an employee’s boyfriend privately asked me to give her time off … and then things got even weirder

A reader writes:

So last week you had a boyfriend ask about reaching out to his girlfriend’s boss. I had to ask about being the boss in that kind of situation.

This summer, I invited nine college-age people to work a 10-week job at my organization. The team has done pretty well overall, but there have been serveral instances of (some of) them not knowing professional norms. Most of these we’ve taken in stride and provided feedback and a chance to repeat the skill in an improved way. So it’s been a good summer.

One of the team members who has had some missteps is away this week for her boyfriends’ family reunion. How she got this time off is a bit strange though, and I’m wondering what, if anything, to say to her when she returns. It all started with this Facebook message to me from her boyfriend:

“I don’t want to impose on anything at this point, but [girlfriend] knew about the family reunion back in May but wasn’t sure if she would get the job if she said she wanted to go with us to that. I know I have no power but I thought I’d try and appeal to your sentimental side and ask you if you might be willing to let her go to my family reunion with my family. We all were really hoping she could come and it would mean a lot to us. She is in an internship, one in which she’s busted her butt for and I believe she deserves a break. I don’t mean to stir the pot and I know I can’t force anything but I was hoping to appeal to the family side for you. If this could happen my family and I would love that. She doesn’t know I’m writing this and I don’t want her to because I’m just trying to help her not do it for her. Hope you have a great day.”

A few things to note:
1. This person had not asked me to attend the reunion; this was the first I heard of it.
2. This is a paid job, $15/hour, not an internship.
3. She hasn’t “busted her butt” — she has struggled more than the average amount for the nine-member group.

After receiving the Facebook message, I sat down with the staffer to say, “I got a note from boyfriend about a family reunion…were you wanting to attend that?” She was immediately embarrassed that he contacted me and insistent that she did not want to go to the reunion, so she told the boyfriend I wouldn’t approve the time off. I told her that if she wanted to attend, I’d hope she’d ask me so we could talk about whether that would be feasible. End of conversation.

Next, five days before reunion, staffer emails me: “A couple weeks ago, we talked about time off this upcoming week. (Boyfriend’s) family is having their family reunion and is inviting me to come. I would miss two days of work and would be back for the weekend. I understand that since this is short notice, it may not be possible. If you feel it would be better for me to stay, I completely understand that. Just thought I would ask.”

I reply: “If you think it’s important to go, that’s fine, and we can make things work here. Just be sure you are prepped for anything related to your projects, of course.” She does not reply, but does take the time off.

I was caught of guard by the timing and nature of the request. We were clear at hiring that this was a seasonal role with a start and stop date and clear hours, and an expectation to basically work that whole time. And I may have thought wrongly, but my sense was that if she couldn’t see why she shouldn’t email me, how would I make her see why I wouldn’t allow the time off?

Last piece: I learned while she was away this week that a) she did not make arrangements for her work to happen and b) she lied to another member of my team, saying she had asked weeks ago, over and over, and I wouldn’t let her have an answer. She told this team member this in a very exasperated way, making me look at a minimum discourteous to her for not responding.

How do I address this when she returns? The job ends next week, and I’ve given her (and the whole group) input as they go about other expectations and work quality. But this one is tripping me up a bit. (In part, I’m lost because our families have been connected for a long time; her mother and my father worked together in this same field. I respect her mother tremendously, so I’m caught off guard by this person’s lack of professionalism.)

What is the best move now, in your opinion?

Do you think it’s possible that she didn’t really want you to approve the time off at all, and was hoping that you’d say no when she requested it directly? She might have been hoping that you would assume that the earlier conversation was still in effect, where she told you she didn’t want to go and was telling her boyfriend that you wouldn’t let her.

In fact, given the background here — and that the boyfriend already showed little regard for professional boundaries (and relationship boundaries) — I even wonder if he insisted on her sending you that email and she knew he was going to see it.

That’s obviously not your responsibility to sort out, and you can’t be in the position of second-guessing requests from people who might be hoping you’ll say no so that they have a cover story for their partner. But because she’s young and new to working and because she’d earlier told you that she was using you as a cover story to get out of going, one option would have been to talk to her in person and say, “Just to be clear, I want to be sure you’ve changed your mind and you really do want me to approve this time off now?”

Again, not your responsibility to do that — just an option if you wanted to do it. (By the way, also not your responsibility: approving time off that you’d already made clear people couldn’t have during this short 10-week program. It would have been okay for you to stick with “no” if you wanted to.)

It also seems likely that she ended up using “I couldn’t get a clear yes from my manager” as a cover story not only for her boyfriend but with coworkers as well, which would explain how that got back to you. And that’s especially likely if any of the coworkers know the boyfriend, since in that case she would need to give them the same story she was giving him.

Anyway, as for what to do now: When she gets back, sit down with her and talk to her about all of it — the leaving without having her work covered, the telling people you gave her a hard time about the time off, and generally how to navigate this stuff professionally. It doesn’t need to be a stern chastising; you’re going for more of “hey, let’s talk about how employers generally want you to handle this kind of thing so you know for the future.”

As part of that conversation, it’s worth mentioning to her that typically significant others shouldn’t email your manager for this kind of thing … and depending on how the conversation is going, you might mention that while you don’t want to assume anything about her relationship, in some cases what her boyfriend did can be a flag for controlling and even abusive behavior. You can say, “I want to respect your privacy, but I also want you to know that if this is something you want help with, I can help put you in touch with resources to help.”

It’s possible that these are just young people who don’t quite realize how to navigate work boundaries professionally yet. It’s also possible that it’s something more troubling. It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on, but I think the approach above will cover all of your bases.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 265 comments… read them below }

  1. Leatherwings*

    I think AAM’s read of the situation is spot on here. One thing that’s a little confusing to me (maybe I’m reading it wrong?) is that it seems like during the sit down about the Facebook message OP either said or implied that it would be okay to ask for the time off, then when the woman asked for the time off via email, OP got frustrated because the woman shouldn’t have asked? If that’s what happened, that seems like a confusing message to send to the woman and might be worth addressing when giving her feedback at the end of the job.

    1. addlady*

      I think that what she was saying was “It is fine, just make sure that you are prepped.” I don’t see anything about her getting frustrated because OP shouldn’t have asked.

      1. addlady*

        I DO see some frustration over inconsistent messages and not leaving with a plan for getting her work done.

        1. Juli G.*

          Agree. It sounds like she said she didn’t want time off when she was offered approximately 3 weeks before the reunion. Then 2 weeks later, she asked for the time off.

          (And this letter is written with the OP’s viewpoint now colored by the fact that the employee lied about the OP’s willingness to accommodate her.)

        2. Leatherwings*

          I totally think the woman was in the wrong here, not OP. I’m just wondering if this line:

          I told her that if she wanted to attend, I’d hope she’d ask me so we could talk about whether that would be feasible

          and this line

          We were clear at hiring that this was a seasonal role with a start and stop date and clear hours, and an expectation to basically work that whole time. And I may have thought wrongly, but my sense was that if she couldn’t see why she shouldn’t email me, how would I make her see why I wouldn’t allow the time off?

          might be confusing to the woman? Maybe she didn’t ask for time off because she didn’t think it was appropriate and also didn’t really want to go, but then when OP said that if she wanted to attend, she should ask, she felt pressured into doing it. Then OP felt that it was appropriate to ask. Now that I’m reading it again time, maybe it’s the email itself that OP is saying was inappropriate? I just want to clarify that the woman might be feeling that there were mixed messages even if there really weren’t.

          1. KGull*

            I also got mixed messages reading this. I can see how employee thought it wasn’t an option at hiring, then got the impression perhaps it was an option if she asked (not sure why OP said if she asked they’d see if it was feasible when she told her no days off at hiring, that’s confusing), and the waiting two weeks and emailing are just signs of not having the work experience to know that was inappropriate.

            But she’s young and it’s for her boyfriends family reunion, not even her family. Definitely could be something sketchy about this much drama from boyfriend for her to attend this.

            1. TootsNYC*

              if the boyfriend is a serious boyfriend, this reunion could be an important “meet the family” event.

              but it’s intriguing to me that she said she didn’t want to go, and was using her summer gig as an excuse.

            2. Whats In A Name*

              I don’t think it’s all that uncommon in short-term positions (6-12 weeks) to say that the employee or intern is expected to work the entire time. In my experience reasonable accommodations are generally made for already planned vacations that are mentioned at the time of hire but what employers are trying to avoid are employees planning a 2-week vacation 5 weeks into a 10-week position and being like “hey, I need to take some time off by the way”

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Yes, to me there’s a huge difference between saying at the offer/negotiation stage, “I have a family wedding on week 6 that I’ve committed to going to; is it possible for me to get two days off to attend?” and saying the same thing on week 4. Even if it’s the exact same event with the exact same degree of importance, the fact that the person has the foresight to plan ahead and the awareness that I might need extra time to account for coverage makes me more inclined to agree. (Obviously this wouldn’t apply to things that can’t be planned for, like deaths in the family.)


              It seems pretty clear to me. If you agreed to a position where you can’t take time off… And you now want or need to take time off, you talk to your manager. It’s then the managers call if they want to stick to their decision or change it. It was very out of line for the boyfriend to talk to the OP. I wouldn’t have responded to the bf in any case.

              Instead talked only directly to the employee. “I received a message from your boyfriend. As you’re my employee, let’s not have a third party enter our work communications.” Adding then everything Alison has about this being a cause for concern

            2. Sketchee*

              It seems pretty clear to me. If you agreed to a position where you can’t take time off… And you now want or need to take time off, you talk to your manager. It’s then the managers call if they want to stick to their decision or change it. It was very out of line for the boyfriend to talk to the OP.

              I wouldn’t have responded to the bf in any case. Instead talked only directly to the employee. “I received a message from your boyfriend. As you’re my employee, let’s not have a third party enter our work communications.” Adding then everything Alison has about this being a cause for concern

          2. Mona Lisa*

            I got the impression from reading this that the first line was referring to the fact that the boyfriend was the one who reached out. I understood it in a “If you [employee] want to attend the event, you should be the one to come and talk to me about it, and I hope you would so that we could have a discussion about whether that’s feasible or not, given the fact that we told you that there wouldn’t be any time off allowed during your 10 week job.” I didn’t see it as contradictory to her message that time off shouldn’t typically be allowed, but that the employee should feel comfortable discussing the issue with her manager if the event was truly important to her.

          3. designbot*

            I just read it as, it wasn’t expected that she would be taking any time off, but as always the sooner you ask the better able people are to plan for it. Additionally the frustration by the time she did ask is that when OP directly asked her about this issue she said she didn’t even want to go–if there was a time to salvage this on her end, that was it, and she not only let it pass she insisted that it was a non-issue, only to later come back and make it an issue. All of the inconsistency here appears to me to be coming from the employee, not OP.

      2. INTP*

        This is what gave me the same impression (that OP was a little frustrated that she asked for the time off):
        “And I may have thought wrongly, but my sense was that if she couldn’t see why she shouldn’t email me, how would I make her see why I wouldn’t allow the time off?”

        It sounds like she felt like the employee should have known not to ask for the time off and OP felt if she didn’t know that then she’s not capable of understanding “This is a seasonal assignment so you’re expected to be here every day.” Which I do think is an inaccurate reading. (Or maybe I’m wrong and OP meant the employee shouldn’t have emailed her on such short notice, or after previously saying she didn’t want the time off, or instead of talking in person, or something.)

        1. Sketchee*

          It reads to me that if the employee can’t understand, then the manager just has to grant time off. Is that how anyone else read this?

          If so, it doesn’t matter if she can see. All the employee really needs to know is “No, you can’t have this time off” if that is the case

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I think that it could be OP’s personal preference not to have a longer conversation in email, which is fine. I would probably chose to talk in person, also. However, I do think that the email could have been answered with, “Come in and talk to me during your work hours. This is something that should be discussed in person as opposed to email.”

    2. Kelly L.*

      True, but it had been a few weeks. So I think LW meant “If you want to ask now, while we’re still several weeks out, great!” and the woman interpreted it as “Ask whenever!” but didn’t bring it up for some time.

      1. Lindsay J*

        This is what I though. That when she was in the meeting and OP said that, that was the time and place to ask. Instead, at that point the employee said she didn’t want to go. OP assumed the matter was settled.

        Then, a couple weeks later, the employee changed her mind and said she did want the time off. It’s now much closer to the days off in question and thus more difficult to arrange things so the there is minimal disruption to the office while the employee is gone.

    3. Adam V*

      I actually got the sense that the sit-down was more like this:

      OP: “Were we unclear during the hiring process about the fact that you were expected to be here the entire 10 weeks?”
      Staffer: “No, no, you were clear, I told him I wasn’t going to be able to go.”
      OP: “If you want to go, please let me know so we can sit down and talk about it.”

      But instead of sitting down and talking about it as the OP mentioned, the next request was via email saying “so can I go after all?”

      So I understand being annoyed.

      1. KGull*

        But why say we can sit down and talk about it, if it’s absolutely not an option that she go. I can see how someone new to working would be confused by this.

        1. Kelly L.*

          But they were already sitting down and talking about it, and OP gave her an opening to ask. She didn’t take it, and waited a few more weeks. And OP still let her go, she’s just upset that she didn’t do the prep she’d agreed to.

        2. Adam V*

          I don’t think it *wasn’t* an option – I just think that OP wanted a more firm idea of “while you’re gone, Task A and B will be split up between Jane and Fergus. Jane can drop Less-Important Task C and Fergus can drop D.” But because there was no meeting, Task A and B fell on the floor for two days.

      2. OP*

        OP here! I totally understand the question of whether I was clear enough with her at the front end. Here’s what makes it grey— I said it was expected to be there the whole time. However, almost all of the 9 had at least 1 commitment for the summer that they raised during the interview stage, and that I chose to accommodate. In fact, we had a good team conversation about how to have what they wanted (time off) and make sure the team didn’t suffer from that (as in, disproportionately covering work, not having needed info, etc.) That all happened week 3.

        The BF conversation was week 6, and yes, what I said was that we could possibly make this work if you do want to go (since we had made time off work for some along the way), but you’d need to ask and we’d need to talk it through. Since she insisted she didn’t want to, I considered the matter closed.

        And yes, the read that I was annoyed was true, but mainly because she waited to ask, asked via email instead of face to face. And even that wouldn’t have been that big of a thing—mainly a quick follow up to coach “next time, you could approach this differently”–until the rest of the time off shaped up how it did.

        1. Leatherwings*

          That makes a lot of sense. It seems like the end-of-summer feedback you give her needs to include elements of all of this then. She handled this poorly and needs to understand that.

        2. Kiki*

          For what it’s worth, I understood what you meant. Lack of open communication is frustrating; I’m an admin assistant and I deal daily with the fact that my entire office wouldn’t know good communication if it walked up to them and asked them out for coffee XD This staffer sounds disingenuous to me, as well as possibly in an abusive situation. Beware of parasitic people who put in the barest amount of effort (or struggle, but don’t seem terribly concerned about it) and then take advantage of your generosity.

          1. Happy Lurker*

            “Beware of parasitic people who put in the barest amount of effort (or struggle, but don’t seem terribly concerned about it) and then take advantage of your generosity.” Excellent phrase to be mentally noted for future use.

          2. Dynamic Beige*

            This staffer sounds disingenuous to me, as well as possibly in an abusive situation.

            To me, she sounds like an inexperienced young woman who hasn’t stood up for herself much (or at all) in the past.

            Job says she can’t have time off. BF says “come to my reunion!” YW either doesn’t want to go, or uses the “my job won’t let me” enough that BF decides to take matters into his hands. Hopefully she didn’t encourage him to write on her behalf. Manager says “we can accommodate it based on these things” YW waits until almost last minute to formally request the time off instead of arranging it right then (did BF put pressure? Did she not understand that she had to get that request in sooner?) Overall, she doesn’t sound like someone who knows her own mind/is trying to please everyone but herself.

        3. Kate M*

          I wouldn’t consider emailing you instead of speaking face to face a misstep, though, if we’re talking professionalism generally. That’s always how I let people know I’ll be out of the office. It would have totally been appropriate for you to respond with “let’s talk this over in person,” and she definitely didn’t handle this very well, but I wouldn’t lump emailing in with other missteps.

          1. zora.dee*

            Agreed. I think the OP kind of made it more annoying for herself by giving in at that point, rather than being more clear about what was not going to work for the OP. I think the OP would have been perfectly appropriate to at that point say “we need to talk in person” and then make it clear to the employee: “this is not an email conversation. When we talked about this earlier was the time to ask. Now it is too late, and I can’t let you have the time off. This is the kind of thing you have to address as early as possible, and that was what I meant in that earlier conversation we had. I’m sorry, but we can’t let you go at this point, there are only X weeks left in the program. In the future, make sure to approach your boss as soon as possible to talk about taking time off.”

            Then I feel like the OP would be less annoyed now, because there wouldn’t have been so much back and forth and miscommunication. Not that I am blaming OP at all, but I feel like she was kind of too accomodating and it backfired. Next time I think you can be a little more firm on this kind of thing.

          2. OhNo*

            I would, because the OP said weeks before that they could make it work if they sat down and talked about it. I’m pretty new to the working world (although not so new as this employee), but I would have taken that as a pretty strong hint that this was a request that would need some conversation, and would be best made in person.

            OP, that might be something that’s worth mentioning briefly in your end-of-summer discussion as well. Learning to read between the lines of what your boss is saying is an important skill to develop, as is learning to ask clarifying questions if something isn’t 100% clear (this could, after all, have been easily avoided with a quick, “If I do change my mind, would you prefer that I email you or just stop by your office?”).

            1. OP*

              I actually think I agree with zora.dee here– I got too hung up on the wording of the email, and totally could have just pulled it back to in-person. Probably should let that piece go.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            hmmm….given FB situation, this could actually be a consideration. How did this not dawn on me?

          2. AnonAnalyst*

            I actually wondered this, too. Otherwise, I pictured him sitting next to her, badgering her to put in the request until she relented and sent the email.

        4. Rebecca in Dallas*

          Right, you asked her point-blank if she wanted/needed the time off and she said no. I would have been super annoyed to then get an email about it 2 weeks later as if that whole first conversation never happened.

        5. Not So NewReader*

          I think that this is a prime opportunity to explain that in the work world you should say what you mean and mean what you say. No does not mean yes. So when she did said she did not want to go to the reunion, you took her at her word.

          If you feel inclined you could talk about her bf’s influence in this situation. I know of many not-so-good bosses who would hold her up to scorn by saying things like, “OH, BF nag you into going, so now you want to go?” You may want to skip this point about the BF’s influence, too, because you have so many other talking points. In talking about all these other points, she may come to realize that the BF was not letting her think her own thoughts.

      3. jh*

        I don’t understand being annoyed. Manager could have just said “remember this is 10 week program and we don’t grant time off unless its an emergency”.

    4. Unegen*

      Yes that was confusing to me, too: First the manager says to ask if she needs time off, then a few sentences later the manager is annoyed with her for emailing her.

      And I think the confusion arises from not knowing what sort of work arrangement this is. If this is an office and the young woman used office email to contact her manager, the annoyance over emailing is absurd. If it is not an office email situation, and the young woman somehow got the manager’s home email address and asked via that, THEN I can see how that would be annoying.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        I think he was annoyed that he said she should ask (as opposed to bf doing it), she said No, definitely don’t want to go. THEN emailed weeks later asking to go and failed to make arrangements to have her work covered while she was out.

        1. jh*

          It is perfectly logical to me worker would be startled and embarrassed to be told her BF was contacting her BOSS and didn’t really know what to say in the first conversation.

      2. designbot*

        It’s all in timing and consistency. It wasn’t an issue, then it was an issue because of the boyfriend, then the employee said it wasn’t actually an issue, then she eventually said it was an issue, but she would make sure everything was covered, then it turns out everything wasn’t covered. Ideally when he sat her down she would have said “I’m so sorry, I wish he hadn’t done that but as long as we are talking about it, yes I’d love to go” and eliminated some of that flip-flopping.

    5. lemonack*

      Seconded. I have previously behaved very much like the employee when I was in a relationship with a hyper-controlling guy who made a point of “befriending” coworkers in order to keep better tabs on me. She needed a solid story, so she had to fake it with the coworkers, not just the boyfriend.

  2. Adam V*

    Yeah, I agree with Alison – I think she never wanted to go and she was using “my boss won’t give me the time off” as her excuse. I also think that’s why she didn’t make any arrangements to cover her work – she didn’t really want to go and didn’t think you’d say yes.

    I wonder if the coworker knows the boyfriend somehow, so she knew she had to lie about the boss to keep her story straight?

    If you put it all together –

    1) she’s making you be the bad guy to her boyfriend, to the extent that he’s harassing you via FB message
    2) she’s lying about you to your other reports
    3) you mentioned she’s struggling more than the average
    4) she didn’t make the proper arrangements to leave early

    I’d probably let her go the day she gets back.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah this woman seems like she’s turning her life inside out trying to avoid actually saying “no” to her boyfriend even when it’s what she wants. I suspect if there are any consequences she’ll tell the boyfriend “going on that trip got me in trouble with my boss” and can avoid having to go in the future. (Which is not to say there shouldn’t *be* any consequences, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she takes that angle if there are.)

      None of this is the OP’s problem (and having had some bosses who felt they needed to give me advice on my personal relationships, I don’t recommend her giving any unless explicitly asked for advice), but boy I hope someone in this woman’s life points out that being in a relationship where you can’t be honest with your partner is not good, no matter the reason.

    2. Beezus*

      I would let her go when she gets back, too. Not for being clueless or having a clueless boyfriend, but for lying to her coworker about the circumstances of her leave. She’s not the only person learning workplace norms in this program, and I would want to set the record straight with the rest of the team and make clear consequences for terrible workplace behavior. She’s going to tell her friends and family terrible stories about you, but sounds like she’s been doing that anyway, so might as well make it a teaching moment for the rest of the team and move along.

        1. Happy Lurker*

          Suspect that OP can’t let her go, and needs to be very careful about any advice given. I thought it said that her parent was work friends with interns parent.

      1. animaniactoo*

        I wouldn’t let her go, but I would let her know that I had been making the true circumstances clear, because this was my reputation and the company’s reputation and I wouldn’t allow this kind of negative impact to stand without addressing it.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          I wouldn’t let her go either, simply because the job is over in a week. But I would explain to her that I can’t provide a positive reference in the future and why.

      2. Unegen*

        Pfft. You don’t fire someone because you overheard some white-lie gossip. That’s poor management. If she’s going to be let go it should be over her work and/or leave-taking.

        1. OhNo*

          I disagree with your interpretation of this as “some white-lie gossip”. This is an employee lying to another employee in a way that significantly damages the OP’s reputation. If the story got spread to the other student workers, suddenly OP would be known as the bad guy among all their direct reports. And what do you suppose would happen if one of the students took it to the OP’s boss?

          It would be different if what the employee said was true, but it wasn’t. It was a deliberate lie that made the OP look bad. Deliberately damaging a coworkers’ or boss’ reputation is definitely a firing offense in many fields.

          1. Anna*

            It doesn’t significantly damage the reputation of the OP. There is no scenario where a short-term employee “griping” about not getting time off a coworker will hurt the OP.

            1. Mary*

              Agreed. We have to agree our leave with whichever short-term project we’re on, and apparently one of them was slow to approve my colleague’s leave. While sympathising with her, I paid so much attention to this I don’t even remember which project it was.

              Worst case, someone might think “I’ll need to get my leave in early, then”.

            2. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

              I agree. I don’t think this is worth taking the nuclear response and firing the intern. When you are a boss, sometimes people will talk smack about you. It may be true or false, but either way, if you fire everyone who says a bad thing about you, you will have a much lighter workforce.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I would not worry about her impact on what others think of me. I really cannot control what others think of me. However, the fact that she was willing to lie is not good especially when you add in her poor work effort and her failure to prep her work for others before she left.

            I think as far as the lie goes, it’s a great teaching moment. What we say to others DOES indeed go around. She needs to learn to speak as if the whole world hears every word she is saying. I suspect that by OP’s sheer mention of the lie, would cause her to squirm in her chair enough that OP will make her point.

    3. Landshark*

      I’m not certain about the entire situation with the employee, since it sounds like there’s a lot of unspoken frustrations in the letter, but there’s at least a good case for a serious conversation with her since the time is almost up on the job anyway. (And part of me wants to say that asking the mom in a casual conversation about this isn’t amiss, but that feels like a huge violation of boundaries, so I wouldn’t even though it’s tempting.)

      I just hope the employee also lets the boyfriend go. His wording in the Facebook message just bugs the hell out of me. What a manipulative slime. LW, I hope you tell the employee what her boyfriend said too, since that wording is a red flag of, if not a bad relationship (for all I know, it’s fine, though the lying thinges says otherwise), a seriously manipulative person who it may not be the best to associate with. Yuck.

      1. OP*

        When we first talked, I told her that BF wrote, but didn’t share what he said, other than that he asked not to tell her and that I wasn’t willing to do that. Perhaps I should circle back to her on the specific language?

        1. animaniactoo*

          I would absolutely circle back to it and how basically guilt-trippy it is, with the appeal to the “family side” of you, etc. As if being a manager you couldn’t just be human, and your boundaries and work needs couldn’t just be reasonable and realistic.

          All the while declaiming any expectation of having any power here – except that trying to influence in this manner is a show of power. To tug on heartstrings rather than basic human decency and expectations. Howe overboard it is in trying to persuade.

          I might actually even re-write it to show what somebody who was just trying to make a basic appeal would have said (if they weren’t already tripping over the work/significant other writing boundary):

          “Hi, Jane doesn’t know I’m writing and please don’t tell her because she’d kill me for interfering. My family is having a reunion later this summer, and we would really love to have her there. I know that she’s not supposed to take time off during this program, but if there’s any wiggle room for a major event like this it would be greatly appreciated.”

          And you can talk about however heartfelt he may be, however upset if things don’t work out, however much he may “feel” his emotions, it’s necessary for you to make decisions that reflect what is best for you, as a person and a manager. Because managing his emotions and hopes and dreams is not anyone’s responsibility except his, and his appeal is so guilt trippy in trying to make them your responsibility, that it actually made you uncomfortable. I would sow the seed that way so that she doesn’t necessarily feel like she has to defend him, and she can hopefully take that perspective away to review it for herself and how she makes choices in the face of his pushes.

        2. Tuxedo Cat*

          I don’t believe my partner would do this but if he did, I would want to know what he said to my employer. I work very hard to maintain a good professional reputation, and I would want to know if someone is speaking on my behalf without my knowledge or consent.

        3. Landshark*

          I agree. I’d circle back to the language if you can. That’s so incredibly Not Okay in my book, and if it were my SO, I’d want to know what he said and how he said it because it impacts my professional reputation directly (and in the case of this man, I’d want to know how rude and manipulative he is too).

        4. Not So NewReader*

          The letter was written to target your emotions, OP. I see nothing wrong with telling the BF that this is not how business and jobs work. And furthermore, asking you to keep what he wrote a secret, is such a staggering imposition and he should never, ever expect anyone to comply with that request. EVER.

    4. Joseph*

      OP said it was a limited time program and Employee is going to be gone in a week anyways. So while I agree with the “let her go” sentiment, this is probably a case where it’s not worth the hassle, paperwork and aggravation involved in firing her. But OP should certainly make sure that the day she gets back they sit down and discuss the situation and make it clear that this is Not Acceptable.

      1. Leatherwings*

        Yeah, if she can walk away with the clear impression of “I really messed something up and I have a better idea of how to conduct myself if similar situations arise in the future” that’s probably the best option.

    5. The Bimmer Guy*

      Actually, if you put all that together, it’s possible that she’s in an abusive relationship. Besides, the program is ending soon; there’s no point in letting her go. So I’d take Alison’s advice…address her struggling performance, let her know how an employer would like this situation to be handled in the future…and then stress that if she’s just asking for the sake of satiating her boyfriend when she really doesn’t want to go, communicate that to the manager verbally, and then when she goes to make a show of asking over email (which, presumably, her boyfriend can somehow see), she’ll get the “No” she’s looking for, even if she technically “could” go.

      1. Adam V*

        > stress that if she’s just asking for the sake of satiating her boyfriend when she really doesn’t want to go, communicate that to the manager verbally, and then when she goes to make a show of asking over email (which, presumably, her boyfriend can somehow see), she’ll get the “No” she’s looking for

        I don’t like that at all. It’s getting the boss involved in your relationship.

      2. Jeanne*

        I get the feeling it’s more young relationship drama than abusive but it could go either way. Obviously the relationship involves immature adults who have no idea how to deal with issues face to face.

        1. OhNo*

          Unfortunately, young relationship drama and abuse aren’t mutually exclusive. It could easily be both. I’m frequently surprised how many times people are willing to wave something away as “immaturity” or “puppy love” or “relationship drama” when it really is abusive.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            Yes, THIS. I was in an abusive relationship in high school – I wasn’t “allowed” to go to the movies with friends, to concerts (even if he was going), to parties (even if he was going). It was lack of experience that led me stay with him into college – but his control was NOT lack of maturity on his part. He is the same way in his current relationship as he was in ours 20 years ago. We were talking about it this past weekend and just how f*cked up it was that everyone thought at the time it was just “young love” and thought it was “cute” he was so possessive of me. Even my parents questioned my motives when I finally woke up and broke up with him.

        2. Noble*

          Abuse can be in the form of control rather than physical… or in the early stages it can start with this kind of control / permeation into all your personal matters and evolve into more noticeable signs of abuse. Whether or not this situation is, we can’t be sure, but it could be something the intern isnt aware of yet in her relationship.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            All the more reason to explain to her that no one should ever make requests on her behalf for time off. And a good reason to have a separate talk with him about how inappropriate he was.

      3. M-C*

        I totally agree that this reeks of the abusive rather than just juvenile awkwardness. A huge proportion of teenage relationships are in fact abusive, and youth just means you can’t recognize it as well, and don’t know how to get out. I’d not only -not- fire the girl, but also refer her to the local domestic violence people for a serious chat. And since you know her mother, I’d also strongly recommend a talk with the mother about the incident, since family support is going to be essential to peel off that boyfriend.

        Incidentally, is a really good resource for younger people wondering whether what they’re experiencing is normal. I’d totally recommend it to her, along with encouragements to rely on your help if she needs it.

    6. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I wonder if her boyfriend was really pushing her and saying “but the boss didn’t say no, he said you could talk about it! You should ask him if you can go! Email him!” so the employee did email him, expecting that the boss would respond “no” and she could show that to the boyfriend – not “yes as long as you get your work done”.
      The line “If you feel it would be better for me to stay, I completely understand that. Just thought I would ask” sounds to me like the employee was really trying to get the boss to give her a concrete “No”.

      I could also see that the employee didn’t follow up or make arrangements because she had planned to take the boss’s directive so she could say to boyfriend at the last minute “sorry, Boss said I could go only if I get someone else to cover my work. But I’m too far behind/no one will cover for me, so I have to work” – and then boyfriend pressured with “Oh, you’re only working there for a week anyway, what are they going to do, fire you? Come on, come meet my family” etc.

      I’m picturing a young worker who isn’t good at asserting herself – either to her boss, to ask for time off; to her boyfriend to tell him no; to her friends who don’t understand why she doesn’t want to go to the reunion with her boyfriend (hence the lie that she asked weeks ago) and to her co-workers to ask them to cover her work while she was out. I could absolutely see myself getting into this situation when I was young, hadn’t learned to speak up for myself and I was in a relationship that just wasn’t a good fit, and trying to get out of the situation without upsetting anyone (and in the meantime upsetting both the boss and the boyfriend).

      But I do think the boss should bring it up in his end of summer meeting – and explain to her how she should handle this kind of situation in the future.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yeah, I did that kind of thing when I was young and unassertive too. I wasn’t good at resisting pressure or having any boundaries of my own, so I often agreed to two incompatible things and then tried to make it work out somehow. Which would then result in one or both sides being mad at me anyway, possibly madder than if I’d just told them no in the first place. Some of the people applying pressure were doing it appropriately (e.g. “since the internship is only 10 weeks, we strongly discourage vacations in the middle”), and some people were selfish boundary-pushers. The boyfriend could be either, going by the letter.

  3. CBH*

    To me, this sounds like the employee planned on taking the time off regardless. I believe, she just didn’t know how to ask or realize it was unprofessional. I think she using your response as reasoning when explaining to her boyfriend. While this seasonal job had a purpose to help younger people navigate in a professional world, as a college student she should have been able to follow the job requirements outlined in the job description. I’m not saying this to sound harsh, but it seems like she realized if she brought the time off during the interview process, she figured she wouldn’t get hired; now she is going to extremes with having her boyfriend send a note, not responding to your email to clarify things, etc.

    1. my two cents*

      And to me, it sounds like she tried to white-lie to the bf to get out of it…and then bf sent a wildly inappropriate fb message to OP. So now she’s stuck trying to still get out of it but doesn’t know the appropriate way to shut her meddling bf down. I mean, we all just saw the controlling letter from yesterday – it’s entirely possible that this young lady’s bf is of the same caliber. If I were that young lady I would be BEYOND ticked off at dude for trying to mess with my worklife at all.

    2. BadPlanning*

      I could also totally see the employee thinking the “have job with no vacation” would be an easy “Oh, gee, darn, can’t go to reunion. If only I could hang out with your obscure relatives making awkward small talk, but I just can’t with this summer job” and then that excuse backfired on her.

      1. Jenna*

        Well, if that’s what she wanted, then it didn’t work, but, it didn’t work because of other people.
        The boyfriend meddled, and then there’s the email which could have been sent by her, sent by her with boyfriend looking over her shoulder pushing, or possibly sent by him. So, she ends up with the time off anyway and no excuse not to go to the boyfriend’s family reunion. Also, she ends up with no reference or a bad one, and a bridge burnt with the working friend of her mom. There’s nothing good for her coming out of this.
        I have used work as an excuse not to go to my in-laws place in another state. The difference was that no one interfered with my, “oh, drat. Some one has already asked for those days off, so, I can’t leave town.” And, because there was no interference, my work reputation didn’t suffer at all.
        If, on the other hand, my husband had called or messaged my boss to try to get me that time off, we would have had a Talk because I would have been beyond angry.
        If I had been pressured or if someone had impersonated me in an email, the relationship would have been over.
        However, I can see someone who doesn’t know better yet ending up in that horrible mess, and there’s no good going to come from that. Regardless of how this person is as an employee, I see red flags all over the place of in her life. I hope she ends up ok.
        The job is nearly over. There’s not much to do at this point. I might have asked, in person, about the email at the time, perhaps. Some people may think that it was clear she should not ask for the time off, but, something happened and so maybe a face to face conversation to clarify might have helped.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        It does not fit the employee’s situation right now, but I have told people I could not get off from work and I never even asked the boss. I just plain did not want to go to whatever. Not the ideal solution, but in some settings it’s easy and it works. Most of the time I chewed up my available time off with my own personal concerns that needed attention, so it worked well for me not to take more time off.

  4. iseeshiny*

    Yeah to me it totally sounds like she was hoping that you’d reply no to the email since she had told you that she didn’t want to go and that her boyfriend was bugging her to ask and wanted to see the email and the reply. If that’s the case… yikes, I hope she dumps him.

    1. Anon for Now*


      Seconding the idea that she didn’t want to go, but, for whatever reason, wanted the “no” to come from an authority figure. As a younger woman, I did this too, usually with my parents as the “bad guy who said no” when I couldn’t/wouldn’t/was afraid to say it myself. I did use the excuse “can’t get out of work” sometimes though. Fortunately, no one ever went behind my back to get that fake no changed!

      1. lemonack*

        When I was younger, and particularly when I had a really controlling boyfriend, I needed the “no” to at least appear to be coming from an authority figure because my word was never good enough for him to accept as a boundary.

        1. Jenna*

          Right. If it’s just me saying no, I have had people just continue the argument or discussion until I was just so tired of it that I eventually agreed with what the person wanted just to end it. It’s a bad situation to be in, but, sometimes bad situations take time to get out of for many reasons.

        2. Chickaletta*

          This is a problem for so many women in so many ways. Like when a woman makes a suggestion in a meeting, but nobody takes it seriously until a man makes the same suggestion. I’ve fortunately never been in an abusive relationship, but I’ve been in a lot of minor situations of some variation of not being taken seriously as a female, especially when I was younger. So I can completely empathize with the staffer in OP’s letter if she was indeed using her boss as an excuse; sounds like she’s used to not having her word taken seriously.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yeah, that’s the same read I got here. Granted, there are waaaaay better ways to handle that, but she’s young and having that kind of creepily overinvolved SO can definitely lead to desperation moves.

    3. Jennifer*

      Yeah, I smell abusive relationship here. Boyfriend reaaaaaaaaaaaally wants her to go, she doesn’t want to, the only authority that he might listen to a no to is her supervisor…except he’s creep enough to go over to the supervisor. And I bet she only asked late because he’s hounding the crap out of her to ask.

  5. Knitting Cat Lady*

    Anyone else totally creeped out by significant others contacting employers in this way?

    1. Artemesia*

      Giant red flag. A spouse where everyone knows each other and something is being planned? Maybe. Not great but maybe. Anything less (and yes even committed long term relationships are ‘less’ in this context — you can’t expect the boss to sort out the depth of endless love whereas legal relationships are at least somewhat clear) it is a gross violation of professional boundaries and even worse, of personal boundaries.

      Maybe it is an over enthusiastic nice guy who didn’t think it thorough, but it reeks of controlling and boundaryless behavior.

      1. Joseph*

        Even with a spouse, I still think it’s a terrible idea. Even if you leave the trust/control issues out of it, it’s still screwy from a pure business perspective – My spouse knows how many days of vacation I get a year and probably has a general idea of how many I’ve used up, but she doesn’t know every detail of my upcoming projects, deadlines, etc.

        1. Green*

          It’s still a bad idea in most situations, but I’m not “creeped out” by SOs contacting bosses for benevolent reasons. (And, in fact, I have done that to my mom for her 60th birthday — we colluded with her boss, who is also friends with my dad, for me to fly back cross country and come “home” while she was at lunch and let her skip the afternoon.)

    2. Kelly L.*

      Yep. It’s so rare for it to be a good idea. There can be medical-emergency type reasons, or social reasons if you just happen to be friends with your SO’s boss outside work, but in most circumstances, it’s just not on.

    3. Leatherwings*

      Yes. Especially because his message constantly referenced that he was “appealing to her family side.” Gross. That’s just full of weird and inappropriate assumptions. Red Flag. Avoid.

      1. Collarbone High*

        Yeah, that really bugged me. It reeks of forced teaming, and assumes everyone has “a family side.”

    4. TJ*

      Could also just be that the boyfriend also has no grasp of professional norms. I’m still at my first job out of college and I’ve had to explicitly warn a friend of mine not to contact my coworkers. It’s not a control thing — she really does mean well. She’s just never had a real job and has no concept of professional boundaries.

      1. some1*

        I don’t think he would have thrown in something to the effect of “I know I have no standing to ask for this” – twice – and then asked her not to tell the GF about the message if this was just a professionally tone-deaf thing.

        1. Unegen*

          Yes, it definitely came off as someone who is used to begging for lenience and preferential treatment. Oy, he must be a nightmare for his college professors.

          1. some1*

            But begging for lenience on your OWN behalf isn’t nearly as bad as doing it for someone else.

      2. Bwmn*

        I think that the earlier letter from a long-term girlfriend explicitly shows that while it may be a “thing that is not done” – it’s also not something that people necessarily automatically know. I could also possibly seeing a case where for some of our parents either in a different generation or who have worked for family businesses, that this either wasn’t a red flag and possibly was done on occasion.

        The first OP clearly felt compelled to say repeatedly in the comments that her relationship with her boyfriend is solid multiple times – and for reasons around why this does feel so uncomfortable, that’s why I think that’s a huge lesson to be learned. Because as awkward a conversation as I’m sure it is to have, being clued in that this behavior is indicative of abusive behavior is a good to hear.

    5. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Someone did that recently at my now-ex job. I was horrified, but no one else was. I came home and promptly told my boyfriend, in front of other people, that if he ever did that, we’d have words.

    6. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Oh yes! I’d never heard of this practice until I started reading this blog.

      Not okay. Never was.

    7. Katie the Fed*

      I don’t know that it’s necessarily a creepy or red flag thing. Just a boundary violation.

      I have an employee, Sue, who is good friends with a senior manager in my organization. The manager contacted me before Sue even started and said “Hi, I was wondering if I could borrow Sue next week to have her help me with something. She didn’t want to ask you for leave because she’s so new to your team, but I told her I knew you and would ask.”

      I was so annoyed. I just told her “Sorry, but Sue needs to talk to me directly with any leave requests. it would be wholly inappropriate of me to grant a third-party leave request.”

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Eh. Sue was kind of mortified, but they’re kind of two peas in a pod in terms of their pushing of professional norms. In other words, this was the LEAST of my problems with Sue. Part of the problem is she’s young and this more senior manager is a terrible example of professionalism, but that’s who she looks up to.

          1. SophieChotek*

            But isn’t this a slightly different situation (versus asking for personal leave for surprise vacation/family reunion) in Sr. Mgr. was borrowing Sue for another work-related event? Since you manage Sue, shouldn’t the request have come to you anyway — “Hey, I like Sue’s work, I know she’s on your team and you manage her, but could you loan her to me for X days, because she has great skills of X and Z for Project Y?”….or maybe I am just really misunderstanding your example here. And then you would either a) ask Sue if she was willing to be loaned or b) it’s her job, so go over to Sr.Mgr’s team for a while…?
            Sorry..probably not understaning this very well…not enough coffee or something

            1. Artemesia*

              I thought it was confusing too. If it was work then the manager SHOULD have been the one to ask. If it was not work e.g. ‘help’ was to help her move or paint her attic or whatever, then the employee should have requested leave. It is the use of ‘leave’ that made me think it was the latter. You don’t use ‘leave’ to work elsewhere in the company.

            2. Katie the Fed*

              I was a little vague. It was a work-ish event but not work. Like a team outing during work hours – the kind of thing we’d have to take leave for because we can’t charge that to the government.

      1. irritable vowel*

        I agree. I think there is a rush to judgment among some of the commenters (and even from Alison) that this kind of behavior is not merely inappropriate but a possible indicator of a more serious situation. This kid is a dope, and really wanted his gf to go to this reunion that she told him she couldn’t go to (but not that she didn’t want to go), so he thought he would e-mail her boss. That’s all we know. There was nothing in that FB message that said “controlling creep” to me. (Compared to the letter last week from the person concerned about his gf drinking with the boss that was completely over the top.)

          1. OP*

            I really appreciated this note from you. I have met the BF a few times and had some negative feelings from him–just a vibe. And that family connection I have means I know her parents also are quite concerned about him. I think I tried to stay out to let her do her thing, but now I wonder if I could at least just broach the topic kindly.

            1. OhNo*

              If you can do it tactfully, it can’t hurt! Even just the most basic version of what Alison said (“This kind of behavior can be an indicator of an abusive relationship”) might be helpful in the context of learning professional behavior, and gives some context for why certain things aren’t appropriate at work.

            2. Noble*

              I think it’s good to plant the seed to make her question things as objectively as she possibly can. I know in the early stages of relationships like this, the victim of the abuse doesn’t even recognize it as abuse at first. Either she excuses it because “there’s no way someone who is so sweet to me usually could be abusive!!” or she think he’s just invested in her/cares about her/is concerned when really he just wants that control and is laying the foundation that can escalate into more obvious kinds of abuse down the line.

              Some people think abuse is only the physical/sexual violence and don’t realize abuse also takes the form of control/emotional abuse or sometimes starts that way before it morphs – besides having a level of control is the best method for an abuser to contain his victim after the other abuse starts. I hope things work out for her!! I know this is hard for you as a manager, because it’s so personal – but he crossed that boundary first by contacting you!

              While your focus certainly is on the professional side of this and the outcomes you were looking for in creating/managing this program for your 9 staff – I think at the very planting a seed that this is not what normal/okay looks like could be helpful for your employee in regards to her relationship.

            3. Meg Murry*

              Since you have that family connection, would you be willing to meet up with her for coffee *after* the job is officially over as a mentor and give her the feedback that what the boyfriend did wasn’t cool and you’re concerned for her, but that she can’t rely on future bosses to be the bad guy? And then just a general “how are things going, is everything ok? what classes are you taking this semester? etc” follow-up, where you could get into any concern you have if she brings up the boyfriend?

              I’d focus the end of summer meeting being about how she did this summer (what part of her performance was good, and what you had concerns about, like her not making sure her work was covered when she was out) more so than the boyfriend’s inappropriate behavior.

            4. LeRainDrop*

              Yeah, at a minimum, I would mention to the employee that hearing from the boyfriend is extremely unusual in the working world and gives some concern about why he’d think that’s okay. Plus, to hear him say he didn’t want the boss to tell the employee that he reached out, that is even more strange and gives you further pause about what is going on.

            5. Queen Gertrude*

              See, I had the abusive controlling boyfriend when I was a teenager. I was a really smart teenager, but I was SO embarrassed that I had allowed myself to fall for someone who turned out to be an abuser. The way this guy presents himself… and the way this girl is dropping hints… has all the signs to me. To me, as someone who has gone through it, these aren’t subtle hints at all. Now, the level of abuse might not be full blown “he’s hitting her” stuff. But she is very obviously feeling trapped and controlled and like her opinion/choice/word doesn’t have weight. (I “broke up” with my boyfriend several times, he just ignored me). He doesn’t respect her. My good news is that I was finally able to find the strength to get out and kick my abuser’s ass to the curb, and he finally left me alone and I never repeated that pattern again. But not everyone is that lucky, especially when no one around them believes them. Bottom line is, this boyfriend is not good for this girl… she needs help.

            6. Not So NewReader*

              I wonder if her poor work performance is due to the fact that this guy has her on edge a lot.
              And I wonder if she did not set up her work the way you asked because she was rattled by having to go to this reunion.

          2. c*

            IV – “There was nothing in that FB message that said “controlling creep” to me.”
            AAM – “But it is a possible indicator”

            That is a very low bar as an indicator of “abusive behavior”. Would you also warn the employee based upon gender, ethnicity, income, or education level? These too are abuse profile indicators. I feel you are crossing a line into personal relationship management for a short-term employee. HR would have a field day with that.

            IV – I agree with your sentiment. I have been that “dope” of a kid in my distant past, letting the thought of a good deed for my S.O. trump workplace wisdom.

        1. Elle the new Fed*

          Yeah, but what’s the worse case scenario if we commenters are wrong and are vocal? What is the worst case scenario if we’re right and stay silent? I would rather be wrong and mistaken the situation than not say anything and the situation be serious.

        2. Bwmn*

          I think the point to emphasize here is that it is an indicator of domestic abuse (which for a place of employment can then also be a concern regarding workplace violence). This is just all part of the larger education process that is helpful and fair to give student employees.

          Imagine a situation where the request had come from the employee’s mother. Would that raise flags of violence – not quite, but it would still be inappropriate. Talking to a student intern/employee about why this is inappropriate maybe helps them curb the present situation but also clues them into this being a problem for future jobs. So if the relationship with mom/dad is boundary crossing then can take steps to hide information if that’s necessary.

          Hearing something like that (i.e. this is a practice that is not done) can also be a gut check for someone perhaps unsure. Whether it’s that mom/dad have crossed a serious boundary within the context of generic helicopter parents or if perhaps a partner has shown some bad signs. Regardless, it’s helpful to be clued in.

          1. Sketchee*

            Having known an adult with a similarly abusive and controlling mother, I wish I knew about these kind of red flags earlier. As things progressed it became increasingly problematic and frightening for me. It’s important to emphasize that this kind of discomfort is dangerous to ignore. Thanks for your thoughtful post!

        3. Noble*

          The fact that he took it upon himself to write the letter (why does he have inside access to her employer anyway, even through facebook — I don’t know my s/o’s managers whole names or fb info) in the first place screams of a weird level of control or access that someone shouldn’t have. Whether the letter reads to you that way or not, the fact that the letter exists should at the very least creep you out a bit. But there were things in the letter that jumped out to me as not okay.

          Remember abuse in relationships can be in the form of control like this and may not escalate to more visible recognizable abuse for a long time. This type of access and control and boundary violation can often be missed by the person in the relationship because it wears a mask of “interest/concern/care” when really it’s none of those things.

          1. Jenna*

            That this boundary violation can cause employment problems is not a bug, either. It’s a feature because it can cause the victims to be more reliant on the abuser in the future. It’s a way of isolating and controlling someone.
            Also, it does not need to be done intentionally to be abusive.

          2. AnonAnalyst*

            This kind of manipulation and control might never escalate to something that is visible to outsiders, which makes it really insidious. I have a couple of toxic relatives, and I swear I got some emails like the one the boyfriend sent to the OP before I cut off contact with them.

            Its invisibility is what makes it so effective. Because it’s positioned as being about love or concern, it’s harder for the other person to question it. I mean, the abuser isn’t actually harming them, so obviously their situation isn’t abuse.

            If the manipulator has been effective, when the other person does question his/her actions, they start to doubt their interpretation of the event and chalk it up to oversensitivity. The manipulator is usually great at recognizing this and filing it away for future interactions when the other person pushes back on their demands, which helps shut down arguments and causes the other person to think they are being ridiculous by second-guessing the manipulator’s motives. This is also helpful for deflecting concern from outside parties, as the other person can easily brush those aside as being overly paranoid or not fully understanding what happened.

            I would still encourage the OP to try to bring some of these concerns to her employee, but I would caution that the employee might be pretty resistant to hearing it and to be prepared for that.

        4. Tuxedo Cat*

          I think it is one data point, but one that is worthwhile to think about as the employee should. In my experience, these situations start often small with stuff like this.

          It could very well be a one off and that this guy is fine. However, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to consider. A lot of times, we’re conditioned to ignore this stuff and it builds up and escalates.

      2. Purest Green*

        Agreed. The email is weird and out-of-line for sure, but I don’t think it necessarily means the boyfriend is controlling or abusive (as in last week’s example).

    8. MoinMoin*

      Yes!!! And all the appealing to OP’s family/sentimental side and the whole ‘I believe she deserves a break’ and just ugh. There’s a very decent case for the boyfriend just being young and lacking boundaries or understanding of professional norms, but the whole email skeeves me out. I really hope he matures and this was just a misstep, but geez there’s a lot of room for growth.

    9. LQ*

      It is super weird to me.

      I did hear of it “working well” once where everyone was pleased with it. The husband of a supervisor (wife/employee) contacted their boss (it was their …25th wedding anniversary I think?) and asked to extend the vacation by a week because he wanted to surprise her with her dream cruise, the boss approved it without telling the wife/employee but making the arraignments. My understanding is he did know the boss previously. And the supervisor (the wife/employee) was thrilled. (Not sure if that’s how she was privately, but that would be my guess based on what I know of her.)

      I feel like this may be a little know your audience. Knowing that boss I can see how she was thrilled to approved it. Knowing that wife/employee I can see how she was thrilled to have it. I? Would be SO VERY NOT OK with it. My boss would not be ok with it and I’m pretty sure would talk to me about it.

    10. AdAgencyChick*

      It’s not cool, but considering that these are employees new to the working world, I’m not creeped out by it — I just think they haven’t learned yet. When I think of all the things that seem obvious to me now that were not obvious to me in my first job out of college, I cringe!

    11. Lemon Zinger*

      Yes, 100% creepy and unacceptable. Employers should never have contact with employees’ family members, and vice-versa.

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        I’ve been at my company for six years and I don’t think my husband would know how to get a hold of my manager if he needed to.

        I actually had to call my husband’s manager once but he was being admitted to the hospital, so I think that was an extenuating circumstance (and as soon as my husband felt like he could, he called his boss himself to follow up). I can’t imagine asking for time off for him, that is bizarre.

        1. Simonthegrey*

          I had to text my best friend’s manager once (texting is how they contact each other for sick days, etc), but at the time they were rushing her into surgery and she was going into septic shock so that was a very different situation. Also, I work for the same institution though not in the same department, so if her manager had needed to look me up (I gave my full name and texted from my phone) she could have done so.

      2. Moonsaults*

        I had to call my mother’s manager once because she was so sick, she couldn’t leave the bathroom and was scared to call given the frequency of vomiting and weakness.

        That coupled with her never calling in sick in all her years with the company, they knew things were serious.

        So I’d argue there are indeed reasons to contact your family members employer but you shouldn’t be doing it for requesting days off for family functions of all things.

        1. Noble*

          and in this case, your mother likely knew you were calling on her behalf and for a very valid reason. She was sick and incapacitated. That’s an exception to the rule.

    12. Noble*

      Every single time it comes up. I just dont understand this under any circumstance! Only time I feel like it’s okay for someone to contact employer on your behalf is if you are incapacitated in some way due to a medical or serious emergency.

    13. Queen Gertrude*

      YES! The whole time I was reading my brain kept screaming ABUSE ABUSE ABUSE! I totally think this girl is crying out for help and is being ignored. I just know that her boyfriend made her send that last message asking about the reunion too, looking over her shoulder to see the answer from her boss for himself.

    14. Violet Fox*

      I am very much creeped out by this. I work with my spouse and we don’t contact our employer like this ever. We also both ask for things like time off separately since we are still two individual people.

  6. Snarkus Aurelius*

    The best managers are ones that respond proportionately to the employees: years of experience, years on the job, life circumstances, the situation, and distance from youth.  That’s key here.

    You should talk to her, but like AAM said, not to chastise her.  You should be as sympathetic as possible because, hey, this is all about learning to navigate not only the work world but the adult world too.  No one is born knowing this stuff*, and better she learn it from you in a short-term, low consequence experience like this as opposed to getting fired in her first job.

    The boyfriend is the biggest problem here.  When I was in college, I dated a couple of guys like this, and I honestly didn’t know better.  Emailing you to ask for your permission and confidentiality are so not okay.  Good on you for violating that.  Your agreement isn’t with him.

    As for this young woman, I agree with AAM’s take.  I highly suspect the boyfriend pushed her into asking for time off, probably knows other coworkers, and she was using you to save face.  If she were 40, I’d say throw the book at her.  But she’s not so cut her some serious slack.  She needs to find her voice, but that’s not going to happen today.  If anything, you should tip her off that moments like these are perfect in learning how to speak up.  No college boyfriend is worth losing an opportunity like this.  I’m not saying he’s abusive, but I am saying that he’s clearly pushy and boundary-challenged.  If you’re not used to self-advocating, it’s always easier to do what the dominate person wants and figure out the details later.  Plus she sounds a little ashamed of how things played out, rightfully so.

    So talk to her about all of it, including her lack of planning.  Tell her that you want to help and that you sympathize.  But let her know that boyfriend’s actions were not cool and can set off some red flags at work.  Also let her know that you’re available even after she leaves this job, if she needs help.  Be honest but firm.

    This whole mess really is a learning opportunity, although she may not see that today.

    *I say this hoping other commenters won’t chime in with the “kids these days” crap.  You don’t know what you don’t know, regardless if you were born in 1880 or 1980 so spare us.

    1. Artemesia*

      LOL Re ‘Kids today’ — The number of truly dumbo things I did in my 20s in workplace situations would match pretty much anything clueless newbies in the workplace do today. I still when tossing and turning and remembering things I have done in the past have the constant ‘what could I have been thinking’ refrain playing in the back of my brain.

      1. Aurora Leigh*

        I’m a millenial, and I have a friend a few years younger than me that says “kids these days” in a hilariously ironic way, usually about older people. It’s the best!

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I agree with most of what you said here, but I don’t know if I’d necessarily throw the book at her if she were older. Yes, “I don’t want to go” is the best way to handle this, but sometimes, “I can’t get the time off work” is a convenient excuse. I’m nearly 40, and I have said many times, “My vacation is pretty limited, I’m not going to be able to get the time off” so my family would stop bugging me about how I choose to use my PTO. And if they dared to get in touch with my boss about it, then I would be having a pretty serious sit-down with them.

      Now, I believe in integrity and honesty, 100%. But when it comes to stuff like this and complicated dynamics, I can’t say I don’t sympathize. I do wish this young woman would speak up for herself, but I get why she didn’t want to.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, but the fact that she (apparently) fibbed to her boyfriend about not being able to get off work is really the very least of the issues here. More important is that she (a) waited until the last minute to officially ask, (b) didn’t make the arrangements she was supposed to make re: getting her work done while she was gone, and (c) lied in a way that put the OP in a very unflattering light. Those are very different from “I told a little white lie to get my family to stop nagging me about using my vacation time.”

        1. hobbitqueen*

          Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if she waited to the last minute because she expected doing so to nix any chance of getting the time off. Ditto if she’s trying to sell a “mean boss” story to boyfriend, she may have to keep to said story with the other interns, if they socialize outside of work. I’m not saying it’s right or professional (because it’s not) but it is a possibility.

      2. mskyle*

        Yeah, I have definitely said (to friends and family), “I can’t get the time off work” when the literal truth is more like “I am choosing not to spend my PTO and/or personal capital on your event.” I wouldn’t use that on my boyfriend (I would just say no!) but ten or fifteen years ago maybe I would have.

        1. Lemon Zinger*

          This is literally what I told my family this summer, when I declined the invitation to the family reunion!

        2. Rebecca in Dallas*

          Oh, I have used this so many times to get out of family stuff. It worked a lot better when I was a store manager around the holidays. “I can’t get out of work” was true in some cases, but in other cases it was really a little white lie for “I’d really rather spend my ONE day off this week laying on the couch watching trash TV.”

        3. Mae North*

          To me it’s kind of the same as “Oh, sorry, I already have plans that night (to sit on my sofa watching Netflix)”; it’s “I can’t get the time off work (because I’m not going to ask for it)”.

          Just, you know, don’t ask your boss for the time in hopes that they’ll reject it.

      3. Isabel C.*

        Yeah, likewise. “Oh, gee, I wish I could, but…work, you know…” is a good face-saver.

        Now, if the BF doesn’t want to let you save face, that’s the time for: “Actually, I hate your mom’s cooking and I can’t stand your Aunt Ruth and your cousins are total brats but I figured you wouldn’t want to hear any of this, so I was using a polite excuse BUT I GUESS THAT DOESN’T WORK WITH YOU, HUH? And by the way, if you ever go to my boss behind my back again, we are through,” rather than the sudden request for time off.

        But she’s young.

        1. Adam V*

          > Now, if the BF doesn’t want to let you save face, that’s the time for: “Actually, I hate your mom’s cooking and I can’t stand your Aunt Ruth and your cousins are total brats but I figured you wouldn’t want to hear any of this, so I was using a polite excuse BUT I GUESS THAT DOESN’T WORK WITH YOU, HUH? And by the way, if you ever go to my boss behind my back again, we are through,”


          (Except if they were pushing that hard, I’d probably cut out all but your last three words.)

          1. Isabel C.*

            Also that. I’m pretty DTMFA-inclined by nature, so sometimes I overcompensate.

            If I was feeling super mean, I might switch the order. “We’re through. And by the way? I told you I couldn’t get off work because your dad’s pot roast is A GODDAMN WAR CRIME.”

      4. Artemesia*

        It isn’t the boyfriend (although that is gross), it is the behavior of the employee who asks last minute, doesn’t prepare for her absence and whines to everyone else that it is all her boss’s fault because he kept denying the leave. The employee can’t always help a relative overstepping; the rest is on them.

    3. Jeanne*

      Kids these days? Get off my lawn!

      To me, it sounds like the boyfriend thinks this is like dealing with mom and dad when they won’t let their daughter go on a date. If you just tell them you’re a nice guy, where you’ll be, and with whom, and they’ll give in. The employee is still blaming mom and dad for why she can’t go.

      It would be a kindness for OP to explain why the whole situation was inappropriate.

  7. Allison*

    I wonder if she’d been having doubts about the relationship at first, and either didn’t feel ready to attend the reunion or didn’t want to commit to a plan that far off because she was considering breaking up with him, but then she decided at the last minute she did want to go, and handled it poorly.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      That was my read. He’s head over heals and she’s not. But I do see what others are saying about a potential abuse situation. Hopefully, the background is not as bad as it seems.

  8. misspiggy*

    Reading the letter, I found the OP’S descriptions of what she said quite unclear. Being told I should be prepped for anything related to my projects would not have signalled to me that I needed to arrange for my missed days’ work to be done, only that I should brief my colleagues about any urgent issues that might need dealing with while I was away. And being told I could ask if I wanted to attend the event would encourage me to ask for the time off at any point. It also wasn’t clear to me whether these workers had been told explicitly that they shouldn’t take time off at the beginning, or whether this had only been hinted.

    Leaving aside the employee hiding behind her boss and lying, which is not good at all, I’m not sure OP is right to be annoyed that leave was asked for and taken, if her own communication around it wasn’t very clear.

    1. Alton*

      I agree. Especially if this girl is new to the workforce, she may not have been able to intuit what the OP meant.

      Also, when she emailed to ask for the time off, it seems like she was genuinely asking–not just saying that she would be out. To me, that seems to fulfill the OP’s offer to talk about it if she did decide she wanted to go. Maybe she could have worded it better, but again, that’s an experience thing. If my boss had offered to talk if I was interested in taking time off, I would interpret that as them being open to it and would feel very misled if it turned out that they thought asking for time off was inappropriate and expected me to intuit that.

      I hate it when people act like they’re fine with something but then hold it against you when you follow their lead.

    2. Elsajeni*

      I agree. I get the impression this is the first time the OP’s company has hired a group of students for the summer, and maybe that’s contributing — it sounds like the issues with these workers not knowing professional norms were handled well, but weren’t necessarily expected; this may be another place where the OP assumed they knew something they didn’t. I think the “If you think it’s important to go, that’s fine” likely sent the message “Your time off is approved” rather than “Let me know if you’re going or not,” and as you said, a lot of new employees wouldn’t know what needs to be done for their projects to be “prepped” before they take time off.

      1. OP*

        These are really good points. For context, this role delivers the same tangible output every six days, and she is assigned to certain aspects of that and has already done it each week this far, so that might be where my vague reference seemed to have meaning to me. Someone earlier suggested that I should have included a request for her to let me know who would be filling in for things she would normally do. I think that would’ve been a much better email from me.

  9. been there, just saying*

    i was in an abusive marriage and i do think that the young woman sent the email hoping the boss would reply in the negative. her boyfriend is probably as pushy with her as he was with the facebook to the boss. she probably didn’t want to go and felt she had no way to say no. i don’t think she wanted bosslady to be the bad guy for any other reason than not being able to tell this guy no- i don’t think it is a reflection of anything deeper like a propensity for drama or deflecting blame on other people or whatever.

    i am not saying all pushy people with no boundaries are abusers, but this is throwing up all kinds of abuse and control red flags for me. in that relationship i was also a mediocre at best performer who had a tendency to forget a lot. i would also always push vacation requests to the last minute in the hopes they would be turned down so i could be alone for a while.

    1. my two cents*

      Well, and the bf obviously doesn’t respect her ability to communicate with her boss directly, and has taken it upon himself to ‘do the heavy lifting’ as though he’d carry more weight than her.

      Do we know if the OP is male or female? The constant mention of ‘appealing to family’ makes me think the OP boss is female. It doesn’t change the story much, as the bf is still waaaaay out of bounds, but I am really curious!

    2. Violet_04*

      I agree. If this relationship continues, I could see it morphing into the other letter where the boyfriend wanted to contact the boss about his girlfriend having drinks and not returning his call.

      I sorta feel bad for the employee because I’ve been in a relationship like this where it’s difficult to stand up for yourself. I could have seen myself doing something like this.

      1. Noble*

        It’s also difficult to recognize as the person IN the relationship, in the early stages like this.

    3. Hrovitnir*

      Yes. We have no way of knowing for sure but I also feel a bit sick right now from the description of what happens. Given she explicitly said she didn’t want to go the options I see are (a) uncomfortable dynamic where she’s not confident to say no to him but it’s not abusive, or (b) it’s abusive either at the early stages of controlling behaviour or the escalating stage +/- him sending the message on her behalf.

      It would be really odd for her to behave the way she did in order to sneakily(?) get time off, because there would be no benefit from her behaviour.

      Not that the employer can fix this, and I would definitely not mention her not wanting to go in an email he might see, but mentioning that she doesn’t have to go on trips she doesn’t want to and maybe asking if she’s OK alongside discussing why this was a deeply inappropriate way to go about getting leave would be what I would want to do. Often people in abusive relationships need to hear that it’s not normal and people do notice and care. I’m wary of leading with the word abuse to her though because it often sends people running for the hills even if it’s got really bad.

  10. Temperance*

    I think it might make sense to have a chat with her about professional norms, and to reiterate that only employees of the company should have access to company email. I’m assuming that her BF read her email.

    I would want to crawl under a rock if my boyfriend FACEBOOK MESSAGED my boss. I feel sorry for her, in some ways, although it doesn’t take away from the crap.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, I find it strange/inappropriate enough the boyfriend messaged the boss, but a Facebook message? Weird…

      1. my two cents*

        To me, it also implies that the employee did not hand over contact info for the OP, otherwise he would have just sent an email.

  11. LQ*

    I think making clear to her what it requires to have your projects wrapped up or taken care of to the extent that is needed is important. If she’s only had service jobs like waiting tables or check out or jobs like that it can be unclear what that means. So I think being clear about what she should have done here is an important reinforcement.

    I also want to say that she may have been busting her butt AND still struggle and be not that great. That might be a sign that she’s not suited for that work, that it might not be a good fit for her. You’re in a much better position than the boyfriend to judge if she’s working hard and struggling, but I think it is worth looking at that too.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I think you’re right about that. I managed someone a couple years ago who hadn’t ever had a job outside serving, which is just different in nature to the work we were doing. She asked me for way too much time off (a separate issue) and when I approved it, I always asked her to email me a plan for getting the work done. I ALWAYS had to revise the plan because it looked like this:

      Leatherwings will do Task A and Task B.

      I had to work with her to make it more like:

      We’ll revise X goal for Tuesday and Wednesday to make up for Task A on Monday, and Leatherwings will cover half of Task B this week, and I’ll stay a little later on Thursday to cover the other half of Task B.

      OP, maybe if you have an example of something like this, you can show the woman so she can really see what it means to cover your projects when you’re out.

      1. LQ*

        Yes. I really like the idea of an emailed plan to get the work done. (I might use it with one of the people I work with who has trouble with this and doesn’t know how to create a plan.)

        But I think that it is entirely possible she thought she’d done what she needed to, so being clear about that is important.

    2. Jennifer*

      It’s unfortunately a possibility that her boyfriend and his drama is affecting her on some level too. Which doesn’t make her being bad at work okay, but it might be part of the reason why she’s having issues.

  12. Catalin*

    How hard can you roll your eyes before they stick that way? (sarcasm)

    The boyfriend’s FB message is rife with alarm phrases: “I don’t want to impose”, “I know I have no power BUT” , “I don’t mean to stir the pot and I know I can’t force anything BUT I was hoping to appeal to the family side for you.” and my personal favorite, “I don’t want her to (know I’m writing this) because I’m just trying to help her not do it for her.” The grammar alone is disturbing but the words are flags. He portrays himself as a victim and acts like he’s asking for a favor. Playing Thoughtful, Helpless Boyfriend distracts from the underlying current of He Wants Something and He’s Going to Get It.

    Maybe I’m biased but the young couple is behaving strangely and the least that the LW can do is sit down with her employee and spell out the facts of professional life.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      “I know I can’t force anything” is very weird to me. Why would you even bring that up? Why say anything that might even vaguely suggest it’s something you had considered and ruled out?

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      Replaying again because the entire email is full of references to his ability to force things:

      I don’t want to impose on anything at this point
      I know I have no power
      I don’t mean to stir the pot
      I know I can’t force anything
      She doesn’t know I’m writing this and I don’t want her to

      I know I’m in danger of over-analyzing this, but dear old Gavin De Becker would call these “satellites” – those seemingly off-hand phrases that speak to what’s really on your mind. Because (again, over-analyzing) I personally think only someone who feels he has power would go to so much trouble to convince you he doesn’t.

    3. Beebs*

      I work at a college, and to me the the BF’s message reads just like every other email from students to their professors asking for a late exam or a paper extension . . . the questionable grammar, the “I know I shouldn’t ask, but . . . ” tone, all of it. Of course it’s entirely possible that there’s something abusive or controlling going on between the two of them, but I wouldn’t go there based on the message alone.

      1. my two cents*

        But even in that case, it wouldn’t be the student’s SO emailing/fb messaging about getting their partner an extension. I do think the wording is clumsy like a student’s, but the underlying ‘push’ for the bf to contact OP and circumvent the employee is venturing into red flag territory.

      2. Artemesia*

        You may be right. What makes it seem so very controlling is the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship and this guy not begging on his own behalf (ostensibly) but on hers. But I have read lots and lots of sniveling cringing begging letters from students trying to overturn departmental decisions that the wording seemed less uniquely threatening to me. The people who write these though are people who are used to getting their way and assume the appropriate groveling entitles them to a ‘yes’.

        I would have responded to the boyfriend. ‘This is entirely inappropriate and I do not deal with work issues with boyfriends of our employees.’

      3. Beebs*

        Some of the OP’s additional comments suggest there’s more going on than just the wording of the letter, and so it seems like concern might be warranted. I still don’t see a threat in the message itself–just terrible entitlement and boundary issues–but the full picture might tell a different story.

    4. Noble*

      Exactly this. I know we can’t jump through our computers and know for sure, but it was so telling to me and you put it into the right words. I feel badly for the employee because she may not even recognize at this stage what type of relationship she is in. She may think he is just clingy or concerned or invested in her. It may embarrass or annoy her right now, and she probably feels like something isn’t quite right, but she may not realize he is controlling or establishing that type of dynamic with her. It’s scary.

      I hope OP can address how professional norms go and also maybe make a mention that it’s not normal for an S/O to do these types of things and that it was alarming to her and ask her if she’s okay. She may get nothing from that, but at least she’ll have planted a seed.

  13. jhhj*

    She hasn’t “busted her butt” — she has struggled more than the average amount for the nine-member group.

    Those aren’t mutually exclusive. She might have worked really hard AND struggled a lot with the job.

    And like many others, her email reads to me as wanting you to say no. This is fine for teenagers who can ask their parents to forbid them doing things they can’t say no to, but inappropriate generally for work, and you might want to let her know, gently, about that specific work norm. It’s fine to say “I can’t get the time off work” as an excuse, but not usually okay to bring your manager into it. That said her boyfriend has some yellow flags, so there might be more going on behind the scenes.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Those aren’t mutually exclusive. She might have worked really hard AND struggled a lot with the job.

      Yeah, I used to have students confused as to why they wouldn’t get an A on something they “worked so hard on.” Sometimes you reward effort, but most of the time (in school or at work), you reward results/product. In school, you can work really hard on a crappy essay, and it’s still a crappy essay. At work, you can work really hard on a error-ridden quarterly report or botched product release, and it’s still error-ridden or botched.

      1. Adam V*

        Yep. If she’s struggling that hard in a real (in the sense of not-timeboxed) job, she’s going to get a meeting saying “maybe this isn’t the job for you”.

    2. Megan Schafer*

      Thank you for adding that. It seems to me that if she’s struggling that could be an indication of genuine effort – otherwise there wouldn’t be struggle.

    3. animaniactoo*

      struggling ≠ lack of effort

      Well blah. I took too long typing and didn’t refresh. You already made that point. lol.

    4. Cristina*

      Given that it’s not the employee claiming she’s busted her butt but the boyfriend, I wouldn’t read anything into it. He likely figured if he threw that in there it would help make his case and didn’t think about the fact that the boss would already have an opinion on the employee’s performance. Plus people tend to overestimate their own performance, and I would guess oftentimes the performance of their loved ones.

      1. Noble*

        Well here’s a nice takeaway!! :-)

        Curious did you respond to the boyfriend and let him know it was inappropriate for him to contact you on her behalf like this?

  14. SaviourSelf*

    To me this all reads as immaturity on the part of the employee. She wasn’t comfortable saying no to the boyfriend or to the coworkers so she tried to shift blame to the OP. It should definitely be brought to the employee’s attention, but kindly and with understanding that she’s young and still has a lot to learn.

    1. sam*

      But 99% of the the time, “job” or “boss” is a convenient anonymous excuse that we can fall back on without much repercussion.* We don’t expect our [creepy] boyfriend to go behind our backs and track down their contact information so that they can check up on us or confirm our stories. He might as well be breaking into her phone to read her texts/emails.

      Like others noted above, it really does sound like she was getting pressure to go to *his* family reunion, she *knew* she didn’t have the PTO to be able to take time off (as per the parameters of the summer job) and told him she wouldn’t be able to go (instead of inappropriately bothering OP), and instead of believing employee or taking no for an answer, he went behind her back and FACEBOOK MESSAGED (!!!) OP. And then, when OP, because OP is not psychic, did not read into the entire situation the way we are (including all of the future events that had not happened yet), failed to give an “absolutely not” answer, he probably took that as an opportunity to spend the next two weeks haranguing the employee until she finally gave in and asked for the time off, at a point where it was actually, genuinely inconvenient for OP.

      And employee, who is a teenager, is probably just screaming on the inside “why couldn’t you just say no”? so to her it’s (wrongly) the OP’s fault for not reading her mind in the first place, so she’s going to be a bit passive-aggressive about the whole thing, and to everyone else she looks like a flake.

      *I mean, none of us have ever said “I already have plans”, or “I have too much work to do” or (if we’re old enough) “I have to wash my hair that night” to get out of plans with someone, right?

      1. Artemesia*

        LOL exactly My husband got a lot less time off than I did and so sadly ‘he couldn’t get away from work’ when it was time for me to take the kids to visit my parents. He wanted to spend his vacation time on taking the kids to the beach or for the two of us to spend a couple of weeks in Europe not to family duty visits. It would have been hilarious if my mother had contacted his firm to try to get him some time off; it would not have been hilarious if he were not a partner in the firm — it would just have been horrifying and undoubtedly a source of endless amusement to his co-workers.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, exactly. I think most of us have at some time or other said something like “I can’t get the time off work” because it saves face for both parties, when the true answer is “the very thought of spending six hours making uncomfortable small talk with your Aunt Verna fills my soul with despair.” It’s usually not even completely a lie–the unspoken second half of “I can’t get the time off work” is often “…without spending PTO and/or social capital that I don’t want to spend right now.”

        And normally it’s a completely harmless equivocation, since normal people do not go behind their SO or friend’s back to check up on them with their boss.

        (That said, it was out of bounds to complain to co-workers because that takes it out of the bounds of ‘harmless equivocation’ and into a realm that affects the boss. But I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with saying that you ‘can’t’ get out of work when you maybe technically could, because ‘can’t’ is very often used colloquially for ‘technically could, but it would be a massive imposition.’ Like saying ‘I can’t right now, it’s not in my budget’ to someone fundraising when technically I could, I just choose not to allocate my resources to make it possible.)

      3. Whats In A Name*

        You know, this is a very good point. When employee said she did NOT want to go and would not be taking the time off, OP moved on and likely assigned her other projects or assignments (dpnding on nature of work).

        But she did say in her email “I know this might not be possible on short notice”, which makes me think she was aware short notice wasn’t appropriate but might not be out of the realm of possibility – and OP would have been in rights to say “no, I need you for X”.

        For the record I have been working for 15 years and now and then still have to make a last minute request.

      4. hbc*

        Most of us have the sense to use those white lies when they won’t bite us in the butt. The boyfriend getting looped in was unexpected, but it’s pretty unreasonable to expect you can complain about something to your coworker and not have it get back to your mutual supervisor.

        If she finds out that she didn’t get away with throwing OP under the bus, maybe next time she’ll remember this and just tell her coworker, “Yeah, I made my request late, sorry for not having everything covered” rather than risk a job that is longer term. I’ve been there getting called out on a stupid lie, and it was horribly embarrassing, but I’m glad it happened before I really stepped in it.

      5. Jennifer*

        I second this.
        If this guy took no for an answer, we wouldn’t be having this situation. Some people will just hound the bejeezus out of you until you cave in.

        1. Adlib*

          In fact, I’d hazard a guess that he prodded the gf into emailing because he thought he had done such a great job of greasing the wheels (even though the OP hadn’t responded). Ew ew ew.

  15. animaniactoo*

    For future situations that may have any similarities: I think it would have been prudent to set it up so that you had to explicitly approve and sign off on whatever she did for work coverage.

    In addition to Alison’s suggested discussion about the bf contacting you and professional boundaries and possible problems, I think it would be useful to say something along the lines of “You know, this kind of misrepresentation is pretty disrespectful. It gets back to us, and even if it doesn’t, people tend to match up what they know about how they’ve been treated with what you’re saying is happening to you, and they draw their own conclusions. Both of those end up as situations where you don’t come off looking well. It’s important to realize that people will judge you for this kind of stuff, and make decisions about how they treat or interact with you based on that. For example, based solely on this kind of stuff, you could be one of the best people here this summer, and I would be reluctant to give you a recommendation or hire you back in the future if we had an open position.”

    As a takeaway – struggling is not necessarily a sign of someone not busting their butt. They can be busting their butt – but starting from a different place, and proportionally this is much harder for them than where they’ve been. They can be busting their butt to a level that everybody would agree is sincere dedicated hard work – but just not succeeding. They may need to pursue a different path in life, or still be working to overcome something that’s not there yet, but they *will* get there. You don’t know. But, well, I could carefully practice singing, hire coaches and trainers, take extra classes, dedicate 2 additional hours of practice a day to it. Really bust my butt. And believe me, at the end of the day, I would still be struggling to carry that tune as well as any other average person.

  16. some1*

    “She doesn’t know I’m writing this and I don’t want her to because I’m just trying to help her not do it for her.”

    This line tells me that she had already told your boyfriend you had said No. How else did he think he was going to explain you granting time off for a a reunion you didn’t know about?

    1. The Bimmer Guy*

      Agreed. With my below comment, I was assuming the boyfriend was relatively-sane, but it sounds like he’s quite controlling.

      Normally, with these situations, we can assume that the significant other of the employee has that employee’s best interest in mind, and is maybe speaking up to the employee’s boss because the employee won’t do so him / herself. But we have pretty convincing evidence here that the boyfriend crossed the line *knowing* his girlfriend wouldn’t want him to contact her boss, and pretty much circumventing her answer, which was probably “No. She wouldn’t give me the time off.” Rather than take that for what it was, he decided to confirm it for himself.

      I’m even concerned as to how he got her email address, because people normally don’t just volunteer that information (because it’s not relevant). Does he go through her email?

      If I were here and all this was the case, I’d end things.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I’m even concerned as to how he got her email address, because people normally don’t just volunteer that information (because it’s not relevant). Does he go through her email?

        Actually, it’s even worse than that. He contacted the boss via Facebook.

  17. The Bimmer Guy*

    What is it with people calling and emailing their significant others’ bosses about their schedules? I did not know this was a thing, but I hope that your advice goes out to people who are considering interfering in this manner.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Only situation I could imagine this is appropriate is if your spouse was in a tragic accident, in the emergency room, and unable to communicate… you may want to then let her workplace know she is in critical condition and won’t be coming to work.

      1. MariantheLibrarian*

        I did this when my ex-husband was admitted to the hospital with acute pancreatitis and couldn’t stop vomiting or screaming in pain long enough to speak only a month into a new job. He was later admitted to the ICU and almost died. I would assume that’s a reasonable time to contact his manager on his behalf.

  18. I'm Not Phyllis*

    My read on this is that she didn’t want to go but either changed her mind, was pressured into it, or sent the email in hopes that the boss would say no. In any case, it’s important to talk to her because this is not a professional way to handle these requests. The boyfriend was out of line but I’ll leave that aside and believe that she didn’t know he’d contact her boss. But if she changed her mind after the first discussion, she should have gone to OP and explained the situation. And also, she should have asked for more detailed instruction on what it means to “be prepped” – to me that’s not very clear and maybe she thought she had prepped? But since these are younger people, it’s doing them a kindness to sit down and explain where things went wrong so that they’re armed with all of the right information for the future.

  19. Grey*

    I can’t see where the employee did anything wrong here.

    I told her that if she wanted to attend, I’d hope she’d ask me so we could talk about whether that would be feasible.

    I would interpret that to mean, “If you want to go, don’t automatically assume that you can’t. I hope you’ll ask”.

    1. The Bimmer Guy*

      The two things the employee did wrong were that she failed to really communicate her desires (not confirming that she wanted the time off, but just going ahead and taking it), and she neglected to complete the preparation work that the OP said would be required before she could leave.

      It’s not that she *took* the vacation; it sounds like the OP was legitimately giving her the option to do so. But she needed to handle her vacation request better and make sure that she didn’t leave work to be done before she left.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        She also lied and told others the OP wouldn’t grant time off, and she’d been asking for weeks.

      2. Grey*

        I can’t fault her for any of the vacation stuff since the OP is the one who opened that door. Though, I agree she should have handled her work assignments before she left.

        1. OP*

          I think you might be right. I think I expected everything to be handled during the first conversation and was surprised she circled back, because she was emphatic she didn’t want to go. But no, I didn’t say something like, “Great, then I’ll plan on you being here since that is the basic expectation for the summer.”

  20. LabTech*

    I don’t have any advice from a managerial standpoint, but in terms of helping someone potentially in an abusive relationship, I’d actually show her the Facebook message her BF sent on her behalf. If he is as manipulative and controlling as the message suggests, it could very well be filled with lies – in which case, she would see what kind of person he really is. And if it’s more or less truthful, then it won’t raise any alarm bells – except for the confidentiality request, which is alarming in any case.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yes, please, OP. Show her the BF’s email.

      I had a family situation. Husband and wife were arguing. It was petty stuff but it was NON-STOP. Think along the lines of, “She buttered her bread wrong. She used the wrong plate for her buttered bread. Then she actually ate her buttered bread. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?!”

      To say this got tiring does not fully describe. My husband wrote an answer to one such email using a famous bible quote, as this is a church going couple. What happened next was jaw dropping. Husband told wife that MY husband wrote a highly sarcastic answer to his email. So my guy printed out the original email plus his own answer and gave it to the wife. “Here, Wife, you decide for yourself what you think is going on here.”

      That ended that. There is no way to know what goes on behind closed doors. So I don’t know the rest of the story. However, all you can do is lay things out and let the person decide for themselves.

      The way the BF wrote to you, OP, he privately believed that you were not going to give her the time. He felt that he had to pull out all the stops to get you to say yes.

  21. eplawyer*

    This is the same situation as the last boyfriend who wrote the boss, just this guy is a little less obvious and threatening. But it’s the same thing “I am the power person in the relationship. I will control what my SO does.” Whether its what happens on a work trip or taking time off, it’s still control.

    1. Isabel C.*


      This is the sort of letter that really makes me miss The Toast, because I feel like an “uuuugh, so many men are THE WORST” thread doesn’t work so well on here. :P

      1. eplawyer*

        I specifically used the term “person.” I am quite sure it’s not just men doing this. There are quite a few abusive women. We just don’t hear about it as much because of usual societal dynamics in relationships.

        1. Isabel C.*

          Oh, for sure. Thus why I said “so many” rather than “all”–but since these two are known to be dudes…yeah.

      2. Temperance*

        lol use the word “mansplain” or suggest that men are always awesome and cool and catcalling is JUST FINE and the MRAs flood the comment section.

  22. Dan*

    I might be missing the forest from the trees here, but…

    1. You specifically call out that this is a paid job, not an “internship.” FWIW, and I’m not sure the distinction is even meaningful — there are fields (such as mine) that pay their interns/co-ops. Our “interns” make more than $15/hr! I do think that the term “intern” extends to any limited-term “professional” job targeted to those in school or recently graduated. (I am excluding your more typical jobs for teenagers such as food service, retail, and lifeguarding in this conversation.) I guess what I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter if this is an “internship” or limited time period “job”. (Colloquially, I think most people would call it an internship, I sure would.)

    2. Your dad and her mom have nothing to do with this conversation. You actually have no idea how much mentoring and what not her mom has given her. Or even if her mom has tried to mentor her, the daughter may be trying to distance herself from her mother. It’s just better to address daughter on her own merits, and make no assumptions about the influence her mom may or may not have had on her.

    1. Adam V*

      I think my definition of “internship” is more along the lines of “a) Is this unpaid? b) Is this for school credit?” If at least one is true, I’d consider it an internship. If it’s paid, and it’s not for credit, it’s just a normal job to me.

      1. designbot*

        I think this may be a field-by-field distinction. Mine is in alignment with what Dan describes as being any temporary or part-time job at the lowest level of a professional office that is targeting towards those getting their education and paying distinctly less than what an entry-level employee would make. I did four internships while I was in college, all of them paid, with limited hours and more direction than would be given to regular staff. I was under the impression than unpaid “internships” were illegal.

        1. Jenna*

          If it’s a foot in the door of a high demand industry or company, with a set term where the company decides whether they want you to stay or move on, then I consider it an internship whether it’s paid or unpaid and whether you get school credit or not.

        2. Cactus*

          My sister just completed a full-time, 6 month internship for 2 college credits. I wish they were illegal.

    2. Whats In A Name*

      So are you saying because it’s a paid internship the normal rules of professionalism don’t apply? Or are you saying that regardless of internship v. paid position it should be handled in the same way?

      Just curious, I am not sure what your point was in #1.

      I do tend to agree internship varies by field – my sister worked a 10-week paid position this summer between freshman & sophomore year and neither one of us considered it an internship because it’s not only for college students and its designed to accommodate for increased business during that time of year. While she gained people skills it wasn’t in the field she is studying.

    3. bridget*

      The OP refers to it as “seasonal,” so I’d think about it more in terms of getting some extra entry-level people on the ground during a busy period to help out the permanent employees. I wouldn’t call extra retail employees for the period between Black Friday and Christmas, or contract tax preparers in the months leading up to April, an “internship” just because it’s short-term. I think of internships as being learning experiences in a particular profession for people who aren’t quite entry level yet (and often still in school or just graduated).

    4. OP*

      Ooh, good questions!
      1. There are unpaid interns in other departments of our our organization this summer as well. They may or may not receive school credit. My department is the only one offering pay. Our organization is one of the most prominent in the nation for the type of work we do, and our field is often low-paying.

      2. I totally agree. The history just clouds my emotions is all. I have know the staffer for their whole life. We have often talked about shared friends/stories, etc, and she’s quite close to her family, and therefore mentions them occasionally in conversation. Also, I’m going to her sibling’s wedding in a couple weeks. So it’s not like we won’t intersect a lot in years to come.

    5. alice*

      Came here to say this. $15/hr, ten weeks, and you’re teaching them about professionalism? That’s an internship, whether it includes school credit or not.

  23. Rae*

    I feel like there are two explanations.

    1) She’s either a chronic liar with issues with the truth.
    2) She’s in a domestic violence situation and she’s prioritizing his controlling ways over her work.

    Either way, she needs major help.

  24. Anancy*

    It sounds to me as though OP got the message from the BF and then used that as a starting point to talking about the employee taint vacation, when the employee herself had not expressed interest in going on the vacation. The BF and the OP opened the idea of going on the vacation, instead of the employee, who up until OP opened the conversation, was actually following protocol that she would not be able to take time off. This could have been a great lesson in teaching the importance of advocating for herself. I can see how the employee got mixed messages–she was offered the possibility of time off without having asked for it originally. She was correct in telling BF that she couldn’t get the time off. OP could have simply repeated that to employee and shut BF down. I do think it was good to tell employee that BF emailed, because that is sketchy and manipulative, but to tell her because it was unprofessional, not to talk to OP about taking vacation.

    I totally agree that the BF message was manipulative, and I think the OP was manipulated by him. I also think the later email from employee was at his forcing too. From employee’s stand-point, she told BF no, and then he got involved and talked to her boss and now boss changed their mind. From her perspective, no one is telling BF “no”.

    1. Camellia*

      “From her perspective, no one is telling BF “no”.”

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

      1. Jenna*

        The boyfriend got what he wanted. I consider that reinforcement, and he will probably do this again, if not in this relationship(I hope she dumps him), then somewhere down the line.
        The boyfriend is the ONLY one who got what they wanted, really. This situation didn’t do good things for anyone else at all.

  25. Lissa*

    That message from the boyfriend made me hate him. “Appeal to the sentimental side” “the family side”, ugh! Whether he’s controlling or just a passive-aggressive guilt-tripper I don’t know, but wow that letter sent the rage centre of my brain going on overdrive.

    1. Noble*

      Well passive aggressive guilt tripping is definitely a method used to control so… yes. lol and yes, I was aggravated reading this too.

  26. AdminMeow*

    This was all rather weird and confusing. First, the way the boyfriend phrases his request like OP is a monster and someone just needs to appeal to her family side is condescending. It has nothing to do with sentimentality or family, it has to do with a job that wasn’t supposed to include time off…and a request for time off that had not been made. I get the impression girl didn’t want to go and boy is overly pushy = red flags.

    I also was confused that girl said no she didn’t want to go, then waited until two weeks before to ask if she could go as though the other conversation never happened. (Sounds like bf is reading the emails.) The boss giving the ok was generous but for employee to not respond and then just take the days off would not fly well with my employer. I think OP will learn that when you feel you need a response – end the email with something along the lines of “please confirm that you’ve received this and send me the details for how your work is going to be covered”.

    When she is back I would cover the red flags by bf – offer resources if needed, let her know how that comes across and how inappropriate it is, let her know confirming you’re taking days off and coverage is of the utmost importance, and that talking smack to other coworkers about your manager is not the best idea. Also, I’d probably cover the performance issues as well and just tell her it is a learning experience…then explain the importance of taking feedback well too.

  27. Lemon Zinger*

    Great commentary from everyone so far.

    I just *knew* someone would write in about a situation like this! After that last letter… it was only a matter of time.

  28. newlyhr*

    This could be a great opportunity to help a young, inexperienced, and yes, immature intern get what is likely to be the best possible lesson of her professional life. Sit her down, lay it out, and explain how professional workplaces operate and what was wrong about what happened. Yes, she might be embarrassed, but it’s better to be embarrassed in an internship than fired from a job she really needs because she never learned that this kind of behavior isn’t ok.

  29. Erin*

    She had my sympathies as a young person who doesn’t yet know work norms…until the part where she didn’t arrange for coverage and lied about having asked you beforehand.

    1. Serin*

      Maybe she just behaved irresponsibly. But in the context of all this talk of abuse, those two things — especially the dramatic puppet show of Mean Boss vs. Hopeful Employee — could b e the behavior of someone who’s scared to ask an authority figure for help and accustomed to telling lies to protect herself.

  30. Noble*

    Curious if the OP responded to the boyfriend and let him know it was inappropriate for him to contact them on her behalf like this?

    1. OP*

      I debated, but didn’t. It felt like I would be entering into his attempts at controlling things, if that makes sense?

      1. Noble*

        understandable. I’m sure it wouldn’t matter much to him anyway, if my assumptions about his character are correct.

  31. Noble*

    Also sounds like boyfriend put the pressure back on the girlfriend closer to the date, thus the last minute request. I think employee was hoping to get out of it, and maybe he reads her emails and saw there was an opening to ask again and then he was really on her about making it happen. Because it just won’t look good for this guy to show up to the family gathering without his girlfriend, yaknow. Gotta make it work. Can’t make him look bad. *eye roll* I feel for this girl.

  32. Episkey*

    Gotta agree — as I read the letter, my very first thought was that the employee’s boyfriend nagged & nagged, and sat down and had her write that email right in front of him & send it so he could be sure she really asked. Maybe he even reads/goes through her email.

    From that way the email was worded I *clearly* think she was trying to elicit a No response from the OP so she could show her boyfriend and have a rock solid excuse for not attending the reunion, but also not being the one “at fault”.

    As for lying to her co-worker and not prepping her work to be completed — I think others’ comments about keeping up the story with people who may know/socialize with her boyfriend outside of work is very plausible. She might have been in such a tizzy about actually having to go to the reunion and feeling so anxious about it that she neglected the work issue…obviously that was not the right way to handle things, but she’s young and might have panicked.

  33. kapers*

    I agree with Alison’s advice and I have to think those suggesting that the BF is just clueless are (thankfully) inexperienced with controlling/abusive people.

    This is setting off all my Gift of Fear signals.

    His message is so deliberate, so manipulative. A dumbass who just has no clue about professional boundaries would not have anticipated the legit arguments and preemptively counter-argued (“I know I have no power but…”). And his direct appeal to OP’s “family side” and “sentimental side” are MASTER manipulator tactics (if you don’t do what I want you’re an unfeeling robot.) Even his “have a great day” is a tactic (ass-kissing) because how can you say no to someone so darn NICE. And it’s all about him– I would love this, it would mean a lot to my family. Me me me. UGH.

  34. NewCommenterfromDaBronx*

    Why is BF contacting OP via Facebook? In what world is this even remotely OK?

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