interviewing when you only have one candidate for the job, retention bonuses, and more

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

1. Interviewing when you only have one candidate for the job

Remember the letter-writer in February wondering if should start job searching now or wait to hear if she got a promotion (#3 at the link)? Here’s an update and follow-up question.

Just a few days ago, I got the promotion I wrote in about. It took a long time for boring reasons I won’t get into, but your response and everyone’s comments were a great help in getting perspective throughout that period. I’m super excited, and of course overwhelmed, but it’s all good.

As I’d explained in the comments, I’m in a two-person department, so I’m now the manager instead of the staff person. My company has a strong promote-from-within culture, so we started the hiring process for my replacement with an internal-only posting, which has generated one applicant.

The good news is, it’s a great applicant. I haven’t worked closely with “Chris,” but I’ve interacted with them and their supervisor enough to know they are bright, personable, and a hard worker. Chris has the right degree and right amount of appropriate experience. From everything I know, I’d be happy to hire Chris, but I want to make sure I’m properly evaluating them, and not just rubber stamping. Any advice on handling this sort of only one candidate hiring/interview process?

Pretend to yourself that Chris isn’t the only candidate, and do the type of evaluation that you’d do if it were a competitive, multi-candidate process. Otherwise you run the risk of going in thinking “are there any deal-breakers here?” when you really want your framing to be “am I excited about hiring this person and do I think they will excel at the work?” Those are two different mental frameworks. Just looking for deal-breakers can lead you to hiring someone who ends up not excelling and just being kind of mediocre, which isn’t what you want.

Also, before you think about Chris at all, spend some time getting really clear on what the must-have skills and traits are for the role, so that you can then compare Chris against those things — and figure out exactly how you’ll assess for each item on your list (specific questions to her and/or her references, exercises, looking at past accomplishments and work samples, etc.). Otherwise, you can end up doing a mushier type of evaluation that isn’t really tightly tied into what you actually need. (This is true in normal hiring situations too, but it’s especially a danger when you’re only talking to one candidate.)

2. Do I need to keep writing thank-you’s to my boss, who loves to give gifts?

I was always taught growing up that it’s important to write thank-you notes when someone goes especially out of their way to help you or gives you a gift. My manager at my current job is a very gift-giving sort of guy. He travels internationally a lot and always brings back little trinkets for me and my coworker. He also gives us $30 gift cards at our birthdays and Christmas, and bought us both flowers last week for Administrative Appreciation week. When he first started here (about a year ago), I would write a little thank-you note for each gift, but now I’m wondering if it’s really necessary or even appropriate for me to be continually thanking him for this kind of stuff, or if it’s okay for me to just say “thank you” in the moment and call it good.

And a related question is, when I travel internationally (which I do occasionally), am I expected to bring back little souvenirs for my coworker and manager as well? I know your policy is that gift-giving goes down the chain, not up, but when I keep getting all these little gifts from my manager, it makes me wonder if I should be reciprocating.

Thank-you notes in this case are really kind and gracious, but it’s also okay to just say a sincere thank-you in the moment. In fact, that’s the formal etiquette rule — that if you open a gift in the presence of the gift giver, you can simply say thank-you on the spot, and a later thank-you note is optional. So you might stop doing them every time and perhaps save them only for particularly notable occasions — or, even better, pick a time each year to write him a note expressing your appreciation for him as a manager (if you can do that sincerely).

I am very sure that your manager isn’t doing all this in hopes that you’ll reciprocate; he sounds like he’s just doing it because he’s a nice person and probably enjoys it. So I don’t think you need to worry that you’re meant to be reciprocating. (That said, if you occasionally brought back some sort of regional food treat from a trip, it would be a nice gesture — but you shouldn’t feel you have to.)

3. Looking for a job when you’re on a performance improvement plan

Can I look for a job if I have been placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP)? Will I get a bad reference? Will they tell the company I’m applying at that I am on this and give a bad reference?

You can indeed look for a job while you’re on a PIP, and in fact you really have to — because as you probably know, a PIP is basically saying “we may let you go at the end of this process if we don’t see these changes.”

The good news is that it’s pretty common practice not to contact someone’s current employer for a reference. Most employers understand that doing so could jeopardize your current job, and it’s very normal to ask for your current employer not to be contacted. You may end up getting an offer that’s contingent on a reference from your current manager at that point — but depending on what the issues are that led to the PIP, your manager may be strongly inclined to help you make an easy transition to the new job by not giving you a reference that would stand in your way.

There’s more advice advice about being on a PIP here.

4. Do retention bonuses work?

I’m wondering what your view is on retention bonuses. I’ve just been offered $10,000 by my employer on condition I’ll stay for another 12 months, as I have been actively job searching and am quite unhappy in my job – I’m overworked, stressed, unsupported and beyond that the company is in a period of turmoil with staff leaving in droves. Do they actually work? I’m not driven by money so am not particularly tempted, especially as this equals compensation for only an extra 3.8 hours a week worked beyond my agreed hours!

They do often work! It’s particular common to see them in cases where a company is closing down or moving and wants to give people an incentive to stay on until the end, since otherwise they’d obviously be actively job searching.

I wouldn’t take $10,000 to spend another year miserable, unless you’re in truly dire financial straits where the money is essential to you. And keep in mind that it’ll be closer to $7,500 after taxes, and will break down to about $625 a month. That not nothing, but your price tag for misery might be a lot higher.

5. Can you be fired if you have a disability that prevents you from doing part of your job that wasn’t in the listed duties?

Totally off the wall hypothetical here, but there are two facts about workplace law where I’m curious about how they interact.

First, the fact that many jobs seem to have a list of specific duties and responsibilities, but also round it out with the line, “and other duties as necessary.”

Second, the fact that employers are allowed to ask whether or not a person is able to perform the job duties with or without accommodations.

What happens if a person accepts a job where they can perform the listed duties, but maybe something comes along the way that they can’t do because of a disability even if there was an accommodation made? Hopefully a good employer would work with them, but could they legally be let go if they weren’t able to perform some part of the job that wasn’t explicitly outlined?

Well, the Americans with Disabilities Act (which is the law in play in your second law) protects people who can perform the “essential functions” of the position with or without reasonable accommodation. “Essential functions” are things that the person in the job absolutely must be able to do — i.e., the reason the job exists is to perform that function (for example, an essential function of a bus driver is to drive), and/or there are a limited number of employees who can perform that function and this person must be one of them, and/or the function is highly specialized and the person is hired for that ability specifically. In determining whether something is essential, the EEOC (the federal agency that enforces the ADA) looks like those factors, as well as things like the time spent performing the function, the consequences of not performing it, and whether other employees are available to do it.

An employer couldn’t legally fire someone who was able to perform their essential job functions just because their disability prevented them from performing what the EEOC calls “marginal or incidental job functions.” So if you were able to do your essential duties, your employer couldn’t fire you because you had a disability that prevented you from, say, occasionally changing water jug coolers or occasionally driving in a job where that wasn’t a core function.

{ 135 comments… read them below }

  1. Graciosa*

    I’m not sure what I would have to be paid to spend another YEAR in a job that was making me miserable.

    I do know $10,000 isn’t even in the ballpark, having been in a few situations where I knew getting through a minimal notice period would be a struggle.

    Maybe if they upped it to enough to retire on afterwards – otherwise, a year of your life is a big deal. We don’t really have the assurance of that enough to make one insignificant.

    1. Jeanne*

      The monthly amount feels even worse. My price for misery is a lot higher.

      My question is how hard will it be to find the new job? I would hate to still be stuck there a year later and not have taken the money.

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

        This is exactly why I would take it. Though I might ask for more.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Good point. It might be better to take the money and keep job searching, assuming your employer doesn’t make you sign anything stating you’ll have to pay the money back if you don’t stay the full twelve months of course.

          1. Case of the Mondays*

            He/she could self escrow. Take the money and put it in a special account. Keep looking for work. If he/she finds other work, pay the $10k back. If he/she doesn’t find work in that year, move the money to the regular spending account.

            1. Cleopatra Jones*

              LW would have to pay taxes on the amount so they wouldn’t get the full 10K. I wouldn’t agree to pay back more than I received after taxes because that would be the equivalent of paying them for your misery.

              1. MoinMoin*

                I work in relocation and deal with people repaying lump sums (for which they signed a promissory note) pretty often, most of my client companies only require the net amount repaid and then work out the taxes on the backend.

          2. Amber*

            Agreed. Take the money but don’t spend any of it. Keep job searching and if you find something then give the money back. If you don’t find anything after a year then spend it.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        Are they making any attempt to fix the issues that are making you miserable? Or are they only paying you hush money?
        There is no way I would stay for an extra 10k. I would maybe consider it for 50k so I would hire the housekeeper, laundry service, etc. needed to take the stress off my life from working so much overtime. But in this case it isn’t about the money, it is about other things.

        Another thing to consider. If you wait then all your other fleeing co-workers will have taken up all the open positions in your industry. The early bird gets the choice assignments. If your company goes down for financial reasons will they pay you a whopping severance when they crash? It will take much longer to find another job after you’ve been laid off.

        1. OP4*

          I guess you could say they are. There are a LOT of problems though, and a number which I doubt will be overcome within 12 months

    2. LBK*

      Yeah, that’s not nearly enough for a year. I got close to that much for staying 2 months, and that was in retail. I’d expect an office job to shell out a lot more.

    3. Granite*

      Yeah, I once stayed on for three months for a $500 bonus, but I wasn’t miserable, I just didn’t want to stay a temp. And I was making $8 an hour, so that was more than a week’s pay.

    4. Mazzy*

      I’m very surprised that so many people are down on retention bonuses and/or think the amounts are too low. The amount seems fine to me! I have a good salary, and received an $8K bonus once and it did wonders for my finances, I paid off all of my debts. After taxes, it came out to 6 weeks of take home pay, and it would have probably taken me 6-8 months to save that much. Yes, I would consider staying at a job I wasn’t happy at for that, especially as I’ve stayed at jobs I wasn’t thrilled about for various other reasons, sans bonus.

    5. Newbie*

      I accepted a retention bonus much like this one 7 years ago after I was offered another job. I too was dissatisfied in my job. Unfortunately some of the aspects of the new job didn’t fit perfectly with my life, and I chose the known over unknown, higher salary over lower. Long story short, I ended up quitting said “comfort” job a year later…yes, the dissatisfaction didn’t go away (surprise!). So I would advise OP to carefully consider how much you can really tolerate at your present job and if the labour market is strong in your field, keep searching. Good luck!

  2. Dan*


    AAM, you’re being generous with your math! With OP’s numbers, assuming she files single, she’s in the 28% tax bracket, and that’s before we consider state taxes. If OP lives in Virginia, she’s only netting ~66% of that $10k, putting her closer to $550/mo net.

    OP is making about $105k/yr based on the figures she provided, and as you note, she’d have to be pretty desperate to hang on to that job for a few hundred a month.

      1. Dan*

        You’re right. It’s amazing how fast $10k goes poof before you even spend a dime of it.

    1. Jeanne*

      I always figured I took home about 65% of my pay. But that included medical insurance contribution and a small amount to 401K. Some states have worse taxes than others. Maybe OP can ask for a lot more.

    2. Sheep*

      Yeah, you would have to pay me a lot more than 10% extra to make me stay in a miserable job another year. An entire year! That’s a long time!

      Just as an aside, because Scandinavia gets criticised a lot for having crazy taxes, and I am very surprised that taxes in the US would be this high: Average taxes in Norway are around 36-38%. If you earn 100k+ it would go up to the mid 40s. And that includes pretty great social benefits (health,unemplyment, disability, free education (incl university) etc.).

      1. Dan*

        The marginal rate is on additional income. My gross income this year was $100k, my federal income tax bill was $16k, so effectively 16%. Yet my marginal income tax bracket is the 28% bracket. (That means that each additional dollar I make is taxed at 28%.)

        I don’t really think that taxes are all that complicated for the median American. Hell, I filed the 1040EZ (one page) and it took me ten minutes to fill it out.

        What’s complicated is our tax *policy*. I mean, Romney got in trouble during the 2012 election for his comment about 47% of Americans who paid no federal income tax. That’s a lot of people, TBH — almost half of the country. Yet, I paid *$16,000 dollars*.

        1. LBK*

          I can’t tell if this is implied in your comment, but for the record the 47% comment is pretty misleading because it doesn’t account for payroll taxes. The idea that 47% of Americans have the same gross and net pay is totally wrong.

    3. OP4*

      Or.. not in the US ;) I make $120,000 plus a small variable bonus, tax is 33% here. $10k is really not much at all in the scheme of things, not for another 12 months of pain anyway. I signed the acceptance form but forfeit the payment if I leave before the 12 months is up so I am thinking at least if I manage to last that long I get something to show for it otherwise it’s no loss!

        1. AnonInSC*

          Agreed – I hope it works out for the best and you get out with a big raise :)

      1. Jen*

        We have a laddered system for federal taxes. The first 1ok is taxed at 10%, the next 15k @ 15%, next 40k @ 25%, next 100k @ 28% and so on. So in this scenario, the OP doesn’t pay 28% on 100% of the salary, just on the 10k bonus which falls in that 28% tax bracket. Then you get a federal standard deduction on top of that lowering your tax burden a bit. Plus there are state taxes, and a few other taxes that get added into the mix (social security, medicare).

        It’s complicated, it’s unlikely OP is paying 28% taxes on his/her entire income at the end of the day (FWIW our household income this year was an AGI/MAGI of about 240k and our effective federal tax rate (ie total tax we paid / total income) was 24%. The US makes it very complicated!

        1. fposte*

          The bonus would go on top, though, so it’s quite reasonable to treat it as all being in the taxpayer’s top bracket.

        2. OP4*

          We have the same here in New Zealand. I pay $30,520.00 of taxes on $120,000. And the top bracket (33%) on anything over $70k. $89480 net works out to $1720.77 per week, $43 per hour. So 10k = 179 hours worth of extra work, or pay back for 3.4 extra hours per week (I overestimated in my original post). I currently do 3 extra hours per day. So yeah…

      2. The Other Dawn*

        Smart move!

        $10,000.00 would not have been nearly enough to keep me in my former job for a year. Not even 6 months. I was there a total of 10 months, and much of that time was spent crying in the shower every morning and looking for another job. Oh, and procrastinating at work because I hated the work, the atmosphere and the boss. It would have to have been a VERY hefty number to make me stay.

      3. Joseph*

        Good plan. If all you lose is the $10k, there’s not a whole lot of downside. If you’re still interested in leaving, you can job search while still employed (always preferred) and it allows you to be a bit more methodical in finding the right fit.

      4. Jerry Vandesic*

        Take the 10K, keep looking for a new job, pay the 10K back if you find something. Who knows, you might find something that pays more than 10K above your current pay. If you don’t find something in the next year, at least you have the 10K to buy a good bottle to drown your sorrows.

      5. Kyrielle*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t take money up front and then break the agreement, but if they wanted me to sign something that said IF I stay a full 12 months THEN I get money?

        Sure…if you want out but haven’t managed it, the extra money isn’t anything to sneeze at, at least.

      6. SusanIvanova*

        When my whole team was laid off, they kept 5 of us in a “working notice period” for 2 months as a “transition team” (ha; there was absolutely no transition plan), and gave us an extra 2 months salary above the severance package everyone else got. The rest of them could’ve taken a job in their non-working notice period without losing the package, but not us. Not that it stopped me – if I’d found a job I’d have told them that I’d be walking away from $X, and asked if it was possible to negotiate a signing bonus to make up for it. And if not, I was totally willing to walk away from that money; there were times I was ready to walk away from it *without* a job lined up.

    4. Alli525*

      Exactly! Bonuses are taxed at a significantly higher rate… I’m in NYC so it’s even worse than most places, but I only take home about 58% of my annual bonus. Maybe they can give it to OP in the form of a raise?

      1. Judy*

        Bonuses are withheld at a higher rate, they are taxed the same as regular income. They are withheld at that higher rate so you will not owe money when you file your taxes.

        1. AMT*

          This is Tax Thing #2 that I have to constantly explain to people. Tax Thing #1 is marginal tax rates, or why you won’t make less if your raise moves you into a higher bracket.

          1. LBK*

            Ugh, Tax Thing #1 is one of my biggest pet peeves. It drives me crazy every election season when candidates’ tax plans come out and Facebook is suddenly rife with people who have no idea what the difference is between a marginal and effective tax rate.

          2. SusanIvanova*

            Everything I know about marginal tax rates comes from Nero Wolfe, and I didn’t even notice I was learning it – at the beginning of the year he’s more willing to take cases because the tax bite is smaller, by the end there’s always the consideration of how much he’s already made that year.

        2. Koko*

          Yes! Your payroll department just makes things easy on themselves by withholding from the paycheck containing your bonus the way they would if you made that amount every pay period and were subject to significantly more tax. They withhold far more than you actually will end up owing on it, and you will get almost all of it back the following April.

          1. Judy*

            Actually, for “Supplemental Wages” there are different withholding schedules. These are IRS rules, not payroll making it easy on themselves.

  3. Stephanie*

    #4: I had a job with very high turnover that offered retention bonuses (or “don’t quit money” as I referred to it). IIRC, it was something like $20,000 over two years (and you got it in chunks, where the first $5000 obligated you to stay for six months or something).

    I don’t think it was that much of a motivator. Six months or a year is a long time to stay somewhere that you’re miserable. I knew people who were just like “Eff it! I’ll figure out paying back the retention bonus. I just want out of here.” Or they didn’t touch the money or put it in an interest-bearing account.

    IMO, I think companies would be better served figuring out and fixing (to the extent that they can) why they even need a retention bonus in the first place.

    1. Daisy Steiner*

      Actually, now that I think of it, the only place I’ve worked that had retention bonuses (a lump sum when you signed, to be paid back pro rata if you left within a year, then 12x monthly payments for your second year) had one of the highest turnover rates I’ve ever known.

    2. hbc*

      I’d think that the bonuses would overall lower morale. “So you’re willing to pay that much for me, but only after I’m miserable and you think you might lose me?” I’d think it would be more effective to just pay someone, say, $75K from the start rather than $65K plus “we know we suck, please please please stay” $10K bonus.

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

      My husband’s old company had one but it wasn’t an ongoing thing. They were shutting down and a few roles got bonuses for staying on to the bitter end.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah that’s what I’m familiar with. If a company’s going through a merger or acquisition and reducing staff but needs some core people to stay through the transition that’s one thing, but it sounds like the Ops place has a lot of other problems.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I got a dollar-an-hour raise at Exjob from the owners (before they left later after a buyout) because they were afraid I’d quit. I wasn’t looking at the time, but other people had left and they didn’t want me to. In retrospect, I kind of wish I’d started looking then instead of staying.

    5. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      When I worked for a consulting firm, people received an additional $5k retention bonus for completing the previous year.

      The only problem was, it was paid out the quarter after the fiscal year ended, so people either felt suckered into staying another year or stayed until they got the check and left mid-project. I have heard that they got rid of it.

    6. De Minimis*

      At my last workplace we had them for certain doctors and dentists [not all, just the ones who were US Public Health Service officers.] They would get around 10k-15k per year as continuation pay, in one lump sum.

  4. Stephanie*

    #5: We hire a lot of manual labor at my job. Usually, we just tell people ahead of time the physical demands and requirements. There is a specific process were someone to get disabled (past the point of accommodation) during employment. That being said, I don’t think they’d fire anyone over that. (I don’t work directly with the hourly floor workers presently, so not sure.) I think past a certain point, the employee would get put on long-term disability.

    I did have an hourly worker once with an arm in a splint. He couldn’t really do much. We just kind of had to find things for him to do.

    1. Jeanne*

      The way I read it the OP was talking about a job the disabled person could do fine like answering phones but then the bosses say now everyone has to help load trucks too and the disabled person can’t. IANAL but I think they could probably get away with letting the disabled person go. I also think the disabled person could easily get unemployment. Who would win the lawsuit? Hard to say.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The employer would need to show that it was now an essential function — that there weren’t others who could do it, etc. Obviously we’d need more details about the scenario to say for sure, but based just on this, I’d say they’d be violating the law.

    2. Connie-Lynne*

      I worked at a place with a similar conundrum. We had a mediocre employee we were gearing up to let go if he didn’t improve. In the process of disobeying a direct order, he was injured enough that he could not do his job for 12 weeks.

      We found other work for him, but as soon as he was able, he was caught again trying to do the thing that had gotten him hurt in the first place, well before his injury was healed.

      HR and legal were concerned about letting him go while injured so he was again spoken with and told in writing that he’d be let go if he flauted safety regs again.

      It was so frustrating. All we wanted was for him to stop hurting himself.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        The thing he kept hurting himself doing was a core function, but only using essential safety equipment that he kept not using.

        1. F.*

          Where I work, repeatedly failing to use mandatory safety equipment is grounds for immediate dismissal.

        2. Anna*

          Based on it being about an injury that could easily be linked back to a failure on the employee’s part, I think your HR and legal teams were being way too cautious. Especially when he flouted it AGAIN. Holy smack, what a fool.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Wow, this guy sounds just like a guy who works at my husband’s plant. He keeps hurting himself because he has no common sense, to the point that the guys nicknamed him “Booboo” (a play on his actual name, Bobby).

      3. Beezus*

        Wow! Have you guys changed how you handle safety issues or injuries as a result?

        1. Connie-Lynne*

          Well, I left shortly after, but yes and no. His supervisor quit because of a bunch of reasons, the spun the division out into a new business unit being run by an incompetent friend of the COO, tried farming it to third parties and eventually shut that whole function down.

          It was … sigh.

    3. Nobody*

      Some of this ADA stuff is really unclear to me. My job has some physical requirements, which are explicitly listed in the job description. The job description says that, among other things, employees must be able to lift 50 pounds and must be able to work rotating shifts. There are a few people who have doctor’s notes saying that they can’t do one or both of these things. There are also a couple of people with no medical problems, but who can’t lift 50 pounds just because they aren’t strong enough. First of all, is there any difference between these situations? Are the people who are simply not strong protected by the ADA, or only the people with medical reasons?

      Secondly, can the people who have medical reasons be fired for not being able to meet the requirements of the job? The tasks where we have to lift 50 pounds are infrequent, but they are essential when they happen. There are people who can lift 50 pounds, but it means that those who can have to do it twice as often to make up for the people who can’t. Maintaining 24/7 shift coverage is essential, but there are technically enough people to maintain coverage without a few people working rotating shifts — it just means that those who can have to work more nights and weekends.

      And where is the line drawn with respect to other people being available to do something? What if everyone but one person got a doctor’s note saying they can’t lift 50 pounds, but there was still one person who could? (Incidentally, one of the people with a doctor’s note told me that if I don’t want to have to do a certain undesirable task, I should just get a doctor’s note saying I can’t lift 50 pounds, and offered to give me the name of a doctor who would write such a note.)

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        It’s the people with medical reasons, and it’s to protect people who are disabled from the high level of job discrimination they face.

        There’s also the point that “just not strong enough” is not a permanent or deteriorating condition. My buddy Leigh with permanent and deteriorating spinal problems can’t hit the gym and boost her lifting power. She can’t say “Oh, it looks like a lot of the jobs I’m applying for want me to be able to lift 50 pounds, I should work on that.” Someone without a health condition, but without a lot of strength can make that determination, and it becomes just like any other part of making yourself more fit (literally!) for a given job.

        1. Nobody*

          Well, there are two women in my department who weigh less than 100 pounds each. They don’t have disabilities; they are just very small people. I doubt very many 90-pound women can lift 50 pounds, no matter how much they work out.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        And to more directly address some of your other points — fairness isn’t always about “make everyone do exactly the same thing.”

        For a personal example — I’m in long-term recovery from a series of ankle and knee injuries. While maybe I technically could stand for long periods if my life depended on it, the price I would pay for doing so would be significant pain and decreased mobility for several days, and potentially damage to my recovery process. In our meeting rooms at my job, there are often not enough chairs for everyone. Some people stand during the meetings. I am never expected to stand, even if I’m the last one there, because people recognize that asking me to pay the burden of standing for the meeting (pain, reduced mobility, damaging my recovery) just so they can have a turn to sit, when standing does not hurt them, isn’t fair.

        So. If other people have to do the 50+lbs lifting more often, because it’s easier for them? That’s not unfair. If there are plenty of people able to do the thing, so that the employer can cover the task with minimal or no disruption, that’s a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. What is the most fair isn’t always “everything is exactly the same for everybody.”

      3. fposte*

        The other thing to note is that these things don’t usually go to court, and you can’t know for sure what a court would do. So most of the time employers walk the line they (and their lawyers) think is right and never know if a court would agree.

      4. Stephanie (HR)*

        In the case where you always have to have at least one person on shift who can lift at least 50 lbs, granting an accommodation to one person may be reasonable, and granting it to two more more people may not be. An employer CAN grant an accommodation to one person and not to another if granting it to the next person puts an undue hardship on the employer. They can determined who gets the accommodation based on whatever parameters they want (seniority, first-come-first-serve, performance, etc) so long as it is not based on a protected class (race, gender, etc.)

        If there is a person who cannot lift 50 lbs because they are not strong enough, and there is no underlying medical condition, they are not covered by the ADA, and an accommodation is not necessary.

        As for your “where is the line” question, that is a moving target. The ADA says:

        “The individual with a disability requiring the accommodation must be otherwise qualified, and the disability must be known to the employer. In addition, an employer is not required to make an accommodation if it would impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the employer’s business. “Undue hardship” is defined as an “action requiring significant difficulty or expense” when considered in light of a number of factors. These factors include the nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, resources, nature, and structure of the employer’s operation. Undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis. Where the facility making the accommodation is part of a larger entity, the structure and overall resources of the larger organization would be considered, as well as the financial and administrative relationship of the facility to the larger organization. In general, a larger employer with greater resources would be expected to make accommodations requiring greater effort or expense than would be required of a smaller employer with fewer resources.”

        (I work in HR and deal with ADA issues, but IANAL!)

        1. Nobody*

          So is an employer not allowed to say, “We need to hire 15 people who can do [task that requires lifting 50 pounds] and work rotating shifts,” and then only hire people who meet those requirements and let people go if they can’t meet those requirements? Sure, if someone became disabled in a way that made him unable to lift 50 pounds, there are 14 other people who can, but why can’t the employer decide how many people they need to be able to do this task?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If it’s truly an essential function of the role, they can.

            If it’s only a marginal function, then the law requires them to try to accommodate the person with a protected disability, if they can do so without undue hardship. That’s because as a society we’ve decided we want to protect the ability of people with disabilities to work, and without legal protection they often suffer discrimination.

            1. Nobody*

              I’m afraid I made myself look like like a horrible, cold-hearted person by asking about this, but I absolutely agree that people with disabilities should have the right to get a job without facing discrimination for their disabilities. I think there is a difference, though, between an employer not wanting to hire someone because of a disability and only wanting to hire people who can do specific tasks that are necessary for business reasons.

              On the other hand, unscrupulous employers could use this kind of thing to circumvent the ADA — like having a requirement of “must be able to climb stairs” for a computer programming job that’s on the second floor of a building without an elevator, even though climbing stairs has nothing to do with computer programming per se. I think it’s pretty clear that stair-climbing would be a marginal function in that role, but it could be a hard line to draw in a job where stair-climbing is required because it involves operating equipment at an industrial facility where it would be impossible to install elevators or chair lifts for every set of stairs. What if the job required accessing a place that can only be reached by stairs once a day? Once a week? Once a month? Once a year? Only in the unlikely event of an emergency? At what point does stair-climbing go from being an essential function to a marginal function?

              1. Stephanie (HR)*

                That’s why I said it is a moving target. The size and fiscal situation of the employer is relevant in determining whether or not an accommodation is “reasonable.”

                For example: Installing an elevator would be feasible for a large corporate entity (say, Google, or IBM.) But for a small company with few resources, installing an elevator may not be feasible. But, what other options are possible? Is it possible, if the job requires access only once a year, for someone else to do it? Most likely, yes. But each situation is unique.

                Going back to your lifting restrictions, if you work in a warehouse, and sometimes there are things that are over 50lbs, and there aren’t a lot of boxes that are over 50 lbs, then it’s easier to grant an accommodation (help from a coworker or some kind of device like a forklift) than if every box is over 50 lbs. Another situation is in healthcare (say nursing) where the 50 lbs may be the ability to catch a patient in a fall situation (I’m not talking carrying, I’m talking safely lowering to the ground), and if you can’t do it, you cannot be with the patient alone.

                Does that help at all?

                1. Nobody*

                  Thanks for the explanation… I think what bothers me is the murkiness of it all — and it seems like a problem on both sides of the equation. If an employee with a disability is fired (or not hired) for not being able to meet physical requirements, how can she prove that the physical requirement was for a marginal duty, not an essential one? If an employee has medical restrictions that make it impossible for her to meet the needs of an employer, how does the employer know if it’s legal to let her go? The examples brought up when discussing these things are usually clear-cut; it’s pretty clear that an employer can fire a construction worker who becomes paralyzed below the waist and needs a wheelchair, but not a computer programmer whose desk is in a non-wheelchair-accessible location. There are many situations in between these two extremes, though, and as fposte pointed out, neither the employer nor the employee will necessarily know what’s legal unless it goes to court.

                  Based on the replies, it seems my first comment may have come across as advocating for firing employees with disabilities, and that is definitely not what I intended (I never said it was “unfair” that able-bodied employees have to do more heavy lifting and work more night shifts to make up for those with disabilities — just wondered how that plays into whether an accommodation is “reasonable” or not). I don’t have the power to hire or fire anyone, but I would like to understand the legal issues in play here, and I’d like to know my rights as someone in a job with physical requirements (what if I get hurt in a car accident or something and then I’m the one who can’t lift 50 pounds?).

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yep, it IS murky, and it’s frustrating for both sides not to be 100% sure that their guess at what the law would require is correct.

                  (And you definitely didn’t come across as advocating firing people with disabilities!)

      5. AMT*

        Re: your second question, there is a lot of interesting case law re: strength requirements, and since they’ve been historically used to exclude people with disabilities from the workplace, the EEOC tends to look very carefully at them. In your case, it sounds like this infrequent task is likely to be considered a “marginal function” and the employer may be required to accommodate the employee by transferring these functions to other employees if there are no other ways to accommodate the employee (e.g. by using special tools or supports).

        Other employees’ unhappiness at being given more/worse shifts is generally not considered undue hardship, especially if task or shift reassignment is routine for other reasons. See here for some examples and clarification (especially under “Undue Hardship Isssues”):

        1. JessaB*

          Also if lifting is totally required of the job there is adaptive equipment that could be used. Maybe a cart that you can slide the thing onto, a mini jack (they now make some very small profile pallet jacks, that cost less than $500) some kind of dolly to transport things. Nowadays it’s pretty easy to adapt a lifting task. But just because a person is disabled doesn’t mean you can’t fix the task so they can do it. Same with people who just actually can’t lift.

          A lot of companies forget about the adaptive part of accommodations. And sometimes asking an expert can save them a lot of trouble. I shill for Voc Rehab a heckuva lot (because they’ve kept me employed by helping me for years,) but it’s not just the employee who can ask them for help. An employer can ask them to come in and look at the job and ways to make it adaptable, and if they want to keep an employee help them do so. They can also help them navigate some pretty decent tax breaks for hiring disabled workers, that might just offset a lot of the cost of the adaptation.

  5. Stephanie*

    #3: Yes, look! Perhaps your company is different, but way too many companies or managers use these as the first step before a firing instead of something you could actually survive.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes, sadly that’s what I’ve witnessed at several of my employers.

  6. Rebecca Anne*

    #3 I would suggest starting the search. It doesn’t have to go anywhere if you’re successful in your PIP but depending on the items raised in your PIP and the metrics that you’re now being measured on, starting your search – just in case – may be a good idea.

    I was put on a PIP in my previous job. It was all a bit of a mess, and that may be colouring my judgement. I hadn’t kept some of my paperwork up to date because I was busy dealing with customer issues. My line manager called me on it, we had a conversation and then four days later, I was told to consider that original conversation to be my verbal warning and that she felt she had no choice but to put me on a PIP. By the time I went on the PIP, everything had been rectified but I didn’t protest. I regretted that after the fact. She had set me a few targets that were solely based on once a month jobs and one that was really hard to judge (motivate others).

    I had three months, with monthly reviews. The first monthly review happened 4 business days after the PIP because she was going on holiday for two weeks. I couldn’t show a lot of improvement because the metrics that she had set for me were all based around End of the Month financials and updates and we hadn’t reached the end of the month. The second month, I had everything done well but we were dealing with a very difficult customer so the fluffy goal of “motivate others” was put down as a fail because she didn’t feel that the people dealing with the troublesome customer who kept constantly changing this mind weren’t happy and smiling all the time.

    We had the third month review and nothing more was said about it for about 6 weeks. I didn’t know to ask for anything in writing or to confirm with her that my PIP was actually over. We had the meeting, she said “fine” and walked out. We continued to have regular weekly meetings about projects we were working on and I continued to keep the goals from the PIP in mind.

    Six weeks after that last meeting, I got a phonecall at my desk asking me to go to one of the meeting rooms and was handed a letter stating that I was invited to a disciplinary meeting. I was floored because I’d had no negative feedback from my line manager since the beginning of the PIP process, I’d taken some of the pressure off the team by stepping between troublesome customer and the team and they seemed happier.

    I went to that disciplinary meeting and was further floored to find out that a) I was still on the PIP officially and that b) she’d been undermining me to management, i.e. taking credit for my decisions that had paid off and telling the board of directors that she was having to spend a good section of her time managing me. I fought my corner and as a result I was put “back” on another 3 month PIP. This one had another fluffy goal which when questioned over, she said “Oh, I’ll just know it if you manage it.”

    During the first month, she stopped communicating with me at all unless she had to. She cancelled our weekly meetings. She decided to hold project updates as part of the morning stand-up meetings and gave me no help or advice. She actively called me out in the office for not providing her with key information despite the fact that I had tried and been dismissed. She turned our office of 6 people into an actively hostile environment with everyone else scared to speak to me in case she saw them.

    After 3 weeks, I got another call to come to the board room and was handed notice to dismiss, effective immediately. The letter stated that “despite all her help”, I had failed to improve and was walked out immediately. I wrote a pretty strong letter back to the HR manager outlining everything that had happened and ended up getting an extra month’s severance pay.

    It was by far the most horrifying situation of my life. I’d been thinking the whole time: “You just need to get through it.” By the disciplinary meeting, I knew that things weren’t going to go my way. When I found out that she was actively lying about me, I stepped up my search. I just wish that I’d left on my own terms rather than getting shown the door.

    Luckily I had really strong references from my previous employers and managed to get four job offers within the next 4 weeks. I’m now working for a company that actually train new staff coming in, encourage weekly 1:1 meetings between managers and staff and actively monitor work levels to make sure that you’re managing and not struggling.

    Also, it still makes me smile that the extremely difficult customer is still there and was none too happy about losing me because he thought I was doing a great job. A friend still working there, but not for boss-from-hell, tells me that he saves up all his issues and calls at 4:55 on Friday afternoon. And if he can’t get her in the office, he’ll call her cell phone and keep her on the line for upwards of an hour on a Friday afternoon when everyone else has left for the weekend.

    1. Mookie*

      My god, what a nightmare. So glad for you that you got out and into something healthier.

      1. Rebecca Anne*

        Me too. Honestly, even my friends can see the difference in me – even down to not being stooped over when I’m walking.

    2. Joseph*

      As correctly noted in the older linked post by AAM, PIP’s are often the very last step before you’re let go. In fact, one major purpose of a PIP is a legal means for the company to cover themselves. If you eventually get fired and then try to sue, they have a detailed document showing your issues to pull out of the drawer to fight your lawsuit.

      At a former mid-size company (~1500 employees) I worked at, approximately 95% of employees on a PIP were gone by the end of the PIP – either voluntarily or because they were fired. I don’t know how typical this number is, but my sense is that it isn’t wildly out of line with the normal “failure” rate of PIPs across companies.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I was put on a PIP ages ago at an old job. I realized it was serious, but I was still pretty young and did not know how companies often treat these things.

        The thing is, I got through it well, was officially taken off of it, had a glowing review and raise from my manager … and then three months or so later, screwed something up again and was let go two days later. While at the time I thought I’d been totally thrown under the bus (and I’m still a bit frustrated by how it was handled), I realize now that from a strictly HR perspective they probably saw me as a liability given the previous PIP, even though I had generally turned things around.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          That happened to me too, except they were happy with the changes at the end of my PIP. When I was let go several months later, it was the beginning of a big round of layoffs and I was told it was not due to my performance but that my position was being eliminated (it was, and so was the job of the other person who got laid off that same day). I even got a rather generous severance. It was a blessing, really–even after I did my best to improve and things got better, I still wasn’t really very happy there. None of the things that frustrated me into getting on the PIP in the first place had changed. The only thing that did was that I quit caring about them, which ironically made it easier to do my job.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          I was put on a PIP when I didn’t even know what it was. It was a somewhat fluffy “do better” and “the boss isn’t happy,” and I took that as a sign to start looking elsewhere. But I didn’t get any guidance on what better looked like or how to make the boss happy. I never did find out, since I left.

        3. Stephanie*

          Same thing happened to me too at my last company. I think your reputation gets tainted too much after being on a PIP.

    3. Joseph*

      Also, I have to say that while your story is horrible, it’s sadly not too atypical. Things which aren’t your fault suddenly are. Items which normally wouldn’t even be noticed (or cared about) are chalked up as “just another sign of what we talked about”. And so on.

      Good that you landed softly at a better company/boss. And I laughed about the last part. I’ll bet the thought has crossed her mind many times while on the phone at 4:55 pm on Friday “would it have been worth putting up with Rebecca just so she could deal with this pain in the neck instead of me?”

      1. Rebecca Anne*

        I just consider it payback for the snarkily delivered “Thanks for all your hard work!” that I got from her on the way out the door. ;)

        It don’t think it was atypical at all. I was just annoyed/shocked/confused that this came on the back of an appraisal that I aced and a payrise. :(

        I just wished that I had gone job-hunting earlier. I was left with the overwhelming feeling that everything was already decided and carefully manipulated to get around my contract and legal rights. I’m in the UK.

      2. S0phieChotek*

        I agree. I chuckled at the last part too about waiting to call until 4:55pm…

      3. Bwmn*

        The to a huge extent.

        I work somewhere with a fairly open happy hour drinking culture. However, somehow when people fall into that PIP place, all of a sudden you hear rumors or comments about people showing up drunk or hungover. It’s no longer that we have a very casual dress code that allow for some sloppier looks, or someone’s just tired, or had a bad early morning phone call overseas – nope – Jane and John Doe keep on showing up drunk/hungover. Clearly this is a person who started at happy hour and kept going till morning.

        I know in a few cases this was entirely manufactured, but it’s definitely a case where if you don’t go to happy hour, you’re not participating in the office culture. But then once other issues to come into play – all of sudden any early morning scruffiness is attributed to an alcohol problem.

    4. Callie*

      the extremely difficult customer is still there and was none too happy about losing me because he thought I was doing a great job.

      That really, really is the very best revenge.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      Wow. That’s awesome you got the extra severance. That to me says they believed what you said or thought it to be plausible. Sad however that the boss is still there. Sounds like a horrible human being. I had a similar boss and similar Pip at my last job, it was a joke. Two of the four items on it were complete lies, and I had written that on the bottom when I signed. The other two things were totally minor: being 2-3 minutes late a few times a month, and forgetting to add a salespersons initials to an order (which accounting checked anyway at the end of the month).This is the boss I’ve spoken about here a couple times – she used to walk around our department saying she needed to fire someone to free up some budget! She let me go only two weeks after the BS trumped up Pip and tried to deny my unemployment, which I won hands down.

      1. Rebecca Anne*

        The official reply was that after three weeks, they had still not had a chance to investigate but if I forfeited my rights to engage a labour relations or employment appeals tribunal, I could have extra severance.

        My partner’s mum works for the employment appeals tribunal and she asked me one really great question when I talked to her about it. If you win, do you really want to go back working there? I really didn’t.

    6. Navy Vet*

      I was put on a PIP at last job for a mistake I had made.

      But I was already BEC in the presidents eyes because I had gained 80 lbs. (I had 3 deaths in the family in a 2 month period, I tried to eat my grief…for the record, that’s not a good method) He was extremely discriminatory towards overweight people. I actually overheard him say “I do not want to hire her, she is fat.”

      Most of PIP was vague “do better”. In fact, in order to even hold the meetings and whatnot that the PIP detailed, I had to drag the HR director and my boss the whole way. I held the meetings, because I knew they were hoping I wouldn’t hold the meetings then they could say, well…you didn’t motivate yourself to improve

      I saved all the “feedback” I got during this process, to remind me how bad it can be. Some of the things I was dinged on:
      – I was told it was my fault when I was sexually harassed over the phone for 8 months by a client, because men are gross and I should just deal with it. I also bring it upon myself by being, friendly, cool and easy going. (This was not in writing, because even they are not that stupid)
      – Laughed for “too long” at a clients joke
      -Said “um, at least twice” during a during a 2 hour meeting I led
      – Laughed too loudly
      – Audibly sighed (Not in response to anything that was being said…like I took a deep breath and exhaled at my desk, by myself, and they were so tuned into watching me they took note)
      The feedback I received was all along those lines. It was crystal clear that they were pushing me out the door and even if I were to successfully complete their little PIP, the first perceived error would have had me out the door.
      I left on my terms with a new job. In fact the HR director was so ecstatic I was giving notice that she didn’t even bother to hide it. My last day, my boss told me that he was always so surprised by how intelligent and well-read I was…because you know, us ladies who grew up in poor households clearly should not have a brain in their head. (Eyeroll)
      So, yes search for a new job….

  7. AdAgencyChick*

    I’ve never been offered a retention bonus (closest I’ve come was a signing bonus with an 18-month string attached to it, and I had to pay it back when I left that miserable place 10 months later), but I’m curious, what is the best response when offered one? If OP turns it down, is that going to tip her manager off to the fact that she is, in fact, job hunting?

    I’m not sure how I would respond in this situation — seems like in order to keep confidentiality, you could accept the bonus and sock the money away somewhere that you won’t touch it, so that you can pay it back immediately when you find a new gig, or you could try saying, “that amount of money isn’t enough for me to make a promise like that,” and hope that that doesn’t scream “I’m outta here!”

    1. BRR*

      I would take it and not touch it so if you leave and have to pay it back you can. You can’t really not take it.

    2. OP4*

      OP here – the bonus won’t be paid out until next year, if I leave before then I forfeit it entirely, so no loss to me really by signing the agreement! I hope it doesn’t “lead them on” in thinking I will stop looking elsewhere… It might be an incentive to stick around 9-10 months from now but that’s probably all. And that said, my last job hunt took 12 months soooo…

    3. Graciosa*


      If the agreement is along the lines of what the OP mentioned (no commitments, but you get a bonus if you stick it out) then the decision is pretty simple.

      I have, however, seen agreements that require commitments from the employee (more like a fixed contract term of employment) *and* contain serious additional costs for leaving early (for example, payment by the employee of recruiting fees and costs to obtain a replacement employee – which Alison pointed out yesterday can run 25-30% of annual salary).

      Sometimes items like this may not be obvious if you’re not reading carefully – there will be some language about the employer “relying” on the employee’s agreement to continue working until [date] and an indemnity provision that most people skip over as legalese. Honorable companies treat the employees fairly and try to make this stuff transparent when they’re asking for it – but not all employers are that honorable.

      So I’ll amend my comment to “Read the agreement AND get professional advice if you’re not absolutely certain you fully understand what you’re signing.”

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Promissory estoppel. The employer relied on the employee’s promise and had costs due to that promise. They are therefore allowed to collect those costs.

  8. Almost a Fed*

    I once took a retention offer that was basically 15% of my salary to be awarded at the end of the retention period.
    I left the job before I got the money. What does that tell you? I’ll never take a retention offer again because it doesn’t fix 1) toxic workplace issues 2) even if money is the only issue, having to force an org’s hand to get it doesn’t make it worth it either.

    1. DCR*

      Is this legal in the US? If you are an at will employee, how can they force you to pay to find your replacement? Especially if it is not a very explicit requirement in the agreement (i.e. Not the vague reference in your example)

        1. Joseph*

          Generally, yes, you’re an at-will employee and free to leave at any time and free to be asked to leave at any time with no further obligations. However, contracts that are negotiated and mutually agreed upon supersede the generic “at will” provisions. If you sign a contract that specifically says you will be required to stay until X, you’re required to stay until X. If you sign a contract that states you will reimburse the company for any losses incurred for your replacement should you leave before X, then that’s that.

          This is also why employment agreements, even in at-will states, typically have specific legal language along the lines of “This is not a guarantee of employment for a set time. Both the Company and the Employee are free to part ways at any time, for any reason”.

  9. The Cosmic Avenger*

    This place I worked long ago offered a one-year retention bonus when one of the labs moved, which changed everyone’s commute, mostly for the worse. Some people stayed the year, took the bonus, and left soon after, but some said they were going to do that but figured out a way to make the new commute work. It certainly helped with the transition that we probably had fewer people outright quitting right at the time of the move. Even if lots of people quit after 1 year, everything was well established at the new facility, so it wouldn’t have been as big of a problem by then.

  10. BRR*

    I was on a pip last year and my advice is not only can you look but you should look very hard. There are a fair number of employers who use a pip as a pre firing. By starting searching early I was able to get another job, resign instead of being fired, and avoid a gap in my resume. Now my next job hunt the reference might be an issue but with all the stress the pip caused I’m crossing that bridge when I get to it.

    1. INTP*

      That’s my experience too, and I’ve been on both ends. I was an HR Assistant for an HR Manager that used PIPs as a way to fire new employees that weren’t working out. I’m not sure why she was afraid to just fire them. It was very matter of fact too — “Oh, the QA team says Sally isn’t working out so we need to put her on a PIP.” (OTOH, they were sometimes also just used as an expression of the CEO’s anger. My coworker got a PIP one month and Employee of the Quarter the next.)

      I was also on a PIP that I’m fairly certain was designed to be a way to fire me. The way the job was, there was an opportunity to make literally hundreds of errors of omission during the day (we were doing intensive applied behavioral analysis with small children for 7 hours a day, so an error could be something like not noticing when a student touches the wall or pats himself on the leg under the table), and no one made none. I was told that I was doing well until about a week before the end of my 90 day probation, at which point they told me that they had major concerns about my performance and put me on a PIP. As soon as the errors were brought to my attention, I went from making dozens of errors to just a few immediately and kept improving, but they kept escalating the PIP because I did not make zero errors. When I asked for another demonstration/explanation of one process I was still having a hard time with (I have ADHD so processes are hard, especially if I’ve been allowed to do them incorrectly long enough to develop bad habits), which would have taken a few minutes, they refused and told me I should understand it at that point. On the last day I made one single error (not egregious, normal, nothing bad happened) and was formally written up for it and the PIP escalated again. The next day I came in and quit. I was able to leave on good terms because I played along, at least. I made improvements quickly enough and had very concrete ideas of what I needed to improve in the things I still wasn’t getting, I think it was clear that given another week I could be meeting expectations, and if you want to keep an employee then 97 versus 90 days is not a big deal. I think I wasn’t a great personality fit – I was friendly and got along with everyone but they wanted everyone to be BFFs at work and I was often unavailable for happy hours spontaneously organized at 4pm and liked to eat lunch alone with such an intense job.

  11. Coelura*

    I will say on PIPs that it’s also worth putting your all into improving. I’ve had to put two employees on PIPs in the past year. With both of them I was sure I’d have to fire them at the end – there was just no way they could change enough. Both of them proved me wrong. One changed so much that people will ask if she’s a changeling! She got a healthy bonus at the end of the year, although no raise. This year, I’m sure she will get both. The other person has radically changed his attitude and is doing a phenomenal job. He cam off PIP in March. He has been receiving written praises from customers and coworkers for going above and beyond with a great attitude. Both of these individuals have blown me away and I consider them top performers today.

    So, as Alison recommends, do look for other opportunities, but also – put everything you have into improving. The nice thing about a PIP is that it requires your manager to be crystal clear about what she needs to see from you and to provide feedback often. Use that to your advantage.

    1. Graciosa*

      I think this is good advice – it amazes me how many people don’t take the PIP seriously, or think minor, half-hearted tweaks to behavior will get them through it so they can return to business as usual. Most PIPs (at least where I work) have a catchall line at the end that requires you to maintain the standards consistently even after a PIP is successfully passed. That way, you can be fired later at any time for regressing without a new PIP (or even further notice).

      I would also add another aspect to this – try to have a good attitude during the PIP. I had one individual who was not going to make it through the PIP and knew it (technical skills are really hard to fix in 90 days). The person did try, but more importantly spent the last few months in the office being cheerful, friendly, and pleasant under *very* difficult and stressful circumstances.

      I gained *enormous* respect for the individual, and would happily provide a positive reference for any role within the person’s scope of technical skills. It just wasn’t the right job fit. The *way* it was handled, however, was extremely professional and very impressive.

      Even if you believe that you’re on the way out, there’s no reason not to make your last impression a good one.

  12. Lady Bug*

    Take the bonus and put it in a bank account, don’t spend it for a year. They can’t force you to stay, they can only make your return the bonus if you leave. Worst case you return the whole thing and make a few bucks interest. If you don’t end up leaving for a year because nothing comes along, you get the whole thing. They’d have to be willing to negotiate the return of the taxed portion somehow, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

    1. Bee Eye LL*

      This may seem like a good idea, but as Allison pointed out they would still have to pay taxes on it, and the amount you’d lose to taxes will be much less than anything you might gain in interest for a year from any bank.

      1. RVA Cat*

        It might make more sense for the OP to pay down any debt with the bonus, especially if it’s on something like HELOC they could use to pay it back if necessary.

      2. JeJe*

        Would the OP have to pay back the gross amount without subtracting taxes previously collected? That doesn’t sound right.

        1. Bee Eye LL*

          I am sure they’d have to pay it all back. That’s where they get you. If you take the money and then want to leave within the 12 months, you’re screwed.

        1. Bee Eye LL*

          What if you held it for several months in a savings account and made interest off it, like the first poster suggested?

  13. IT_Guy*

    #4… Yes they work! In my current job I am somewhat underpaid and I took the position to get out of a toxic environment. I have bee working with my manager on getting a promotion and I pretty let him know that I was 10% -15% below of where I should be based on my skills and job history.

    I have been interviewing with other companies to see if there was a good fit for me at the salary that I was wanting. I have interviewed with several great companies and was getting close to several offers. The only reason that I was looking was really $$, and not job environment.

    Fortunately my company gave out a bonus that was frankly the best I have ever received and was 17% of my salary! Since the only reason that I was looking has been removed from the equation, I’ve quit interviewing and I’m happy where I’m at.

    1. Liza*

      But IT_Guy, a bonus is a one-time payment. How does that fix your longterm problem of having a low salary?

  14. rock'n'roll circus*

    #2 – If you by any chance you work a Japanese company, you may be required to get gifts for people! Which is odd, but totally a part of Japanese culture. Not actually gifts for your superiors but when traveling it’s pretty custom to bring back some sort of box of cookies / snacks / something to put in a common area for the entire office to share / enjoy. (If I big company you’re probably safe with doing it just for your department)

    On top of this, supervisors will often get more gifts on top of the company gifts for the individual employees. Whenever my coworkers go to Japan / Vacation in another country / Travel for work this is a pretty common thing.

    While being a non-Japanese person at a Japanese company outside of Japan, say America, it is not required, it can go a long way with showing people you understand the culture. I know at all the Japanese companies I have worked for in America there is a big divide between those who embraced Japanese culture and those who didn’t. However, if on the odd case someone is reading this who is working in Japan itself, its super important to buy gifts every business trip, I once highly complained about for not doing it at my first company I worked for in Japan. (Luckily, never made that mistake again!)

    1. Judy*

      All of the (US based, in the US) companies I’ve worked for there was certainly a tradition of bringing back a box of treats or snacks if you traveled internationally. Generally there was not anything brought in when people travelled domestically.

      1. rock'n'roll circus*

        Judy, thanks for the heads up! I’ve never worked for a US company!

      2. i'm anon*

        I would say this is a general trend in the U.S. but in Japan it is a very, very strong social norm. A “must-do” not a “nice-to-do.” There are several gift-giving traditions in Japanese culture and bringing back small souvenirs for coworkers is one of them.

    2. Almost a Fed*

      I do this at my office – bring back some kind of little treat. It’s not usually expensive and something easy to share with the entire team, and lets me share the experience with everybody. I have a small-ish team so usually everybody knows that I’m going, etc. For example, when I went to Japan, I brought back different flavored kit-kats for my coworkers and shared the story about them our tour guide told us.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      At one project we had both Japanese and Korean customers. The Koreans brought in a Barbie sized doll for the admin. The Japanese saw it and brought in a bigger doll. Then the Koreans saw the bigger doll so had to bring in a still-bigger doll. This continued until the dolls were nearing life-sized. The poor admin had to find space to display the larger and larger dolls.
      Sometimes gifts aren’t gifts.

  15. Animal Shelter Worker*

    #5: I have a (mostly) invisible disability and used to have a boss who thought disability accommodations meant “I watched a movie about Temple Grandin!” When they added duties to my job that required a lot of detail checking and concentration (that was hard in the chaotic area where my desk was), I asked for a laptop so I could work in a quiet area once or twice a week and be able to concentrate better. I even provided a doctor’s note about how working in a quiet space would help me with my work. My boss started whining about how that was so hard and how could they be expected to send an email to IT about it? Meanwhile, my coworker asked the same boss for a laptop so he could do the special project assigned to him, and got a laptop within 2 weeks. I never got one in the 6 months between when I asked for the laptop and when I left the job. I suppose I could have taken it up with the EEOC or my state’s Department of Labor (they don’t mess around when it comes to accommodating people with disabilities) but it seemed like it wasn’t worth it. Just better to find something else instead of potentially having to go to court over a laptop.

    Side note: that same boss also tried to throw a fit over me leaving a half an hour early twice a month for my doctor’s appointments (and I would make up the time by coming in a half hour early) until HR told them to stuff it. Good times, that job.

  16. Bee Eye LL*

    #4 – Be very careful because you might screw yourself out of something better during that 12 month period.

    I was under slightly different circumstances one time as a temp contractor who was going to be given a full time position after X number of months through the staffing agency where I was hired. During this time I actually turned down a full time job with another company because I had that promise of going full time after my temp contract was up. What happened was the parent company had a stock merger that caused the stock price to fall and so they decided to get rid of all temp contractors less than 2 months before my time was up. Not only did I lose that contract early, but I also did not get the full time job promised plus the one I had turned down was already filled. I ended up being out of work for a few months because of all that.

    If you’re applying for other jobs, see how long you can wait before you accept that bonus and sign the 12 month promise, because you might get an offer from one of the places you applied to. Otherwise, just know that you are signing a 12 month promise to go down with a sinking ship. After that time is up, there may not be another job waiting for you for a while.

  17. Katherine Teapot*

    Do keep in mind that gift givers generally are not doing it because we expect gifts back but we are doing it because this is how we show our appreciation, and we often put a lot of effort into picking and transporting gifts that to us mean “I really appreciate and value you.” We’re often people who are not big on saying that in words. Usually we want a genuine expression of appreciation in return that does not have to be a thank you card – an ideal interaction for me when I give flowers is for the recipient to put them on their desk, if I give food I would like to hear that you and your family ate it and enjoyed it, etc.

    Gift giving is a love language and the guy who wrote the love languages book also wrote a book about expressing caring at work called The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace which may be helpful.

  18. Corporate Drone*

    If you have been placed on a PIP, you absolutely MUST look for a new job. A PIP is merely a step toward termination. Focus your energies more on finding your next role, and less on making the PIP improvements.

    As an aside, people are put on PIPs for all kinds of reasons, some of them legitimate, but many of them pure BS. Never, ever forget that the world of work is really no different than being in the seventh grade.

    1. Anna*

      I was thinking of the PIP thing. I’ve known a couple of people who were put on them at my former job; one person who should have been fired after the PIP because she clearly didn’t meet the standards set during that process, the other who was an excellent employee in all things but messed bad enough to need one. Employee one was always horrible, stayed horrible, and bad management kept her around. Employee two improved, became better at her job, and never made the mistake again. Same manager, different employees, different outcomes.

  19. Camellia*

    I clicked on the link for the former PIP letter and skimming the comments made me miss Jamie! Has anyone heard anything about her or from her lately?

  20. Lillian McGee*

    #2–I am not a manager but I love giving gifts just for the joy of it and it sounds like your manager is like that too. The fun for me is when I see something cool that immediately makes me think of a person. I don’t expect reciprocation because I usually enjoyed the act of buying the thing and isn’t that enough? Also, I hate when the reciprocation is forced… like you ran out to the drugstore because you had to get me *something* in return… just don’t! If you want to reciprocate (genuinely) wait until you spot that cool thing that makes you think of that person!

  21. Engineer Girl*

    #2 – I usually brought back sweets from whatever area I was visiting. Turkish taffy from Istanbul, chocolate covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii, Chocolate balls from Vienna, etc. The only time I didn’t do it was when I brought back paper bookmarks from Leonardo da Vinci’s house. The bookmarks had schematics of Leonardo’s inventions. The other engineers loved it.

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