help herself. It’s not on you if she won’t.

                4. OhNo

                  Well, that does change the situation a bit. Rather than being a good employee who is just going through a very rough time, it sounds like she was a borderline employee and finally found an excuse to behave even worse.

                  Sad as it is to say, I’m definitely with fposte and Meg on this one: she’s trying to make this whole situation your fault. By making you fire her, she gets to be the wronged party here (“They fired me because I was grieving after my husband died!”). I don’t know what the best way out of the situation is, but the whole mess really stinks for you!

                5. Stranger than fiction

                  Does your institution have some sort of early retirement option she might agree to?

                6. Pipkin

                  Ah I thought she was a stellar employee on all other fronts. I’d go with one more chat or letter (if it’s a chat have witnesses!) that you’re sympathetic but it’s come to a point where she is now required to return full time on x date. She’ll invariably say no and I’d go with Alison’s advice from there. In a small team this could get messy (remember she gets to tell a story to the other employee in the team, you don’t) so if at all possible try and engineer her jumping rather than being pushed. Is there any option to pay her off at all to sweeten the exit for her?

  2. LW2

    Hello, LW2 here to chat about it! Going to bed right now (11pm my time) but will be online tomorrow

    1. Liz in a Library

      Frankly, OP2, I’m also annoyed for you that your boss expects you to do PD travel without the business paying for it. My worst job didn’t ‘require’ conference attendance and so wouldn’t pay for travel, but attending conferences was one of the things we were evaluated on yearly. I racked up thousands in travel debt for that place.

      Rant aside, professional development is important, but companies that aren’t willing to pay to send their people to conferences/workshops/whatever is field applicable shouldn’t expect that people will do those things just because the company wants them to. There are free ways to stay abreast of developments in many fields.

      1. Doriana Gray

        Rant aside, professional development is important, but companies that aren’t willing to pay to send their people to conferences/workshops/whatever is field applicable shouldn’t expect that people will do those things just because the company wants them to.

        This. I just purchased a $360 online certification course package today, and the other day, my division VP sent me and two other coworkers an email for a week long training seminar he wants us to attend that costs $2200 per person. There’s no way I would do any of these things if my company wasn’t paying for them outright and/or reimbursing me for them. (And I get a $500 bonus once I attain this certification.) My company understands that you get what you pay for, so if you’re not willing to invest in your employees, they won’t be invested in the company or their work, which would be very problematic in my highly regulated field.

    2. Sarah

      It is one thing to spend an evening here & there for professional development opportunities, but an entirely different thing to spend 5 works days (+ travel expenses!) on PD and expect you to use vacation or make up the hours.

      I worked at a large fortune 100 company that was very reluctant to allow people to spend work hours on training, for reasons that I think make sense. But they also didn’t pressure us to attend lengthy conferences/sessions during the typical work day without also providing permission to charge this to training. Even after-hours stuff wasn’t high pressure, just appreciated. If it is really a job requirement, they should pay. If it isn’t, it really needs to be 100% optional without questioning whether you love your job enough.

    3. Elizabeth the Ginger

      Your company’s policies here make my jaw drop. While I agree with the statement that the personal-professional line is sometimes a bit gray, this goes far beyond that. I read books related to my career out side of work hours, I’ve sometimes gone to professional events in the evening or on weekends, and when I’ve gone to events that happen during work hours I sometimes have had to do a bit of extra work before or after – for example, I went to a multi-day conference in February, and I had to stay late a couple of afternoons before I went so that everything could be in order for the person who was covering for me. But I didn’t “make up” several days’ worth of work!

      All that said, I’m not sure I have much to offer you besides sympathy. I do think that Alison’s suggestion of getting several people together to push back on this policy would be the best bet. How do others in your workplace react to this?

      1. LW2

        Another new-ish person seems similarly annoyed, but her position is “I have young kids at home so I can use that, but you don’t so you’re just going to have to go to the conference and make up the time.” So… next exactly an ally.

        1. Erin

          Oh geeze.

          How about, “I’m afraid paying for the accommodations is not in my budget right now, and I have too many outside commitments to make up this time.” If he presses you on the outside commitments have something ready. “I have family commitments,” “I’m volunteering all weekend afterwards,” or, “I will be out of town for family related matters the following weekend.”

          Oooh how about that: “I’m already traveling the weekend afterwards for a family related matter. With the time and expenditures for that travel, I’m afraid I won’t be able to cover expenses for this PD – or make it up on the weekend. If we can agree this counts as work time I should be able to work something out.” He could say, “What about the following weekend?” You could say, “I’m afraid it’s typical for me to have a really full schedule outside of work. I’m happy to go on this trip, but I can’t take my own time to do it, or make up for it – it would have to be legitimate work time. I just don’t have it in my budget or time to make this feasible any other way.”

          1. Anon for always

            I think this is great.

            I can’t imagine my employer telling me that I needed to attend a conference or other PD event and thene expecting me to make up time AND pay for the costs associated with attending.

            My organization is one of the most budget conscious organizations I’ve ever worked for, we are cheap, but even my organization provides time off for PD and pays for travel to conferences, etc., (as long as it’s approved and budgeted for).

              1. Chalupa Batman

                Same. Professional development is typically paid by the employer because it benefits them. The fact that it benefits you is irrelevant on their end. If you bring something to them, sure, they can say “not in the budget, but you can pay for it and work flex time.” But if not attending will impact my standing at my job, even informally, that makes it work, and therefore, I should not have to pay to go to work. I’d say I consider the vast majority of the PD I attend to be an opportunity, but it was also still part of my obligation to be great at work. The idea that OP should be so invested in the job that they attend PD events that the BOSS chooses out of love for the position is bunk. OP should say they can’t afford it, period, and start looking, because my guess is that manipulation is par for the course there.

                1. Doriana Gray

                  Or ask for a raise. “Sure, I can attend this conference – once you increase my salary because currently I don’t make enough to cover the costs myself.”

                2. Jadelyn

                  “The idea that OP should be so invested in the job that they attend PD events that the BOSS chooses out of love for the position is bunk.”

                  This is exactly where I’m seeing the problem. If your BOSS is picking events that THEY want you to go to, then that’s not personally-driven PD, that’s your employer assigning work – then asking you to use PTO *and* cover all expenses yourself on top of that. Which is patently absurd.

                  If they said more generally “We have an expectation that everyone will demonstrate commitment to continued learning via professional development activities and your performance reviews will take that into account (but we won’t pay for any of it)”, but you were free to choose your own events/classes/magazine subscriptions/whatever, that would still be kinda crappy of them, but a lot *less* problematic IMO, since it’s entirely up to you.

        2. Rusty Shackelford

          If they consider having young kids a legitimate excuse, then other outside commitments should be a legitimate excuse.

          1. Anna

            This. As someone who doesn’t have kids (yet), it annoys me when employers and co-workers seem to think that those with kids are allowed to have some semblance of work/life balance but those without kids are not.

            1. Amadeo

              Yes, this. I want to be home when I’m supposed to be home to do the life activities I like to do and it shouldn’t matter whether or not children are involved!

            2. Jadelyn

              This drives me up a wall. I’m childfree by choice, but I do have activities that I participate in on my own time, and whether I need to get home in order to make dinner for my kids, or to tank a raid my WoW guild is running, or just park myself in front of Netflix and unwind, is nobody’s business but mine.

            3. SerfinUSA

              My stock answer is that every minute outside of the time I have allocated for earning a paycheck is completely booked, and it’s not economically feasible for me to give that time away, especially since it’s not for sale in the first place.

        3. Artemesia

          Lots of professions require continuous professional development and while many employers pay for it, some don’t — but we are talking about a seminar here and there not a conference requiring long distance travel and time off.

          This is as good an indicator that you have a terrible employer as there is. In your shoes I would not be traveling to a 5 day conference but would instead look for local professional development opportunities, preferably that don’t occur during the work day or are at noon or late in the afternoon and would say “I can’t afford to lose work time or incur that kind of expense” if boss pushes a conference but would say “I have signed up for a series of seminars on Teapot honing and will be pursuing that as professional development.”

          The one exception of course is academia where faculty routinely pay for their own conference travel and attendance if they don’t have grants that cover participation. Some universities allot a limited budget anywhere from $200 to a couple of thousand a year to faculty who are presenting research at conferences and this kind of thing is required for promotion and tenure. There is no question of ‘making up the time’ however.

    4. LSP

      Dang, sorry OP2. I can’t even offer any advice right now because your situation is insane! I really just want to tell you to find another job but that’s not helpful nor necessarily easy to do.

      So no accommodations, no per diem…what DO they cover? This is in the US? Big company? Start up?

      They expect you to fund your own PD that will ultimately benefit the company too and they are not willing to foot the bill?! Ludicrous. Even my bone dry government employer can scrape a few pennies to send a few of us to conferences and trainings every now and then.

      I love my job, but if the 5 day conference I’m going to this month wasn’t paid for by Company I most certainly would not be going.

    5. neverjaunty

      Your boss is the workplace equivalent of that emotionally manipulative SO who says “if you reeeeealllly loved me you’d do ______ for me”. Seriously, if you don’t work for free, you lack passion for your job? No.

      1. ZenJen

        THIS THIS THIS. it’s such a jerk move to have that policy. if my job me to attend, they’d be paying AND it would be considered work time, which is the standard policy for most businesses.

        the only way I’d pay and do it on my own time is if I was attending an event in order to network for a new job, which the OP might want to consider if this is a pattern of bad things in their current job…..

      2. One of the Sarahs

        Now I’m wondering if there’s a workplace equivalent of “The Gift of Fear” that’s always recommended on Captain Awkward!

        As an aside, I think I picked up the concept of “workplace PTSD” from here, in terms of people being blindsided by awful work situations. I’m a little uncomfortable using PTSD as the wording, because I don’t want to sound like I’m making light of PTSD from abuse, trauma, war etc – if anyone had a better phrase, I’d love it.

        1. OhNo

          Man, if there isn’t already, I hope someone writes it. I would love to have a good resource like that, and it would be so helpful for all of the new-to-the-workforce people who are stuck in a loop of, “Is this normal? Is my job supposed to make me feel this way? Am I supposed to be doing this?”

          Also, as a response to your aside: I like the concept that I picked up on reddit’s RBN board of “FLEAS”. Technically it stands for “frightening lasting effects of abuse”, although I’ve usually only seen it used as shorthand for “bad habits I picked up after years of being in an abusive/unsafe/bad environment”. It’s easy to explain to people who aren’t familiar with the concept because it comes from the adage, “Lie down with the dogs an you’re bound to get fleas”, which almost everyone understands.

        2. Jadelyn

          +100 – I love the concept, because I’ve had a pretty awful case of it myself (it’s taken my current employer and team 2 years of mentoring and reassurance in order for me to actually be comfortable pushing back on things or offering my own ideas), but I’m deeply uncomfortable calling it *PTSD* specifically.

        3. VintageCampus

          PTSD is PTSD regardless of how it is acquired. Just because a sexual assault victim may be able to navigate the mall or hear a loud bang without problems, where as say, and post-war PTSD victim will not be able to function in those situations, doesn’t make one PTSD victim more deserving off the PTSD label.

          My workplace PTSD was PTSD and that label is what allowed me to find the tools I needed to address the lasting effects of the trauma I experienced over 8 months with a horribly emotionally abusive supervisor who had complete control of the financial well-being of my family. Really I do not see how it is any less deserving of the phrase PTSD then having a emotionally abusive spouse.

          If someone is not comfortable using PTSD to describe their situation – well then maybe they do not have PTSD and that is fine to choose not to use that lable. However I think it is more damaging than emboldening to make blanket statements about what sort of trauma does and does not deserve the PTSD label.

          1. Duncan

            But there is a definition for what does deserve the “PTSD label.” PTSD has diagnostic criteria related to specific traumatic events (typically life threatening), and is commonly overused, in the same way people self-diagnose ADHD, OCD, and so on, so I personally appreciate prior posters’ sensitivity to using it. (I do not have PTSD myself, but am aware of it due to a family member’s experiences.)

            Here, I think it is used to explain extreme situations that can provoke similar reactions in folks, though to a far lesser extent, and is a shorthand people use to convey the egregiousness of what they’ve experienced. I don’t see any harm in that, but to start classifying workplace issues as true PTSD seems inappropriate (unless actually diagnosed/met the clinical criteria, of course.)

    6. AcademiaNut

      Your boss is being ridiculous.

      I know fields where it’s not uncommon for someone to attend a professional conference on their own dime (academic fields with poor funding, for example). People do this because it benefits their career enough to be help them get the next job. I even know a few cases where someone wanted to attend something badly enough to take vacation time, when it wasn’t approved as an official trip. But not cases where someone is required to go to a conference, expected to pay all the expenses, *and* is expected to make up the conference days on evenings and weekends!

    7. Sunflower

      Is it, by any chance, a highly competitive industry such as entertainment? Things like that are slightly more common in those industries, though certainly not ok.

      1. LW2

        Hello!

        So nice to see so many people confirm that my position here is reasonable!

        I work in public education, but not as a teacher. I’m a specialized support who works for the board rather than any particular school. The board does a lot of PD and I’m told I’m allowed to go to any board PD during work time. The problem is that all board PD will be geared towards teachers. I’m sure that a workshop on managing your rowdy junior high class would be of great interest to hundreds of teachers in the board, so they’ll have that. But since there is only one other person with my quite unique position, there will be no PD ever for our specific skill set.

        1. A Teacher

          I see where you’re coming from with them being teacher specific but let me say as a teacher: 90% of school organized PD absolutely sucks. Sitting through upteen trainings on Common Core, Curriculum Mapping, The Danielson Model, concept mapping, etc…it gets old and most of it isn’t really practical to a true classroom setting. So as a non-teacher you’d get even less out of it than I do. What a crappy situation, sorry OP

        2. Small town reporter

          Can you focus on this when turning down PD? I mean it’s a waste of your time and the board’s time. Even if you are technically making up the time you miss (which is nuts), your actual job duties are getting delayed, right?

        3. J.B.

          Blech. One alternative I can see – depending on your certification, does your teaching something count for hours? My (completely different) field allows some continuing hours for preparation and teaching of materials. So if you could come up with something that you can teach that would actually benefit teachers maybe you could offer that as work time? Raise profile and build your expertise?

        4. Artemesia

          Public education rarely has the money for junkets and it is hard to imagine a 5 day conference being cost effective for the organization BUT if they want you to do this sort of thing at minimum they should allow you the time off to do it. It is not ridiculous for a school district to not pay for conferences; it is ridiculous of them to not allow time for them if they encourage you to attend them. The value of professional development events is much overrated in my experience. Back in the dark ages when I was a public school teacher I attended a few excellent workshops and classes but a number that were beyond insane. After nearly 50 years I still remember how important it is to be ‘trapazoidal to the right’ — no I am not making that up; it was the great take away from the most ridiculous in service I chanced to attend. In your position I’d be doing self study on areas you feel a need to improve. I would not expect the district to finance travel, conferences and such.

        5. Boop

          Oh man, I had exactly your situation a couple years ago, although PD for support staff isn’t encouraged at all by my employer (public education). I had to use vacation time to attend a class/workshop and to take the certification exam specific to my field. I had to pay all the costs (no travel was required, thankfully), including the cost of the exam, and then I had to fight and wait A YEAR before my department head decided we could use tuition reimbursement for a portion of the cost. Obtaining the certification also had no impact on my salary/benefits/anything since it’s not considered important. I am only the second person in my department to have this certification. The irony is that a few years ago certain people in my department were offered the opportunity to take the class (same content, different format) and exam for free. None of them took the exam – it’s reputed to be brutally hard with a 53% pass rate.

          I don’t have any advice, mostly just empathy. Have you tried asking if there is tuition reimbursement that could be used? Even if it doesn’t cover the full cost, a little bit would be helpful.

        6. One of the Sarahs

          You are being completely reasonable – much more than I would be in your situation, I’d have laughed out loud at my boss by now.

        7. Coffee Ninja

          A few years ago, I was in a very similar position too yours (specialized support in the board office; not educational staff). Our district had a relatively small PD budget, so even teachers would have to fork over money for trainings sometimes. HOWEVER – if someone (teacher or not) was going to a training that the board wasn’t paying for, or was only partially paying for, the board still approved the time off with pay as professional development days. There was none of this crazy “make up the time” business your bosses are trying to pull. My position was non-exempt; I’m not sure if yours is, & I would suggest checking into that.
          If you push back as Alison suggests and don’t get anywhere, go to your local education association that is the next step above your district. (In my area, this would be the county department of education, but I’m not sure how it’s set up where you’re located). If you’re in a unionized district, the union may also be able to help. I received some union protections in my position even though I wasn’t a dues-paying member.

    8. Cambridge Comma

      I’ve worked under a similar policy (of there being no or funds for staff development in my area, because “if you can’t do the job you were hired to do without training, you shouldn’t be working here”; It sucked a lot, and I had to let a couple of professional qualifications lapse because of their annual training requirement). While it’s true that if you are interested in your profession, you end up seeking out learning opportunities anyway, nobody attended conferences or courses, as the only way to do this was to take leave.

      A different way of pushing back might be to say that your company loses the right to dictate when and how you do your PD if they don’t pay for it.
      e.g. “I’ve decided not to go to that conference; I’ve found some different activities for my PD this year.” I wouldn’t tell them which ones, either.

    9. Erin

      Hey there. If you need another voice to assure this is insane, this is insane.

      If it’s mandatory and work-related, you need to get paid. If it’s something you’re not going to be paid for – or have to make it up!! – it’s optional.

      I could see your boss saying something like, “Hey, I noticed this great conference I think you could really benefit from. It’s not in our budget to send you for the whole week, but I figured I’d run it by you in case you wanted to use PTO.” But then he should also add something like, “We’d be happy to cover for you while you’re gone.” Not, “Make up this time on the weekend and evenings.”

      Obviously, I wouldn’t get defensive or upset when you have this inevitable conversation. But it’s very, very reasonable to push back. I can see you’re new at this job, but I would have a conversation with your coworkers about this first. Ask them if this is the norm and what they think about it.

      1. Ineloquent

        Teachers and public education employees really get the short end of the stick. Paying for supplies out of pocket, putting in very long unrecognized or compensated hours, being pressured into taking on mentorship roles for clubs and teams, getting no or crappy PD opportunities… all because you’re a kid hating monster who doesn’t deserve a job at all if you don’t put up with it. No wonder teachers have rigid unions (though the pros and cons of those are quite debatable).

        1. I'm a Little Teapot

          I know a school that requires full-time work on part-time pay. It’s ridiculous. And then districts complain about not being able to find qualified teachers for some subjects. Gee, I wonder why.

    10. Jenm

      My previous job was exactly like this. Their line was ‘you decided to be a teapot architect and knew that there are professional licenses and continuing education. You should pay for it yourself’

      Needless to say, no one ever got their license until they were ready to quit-to be more marketable for a new job.

      Those kinds of employers always have a revolving door and then justify their lack of investment in employees with the fact that no one stays long term. Build up your resume as much as you can and jump ship.

    11. Kate

      The way this works at my company is this: If it’s required, the fee for attending is covered by the company, you are paid for your hours spent attending, and your work is covered. If it’s not required but is related to the job and is likely to have value for the company (meaning it helps you do your job better, or faster, or teaches you something you can teach others, or whatever else might apply) the company will usually either pay the fee for you to attend and allow you to take PTO for the day(s) OR have you pay the entry fee but pay you for your time. The company allows you to do the math to see which option is more financially beneficial for the employee. And these are totally optional, and it would be fine to just not go. In fact, these type of opportunities are posted on a bulletin board for everyone to see, and you could choose to attend many or none and either way would be fine.
      The only time you would have to use PTO and pay for the conference as well would be if it’s totally unrelated to your work (in which case you would have found out about the conference outside of work bc they don’t post conferences that are totally unrelated on the board.)
      I think this is a fair way to handle it. I also think that if you’re going to be dinged on your eval for not attending, the conference has, in essence, become mandatory, and should be handled as such.

      1. CM

        I don’t think this is fair either. If it’s mandatory, you should not have to pay for it in any way and the company should both cover the entry fee and pay you for your time. If it’s optional, then I can see the company giving you a choice between paying the entry fee or using your PTO. But anyway, your policy is better than the OP’s. I am very interested in my field and might attend a 5-day conference just for fun… but if I had to use up a week of vacation time AND pay for everything? The only way I could justify doing that is if it were going to really benefit me professionally, which would probably mean I was chasing a new job.

        1. CM

          Oops, I read Kate’s comment too quickly and got it wrong… that policy is totally reasonable.

      2. TootsNYC

        I can totally see this policy. In a way, it’s going halvies.

        Because Professional Development (PD–I spent 2 minutes trying to figure out what “PD” was) benefits both parties.

        1. hermit crab

          Yeah, we generally “halvsies” in a similar way, like the company will pay for you to go (registration + travel) but you can only bill a subset of the hours to overhead so you’ll either take PTO for the rest or make it up. Or sometimes a client will have you bill your hours to their project, if attending the sessions is within the scope of work, while the company pays for the travel.

          Basically, there are lots of reasonable ways to deal with this, but the OP’s company’s way is NOT one of them!

    12. Frances

      This is just to add to the pile of folks letting you know that your company and boss are ridiculous to ask that employees go to conferences on their own time and pay for everything.
      Where I work we have a small yearly allowance to go to conferences and anything over we pay out of pocket. It’s not enough to cover everything but it helps and it shows that the employer also cares about your PD.
      As far as release time to go to these things, that’s a no brainer. I could see having to get approval so you aren’t leaving at crunch times or abusing the leave, but to have to make up time? Ugh.

      Simply put, I think your employer is taking advantage of all of you.

      1. GH in SoCAl

        Putting together some of the comments here, including the OP clarifying that this PD is designed for teachers and has nothing to do with her job, I’m starting to wonder if this 5-day conference is more of a party/bonding opportunity for the attendees, as opposed to serious learning opportunity. That would explain why the boss A) thinks OP should WANT to go (to be part of the team!) and B) thinks the time should be made up (since to conference itself is the equivalent of Spring Break).

        Not that any of that makes it okay — it’s still ridiculous. But if the Boss and others look forward to this “fun outing,” I can kind of see why they would think others should too, and that it shouldn’t count as work.

        1. Meg Murry

          I wonder if there isn’t some kind of discount if they have X employees going and that is why the boss is pushing OP – or if someone else already signed up to go but is backing out and they have to pay for it anyway.

          OP, the combination of: Use PTO or make up time + pay for your own accommodations + no training that is relevant to you anyway = big fat NOPE. Stand up to your boss and say “nope, not going to happen”

    13. Mike C.

      First off, great idea popping in here like this to consolidate some of the comments.

      It’s clear that your boss/management is absolutely batshit crazy on this topic, but the key here in my mind was Alison’s use of the word competitive. My large employer is happy to pay for all sorts of work related training, seminars, certificate programs, even full college degrees (majors of their choosing). This is in an effort not only to ensure they have a workforce that is constantly improving, but to retain employees for the long run. No games, no gimmicks.

      How in the hell are you supposed to learn all you can and bring it back to the workplace when your boss is expecting you to essentially work a double shift? Burnout is a real thing.

      1. TootsNYC

        and to recruit quality employees.

        That’s what the word ‘competitive’ says to me.

    14. MissDisplaced

      So, you’re expected to go to a 5 day conference, pay for your own room, AND THEN make up that time with unpaid overtime night and weekend work?

      This job is costing you money.

      This is so outside the norm. I’ve heard of employees having to pay for their accommodations or sharing rooms to save costs, but the conference itself is usually considered part and parcel of your working hours (it IS WORK as you wouldn’t go on your own).

      1. Alienor

        The making-up-the-time part was what just blew me away. I can maybe see people needing to pay for conferences themselves (especially if the topic is something that’s only tangentially related to what their current position is), and maybe using vacation time, but then also working weekends for a month to “make it up?” That’s just beyond the pale.

      1. JaneB

        I work in academia, and this is pretty normal (horrible and unfair, but pretty normal).

        I’m expected to attend 2 conferences a year (one national, one international) minimum when it comes to annual review time, as well as attend some university-provided CPD type courses (although I attnd these during work time, I still have to make up the actual work I wasn’t doing). I have to do this on my own time (additional to my allocated work, that is), and although I can bid for funding to attend from my employer, the success rate is about 40% and the resulting funds rarely cover the full cost. My current boss is not impressed that I’ve been choosing to stay in-country for conferences the last couple of years, rather than travelling internationally, but it’s much kinder on my pocket and the university definition of an international conference is based around the proportion of attendees and/or the host organisation’s membership, so so far I’ve managed to justify it.

        But it’s not fair or reasonable – I CAN do this because of my personal circumstances, but I feel really bad for my more junior colleagues who have lower wages and often young children etc. so less person calendar or budget flexibility. Mind you, they are more likely to get University funds to attend these things, on those exact grounds.

        1. MissDisplaced

          Do they even pay for the flights?
          I mean, an international flight can cost well over $1,000 making it way out of reach for a lot of people. Hotels rooms easily $100 a night, meaning a 5 day conference could end up costing you almost $2,000-$3,000 out of pocket.

          And they would expect someone on a $30-$40k salary to pay for this 1-2 times a year? Wow.

        2. One of the Sarahs

          Just FYI, I did a mini poll on my academia friends on twitter, and they say NO! It could be that people are being told this is normal in academia, but my anecdata (I know!) says it’ not!

    15. Gandalf the Nude

      LW2, are you non-exempt? Do you only make up the time spent on PD in the same overtime week? If so and if not, your company is either breaking the law or losing money. They can’t count extra hours worked in one week as make-up hours for a different week and pay them as regular hours. That’s not legal. And if they are paying those extra hours as overtime, I’d like to know how they think that’s less expensive than just paying the employee to attend the conference. (Hypothetically, of course.)

      In any case, your boss is horribly short-sighted. Don’t feel guilty if you end up just doing your time and parlaying the experience into a better job with a more supportive employer.

      1. MissDisplaced

        My guess here is they are salaried, but the organization is saying if you were at a conference 8 hours, you now need to make up that 8 hours (of work hours you missed) somewhere by working Saturday or 2 extra hours a day for 4 days. That might be understandable if it were for a day or something, but a 5 day conference (30-40 hours!).

        That’s a LOT of extra late nights and weekends to make up!

        1. Gandalf the Nude

          Yeah, I saw after I posted that you’d shared what you do. That just makes me even angrier, honestly. I’m just so disgusted at the way educators and their support staff are exploited.

        2. Zahra

          But is it *correctly* categorized as exempt? We’ve seen many instances of employers using exempt willy-nilly to avoid paying overtime. There are specific conditions to respect in order for a position to qualify as exempt.

        3. animaniactoo

          Check the rules. I am pretty sure that under exempt rules, you can be required to make up the time, but they cannot require you to make up the time in an unreasonable time frame.

          I am also fairly sure that requiring you to attend professional development still counts as work hours. They can suggest things you can attend, they can tell you that you need to have a certain amount of PD logged in a given year, they can’t push you to have it be X course that will be an undue burden on you.

          I would also point out to your boss that this is an undue burden on you because unlike most around you, you do not have the same opportunity to satisfy the PD within what the board offers, and therefore it requires you to spend more of your personal resources on it (time, money) than almost everyone else.

              1. animaniactoo

                doh, I also see a poor wording in my original post:

                “I am also fairly sure that requiring you to attend professional development still counts as work hours. They can suggest things you can attend, they can tell you that you need to have a certain amount of PD logged in a given year, they can’t push you to have it be X course that will be an undue burden on you.”

                Meaning X course without counting as work hours. I suspect that it doesn’t change the answer, just clarifying what I actually meant when I said that.

    16. azvlr

      I’m so glad you are pushing back on this! I’m so sick of the mindset in public education that low pay and crappy treatment (by parents, students and the public) are acceptable because you are there “for the kids” and how dare you be in it for the money.

    17. Anonymous Educator

      I don’t know if you already have enough people telling you this is ridiculous, but just in case you haven’t had enough: this is ridiculous!

      I’ve worked in some fairly stingy (money-wise) environments, and every single time I’ve had mandatory professional development, my employer has paid for airfare, conference fees, transporation to/from the airport (at least at the destination) and at least daytime meals (if not also evening meals).

      Here’s the thing—they know exactly how much money you make. So, let’s say they’re paying you $50,000, and then they also expect you to pay $6000 a year for your own professional development? Then they know they’re actually paying you $44,000 (assuming you can get some kind of tax deduction on your own PD). It’s bait and switch. If, when they hired you, they didn’t say “Yeah, we’re going to pay you this salary, but really it’s this salary minus $6000 (or $5000 or whatever it is), because we’re going to expect you pay for all your own professional development… and you have to make up time you weren’t doing your ordinary work…” then they for sure were bait-and-switching you.

      Unfortunately, for someone as stingy/dodgy as your boss, I don’t think there’s anything you would be able to say to make her see reason. If I were you, I’d certainly make the case this is not normal, but then be prepared for her to say “Well, it’s normal here” or some other such nonsense. Then I would just stay at that job as long as I had to to not appear to be a job-hopper… and then leave.

      1. TootsNYC

        For most bosses, it really doesn’t cost them cash when an exempt person is out. Exempt people are theoretically mostly responsible for accomplishing tasks, and while employers can demands set hours, etc., for most people it just really doesn’t matter, as long as the tasks are done.

        So that’s just really such a nickel-and-diming thing!

        It’s one thing to say, “you have to accomplish the same stuff, so you’ll have to work faster or more efficiently, swap off tasks with other people on the team, and maybe put in some extra hours to keep pace.”

        But to demand you make up the literal hours is just annoying.

        1. Anonymous Educator

          Yes, definitely. It makes no sense, frankly—exempt or non-exempt. I’m non-exempt now, and my employer is still paying me hours for the PD I do off site!

    18. Marissa

      I feel really bad for you in this situation. At my office, we are all salaried; but we try very hard to keep our work weeks to 40 hours because personal time is valued. Therefore, if someone skips their lunch hour, they can leave an hour early. If you are running a telecon 3 hours beyond the work day, you can leave 3 hours early the next day. If you spend a Saturday at a conference, you can have Monday off. This is all counted as lieu time, not vacation or sick time.
      I’m very new to the working world, so I don’t know if this is wise; but I’d consider asking you boss whether there is a reason all that time needs to be made up hour-for-hour. Will the work not get done otherwise? It seems highly unlikely that that would be the case, so I’d argue for the quality and timeliness of your work versus how often your butt is in a seat (literally and/or metaphorically speaking).

    19. NicoleK

      I can relate to your frustration. My employer is a large Fortune 500 company. My job requires me to hold a specific license. In order to maintain that license, I’m required to obtain x number of continuing education hours. I have to take PTO in order to participate in continuing education courses and my employer may not reimburse the cost of the courses.

  3. LSP

    #5

    My internal transfer took over two months and my initial hiring just over 3. So normal, at least in my field. Apply! Good luck!

    Also, if you are a student that needs to complete X amount of hours for an internship I would hope an most employers would be understanding if you still had 4 weeks left of your internship to go (this is me imagining you got a job offer two months from now).

  4. Polabear

    #4 – when I interviewed for my current job, the hiring manager asked for an additional managerial reference on top on the two peer references and one manager. A manager from a previous job wasn’t allowed to be as specific as they wanted, and they were worried I wouldn’t be a good cultural fit, based on my super keyed up interview. I had to hunt down my old bosses boss, who thankfully remembered me fondly and gave me a great reference. I have no idea what my references would have said if asked who else to talk to!

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

      For my previous position, I had a similar situation and the recruiter came back because they wanted more supervisors to “get a better picture” of my working style.

      It was awkward to explain that due to two deaths and a boss who lives off the grid in the wilds of Canada, I would have to go back to my first, professional job (which was 30 hrs a week while I was in grad school). I guess I felt I needed to demonstrate I wasn’t hiding anything!

      1. Cindy

        This isn’t the situation, though. The prospective employer isn’t coming back and saying “more references, please.” I’d be happy to provide that. However, said prospective employer is trying to talk with other people I work with who are NOT aware I’m applying for a job elsewhere. This is where the situation gets dicey.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Oh! It should be 100% totally off-base for them to talk with current coworkers without your permission. That IS an ethical violation because they could put your current job at risk.

        2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

          Wow. Even for my friend’s internal interview for security clearance, where they do ask for extended references, they did not try to speak to current coworkers!

    2. Commenter 08

      This is actually a recommended strategy for reference checking in Gavin De Becker’s “Gift of Fear”. Specifically, he advocates for better hiring techniques along with this method of reference checking to screen out candidates that may be inclined to workplace violence.

      I’m a little torn- while I personally want a safe workplace, it does seem like overkill for anyone who’s not in security/defense and I feel like simply asking the right questions of the references and asking the candidate for a few more references if things just aren’t checking out might be enough- beyond that, if you still don’t feel confident, it’s just not a good fit!! DeBecker does not address the ethical or professional boundaries of contacting a current employer/coworker- one would hope it goes without saying. Additionally, I can picture a number of Chatty Cattys in my life who know my coworkers and employer, and if called *especially* as an unlisted reference, might “let the cat out of the bag”. Probably depends on how small your field is in your city and how important an understanding of professional behavior is in your field (ex: mine, as a trend, tends to have pretty big misunderstandings about professional values).

  5. Engineer Girl

    #3 – Wow, your coworker is a Bully. That was totally inappropriate. Perhaps they or a friend had put their own application in? If so, they just shot their self in the foot with their unprofessional actions.
    If you do get the job you are going to have problems with that one. I’d suggest sitting them down the first day and let them know in very clear terms that you are now the lead and that type of behavior will stop. NOW. That kind needs a firm hand.

    1. bumblebee

      Op here, glad too hear it’s not just me thinking they were out of line. I’ve since had other colleagues approach me to let me know they think what she did was totally inappropriate and mean spirited. So I guess she came off looking worse either way. And you’re right, she’s definitely a challenge!

      1. No need to save face bumblebee

        Your co-worker is definitely a bully. You didn’t really go into your relationship with this person, but I notice you said not really discussing applying for the position because you want to save face, should you not be successful (having to explain it to everyone while also dealing with the disappointment, etc., no thanks). Your bully co-worker has probably picked up vibes about what makes you uncomfortable and used that. You can’t change your co-worker, but you can change how you react to this person. I would suggest acting like the person doesn’t matter. It take some time, however, I’ve found it works every time. Bullies don’t like to be ignored.

        1. TootsNYC

          “you can change how you react to this person. I would suggest acting like the person doesn’t matter. It take some time, however, I’ve found it works every time.”

          What i found about this tactic is that what changes is not the bully, but ME!
          I “fake it ’til I make it,” and eventually I truly don’t care about them or what they think. By play-acting it, I give myself practice, and it becomes my own emotional reality.

          1. Boop

            A casual response and topic change can help in these situations, too. I probably would have said something like “Oh, yes, I did. Do you have the teapot numbers for the report due today?” Or if it’s a shooting the breeze conversation “Yes; did you see the news about Teapot Company? They must be scrambling this morning.” Then the person has to respond to your question or look like an even bigger jerk.

      2. Ang

        My first reaction was that she wants the same job, and sees you as the likely threat since you’re already doing a lot of the work. The public outburst could have been her trying to remove you from competition, which has obviously backfired. It makes no sense to us why she would do that, but that can be how a bully thinks.

        Good luck with the application!

        1. Murphy

          That was my thought, too. She’s also applied and is trying to undermine the LW as competition. I’ve seen it done before (albeit in a way more subtle way) and it almost always backfires.

      3. One of the Sarahs

        Sounds like you came out of an awkward situation looking really good – go you!

      4. TootsNYC

        A couple of things you can take away from this:

        -she’s highlighted some possible weaknesses, and even if others don’t agree with her, she’s going to be spreading her “framing” around, so be ready to proactively address these in any interview

        -you know she’s going to be an absolute pill if you get the team-lead job. So be prepared for that, and be ready to be proactive and quick to respond when she balks at following your lead. It’ll be a challenge–but at least you know about it well in advance, and you can carefully plot -in advance- a course of action that will work in your best interests. You won’t have to figure out how to handle it on the fly, in the middle of the emotional reaction.

        And yeah, she really made herself look bad.

        You might also consider whether there’s anything in this specific interaction that you might want to address w/ the interviewers (in case they hear about it). And you should be prepared for the question, “If you get this assignment, how will you handle any current colleagues who might resent it?”

        1. bumblebee

          Hi toots, I think part of what got her so worked up (and she barked at me later in the day) was that I had considered the things that she brought up and had solutions to then. I’ve given a lot of thought to these things already and should I proceed in the hiring process I’ll make sure I’ve done my homework as you suggest :)

  6. Turanga Leela

    OP #2, I’d also push back—politely but hard—on your company’s policy of not paying for accommodations. (Are they paying for the travel to and from the other city?) In addition to Alison’s suggested language, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say, “It’s not possible for me to pay my own way to the conference. Can the company cover the cost of travel and a hotel?”

    1. Vicki

      “my boss says that the personal-professional line is grey for those who truly love their jobs.”

      OP – your boss is a loon.
      Even those who truly love their jobs, rarely live them*. That away time to do other things is what allows them to not start hating the job they once loved.

      * artists and such are likely different. I’m thinking of paid, salaried, corporate or similar.

      1. Chrissie

        This expectation of exploiting yourself is very prevalent in academia. I find that ironic because your “passion” is in no way reciprocated. Neither benefits nor pay is very excellent. And when your 2-year contract is up, the employer pushes you back into the shark-tank. I do enjoy the day-to-day work, but this perspective does not inspire me to devote my entire identity to the job!

        1. LW2

          Hello! I’m not in academia and in fact I’m paid quite well (huge salary jump from the old job) which makes me feel kind of guilty saying no to these requests….

            1. College Career Counselor

              BINGO. Is it possible the boss doesn’t want to do the work/spend his budget/go to his boss or HR to get this approved?

              1. LW2

                This is a really good point! I wonder if I should add PD to the agenda of our all-team meeting next week, that our boss’s boss also attends. I think she (the boss’s boss) might have a different opinion, but I don’t want boss to feel that I’m going over his head. Bringing it up as a “team topic” might also be a good opportunity for other employees to voice their disappointment.

                1. Meg Murry

                  Yes, I wondered if it really is company policy not to pay for accomodations and require you to use PTO, or if it is your boss’s policy – either because he sincerely believes you should be passionate enough to do it his way or because he doesn’t want to use his budget on it (or doesn’t want to expend the political capital to ask for the budget for it).

                  Are you friendly enough with anyone in another department that doesn’t work for your boss to ask if this is the policy for them too? Or is in a handbook somewhere?

          1. Turanga Leela

            Think of it this way: if they’re requiring you to pay for your own PD expenses, they’re basically cutting your pay. That’s not something to take lightly. If they can afford to pay for it, great; if not, you can do your PD online or close by. (And my guess is that they can pay for it. School districts often have a budget for this kind of thing.)

            The fact that your boss wants you to make up the time you spend at PD suggests that this isn’t just a budget thing and that she’s out of touch on what’s normal.

            1. LW2

              My previous job was private sector, and my boss says I’ve become accustomed to cushy treatment (my words, his sentiment) but that this is just how it is in education. Not sure how to respond other than “no, you’re wrong”

              1. TootsNYC

                At the very least, you shouldn’t be required to make up the time.

                My dad was a teacher, and I know he had to take classes now and then to keep his certification; they were in the summer, and I don’t know whether he paid for them himself.

                I’m wondering this:
                The IRS used to allow you to deduct some business expenses that were required by your employer but not reimbursed (uniforms, for example; or if your boss requires you to have a car, cellphone, etc.).
                Would this qualify? And if so, they’d need to provide documentation.
                But even in that situation, they should spring for the time off, minimum!

                And if you have to pay for it completely (time and money), then it should be your choice which events you attend.

                1. Turanga Leela

                  You’re still allowed to deduct this kind of unreimbursed business expense. I never do, though; I think you have to itemize to get the deduction, which is never worth it for me.

                  A lot of teachers pay for at least some of their own PD. It’s nice when districts will pay, but that’s not a universal thing. The weird part here is that the boss is pushing the out-of-town, five-day PD without offering to pay for it. Usually if you have to pay for your own conference, the boss doesn’t care which one you go to.

              2. Anna

                I work in a publically funded program and have to watch every penny and even we have it in our budget to pay for training and development for our staff. Your boss is an idiot.

            2. MissDisplaced

              Exactly. Feels like wage theft.
              Think of it this way:

              You can’t afford to take your personal family beach vacation this year, because you HAD to pay $1,000 to attend that required professional teapot conference in Detroit in February.

              1. Doriana Gray

                Or, you can’t afford to pay your actual bills or living expenses for a month because you had to shell out money to pay for this weeklong conference. Not everybody has disrectionary income to work with. Hell, I make pretty decent money, and I’d even struggle with this.

      2. Not me

        This is crazy.

        Even artists and people who turn their “passion” into their business – I know some – can’t do this. Because it is insane. You can love your job and mix it into your personal life all you want, but this isn’t that!

      3. Jadelyn

        Seriously – I love my job, and I love the organization I work for (a nonprofit with a mission that is very near and dear to my heart), and I love my team…but I still have a personal life that is separate from that. I’ll occasionally work longer hours or throw myself into something big when they need me to step up, sure – in fact, I was here until 9 last night (my usual clock out is 5) because we’re going through a huge payroll transition and needed all hands on deck – but that doesn’t mean the “personal-professional line is grey” in any way.

        Even if you do love your job, you don’t have to center your entire world around it. And let’s be real here, expecting everyone to love their job is absurd. As long as you’re *doing* the work you were hired to perform, you’re fulfilling the conditions of that business relationship, and love doesn’t have to figure into it at all.

    2. LisaLee

      Yup, it’s time to practice nicely saying no.

      “I can’t afford to attend that conference if the company isn’t paying for my accommodations.”

      “While I would love to attend the conference, I can’t commit to making up the five days.”

      “I’m not willing to use PTO for professional development. How can we work this out?”

      This is utterly ridiculous, and the not paying for accommodations might actually be illegal depending on your jurisdiction and whether this is a mandatory thing. I’d be really considering a job search.

  7. Tau

    #3 – if it helps, I really can’t imagine that the coworkers witnessing this were at all impressed by your bully’s behaviour. If someone did this to a coworker of mine, even if I agreed with the criticisms I’d be distinctly unhappy with the person who brought it up so rudely and have a lot of sympathy for the one targeted.

    #2 – wow, that policy is ridiculous and I am sorry. Your company here apparently wants to have its cake and eat it too: for you to attend those professional development events *they’re* interested in and that would be helpful for *them*, but for you to do it on your own time out of Love For Your Job. Not how it works. If my company wants me to go to Conference A and get Certification B, they’d better pay me. If they expect me to do professional development for free in my own time, they’d better not be surprised if I end up contributing to Open-Source project Z and learning Programming Language Iota instead, or that these two things are completely irrelevant to my job.

    1. bumblebee

      Thanks Tau (OP3 here)! That’s pretty much the feedback I’ve had from colleagues since. Makes me glad I didn’t sink to her level.

      1. Artemesia

        I have a tendency to bite back in situations like this and it is absolutely the wrong thing to do. So keep on keeping on with bland responses to this sort of thing. She obviously made herself look bad. Hope you get it and don’t envy you having to deal with her but do it early and do it hard.

        1. Doriana Gray

          I’m the same way, Artemesia, so I was really impressed with the OP’s restraint. She comes out smelling like a rose, and the coworker gets labeled a Bitter Becky by the rest of the office.

  8. Marzipan

    #1, you mentioned that your office is looking to eventually expand. Is there *any* chance that you could push for some of that expanding to happen soon? Say, to the extent of a part-time role (which your bereaved team member could transition into, leaving you free to hire an additional full-time employee)? That way, you wouldn’t be giving up a post that’s currently part of your team, and any new post added to the team wouldn’t be a case of hiring another person to compensate for the drop to part-time – because you were going to expand eventually anyway, and you’re just proceeding with that.

    1. OP#1

      I’ve tried for over two years. It’s the state, there have been budget cuts at the University and quite frankly our President has done everything he can to reduce and eliminate staff positions. There’s just too much red tape. It makes a great job very difficult at times.

      1. Marzipan

        It might be worth giving it another shove – sometimes with these things, it takes a year or two of asking to get the request seriously considered, so since you’ve already done that the groundwork is laid…

      2. Meredith

        I also work at a state university with budget cuts. I totally sympathize with your situation. We had one a few years ago where an admin went through a serious health crisis. She went through her sick time and FMLA, eventually recovered to the point of being able to work again, but kind of stayed part time without approval. There were days where she just no-showed, and she wasn’t always responsive to email, and it just became untenable. She eventually transferred to another department, but the situation wasn’t managed well by her manager. It caused a lot of issues. I know it’s hard, but it’s good that you’re being proactive here.

        If your institution is where mine is in terms of eliminating a lot of lower level staff lines (sounds like that’s her classification), I assume there’s no way to transfer her to a PT role in another department? I know how slow large universities roll, so you might not have the time for that. I assume you need a ft staffer there by May, but if you have to fire her it may take longer than that. I’m so sorry, this situation sucks on so many levels. I feel for her and for you.

        1. MissDisplaced

          It’s unfortunate, because I think most sane managers and coworkers are sympathetic to personal situation. But only up to a point. Eventually, you need someone that who can be there to do the work full time.

          1. OP#1

            I feel like I’ve done everything I can to support a transition back to full time. I really appreciate everyone’s input. I couldn’t find anything on the internet that gave advice in a situation like this! Usually you go back to work or don’t. I can’t imagine refusing, making up my own hours, being vocal about using my time off strictly to socialize and refusing to quit!!

            1. animaniactoo

              You can do that. You just can’t expect (reasonably) that you’ll still have a job at the end of it.

            2. jhhj

              You have done everything you can. She doesn’t want to work full time, and you can’t force her. (Nor do you want to.)

  9. "Computer Science"

    #1, in your meeting with your employee, please stress any additional supports offered as benefits through your employer. Are EAP or other counselling services available to full-time employees? Ultimately, if she’s unwilling or unable to work within the parameters you require, it may be better for everyone if she were to find/get placed by HR into a different position. It’s not ideal, but grief never is.

    1. OP#1

      I’ve mentioned EAP for sure. What’s so disheartening is her belligerence about the whole thing. I hate that she could throw away the one constant she has due to her grief. She’s digging her heals in.

      1. Sunflower

        That’s really unfortunate. It sounds like the grief may be affecting her judgment.

      2. Not me

        I’m sorry you and she are dealing with this. I don’t have advice, as I’ve only seen this play out outside of work. At this point, she’s making her own choice, but you’ve really done so much to help her.

      3. anon for this

        We had a similar situation at my workplace in that the co-worker suffered the loss of a child (very unexpectedly) and was in denial for a long time about the impact that had on job performance. Suggestions about EAP fell on deaf ears and it took, no joke, our manager starting the performance review process to get the co-worker to take advantage of EAP.

        You may have to go that route; in my example, it seems to have helped and the PIP is over and performance has improved.

      4. jhhj

        To start, I think you have been very kind to her so far, and I think that transitioning her out of the job is now the kindest thing you can do.

        But try not to see what she is doing as belligerence or digging her heels in — she’s grieving, she isn’t coping well, she isn’t herself — but I am sure she is doing the best she can. It isn’t about you or the job at all. She isn’t throwing the job away, she just isn’t able to do it anymore. Try to be sympathetic to this while still being clear that this means she will lose her job, because if you think she’s doing this for anything but understandable reasons, it will come out when you talk to her.

          1. jhhj

            Who knows. I think that she needs to be transitioned out of the job (especially given the OP’s updates!), but I don’t think what was done until now was over-the-top enabling.

      5. Security SemiPro

        I know in my office that an advocate can fill out the FMLA paperwork and do the disability filing and working with HR, it doesn’t have to be the person who is unwell. The advocate can’t be someone who also works for the same company. It might help your employee if she has a friend with an HR or legal background (or even is just really carfeul with paperwork) who can do a bunch of this for her?

      6. Lauren

        And I have to ask how this is affecting you and the other employee. At some point–and I think you are way beyond reasonable at this point; I am actually astounded at the generosity shown her–a hard line has to come down. It’s unfair to everyone else, and continuing this possibly means resentment on the part of others accommodating her to an unreasonable point.

        1. OP#1

          I’m exempt and exhausted from doing near-double duty (for no extra compensation). My other employee had expressed that she feels this employee is taking advantage. I feel like my office is falling apart, quite honestly.

          1. Editor

            OP, if you are near central Pennsylvania, confirm here and I will send Alison information about a small network of grief support groups for spouses w no have lost partners to sudden, unexpected death.

            Unfortunately, even a good support group probably won’t solve this problem by May. If this was an interpersonal problem, I’d advise bringing in another family member or a member of the clergy to help intervene, but I can’t see that as appropriate in the workplace.

            I hope using some of the language suggested here will help her decide to resign instead of being fired. Having seen this problem from different perspectives (as the employee whose performance is affected by grief and as a member of a support group), I would say that you seem to be doing the best you can, and that the consequences of her situation are not your fault in any way.

            You can’t be expected to escort her to someone who can treat her depression and stand ove her to make her take meds if they are prescribed. If she won’t use EAP or apply for FMLA, I think you’ll have to do what you can to fill the position with someone who will do the work. This is a mess, and it isn’t your fault.

            I wish I could talk to her or that she could come to one of the meetings I still attend.

    2. fposte

      If it’s like my university, there’s no method for behind-the-scenes reassignment on non-civil service staff; termination is the likelier result. She’s kind of angling for job suicide by manager.

      1. Ann

        Yeah, I wonder if that’s what she’s actually going for here. Not necessarily in a conscious way, even; she just might be tired of discussing this and trying to make the situation work and subconsciously hoping that the manager just takes care of the issue for her.

  10. newreader

    OP# 1: It sounds like you have considered the various options and been patient and understanding as long as you could. You shouldn’t feel guilty for looking out for the best interests of your department and the other staff both in your office and other offices.

    I work in higher ed and have seen many situations where jobs are restructured or tailored (schedule or duties) to meet the wants of the employee. It is considered family friendly or compassionate to bend over backward and let the employees call the shots, regardless of the needs of the department or institution. In most of the cases I’m aware of, these usually negatively impact the remaining staff by adding to their workloads or decreasing the service students receive.

    There are ways to be compassionate to a person’s grief or whatever personal situation they are encountering while still ensuring you’re doing your job by running your office efficiently and effectively.

    1. Shami

      How about the option of early retirement?

      You mentioned that she’s about 5 years from retirement. If the retirement age is 65, perhaps she can retire now at 60 (assuming that’s her age).

      This would be the most gentle solution, compared to firing (worst) or being forced to resign (not much better).

        1. OP#1

          She’s too young. She’s not eligible for at least 3 years. She started working much later in life.

      1. Persephone Mulberry

        I almost wonder if this is what the employee is hoping will happen.

        I am not trying to cast shade on the grieving employee – I haven’t ever lost a close family member and I can’t even conceive of what she must be feeling. But the fact that she is willing to work part time but not full time seems…odd. OP, have you explored, empathetivally but still directly, why she wants this?

        1. Amadeo

          Same feeling with the part time seeming odd. I know we all cope differently but I’d probably end up at work more than I needed to be just to get away from an empty house or familiar things associated with the family member. I actually fled the house for a few hours after I euthanized my dog.

          OP, I hope you can come to some resolution with this employee without firing, but it sounds like it my take something that seems callous, like a write up, to shake her loose. I wish you luck!

          1. Tris Prior

            I wonder if part of it is because closing out her husband’s estate is complicated for some reason and is taking a lot of her time?

            When my father died, I was horrified at how much red tape was involved with wrapping up his various accounts – all phone calls that had to be made during business hours, then more phone calls to correct errors when the companies did not handle things correctly on the first try. My mother dealt with most of that, as she is retired and I had to go back to work after my 3 days of bereavement – but it was a full time job for her. And his estate was fairly simple. I have no idea what I am going to do when my mom passes and I have to close out her affairs, as taking off that amount of time will not be feasible for me, plus I’d also have to unload her house….

            Anyway, I might be way off base but this is the first thing that popped into my head, other than that she might not be emotionally able to focus on work full-time right now.

          2. Editor

            I don’t think wanting to work part time is odd at all. What we see in the grief group I’m in for sudden loss of a spouse is that what I’d call the “fog of grief” can lead to a wide range of problems that feed on each other, including lack of sleep, poor eating habits, emotional stasis or paralysis, withdrawal from others, total aimlessness that isn’t suicidal but reflects a lack of will to live or engage in daily life, repeated shocks as new losses become evident (realizing that the house may need to be sold or that the in-laws drop away or that the 40th anniversary party or spouse’s upcoming birthday party won’t happen…), worsening of chronic health problems, and more.

            My personal observation has been that widows who were not particularly independent have more persistent and bitter grief than others, and often can be overwhelmed by details that their spouses always handled, from writing out checks and gassing the car to dealing with furnace problems.

        2. MissDisplaced

          Could be. She’s hoping for the layoff (and unemployment benefits) and then to retirement.
          It might be easiest and kindest to cut her now, don’t fight the unemployment and hire someone who can actually work the hours the job requires.

    2. fposte

      It’s certainly worth considering. For most people, the problem is that their retirement benefits are going to be significantly less if you take them early (if she’s on a pension, it’s a huge difference), but as noted downstream she may have an insurance payout that makes this more possible.

  11. Kate

    About #2: If your workplace requires you to attend these conferences and workshops, all the time you spend there counts as work time. Additionally, they shouldn’t create financial hardship for you to attends these events, especially if they want you to go there! They should cover the expenses up to a reasonable amount.
    They’re being unreasonable and it looks to me as if they’re trying to take advantage of you (& your colleagues) by making such “rules”. The company is being unreasonable!

  12. Erica

    OP #2: I strongly agree with Alison’s suggestion that you enlist a group of other coworkers to help you push back on this policy. My previous company adopted a really terrible policy regarding our health benefits, which they presumably thought they could get away with because unions are dead, etc. but enough people got together informally to make them aware that the policy would make them an unattractive employer and they actually changed it. They didn’t change it during the next open enrollment, they didn’t “consider” it, they changed it immediately.

    Now that may have worked better for us because the policy was new and we were already used to a higher standard, but even if your boss’ rule has been around for a while I’m sure it wont be hard to find others who think it’s totally nuts.

    1. MK

      Pushing back en masse against a policy is always a good idea (the company can’t pretend it’s one sole employee who doesn’t “love” their job enough); That being said, I do agree that it’s much easier to push back against new policies than actively change the way things have been done since forever.

    2. Misty

      What does “pushing back as a group” look like in practice (like, logistically) if there isn’t a formal structure like a union in place to facilitate it? Do you compose a letter and have everyone sign it? Do you schedule a meeting with the boss where the whole group is physically in the office with him at the same time? Do you send a representative and trust that the boss will believe her when she says “everyone agrees with me on this”?

      I like the idea of collective action and want to make sure I understand what to do should it ever come up.

      1. Erica

        In my company’s case, it started with three people who had discussed it outside of work and actively enlisted others (including me) to help them present their case. To avoid company email servers, most people were reached out to via Skype or other private messaging channels, or were just spoken to during lunch. We didn’t actually push back “together” but a number of people (maybe fifteen or so?) committed to sending detailed notes to HR explaining why the policy was detrimental to them personally and the company as a whole. For all I know it appeared to HR that each person’s email was written on their own initiative, but after they received enough of them it certainly drove the point home.

        If your workplace is huge (i.e. not everyone knows each other), this may not work very well and maybe some sort of signed letter would be more effective, but I have no experience with that. For me, the important thing about complaining is protecting coworkers who may be more vulnerable to getting fired in case of an overreaction, so having some people, who are more senior or just have more clout with management, volunteer to put their names out there turned out to be a good idea in our case.

      2. TootsNYC

        Each person will need to speak clearly with their own voice.

        Another way is for several of them to go to HR or the boss; even if only one person does most of the talking, they need to all be there.
        And anyone else who agrees, can send an email or a note expressing their own opinion.

  13. Eric

    #3 it will be a tough situation if you do get this position and now are in charge of this person. I hope you get it but if you do this specific situation needs to be addressed at the start or else they could turn into one of those employees who does everything to undermine you all the time thinking it makes them look good causing serious problems with the team as a whole.

    1. bumblebee

      Absolutely Eric, she’s a difficult employee full stop so would be a challenge either way. I have a pretty good relationship with HR so I’m fairly confident I’d be well supported to deal with this person. Mostly I was frustrated that it felt like she was trying to sabotage me. Since the incident I’ve had several colleagues approach me how ever and express how disgusted they were with what she did, and express that they support me, which has been a silver lining.

        1. bumblebee

          Yes we have pretty good ‘house rules’ around this kind of stuff and as long as I would be willing to see it through it could be dealt with. Our employment laws make it hard to just for anyone though (not in the US).

  14. Katie the Fed

    #1 – I don’t think she’s “refusing to help herself.” It sounds like this is the way she’s choosing to help herself, and you guys are obviously going to differ on that. Her priorities may have changed, she may have life insurance money that’s changing her financial situation, etc. This is what she wants. I get that it’s not something you can do though.

    Alison’s approach is a good one. You don’t need to fire her necessarily – just work out a departure timeline.

  15. doreen

    #1 – Alison, what do you mean by “another way” without going the unauthorized absences/firing route ? Ultimately , the only ways for the employee to leave are voluntarily (which she isn’t willing to do ) or involuntarily (which in a government job is almost certainly going to have to go the unauthorized absences route) .

    1. Nobody

      I’m not sure if this is what Alison meant, but maybe there is a part-time role in another department for which she’s qualified, and HR could help with a transfer?

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Could be a transfer if there’s a part-time role that makes sense somewhere else, or could just be a different category of termination than absenteeism, or something else available at that organization that I don’t know about. It depends on what they’re willing to do. If I were in charge there, I’d call it a mutual separation for health reasons, but I don’t know they’re willing to do that.

  16. Mookie

    I’ve expressed that work-life balance is important to me, but my boss says that the personal-professional line is grey for those who truly love their jobs.

    Honestly, this is the (un)logic of an emotional abuser: the larger and more exhaustive the burden, inconvenience, and disruption you shoulder in the name of “love,” the more robust and special that love is; without pain, there is no gain. It also belies the fact that working hard looks different for different people, that no two people can accomplish individual tasks well at the same pace, and that there’s real value to having staff who can pull all-nighters when they need to as well as those who are best at performing in short bursts at breakneck speed with very little error. The obvious rejoinder to this Glengarry Glen Ross nonsense is that spreading yourself thin in order to enrich a company at your own expense (because they’ll also be the beneficiaries of anything you learn and of any skills you develop) and to the detriment of your colleagues (who will invariably be affected by this policy, as well) produces no net gain for anyone. These are bad, unprofessional, short-sighted priorities for any manager worth her salt, because as Alison says she’s only going to alienate her most ambitious and promising employees and inspire them to look to competitors for another job to “love.”

    Managers should be well-advised that “love” or a passionate interest in an industry is a separate and distinct thing from having affection for whatever position they’re currently employed at. If employees generally like what they’re doing enough that they want to get better at it and you make it difficult for them to, y’know, do that and do their job and then berate them for being selfish because they need downtime, you’re (a) failing this industry you yourself claim to “love” and (b) inevitably going to lose good staff who’ll take their own “love” and use it elsewhere.

    1. Allison

      Right, it reminds me of how manipulative people will use the line “if you really loved me, you would ____” to get someone to do something. “If you really loved this job, you’d be willing to volunteer your time.”

    2. Jennifer M.

      I don’t love my job. I care about our industry and the mission of the company. I am excellent at my job. I work well with my team. My department is considered support because of our billing structure and I support the heck out of the technical teams – I’m a go to person on a handful of specific and complex issues. But I don’t love my job. I love that is provides me with compensation to save for and do the things that I love – visit family, travel the world, plan for retirement, etc. I work to live, I do not live to work.

  17. Countess Boochie Flagrante

    #3 – I feel like this is a “Well bless your li’l heart” moment. What a hideously rude display!

    1. bumblebee

      Absolutely Countess, and as I’ve said she seems to have come out of the situation looking far worse as far as colleagues have been concerned.

  18. CADMonkey007

    #1 I don’t understand how an employee can just “refuse” to work full time. Does she just expect OP to accommodate? I suppose she is grieving, but it sounds like OP needs to sit down with her and tell her straight up what he can and cannot do at this point. I also agree with other comments about early retirement. That might be a dignified way to let her go, perhaps she can find part time work elsewhere is she needs to keep working in some capacity.

    1. Sunflower

      OP 1- Yes I would love to hear how she is refusing! Does she think she can just work X hours and be paid for those hours and that will be that? I’m very curious to know how she responds to your ‘sorry that just isn’t possible’ responses.

      1. OP#1

        Employee: “Write me up on the days I don’t show up. I absolutely cannot expect to work full time now that I have an entire household to run.”

        Me: “I empathize with your situation and understand how difficult this is. Typically the university doesn’t offer more than a 5 day leave, but I’ve worked with you as much as possible to give you the time you need to get your affairs in order and would have no problem allowing you to request certain days off after you return to part time. However, we are unable to accommodate a set number of days off per week. We have other employee vacations previously approved, and this is our peak season. My position requires that I take the entire department’s needs into account, including yours, and come up with the best solution for everyone.”

        Employee: Eye roll. “It just isn’t possible for me to return full time. Other people’s vacation has nothing to do with me and isn’t my problem. I’m not coming back to work to answer phones and file papers, that isn’t important to me anymore.”

        Me: “Think about this over the weekend. I cannot extend you leave past May 1. This gives you 6 more weeks of part time schedule utilizing your accruals. ” Then I sent her an email in writing reiterating my expectations.

          1. Meg Murry

            Yes, this sounds like it’s unfortunately true.

            How many unexcused absences does it take to be fired at your place? I imagine a lot since it’s government? I wonder if she has calculated out exactly how long she can stretch this out, and if it isn’t a case of “if I can just get them to keep me until my 62nd birthday in September, then I’ll be eligible for early retirement and I can quit the day before I hit the last call-off to tip me over into being fired”.

            1. Doreen

              It’s unlikely to be the pension – for every pension I know of ,once you are vested you will be able to collect once you reach retirement age. For example, I can collect my pension at 55. If I resign today at 52, I can still collect at 55. There’s got to be some other reason – maybe she needs a partial paycheck to supplement a life insurance payout, maybe she needs to keep employer subsidized health insurance.

              1. Judy

                But many pensions have different rates for “retiring from service” and “retiring out of service”. One of mine has been cashed out into an IRA, but another was frozen more than 6 years before I left that job. It was very clear that someone who ended their employment before the eligible age of retirement was going to get 15% less than someone who retired while still being employed there, even though the values were frozen years before.

            2. OP#1

              It could take years to fire even the worst employee. I’ve gone this route previously and they eventually quit before getting terminated.

                1. OP#1

                  3 unexcused absences in 3 months or 9 in 9 months are informal grounds for going on “document restriction” where you need drs absences to be paid for any unscheduled sick time. But from there it’s multiple write-ups with appeals allowed, hearings, arbitrations. Not that I won’t go through the process if needed (I’ve been there before). I actually tired out the last employee, she got sick of the good fight and quit with no notice.

                2. Meg Murry

                  If it really could take years, than my theory that she is just trying to ride it out until she is eligible for retirement might not be totally off base. Does she have buddies in the union hierarchy who she thinks will go to bat for her?

                  Talk to HR. Document everything. When she eye rolls at you, that’s insubordination. Etc.

                1. TootsNYC

                  One advantage of getting the process going is that it might improve your own morale, and maybe your other employees’ (if they’re allowed to have some idea that you’re writing her up and moving toward a solution)

                  And if she knows it will take this long to fire her, than I actually agree w/ your employee–that she’s taking advantage of the situation.

              1. Kelly

                I also work for a public university that no longer has unions. Last July, we finally got our first set of the post union employment guidelines. One change is that it takes much less time to fire someone. One person was let go last month and it still took almost 6 months for that to happen. It wasn’t stated outright that she was fired, but the terse and concise email from the HR person, including her last date being much less than the standard month long notice and no details about her future plans. The woman was gone the day the email was sent out. She had been out on longer extended leaves for much of the past 6 months and others had been handling her work in HR. I thought it was odd that the main HR person was the one doing our training for how to enter our timesheets online, not the recently let go person. It also had been taking longer to get our student workers information entered and uploaded, so they could start working.

                Internal transfers ended last July and in the past, they would have given her the option to take a transfer in a different office and department. I still think that we are stuck with a number of low and poor performers because of the tendency to transfer them around rather than terminate them.

        1. Gandalf the Nude

          Eye roll??? Has nothing to do with her?? As an employee in your department, it absolutely does have to do with her. It has to do with her up until she’s a former employee in your department. OP, I understand she’s grieving, but even so, that’s not someone who respects or appreciates the accommodations you’ve already made and certainly hasn’t earned any further. Fire her for absenteeism when the time comes and don’t feel any guilt about it.

          1. OP#1

            I know, I couldn’t believe it. I would never speak to my boss that way. Especially while trying to negotiate something. And my other employee heard her, she was so loud about it. Doesn’t do great things for morale or the team, for sure.

          2. Amadeo

            Basically. My levels of sympathy dissolved to almost nothing after reading this. I still have a little bit for her, but given this comment and one previous one where you stated she was already having issues before her husband passed and you were about to address them it sounds like the job wasn’t a ‘priority’ for her to start with.

            Feel no guilt.

        2. TootsNYC

          “Then it sounds like you are quitting–yes?”

          Or, take her at her word, and simply start writing her up. She doesn’t take you seriously, and why should she?

          1. TootsNYC

            Maybe one of the points you could make to pressure her into resigning is this:
            “Right now, if you resign, we will be able to give you a good reference, should you want to seek part-time work somewhere else. But if we have to go down the route of filing a PIP, and firing you for unauthorized absences, none of us will be able to give you a decent reference. It might be worth it to simply wrap this up voluntarily on your end.”

        3. Ineloquent

          Yeah, what a rough place to be in. But you have to be fair to your other employees and let this lady go (as gently as you can). Meet with her on Monday to work out a transition plan, have her start documenting her work practices, etc. in preparation for her last day, April 30, if that’s something you’re able to do.

        4. Lauren

          Prepare to fire her. Sympathy and understanding are no longer helpful. She needs a reality check about the workplace.

        5. Rusty Shackelford

          Employee: “Write me up on the days I don’t show up. I absolutely cannot expect to work full time now that I have an entire household to run.”

          (Immediately loses any sympathy she had for this person.)

          Yep. Write her up. Don’t think of it as something you’re doing to her. Think of it as something you’re doing for your other employee, who deserves to be protected from the crazy as much as possible.

          1. TootsNYC

            She’s choosing it, so have no qualms.

            She wants to work part time now, and this job is the one she’s got, and she’s able to make it part time. She knows the consequences.

            I’d say, actually, that you’ve been way TOO accommodating, and she sees that as weakness.
            I’ve lost all sympathy for her.

          1. OP#1

            Oh, she has seen me in action with another problem employee last year. I think she just doesn’t care. She has an entitlement thing going on. Many households are run by single folks, for that I do not feel bad for her. And most single folks work full time.

        6. newlyhr

          #1 This person has basically told you that she isn’t willing to do her job anymore. She is putting the monkey on your back and you are letting her make her problem your problem.

    2. Christian Troy

      I agree with you. No offense to the LW, it sounds like this has been going on far too long at this point. I am really sorry for her situation and people grieve differently, but it’s time to put some deadlines out there and stick to them. If she can’t comply by x date, then you’ll move forward with next steps to replace her.

  19. Nobody

    #4 – This is pretty common for security clearance background checks; they call it “developed references.” It sucks! I feel like it puts my references on the spot and I think it’s unfair to expect them to come up with more references. I also think it’s unfair to the developed references because I don’t have a chance to ask them if they would be willing to give a reference, and it puts the original references in an awkward position because they’re being asked to give out people’s contact information without asking.

    That said, it’s just the way some places do business, and there’s not much you can do about it if you want the job. In my industry, you can’t get a security clearance without going through this developed reference process.

    1. Cindy

      My problem with this is the confidential search. If the search is confidential, shouldn’t the prospective employer tell the candidate that they will be going “off list” and reaching out to others they think might be able to “seal the deal?”

      If the wrong person is called, this person could end up losing their current job.

  20. I'm a Little Teapot

    Is #1 expecting to work part-time for full-time pay? I’m curious. I know she’s currently taking vacation and personal time to make up the difference, but sooner or later she’s going to run out.

  21. the_scientist

    Now that I’ve picked my jaw up off the floor regarding LW2, I wanted to comment on it, but I just can’t think of the words. This is so utterly, terribly insane for most professional fields. Academia is a bit different, obviously, but assuming you’re not an academic, this is completely unreasonable. I actually just can’t with how nonsensical it is.

  22. Temperance

    LW1 – I think you need to spell this out for her, in those terms. Your remaining staff can’t pick up her slack forever. 5 months is more than generous.

    1. Meg Murry

      Yes, I wonder if the issue is that you’ve “mentioned” things like the EAP, but have you straight up sat her down and said “This is what will happen if you don’t come back full time in May when you run out of PTO. After X unexcused absences, you’ll go on a PIP. After Y unexcused absences, you’ll be let go. I don’t want to have to let you go, but right now you are leaving me with no choice. What else can we do?” and then also be prepared to say “No, that isn’t an option” if her answer is “You can officially make my position part time.”

      Is there a chance that she is using the time she isn’t working to see a counselor or go to a grief group, etc and she isn’t comfortable discussing that with you, her boss? Or she’s working less than a full day because that’s how long her medication lasts? Could you talk to HR and see if it would make sense for a neutral third party to talk this over with her, and maybe that person could make her see the sense in talking to a counselor to get FMLA approval for mental health? Does HR offer any other type of “leave of absence/sabbatical” option that you could offer her, where you would be able to hire a temp in the meantime while she is out?

      Is it possible that she’s too depressed to really help herself? Can you call the EAP yourself and get a list of counselors and hand that to her? Or does the university have a counseling center she can make use of?

      How is her work when she is in the office? Is she getting things done when she is there, or is she physically showing up but not getting much done? If she’s “on” when she’s there and doing good work, I think the idea to help her find a part-time opening in another department is a good one – but if not, I can’t support the idea of pawning off a bad to mediocre employee on another department.

      1. Meredith

        Ah, that’s a great point in your last paragraph. If she’s not doing her work when she’s putting in her hours, it’s not fair to a new department to need to take on an unproductive employee.

      2. Rusty Shackelford

        Is she calling in and saying she won’t be at work, or is she just not showing up/leaving early? Back when I worked at a university, three no-shows in a row was considered “abandoning your position,” and it meant you were considered to have resigned.

      3. OP#1

        She’s getting things done at a mediocre or less than level. She’ll call out, even on the few scheduled day, or have a “doctors appointment” on the morning of a scheduled day. I’ve told her to rearrange her scheduled days instead of taking additional time. She has not complied.

        There are no part time positions in her union at this time. So that is not an option.

        I can’t hire a temp unless she is out on an official leave. And temps can’t do a lot of her job responsibilities (distribute paychecks, work on our student database), so that wouldn’t really lessen mine and the other staff member’s workload.

  23. A Non E. Mouse

    OP#1 – if she’s refusing, it might be for a purpose: what would unemployment pay her, and for how long? The kindest solution might be letting her go, not fighting unemployment when she files for it, and hiring someone else.

    If you can have a candid conversation with her, it might lead to that as the “best” solution all around.

  24. RVA Cat

    What stuck out to me with OP #1 is that the bereaved employee was set to retire in 5 years. Could they maybe work it out as an early retirement? If not, and she still wants to work part-time, could she move to another position within your organization or even another agency?

  25. Episkey

    OP 1, I’ve been witness to a situation similar. I was not the director of our department, which was a small one in our state government — about 6 full-time employees. The accountant was an older lady and was severely injured in a car accident (of which was her fault). She was out on FMLA for some time recovering, but then wanted to only come back part-time — our director felt she wanted to keep her medical insurance but didn’t really want to work.

    Unfortunately, she was fazed out of the position and another person was hired. There was no way around it — the position could not be PT and we would not have been able to hire another PT person to help with the duties.

    1. MissDisplaced

      Yes. Unfortunate. In the private sector you could probably just hire another part time person and/or move the person to another function so they could finish up part time and retire. I’ve seen that situation work out well for all, and new person gets a long training period (in one case it was part time soon to retire person + part time new mum = win/win for both).
      But with some jobs the part time thing is simply not an option and the person needs to be cut loose if they refuse to work the job/agreement they were hired to do.

  26. Tuckerman

    OP 5: As someone who hires/supervises interns, I expect that they’ll leave before the end of their internship. I plan for it. The point of an internship is to gain enough experience to get a permanent job. As their supervisor, I don’t consider my role complete until they get hired.

  27. Part-Time Doesn't Always Work

    OP#1….What is the employee’s work quality like? Is her work up to par?

    If her work is good quality, then I do wonder if perhaps the employee found out that she liked working only part-time and is using her circumstances to push for something that she knows otherwise would not be an option. I know it’s cynical to think that way, but as she has declined the use of FMLA and hasn’t shared that she is struggling then I tend to think there is the possibility she is using the situation to her advantage.

    The reality is you have a full-time position, not a part-time position. If she wants to work full-time you’ve got a job for her, if she wants to work part-time you don’t have a position for her.

      1. Part-Time Doesn't Always Work

        That doesn’t shock me. It sounds to me that she’s using her situation as a way to manipulate others into getting what she wants (especially given how she reacted to you). My sympathy would be limited. You’ve done far more for her than many bosses would. She’s taking advantage.

  28. Ruthie

    OP #5, as the intern coordinator for my current office and previously for a competitive Senate office, I would encourage you to do what is right for you, not your unpaid employer. I can’t imagine any reasonable employer questioning why you would take a paid, full-time job. And employees leave organizations all the time, so they will be able to handle a temporary hire leaving early. I think you should tell potential employers that you would be available immediately if necessary. But also be prepared for the application process to take several weeks or months. It’s very possible that jobs you apply to today have a start date a couple of months away.

  29. wellywell

    #2″: “my boss says that the personal-professional line is grey for those who truly love their jobs”

    No. No it isn’t. No.

    1. Mephyle

      It’s not only that, but that even if there were a grey line, asking an employee to both pay for required PD and do it on their own time is over the grey line into the black hole of exploitation.

  30. Rocky

    OP #2, I left a job that I otherwise loved because of a similar situation. Mine wasn’t quite as egregious as yours, though. I was expected to go to national-level conferences a couple times a year, but do it on my own dime. For five years, a big chunk of my vacation budget went to attending conferences. I was at least given the time off, but our director made it sound like that was a special favor she was doing for me. This organization (it’s academia) has a constant revolving door of extremely smart early-career professionals who only stick around for a few years before realizing it’s a dead end. As far as I could tell, the upper management thought that was perfectly fine, so this wasn’t going to change. When I was offered a job elsewhere, the very generous PD allowance it included was really the deciding factor.

  31. Lizard

    we had someone in my office whose husband died after a prolonged and awful illness and who basically just stopped doing a major part of her work. She’s a really sweet person and very good with people, but had never been efficient even before that, and she ended up with a giant backlog that was causing our department significant financial and regulatory issues. We tried everything we could think of–cutting back other responsibilities so she could focus on that stuff, suggesting she use the EAP, etc. I think her depression and anxiety was such that she just could not do any of that. We finally had to let her go (or actually “retire in lieu of termination”) and it remains really painful for me as a manager to think about whether there were other things I could have done (not “should have done”–we had really bent over backward to try to accommodate her). But we did tell HR that she was rehirable and she was eventually rehired into a different job that I think is probably better suited to her.

    1. OP#1

      Thanks for this. As a manager, I know what I have to do (even more so after all AAM commenters’ advice), but that doesn’t make me feel good about it. The last thing I need is to have the other employee leave as a result of this, and leave me with an employee half-way out the door.

  32. Slippy

    #2 – This is uncommon but not unusual especially for contractors/contracting companies. It certainly doesn’t make it right but there are plenty of places that require all personal development/training be done on your own time. If it is (and has to be) a conference see if you can just stream the presentations to your computer at work so you can go to work and “attend” training at the same time.

    1. neverjaunty

      You are comparing apples and oranges. OP #2 isn’t a contractor – she’s an employee whose boss expects her to do training/PD, and to use her personal time/PTO to do it, and who gaslights her about ‘passion’ if she then declines to do so.

  33. Chriama

    OP, I think maybe she wants to be fired and collect some unemployment. Would you be able to work out an arrangement with her where she leaves as soon as possible but the rest of her leave is paid out? Bottom line is that she knows she isn’t performing well and has explicitly told you that she doesn’t plan to improve. Now start discussing transitions with her. She can voluntarily resign (hopefully with a bit of a payout to cushion the blow) or she can be written up for every unexcused absence (including calling out for doctor’s appointments, being late for work, etc) until she’s fired. You’ve done all you can do to let her keep her job but it’s obvious she doesn’t want it. Now’s the time to focus on making the transition as smooth as possible for the rest of your staff.

    1. OP#1

      Much of these decisions are made by Labor Relations and HR and set in stone. This is going to be a long, tired road for everyone.

        1. OP#1

          Yes, you can. And thanks. :(

          And I wanted to also say, the whole department knew her husband from work-related family functions, and (myself included) are/was very close with this employee, and were absolutely devastated by her loss. I worked hard to cover all her work during her absence to alleviate any stress, took up a very generous collection to help cover his final expenses and rallied everyone up to attend the wake and memorial services.

          I am disappointed that things are turning out this way.

  34. Antti

    On #5, what would you say for someone looking to leave a position, say, after 9 months from now at the earliest? For context, this isn’t a position with a set end date either; I’m trying to stay to get at least another year’s experience, and I’m only looking to leave because I’m wanting to move to a different state.

  35. newlyhr

    #1 it’s an unfortunate situation, but the bottom is that this employee is unable or unwilling to return to her job–which by definition is full time—or to apply for FMLA leave that would protect her job. Given that, I think the OP has no choice but to deal with this as a performance issue. I think the organization has been more than accommodating.

  36. Claudia

    OP #1 – I just went through something similar. I was out of work from December 23rd until February 1st. Then I worked half days/half weeks until March 7th, which is when I started back full time.

    I exhausted all of my time, and FMLA. Working for the State of CA we also had Catastrophic Leave in which fellow workers (agency of 9000 people) could donate their time to you.

    I even took dock time 3 times.

    What I’m saying is this – grieving NEVER stops. It gets easier to deal with, but it never really gets easier. At some point she has to TRY to come back. If she starts off with the goal for full days, but has to leave early at first, or now and then, it seems reasonable to at least appreciate that she’s there.

    However, if the employee does not want to bother trying to make things better for themselves, you may need to push harder. If they flat out refuse, even after you have provided all the resources to them, then your only option is some kind of punishment.

    I hate to say that, because I still struggle daily just to function at my normal job. But if you don’t at least try to go back, it really never gets better. I really feel for the employee and really, really hope they’re getting the counseling they need.

  37. OP#1

    Thanks for this from the employee perspective. I think her being home any longer is doing more damage than good. Things will never be the same for her, but if she wants the job, she has to get back on the horse.

    1. Editor

      OP, maybe you can shock some sense into her by going over some financials with her. (I know — this is not your job. But since you all knew her husband and she’s not coping well at all, perhaps this will be something that you can do to feel you’ve done all you can.)

      If you could get some information on her retirement, you could lay out what she’s presently earning, what she would get in retirement if she worked diligently until retirement, and what she would get (or not get) if you had to terminate her with cause. You might also lay out on a worksheet the most she could expect from unemployment, the number of weeks of benefits, and what she’d have to do to receive it — because if she has to meet a certain number of job applications or a weekly check-in requirement, she might not even be able to cope with that, and her total cost for COBRA health insurance after a termination. Also, see if you can find a price for health insurance through the ACA if she’d have to pay for that herself once her COBRA benefits end.

      You could also call the Social Security office and see when she’d be eligible for widow’s benefits. They won’t tell you how much they are, but she needs to understand that the amount Social Security will give her based on her husband’s earnings will be prorated based on his age at death (because he is not going to continue to contribute) plus a proration based on the age she claims benefits — the earlier she claims, the lower the payments.

      If he has pensions, they will be prorated in similar ways. There may be age limits to when they can be claimed.

      If there is insurance money or 401(k) money, she will need about $1 million to replace his earnings to live in a place like State College, PA, or Columbus, Ohio. She’ll need $2 to $5 million to live in more expensive areas. In addition, she may not be able to access 401(k) money until a certain age. The optimal amount of cold, hard cash she will need to live on without a job is, at minimum, $1 million plus enough cash to clear all debts including mortgages and so on. If the house is in poor shape (needs a roof or new kitchen) or if she needs a new vehicle in the near future but won’t have a job, add those costs into the amount of cash needed. If she isn’t good with money and she may make choices where she’s investing somewhere without fiduciary responsibilities, she may need additional cash to make up for the erosion in capital from excessive fees. Target-date retirement funds are probably the safest way for her to go if she’s not good with money, but she needs to get them from a reputable provider. Being a millionaire sounds exciting, but for an unemployed widow below retirement age, being a millionaire won’t even ensure that the widow can pay the property taxes every year, take an annual vacation in Florida (let alone a round-the-world cruise), and still have money when she’s 89 and living in a nursing home.

      Maybe going over the money issues will give her a compelling reason to get a handle on things. She is not going to stop grieving anytime soon, but she needs to find a way to either work or resign.

    2. TootsNYC

      I think you’ve been caretaking too much for her.
      And I think she sees it as weakness.

      So just stop worrying about her life, and stop trying to manage it for her.

      Manage your department, and the morale of your current, quality employees. Stop being nice, stop trying to accommodate her, stop being sympathetic.

      Be businesslike, and write her up for every, every infraction now.
      As you said above–your responsibility is “the whole department’s needs,” and “the whole department” is screaming at you to tackle this.

      Don’t call anybody for her to get information. She can do that herself–she is not your minor child.
      Don’t shock some sense into her–that is NOT your role here.
      Manage your department, and not her emotions, her mental health, etc.

  38. One of the Sarahs

    #2 – I think your boss is terrible – but if you’re being criticised for not doing any PD, could you make the case that you’re doing online PD, like reading articles useful to your field of work etc? I’m thinking this could help in the conversations, make it clear that you are absolutely committed to PD, BUT that you can’t afford the cash and time to do conferences/workshops, and neutralise the guilt trips/accusations.

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