manager sent former employee a litany of complaints about her work, how to stop “reply all,” and more

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

1. Manager sent former employee a litany of complaints about her work

What is the proper way for an employer to handle a sudden resignation given with no notice or very short notice?

My friend, who we’ll call Jane, works as a medical secretary in small practice with 15 doctors. She is supervised by an office manager, Mary. Jane and Mary have never gotten along. They had tolerated each other for four years until it came to a breaking point. In the heat of the moment, Jane verbally resigned and handed back all property belonging to the practice, including keys and alarm codes. Jane walked out and never went back.

Seven days later, Mary sent a three-page letter to Jane by registered mail. In the letter, Mary acknowledged Jane’s resignation and informed her that she will be paid a severance as outlined in her contract. However, out of 20 paragraphs, 15 of them dealt with what Mary perceived to be issues. Mary went on to reprimand Jane on several aspects of her work, as well as what Mary perceived to be flaws in Jane’s character. Not a single word regarding the abrupt resignation, just a long rant on what Mary found unpleasant in Jane’s personality.

I think those 15 paragraphs were totally inappropriate. I think Mary should have simply restricted herself to accepting the resignation and explaining the rest of the separation process. There was no need to reprimand Jane ex post facto. Am I crazy to think that Mary’s letter was unprofessional? How do employers usually handle a sudden and unannounced resignation?

Yes, Mary was unprofessional. If she had concerns with Jane’s work, the time to give her that feedback was while she was still employed there. Dumping it on her after she has resigned serves no purpose other than to give herself the satisfaction of feeling like she had the last word. Moreover, since Jane was no longer working there at that point, it’s not even work feedback — it’s just taking the opportunity to insult someone. It’s obnoxious, and it reflects badly on Mary, both as a jerk and as a manager who apparently didn’t deal with issues while it was her job to deal with them.

The proper way to handle it would have been to stay focused on logistics and leave it at that.

2. I don’t want my coworkers to spot me interviewing at a conference

A little over a month ago, I had a phone interview with a hiring manager. The interview was conducted over the phone because he is based in a different state from where the position is located. A few weeks ago, he contacted me to request to meet me in person when he is in town for a conference. I agreed, thinking that I would meet him at his office at the conclusion of the day’s events. We scheduled this meeting with over a month’s notice because he’s not in town often. Last week, he requested that I meet him during the lunch break of his conference.

The problem is that some people from my office will be attending this conference. I do not want the people at my current position to know that I am interviewing, and I was planning on using a doctor’s appointment as an excuse for escaping for a few hours. I do not want to seem difficult, especially because the manager seems to be squeezing me in during a brief visit. How should I proceed? Should I risk bumping into my colleagues to avoid inconveniencing my potential new boss?

If you explain it, he should understand. I’d say this: “My only concern with that plan is that several of my current colleagues are attending that conference and I haven’t yet told anyone about my job search. I’m a little worried about starting speculation if we’re overseen. Would it be possible to meet away from the conference venue? I can be as flexible as you need with my schedule while you’re here.”

3. My boss watches porn at work, and I can hear it

I work for a small company in New Hampshire. There are a total of 10 employees and not much for a chain of command. I basically answer to the owner but am having an issue with him and am not comfortable talking to him about this.

I sit outside of his office. He is in there watching porn on his computer. I know this for sure, as from time to time he forgets to turn down the volume and I can hear it. Are there any laws that can help me? Can I leave a job and be able to go to my local unemployment office? I can not afford to be without an income so I have stayed for far too long at this point. I have been trying to find another position but am having no luck.

Ick. There are indeed laws that can help you! Sexualizing your workspace by putting you in a position where you have hear porn can trigger laws against sexual harassment. People sometimes think that for something to qualify as harassment, it has be directed toward you (like unwelcome comments made directly to you), but the law also covers “conduct of a sexual nature when this conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

The size of your company is too small to give you protection under the federal sexual harassment law (which doesn’t kick in until 15 employees), but New Hampshire’s state law kicks in at six employees. The state agency to contact is the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights.

As for whether you could quit and get unemployment, it would likely hinge on whether your state unemployment agency considers your working conditions so unacceptable that you had no choice but to quit (“constructive discharge”). I can’t tell you if this would qualify in their eyes, but if you contact them, they may be able to give you some guidance.

4. How to get people to stop using “reply all”

I’m hoping you can help me find the words to let employees know that using “reply all” isn’t necessary in many situations. I need to send out an email to all the employees that when they receive an email from a colleague, it would be appreciated that they just reply to the sender and not everyone, when it is not necessary.

For example, an employee is leaving and sent out an email to all the employees to say goodbye. Many of the employees responded back but did a “reply all”. I, as well as all the others, don’t need to see the personal replies back. This happens too often and I would like to send out a straightforward but gentle email to ask them to not do this.

This is the kind of thing where the more you agonize over your wording, the weirder and more tortured it’s likely to sound. Just be straightforward: “Hey y’all, we have enough people here where it can really flood people’s inboxes if you use ‘reply all’ to respond to messages that don’t truly need to go to all. Please don’t use ‘reply all’ unless everyone on the email chain truly does need to see your response.”

But I also wouldn’t do it immediately after the example you described; it’s likely to come across as a little heartless if it seems like it’s a direct response to people giving well wishes to a coworker. Wait a respectable period of time first.

5. What address to use when I’m job searching from another country

I am finishing up a job contract overseas and have started to look for work back in my home state. While abroad for two years, I used a relative’s home in my home state as a permanent address. I discuss in my cover letter my situation and time frame for moving. My question is about what address to use. On my resume, I provide my email and just the city and country I’m in. Is this sufficient? Also some jobs require submitting online forms with fields asking for my address. Can I use my permanent U.S. address instead of the foreign one? I am concerned about being disregarded before a person even looks at my cover letter and resume.

I’d use the U.S. address with a note explaining the situation, since otherwise yes, employers may feel there’s a higher barrier to considering you (because there can be some inconvenience attached to interviewing candidates in other countries). I’d do it this way:

123 Warbleworth Lane
Austin, TX 78701
(returning to Texas in June 2016; currently based in Madrid, Spain)

{ 297 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    Re: #1

    Mary is puts the reputation of the office at risk for being so stupid in such a clear and permanent form of communication.

    Just how crazy was it, if I might ask? Are we talking run of the mill nitpicking or were there some truly hilarious accusations? Nothing scary or offensive I hope.

    1. MillersSpring*

      Completely off-topic observation: 15 doctors sounds like a rather large practice.

      1. Merry and Bright*

        I thought this too. Here in the UK a practice of 15 doctors would be huge. I put this down to different norms in different locations but another perspective is always interesting.

        1. Marvel*

          That would be a pretty huge practice in the US, too, if my experience is any clue! I don’t work in the medical field myself, but I’m in and out of a lot of offices for personal health reasons, and I can’t think of a practice I’ve seen with more than maybe 5-6 doctors–and that IS the big ones.

          1. Vulcan social worker*

            If the OP get her own health care at a Kaiser Permanente office, a 15-doctor practice could seem small in comparison. I am not familiar with anything else like Kaiser, but maybe there exists something else like it elsewhere in the country?

            A federally qualified health center could easily have 15 doctors (though likely also mid-level primary care practitioners like physician assistants and nurse practicioners) but might not feel like a huge practice. Big for a doctor’s office, but small compared to other workplaces.

            1. On the Phone*

              Yes, she might be used to much larger places. If she always worked at hospitals before this job, a practice with only 15 doctors would seem quite small by comparison.

              1. Meg Murry*

                Yes, or compared to some of the massive health systems in my area. They probably have 10-15 doctors at the big locations (and 1-4 at the small ones), but there are 20+ different locations plus hospitals and surgical centers, so it is overall a big company and operates like a MegaCorporation, not like a small business. I’m assuming OP is pointing out that this is an overall small business, not a MegaCorp with layers of HR, etc.

          2. ThatGirl*

            My GP is part of a countywide medical group (suburban Chicago) and the office I go to has easily 15-20 doctors — internists, dermatologists, orthopedists, allergy specialists, pediatricians, etc. And that’s just one location. But it may not be the norm.

        2. Marzipan*

          I just checked the website for my (UK) GP and they appear to currently have 13 doctors – but it is pretty massive, to the extent that they have two separate reception desks and the whole place is a bit incomprehensible.

          1. Kittymommy*

            Having worked in medical, 15 actual physicians is still a decent size, unless maybe those 15 are dispersed to a few different offices?

            Pour James though, May sounds like a nightmare. I don’t think I could write 20 paragraphs on any of my co-workers, past or present, regardless of whether I liked them or not. I’m not sure I could write that much on anyone I know!

            1. doreen*

              Or it could be like my PCP’s office- there are probably 15 doctors there, but he’s the only one who is there 5 days a week. The others have multiple offices,, so there are only five or so there on any given day.

        3. Annonymouse*

          Maybe it’s a medical centre where 15 doctors work there just not all at the same time.

          There’s one I go to that has 2-7 doctors in on any given day but a staff/doctor list of 18.

    1. Merry and Bright*

      Yes, and although leaving without notice can cause problems on each side, I don’t blame Jane on the face of it. I bet she feels vindicated.

      1. Lou*

        Sometimes toxic jobs don’t leave you with much choice.

        I gave notice but didn’t work it all because of how the manager reacted when I handed in my notice. I felt I didn’t owe her the time if she was going to yell at me for betraying her by leaving and what I should not do at the next job and how I had no friends at my previous.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          And with that, she proved to you how leaving was THE exact correct choice on your part. Being a manager is a privilege that is earned. I guess she could not figure that out. Am glad you are out of there.

        2. Christopher Tracy*

          Good for you for standing up for yourself, Lou. When people act a fool like that, I too don’t think they deserve to get the courtesy of the full two weeks.

  2. Anon E Mouse*

    I like what you wrote for #1. It’s completely obnoxious and unprofessional – pouring salt into a wound when an amicable goodbye would’ve done just fine.

    I hate that for the OP. although it beats what I went through as a content manager. I was fired, but I offered to write content for my former employer since they were short people and I wanted to save face at the company while looking for other employment. Rather than rejecting me as a writer outright (which I would have been fine with – I had other projects coming in from side gigs), they wanted half of the rate I requested because of the perceived issues with my performance full-time although my writing would have been exactly what they wanted/needed.

    Rather than my boss discussing with me why I was let go, he put my former coworker up to the task and she said the issues that led to me being let go were why they offered the lower rate, which was quite disrespectful even outside of what took place (a long story but the TL;DR version was expectations and hours were not spelled out and apparently not being met although it wasn’t communicated). They were already aware I could have provided good writing in the exact formatting they needed faster than most of the other contractors. It was insulting and a blow to the ego to have people I had devoted my time and attention to for a year turn their back so swiftly.

    It didn’t take long for me to find other work, thankfully, but the relationship with my former coworker never recovered since she basically worked as a lackey for my former boss who was emotionally abusive and manipulative (still is, based on her subtweets about work).

    To #1, I say that the focus on logistics is the best course of action – then move on. It’s not right they decided to take that route, but some people will be vengeful no matter what. It might be hard not to be bitter (trust me – it’s been 10 months since my ordeal and I’m still a bit bitter) but it’s worth taking the higher road in the end.

    1. exoboist*

      I got sidetracked by “since they were short people.” I though, now why would their height affect the issue? Ohhh.

      1. Anon E Mouse*

        Hehe, you got me! “Short on talent” would’ve been better. Serves me right for writing that around midnight.

  3. James M*

    #1 The whole “notice” thing baffles me because of the asymmetry. If they fire you, you are in the parking lot within 15 minutes. The last time I resigned with notice, I was basically fired on the spot instead. And don’t mention “references”, as I would never need to use anyone there as a personal reference, and professionally they would never answer anything except dates of employment and maybe verify salary. Giving notice accomplishes a few things not in the employee’s interest: it provides the employer an opportunity to play a “counter” game, which rarely ends well, and it also gives the employer a means to forego a pay period, and the way I see that as a dilution of the increase you’ve negotiated for at the new job.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      People like to say that notice doesn’t go both ways (that employees are expected to give it, while employers aren’t), but that overlooks the fact that good employers will give severance in lieu of notice, assuming the firing wasn’t for egregious misconduct. Not every employer does that, obviously, but the ones worth working for do.

      It sounds like you’ve had bad experiences, but in the vast majority of cases, giving two weeks notice goes perfectly fine.

      1. super anon*

        i wish i could give 2 weeks notice! at my current job i have to give a month’s worth of notice if i want to leave or forfeit any remaining vacation payout if i want to give less than 1 month, but my employer can fire me for any reason and pay very little in the way of severance (or even nothing at all).

        1. Natalie*

          Is payout required by your state? If so in most states they can’t attach conditions if I recall correctly.

          If it’s voluntary payout it actually seems like an ok deal – normally you’d get nothing, but they’ll give you something in exchange for a long notice period.

      2. Mookie*

        Alison, you may have addressed this at some point or it may be common knowledge, but how do you approach a conversation about severance when looking for a job? Clearly, it’s important to pursue a company that offers that kind of accommodation, but barring asking current / former employees about the policies, how do you know? Can you ask to see a policy manual before accepting an offer? Is it at the offer stage that you would ask about issues like severance and notice?

        1. Natalie*

          Policy manuals don’t cover severance in my experience. It’s not like it covers a specific accrual formula like a vacation, it’s up to the discretion of the manager and the circumstances of the person being let go.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes — some companies do have formulas but still keep individual discretion, and it’s unlikely it’d be in a manual. I don’t think there’s a real way to ask about it in advance; it’s like asking, “how will you handle it when you fire me?” The best thing to do is to look for an employer that treats people well in general.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I doubt that anything written is going to tell you anything useful.

          First, companies often make up their severance policies “in the moment”–in some situations, they can financially afford to be generous; in others, the balance sheet may preclude that. Business norms may change (I remember when some companies started saying, “your severance is paid out weekly instead of a lump sum, and it ends when you get a new job”).

          I know that in NYState, which is “at will,” companies are only bound by whatever policies they themselves put forth (or, in the absence of anything written, by any policies they consistently follow).
          Therefore, companies will be most likely to specifically write in their policies that they “may” offer severance, and sometimes even “may or may not.” They may even say (giving an example about firing), “though often employees are offered feedback and a chance to improve, we reserve the right to fire you without making such efforts or concessions.”

          I think you can and should ask about stability–how is the unit that you’re entering (not just the company) doing? How established is it?Talk to a mentor about whether it’s a department that’s first to get the axe (P.R. efforts are often pared down when a company struggles; new initiatives may be more easily abandoned or reorganized).
          And then as part of that question, ask about past layoffs–have they happened?
          Is there a pattern of regular “reorgs” (when was the last layoff; how many have you seen during your time here, was there any advance indicator, either formal or informal?
          (my company does a wave of layoffs every couple of years at the end of the year, and you know it’s coming because there are consultants all over the place,a nd it gets mentioned in the newsmedia, so if I were insecure about the business viability of my position, I could job hunt)
          In the last set of layoffs, what were the severance packages?

          1. Mookie*

            Thank you very much to Natalie, Alison, and TootsNYC for answering. It’s very good to know.

      3. TootsNYC*

        giving notice is an advantage for an employee too. It allows for a more orderly and open transition. Lying and subterfuge are hard!

        And, since I’ve never worked anywhere that notice wasn’t welcomed and treated respectfully by everyone, it allows for the employee who’s leaving to cement their good reputation.

        1. Vicki*

          “since I’ve never worked anywhere that notice wasn’t welcomed and treated respectfully by everyone”

          You have either been a very lucky person or you haven’t given notice and left a job very often. :-(

          1. TootsNYC*

            Or you have been a very UNlucky person.

            I don’t have to have left the job to observe how notice is treated. I’ve had 14 employers, so I’ve had a lot of them, and my vantage point was excellent. (I was also laid off from about 8 of those, and I got severance at all of them, even the one that was going out of business). However, they have all (or almost all?) been larger companies, therefore more organized HR policies/departments–I haven’t worked for small companies.

            Exactly one time was I somewhere that someone was asked to leave when he gave notice, but he was leaving for a greatly resented competitor–no brainer. And he was paid for his notice period.

      4. Vicki*

        “good employers will give severance in lieu of notice”

        Hmmm…. I’m unconvinced that “good” employers ever do “in lieu of notice”.
        Good employers should give/accept notice or offer severance in lieu of…

        Not-terrible employers give “2 week’s pay in lieu of notice”.

        Bad employers send you out of the building under the eye f a security guard and ship your possessins two weeks later.

      5. A Bug!*

        Letting jerks lower your default standards for acceptable behavior is a good way to become the jerk that lowers someone else’s.

    2. Kyrielle*

      I worked a part-time schedule at my old job and gave, not two weeks’ notice, but 80 hours’ notice (that is, more than two weeks). This is because the part-time schedule was an accommodation and perk for me, and because I was in a really key position with knowledge, and they’d need me to hand it off.

      They thanked me for that. I worked out my notice period – the same as I saw everyone who resigned before I did do – the only thing I know that would’ve gotten me walked out would have been if I’d left to go to a competitor. (And that’s only in theory; I never actually saw anyone in my office do so, since we weren’t near competitors, so I didn’t get to see how it would be handled.)

      They treated me politely and professionally; they shifted my assignments to knowledge transfer. I feel really good about how I, and they, handled it.

      Tldr; when you read people talking about two weeks’ notice as standard, there are absolutely places that honor it and handle it well.

      And don’t forget, even if the *company* won’t give a reference, your former supervisor might, once they’ve left that company and are no longer subject to its policies. (Or while they’re there, if someone who knows them reaches out to them.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        “even if the *company* won’t give a reference, your former supervisor might”

        This is really important.

        I will say that I personally never, ever call the HR department for references. My own HR department might reach out to the company on your resumé, but I reach out to the people you give me, and I reach out to anyone on my own network who might have worked with you in the past.

        And so giving notice, and acting professionally during that period, protects your reputation in the eyes of the people who REALLY will have something credible to say to you.
        I consider giving notice and creating a transition to be something I do for my soon-to-be-former colleagues (manager included), almost more than my company.

    3. Oryx*

      It’s not always like that, though. Every job I’ve ever had — from part-time after school work to full-time professional employment — I’ve given my two weeks notice and worked through it and left after the notice without any hard feelings from anyone.

    4. Your Weird Uncle*

      We just had a colleague leave our office abruptly when he suspected he might be let go. Now we’re uncovering all of his sloppy work, things he’d been letting slide, unanswered emails, etc. etc.

      So giving a two week notice and addressing these issues would have given him the opportunity for us not to discover what a shoddy worker he was. Now his references are ruined, word-of-mouth about his leaving and his sloppy work will get around, and he’ll probably never find work at our university again.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        I had a former co-worker like that – we were both working on a *very* long term project, so it wasn’t surprising that none of his were finished when he left; the surprise was that very few of them were even started.

        Technically we shared an office, but he was supposedly working with another team so I rarely saw him. It’s entirely possible that he hadn’t actually been there either; during his notice period he apparently decided now was the time to show up and make things look like he’d been working hard all along, because he spent all of those two weeks in our office. Wouldn’t be a problem except about every 5 minutes, just when I’d get into the flow of things, he’d sniff his nose very very loudly, like you do when you really need to blow it but there are no tissues.

        If he’d simply blown off the notice period I’d have been much happier and it wouldn’t have damaged his reputation more than he’d already done.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      Hey I totally get how you feel, but keep one thing in mind: just because an employer has a policy of only verifying dates of employment, title and salary, doesn’t mean the prospective employer can’t or won’t try to contact your former managers directly via phone, Linked in or whatever, to probe more.

  4. James M*

    #4 Solve the “reply all” problem by not “cc’ing” everyone. If you actually care about an individual, send them a note.

    1. Strange Kitty*

      This doesnt work in a “reply-all” situation. The people are replying all after someone else sent out an email to multiple recipients, which is sometimes necessary in intraoffice communications. Or, per the example, an employee was leaving and sent a farewell to the entire office.

      The problem resulting were employees responding to the leaving employee and instead of direct replying her, they hit reply-all to the entire office that was copied or included on the original message.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah, this is really difficult sometimes. Now, on the office wide Congrats! type emails, I would never reply all. But here we get tons of emails that routinely go to multiple people, and it’s really hard to tell who exactly I should or shouldn’t reply to or delete from my reply sometimes. One time I got a really snotty reply from a receptionist that I didn’t need to include her when I replied to something she had sent as a heads up type thing about a call from one of out accounts. Well I was just including her so she’d know it was being taken care of! It doesn’t help that we also misuse the To and Cc fields here. If upper management is involved, they are always in the To field, while everyone else goes in the Cc field, even though most the time the people with an action are the ones in the Cc.

      2. Vicki*

        Depending on your email client, this is a simple matter of preference configuration.

        Unfortunately, there are also good reasons to “reply all”, as when the email is a discussion between a small number of co-workers, so just changing your preferences may cause issues with mail that needs to include everyone.

    2. Anon E Mouse*

      I wish this worked in my job, but we have business developers that don’t use our helpdesk system, so we have to CCing a number of people so they can see the info. and not be left in the dark. Not an ideal system, but it’s sometimes easier.

      1. Flex work*

        Introduce people to BCC
        It send the same message to everyone and their mother, but nobody sees the other recipients so they can’t reply all.

        1. Rey*

          My work email actually doesn’t have a BCC option at all, which is frustrating on another level entirely. Not that you don’t have a good point, just that it doesn’t apply universally.

          1. Ms. I Need a New Job*

            Are you sure there is no bcc? You may have to go into your email settings and turn it on before it will appear.

            1. Snow*

              You have to add it as an option in Outlook 2010 so loads of people in my current workplace don’t use it.

                1. Karowen*

                  Open a new email, go to “Options” and there’s a BCC field you can turn on. Then it stays on until you turn it off!

                2. Christopher Tracy*

                  OMG, Karowen, thank you! And I’m laughing at myself right now because that was so simple.

                3. Jillian*

                  Thank you! I’ve been opening the address book and doing it from there every damned time.

        2. Karowen*

          This is what I was going to say. It’s easiest to attack it from both ends. I had a former co-worker that would BCC but would also tell you who all was on the email (normally groups, not individual names) so you would know who else should be in the loop.

        3. Joseph*

          I would be really, really careful making BCC a standard part of your email protocol. BCC’ing can cause a ton of issues:
          >Can come across as trying to hide something – particularly if one of the people BCC’d is higher level than one of the direct recipients (“wait, you BCC’d my boss? what game are you playing?”).
          >If someone who was BCC’d does a reply-all, it reveals that they were on the original list. Which can look really shady if others didn’t know Johnny was on the original email.
          >People who DO have a reason to reply-all don’t know who should be involved (“is Jane supposed to be part of this discussion?”). Related, if there’s a relevant reply-all email, most email systems do not include the BCC’s, so they can miss crucial information.
          >People don’t know who is and isn’t involved (“wait, why isn’t Matt on this email chain?”). At best, this leads to people forwarding your email to Matt; at worst this leads people to thinking Matt isn’t part of the project and him not being included on emails sent by other project members.

          If you’re using BCC just for group/office-wide things that don’t really require a reply (like announcing a staff member leaving or an office party), it’s fine. But for anything that’s actually work related, it’s just asking for trouble.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Can come across as trying to hide something – particularly if one of the people BCC’d is higher level than one of the direct recipients (“wait, you BCC’d my boss? what game are you playing?”).

            I wouldn’t recommend Bcc as a matter of course, but if you are writing a “Please don’t reply all” message to a group, the last thing you want them to do is reply all back to your “don’t reply all” message, so you should Bcc that message.

            People who DO have a reason to reply-all don’t know who should be involved (“is Jane supposed to be part of this discussion?”). Related, if there’s a relevant reply-all email, most email systems do not include the BCC’s, so they can miss crucial information.

            That’s why you shouldn’t use Bcc for discussions that should be reply-all discussions. If the email is “Let’s talk about this,” you definitely should include everyone normally. If it’s “Here’s an announcement you should not reply all to,” then you should definitely make it a Bcc if reply-alls are abused in your organization.

            People don’t know who is and isn’t involved (“wait, why isn’t Matt on this email chain?”). At best, this leads to people forwarding your email to Matt; at worst this leads people to thinking Matt isn’t part of the project and him not being included on emails sent by other project members.

            But the whole point of using Bcc is to not have a chain.

            If you’re using BCC just for group/office-wide things that don’t really require a reply (like announcing a staff member leaving or an office party), it’s fine. But for anything that’s actually work related, it’s just asking for trouble.

            Yes, but I don’t think people are recommending to use Bcc for actual discussions.

    3. Chrissie*

      It may also be worth to talk to your IT department. Some email systems have a setting for that: when an email comes via the entire-staff-list, the reply button can be set to reply to the list or to the sender by default.

    4. LBK*

      It sounds to me like this was the department-wide announcement that the coworker was leaving, not someone’s personal note that they just decided to copy the whole team on.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        That was my read as well. And if it’s anything like my office, the people that reply all to something like this are also the people that send a “thanks” message reply all to the “there’s pizza in the break room” messages.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      Well, we can’t do that when emails are sent to the entire admin group. Everyone needs to receive the information.
      The person who sends those here started putting “DO NOT REPLY ALL” at the top and also mentioned it at the admin conference we attended. It has cut way down on reply-all responses.

    6. TootsNYC*

      Our OP is talking about those “Goodbye, old job!” emails, or the “Welcome Jane, our new teapot designer!”; it’s not inappropriate to have group emails.

      And sometimes people use email groups.

      I think our IT folks set up email groups that don’t allow a reply-to-all, and some that do. (And some you cannot forward, even.)

      If there were a group called “Announcements,” or something, you could coach people to use that for those sorts of emails. And fix it so it can’t be reply-all-ed to.

    7. TootsNYC*

      Also, you could try to fix it so your system’s default “reply” button or keystroke is “reply” and not “reply to all”

      I had an email setup once that had the first option (most easily located button, etc.) was “reply all,” and I had to go to extra work to get it to reply just to one person.
      changing that make it much easier to not accidentally reply to everybody.

      Maybe your IT folks could make that part of the setup, or you could ask the managers to check w/ their direct reports to be sure they did it.

    8. SusanIvanova*

      Once upon a time there were emailers that let you pick a “reply-to” list. It could be everyone, just you, or nobody at all!

      Microsoft, in particular, ought to be pushing such a feature, because they suffered one of the biggest “email storms” ever – just mention ‘Bedlam DL3’ to anyone who was there in the late 90s. 165 *gigabytes* of people saying “remove me from this list” and “stop hitting reply all”.

  5. James M*

    #2 I figured this one out a while back. I go to interviews fairly regularly and don’t hide it.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      You mean your curren employers just know you’re job-hunting? That may work for you in your workplace, but definitely would be a risky move in many workplaces. I don’t blame the OP for wanting to keep this interview quiet where her curren colleagues are concerned.

    2. (different) Rebecca*

      That’s a luxury many people don’t have, especially in industries where labor is easily replaced. Many companies will decide that if you’re disinterested enough in the job you have that you’re looking elsewhere, they’re prepared to preemptively fire you and replace you with someone who actually wants the job.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        On my last job search I had the good fortune to work for a flexible company and a flexible boss, who believed it was better to have notice and transition times by encouraging people to be open with their boss about future plans, and by honoring agreements around long notices.

        The job before that? I witnessed colleagues (1) getting screamed at for going to too many doctors appointments because his boss thought he was looking, (2) being told their notice was unnecessary and to pack their things immediately (even though this person was a team of one for a fairly crucial component), and (3) get fired for leaving their resume on the printer.

        1. Rick*

          3 is pretty oblivious, at the best. But firing someone for it? That’s completely nuts unless this person was literally one step away from being shown the door. And that incident doesn’t qualify in my eyes — most places I’ve worked, they’re happy if someone who’s a subtractor decides to leave. Glad you’re out of that hellhole, my friend.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            Thank you :)

            For a lot of the people I worked with, this was their first job out of college, and because it was rapidly expanding there was a lot of opportunity for promotion, so there was this weird sense of loyalty and acceptance of bad working conditions. And the higher up someone rose, the more kool-aid they ingested.

            That firing made a lot of nervous because it was silly, but there are a number of perfectly valid, non-job search based reasons one could have their resume out at work. I keep an up-to-date version of my resume in my documents because I have had clients request it, I have needed it for professional organization applications…all kinds of things!

            1. Rick*

              Aha, that makes sense to me! I’ve always worked as an in-house software developer (in other words I haven’t ever been a contractor or consultant of any sort), so the only reason I’d have to print out a resume is if I was looking at a candidate’s before/during an interview. Never my own. Thank you for explaining!

    3. TootsNYC*

      I wouldn’t get fired, but I absolutely wouldn’t want it to become something my boss knew.

      And I wouldn’t fire anyone who worked for me if I found out they were job hunting, but I also don’t really want to know it. I don’t want that in my head when I delegate stuff to them, ask their advice, give them feedback about improvement….

      Long notice, and notice periods are something different than “I think I’m going to try to find a new job, and I don’t know how long it will take.”

  6. Beebs*

    #4–one easy way to stop reply all hell is just to put yourself in the to line and blind CC everyone else. Everyone gets the message but there’s no “all” to reply to.

    1. Ann Cognito*

      This actually became our organization’s way of dealing with multi-recipient emails. The CEO got so fed-up with the ‘reply all’ issue, she sent out an org-wide email asking people to not do it (last straw was an FYI org-wide email going out and a large number of employees hitting ‘reply all’, just saying “thank you”). She also said that going forward she wanted org-wide emails done this way (using the bcc field). It didn’t cut it out completely, but it was a huge improvement, since most people started doing it.

      1. Judy*

        This is how a former employer did it, but there were issues. The emails never explained when everyone was copied, and when only managers were copied and expected to forward to their teams. So sometimes you’d be talking with a manager who said, “That was covered in the all-company email last week.” And sometimes, you’d get it, and you’d also get it forwarded from several managers.

        It seems like there needs to be a distribution notice on the top. “To: All employees”, “To: Managers, please forward to your team” etc.

        1. Ann Cognito*

          I could see that being an issue. This was really for emails letting employees know about upcoming org-wide events , or announcing an exec leaving the org for example, so not for “real business” emails. I noticed some people did it with all types of emails after that though, but it didn’t cause any issues, because they would identify who it was for in the body of the email.

    2. Hannah*

      Yes. My office was going Reply All crazy recently and an HR person sent a really excellent, friendly email that was framed as a FYI about this tip to BCC a large group to save them from accidentally replying all.

      But then he added on a note about how huge the office wide email list is, and suggested that people send “congrats” or “thanks” to the individual not the group. So the point was made but in a kind way that didn’t call out the last person who replied all by mistake. I think it’s all in the tone.

  7. 2horseygirls*

    Re: LW 1 — Mary’s a nut. I wouldn’t take anything she said with anything other than s truckload of salt.

    My former boss waited 13 months to give me horrendous feedback so she “had something to put on my annual review”. Who *does* that?!?! Not entirely sure why, considering she deliberately lied on the rest of it…..

    The part I feel bad about is that the majority of the feedback would have smoothed a lot of ruffled feathers with a co-worker who retired a month or so before my review. We have many FB friends in common, and I’ve thought frequently of just sending a PM to say hi, see how retirement is going, and explain that I never received the feedback while she was there, so I had NO idea very easily fixed things I was doing were annoying the crap out of her. Thoughts on this?

    1. Dorth Vader*

      I wouldn’t. It would come off almost like if an ex got in touch with you and wanted to rehash everything that went wrong in your relationship- could be annoying/upsetting to the recipient, generally not worthwhile to either party in the long run. I’d let sleeping dogs lie on this one.

      1. Anna*

        I’m not sure it falls in to the same category as an ex getting in touch since there’s no big emotional component involved.

        2horseygirls, go ahead and reach out you want, but don’t bring it up right away.

    2. teclatrans*

      Oh, God. So much sympathy. Way back in another lifetime, I worked as a legal secretary. One day I got reassigned attorneys seemingly out of the blue, and had the joy of learning that my old boss had spent months complaining to the office manager about myriad things, working himself into a lather as nothing changed, and he was Done with me. Sure would have been nice if she’d passed along even one of his complaints….

      1. Noobtastic*

        Once, when my old boss retired, and I got a new boss, he never once had any sort of meeting with me to address HIS expectations. However, at my annual review, he talked about expectations.

        “I notice you’ve listed your priories as X, Y, and Z.”
        “Yes, that’s how I’ve been prioritizing all year.”
        “Well, I want you to prioritize as Z, X and Y. And I’m dinging you on your performance review, for having your priorities all wrong, and being behind on Z. Also, I don’t really care about Y, and X is probably going to go by the wayside in a few months. You really, reeeeaaallllly should have been focusing on Z. Needs Improvement.”

        So, yeah, I went from “Excels” to “Needs Improvement,” with no warning, whatsoever.

        I left that job shortly before the next annual review because I simply did not want to know what he’d pull that time, based on the fact that he gave me no feedback for a year, even though I asked for it, not even when I did a massive work-crunch on Z and got it all totally squared away.

        Funnily enough, I heard that the company dropped Z, entirely, about two months after I left.

        I can deal with moving targets, if I KNOW they’re being moved. It’s the stealth targets that drive me round the bend.

    3. Temperance*

      Quite honestly, I wouldn’t care what that woman thought of me if you had such a bad relationship.

    4. Elder Dog*

      Dear Ex-co-worker,

      You probably don’t even remember this, but it’s been bothering the heck out of me.
      It appears before you retired I was using up all the toner and not ordering more, and you were stuck always having to order more.
      I didn’t find out till my yearly review after you retired that I was supposed to be the one to order toner. My manager, Leaptar, said she saved that feedback so she would have something to put on my yearly review.
      I’m sure you no longer even remember this, much less care, but I am still mortified about it, and felt I need to apologize, even at this late date. I would never have left you in the lurch like that on purpose, and I am truly truly sorry.
      Some time if you would like, I’d love to take you out for coffee and pie.

  8. Mike*

    Re: Reply All

    Honestly, I gave up fighting that battle. Instead I use the awesome GMail feature called “mute”. When I see an email that is just some sort of announcement that is going to get a bunch of noisy reply-tos I just mute it. I don’t see the replies so no skin off my nose.

    1. Natalie*

      Outlook’s “ignore” button is similar – further replies go straight to the trash. (You can check for content before you empty the trash.)

  9. CoffeeLover*

    For #5: how do you word this in your cover letter? “I am currently working abroad and am excited to move back to Texas this spring.”? Does this belong at the start of your cover letter?

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      I would say something about my current role, as I usually do in my cover letters, with something about why it perfectly fits with the position they are offering. For example:

      “After having spent 3 years working in Outer Mongolia as a Chocolate Teapot Administrator, I will be returning to Texas in June 2016.”

      1. overseas*

        I am currently overseas and in this situation. I write at the end of my cover letter that my current job contract has me committed in XYZ city until XYZ date. I am moving back to the US on XYZ date. I guess I’m concerned about mentioning it too soon and it being a turn off before they even read the letter.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Any time you’re a non-local, if it’s not the kind of job that would pay for your relocation, I think it benefits you to state that you’re definitely moving to Job Location on X date (even if it’s not true). And especially if you’re out of the country! If nothing else, I’d think you’d want to emphasize that you are eligible to work in the US.

    2. Elle the new Fed*

      When I was returning overseas, I put it in the first paragraph similarly to the way others have phrased it here. “After three years in Mongolia, I am excited to relocate home to Texas in June 2016.”

      I thought it addressed a lot of things (like: why this town in Texas?, will I need a visa?, will I leave in 3 years?) in a short succinct sentence.

    3. Brandnewfed*

      When I was job searching out of state earlier this year, the first line in my cover letters was “I graduated college in December 2015 and I will be moving to City, State in February.” This may be my perceptiin, but I felt like I did receive positive reactions. I interviewed successfully for several position and just started my new career 3 weeks ago. I would put it in because it gives potential employers a straightforward picture of where you are and your availability for contact.

  10. Z*

    #4 Do you want to hear something funny?

    I used to work for a really big global company. Once upon a time, some guy somehow accidentally sent an email to literally everyone globally. I think he meant to email everyone on his worksite but sent it to everyone-everyone. It was about attendance to some conference in Houston, USA (I’m in Australia). I came to work to DOZENS of reply-to-all emails (to everyone globally) that all said things like “sorry, can’t attend, am in Thailand” or “I am in Cambodia and cannot make it” or “I will be busy driving forklifts here in Germany” or “oh god, stop”. This went on for a few hours and tapered off. It was pretty hilarious. I considered adding my own to tell them that I couldn’t make it because my kangaroo won’t jump over the billabong to get to the airport, but I don’t want to upset anyone by adding to the mess.

    1. StarHopper*


      My favorite is when someone accidentally emailed every employee in our (large) school district. Followed immediately by a barrage of request to “remove me from this list” and multiple people replying-all to tell them to stop replying-all. It was a glorious trainwreck.

      1. ThatGirl*

        That happened here once (5,000+ person company) when a number of e-mails about some subscription went out to everyone in error, and rather than let IT know, dozens of people hit reply-all to say “remove me from this list” and then dozens more said “STOP REPLYING ALL!” … it went on for about 90 minutes.

        1. Noobtastic*

          I once did a lost-and-found message to the company distribution list (I was young, and inexperienced. My co-workers called me “Baby,”)

          Two hours later, the replies of “It’s not mine,” and “STOP!!! Don’t reply all, please!” “It’s not mine, either.” “I don’t know whose that is,” finally trickled to a close, after one of the big wigs send an emails to all, saying, “If it isn’t yours, don’t reply. Only reply if you think it might be yours.”

          When the peons get an email from someone in the C-Suite, they listen.

      2. Ghost Town*

        That happened here. Some message went out across multiple campuses on a training/software access list, and then a barrage of “What’s this?” and “remove me please” messages came pouring into my inbox. Between the first message and the originators response (not immediate, but quick enough), the situation was obvious. I almost replied all to basically say “duh, here’s the situation. STOP! you’re making it worse!” but refrained. A few others did make those replies.

        I just bitterly deleted all the emails while rolling my eyes.

    2. Christy*

      Thank your lucky stars that it was only dozens and not hundreds. My (80000-person) work got caught in a reply-all tangle that got to two hundred replies before I successfully muted the main conversation.

      My least favorite is those who change the subject line so they can tell people how to mute emails, which means that those of us who had succeeded in muting already got their email!!

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I would be tempted to reply (ONLY to them) to say “Thanks, but I already knew that and had muted the ‘Who’s going to the conference?’ conversation already.” Maybe if they get enough of those they’ll get the idea.

      2. Z*

        It was dozens when I came in for the morning. It would have been hundreds by the time it stopped.

    3. Brownie Queen*

      This happened to me recently with a global reply all. It was 300+ emails before it tapered off. Thankfully it was in my other email program that uses my client email address instead of my main work one.

      1. Kelly Kelly*

        Lord God. One year, several jobs ago, just before New Years, someone sent to the 500+ co, everyone, to have a Happy New Year. This followed with roughly half the people responding back, eat Black Eyed Peas, don’t get too drunk, etc. Finally the president of the co hit reply all and asked for it to stop. I couldn’t type a new email before more were opening.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      I’m just always confused in this situation by the person who genuinely replies. My company is in the 25,000 employee count. We have occasionally gotten into this situation from an errant corporate training or IT email. You’ve never met the person who sent the email. The entire company is on the distribution. Why would you possibly think you need to respond to this at all, never mind with reply all 30 seconds later?

      1. AnotherAlison*

        (I think you can tell when some clueless person responds that they don’t think they should have received the email, vs. the jackass who is responding to be cute.)

    5. Hlyssande*

      This happened to me too and we kept receiving replies over a few days as it filtered globally. There were hundreds of emails.

      I saved many hilarious memes.

    6. LBK*

      The email for the printing services department in my building is very similar to the email for the all-employee distribution list for my building. Every few months we’ll get someone asking all 5000+ of us to print a booklet for them. And we’re in the HQ so “all-employee” includes the president and all the executives.

    7. Sydney Bristow*

      There is a funny scene in the West Wing where Margaret’s email about the calorie count in muffins results in a bunch of reply all messages that cause the entire email system to freeze up. She keeps trying to explain it to everyone but nobody cares about the backstory just that email is down.

    8. Nervous Accountant*

      My reply-all story.

      A few months ago, my boss sent out an email to congratulate a few people on something. A few of us replied all.

      A few hours later, I get a separate email from Ronald McDonald saying “can you not reply all?” I thought about replying because I felt like I was being called out when others were doing the same thing….but let it go. Well a few hours later, Im copied in another email chain where Ronald McDonald is going back and forth with Grimace. Ronald had emailed Grimace the same thing, but instead of ignoring it like I had, the Grimace argued back. They went back and forth arguing for a few emails, (with my boss CC’d on all of this mind you) until it stopped. So he added me in to say “see, NA doesn’t have a problem with what I said, why do you?” It was hilarious. We all laugh about it now.

      1. Nervous Accountant*

        I mean all these emails/reply all doesn’t bother me, but my company is also less than 50 ppl in our office, so that also makes a difference.

    9. JennyFair*

      We may have worked together. When it happened at my company, it was immortalized in the internal wiki and, as of a year ago, still remained, with the text of each increasingly frantic ‘Stop replying all!’ reply-all, and a picture of a can of Spam that very nearly crashed the email servers :)

    10. EvilQueenRegina*

      Ever read E, by Matt Beaumont? Someone finds all his emails are going to Finland, then one telling the Finnish CEO to get lost gets copied to everyone globally. He has IT spending all night looking for the fault and eventually it turns out he’s been doing it wrong the entire time.

    11. Cordelia Longfellow*

      Something similar happened in my nationwide org a couple of years ago. There was a message that went out org-wide (pretty typical), but then somebody accidentally managed to reply-all to the nationwide email proxy with the message, “Please remove me from this distribution list.” Which led to dozens of other idiots ALSO replying-all with the same request and everybody’s inboxes flooding until HQ sent out an OMG STOP REPLYING!?! message as soon as the servers would let them.

      To this day, “Please remove me from this distribution list” is one of my favourite in-jokes.

  11. Chrissie*

    #2, instead of feigning a doctor’s appointment, can you say you are meeting up with a friend/former coworker from a different workplace/person in your professional network who happens to be in town for that conference? That would cover the case that you are spotted having lunch with someone.

    1. Mookie*

      Yes, LW 2, I’m wondering why someone from work spotting you at a conference apparently related to your industry would raise a red flag. Unless they’re carefully eavesdropping, how would they know what your conversation is about? Is there a specific reason why they wouldn’t just automatically conclude you’re speaking to him because you know him? Or are you worried that he might identify you as an applicant, and the word would get around?

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Well, I’m guessing that some of the OP’s coworkers were approved or asked to attend, but not the OP. The OP needed a reason to be away from the office on that day, and the most usual reason that won’t generate any follow-up questions is a doctor’s appointment. Now that they’ve used that excuse, it will be awkward for them to say that they now want to go to the conference, whether it’s in addition to or instead of the supposed doctor’s appointment. And proactively mentioning that they know someone there would come across as a bit odd, but it might be the best solution at this point.

        1. Chrissie*

          the way I understood “I was planning on using a doctor’s appointment as an excuse” is that the excuse making is still in the future. If any extended lunch break will cause eyerolling, then a medical reason might go over easiest.
          But, if work times are flexible, a few hours absence during lunch shouldn’t be a problem per-se. In my field, it would actually be completely normal to say “I got word from Frank, who used to work with me at company xyz/professional association chapter in Boston, that he will attend the conference next week. So I will have lunch with him to catch up.”
          YMMV though, a strong professional network is hugely important in my field, and perceived loyalty to current employer not such an issue, since everyone has non-permanent contracts anyway, and is always looking for the next gig.

          1. Sharkey*

            That likely would work, but I would find it far safer to just do what Alison suggested. Conferences are often social occasions and with a backstory like that, if my colleagues saw us I can imagine them coming over to engage in conversation (or, worse, opting to sit next to us at lunch.) Plus, there is no telling if the colleagues know the potential new employer and might bring up the meeting to him thinking it’s harmless. In the scheme of things, I can imagine that these things might not occur, but why take the chance? The OP doesn’t need to be stressed out worrying about colleagues popping up while she’s trying to sell herself to a new employee.

      2. OP #2*

        Thank you to Alison and everyone else for your comments! I was able to get in touch with my interviewer, who completely understood my situation. We are now meeting at a coffee shop around the corner from the hotel where the conference is being held. I now have one less worry going into the interview- no more plans to hide behind a potted plant. Thanks again!

    2. Colette*

      I suspect the OP would dress less formally for lunch with a friend. If she’s in a formal industry, this might work, but if she normally dresses more casually, wearing a suit would make it clear she’s not meeting a friend.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Maybe, but if I were meeting someone from my network at a conference, I’d probably err on the side of being slightly overdressed anyway, because you never know who you’ll run into at those things. I like Chrissie’s wording. That makes it seem less like an interview but still kind of professional, so it would cover the clothing issue.

  12. Lou*

    #1 sounds like my ex manager. She went as so far as to letting me know in a facebook message then she alluded to my new managers about me and my ‘personality’. She mentioned to another staff member about me leaving the job and not telling her I was looking for one, and destroying the family and being two faced what have you. Manager is out of line.

    You don’t realise how toxic an environment is when you get a good manager.

    1. the gold digger*

      You don’t realise how toxic an environment is when you get a good manager.

      So true. I didn’t realize how good my previous bosses were until the CEO NotSergio NotInArgentina. Two days after I started working for him, I started looking for a new job. I was there only eight months, but it was enough that I was scarred and even now, 21 months into my new job, I still flinch when I boss tells me to come to his office.

      The first thing I did when I got into my new job – with my current boss, who is wonderful – was write a note to each of my four bosses from before telling them how good they were and how much I had enjoyed working for them.

      1. Clinical Social Worker*

        ” I still flinch when I boss tells me to come to his office.

        The first thing I did when I got into my new job – with my current boss, who is wonderful – was write a note to each of my four bosses from before telling them how good they were and how much I had enjoyed working for them.”

        Are you me? I had a horribly abusive work environment and then went to a sort of semi-toxic work environment with really low morale. I just started (about 6 weeks ago) a job and I wrote thank yous to everyone in my department (it’s small, I have one coworker, one front desk woman and my boss) and gave them desk plants because they are JUST NORMAL PEOPLE who aren’t verbally abusing me or gaslighting me every day.

        I still flinch though when someone asks to meet with me. I’m hoping it extinguishes at some point.

    2. LabTech*

      While the manager in #1 was clearly out of line, I’m wondering how the reference situation would go. I mean, it would have already been bad given that the employee didn’t give notice and left abruptly, but I’m thinking the letter is an indication that the manager won’t have any reservations trash talking the former employees’s supposed character flaws, or flat out lying about the quality of their work.

  13. Roscoe*

    So 100% serious question on #3. Is the problem, legally speaking, that she can hear it, or that he is watching in the office. Not that I’m saying he should watch in the office. But if he was watching, and she never heard it, would that still legally be a problem? What if he left it on his screen and she walked in and saw it, but there were headphones in? It sounds like, for the most part, he is trying to hide it, he just forgets. So I’m curious where the line goes from “unprofessional but not illegal” to “harassment”

    1. TootsNYC*

      Him “not intending for her to hear it” doesn’t excuse it from being harassment.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But I don’t think that’s what Roscoe is asking. He’s asking if it would be harassment if no one knew about it or heard it, and it wouldn’t be — because there needs to be a party who objects. A key element is that it has to be unwelcome to someone.

        In this case, the OP can hear it. But I think Roscoe is asking, what if she couldn’t?

  14. Befuddled*

    #4 – “Reply All” – Many employees are very sensitive on issues when they are being told to stop doing the obvious. So I need a way to word it without hurting someone’s feelings.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      If their feelings are going to get hurt by you asking them not to reply-all, then there’s absolutely no way to phrase it without offending them.

  15. RVA Cat*

    #1 – Jane should obviously never use Mary for a reference (hopefully there are others there – surely she worked well with some of the doctors and nurses?). But if future employers contact her anyway, the story of this letter should make them reconsider anything she says.

    1. BBBizAnalyst*

      Yes. I’d keep the letter just in case Mary tries to sabotage Jane’s future opportunities. I wouldn’t present it immediately but have it as backup if Mary becomes an issue. Any reasonable employer would think Mary is nuts.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        This is what I’d do, too. I wouldn’t show a future employer the letter, but I would allude to it if asked about why it is I left the company.

  16. Not So NewReader*

    OP #1, encourage your friend that she was wise to leave this job and this letter from the old boss just proves it even more. A good manager will not allow that many “problems” to collect up like that, if she had been effectively doing her job there is no way she could have written this letter. (This is why I suspect your friend was not the problem here, there were other issues going on.)

    Understand something else also, bad managers do not exist in a vacuum. Either their bosses are not paying attention OR their bosses are just as toxic. One doc in this area has former employees all over town. They all say similar things, the immediate boss was toxic but the doc was pretty much out to lunch, too. Encourage your friend that she was not in a position (as one person alone) to fix a problem this massive and it will take the cooperation of many people in order for change to happen. Some times the best we can do with a bad situation is extract ourselves and look for healthy environments.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      Either their bosses are not paying attention OR their bosses are just as toxic.

      Or their bosses are paying attention, but are just too spineless to do anything about their rogue employee.

      1. Artemesia*

        It would be tempting to forward this to her boss and the CEO with ‘this is how Mary behaves towards employees who have given proper notice and moved on to new positions.’
        None of these issues were raised by her during my tenure when if there were actually genuine problems I could have responded and made changes.’

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Artemesia, you’re a woman after my own heart, lol. I would be tempted to do the same. CEO may not know how psychotic this woman is and might actually do something about it because if you sent it to her, who knows who else you sent it to. It doesn’t look good for the company at all.

          1. Artemesia*

            Ah good point. I’d still notify the CEO on this perhaps noting the circumstance of leaving.

      2. Michelle*

        Christopher Tracy- I know a place just like that! This guy is not just rogue, he’s pure evil. He cussed out his boss, boss said nothing and boss ended up apologizing to the evil guy. It is totally messed up.

        I have to wonder why managers/management let rogue employees “run off” good employees.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Ha! That sounds like my former manager. She got pissed because her boss (the division VP) suggested a coworker and I go to lunch with some new people to our division and their manager. Well, manager from hell thought she should have had a say in who got to go to this lunch (even though what we do on our lunch break is none of her damn business), so she stormed into her manager’s office and told him off for suggesting us. The crazy thing was, he didn’t kick her out of his office because I sure as hell would have. Like, who are you to tell me who I can and cannot suggest for a lunch?!

          Yeah, he let her get away with murder up until I left and she threatened a coworker who has cancer. Then he finally demoted her.

  17. nofelix*

    #4 – With the Reply-Alls, what is the problem with receiving them? If you’re CC’d and don’t have time to read them then don’t. If people needed your attention they’d send the email to you directly, using the To: field.

    I have an ‘archive’ folder I shove all things like that into, or just in the job folder if project related.

    I think Reply-Alls are sometimes important for more than conveying info. Like you may not care if someone leaves the company and nobody says goodbye, but others will.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      I think we all agree that there are times when reply-all is appropriate. But there are also times when it isn’t. Why should I have to wade through 50 emails that are not relevant to me at all when the whole issue could be avoided with a little common courtesy on the part of the people replying?

      Like you may not care if someone leaves the company and nobody says goodbye, but others will.

      What? The problem is that many people are saying goodbye, and they’re sending personal good-bye messages to the entire company.

    2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      A few people have shared examples above, but the problem is some of these can getting well past 100 replies.

      I get between 200-250 project related emails a day, so while there is nothing actually harmful about receiving 30 separate “thanks” emails when someone shares there are cupcakes in accounting, it is annoying.

      Even on project related emails, I always encourage my staff to remove me from a group email if they feel comfortable and loop me back in when necessary. I was always taught that you should only reply all if everyone on the email *needed* to see your reply.

    3. Artemesia*

      Have you never received 80 or 90 emails with ‘please remove me from this list’ and other such nonsense? It fills the mailbox and makes it harder to spot the important stuff.

    4. Murphy*

      There are two problems from my perspective:

      1. Volume. I get hundreds of emails every day and adding to that with unnecessary junk makes it harder for me to not lose track of the important things (an important email squashed between 20 reply-all emails is hard to spot sometimes).
      2. Freedom of Information Requests. I work in the public sector which means my email is subject to FOIP legislation. Reply-all emails increase risk with little benefit (and make it a pain in the ass to search emails should a FOIP request come on that’s related to that subject).

    5. Kyrielle*

      If it takes 1 second to dispose of the unnecessary message, and 300 people receive it, you’ve collectively used 5 man-minutes. That’s not that bad, but if there are 120 unwanted messages, each person has spent a couple minutes disposing of them adn you’re up to _hours_ of man-time spent deleting or moving these emails.

      And…at least where I am now, that’s conservative; at its most dramatic, a reply-all storm here could involve thousands of people receiving them. (Most emails to large groups are sent to a mailing group that most of us don’t have send privileges on, though – so luckily we don’t have to deal with reply-all storms on things of office- or company-wide interest.)

    6. TootsNYC*

      Since Outlook lets me group my inbox by conversation, I don’t end up with so much clutter in my email.
      and now that I know about “ignore,” it’ll be even less of a problem for me.

      but I have staffers who complain about these “reply alls” to news about people’s promotions, leaving, hiring, etc. Honestly, I think they spend more time and mental energy complaining than it would take to just delete.

      I think they get bothered by the “violation of good form.” A reply-all is NOT good form in that instance; it’s unnecessary. BUT…it only becomes as disruptive and wasteful as you allow it to be.

      It’s sort of like telemarketers. My DH and I both interrupt and say, “We’re not interested, take us off your list,” and we hang up. We never speak about it again; we don’t complain, we don’t rant, we don’t ask the telemarketer person lots of questions to mess with them. We hang up and move on.
      We’ve been interrupted, sure but this tactic keeps it down to only about 30 seconds total (including phone-answering time). Whereas getting upset about it would make it last longer.

      What’s the goal? To minimize the disruption in your life. There are many tactics YOU can take that will achieve this, and they’ll probably produce less disruption than trying to fix the rest of the world.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Of course, if you’re an upper manager, or the IT group, then taking steps to minimize the email storm Kyrielle describes might BE a good use of your energy and time.

        But for your average person? Figure out how to use the “ignore” or “junk” function, and try to move on.

    7. JMegan*

      But people who use Reply All to the “leftover cake in the kitchen” emails probably are also not super careful about the difference between the CC: and the To: field. And I’m not sure, but I *think* that Outlook has some funny rules about it as well – if I Reply All, I become a sender, and it puts my name in the To: field for the next person who replies. You can only create so many incoming rules to manage situations like that – at some point it’s up to the senders to change their behaviour as well.

      In my last job, the Reply All storm went to well over a thousand people, lasted more than an hour, and eventually crashed the servers. And this was an IT organization, so you’d think the users would have been moderately aware of this kind of thing, but apparently not!

    8. Kyrielle*

      One other note – if I’m in the “To” line of the original email, I’m also in the “To” line of the reply, not the CC line. Unless the sender changes that, but if they’re doing a reply-all to say thanks for the cake, they’re not going to go clean up the To line, in my experience. :)

      Agreed, if you’re a recipient, you have pretty much two useful options: move/delete it while ignoring it otherwise, or (if this is the first offense from someone and especially if you even vaguely know them) reply to them directly and suggest that a direct reply, rather than reply-all, may be best. The latter is up to whether your organizational culture supports it, whether you feel like having the discussion, and whether you can afford the additional time, though.

      Management and IT have a lot more options and, ideally, will use them.

      Again, for email groups of sufficient size. It’s _nice_ not to reply-all in general, but if you only have 5-10 recipients, it’s not like it can go really wild.

    9. doreen*

      The last time there was a reply-all storm at my job, I got well over a thousand emails ( many of which were people using reply-all to tell other people to stop using reply-all and people using reply-all to tell those people they were contributing to the problem) and it went on for days, as people who were out of the office when the original email was sent returned to work. Way too easy to miss necessary emails in the middle of that.

  18. newlyhr*

    #2 the less said about WHY you are away from the office, the better. I wouldn’t doctor the details by saying what kind of appointment it is, just say that you have to be away from the office and take leave time to do it. I like Allison’s suggestion about letting the hiring manager know that you would prefer to meet somewhere else if possible.

  19. Jessie*

    #5: If you haven’t already, I also recommend paying for a U.S. phone # through skype or another internet-based service.

    1. Laura*

      You can set up a US number for free through Google Voice! I’ve been back and forth working abroad and in the US for the past 6 years and this is what I use. When someone calls while I’m out of the country, I can answer in Gmail. When I’m in the US, calls forward to my cell phone. Way better than paying Skype or another service for a US phone number and call forwarding. Plus I never have to think about what number to give. I can give this number and they’ll always be able to reach me no matter where I am.

      At the top of my resume I only include my email and phone number, no address or location. My field is very international so most of the time employers don’t care where you are at any moment in time, just how long your current contract is and when you’re available to come to their location. For US-based positions, I always use a friend or family member’s address if one is required in their online form. My parents’ address is my permanent one for tax purposes (it’s also where all my things are stored), but I’ve used other addresses if they’re closer to the actual job.

      If you’re only applying to jobs in your home state because you’re moving back soon, I would put that address at the top of your resume. Your current location will show up in your current job. It doesn’t need to be highlighted at the top of your resume. You should definitely mention in your cover letter when you are returning home (and refer to it as home).

  20. Slippy*

    #3 – There are some things you can do, although they are mainly to protect yourself and are not related to sexual harassment. If your boss is watching naughty videos at work then sooner or later (probably sooner) he is going to get some nasty malware on his computer that can expose the network to malicious attackers. I would look through your computer and remove any personal information that pertains to you and make sure you do not access personal online services from the work network. Also change your passwords so your work passwords are not the same as your personal passwords and fully clear out the browser cache to remove stored passwords. Small businesses are especially vulnerable to people’s stupidity when it comes to computer security.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Is this really true or an urban legend? (That it WILL happen, I mean, not that it might?) There are plenty of legitimate porn sites out there that I doubt are distributing malware to their users.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I think it’s mostly the ads that buy space on the sites. The sites will be a bunch of enticing-looking links that are real, and then the ads will look about the same but link to malware. As someone mentioned below, I think they’re counting on people to…not really be employing their critical thinking while on such sites.

      2. Hello Felicia*

        Back in the early days of the interwebs, I worked in ecommerce fraud. We found a fairly substantial number of our fraud customers had come by the stolen credit card numbers via porn sites. The customer would put the card number in to use the site, the card would never be charged but the information would be stolen. The theory back then was that no one would want to admit that they had used the credit card on a porn site, so it would be harder for card companies to find the common denominator.

      3. Nerdling*

        Yeah, it happens, although generally the malware is in the ads rather than the actual website content.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I get that it happens, but I’m wondering that “it will absolutely happen” (which is how I’ve seen it presented here) versus “it may happen.”

          1. Slippy*

            While it is not absolutely certain, it is very very likely; especially since it is a small business. Small businesses frequently have little if any security in place, and their computers and browsers often are not patched regularly. A lot of attacks come from compromised ad networks however they can come from a lot of different vectors. Also some adult sites are fronts for organized cybercrime rings and serve malware intentionally and try and draw people in from legitimate sites or by using search engine optimization.

  21. Ella*

    My work dealt with the reply-all issue in three ways:

    -You must get permission from your manager (or be sufficiently high in the hierarchy) before sending the email in the first place.
    -Every company-wide email has a reminder in it saying “please do not reply all to this email.”
    -If someone sends an unapproved staff-wide email, they get an email from an HR person reminding them of the org policy and more or less shaming them into compliance. You’re also likely to get verbal reminders/teasing from your immediate coworkers.

    It works pretty well. Once the chain has gotten started, I think it’s too late.

  22. Employment Lawyer*

    Re #3. My boss watches porn at work, and I can hear it
    I disagree with AAM here.

    The problem isn’t “watching porn.” Most adult males watch porn occasionally; plenty of them do it at work. This isn’t usually an issue SO LONG AS it is done in private, so that there is no noticeable and illegal effect on anyone else. Yes, I know it gets a lot of publicity, but it isn’t necessarily a big deal. Trust me: If we fired every man who thought about porn, talked about porn, watched porn, or did something sexualized in private, we would have very few male employees between 20 and 50. You just don’t know about it.

    So if he isn’t harassing folks and he isn’t otherwise acting like an asshole, then this is an easy problem to solve: Tell him you can hear it (he’ll be embarrassed) and ask him to make sure you can’t hear it, or to move you to a different desk. He’ll probably just wear headphones. Problem solved.

    If he intentionally turns up the moaning, you can sue him. If he IS harassing folks, you can sue him.

    But practically speaking quitting would be silly, if he can turn it down. And if he turns it down and doesn’t harass you otherwise then you’re done: if you’re troubled by the thought that someone is watching porn behind a closed door in a private office of their own company, the issue is with you, not him.

    1. Ella*

      The issue is not that he’s watching porn. Nobody’s judging him for watching porn. The problem is that he’s watching it AT WORK. Even if he wears headphones and takes measures to be more discreet, it is entirely inappropriate to watch porn AT WORK. There is no such thing as private porn watching at work.

      1. Roscoe*

        I don’t know if I agree with that. I mean, not that I’d do it, but if I chose to watch it on my phone with my headphones in, I’m not sure how much other people should be policing that. Its not company property. No one else can hear it. At best its wasting company time (similar to, say reading an employment blog at work).

        1. Ella*

          It may depend somewhat on your environment. I work in a setting where interruptions are common and anyone can interrupt basically anyone else at any given time. If I knocked on my boss’s door to ask her a question about the procedure for the thing and she was watching porn, I would be annoyed. And (as the LW here has illustrated), what you think is private often just isn’t.

          1. Roscoe*

            I suppose. I just don’t see why if you knocked on your bosses door and she was watching porn you’d be annoyed. Is it because you think her time would be better spent on something else?

            But it is true that it depends on your environment. My job is pretty autonomous, and no one ever really just pops by my desk. At most, they’d send me an IM. I can see in other situations, like an open floor plan, where it would be a problem.

            This guy though is in his office, with the door shut, in a company he owns. Very different.

            1. mander*

              If I were watching any kind of entertainment when I’m getting paid to be doing work, my boss would be pretty mad. If I’m at work I’m supposed to be doing work.

        2. anonderella*

          Hey now! I genuinely read AAM to get better at my job. I am completely new to the “grown-up” (sorry, Allison, but it is how I feel & the best way to quickly say what I mean) workforce; though I realize there are other things I could be doing with my time, I have to wait to be handed them by my higher-ups. I tried for the first few months of being here to stick my nose all over and see what I could do without approval, in order to learn about my company and increase my own professional growth, but too often it was knocked down by my boss. So, clearly, I was not presenting to her ideas and projects that were worth her time. I needed to converse with a group of my peers about topics related to work (not to mention, to have a safe place to emote and apologize for miscommunications without fear of backlash or demotion) in order to learn better what those goals should be looking like.

          I’m not there yet, but I know my boss can see that I go to AAM. Of course, I worry about her being disappointed that I’m reading blogs/forums, but I have been prepared from Day 1 of visiting this site to sit down and talk with her regarding getting more on my plate to be responsible for, should the day ever arise that she wonder about my internet-URL-journeys.
          However, I’ve been being promised for the past four months a giant ongoing project that will take up much of my time; asking for something else to do now, before they’ve got figured out what they wanted to hand me in the first place, would be redundant, would lower their confidence in me by making them think I don’t understand that they have more important things to do, and would piss them off that I asked them to set aside what they were doing (which might be getting the project ready for me!) in order to give me something to do.

          Now, I realize this isn’t most people’s work condition (or idk, maybe it is. I’m new.), but I’m just finding it offensive that you don’t see the value in this site…..


      2. Employment Lawyer*

        The issue is not that he’s watching porn. Nobody’s judging him for watching porn. The problem is that he’s watching it AT WORK. Even if he wears headphones and takes measures to be more discreet, it is entirely inappropriate to watch porn AT WORK.

        If you own a company;
        If you don’t report to anyone else;
        And if you’re in a private office where nobody knows what’s going on;
        Then you can ethically and appropriately do whatever the hell you want. You can pick your nose, watch porn, do nude yoga, post on KKK bulletin boards, advocate for ISIS, or whatever you want.

        There is no such thing as private porn watching at work.

        Millions of men across the country would disagree.

        Seriously, the problem here is that it ISN’T PRIVATE. If it was private, nobody would know and we would not care.

        1. Ella*

          I also disagree that it’s ethical and appropriate for a boss to do nude yoga or post to animal rights forums or whatever. Is it legal? Sure. But I also think that an ethical and appropriate boss should be modeling the behavior that she wants her employees to exhibit. I would bet you money that if the LW started doing audibly off-task things at her desk her boss would not be too happy with it, and rightfully so. Is it his privilege as boss to be a hypocrite about expecting his employees to not watch porn while he gets to? I guess. That doesn’t make him right though.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      I mostly agree with you, although I will choose to pretend that none of my male co-workers aren’t watching that at work (they can’t here anyway unless it’s on their phone).

      The OP doesn’t really say what her relationship is with the owner, this issue aside, so if she has a decent rapport with him, I’d be inclined to maybe jokingly say something to the effect of “hey buddy, could you turn that down….and maybe never turn it back up? It’s pretty clear what’s up on this side of the door.” (HA…no pun intended) If this isn’t her style or she doesn’t have that kind of rapport, maybe an e-mail sent while it’s on asking that it be muted will be sufficient to get the point across. I might say something like “Not sure what you’re watching in there, but it’s a bit loud and distracting. Would you mind muting it?” This avoids the embarrassment of saying “are you watching porn?” while still conveying that OP knows exactly what’s going on.

      And as Employment Lawyer says, this seems to happen far more frequently in all business environments than most people would like to admit.

    3. Mickey Q*

      You think it’s no problem he’s watching porn at work? This is a firing offense at every company. Just because he’s the owner doesn’t make it ok. OP you should document document document and then find a real lawyer.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        [shrug] It’s a firing offense because people like me say it is. It’s grounds for a suit because people like me bring the suits. Attorneys know that even if someone IS NOT actually harassing merely because they view porn, there are enough folks out there who like policing private behavior that it’s too big a risk.

        As an example, look at all the nannies on this thread: Almost nobody is actually asking the real question “what is the simplest way to stop making her hear porn?” because they would rather just assume the owner is bad, bad, bad. If those folks sat on a jury they would be biased against the owner in any future harassment claim merely because he once watched porn at work–even though those two things are not really related.

        That’s why we advise our clients to fire folks.

        But it doesn’t NEED to be a firing offense. If you’re a rational grownup, you should realize that “zero tolerance” policies are actually pretty inaccurate. If nobody is hurt, nobody should care. Solve the problem simply, if you can.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I agree — it’s not harassment if no one knows about it. It’s unprofessional and weird to watch porn at work but if literally no one knows about it but you and you’re the owner of the company, that’s your call.

          But I’m confused by your original response above, which makes it sound like I was saying the issue is that he’s watching porn at all. That’s not the issue; the issue is that the OP is aware of it because she hears it.

          Of course we all know that people watch porn, so it seems like a red herring to focus on that element. The issue is that it’s creating a sexualized environment for the OP because she can hear it.

          1. Roscoe*

            But then shouldn’t the ideal situation be to tell the boss you can hear it and ask to not hear it anymore. My guess is that he doesn’t realize she can hear it. In his mind, he is being private. It seems he is trying pretty hard to do so. He isn’t doing it with the volume blaring and his door open. He probably thought it was quiet enough, and it wasn’t. Why is the advise to take legal action as opposed to just asking her to deal with it.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Actually, yes, I always think the ideal solution is to start by talking to the person directly. But in this case, the OP specifically says she’s not comfortable doing that and asked if any laws come into play.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Ah I missed that before I posted below–but if she is uncomfortable with the situation, she really needs to say something. Or maybe have someone else do it — I’d be glad to if I worked there, maybe “Hey Fergus, I stopped by Penelope’s desk the other day to work on the almond teapot report, and we could hear your videos. Mind turning it down please? Thanks.”

              2. MillersSpring*

                Agreed. That jumped out to me in her letter–she is not comfortable speaking to him. If she was, I’d suggest just standing in his doorway, pointing to his monitor, and saying, “Fergus, I don’t want to hear that.”

            2. TootsNYC*

              i will tell you that even once being able to hear it would make me feel really unsafe. There’ an objectification involved that would forever change the way I looked at that boss or colleague.

              Especially because there is a societal norm that these things are not appropriate in general, and very much so not appropriate in any slightly public place (like, where other people are working), and so his willingness to violate that norm would really unsettle me.

              I get that so many people look at porn. But when they’re doing it at work, next to me, what does taht say about the way they look at the world?

              as for telling her to deal with it–well, he sounds like he’s the boss, so that’s pretty uncomfortable.

              1. Roscoe*

                Unsafe seems like a strong word. You are making a leap from does something “arguably” inappropriate in his office with his door closed, to that he may attack you. But aside from that, it may be an uncomfortable conversation, but it doesn’t have to be “He boss, I heard your porn yesterday”. It could be “Hey boss, I’m not sure if you are aware, but I can hear a lot from your office, even with your door closed. Music, conversations, videos, etc” He will probably get the hint.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think you’ve got to trust women to make their own judgments on what feels unsafe to them. Many people have learned from experience that people willing to violate boundary X are also going to be more willing to violate boundary Y.

                2. Tomato Frog*

                  Exposing people ‘accidentally’ or casually to porn is a classic boundary-testing tactic. The fact that he’s not taking precautions like using headphones would also ping my ‘unsafe’ radar.

                3. TootsNYC*

                  If he can get the hint, then he and I have just had a conversation about his porn watching. His sex life, in some level of detail.

                  I don’t ever want to have that conversation with people at work. Not even obliquely.

                4. TootsNYC*

                  And what if his next comment is, “didn’t you find it interesting? Hmm?”

                5. anonderella*

                  @ Tomato Frog

                  Yes! As someone who that has happened to (sorry, grammar; think I butchered you), after it has happened, I have a ZERO tolerance policy on being exposed to porn against my will.

                  If it ever happened at the workplace, you’d better believe I’m going to throw an ugly fit – maybe because it’s happened to me that an older person (so, someone in a place of authority in this situation) was the porn-exposer, so my reflexes are very, very high in this situation to not have it happen again, whatever I can/must do to stop it.

              2. AlyInSebby*


                Well said NYC ;D

                People/Men can try to fob this off as not a big deal and a victimless offense – it’s not normal, it’s not okay, I am offended and no longer respect you.

        2. AlyInSebby*

          Here’s my dirty lens.

          This always comes down to power differential.

          If you have seniority or power over me, and you do this you are harming me, whether I know it or not.

          I was in the military.

          I was the only female in an all male school. With two separate commands – one for my branch of service and one for the branch that was running the school.

          I found out my first day in school that the senior administrative petty officer for my branch on this base watched porn films in his office during the regular business day AND invited others to join.

          So my command knew about it and the operational command knew about it and no one put a stop to it. And in fact they were joining in. Literally every man in my chain of command in two services on that base and the affiliated bases in the area.

          When the harassment (because I was the only female) started who could I go to? Everyone above me allowed this to go on. So who was going to help me/have my back – No one.

          This was 20 + years ago just before Tailhook (which involved some of the larger command once all the dirty laundry was aired).

          I was taught early in my working life that – It has always been and will firmly always be – anyone who is inappropriate enough to engage in those behaviors in a supposedly regimented or otherwise business appropriate environment in the U.S. know better – They DO! Hold them to it!

          I get what Employment Lawyer is saying and to some degree agree that if know one knows or isn’t otherwise confronted by it, it is not the worst thing. But seriously, when doesn’t it effect anyone lower on the chain that the person engaging in the behavior?

          If you are my boss or my company owner and you do this and I know – you get zero respect, zero anything from me and if I know someone higher up knows and is doing nothing? They are spineless unprofessional idiots with zero self control.

          Saying everyone does it does not make it right. As a supposed leader in a company you should have some self control and expect it of others above and below you.

          In the end of these situations that’s my default. Should that person have known better and shown some self control? Yes! Am I wrong for being offended and feeling harassed? No!

          Unprofessional behavior of this order and magnitude and possible ripple effect – if you are a boss you should be wise enough to have considered the possible outcomes and NONE are acceptable in a business environment – unless you are in the business of making/selling/or distributing porn.

          And here’s my PTSD voice – “No, NO and NO. I should not have to tell anyone who is my superior why that is wrong and stupid! And If I have to point it out to you, your boss, etc. that is a cancer in that business. Grow the bleep up! Behave like a man (it has only been men in my experience) of the character you led me to believe you deserve as my superior, and expect others to behave as well. ZERO TOLERANCE!”

          Honestly, these days I deal with this as a scorched earth issue. If I know one person is doing this, then others know too. That’s not professional nor an appropriately professional environment. And if no one who should be keeping the gate is doing their job I will report to EDD, and start harassment proceedings w HR or appropriate authority.

          This is pretty much why I can no longer work in almost any U.S. company with 5+ EEs, I work two weeks, find the cancer, no one will act and I can’t stay.

          Accepting this behavior is accepting that others who have no choice are forced to be involved, that’s wrong!

          Look at what LW is going through!? Should this be her job? Her issue? No!

          Yes, he owns the company!

          He should be smart enough not to put his company in financial jeopardy and have enough concern and care for his business reputation to behave as an owner/a person of character!

          His employees (all EEs) shouldn’t have to choose between their livelihoods and letting his poor character take over their work.

          I really wish I could agree with “Leave it alone, if no one knows there is no problem. Let adults figure it out between themselves.” But it almost never actually gets acted out that way.

          It is a S*TH STORM of EPIC PROPORTIONS waiting to explode and it has already eroded respect and fairness and – let’s not forget this is in the workplace! – the business of doing business.

          Can we please stop minimizing and dismissing how negative this is in the professional arena!?

          If you are a male and you know another male in your workplace is doing this – DO SOMETHING! – obviously this is a hot button issue for me but I am not saying or expecting anything that shouldn’t already be how we as a society act.

          I really liked the script example last week of the the new Vp (?) in a meeting setting saying “Dude. not cool, let’s not have anymore of that.” That is all it takes to stand up.

          If as a society we aren’t living up to that, you are all failing. And I mean that specifically – I have stood up, over and over.

          I have taken this hit financially, every time (and often when it meant compromising my financial solvency) because I KNOW it’s wrong and I agree it’s all of our jobs for ourselves and those after us. I won’t settle for that low bar. No one else should either.

          I understand how MANY people feel powerless about this and can’t act as I have. But that’s the problem, not me.

          Also as taxpayers you should know that the end result of my experience in the military was a civil rights case decided in my favor. After 14 months of training and education in this school/for my job in the military – I never worked in that job. These people wasted hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars to protect the porn guy and convince me (break me) to leave the service.

          I have full medical and dental for life (not many people get dental – TL). You are paying for that (thank you). Lastly I am service connected/disabled because of this so you also now pay me $1,500.00 a month tax free for life.

          These people have literally wasted millions of tax dollars and affiliated support because some guy wanted to watch porn in the office and one female said “That’s not appropriate in the work environment.”

          And sorry for tmi but this will probably come up too – I personally use porn, erotica and have since before my service. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sexual/erotic content (as long as no one is exploited in producing it) in the proper setting – which is always ALWAYS NOT AT WORK!

          1. anonderella*

            I completely agree with everything you said; you’re a very strong person, and I thank you for sharing your experience here! I, too, would pitch a fit if ever put in this position.

            1. AlyInSebby*

              Thank you and Miller,

              I needed that. I was feeling a bit screetchy.

              Glad to see less tolerance for bad behavior later in the thread.

            2. AlyInSebby*

              Many thanks to you and Miller,

              I needed that. I was feeling a bit screetchy.

              Glad to see less tolerance for bad behavior later in the thread.

          2. Dynamic Beige*

            You go, AlyInSebby!

            with zero self control
            There was an article I read a long time ago about weird things people had seen while driving down the highway. It ranged from women putting on their makeup, to a guy eating a bowl of cereal with milk using a spoon, to someone reading the paper, to another guy watching porn. He had one of those small DVD players hooked up so that he could watch porn while he drove. Beyond the pearl-clutchiness of “but what about the children? won’t anyone think of the children?” the only thing I could think was “if you can’t get through a morning commute without watching porn… you’ve got a problem.” Call me judgemental but if you can’t get through a work day without watching porn, you’ve got a problem. Maybe two problems, because if you don’t have enough work to do, that would be another problem. If you have to go outside/to your car/wherever and get a porn “fix”, you’ve got a problem.

            Now, I really don’t care what people do in the privacy of their own homes. If someone wants to watch porn all day and all night, that’s their business (so long as there isn’t any exploitation or killing involved of people, children or animals). But when you leave your home, pants are no longer optional, they are kind of mandatory if you don’t want to be arrested for indecent exposure. Same with porn. There’s a time and place for that and it ain’t on the subway at 7:30am.

            I’ve seen businesses get all in a twist because their employees were spending too much time on Facebook or playing Angry Birds. Rightly so, because I’ve never seen a Wanted: Professional Angry Birds Player as a job ad. I’ve had to work at places with NetNannies that wouldn’t even let you go to the most innocuous sites and you had to submit them to approval to someone else in order to get them added to whitelist. I’m not even talking big companies, either.

            This OP’s porn-watching boss may own the company but… what if his biggest client dropped by unexpectedly and heard that? If a person sitting outside at a desk can, then other people can also probably hear it. How far away is their meeting or conference room? What if his wife or SO came by and heard it? Or one of his children? Or his mother? I would put money on it that if an employee had been watching porn at their desk and one of the Boss’ children caught them at it, that employee would be fired instantly.

            To paraphrase AlyInSebby… please people, exercise some self-restraint. It ain’t gonna kill you.

      2. voyager1*

        I don’t think lawyering up is a god idea here unless the LW is sure she wants to sue and leave this job. Also one needs to weigh how much of settlement she could get versus how long it might take her to find a job.

      3. Joseph*

        “File a lawsuit” with regards to employment/personnel matters is advice that often sounds a LOT better on paper than it does in reality. I mean, your *best-case* scenario end-game is that they (a) pay your legal fees, (b) give you a small settlement, and (c) you’re unemployed and looking for a new job. And that’s best case.

        Then, when you’re looking for a new job, they’ll ask the standard question about why you left your last job. And many people would immediately wonder if it was really that big of an issue and if you had tried to address it directly with him first before pulling out the big guns of quitting. Oh, and if any company finds out you sued your last company, your application is going straight in the Do Not Hire pile – it doesn’t matter who was legally in the right, the interviewer will immediately assume you’re a litigious sort who might sue them also.

        1. voyager1*

          This is exactly what I wanted to say but didn’t feel comfortable saying. I can add that I have seen this situation play out.

    4. Cordelia Naismith*

      Seriously? You really don’t see a problem with people watching porn at work? Really? Even if he turns it down so it’s not bothering other people, watching porn at work is the definition of unprofessional behavior. There’s a time and a place, and work is neither.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        Cordelia Naismith
        May 4, 2016 at 10:21 am
        Seriously? You really don’t see a problem with people watching porn at work? Really?

        No, not if it’s private.

        watching porn at work is the definition of unprofessional behavior.

        That’s because you’re using the wrong definition. Grownups have judgment–or they should–and judgment usually asks “does it hurt anyone else and if not, why should I care?”

        Life works better if we leave people alone more, and focus on what matters.

        1. Cordelia Naismith*

          If watching porn at work isn’t unprofessional, then what is, by your definition?

          1. Employment Lawyer*

            Most things are unprofessional under some circumstances but not others. For example,

            -personal grooming
            -watching porn
            -personal phone calls
            -political conversations

            and so on.

            With the exception of bright-line ones like “company theft,” the vast majority of things are perfectly OK if you manage to do them in a locked room without anyone knowing: no harm, no foul. Whether you’re tweezing body hair, surfing playboy, arranging a tryst with your lover, or joining a fringe political movement, you’re generally fine if you keep it private.

            The question here was whether or not it was intended to be private, or whether it was intentionally shared.

            1. mander*

              Except that if you’re doing that stuff when you should be doing your job. I consider it pretty unprofessional to be doing whatever instead of your work.

            2. TootsNYC*

              Actually, I maintain that it doesn’t matter whether he **intended** it to be private. It could be a total accident that would mortify him.

              It’s still wrong.

              And I still don’t want the burden to be on me to “say something” to him, not even something oblique.
              If I have a boss, I’m going to want them to do something about it. If I am a boss, I’m going to fire his (or her) ass. Right now.

              Our OP doesn’t have a boss to something about it; she has no one in authority who can come and make a stance about this. She’s on her own–with the very person whose sense of appropriateness, especially about sexual matters, has him watching porn at his desk and **more than once** leaving the volume high enough that she can hear it.

    5. Murphy*

      Most adult males watch porn occasionally; plenty of them do it at work.
      Honestly, I don’t believe this statement. The first part, sure. The last? No way. That is wildly inappropriate work behaviour (and a firing offence here). I have never worked in an environment (including banking, which tends to be male dominated) where people just expected work!porn to happen and that we delicate ladies needed to just be cool with it (and believe me, I’m not cool with porn at work whether or not I can hear it).

      If we fired every man who thought about porn, talked about porn, watched porn, or did something sexualized in private, we would have very few male employees between 20 and 50. You just don’t know about it.
      But work isn’t private. To presume that you get to act the same way at work that you would in the comfort of your home is ridiculous. I don’t sit around my office with my bra and pants off and expect that that’s true of all my colleagues (at the very least the pants part).

      1. Roscoe*

        So serious question, if you can’t hear it and it doesn’t affect you, why do you care? It seems to me no different than if a woman was listening to a 50 shades of Gray Audio Book. I don’t like it, but if I don’t have to hear it, it doesn’t matter to me.

        1. NoProfitNoProblems*

          1) Because it compromises the security of the office computer network to viruses

          2) Because sometime down the line, it might become public knowledge, which may cause shares to go down, stakeholders to lose faith, loss of financial stability, etc. I know for a fact that in my nonprofit, if the CEO was ever revealed to be watching porn at work, donations would drop precipitously.

          3) Because I find it hard to believe that a person who thinks watching porn at work is appropriate wouldn’t ALSO sexualize the workplace is other ways

          4) Because when you are watching porn, you are detracting from your work on a level that doesn’t compare with occasional five-minute breaks for web surfing

          5) Do you really think that NO one else in the office would never find out or even suspect?

          1. Roscoe*

            As I mentioned in another comment, I think using a work device to watch it is a problem, so I was more referring to watching on a phone or other device. So assuming those things:

            1. There would be no security issues unless they use the company network
            2. That really depends on the company. In a non-profit, I’m sure it would make a difference. Other companies, maybe not.
            3. Thats a huge leap that you are making.
            4. The amount of videos I’ve seen people watch in the office is huge. Sure, there are 2 minute clips, I’ve also seen people watch 20 minute clips.
            5. Even if they find out, again, why would you care unless it is impacting the ability to do your job.

              1. Roscoe*

                See, here is the thing, just because I don’t really see a problem with it, doesn’t mean I’d do it. I don’t have a problem with owning a gun, but I don’t want to own one. I don’t want to watch porn at work, but if someone else did, and it wasn’t affecting me 1 bit, I wouldn’t care.

                Do you see the difference?

                1. NoProfitNoProblems*

                  I’m sorry, I was snappish with that comment. But this particular issue is such a show of blatant disrespect for the workplace that I find it hard to discuss in the abstract.

                2. NoProfitNoProblems*

                  Hit the submit button too soon! I wanted to add, that I would simply refrain from commenting on this topic in the future. Also, I want to say that I stand in complete respect for your blog policies! But I also think that it’s fair to ask people for their personal experiences of a subject that they’re defending (although obviously less harshly than I had done)

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s totally fair to share personal experiences, and that makes for a better discussion. My issue was with implying that Roscoe watches porn at work or plans to, simply because he’s making an intellectual argument about it.

              2. Employment Lawyer*

                OK. I just dutifully watched 30 seconds of porn. Here’s the report:

                It went fine. No puppies or baby bunnies died. My paralegal never even knew.

                What’s the problem?

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Well, porn sites are a common target for viruses and malware, simply because the baddies know people will click on stuff they find enticing without thinking about that. For that reason alone, a former job’s IT guy blocked it; he didn’t care what people did online, but he wasn’t going to let them take down the network doing it.

                2. TootsNYC*

                  It’s not surprising that 30 seconds once was not a problem.

                  If you were watching it for 30 minutes every day or even every other day, I think you’d have a darned hard time keeping it truly private.

                3. anonderella*

                  Well, for one, your intention by watching porn in this instance was just to prove everybody wrong, which would not be included in a valid sample because of your obvious participant bias.

                  Now, for an average Joe/Jane watching porn at work, I have no idea of their sexual intentions. I, for one, am not comfortable with anybody’s sexual intentions at work.

                  You seem to be glaring by the obvious – if others DID know, they probably WOULD care. Not telling them, solely because you know this and want to continue watching porn unabated is the same thing as being dishonest and above everything else, disgustingly disrespectful.

                  Sex is not just sex to everyone. Don’t assume that your casual stance on it is appropriate because you’ve found a way to try forever not to let anyone know what you’re thinking.

            1. anonderella*

              Regarding your counter-point # 3 :

              **this next sentence is my opinion**Porn (and I do watch porn. At home.) at it root does perpetuate the idea that sex can be available at any time; it doesn’t have to be respectfully attained or bargained for. (So, not saying that all people who watch porn are evil, just that I can correlate that kind of disrespect with other, non-sexual, disrespect that could show up in this person’s work relationships.) It is also my opinion that someone who watches porn at work so regularly that they have to go to lengths to hide their activity, sounds like they might have an impulse control or other perspective on sex that lets them think of sex in so casual a way, which is disrespectful to force that perspective on others, especially at work (whether or not they know what’s going on, because the reality is that the justification is, ‘I’m getting away with it this time’)! That type of impulse control or whatever else is causing this person to justify watching porn at work, I believe would leak over into other parts of the workplace. No one’s perfect, but this sounds like someone who is going to lengths to justify the jerking off/porn-watching, and not addressing its potential consequences.

              I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable working with someone who watches porn at work, especially on the regular. This to me says that this person can’t manage their time (mainly their priorities) and can’t wait until they get home to do… whatever. I think it is absurd that someone would consider this their right to do at work; as your coworker, I’m going to expect you to be willing to work and converse with me if I need help on a project, and not wait on you to… finish.
              Not everyone compartmentalizes emotions and feelings that well; I, for one, do NOT want (whether I’m in the loop or not on what he/she just did in their office) to run into a coworker who has just gotten off and now is being expected to talk shop.

              You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, however to whomever, as long as you DON’T get caught. You CANNOT, however, always justify your sneakiness to others; only yourself.

              What I see is those who are arguing that it’s no problem see it as, No one’s gotten caught yet in this scenario (which is not even the OP’s point; they have been caught) so no one should be hurt.
              Those arguing against it are saying, Not getting caught is not justification for doing it; be more responsible & cut it out.

              I find this argument really interesting!

              1. AlyInSebby*

                Thank you anonderella and others who get this.

                Porn at work is at it’s base WRONG.

                It’s work. Professionalism calls for sublimating our baser needs when we are at work.

                It is right and obvious that we do not deserve this inappropriate behavior/exposure to others’ bad habits (that we all know is INAPPROPRIATE at work!) from our co-workers and superiors.

                Full Stop

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I agree with the theory that private behavior shouldn’t be subject to outside control, but as this very letter demonstrates, there are levels of private and public, and this is much more on the public side. Even if you can completely conceal it from coworkers AND it is done during breaks without using company resources, the setting makes the risk very high that coworkers will be affected by it, meaning that it is probably not an appropriate behavior.

          An analogy that I just made up would be the owner putting a firing range right next door to the company day care. The owner can say all they want how they’ve reinforced the walls, put up soundproofing, installed gun lockers, so there should be no way it puts the kids at additional risk….but you can see how it just feels too unnecessarily risky. Just eliminate the risk that your behavior will bother someone else and separate the two. (Instead of the firing range and daycare, in this case it’s porn watching and coworkers.) Refusing to do so is putting your own wants ahead of other peoples’ peace of mind.

          1. AlyInSebby*


            So glad to hear more people who get that this is not about getting caught or not and why that is a false argument.

            Thank you Cosmic! AVENGER!!!!

        3. Ella*

          I think it’s interesting that you assume that men are watching porn while women are listening to 50 Shades of Grey.

          1. Roscoe*

            OH god really? Because I made an analogy, you want to jump to that. Put it this way, I know WAY more women who have read 50 shades of grey than men. I know more men who often watch porn than women. That’s my experience, and probably the experience of many people. Why does everything have to be made into some damn social statement.

              1. Roscoe*

                I apologize, I just don’t like the implication that was being made by a simple analogy.

      2. Cordelia Naismith*

        But work isn’t private

        THIS. Work is a public space. There are all kinds of things that it is fine to do in private on your own time — like sleep, for a more innocuous example — that it is just not okay to do at work. And, let’s face it, watching porn in a public environment like work is not innocuous. It’s just not okay.

        1. Employment Lawyer*

          Did you folks actually read the OP?

          He was in his private office, of his private company which he OWNS, on his private computer, with the door shut. He obviously intends to be private and thinks he is succeeding. Tell him that the walls aren’t soundproof and he’ll stop. Why make a mountain out of a molehill?

          The “he should be working” argument is ridiculous: all of you should be working, unless you’re professional blog commenters. Yet here you are.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            I think you’re getting a bit defensive and applying a double standard here. Either it’s OK for him and for us to manage our free time, or it’s not. Plus, this blog has readers from all over the world, in all different time zones, and working shifts, or as freelancers, independent contractors, or unemployed.

            Let’s move this back to a more abstract, general discussion about the workplace, please.

          2. Mickey Q*

            It wasn’t private because his employee could hear it.
            Looking at porn can turn into an addiction and he could be looking at it all day instead of working. I know this to be a fact because the VP of Marketing at my company was looking at porn all day every day and sales plummeted. Someone had to quit before they would even put porn blockers on the computer. Now I’m pretty sure he is looking at it on his phone. Things have never been worse and the company is circling the drain. It is a big deal. HE SHOULD BE WORKING!

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Eh, I don’t know that that’s a strong argument. Surely plenty of people look at porn without it taking over their lives. In this case, the sole issue is that his employees can hear it / are aware of it, and because he’s the owner, that’s the only thing that’s relevant, to my mind.

              1. Mickey Q*

                If you can’t wait until you get home to look at porn then it’s already taken over your life.
                -How would you feel about walking in to talk to your boss when he has a woody?
                -Our VP contracted so many viruses with the cost of cleaning them off we could have bought him a new computer 3 times over. Then I was told there was no more budget for me to get a new monitor.
                -Once we got a virus that took over the network and held our data hostage. We had backups, but we had to recreate a half day of data and the network was down for a while.
                -I had to pay an outside IT guy to look at the porn that was downloaded to make sure there wasn’t anything illegal like child porn. Some of the porn made it onto our network. We are a small 5-person company. Imagine the risk to the rest of us if child porn was discovered on the network.
                -Morale is destroyed and someone quit. The VP’s wife thinks the company is at fault for allowing it. The company holiday luncheon with spouses included was canceled.
                -I’m pretty sure he’s still looking at it. I saw him looking at girls in bikinis on unblocked sites. I do not trust this guy. I don’t want to be alone in the office with him. This guy has tremendously poor judgement. The girls in the pictures he looks at appear underage. If I hire a 20-year-old secretary is she at risk? He already thinks he’s invincible because he’s been caught so many times and still does it.
                -I mentioned before sales have plummeted because he is not putting in the hours to do the job. Anywhere else he would have been fired for either the porn or the drop in sales.
                This is not a personal issue. There is so much more expense, risk, and loss than it just being the employee feels uncomfortable hearing it through the wall. And it does escalate. Do some research if you think it doesn’t.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I hope I’ve been clear that I think this is unprofessional and gross to do at work, and 100% unacceptable if anyone else is even slightly aware of it. But I don’t agree that it automatically means addiction that’s taken over his life. People do lots of things that are extraordinarily poor judgment without it being caused by uncontrollable addiction.

          3. Ella*

            My shift starts late on Wednesdays so I’m still in my pajamas on my couch, for whatever that’s worth. Don’t assume everyone works 9-5.

            You’re also discounting the power dynamic here. He’s the boss. You’re expecting a subordinate to have an awkward and confrontational conversation with their boss. There’s plenty of reasonable reasons why an employee would balk at having that conversation. (And is part of why HR exists in larger companies, so that a subordinate could ask someone else to have this “please don’t watch porn at work” conversation without having to fear reprisal from the boss.) We don’t know that the boss is a reasonable person. I can think of a lot of potential outcomes to that conversation that don’t include “boss turns the porn down and it’s never mentioned again.”

            1. TootsNYC*

              I don’t ever want to have a conversation with anyone about their porn watching. I just don’t.

              I also don’t want to have a conversation with anyone about their masturbating, their ovulating, their orgasms, their …….

              It’s sex. I don’t want to ever, ever have to talk about it with anyone at work. Period. Ever.

              The fact that anyone, whether a subordinate or colleague (but especially a boss), would put me in a position of having to say, “Your porn is too loud,” or even just, “I can hear your computer–you need to wear headphones” when he and I know that it’s porn we’re talking about–I don’t want that as part of my work. Period.

              1. Petronella*

                Exactly. What a crappy and creepy thing to do, to even take the risk that someone might become aware that you were using porn at work. I would also like to point out that many people do not consider porn to be harmless or equivalent to surfing the internet or reading blogs, and the sights and sounds of porn can be triggering to people for a variety of reasons.

      3. AlyInSebby*

        Thank you Murphy, YES!

        It’s WORK – work is by it’s nature not private.

        Sorry, I can hate THAT guy who trims his toe nails, but I can ameliorate the amount that effects me.

        If my superiors are not acting like leadership – engaging in private behavior at work – they are the problem.

    6. Rebecca*

      Silly me. Maybe he should “work” at work. Watching porn isn’t even in the realm of things that should be done at work! I totally disagree with this statement. I don’t care if it’s his break time, or lunch time, or whatever, it’s totally not appropriate, unless his job is to edit porn movies.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        Is your job “reading employment blogs?”
        Is your job “commenting on employment blogs?”

        If not: Do you see the issue here?

        Pot, meet kettle.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think this is becoming overly personal and I’d like that to stop, but I agree with this in substance. This guy is the owner so very different rules apply. The issue is that people know about it, and it’s creating an unwelcome sexualized environment.

        2. LBK*

          But I think sexualized activity of that kind isn’t ever appropriate for the workplace; it’s not just “viewing something on your phone,” it’s engaging with something that has sexual content and purpose. You can’t equate bringing a guest speaker into the office with bringing a stripper into the office; they clearly have different purposes and are only appropriate for certain contexts, whether you own the company or not.

    7. NoProfitNoProblems*

      ….No. I don’t think so. Please don’t ever ever watch porn at work.

    8. Elizabeth West*

      The letter didn’t say, and I’m not taking the boss’s side, but has she asked him to turn it down? I’m kind of in agreement with this as a first step–he may not be aware that she can hear it outside the physical confines of his office. I’ve been in people’s offices where you can’t hear anything once you step outside the door because of the way the room is laid out. So folks talking just outside sounds like murmuring, but I can’t tell what they’re saying. He may not realize these sounds are that clear. (Leaving out how gross it is to watch porn at work–watch it at home, people. I don’t want to think about your splooge when I’m trying to get my work done.)

      This is where I would start if this were happening to me. Something like, “Hey Fergus, I’m not sure you’re aware of this, but I can hear your videos at my desk. They’re really distracting and inappropriate. I would appreciate it if you could do something to make sure I can’t hear it or move me to a different desk. Thanks.”

      If it didn’t stop or he got pissy with it, then all bets are off.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I said this earlier–I would not want to have any conversation w/ my boss in which porn was the topic, even obliquely.
        “I can hear your computer–please keep it turned down or wear headphones.” Nope.

        And the mere fact that I am now aware that he is watching porn would have created an irretrievably sexualized work atmosphere. I don’t want to work in the office next to someone who is getting sexually aroused on purpose, for minutes at a time.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Well maybe it’s just me, but I would say something first. Even if it’s very oblique. If there is no HR she can report it to, she may have to bite her lip and speak up.

          Although I’m pretty blunt; I’d be more likely to say, “Fergus! Seriously? Shut your door, please!”

          1. AlyInSebby*

            ;D but it only works if your boss is actually named Fergus or you have an agreement to call your boss Fergus in work conversations.

            Because, “Really? David?” just doesn’t feel as good as “FERGUS!”

    9. LBK*

      So not to get too graphic, but isn’t the main purpose of porn to, um, act on it? I’m assuming he’s not just watching it for the thrilling plot…and I think surely we can all agree that the office isn’t an appropriate place for sexual activity of any kind, even if you’re the owner and no one else knows.

      Maybe I just don’t understand the psyche of someone who would watch porn at work, but I question if that’s genuinely all he’s doing.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I was thinking about this, too. But I guess everyone does not need to “act on it”? Not sure here.

    10. neverjaunty*

      “Plenty of people do X at work” does not mean that X is legal, appropriate, or outside the bounds of what might be actionable. C’mon, you’re a lawyer, you know this.

      Also, can we please get away from the condescending thing where it’s assumed women just can’t possibly have any idea how much men watch or think about porn and need to have it explained to them in very small words? Trust me, gentlemen, we know. We know.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          And plenty of us guys who watch it are creeped out by the idea of a coworker watching porn at work.

    11. Granite*

      There is a fundamental difference between knowing it is likely that a fair number of your colleagues watch x rated videos on occasion and actually knowing about it when it’s happening. Just, no.

    12. Batman's a Scientist*

      I still think that people shouldn’t be watching porn at work. Yeah lots of men and women watch porn. It doesn’t belong in the workplace.

  23. RubyJackson*

    #1- I would be so tempted to send that letter back to Mary and say, “This letter is a perfect example of why I quit.”

  24. Employment Lawyer*

    There are two likely outcomes.

    1) You tell him you can hear him. He is mortified. You never hear him again.
    2) You tell him you can hear him. He starts turning it up, and/or fires you. You sue.

    If you otherwise like him and otherwise trust him and otherwise like the job, then document properly and ask him.

    “Boss, you may not realize it, but the walls are pretty thin here and I can hear about everything in your office. I have a bit of trouble concentrating sometimes; would it be really inappropriate to ask you to wear headphones or turn it down?”

    If you don’t trust him; if you’re being harassed; if you want to find a reason to sue: Go talk to a lawyer before you talk to your boss. You can certainly sue.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This would be my advice if the letter-writer hadn’t stated definitively that she was uncomfortable talking to him and asked what laws are in play. But yes, this would ideally be the first step (and I was probably remiss by not saying that anyway, despite the OP’s caveat).

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        She can get around the discomfort by using something else. It’s clear the boss doesn’t know it’s happening, and this doesn’t sound like normal ‘trying to harass’ behavior.

        “The walls are really thin and I can hear your phone conversations”
        “Even when you turn down your music I can hear it quite well”
        ‘When you watch music videos it’s a bit distracting through the wall”

        If the boss has a brain, he’ll get the message.

        Sure, if she is really that uncomfortable then she can hire a lawyer. But speaking as a lawyer, I can say that doesn’t always end as well as one might hope. Sometimes you just have to face the discomfort. And not incidentally you can get a lot of respect by being blunt when needed.

        1. TootsNYC*

          That would not get me around the discomfort.

          He will know that I’m talking about his porn. I will know.

          The mere fact that I know he’s in there watching porn would be enough for me–I don’t want to work next to someone who is getting sexually aroused on purpose.

          I’d be asking the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights whether I could file for unemployment under “constructive dismissal.” It would surprise me if they said no.

          And I’d be looking for work pretty fiercely.

        2. voyager1*

          +1 I would also add that this is the only activity listed by the LW. I honestly don’t see this being one of those cases where the employee gets huge 6 or 7 digit figure. Maybe 10-20k in a settlement and good chance that will also include her leaving the workplace and having to find another job.

        3. LBK*

          So I guess my question is, why should she have to dance around it like this? Yeah, it’s his company, it’s his office, etc. but there’s plenty of things that aren’t illegal to do in an office that are still wildly outside the boundaries of professional behavior, even if you’re the owner. Law aside, I think OP is clearly in the right here.

          1. voyager1*

            What dancing? Two options…
            1. Tell the boss that she sometimes can hear his computer when the speakers are too loud.

            2. Get an attorney. BTW attorney may ask have you tried option 1 before agreeing to take the case.

            1. TootsNYC*

              Option #3:
              Get a new job and quit.
              Option #4:
              Option #5:
              Call the government agency and describe the situation; say, “because he’s my boss, I really don’t feel comfortable talking to him about this, what if he says, ‘ooh, weren’t you aroused?’ or something, or he fires me?”; say, “if I quit because of this, can I file for unemployment benefits?” Hopefully they’ll say, “in this case, absolutely yes,” and then you can quit and file for unemployment benefits.

            2. LBK*

              It’s the pretending that the issue is just “loud computer noises” and not specifically what those noises are or what it implies he’s doing, which could potentially be a questionable work activity whether it’s happening loudly or not.

              1. Ultraviolet*

                I think people are just interpreting OP’s statement that she’s not comfortable talking to the boss about this to mean that she doesn’t want to be explicit about what she’s hearing, so they’re suggesting somewhat less direct scripts that could get the message across. I think that’s actually helpful.

                1. LBK*

                  Ah, okay, I think that makes sense. I wasn’t thinking in the context of the OP’s requested advice, more in the general sense – was conflating it with the overall sentiment from some of the comments of “watching porn at work isn’t a problem”.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  THANK YOU.

                  I’m sorry if people are uncomfortable bringing this up, but we are adults and sometimes we have to deal with things that make us uncomfortable. If there is no HR to whom she can bring this up, she will have to say something to her boss.

                3. TootsNYC*

                  Or we will have to check w/ the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) and see if we can get unemployment while we look for work elsewhere.

                  It is not necessary to have that conversation and run the risk of having it show up again.

                  It is perfectly honorable, honest, upright and true, to just never have that conversation.

                  It is NOT honorable, however, to watch porn in any situation in which your mistake might mean someone else has to hear it.

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      3) You find out what kind of music the boss hates. Old school rap? Country? Christian metal? You bring in a boombox/radio and when you hear sounds of his erm… “activities”, turn on the radio and crank it until it drowns out the sounds. Boss will be immediately upset at lack of professionalism in the office because “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” or “The Boomin’ System” really isn’t something one should be playing on 11 at the office during the day… unless your office is Def Jam or MTV. At which point, OP can make oblique reference to needing to drown out what could be heard coming from within the Boss’ office. “It’s just that… I heard some sounds coming from your office that were rather… um… uh… may I be allowed to wear headphones at my desk while I work?”

      4) Leave a box of man-sized Kleenex and a bottle of lotion on his desk after he’s left for the day. You need a good poker face for this. “No, I have no idea who could have left that there for you. But why are you upset? It was nice that someone thought to bring you some toiletries. The office is so dry in winter. If you don’t want that bottle of lotion, I could put it on my desk for everyone to use.”

      And start searching for a new job. Seriously, who needs this kind of thing? I used to work with a guy who every night at 5pm would close off his space and download porn. Technically, the day was over, but it just made me feel gross knowing that that was what he was up to (I saw a screen once). I didn’t think to go to the manager because this was new territory (the 90’s!) and I didn’t know what to do. Now? I would so drop the dime.

  25. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #2 – Professional conferences — yep, I’m in a couple of professional groups. Officially, recruiting is prohibited at conferences like those, because companies usually pick up the tab for the attendee – and they don’t want to send their talent to a trade show, pay for it, only to have them recruited away while they’re there.

    But in reality, it happens. Best thing to do – go offsite while you’re at the conference.

  26. A Nonny Mouse*


    I had a boss do this to me once. I quit without notice, for health reasons (I was having a nervous breakdown from the working conditions – 16 hour days, unreasonable expectations, no organization in the office, backlog upon backlog, violations of law like only being paid once a month). I actually gave two weeks initially, but then decided to take a vacation before starting my new position so I would go into that job refreshed, so I decided to cut short the notice period, realizing I’d give up the reference – and not really caring, as I’d only been there three months.

    I got an email the next day that said, “I find it difficult to believe you would leave me in a lurch as you did,” and that karma would come back to haunt me.

    I didn’t reply to that email, and then two days later got a much longer one, outlining all the ways in which I had hurt and offended her, how she is the injured party, how I’d made derogatory comments about other former employers (I really probably shouldn’t have talked about one of them, who this woman knew on a personal basis, but she encouraged it and asked me all sorts of things about her divorce, etc., and I was in such a bad mental state that I wasn’t thinking clearly), and how I “misled her into believing that we had a close bond.”

    Again, I didn’t reply. She then withheld my final paycheck, claiming she had to “review my hours.” I was already owed over half of it, since she’d been illegally paying us once a month when the laws in our state say we have to be paid twice a month (in the second half of the month for the first half, and the first half of the next month for the second half of the preceding one). My mother had to intervene as my attorney, as I was still in no mental state to deal with any of this, and I haven’t heard from the woman since.

    It was the most utterly bizarre experience I’ve ever had with an employer. I understand that she was upset that I quit without notice, but that’s part of the cost of doing business as an at-will employer. You don’t send crazy emails to your former employees at their home email addresses after they quit just to berate them.

    The best part of all of this is that this person is an employment attorney.

    1. Cyberspace Dreamer*

      “The best part of all of this is that this person is an employment attorney.”

      Seriously? That is just bad, enjoy your liberation.

      1. A Nonny Mouse*

        When I got my mother/attorney involved, she tried to claim that I should be grateful that my “suggestion” that she pay us twice a month was acted upon. My attorney’s response was: “It’s nice that you think she should be grateful, but it’s really you who should be thanking her, since you were actually in violation of state law. You were obligated to change your policy. You weren’t doing anyone a favor.”

        Cracked me up. I got my paycheck two days later.

    2. Batgirl*

      I once had a job in a small law office where one of the attorneys smoked pot…IN the office! I left without giving two weeks notice. One of the other attorneys sent a letter to my father (yes, my father!) about how upset he was that I left without giving notice. My last name is very unusual so the attorney searched my name and found my father’s address. This was VERY unprofessional and I reported him to the bar for it.

  27. Blue Dog*

    #4 – Footer at bottom of email that says, “Reduce e-mail pollution. Reply to send only.”

  28. Not So NewReader*

    Boss watching porn. With the jobs I have had I cannot imagine even having time to look at porn. This is one of those situations that causes front line people to laugh at their management and management just remains clueless. It’s not just the porn, it’s about the waste of company time, too.

    OP, sometimes we have a couple choices, if we cannot do one then this automatically means the remaining choice(s) is the route we have to go. In my earlier years, working for minimum wage, I would not even bother addressing this. Low paying jobs were a dime a dozen, go get another one. More currently, I would probably find myself thinking, “Why does the boss need someone to explain to him to turn his porn down/off? Why doesn’t he know this by now?” My patience would be taxed. Depending on other factors, though, I might tell him. I have had a few difficult conversations over the years with people so I know I can do it if necessary. (“Yes, if you get feces on the walls, you MUST clean it up yourself.”)

    There are a few factors that weigh in for you here such as is the job worth working through this problem? Secondly, if you have not had much experience with difficult conversations, I am not sure that this one is where you should start learning how. If it were me, I still not find it easy and I would spend some time thinking about my word choice. Third, let’s say he is totally fine with your request to turn down the porn and he does. Problem solved. Are you going to be able to continue working for him? Sometimes we learn things about people and it is difficult to continue working for them regardless of how they handle the situation. I know myself, if I had someone watching violent movies with lots of gunfire and explosions it would set me on edge. I’d probably come down off the edge in a while. Are you on edge? If yes, will you come down in a while?

    One thing I did not see mentioned here, do you have another coworker who also hears this? If you do, would they be willing to say something? I have had stuff at work that bothered me, but I questioned myself on it. Then a coworker would mention the same issue, that was enough for me to move forward and say to boss/other person, “Can we do something differently here?” You might have a cohort who will respond to a little nudge, they were thinking about speaking to the boss and because you mention your concern that is enough for them to move forward. If you decide to try this route, choose this person carefully and wisely.

  29. LV Ladybug*

    Reply All
    My company puts everyone in BCC. Esp for blasts and notifications. It really cuts down on the reply all emails.

  30. AAM Fan~*

    Re #4: My boss gave me a good tip — BCC everyone when you send a mass email. So if someone accidentally hits reply all, they are only replying to the sender.

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