employee is citing a family death two years ago as a reason not to work around any holidays

A reader writes:

I am a new supervisor and have an issue with a current employee. This employee is an hourly graduate student who mostly works nights/weekends when our full-time employees do not. It is stressed that the position is pre-professional, meaning we treat the employee like any other professional, while giving them coaching and help looking for full-time work in the field.

Our grad student employees are expected to work a weekend day, evenings, and reasonable work around holidays, so that we have enough employees around to stay open. Around holidays, that usually means filling in when other employees are at lunch or in meetings and unable to be facing the public. Basically, they fill in for our required commitments when we’re short-staffed. We don’t expect both of the grad students to be around, just one, so they have to learn to negotiate with each other to make sure their role gets filled. For holidays, often one student will work right up to the holiday and then take a few days off after, and the other will take a few days before, but come back right after the holiday.

However, this year, one of our students said “my parent recently died” as a reason to get out of working around any holidays, and requests time off (instead of swapping) for smaller family events, such as a relative’s birthday, because “it is important for them to be there since they lost someone recently.” So far, I’ve allowed this to happen without questioning things, as grieving is tough and takes time. But she is not willing to negotiate about being around any time around Christmas—demanding three full weeks off, saying she’ll need a lot of time with family since it is such a tough time of year, and was crying when she told me. I reiterated that this is her last year as a student and thus her last year getting a month off for the holidays, and she needs to get used to not being able to go home for weeks at a time.

I have assumed that this death was very recent, such as in the past few months, but I went online to search for an obituary, and found the death was over two years ago. I want to think that this employee and their family has had enough time to grieve, and should get on with their lives, which means not using it as an excuse for extra time off. However, I’ve never had to deal with the death of a parent, so maybe I’m being cold about this situation.

Well, first, you definitely want to stay away from ideas like “they’ve had enough time to grieve” or “they should get on with their lives.” That’s really, really not yours to determine. And it’s very normal for the loss of a parent to be something that people grieve deeply for years.

It’s not typical, though, to ask for bereavement-related time off two years after the fact, and if the death was really two years ago, your employee is handling the time off requests, well, rather unusually.

But before you conclude anything, are you absolutely sure that the obituary you saw was the correct one and not, for example, for a different parent or step-parent? It would be pretty horrible to assume here and get it wrong.

If you’re sure you’re correct, though, then it would be reasonable to just say to her, “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you the full three weeks off. Let’s talk about what we can do, while still ensuring that other people get the time off that they need as well.”

I wouldn’t pursue the thing about her needing to get used to not being able to go home for weeks at a time, because it’s going to come across as trying to teach her a lesson when you really should just focus on being direct about what you need from the person in her job. I do get that part of this set-up is that you coach these grad students on workplace norms — but I think this is just too fraught, since it’s tied up with issues of loss and grieving. She’ll figure this one out on her own when the time comes that she needs to.

So don’t get caught up in whether her requests are legitimate or in seeking out obits or anything like that. Just focus on being clear and direct about what you need from her, and about what you can and can’t accommodate without being unfair to the other student worker or leaving yourself short-staffed. (And in fact, that’s the best lesson about workplace norms you can give anyway, because that’s what she can expect from future workplaces as well.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 425 comments… read them below }

  1. Cake Name*

    “We don’t expect both of the grad students to be around, just one, so they have to learn to negotiate with each other to make sure their role gets filled”

    That seems like a bit of a shitty system honestly. It’s always a giant pain in the ass when you have to talk coworkers into covering shifts for you.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      It depends on whether it’s more of a “don’t bother me, figure it out” thing or a “please try to be fair and let me know if you need me to help mediate” kind of thing. There are ways that hands-off management can be a good thing rather than just neglectful abdication.

      That said, I think there’s more of the former than the latter out there, especially with positions like this where the employees are supposed to be learning about professional norms.

      The employee is pissing me off, for reasons that some of you may have already guessed. Both my parents and an in-law have passed away in the last 10 years, and while I’ve had to take time off, I’ve also made sure that things are being covered. Of course, I have and had more responsibility than a student employee, but still, it’s possible to be considerate of your coworkers while dealing with an immediate crisis. And this is not an immediate crisis. This person is, at best, sorely unprepared to deal with the real world, where you earn consideration by being responsible, it’s not an allowance that’s due to you just because.

      Yeah, I’m a little emotional right now. I do have some sympathy for the student, but they need to have a little for their coworkers.

    2. NW Mossy*

      A lot of places work like that, but it’s helpful to have clear protocols to support the negotiation. On my team, I set the standard that I expect team members to review the calendar and see who else intends to take a particular day, followed by a request for approval to me. They know that I generally won’t approve a request if X number of people already claimed that day, so they can factor that in before making plans that are costly to cancel. The norms are well-established and it’s rare that I have to deny a request due to insufficient coverage, although I did do so recently for someone who waited until last week to ask for the week of Thanksgiving. The requester was disappointed, but recognized that waiting until so late to plan her PTO meant that she wouldn’t necessarily get first pick.

    3. Faith2014*

      I was just coming here to make a similar comment on this. Perhaps they could try to work something out and present it as what they would like, but the decision should be left with mgmt (or perhaps even starting with mgmt).

    4. Pwyll*

      I’m not sure what the alternative would be, except the boss assigning who was working when (which would still lead to the employees needing to negotiate if it didn’t work for them). This is a big lesson to learn in entry level jobs, and so long as the Manager gets involved if the employees reach an impasse, I don’t see anything wrong with saying “We need coverage, work together to come up with a plan that works for you both.”

      1. Questioner*

        Yes! This was my thinking. In higher ed, we’re pretty autonomous and tend to deal with absences this way. I have colleagues that would cringe at someone telling them when they should be working, but they know when they have to work.

      2. designbot*

        I think an in between would be “we need coverage for this amount of time. You two decide how to allocate it but we expect you to divide it evenly, so that’s XX hours each.” That way there’s a bar they know they’re not supposed to fall below.

        1. Lurker*

          The problem with that—and this was especially the case for me as a graduate student—is that it opens the door for one employee saying that they can only work specific hours and making it the responsibility of the other(s) to divide the rest of the shifts. If you have a crappy/weak-willed manager, this can result in one person getting their perfect schedule, and others having to pick up the slack.

          I say this from experience: my advisor/boss in grad school once called me during dinner time on Valentine’s Day (was in the middle of a date with my wife, and he kept calling to the point I thought it was a major emergency) to tell me I had to come in early the next morning because a colleague of mine decided that they wouldn’t teach the Saturday morning tutorial. This was supposed to rotate between four of us (one weekend per-month), but because two of my colleagues refused, I was told I had to cover three weekends. According to my advisor/boss, this was OK because they would cover some other time. But, instead of having to cover Saturday morning teaching, they got just an extra hour the afternoons we all taught. The defense for this was, “well, they refused to work, and we know you’re a team player, so we knew it was OK to let them refuse because you’d cover for them.” Talk about no good deed going unpunished…

    5. One of the Sarahs*

      Yeah, I remember the letter about the really great employee, who’d covered for all her team-mates, but couldn’t get anyone to cover for her graduation (!!!) and so resigned (and we all mostly cheered her) – it seemed like in that case, there was an “in-crowd” approach to who covered for who, and the manager had used this line, not realising the unfairness in it.

    6. she was a fast machine*

      This also jumped out at me…that’s really annoying and definitely isn’t preparing the student for a true professional job; it’s preparing them for work in retail or fast food.

        1. she was a fast machine*

          But it’s not usually a case of a boss saying “this is what you’re assigned, you lower-level kids figure out who gets to actually take off when”, which is the vibe I’m getting.

          1. Bigglesworth*

            I’m going to have to agree with Amy. I work a professional job that requires coverage when anyone is out. My team (there are four of us) have to figure out amongst ourselves who gets to take off when. Everyone is usually really understanding and we try to accommodate everyone’s schedule. Once we figure it out, then we take it to our boss and she approves it.

          2. Gaia*

            I agree with Amy, actually. I work in a professional environment in a team of 3 in which one of us must always be working during a day. We usually start talking about Thanksgiving and Christmas around early October and approach it as “does anyone have plans?” or “is a particular time important to anyone?” and we tend to alternate holidays with the exception of one of us which has an important religious holiday at the end of the year so we work around that.

          3. Beefy*

            In another data point, I was a foodservice manager until recently. This was absolutely *not* the system we used. No one was expected to negotiate with their co-workers unless there was a last-minute, non-urgent situation, or the maximum number of requests for a highly-desired day had been reached. However, among the management team, which was certainly a group of professionals, we did negotiate with one another to ensure coverage.

          4. doreen*

            No, sometimes it’s a matter of “One of you has to be there everyday, and when you want a day/week off, let me know who’s covering”. Which is not much different -except in my experience, it’s the higher-level staff that get treated this way. Entry level staff requests time off and their supervisors approve it or not , taking staffing into account among other things. People who can’t work this stuff out tend not to get promoted, so they are over-represented in the entry level jobs.

      1. BPT*

        I had this exact system when I worked at a small law firm. There were four of us usually in the office, two senior and two junior people. Around the Christmas holidays, one senior and one junior person would take the week off before Christmas + Christmas Day, and one senior and junior person would take Christmas Day +the week after. It’s definitely not just retail or fast food.

        1. she was a fast machine*

          But that’s an understood norm. I was getting the impression from the letter that LW sets a schedule and then leaves it up to the workers to figure out who gets to take when off and how to make it cover, which is far more reminiscent of retail/food.

          1. BPT*

            …But it’s an understood norm in this too. Like, it’s the exact same system. Two weeks to take off – one employee takes the first, the second employee takes the second week. We had to figure out who took off which weeks too and how to cover. Literally a ton of professional jobs work like this.

      2. Escape*

        At my company, no two team members are allowed to take the same day off, so you’re expected to check with your team to see if they already have plans to be off on a day that you want to take. On a very rare occasion, exemptions can be made, but you have to work doubly hard to make sure everything your team does will be taken care of.

      3. Pwyll*

        I’m not sure that’s true. In my last two entry-level professional jobs (as an officer manager AND as a lawyer) I was told that the office needed coverage during the holidays and I needed to work it out with the others in the office to ensure someone was here.

      4. all aboard the anon train*

        Definitely not. In my big, corporate company, we can’t have more than three members of the same job level out at the same time. So of all 8 editors, only three can be out on the same day, etc. We have to deal with scheduling and coverage for time off and then my boss approves it. My boss doesn’t get to decide who picks what days to be off and doesn’t deal with coverage.

        This is particularly tricky on the day before a long weekend or big holidays since everyone wants the same time off. It’s been like this for all the companies I’ve worked at, so it’s not only a retail or fast food norm.

      5. Unegen*

        Can we not crap on retail or fast food jobs, please? They’re actual jobs, too. And yes indeed, they absolutely require that you get someone to cover for your shift if you are out.

        1. Gaia*

          Yep. The same people that crap on these jobs would be mighty angry if their favorite retail store had no employees or the local fast food joint was unstaffed.

          These are real jobs with real value providing a real service. And, frankly, it is really classist to assume otherwise.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I read the comment as how the businesses are managed (shabby management practices), not about the workers of such places. I think everyone here respects other people’s work efforts.

          One retail place I worked the boss hung up a calendar for the holiday weeks. The days of the week ran across the top and the hours ran down the side. The shifts for each holiday were boxed off in increments of 4 hours. People could sign up for what they would do. He did say if there were any blank boxes he would have to assign someone to work. It definitely motivated some people to sign up early. I’d work a double on Christmas… just ‘cuz.
          My point is even with a lousy system some managers do work out decent solutions. However, not all do and that is why retail and restaurant management gets called out on it.

    7. Amy G. Golly*

      It can be difficult to get someone else to cover your shift, but presumably these student workers aren’t necessarily doing that: they’re negotiating with each other to determine who will work when. (“Would you rather do Wednesday evening or Tuesday evening?” vs. “Will you work for me this Tuesday?”) Among reasonable adults, that should work out just fine, and might be preferable to having your schedule dictated to you by your boss.

      Off course, in the case of unreasonable adults, someone higher up needs to step in and set some ground rules. Hence the letter!

    8. BPT*

      It might be a shitty system if it’s lopsided, or involves negotiating with multiple people, etc. But when you have a system set up like they do, I don’t think it’s that bad. When it’s: “We have 2 employees to cover these shifts. We have two weeks in which they can take off. Therefore, one can take Week 1, and one can take Week 2. They just decide which one works better for them”, then it’s not that fraught.

      Of course, there could be disagreements, and if one employee gets their preferred week every year at the expense of the other, then that’s a problem. But a lot of people would be able to work this out.

      Also – it’s not covering shifts for employees, it’s signing up to work a certain week.

    9. fposte*

      We do this all the time, and it works great. Generally the key is to have a small pool of mature professionals–the more people you have and the less stringent your hiring, the more trouble there will be.

    10. Annonymouse*

      From what I understand in the letter the two student employees are to negotiate who gets to take which time off around the holiday – one takes time off before, the other after.

      This is different from the scenario you’ve said about one covering for the other.

      However the student that OP has written in about wants 3 weeks off over Christmas. In most jobs that’s not going to happen.

      I think OP should do as Alison suggested which is “Student 1, we aren’t able to give you that much time off over the holidays. We can give you either x days off before OR x days off after. Whatever you don’t pick the other student will take.

    11. Akcipitrokulo*

      That’s exactly what I was coming to ask – was it just me, or did that seem really off?

      Taking their views into account and letting them come to you with a “hey, is we were thinking X could take the first week and I take the second, is that cool with you?” is fine – but handing over responsibility to them seems like ducking out of it.

  2. DMC*

    Do you have a bereavement leave policy of any kind? If so, I’d make sure she is aware of her accommodations have likely been exceeding what’s allowed by your policy. If you don’t have such a policy, then just let her know you cannot approve that amount of time off during the holidays. It’s not reasonable and it is certainly not fair to others.

    1. Adonday Veeah*

      As an HR person, I concur. You can have her request additional time, with the understanding it might not be approved.

    2. sunny-dee*

      It’s likely, though, that she has waaaaaay exceeded any kind of bereavement leave. My company only gives you 5 days for a parent, spouse, or child, and it has to be within a certain time period of the death. If she’s already been getting time off for family events, she’s probably burned through that kind of leave.

        1. Anon 2*

          That’s the same policy as my employer. I think it’s a pretty common policy. Although my employer would be flexible, but you’d need to use PTO for the additional time.

          1. sunny-dee*

            Yep, same here. I figure since she’s part time, she probably doesn’t have PTO or FMLA to fall back on.

        2. synchrojo*

          I work for a government agency and had to take sick or vacation time in the lead up to and aftermath of my father’s death. I’d only been on the job for about 6 months, and my boss was flexible about it (i.e. I ended up staying a couple days longer than I’d planned during his final days, and just let my boss know I’d be taking the extra sick time) but yeah, there was no special bereavement time. This doesn’t strike me as that uncommon. Is it really?

        3. fposte*

          That’s on the generous side of standard. Keep in mind bereavement leave isn’t leave to deal with grief; it’s basically leave to deal with attending a funeral.

              1. Aurion*

                Ha! Well, I’ll cheerfully donate any bereavement leave I have to others when I die.

                Side note: your username is making me miss the oatmeal I had for breakfast…

          1. MashaKasha*

            Agree. OldJob gave me three days for a parent. And, yes, I used them to schedule and attend (?) the funeral, and to take care of other calls/paperwork.

            Just checked and my current job gives up to five days for a spouse, parent, child, or sibling.

            1. HoVertical*

              I work two jobs, and both bosses gave me a week and a few days off, with pay, when my Mom passed away. I was pleasantly surprised.

          2. Natalie*

            Indeed, ours is still coded as “Funeral Leave” in our accounting system, even though we updated the employee handbook to call it Bereavement Leave years ago. And thankfully whoever set up the accounting system did not use our standard “first three letters” system to code it.

          3. a different Vicki*

            In a lot of places, bereavement leave means you get a few days of paid leave that aren’t counted against the standard allowance of paid time off. If you need more than that, it comes out of the same PTO as vacation, medical appointments, or staying home for the plumber. Also, companies that give bereavement leave at all generally understand why you didn’t give them a lot of notice.

            1. Xarcady*

              One place I worked changed from sick and vacation days to a PTO bank. And included bereavement leave in the PTO bank.

              So if there’s a death in the family and you have used all your PTO for the year, I have no clue what happens. My guess is that you would get a day or two of unpaid leave.

              But including bereavement leave in a PTO bank seems to defeat the whole idea of bereavement leave–that there’s a day or two of paid leave for a death, a completely unexpected event that absolutely cannot be planned for.

              1. Ginger*

                That is weird! We just switched from vacation and sick to PTO a couple of months ago, but bereavement leave is still separate, and we actually added two days (from 3 to 5) for immediate family members.

        4. Lost*

          Yeah, I got three days for my brother over the summer. The handbook says one, but when I asked about it, I was told three. I used a combination of PTO and unpaid, wanting to have some PTO in the bank in case I came back (family is in another region of the country) and needed to take a day here and there to deal with the grief.

        5. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s not all the leave you can take; that’s the paid bereavement leave. You can still take additional leave through vacation or sick time or FMLA. This is a pretty typical policy.

        6. De Minimis*

          We get the same, but as was mentioned, that is just for the funeral arrangements.

          In reality, people usually also have donated leave and whatever vacation time they have. Two of my coworkers have lost parents over this year and both were able to be out at least a few weeks.

        7. Jadelyn*

          We do 5 days for immediate family, 3 for extended family, 1 for funeral of an ex-spouse. That’s just talking about paid days that we are required to accommodate (by our own policy, not legally required) that don’t touch your PTO banks. The employee can take vacation time as well, but that’s subject to approvals and coverage needs. I don’t think that’s particularly unusual as a policy.

          1. Ife*

            A day for an ex-spouse? That sounds oddly specific to me, I wonder if a lot of people take advantage of that. I haven’t heard of that before!

            1. Natalie*

              I imagine the logic is someone who had minor children with the ex-spouse. You’d be taking your kids to their other parent’s funeral, more than you’d be going to your ex’s funeral.

            2. Blackout*

              Some people do remain close to their ex-spouses. My aunt and uncle are an example of this. They divorced some 20 years ago, but as time went on they remained on friendly terms and have even celebrated holidays together. I’m pretty sure if one of them dies, the other one will attend the funeral (if possible, since they currently live in different parts of the country).

            3. Layla*

              Possibly if they have had a lot ?
              Our company bereavement policy does not include grand parents in law but includes grand parents … *

              I don’t think they actually have a way to verify this though.

              * in Chinese culture we are expected to remain at the wake throughout.

          2. Cat steals keyboard*

            I can’t seem to find our policy anywhere.

            But we can take 8 weeks fully paid sick leave (more after 2 years) and 5 weeks vacation (excluding public holidays which make up another 2.5) so there’s plenty of scope for time off…

        8. miss_chevious*

          Yeah, this is the policy at my job as well. Everyone here was flexible when my mother died last year, and would have let me take extra PTO if I had wanted to, but the actual bereavement time was only five days.

          1. Phyllis B*

            My company gives three days bereavement, but you don’t have to take it all at once. When my step-father died, I took one day to help my mother with arrangements, then two weeks later took the other two days when family arrived. (He donated his body to science and we had a memorial service when far-flung family could arrive.) That was enough for this situation, and I thought it was great that they would let me do it that way.

        9. LizM*

          I work for the federal government, we have no official bereavement leave. I can take annual leave, sick leave in some circumstances (if it falls under FMLA protections), or unpaid time off. My husband gets 3 days per year for extended family, and an additional 3 days per occurrence for immediate family (parents, spouse, child).

          1. LizM*

            Hit enter too soon – I should add that he has to use his leave to attend a funeral and/or deal with things like the estate. It’s not general “grief” leave.

        10. BananaPants*

          That’s very common. My employer gives up to 3 days for a grandparent, parent, spouse, child, sibling, aunt, uncle, or cousin. When my FIL’s partner of a decade died, I technically had to use a personal day for her funeral because they weren’t legally married; I thought about just lying and calling her my MIL but the company sends flowers to the employee and to the funeral home for that and I decided to just use the paid personal day.

          We do have up to 3 paid personal days per year plus whatever additional vacation time the employee has available. I’m pretty sure that if I lost my spouse or one of my children I would not be back at work after 3 days of bereavement leave. For an in-law or a more distant relative (aunt or uncle) I likely would be back that soon.

        11. Jojo*

          Federal law is 3 days. More can be worked with employer. If they are not local, you often need to bring proof.

      1. AnonMarketer*

        I inwardly flinched so badly at this policy, and even now just reading it makes me upset. That’s a HORRIBLE rule! D:

        1. Big10Professor*

          That’s about right for paid leave. You can also use PTO, and if necessary, FMLA. And most managers are reasonable about returning part-time or working from home, etc.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Yes, bereavement days are not charged to employee PTO, but they’re not the limit to the amount of time you can take off (at least at any place I’ve worked — I’ve no doubt that there are shitty employers who won’t let people take time off). I also encourage employees who meet the qualifications to use FLSA leave for caring for ill family members, though it is limited in some ways.

        2. Chocolate Coffeepot*

          My company gives 2 days … I would have loved another day when my father passed away. Five days sounds really generous compared to that!

          1. HoVertical*

            I know what you mean. When my father passed away, I was still living at home, and living off of my savings, while I figured out what I wanted to do employment-wise. Time off wasn’t the issue at that time, so much as finding a full time job with good benefits was.

      2. Kyrielle*

        Everywhere I’ve worked has offered only three. I got unofficial additional leave because management/my boss were being nice when both my parents passed away within 9 days of each other…I was an only child, so besides the grief, the whole estate process also fell to me. Five days per seemed inadequate; three days per seemed outright ludicrous, and I’m so glad they gave me additional time and space. (I’d have probably ended up on FMLA for mental-health issues if they hadn’t, to be honest.)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Oh wow. I am so sorry for your losses. A small estate can take over a year to process. You absolutely cannot process two estates in any short time frame.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Thank you. It was…a really crappy time. (It was ten years ago, and it was mid-December, which was not fun – but I didn’t have my kids yet. I’m sorry my parents never met them, but I’m not sorry I didn’t have to parent them through that while also getting through it myself.)

            They were married and the property was joint and would have gone to the surviving spouse, and because the process hadn’t started on Mom’s will when Dad died, so it ended up being a single process, fortunately. It at least kept the logistical whatnot to a minimum.

      3. Gaia*

        Wow. We only give 3 days of paid bereavement (after which you can use PTO or unpaid time) but it covers parents, sibling, children, housemate, spouse, dependent and any step, in-law or half iteration of those relations.

        1. Gaia*

          Sorry, also significant other is included which has been known to be used for both romantic and non romantic significant relationships.

    3. Questioner*

      Our official policy is 3 days for full time employees–anything more is vacation leave. However, this employee started two years after the death.

      As this employee is part time, it is up to the supervisor to grant leave (there is no bereavement leave nor recurred vacation). I would absolutely give the part timer a reasonable amount of time off for a death, with the understanding that they either have to make up the hours some other time or not be paid. Reasonable time to me is that 3 days plus a little more because grief is tough. However, since they are also a full time graduate student, if they miss too much time, it will effect that.

      1. snuck*

        I wouldn’t want to confuse requests for bereavement leave, and holidays.

        She’s asking for extra holiday time because she feels her holidays are extra important to her. She’s not asking for bereavement leave. (And as a person who has lived and worked interstate holiday times ARE important).

        It’s possible she’s trying to group the public holidays of Christmas together to make her costly trips more valuable…etc.

        But it’s perfectly reasonable to say “Our expectations for you are that you will be here until Christmas, and then you can take from Christmas to New Years (or whatever) off. This is fair to all the other people that also need to spend time with their families”… and if she responds with the idea that she should get more because she deserves it more then I’d follow up with a swift “That’s not how this is decided – I need you to understand our expectation of you, and that is that you will be here up until Christmas Eve” or whatever it is. Don’t get into a conversation about who deserves more leave or less. Because then you are getting into her needs vs anothers… and that’s a lose-lose conversation.

        (Trust me! She’s got a deep family loss situation that is while relevant aging in time which she’s used as an excuse a few times already, I had no family to be with and wanted once a year to spend time with MY family, another person had small children and wanted to share Christmas with them, another had been working on a major project and not taken leave for an entire year… with the expectation that Christmas/New Year embargos would give them a much deserved break… Another has just gotten engaged to their overseas fiance and needs the time to go visit him/his family and start migration paperwork…. now which do you pick? Stay out of the why!)

        1. snuck*

          And… if she’s gotten out of all the other holidays, leaving hte existing staff to cover… then more than ever they deserve a chance to spend some holiday time with their own plans.

          Every one is entitled to leave, and screwing with it will create grumpy employees who go somewhere that they can use their leave in a reasonable way.

  3. Interviewer*

    Not sure what role your department has on campus, but can you consider adopting a winter holiday schedule for your department with shorter window that you’re open to the public? That may help your grad students as a group, if they don’t have to cut short their own holidays.

    1. Eddie Turr*

      I’m sure there are some departments on a college campus that don’t or can’t decrease their availability during winter break, but for the life of me I can’t think of any. Heck, most of the professors and admins I know at universities take two or three weeks off for the holidays because the workload allows it. I’m definitely in favor of this option if it’s feasible for OP.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Things like student accommodation offices, finance support, student support etc, can’t shut for three-four weeks, as students still need them (or at least in the university I worked in, and the 2 I attended) – and that’s just off the top of my head (but that could be UK/my experience, of course)

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Actually, the more I think about it, the more departments I know can’t take 3 weeks off over Xmas – legal services, IT, media/PR office, International Students, student healthcare, libraries etc etc. The week off between Xmas and New Year and any Bank Holidays? Sure, for a lot of them, but not 3 weeks.

          1. DragoCucina*

            Some of the universities in our state have high numbers of international students. There were so many complaints from the students that the libraries may only be closed for actual holidays.

          2. Cafe au Lait*

            Even the week between Christmas and New Years we have individuals complain that the library should be open.

            Every year, like clockwork.

          3. Kelly*

            I work in an academic library and the time between Xmas and New Years Eve is usually up to the individual library. Some smaller libraries with one or two permanent FT staff shut down during that time because either they can’t get student help or they don’t feel staying open for at most a dozen patrons coming in during those days. One larger library on campus shut down last year during that time but that was due to them being down one FT staff person due to a resignation. My workplace was open, but we had only two staff in for two days. One day I had pre-planned vacation and the other my boss had a pre-planned vacation along with my co-worker calling in sick due to his kids and his own inability to arrange for a sitter. We also didn’t have any students that week.

            I raised that question last week with my boss because we’re down one FT person due to a retirement and it’s not likely her replacement will start until the second semester. Her response was “why would we close?” I bought up us being short handed last year and the likelihood of no student workers being around. It frustrates me because I know that I’ll be the one stuck covering the public services desk while my coworker calls in sick again claiming that his kids are sick when in reality he didn’t plan ahead for daycare. Grr..

            1. zora.dee*

              Could you book a trip now so you can’t be there, at least for a couple of days? Then your boss will have to actually deal with the problem.

          4. Talvi*

            My library closes over Christmas. (Actually, both of the academic libraries I’ve worked at do.) We’re open through the last day of exams (which can bring us right up to Dec 21 or 22 some years, but other years it’s earlier), then we’re closed until the start of Winter term in January.

          5. sarah*

            Our student health care DID close over Christmas, and if your insurance was through them (an HMO) literally the only way to obtain health care during the break was to go to an ER with a hefty copay. I’m sure it’s annoying to the clinic staff/doctors to have to work over Christmas, but doing it the other way is really horrible for students.

        2. Mona Lisa*

          At our university, if you onboard before November 1, you’re entitled to a winter break in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. My last job was at a non-profit catering to kids, and we shut that down for two weeks over the holidays. I don’t think it’s uncommon.

        3. Julia*

          When I was an international student in Japan, the office in charge of my programme closed for at least one week in the summer and one over New Year. It might even be more.

        4. Phoenix Feather*

          My campus “closes” from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day. Only essential staff are permitted, which is basically police department and the IT Help Desk. Accounting comes in on one specific day for a small set of hours to disburse pay warrants to the few people who haven’t set up the required direct deposit. Otherwise, Facilities, IT, and a few other departments are on-call and required to be within 30 minutes of campus to deal with emergencies.

          Having the official “Closed” designation to campus also means buildings are locked and no, you can’t get in. Card access is temporarily disabled and you have to call campus police dispatch and justify why you need entry.

          But 2 January everyone is back on campus and rushing to go.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          Both of the ones I worked at did, too, and our heat was turned off ala Big10Professor’s but we still had to cover 1 of 2 days we opened in admissions to process applications and last minute transcripts as well as return phone calls. FA and Business Office did the same.

          They ordered us pizza to make up for it.

        2. Ineloquent*

          Mine too. Temporary student homelessness is actually a serious problem, since dorms aren’t open, and there’s a bunch of kids who can’t leave or have no where to go,

          1. pugsnbourbon*

            I remember you could apply for housing over breaks at my college – we were on quarters so there were no classes between Thanksgiving and New Years, and technically the dorms were closed.

          2. SpaceySteph*

            I was an RA in a dorm that stayed open over winter break. I think they did it because they were trying to compete with off-campus apartments, not out of concern if students had a place to go. Everyone was gone so I just forwarded the phones to my room and watched TV/napped all day. And because they mandated that everyone have to work a certain number of days of winter break or trade, so I traded all those favors to not have to work home football game weekends. Totally great.

            I then spent the first 7 years after graduation working in a 24/7/365 job and volunteering for every Christmas I could get. It’s the best.

          3. Finny*

            Agreed. My last year at university, I spent the month of winter break in a homeless shelter in Hartford, CT–a place I’d never been to in my life, as my school was in Boston. No one in Boston was willing to help, school included, and it wasn’t safe to go live with my mother in Colorado for the month, as she was abusive, and my father was functionally out of the picture.

            Thanksgiving and Spring break one dorm was open for those who couldn’t go home, and I stayed there then, but there was nothing for the much longer winter break.

        3. Oryx*

          That’s how it was when I was an undergrad. Everybody out of the dorms, we had to go through a whole big checklist with our RA like we do at the end of the year and are moving out. The campus shuts down.

      2. Anon 2*

        I’ve worked for two state universities and they were all open and fully functional over the holidays. Granted everything was a lot slower because students weren’t on campus and faculty were typically gone, but the university didn’t stop running because the faculty and staff were gone.

      3. Whats In A Name*

        FA, Enrollment, Business Office, etc. can’t really close for that long and in many cases come in on the days the university is closed due to the spring semester starting so closely to the return from holiday break. It’s the 2nd busiest time of year, only behind the few weeks leading up to fall semester.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          Classes here start mid-January, and we come back to work a week before classes start. So that week can feel hectic.

          In our case, I think the two weeks totally closed down originated before I started here when the state university system was imposing furloughs — it was a money-saving tactic, and I think you didn’t get paid for at least part of the two weeks? They’d switched over to “required to take PTO” by the time I’d started.

      4. DCGirl*

        I worked in development (fund raising). We had to be there to process year-end contributions so that donors could deduct them from their taxes that year. The last weeks of the calendar year are always busy for fund raisers.

      5. Callie*

        I worked in a department advising office when I was a grad student and we had full days right up to Christmas Eve. Just because there aren’t classes doesn’t mean there aren’t things to be done–actually, we had to do things like check up on the grades of scholarship students and students on probation once final grades rolled, make sure everyone was registered for the correct classes for the next term, prepare files of graduating students for archiving, etc.

    2. Questioner*

      We do. We’re closed between Dec 23 and January 1. The big thing is that we need coverage until the 23rd, and for a couple of full time senior employees (myself included), that means working around school schedules and crazy holiday travel. So, we have to make sure things are a bit staggered so that all of our employees can take a couple extra days.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        So if employee were to go home around Christmas, they would have to pay premium airfare if they went between Dec 23 – Jan 1. At a grad student salary.
        There’s also a high risk when flying Dec 24. One snowstorm and you’re spending Christmas at the airport.
        Have you checked with your employees to find out their true needs?

        1. Temperance*

          Well yes, if the student wants to visit their extended family, they will pay whatever airfare costs. That shouldn’t really be relevant to the business, though … otherwise, people without far away family or blood relatives end up getting screwed.

        2. One of the Sarahs*

          It’s not always about the needs of the employees, but the needs of the customers. There are some businesses that can say “close for 3 weeks around Xmas and New Year” but I would say most don’t have that luxury, and it would be a really strange decision to run staffing hours around employees who choose to fly somewhere to take a holiday, over what the customers need.

        3. Questioner*

          I’ve done this checking. All the employees are within easy driving distance, except myself. And yes, I want a few days off before the 23rd to take advantage of cheaper airfare and deal with weather (last time I flew at Xmas, I had a flight on the 23rd that was cancelled and wasn’t rescheduled until the 26th, so this is a concern.) There is definitely a bit of my being self centered about my plans, but I’m the only person who has significant travel (1000 miles). I also have the issue of having a family member in poor health that cannot travel to see me, so my getting to see them a couple times a year is important.

          1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

            I don’t really think you should put yourself in this. I assume other full timers are taking time off as well, as is their right.

            It sounds like one of the main purposes of these two grad students is to cover for you and other full timers when you are unavailable, and that the weekend/evening/holiday aspect was made clear at hiring. So you and the other full timers taking time doesn’t play in here and shouldn’t be discussed.

            These two are here to provide coverage for the main team. It is unrealistic for one of two to expect all the holiday time with the second not getting any holiday time. That is all that needs to be framed.

            It seems like they can each realistically take a week off, plus the week you are closed. Don’t negotiate about time then. be clear. “There is a week before available and a week after available, for two weeks total. Which do you prefer?” If the other one is ok with the opposite week – good done.

            1. irritable vowel*

              Agreed. Especially if these are meant to be positions where the students are learning about professional norms, they really are not benefitting from being treated differently from your other staff. The student whose parent died two years ago should not be given an advantage over the other student, who may have her own family stuff going on that she would love to devote more time to. Part of being new to the workforce, or new to an organization, is that you don’t often get the same flexibility around time off that more senior workers do. That’s something that is valuable for them to learn.

          2. TL -*

            One thing to be careful of is it kinda sounds like you’re trying to hide what you really want (the week before off) by saying it’s for the student’s benefit (she needs to learn to work over the holidays.) But it’s not for her benefit that you want the week off; it’s for yours. So treat it like that. Tell her that X days need coverage and if she and the other student can’t work it out, you’ll assign one week to her and the other week to the other worker.

      2. Jerry Vandesic*

        If she already gets 10 days off for the holiday, it is unreasonable for her to expect special treatment to spend time with her family beyond the normal holiday shut down. Let her know now that she will need to work until the 23rd, and if she refuses you should let her go and find someone else for the position.

      3. Meg Murry*

        So am I understanding correctly that both students will be off 12/23 through 1/1, but you need one person to work 12/19-12/22 and the other to work 1/2-1/6, but the grieving student wants the whole period from the 19th through 6th off (or at least, most of it)?

        Have you asked the other student about this? It’s possible student #2 would be willing to work both weeks because she needs the money, in which case you could let student #1 know that she can go only because student #2 has agreed to cover for her. But if student #2 says no, she wants to take one of those weeks off, then you need to lay down the law with student #1 that you understand this is tough on her, but she will be getting 2 full weeks already and you can’t accommodate 3 weeks off.

        Is part of the issue that she has to travel far enough that if she works on 12/23 she couldn’t leave until 12/24 and would be traveling on Christmas Eve, but if she instead takes the week after she would have to travel on 1/1 in order to make her shift on 1/2?

        1. Anna*

          I don’t think it’s up to the OP to manage this, and especially not to see if she can do this student a favor. The student is taking advantage of a situation and is missing the whole part of this being an opportunity to learn professional norms. It is not professionally normal to expect time off around every holiday to be with family two years after a parent has died. It is well within the OP’s scope to tell the student this isn’t feasible and that she will be expected to work either up to the 23rd or after the 1st, depending on what she works out with the other student.

    3. cncx*

      this was my first thought too. i have worked on three university campuses and at one job, we shut down the week between Christmas and New Year’s completely and were on a skeleton crew the other days where students were on christmas break; at the other two, we had published, reduced hours, with days like December 23rd being half days only, with the 24th and 25th completely off and with the expectations communicated to stakeholders that we were basically in skeleton crew mode from around december 20th until January 4th or 5th and that all important business needed to be communicated for around december 15th.

  4. Stellaaaaa*

    This one’s tricky because we’re talking night and weekend shifts only; this isn’t a schedule she’ll have once she lands a professional job, so using it to teach her about scheduling around things like weekend family parties is kind of moot. The grieving angle makes it complicated too. Three weeks to grieve just isn’t the norm or even reasonable, but when it’s put out there as a way of having the most desirable weeks of the year off…I gotta say I don’t quite buy it. Maybe she’s genuinely still grieving. I won’t question that. But she’s also manipulating you into potentially punishing your other grad employee, who seemingly never makes these requests and is present more consistently. I’d approach the other coworker first and ask if she was planning on asking for time off or not, and offer her the extra hours if she wants them (lots of people are happy to work over the holidays for extra cash). If you’re really committed to this mentoring thing, you need to find a way to tell the first employee that she can’t continue her working life with the expectation of having the entire month of December off. You can do this whatever you end up deciding this year. Just please make sure you reward the other employee too, if she’s constantly covering for her coworker.

    1. justsomeone*

      That’s not necessarily true, there are some professional jobs that have a need for night and weekend coverage.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Yeah, I work in software, but our support people have to cover every geo, which literally means 24/7 coverage. Although most of the staff gets off for holidays, they have to keep a skeleton crew then, too.

      2. just another librarian*

        Yeah, I’m a public librarian (have a master’s degree) and I work weekends, nights, whatever. We’re closed for all the major holidays but not things like Columbus Day.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        Without more information, we obviously can’t say, but that thought crossed my mind too. And the letter writer mentions that the employee is female. I had numerous female employees (never male) do this to me at various times in my retail career. Some were genuine in their tears and some were not. One actually later bragged to another employee that she’d successfully used the tactic on virtually every male manager she’d ever had and it always worked for her. I do hope that isn’t the case here, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if it were.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          It’s worth noting that OP seems to have been swayed a bit by the tears. It’s ok to say that you don’t have to care extra-more just because someone is crying.

      2. LD*

        My father died four years ago. I cried this morning on the way to work thinking about him and how much I miss him. There wasn’t anyone around for me to manipulate.

        1. Anna*

          That’s fair, but the OP was speaking specifically about a conversation a person was having that shouldn’t have brought the student to tears (it was a request, not her sharing memories of her parent). We don’t know if the student was being manipulative; it’s kinder to assume she wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean the student should get all that time off or that the OP isn’t being swayed by her tears (and the OP shouldn’t be).

          1. Natalie*

            I don’t think anyone is suggesting that crying should mean giving the employee all the time off they want. Just that assuming the employee is being manipulative has a risk (in damaging OP’s opinion of the employee) with no possible benefit.

        2. Simonthegreywarden*

          My grandma, in many ways, filled a mothering role for me. She has been gone for almost seven years now and I still sometimes feel that deep sadness welling up, thinking about the things she never got to know (like my husband, whom she never met; our future children; the house we just moved into). When I think about that, I still feel tears. There are still songs that make me well up. Clearly it isn’t manipulative; some things just burnish our soul.

          It has been three years since my friend’s adult son died, and I don’t know that week goes by that she doesn’t still cry at least a little.

      3. little mermaid*

        To be honest, I don’t think that way of thinking is fair. Some people cry easily and they hate it. They don’t want to be treated differently because of it. They try all they can to control it and hope that everyone around them just ignores that it’s happening. To them it’s just a physical reaction (like some people get red spots around their neck and face when they get nervous/stressed/awkward/uncomfortable) and they know it’s not great that it happens. They are well aware that it’s not professional to start crying infront of people at work.

        It’s never happened to me at work – but in a few of other situations. Once e.g. in a bank (that was actually just a couple of months after my dad passed away and I was dealing with some annoying bureaucracy and suddenly tears were running down my face). But it’s also happened without a connection to any dramatic/sad event. And every time I stand there, tears running down my face, cursing myself for crying and hating it.

        Sure, there will always be an asshole here and there that will use manipulation and lying to get what they want. But they will also be assholes in other ways. So just automatically jumping to that conclusion about the person in the letter isn’t cool.

        1. Sofia*

          Not to sound rude because I appreciate everything physicians, nurses, police, firemen, etc do, but you usually know that going in when you choose that career path. And on the plus side (at least at the hospital my sister works at), you can accommodate your schedule to have five days off in a row without using any PTO. They also rotate so everyone has at least one holiday off (Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years).

          Dot Warner – I mean in general I know you said you wouldn’t have it any other way :)

          1. Required Name*

            I don’t think anyone’s saying you’re unaware of what you’re getting into in those professions, just that there are multiple professional jobs that can require those shifts. As another night/weekend shift healthcare worker (who doesn’t, unfortunately, have the schedule benefits you describe, but that works for me), I feel like there’s a stereotype that tends to crop up whenever unusual schedules come up that “real” jobs are daytime Monday – Friday, holidays off, and no one would ever want anything else. (To be clear, I’m not saying you think this, just that the comment people are responding to started off with how she won’t be working this shift in the future, which isn’t necessarily true.) Wanting night/weekend shifts isn’t the norm, but it’s not unheard of (I wanted them), and we don’t actually know she doesn’t want that schedule in the future or what industry she’s aiming for. And honestly, all of that is kind of a moot point anyway, because all we know is that she wants 3 weeks off around a holiday, and presumably she’d want the same if she was working weekdays.

            1. Sofia*

              Exactly! Everyone is different and has different priorities/schedules so we shouldn’t assume everyone wants a M-F 9-5 job. I agree that in general people think of the “real” jobs as the 9-5 and agree that it isn’t the case. Plenty of professional jobs work different schedules.

    2. Brett*

      I think one of the keys here is that the student has to go home to see family. This is not something you can readily work around for grad school, especially for a funded position like this. Funded opportunities for grad school are much less geographically diverse than career opportunities. (There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of jobs in my field in my metro area, but the nearest PhD program of any type is 3.5 hrs drive away.)

      Since being close to family at the holidays is so important to this worker, she can seek employment closer to her family and with little to no night and weekend coverage. All of this can be done without violating any professional norms.

  5. Mike B.*

    This student seems to think that losing a parent is a unique experience that calls for exceptional treatment. I’m glad she values time with her living family that much–I regret not having spent more time with my father before he died–but that’s seldom going to be 100% compatible with the demands of any workplace. However great the grief, we ultimately need to resume our lives and recommit to our obligations.

    I’d be more sympathetic if the issue was something like “my father died on Christmas Day, and the holiday has been very difficult for me for the last few years”; a limited issue like that could be addressed in a way that doesn’t compromise the business or put her colleagues in a bad position.

    1. Student*

      It’s also not as if she doesn’t have any options. The grad student could look for a different job with different shift requirements, or work out shift trades with the other grad student, or negotiate with her own family to celebrate some holidays on off-days. It’s not a binary – the grad student is not chained in her cube, unable to ever see her family unless the OP grants time off. The OP could also force some shift trades, if the other grad student has specific times she’d like off. Or offer mild bonuses (maybe free food, maybe mild paycheck increases or better assignments) to people who cover the lousy holiday shifts.

      Compassion is called for with family deaths, in addition to not trying to fact-check them. However, this doesn’t mean you get a pass on all the lousy shifts for a year.

      1. Rose*

        I read it more that the LW felt pensive about questioning the student, but maybe felt like something was a little hinky and checked it.

      2. Temperance*

        I think she *had* to fact-check, though. OP’s employee wanted special treatment, citing a family member’s death, and it’s reasonable to check in on the need.

    2. Sofia*

      I agree with most of what you are saying and I think the manager still needs to meet the staffing requirements, but if she is able to accommodate the student with at least some time off, a few days, a week if possible, she should try to do that. I also agree that she needs to be fair with the other employees.

      One thing, I want to point out though is that just because a experience is not unique and is something most of us go through doesn’t mean it is any less painful for the person experiencing it. I don’t think you are implying this, but I would definitely be against telling the student that losing a parent is something most of us experience.

    3. Questioner*

      This was my thinking. And I know I can brush off emotional issues int he work place too quickly, which is why I sought advice. Our policy is 3 days bereavement leave and then vacation time–none of which this hourly employee is eligible for. When my husband had deaths in the family, I took those 3 days and a couple extra for travel, but then got on a regular schedule again because I want to be busy.

    4. Lissa*

      Yes, I think it’s important not to say “you need to go back to work because you can’t possibly feel that bad when it happened 2 years ago” because everyone’s different…but not arguing with the employee’s perception of their needs/grief doesn’t mean giving them everything they want. There’s nothing to say that other workers haven’t lost someone in the last 2 years as well, after all.

      Reasonable allowances of course, but this seems a bit more than reasonable to me.

  6. TL -*

    I’m a little confused – is this a graduate student doing this as part of her program or as a separate part-time job? It’s not unusual for grad students to get long periods of time off around the holidays (especially the winter ones) and I wonder if that’s part of what’s influencing her request.
    (also, agreeing on the whole don’t go for the “this is the last year you can do this” bit. Generally, the requirements for grad students are quite different from what you would require from an employee and she’s probably aware of that.)

    1. Parenthetically*

      Indeed! If this person chooses certain careers in academia, or lands a job with a system like my husband’s previous workplace, where employees can build up as much as two months non-consecutive paid leave time per year by working additional hours, it’s entirely possible to have those leisurely holiday times all the way through one’s working life.

    2. Questioner*

      And yes, we were very upfront in the beginning that we expect the grad students to take some of the crappy shifts–like weekends and evenings, but we try and be reasonable while still maintaining some coverage. But holidays are a challenge because our undergrad workers are gone–we have no expectations they’ll work when the dorms are closed.

  7. Claudia M.*

    Having lost a parent the day before Christmas Ever last year, I can say that this seems…excessive on the part of your employee.

    I took 4 months off after the loss, and this is the first Christmas without my dad coming up. I’ve requested a week. That’s all. I can only hope I’ll be functional enough for that to work.

    Everyone grieves differently, yes, but there is a responsibility to your workplace that is required, regardless. It is few and far between that an employer is as wonderful and understanding as my own and waited 4 months for me AND gave me time off on short request, without FMLA.

    I’m on FMLA now, which makes it easier for myself and my employer in the long run. Perhaps your employee should consider this option if this is an ongoing issue for them (needing regular time off for grief-related issues), even two years later.

      1. Student*

        Depending on the specifics, most grad school jobs are not even considered “jobs” by legal standards. They aren’t covered under FMLA, nor under basic discrimination or similar protections, nor under minimum wage laws. The universities generally structure these jobs as “fellowships”, where there is no legal employer-employee relationship, even though the student is clearly performing work that benefits the university financially, at a boss’s direction, for money. Any job that is tangentially related to the grad student’s field of study gets to use this loophole, even if the connection is tenuous. Academics and university administrators are very, very good at coming up with reasons a seemingly unrelated job is tied to the student’s field of study.

        These folks give a reasonable legal overview:

        1. TL -*

          Right, which is why I don’t actually think this is a super unreasonable request. At least in my area of academia, grad students have lots of flexibility (in part to make up for this and in part because it’s their education and they can make it take as long as they have funding for it – they’re all Ph.D students) and taking 2-3 weeks off in the holidays wouldn’t be considered a big deal.

          Could be different in the OP’s area of academia, or the grad student could be taking this job separate from their grad work or it could be this job is tied to their funding and therefore the student views it as having the same perks as other parts of grad school work.

        2. blackcat*

          … and this is why, when grad students are sexually harassed, they *have* to file Title IX complaints, rather than go through the same processes as an employee.

      2. DJ*

        Also, if what the grad student does is considered part of her training, she is technically not an employee and would never qualify for FMLA. For example, if what she is doing is research for a thesis. Things are weird for grad students (at least in the sciences). Once you finish your classes (usually the first year or two), all you have is research. Which is much more like a job than it is being a student.

        Granted, this doesn’t sound like this is an example of that.

    1. BabyShark*

      Nothing constructive to say except that I’m in the same boat, lost my Dad the week before Christmas and am unsure how we’re all going to handle this year’s so sending good thoughts your way.

      Is it that this student’s family is out of town and that’s why s/he needs three weeks straight off? I get needing to be there for family and wanting to be with family during this time, but if there isn’t excessive travel involved, I’m not sure why s/he needs that whole time.

      1. Rookie Biz Chick*

        So sorry for your loss. I know that’s no fun to navigate. But, I’m totally singing the camp song in my head now thanks to reading your fun name.

    2. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

      The thing is I could say the same to you, which would clearly be heartless and unfair. I lost a step parent and grandmother in the span of six months this year … and I only took 6 combined days off. I am certainly still grieving, the hacked email account that keeps spamming me from the grandparent is particularly painful, but that is all the time off I could afford.

      I would never dream of telling you, or anyone else who took more time off, that they were being … excessive, or manipulative, or any other negative thing tossed out on today’s blog.

  8. Sofia*

    I think you should try to do the best to accommodate her without being unfair to the other employees. As others have mentioned you do have to a policy and might not be able to approve the entire time.

    One of my best friend’s mother passed away about 4 years ago when my friend was in her early 20s, possibly a similar age to your employee, and this situation is still very hard for her and her sister. They both become very upset during the holidays, my best friend even refuses to leave her house at times and wants to be alone and spends the day looking at pictures of their mom. She has days where she becomes very upset and anxiety and cannot make it to work, but she is doing a lot better now. Before their mother passes away she was very ill and my friend and her sister had to take care of her mom in her last days. It’s a very sad situation and I know this is personal, but I am sharing this story because I think losing a parent is very tough, maybe more so when you lose your parents at a long age. Not saying it isn’t hard when you older at all. Also, my friend and her sister just have each other and their other siblings and they are the same way that they want to be there for each other because they are all they have left.

    1. twentymilehike*

      Sofia … thanks for sharing. I’ll see your story and raise you mine:

      In my 20s I lost both my parents less than 3 years apart. Both deaths were unexpected, and one violent. I am an only child. I am divorced. I have no children. All of my extended family is overseas and I don’t really have relationships with them. I missed work here and there, but probably only took about a couple weeks off after each death. I regularly took afternoons off to attend grief counseling or to travel out of state to deal with the aftermath.

      As a working professional, you really REALLY need to do your best to turn “work mode” on and off when appropriate. Yes, death sucks, and yes, it’s really very complicated in many ways, including emotionally. I still have very emotional moments, and I miss my parents terribly each and every day, but it really is important on so many levels to find healthy ways to deal with the myriad emotions, whether it’s counseling, meditation, religion, whatever. If this student is still missing work to grieve, she needs to work on addressing that grief in a healthy way so that it is not disrupting her life. Grief is a process, and prolonged grieving needs to be addressed (just not by your employer).

      1. Sofia*

        Thank for sharing twentymilehike. I agree with everything you said that you need to turn on your “work mode” as appropriate. My friend approached it very much like you here and there, but still has days when she is not very functional and those are the days she chooses to stay home rather than go into work. I think it was very tough for her as she was her mom’s primary caregiver during the last few months at a young age.

        My friend did she a counselor and I think that really helped so perhaps the employer could suggest that to the student in this case as well.

        1. twentymilehike*

          That’s definitely rough being the primary caregiver. I can’t even imagine that … I’m on the border about suggesting grief counseling to the student … I guess I’d have to be in the situation to feel it out and determine if it was appropriate. I mean, sometimes people don’t know what resources are out there.

      2. she was a fast machine*

        Did you seriously just pull the “but my grieving was better/shorter/less intense than yours and therefore that’s the right way to do it!” card? Not cool.

          1. Phoebe*

            To be honest, your opening line gave me pause as well:
            “Sofia … thanks for sharing. I’ll see your story and raise you mine:”

            1. twentymilehike*

              I can see that. I’m sorry, sad attempt at lightening a heavy subject. I’ll just admit I’m just kinda bad at the internet and hope the greater community forgives me. Sorry and thanks.

              Gonna go bury myself in the hole I dug now….

      3. twentymilehike*

        To clarify on my comment above, since She Was a Fast Machine pointed out that it sounded like I was boasting about my “efficient” grieving:

        My point was that I can sympathize with being in the crappiest of crappy situations, and I know that the majority of us don’t have a choice but to go to work and put on a happy face, and most of us, if not all of us, need to figure out a way to manage it. Not because we want to, not because it’s fair, but just because it’s the way the world just is.

        As someone who’s been through a high volume of grief counseling, I can positively speak to the fact that grieving too long is not healthy. I went to so much counseling for the exact reason that I was not able to get through it. From the viewpoint of the grieving person, I think AAM’s advice is good.

        1. Sofia*

          Thanks for clarifying. That is how I took as in this is how I overcame it and perhaps it could help others going through the same situation.

          1. twentymilehike*

            Thanks for saying so. I just feel absolutely terrible when I completely botch my tone on the internet. I think for the most part, the commenters here speak with good intentions.

        2. BananaPants*

          Exactly. Frankly, most working adults don’t have the luxury of grieving for an extended period of time – i.e. years after the loss. You may be sad, but by the time it’s been a couple of years, you go to work and put on a happy face and get through the day. If the surviving parent needs support, well, they may not be able to get it from you. It sucks and it’s not fair, but I don’t think it’s wise to endanger one’s job.

          My husband’s mother died 15 years ago, when he was a college student. It hit him hard and triggered full-blown depression. If he asked to take three weeks off over a holiday NOW because of grief/to support his father, it would be a sign that he needed to see a counselor or therapist ASAP.

  9. Loopy*

    It’s hard to discuss this since everyone grieves differently and it’s such a sensitive subject but it does seem like constantly bringing up the death as a reason for time off consistently would strike me as off.

    Basically there’s got to be a limit *somewhere* even in a situation as difficult as this and it seems like this student is not willing to see that. There is only so much other employees can be expected to cover in terms of working for her every single instance she asks for time off and uses this reason.

    Maybe I’m biased since I lost a parent and didn’t need nearly as much accommodation (though I did certainly request and have some). I feel a little harsh taking this stance but who knows how long this will go on for?

    I’d love to know how long she’s been doing this/how many times she’s done this. That would be very helpful context to have!

    1. Questioner*

      It is a new employee, started in August. I gave her time off so she could spent a long weekend with her mother on what would have been her parents’ anniversary, and we do not have a problem with coverage if she takes the week of Thanksgiving off.

      But she’s already mentioned that she’d like some time off when the anniversary comes around in the Spring.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        That is really just a lot of time off, period. It’s great to be flexible, but at a certain point, the job has to get done.

      2. Loopy*

        For a new employee to be asking for time off like that at regular intervals… Hmm. I might understand major holidays but thats four requests and she’s been there two months? I’d have paused too.

      3. Colette*

        Are the frequent absences causing a problem? I.e. Is she swapping shifts or easily covered, except for at Christmas?

        If they’re not causing problems, I’d let her take the time. If they are (others have to work more than they want to cover for her/she always needs time off when she’s working the least appealing shift/she’s not getting enough hours for her program), then you need to be clear about what you need overall.

        But for Christmas in particular, it’s fine to be clear about what you need (I.e. You need her to work one of the two weeks.) You may be able to let her choose which week, but that’s it.

        And tell her soon, so that she can decide in advance whether this job will work for her.

      4. irritable vowel*

        It sounds like you need to implement a policy regarding amount of consecutive time off your student workers are able to take. She’s taking advantage of the way you’ve set it up, and she’s taking advantage of the other student worker, who is essentially being blocked from taking days off during the week before and after the winter break. I’ve worked with students long enough to know that they ALL have places they would rather be and issues that they need to deal with, and most are able to balance their non-work life with their job responsibilities. The ones who can’t, for whatever reason, I recommend that they take the rest of the semester away from the job to deal with whatever’s going on, and come back next semester to see if there’s an opening.

        In this case, I would say to both students, “in the interest of fairness, we’ve decided that student workers can take no more than two consecutive days off in any given week.” This is fair to them, as well as to other people in your office, who they were hired to provide coverage for. If they can’t work with that, they’ll need to find another job — this isn’t just about being mean or inflexible, it’s about making sure you’ve hired students who can fulfill the job duties you need performed.

      5. Rookie Biz Chick*

        The farther down I read, the more I am wondering this is perhaps less about the student’s personal grieving and more about her family’s expectations of her presenteeism at certain times. I absolutely may be projecting here based on my own experience with fam. My Mom really didn’t do well the first few anniversaries and birthdays after my Dad passed (and, of course, holidays – all of them). In her mind, the only way we could honor him (or show we really loved and missed him – eeesh!) was to be there at her side and at the grave. It was exhausting and not for the weary – not my way to grieve, I learned, but wanted to be there for my Mom. Wonder if the student here might be caught up in a family guilt trip of martydom of the passed Dad, or a Mom who may not have ever had to do much on her own before and needs constant reassurance? Again, totally might be projecting here! A commenter mentioned upthread a recommendation for grief counseling – if OP is in a comfortable enough place with the student, it would awesome if that conversation could take place.

        1. Anxa*

          I admit, I hadn’t even considered that the worker personally needed time to grieve. I unfairly had assumed it was more about meeting family expectations around this type of thing.

  10. KimberlyR*

    1000% agree that you don’t get to dictate how long someone grieves for a family member. Its been 10 years since I lost a close family member and holidays and birthdays are still difficult. However, work must also go on. Shortly after my loss, I got a job in an industry that is required to be open 24/7 and rotating holidays is an expected part of that industry. I understood that I would have to work my fair share of holidays following my loss, and didn’t expect for my coworkers to work all the holidays in my place (sometimes this does depend on when the loss happened. If someone’s mom dies a week before Christmas, it would definitely be a kindness to give them all of the Christmas holidays off.) I think you can be sensitive to her grief and kind to her, and still let her know what the schedule expectations are.

    1. Chriama*

      > If someone’s mom dies a week before Christmas, it would definitely be a kindness to give them all of the Christmas holidays off.

      Well, unless it’s a job where you need holiday coverage and now this employee has a monopoly on Christmas over all her coworkers forever.

      I think the bottom line is we make allowances when we can but one person’s grief doesn’t supersede everyone else’s needs and desires. Time off immediately after a death to go to a funeral and get their affairs in order? Makes sense. Time off every year on the anniversary of the death even though it’s a time when lots of other people also want to be with their families? That’s not fair.

      1. Lissa*

        Totally agree with you, Chriama. I think this is a problem with Christmas especially, as we’ve seen in previous letters. It’s a kindness to give somebody Christmas off if they; have to travel a long way, have kids, lost a parent around Christmastime…are all reasons I’ve seen, and things that aren’t uncommon either!

        …I don’t know, I think it becomes a problem because it ends up with management having to decide which is a “better” reason and that never ends anywhere good.

        I really don’t see how saying “this is an unreasonable amount of time to take off/burden to place on other coworkers” is dictating somebody’s grief.

      2. KimberlyR*

        I’m sorry-I mistyped. I meant that if someone’s mom dies before Christmas, it would be a kindness to give them all the Christmas holiday time off for that year. Not every year, not every holiday.

  11. Hotel GM Guy*

    I suppose I’m a bit heartless, but I’d tell her that the other grad student has family as well, and she can’t have 3 weeks off around Christmas in a 2-person department. End of story, I don’t care for the reasoning, especially if it’s a sob story.

    1. Hotel GM Guy*

      Unless, of course, there were extenuating circumstances (like significant travel, or they were a more seasoned employee with vacation time built up. I did have an employee have to travel to Haiti when her mother died and it took quite a bit of time).

      But “I need three weeks off at Christmas to spend as much time with the rest of my family as possible, and to hell with my coworker” is not the sort of thing that earns my sympathy.

      1. Questioner*

        Yes, this. I’ll be a little self-interested here, as it relates to my thinking. Said employee is a 5 hour drive from their family. One of the reasons I need the coverage is because I want to take advantage of cheaper airfares to fly a few days before Christmas to see my family, who is 1000 miles away. Because of the distance and my kid’s school schedule, I see my family maybe twice a year. My father is not doing well thanks to dementia which makes travel difficult, and I want him to be able to share this Christmas with his grandkid before he can’t remember it. So yes, I have my own sob story.

        1. Hotel GM Guy*

          Exactly, you, employee in question, and the third employee, should all get at least some time off around the holidays. There is no reason for you and the other grad employee to get shafted because she needs 3 weeks off. If she’s not willing to workaround here, then I’d just find a different employee.

          Maybe you can work it so that the third employee gets a week around Thanksgiving, you get the week before Christmas, and sob story employee gets the week after Christmas.

          Also, I’ve found that Tuesdays are the cheapest days to fly on almost every airline.

          1. Sofia*

            Again, I don’t think we should say this is a sob story employee because we shouldn’t judge how long someone should grieve for. Perhaps the employee truly truly is still grieving. Two years is not really a long time for a parent’s death.

            But I do agree that you should try to find a compromise that works for the whole team and from other comments the solution of one week each works best for everyone.

        2. anonymouse*

          That doesn’t cancel out other people’s plans, though. Someone shouldn’t be penalized just because their family is closer than yours. When you start getting into who deserves time off more than someone else based on outside interests, you’re getting into a deep hole.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            But asking her to follow the already-agreed plan to cover the holidays isn’t penalizing her.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          But these aren’t sob stories really, not yours, not hers, this is life. Life does have plenty of sad stories.

          I hope you are not thinking that your own desire for time off is clouding your judgement. I hope you can find a path that says something like, “My own desire for time off reminds me of what the rest of my people are thinking about this situation. We all want time off.”

          This, of course, leads to the discussion that not everyone can have all the time off they desire. I bet if someone said you could have a month and a half off from work, you’d fly out the door before they finished the sentence. (me, too) It’s human nature.

          I have heard bosses tell employees, “Well that is very sad. I am so sorry for your loss. We have a few people here who are wrestling with the holidays for reasons similar to yours. Unfortunately, we are not able to accommodate those requests for larger blocks of time. I would love to accommodate everyone’s request but the best I can do is see to it that each person gets X or Y.” (X or Y being what you are able to do.)

          Refuse to feel manipulated. She can try to manipulate you but you do not have to “feel” manipulated. If she starts crying again, use your kindest tone you can muster and ask her if she would like a few minutes to collect her thoughts and you can resume the conversation after that.

    2. Sofia*

      I don’t think your parent’s death is really a sob story. I know it is to the true definition, but a sob story’s typically has a connotation of being made up, or that the person doesn’t truly feel sad and is using the story as an excuse.

      1. Hotel GM Guy*

        No, a parent’s death isn’t a sob story, when they die. It becomes a sob story when it becomes your reason every time you want prime vacation days.

        1. Loopy*

          I think if this *has* really been used to get preference for two years it changes the the legitimacy of the need to be automatically prioritized over other employees.

          I don’t know if I’d label it as a sob story but it would absolutely make me less sympathetic, whether that’s warranted or heartless. I wouldn’t be able to feel /react the same as if it was more recent.

        2. Sofia*

          I kind of agree with what you are saying, but like I mentioned in another comment I do have a friend whose mother died about 4 years ago (when my friend was about 23 and I am thinking the student in the example might be the same age range) and during the holidays and her mom’s birthday my friend is still an emotional wreck and spends the days crying, looking at old photos, and in bed all day so she sometimes cannot make it to work on these days. So, in the student’s case it might not be a sob story and we should give her the benefit of the doubt)

          1. Loopy*

            I lost my mother two days before Christmas at 19, and while I had plenty of accommodation the year it happened and also try and be with family every single Xmas, it never occurred to me I had more right to be with my family during the holiday than another employee did because I lost my parent and they didn’t.

            What I grapple with in the letter is the other employee getting the shaft automatically over this. If giving grieving employee the time off didn’t mean other employee absolutely would have to work, that would be a whole different story.

            I kind of am irked that other employee would automatically be told they have to work the holiday because of this…

            That doesn’t seem like equal treatement.

            This is assuming the death is not recent and his time off doesn’t fall under company policy.

            1. Sofia*

              Loopy I completely agree with you and wasn’t saying that all. I think they all have an equal right to be with their families and no one has more right than anyone else no matter what the circumstances are. I’m just saying that perhaps it isn’t a sob sorry the employee maybe does get upset and emotional during the days. The manager should do what is best for the team as a whole not one person. At the same time though still try to accommodate the employee if she can without being unfair to the other.

              1. Loopy*

                I guess maybe my comment was probably more general than taking issue with yours- oops.

                I just wonder even if genuinely struggling with the holidays qualifies someone for an especially long period of accommodation.

                Maybe I’m not being sympathetic but I keep feeling like there has to be a line drawn somewhere even if the employee is truly grieving.

                1. Sofia*

                  I think this is a tough situation because as humans we want to be able to accommodate the grieving employee, but as managers/supervisors we have more to think about than just that specific employee.

          2. animaniactoo*

            With respect – your friend is stuck. It sounds like she needs grief counseling. 4 years on is too long to still be functioning like this. My sympathy extends to pointing her towards grief counseling, not making it okay to continue to take those “prime” days off and make it a problem for others to be with their families and have the same kinds of experiences she wants to have with her remaining family. At some point, they and their needs need to be a priority too. While everyone is still around. It is simply not fair to deny them that opportunity by continuing to sink into one’s own grief. Yes, it’s hard. But if it’s still this hard she needs outside help, not continued workplace accommodation.

            1. Sofia*

              Thank you animaniactoo. I think those are very kind words. She is seeing a counselor and is much better now. Her mom’s birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving were very hard for her and perhaps this year will be better for her. She doesn’t request additional days off as her family is in the same city, but on those days we have off, like Thanksgiving or Christmas she is very upset.

              1. animaniactoo*

                Thanks for the clarification, I think it’s important to note that she’s been essentially doing her grieving at points when it’s hard on her but isn’t impacting others in the way that I think it sounded like it was. That is a much more functional (in terms of her own life and emotional health) way to grieve, and I’m glad to hear that she has been working with a counselor. I hope this year is much better for your friend and her family.

                1. Sofia*

                  Yes, but even in terms of grieving you can’t control when you will grieve or when you feel upset, anxious, etc. If you can do it at time when it isn’t impacting your work that works, but otherwise it just happens.

                  Thank you! I am glad she is better as well and hope this year is better too. We are very close so her siblings spend the holidays with my family.

              2. Moonsaults*

                This makes so much sense to me and I’m not grieving over anyone close to me but am dealing with distance that effects me emotionally until it can be fixed.

                When you have days off like that, you are alone with your own thoughts. They can really close in on you and staying in bed just sounds like the best choice.

                I’m glad that your friend has been able to receive the support that she deserves and needs to live her life to the fullest even without a huge piece of her world missing.

              3. Temperance*

                It’s really sad to me that she can’t enjoy herself and spends entire days in bed looking at photos of her mother when she should be out with her loved ones, or at least enjoying herself. I hope that she gets the help that she needs.

        3. Candi*

          I’ve read enough about con artists and people with similar mentalities that I can believe that she is honestly grieving over that ever-present hole left by her parent, AND using it to manipulate others to get what she wants. For a few, the concepts are sadly not exclusive.

          1. Emma*

            That, and manipulation isn’t always nefarious, or necessarily conscious. My sister, for example, has a very strong knack for knowing just how to present things to get the outcome she wants – it’s manipulation, but she almost never actually lies and most of the time does this automatically; it’s just how she operates.

            This is why I think workplace issues like this need to come down to fairness between employees from a workplace perspective, as in, these two weeks need coverage, there are two of you, it gets split evenly. Or however. Personal issues, emotions included, are things to be dealt with outside the workplace as much as possible.

            I mean, obviously, if someone can’t function due to grief (and trust me, I’m not knocking them) they can’t function, but that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax than just “I want time off but I can do the work.”

  12. Student*

    You can also spell out a specific bereavement benefit, if this makes sense for the workplace. Our workplace has a specific number of days granted off for a death; I think it’s something like 1 day for most deaths, and 3 days for a direct family member like a spouse, parent, child, sibling. That will push the employee to choose how she wants to spend her bereavement leave, while still recognizing the loss, being compassionate, being fair to the other grad student on shifts, and giving the employee some concept of how this works in the business world.

    It’s one thing to bend a policy like that to give somebody an extra day or two, or to suggest other options in appropriate circumstances (maybe she just needs less hours overall, so she has less trading to work out, and you should hire somebody else part time?). It’s another to give somebody universal veto over who works holiday shifts for a year because of a death in their family.

  13. Edith*

    I really dislike the argument that one should not take advantage of a perk for the sole reason that it won’t be there indefinitely. When I was in my mid 20s my mother discouraged me from using my office’s flex time policy because “your next job won’t have that.” I think the fact that it is a person’s last year of school is reason to take full advantage of getting several weeks off in December, not reason to eschew the time off since it won’t be there next year. Obviously since this student has a job it is unreasonable of her to expect three full weeks off, but that’s separate from the notion OP espouses about “getting used to” it.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      But it’s not a perk that anyone else has – the other grad student, eg, will have to work more hours if the one wanting three weeks off gets what she wants. In fact, it’s not even a perk here – it would be an exception to the current working policy.

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        I agree — this person is not making use of a benefit they’re entitled to. What they’re asking for is waaaay beyond what would be considered normal.

      2. Sofia*

        On another note, perhaps the other grad school would love the additional hours if they are paid. Some people want to work extra whenever they can.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          I’m guessing that if this were a possibility, the other student would already have offered to work.

      3. Edith*

        As I said, the student worker is being unreasonable here. What I object to is the argument that a person shouldn’t make use of a benefit, like high school kids getting summer off or a person whose job has flexible hours, just because the person won’t always have that benefit.

    2. AD*

      Requesting an unreasonable amount of time off is not a “perk”. And encouraging someone (especially a grad student) to think that way is not an effective means of teaching good professional norms (which is part of a graduate school work experience)

    3. Laura*

      People seem to be objecting to your use of the word “perk,” but in general, I agree with your sentiment — the fact that this person won’t have several weeks off around the holidays in future jobs is not a compelling reason to not take advantage of it now. Obviously it’s different in this specific case because it affects other people, but I disagreed with that particular aspect of the LW’s reasoning.

      1. Edith*

        Yep– not defending the student in question at all. I guess I worded it poorly, since everybody else seems to think I was.

    4. Overeducated*

      I agree. There are a lot of disadvantages to being in grad school (lower income, lack of retirement benefits and FMLA, serious crunch times before slower times like holidays, etc) . The LW even says she is an hourly employees who is not eligible for bereavement leave. It is not unreasonable to want to enjoy one of the few benefits of student schedules in your last year.

      Not saying the LW should grant the time off, just that using it as a “real world teaching moment” is not a good reason. It’s not about getting used to all the drawbacks of a full time job without th e benefits.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The kind that assign points for each absence with no room for managerial judgment as to circumstances? Like most things that try to take away nuance and judgment, they are crappy. Basically, if a management policy is strongly associated with call centers, it is probably a bad idea.

      1. Pwyll*

        They’re legally unsound too. If an employer adds points for absences that are protected by the FMLA, ADA or under state leave/bereavement/”small niceties” laws, they likely are violating the law.

        1. Retail HR Guy*

          Our company was one of the last holdouts for the no-fault attendance policy (we dropped it two years ago), and the hoops we had to jump through to make sure we didn’t accidentally violate those laws got kind of crazy. Basically every single attendance incident had to be documented and then funneled through a specific HR administrator to determine whether it would be protected by any one of the various laws or whether it could go down on the record as unprotected. Pain in the rear.

  14. Anon 2*

    I don’t doubt that this person is still grieving. I have several friends who lost a parent while as a teen/20’s, who struggle a lot. Can you talk to the other student and see what time he/she is requesting? I am assuming these employees are hourly and that their extra pay for extra work. And so you never know, the other student may like the idea of picking up the extra shifts and money around the holiday’s. On the other hand, they may have family/friends that they want to spend the holiday’s with.

    While I believe that you should try to make some sort of accommodations in this situation. It’s simply not fair to accommodate one employee at the expense of another. And this situation has the potential to lead to that sort of situation.

    The other thing I would ask is if the requirements of working extra around the holiday’s was clearly spelled out during the interview process? If it was, then I think that you can say that three weeks simply isn’t possible given the scope of the job. And then try and come up with some alternative.

    1. Questioner*

      Yes, it was established that holiday coverage would be necessary. It was not specifically delineated, other than we would have to work it out with the other employees to make sure we have at least 2 people working around holidays.

  15. Eddie Turr*

    OP, I encourage you to make a conscious effort not to judge your employee’s grieving process. Yes, it’s somewhat uncommon to be actively grieving (for lack of a better term) two years later, but this student’s family may just be uncommon. It sounds like this student feels an immense sense of responsibility toward her family in a way that may not make sense to you or to other people who grew up in a different dynamic. I could certainly be projecting because I happen to have grown up in a role where my “job” was to keep the entire family functioning, but my real point is this: The student may be experiencing genuine grief in a way that doesn’t make sense to you, so don’t let yourself entertain the idea that she’s faking it or overreacting.

    I think Alison’s exactly right about focusing on what you need from the employee and what you can (and can’t) do to help her out. If you can’t give her three weeks off then you can’t give her three weeks off. But I wanted to throw in this point as well in case you find yourself falling into an incredulous or unkind frame of mind.

    1. she was a fast machine*

      A lot of people are falling into the trap of “but it wasn’t this hard for me, so they must be lying!” which…is possible. But death is something everyone has to deal with differently, and depending on your family dynamic, culture, family roles, etc. it could look totally different. This employee might be in a situation where they’re expected to perform their parent’s duties around the holidays(i.e. if the mother passed and the mother is the one who always cooks/shops/organizes family holidays/etc. it might fall to this student to take over those duties). Who knows?

      1. doreen*

        I don’t at all agree with “but it wasn’t this hard for me, so they must be lying!” , but I really don’t see how the possibility that the employee might be expected to take over her mother’s holiday duties matters – if her mother was alive and she was expected to cook/shop/organize family holidays matters it wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t ) matter for the purpose of granting time off.

        1. she was a fast machine*

          I do agree with you there. It shouldn’t matter for the sake of granting time off. But I’m still seeing a LOT of hostility and judgement that the employee should just get over it and move on, which is hard to see as someone who was significantly impacted by a loss.

      2. Lissa*

        It’s not “they must be lying” for me, or some of us. It’s acknowledging how hard it is from a personal perspective. I lost my mother as a teenager — I get it. I don’t bring that up to say “well I’m fine so she must be lying if she’s not” but to say that I know how hard it is and how much it sucked having to go back to school, but I still don’t agree with indefinite accommodation for the employee.

        Everyone copes with death differently because everyone deals with any trauma or major event differently, but we *have* to have limits on what’s generally considered acceptable to take off work specifically.

        I really haven’t seen anyone saying the employee must be lying, and I don’t think that one has to in order to believe what she’s asking for is not a reasonable accommodation. I mean, it’s reasonable to want it, but it’s been long enough that I don’t think her work should put her needs above those of other workers as they would in an emergency situation.

        1. she was a fast machine*

          I do agree that it shouldn’t matter so much wrt asking the time off, but a lot of responses don’t take that tone, they take the tone that they have zero sympathy for the employee because THEY got over their losses quicker/easier or they just sucked it up and moved on. Not everyone is capable of doing that. It’s ok to say it’s not fair for the employee to ask for those days off AND that you do sympathize with her…but nobody is saying that, the focus seems to be on judging the employee for what she’s feeling/thinking instead of judging her on her actual actions(requesting the time off).

          1. AD*

            That’s not what people are saying. They’re saying that from the employer/manager’s side of things, the business need must be weighed with a thoughtful approach to their employees. And frankly, yes, extended bereavement leave for an hourly-paid role two years after someone’s loss is not standard at all, from the *employer’s* side. There’s no judgement in being pragmatic about that.

      3. Penny*

        I was wondering whether there was some manipulation from the employee’s parent – not to do the things that OtherParent used to do, but because Parent makes the employee there anyway.

      4. Emma*

        I’m in the camp of “whether it’s true or not, she’s still being manipulative” in the absolute most basic sense of the term. She is being manipulative, trying to use her story to get more than her fair share of vacation. She’s probably still grieving, yes. But once a request crosses from “I want this time off” to “and you should give it to me because [insert “bulletproof” reason here]” – it’s manipulation.

        Any explanation should be ignored, barring some major exceptions (like “because it’s the only time I can have surgery”), once the request starts infringing on others. Which this is, and the employee knows it, which is why she gave a reason at all.

    2. dontjudgegrief*

      Right. My ILs visited me & my husband 3 days after my grandfather died, before I traveled for the funeral. I wasn’t a particularly good host–of all of my grandparents (I had 6 of them b/c divorce & remarriage). I was polite and pleasant, but I didn’t go out of my way to cook elaborate meals, etc, the way they expect me to. I was generally very quiet during their visit & spent a fair bit of time in the bedroom alone. Them seemed fine and understanding while in our home.

      After they got back to their house, my MIL called my husband to yell at him about how hurt she was that I wasn’t a good host, that I didn’t do the normal things “hosting” things that she expects from a daughter in law. FIL said “There’s such a thing as an unreasonable amount of grief, particularly since it’s not like he was her real grandfather. He was old, what did she expect?”

      Yeah, that grandfather wasn’t my bio grandfather. But he had been the most loving, most involved grandparent for *my entire life.* I was very close to him. My ILs knew that.

      That was nearly three years ago. It torched my relationship with my ILs, likely permanently. I am pleasant to them when in their presence, but I don’t call them up anymore. They aren’t allowed near me at any times that might be emotionally fraught/difficult (so no visiting if/when the husband and I have a new baby).

      Basically, telling someone that their grief is too much or that they’re grieving wrong is a great way to permanently be on someone’s shit list. You can set appropriate work boundaries (I was working during that time–I took off for the funeral, but not before). Whatever you do, do not say they are grieving wrong.

  16. Engineer Girl*

    I’m coming in from a different point of view. Is your grad student local or from another area? What about the other grad student?
    There’s a huge difference between employees with local family Vs employees with family far away. Employees with family far away only get to see their family on holidays. Employees with local family get to see them through the year.
    My point? Treating both employees exactly the same could actually be disparate treatment.
    Your goal is to make sure that both employees get to see their family. That means employee with family far away gets the long holiday with other employee working holidays. Conversely, employee with family nearby gets weekends with other employee covering. That way BOTH get their family time. BOTH make sacrifices.
    I’m also supremely annoyed at OP for deciding how long someone should grieve. You’ve basically decided its “long enough” because it is inconveniencing you, not because of any real reason.
    That said, this probably should be a conversation with employee. How much time is enough time? What are the requirements? How do we be fair to the other employee? In a professional job it will be harder to take time off, how will you do that? These are growth conversations that should be happening.

    1. Parenthetically*

      I think this is a good point, and it’s why I have always applied for a personal day or two the day after our Christmas holidays. I’m halfway across the country from my family and see them rarely because of it.

    2. BPT*

      I really disagree with this. It isn’t the employer’s job to make sure that “both employees get to see their family.” That is none of the employer’s business. The employer’s job is to appropriately give an appropriate number of vacation days, and then facilitate the employees using them. That means that if it is possible for an employee to take time off, they let them. If they need coverage and there is conflicting schedules that employees want, then the employer steps in and works out an arrangement to make sure it is as fair as possible (i.e. both getting a week off around the holidays).

      It’s not the employer’s business whatsoever what an employee does on vacation or whether they have family close by.

      As someone who doesn’t live near family, yeah it can suck having to travel when other people see their family much more often. But working in my profession, it’s the trade-off I make. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to shoulder those burdens for me.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        I agree with you here. I choose to live far away from my family and I often have to chose vacation vs. family events (example brother got married, step dad had milestone birthday and sister graduated all in same year) but it never occurred to me to go to boss and say “since I have to travel and take some extra days because my family lives far away I should get more time tacked on so I can take a vacation, too”

      2. Anon 2*

        I agree. I live on the other side of the world as my family. That doesn’t entitle me some sort of special privilege around the holidays. However, I work with my co-workers so that I can take off two weeks every year at Xmas, and often have to rotate when to leave and return based on my co-workers schedules. So one year I might leave the 15th and return on the 26th, and another year, I might leave on the 23rd and return on the 31st, etc. And because I always am permitted to take vacation around the holidays, I never take off around any other holiday. My co-workers always get first dibs on those. But, we’ve managed to have this work, because we all communicate, and because no one employee’s family or priorities are placed over anothers.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          My point here. There’s a huge lack of communication with the employees here. The manager is forcing the employees to do all the work with schedules. And manager is insisting on treating the employees the same, instead of equally.

          1. BPT*

            You’re confusing equality and equity. While equity is a good thing to aim for in society, it doesn’t apply to vacation time at a company. Equality is what the employer should aim for. I.e. both employees are offered the same amount of time off.

            Plus, once you get into weighing “who deserves time off more,” you get into very bad territory. Do parents deserve more time off because they have kids to spend the holiday with? What about someone who’s parent is sick? What about someone who is suffering from burnout and needs time to decompress?

            You don’t base employee’s compensation (which vacation time is a part of) based on “what they need for their lifestyle.” That would mean paying Jane more than Kate because Jane has a family, and so needs more money. That also means barring extreme circumstances, you don’t give an employee more time off just because they chose to live farther away from family.

            1. DragoCucina*

              Oh, this! I choose to live far from my dysfunctional blood family. My employer shouldn’t be in the position of judging whether or not my functional friend family has equal value. I get x number of days. I am allowed to take y number a days off during the holiday period. I can take them week 1 or week 2. That’s it.

              We don’t compare pain or love. That’s a level of personal involvement that is not healthy in a workplace. My previous Board Chair tried to argue that because I had just visited my grandmother three months earlier I didn’t need to attend her funeral. After all, we weren’t really close.

            2. Lissa*

              Yes, so much this! If I as a coworker decide “hmm, I don’t have kids and am not a holiday person, I’ll work Christmas so Alice can, because I know Christmas is important to her” then that is my choice and a nice thing to do…what’s not nice is having somebody from above decide that Alice “needs it more”.

              I have really strong feelings about employers evaluating individual circumstances and making decisions based on those, because while I think it can be nice in theory, in practise it can go really wrong, like if you have a boss who thinks all families with kids should be prioritized, or gives holidays off without question only to those people of her religion, etc…

        2. BPT*

          Exactly – usually there’s some flexibility when coverage is needed and there are more than two employees. But the difference in your case is that you’re working with your coworkers who feel it’s a fine trade-off to let you have more time in the winter so that they can have more time the rest of the year. It’s not the employer stepping in and doing it.

      3. Michelle*

        Agree. I understand when you live far away from your family, you might only get to see them at the holidays. But I would be super pissed if I was told I had to work the entire Christmas/New Year holidays because my family was local and I got to see them more during the year.

        1. Newby*

          Yep. Holidays have a significance (both religious and cultural) that weekends do not. For many people, wanting to spend Christmas with their family is not because that is the only time they can see them.

        2. NW Mossy*

          I live far from my family, and I actually prefer to work over the holidays and visit my family at other times of year when things are less hectic and travel is less expensive. Also, if I visit at other times, I’m less likely to run into weather issues that upset my plans.

        3. Cafe au Lait*

          Just because your not going anywhere for the holiday doesn’t mean you’re incredibly busy. My out-of-state family comes to me most of the time. I’m at a good mid-way point for them, plus I have the room. (It’s tight, but it’s there).

          Two weeks before the holiday starts the frantic cleaning and rearranging of furniture in my off time. The week before it’s the last minute running around and finalizing groceries. That way when my family comes we can focus on each other instead of errands.

          I’m lucky that neither of my coworkers travel for the holiday. I can take a little extra time off because they’ll be here to cover. If either of them wanted to travel? I’d have to rework my at-home holiday schedule to give them time.

      4. TuxedoCat*

        I agree with you. I’m estranged from my family but spend time with friends during the holidays, so I would be annoyed if I had to work holidays to accommodate those who are not.

    3. Student*

      “Your goal is to make sure that both employees get to see their family.”
      Why on earth is this the goal?
      The employer goal should be effective, equitable, compassionate, sustainable shift management. Give employees some compassion when a family member dies, but don’t cede complete power over shifts because of it. Treating employees like humans with needs is good for business because. among other things, it’ll keep turnover down. Handing the reins on shifts over because someone died will slowly drive the other grad employee off due, even if the bereaved employee stays around forever. Keeping the department functional (covering all needed shifts) is good because it gives the bereaved grad student job stability, but might mean she can’t take every bit of time off she wants.

      I, for one, do not want an employer wading anywhere near this deep into judging the merits of my time-off request. My family sucked when I was a grad student – I never went to see them, and I didn’t want some boss quizzing me on whether I was seeing my family as much as the next student. I use my time off for other things that were often just as important to me as visiting family is to others, and I would leave a workplace that presumed to wade so deep into who is most deserving of leave. I’d be happy to accommodate a fellow co-worker on shift coverage for one, maybe two holidays around a major family death. Maybe more, depending on circumstances. Anything past that starts to become unfair to everyone else, putting the grieving employee’s personal burdens on others. That goes for whether this is a death int he family, a major personal illness, or any other disaster. After a brief grace period, the bereaved student has a burden to find a path to meet her needs without deeply impacting everyone around her, and needs to compromise and prioritize appropriately.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        I’m not judging merits of time off requests. I’m trying to keep BOTH employees happy and engaged for fuller productivity. That means that you don’t (repeat don’t) treat the employees the same. Because they are not the same.
        There is a lot more flexibility here than is assumed. A good manager will try to find a way to make it work.

        1. BPT*

          I mean, sometimes you can’t keep some employees happy. Three weeks is a long time to ask off of any job. If my coworker is getting three weeks off and making me work those three weeks during the holidays just because I live closer, you can bet I’m going to be pissed. So you’re sacrificing one employee’s happiness for the other’s, just because one has to travel farther. That’s not a good way to treat employees.

          And you would be judging the merits of time off requests. You SHOULD treat employees the same, to the extent that their work allows it or calls for it. (i.e. a top performer might have more flexibility on things at work than a low performer, but that doesn’t have anything to do with their life outside of work.)

          Sometimes there just isn’t flexibility. Maybe they need coverage and these are the only two employees who do that. There’s nothing wrong with limiting their time off around the holidays to one week if that’s what the job requires.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I can’t remember a time when I saw any employer give an employee three weeks off over the holidays. EVER. It’s asking too much of the people who work with them.

        2. Big10Professor*

          Don’t assume everyone wants to see their family ;-)

          And more importantly, don’t assume everyone considers the last week of December a holiday.

          (not directed at you, EG, just at managers in general)

          1. Rookie Biz Chick*

            Absolutely love this. The ‘holidays’ for me are great to take some free time off without feeling guilty about not working, rather than rush around and figure out family travel. I even look forward to ditching everyone but my dogs for a couple of days to take a quick camping trip. Freezing cold, total silence, gorgeous views for miles, no one around to bitch about not getting the newest gadget for Xmas – yes, please!

          2. Emma*

            don’t assume everyone considers the last week of December a holiday

            Oh, no kidding. My holidays don’t coincide with the Christian calendar, though some are close. I’d happily work the “major holidays” if someone gave me Halloween and May 1 off each year. (And have, at places that allowed that. Though I did get shit one year from someone who insisted Halloween was only for kids and there was no legit reason for a childless adult to want it off.)

        3. Temperance*

          Yes, you are judging the merits, with the person who travels the furthest to see her family getting priority. That’s unfair.

        4. HRChick*

          I would be really, really angry if I found out that my manager considered me not eligible for the same amount of time off because my coworker chose to live further from his/her family.

          Guess what – there are other as meaningful things that people near family or WITHOUT family want to do with their time off. Even if it’s just sitting by themselves knitting socks for their cats, that’s JUST as meaningful to them.

          So, you are absolutely judging the merits of what someone chooses to do with their time off by saying you give preference to those traveling to see family.

    4. Amtelope*

      It’s really not the employer’s goal to make sure that both employees get to see their family, though. It’s the employer’s goal to ensure coverage for shifts, and to offer a reasonable number of vacation days. Whether someone can see their family given the coverage requirements and PTO offered by a given job is their business, and it’s up to them to figure out whether they want the job under those conditions.

      1. DragoCucina*

        Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have a someone that whines ever year because she doesn’t have the same two weeks off that her mother (in a public school) has. Yet, she doesn’t want to work in a school. Sorry, sometimes you really cannot have it all.

    5. Whats In A Name*

      I agree that no one has a right to determine what amount of time is enough for grieving.

      But as a manager/department head his first priority it to ensure there is adequate coverage for the office and employees are not abusing time off policies or take time off when coverage is needed. Professional coaching is also part of this particular manager’s duties and in most professional jobs taking 3 weeks of leave would not be approved if coverage was needed, regardless of reasoning or the PTO accrued.

      While the OP could have worded things differently (and should to employee) the time off does inconvenience the way an entire department runs and he DOES need to address that part of the issue. Location of family should not play a factor in time off awarded.

    6. Tinker*


      I had an employer some years ago that announced as the holiday season approached that we would need to start planning vacation schedules to keep someone in the office, and that people with families would be prioritized for the actual holiday itself, because opening presents with the kids was important and et cetera. Which, yes. But pretty much everyone in the office did have a family — mine just was skewed a bit in the direction of very elderly relatives who lived multiple states away, rather than the families that lived locally with their kids. I ended up leaving that job for other reasons before the holidays, but had I stayed on there I probably wouldn’t have gotten to see my family at all that year.

      Then again, now my biological family still lives in other states, and my chosen family lives mostly locally and mostly celebrates holidays that are somewhat askew from the standard placement, so one can just never tell. Hence the need for a fair and neutral base from which to approach the vacation planning question.

      1. Product Person*

        (of topics) Tinker! I haven’t seen you around in a long time. Always like your comments (and if you start a blog, do like Elizabeth and link to it because I for one would be following it :-).

      2. Kate*

        Yes! I couldn’t agree more!

        It makes me very angry and sad when people say that “people with families” should get priority because they always mean, every single time of the many times I have heard and read it at least, people with kids, and usually they mean the traditional nuclear family.

        As though single people and childless couples don’t have families.

        1. Kate*

          And to add, even if you don’t have any “family” in the traditional sense, as in relations by blood or marriage, you can still have family of choice, friends, pets, or maybe you just want to spend the holidays alone, and that is your right too!

    7. Questioner*

      This is pretty much what was worked out, and I asked in case something like this comes up again.

      Employee in question is a 5 hour drive from family. The other is a 2 hour drive. Making sure one of them is around assures that I’ll get to see my family over the holidays, who is a 1000 mile drive over 2 days or a flight. I don’t get to see them as often because of the distance.

    8. hbc*

      I agree with the general idea that these things should be negotiated and examined to see if there are options that make both sides happy while not being exactly equal. But no way should that mean that distant people get priority around the holidays–and I say that as someone who’s been a minimum 8 hour drive from my family for my adult life. Local people may have non-local relatives that only visit around the holidays, they may have their own December 28th traditions, they might have a timeshare that’s their only chance to sleep everyone in the same house.

      It’s really not the employer’s responsibility to cover for someone *choosing* to move away from family. And even if it was, it sounds like this grad student has gotten a big heaping dose of family time during the period she’s been working there. I’ve certainly never had time off for any family member’s birthday.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Sometimes it’s not a choice. Some job opportunities are only available in certain parts of the world.

        1. Colette*

          But it’s still a choice to follow that career path.

          I live 3000 km from my family, and I understand about wanting to go home, but, if I had to work, I’d stay, because sometimes having a job means missing out on other things you want to do. If it were critical that I go home every year, I’d choose to live closer or work only at places that close down.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            Have to agree with Colette & HBC here. It’s all a choice, your career path, your location, etc.

            I have spent my entire adult life living 8 hours + away from my mom and am now 11 hours from mom and 16 hours from dad. It sucks that I have to give up some family things I’d rather be at but it was a choice I made. I could have chosen to stay close to family and stayed in Career Path A but ultimately decided that I’d be happier in Career Path B and chose to go where the job I wanted dictated.

    9. Temperance*

      100% disagree with you. I shouldn’t have to spend more time at work during the holidays because I don’t have a good relationship with extended family. That feels like special privileges for those fortunate enough to have a good family situation.

    10. Turtle Candle*

      Erk. I can see how that kind of discussion would seem very compassionate and sensitive, but… it basically is going to require a lot of probing questions that could end up making people far less comfortable. Like: one of my good friends in college was thrown out of her house by her parents when she came out as gay. She had a good support system, thank God, and one of her high school friends’ parents took her in, but if you asked her if she needed to travel to see family over the holidays, well, that would be a REALLY awkward question for her to have to answer. And if she spilled her guts and Revealed All about her past–which would have been very uncomfortable for her–you would have to make the call as to whether her friend group ‘counted’ as family–and if yes for her, then what about someone who theoretically could go travel to see their parents but chose to spend the holiday with someone else for reasons less dramatic than “they disowned me”? It starts to get into really weird and sticky territory, and speaking as an employee, I would very much not want to have to have the kind of long heart-to-hearts that would determine how much vacation time I’m entitled to and when.

      1. TL -*

        Or she could just say, “My family lives a plane ride away and I would prefer longer vacations to see them/No, my family lives really close and I’d prefer more 3 day weekends,” and leave out who constitutes her family. That’s all the information you’d really need.

    11. chickabiddy*

      I think that there are very, very few situations in which it is appropriate to judge whose family situation is worthy of better/more holiday leave. Maybe “this will be my mother’s last Christmas and her only chance to see her first grandchild” versus “I usually like to go out and buy ribbons and bows at half-price on the morning of December 26”.

      People and families grieve differently, and people and families attach different importance to holidays. That’s why it’s important to let employees know how much time off they can take, and let them decide how to prioritize. If management needs to be involved, it should be to set up a non-arbitrary system based on things like seniority, order of requests, and the like.

      1. TL -*

        Yeah, but I get what Engineer Girl is saying. At my first job, we had a lot of international workers and a couple of people who lived local.
        The people from other countries preferred to take 3-4 weeks’ vacation to visit home (and over existing holidays, if they could) and the people from local areas generally preferred shorter vacations to visit home; maybe a week at most. We were flexible enough to let that happen while everyone got the same amount of time off. It worked out well.

        1. chickabiddy*

          I certainly won’t argue over anything that ends with “it worked out well,” but I maintain that in situations where things are not working out well, it’s not right for managers to try to decide whose particular life/family situation is most deserving.

          I’m a single parent and a churchgoer, so I guess by some people’s standards, I should get priority. But my kid is old enough to be home alone and honestly doesn’t care when we celebrate, and even though I feel terrible about admitting this, I actually hate going to church on Christmas and Easter since it’s always super-crowded with completely unfamiliar faces.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I think that there are very, very few situations in which it is appropriate to judge whose family situation is worthy of better/more holiday leave. Maybe “this will be my mother’s last Christmas and her only chance to see her first grandchild” versus “I usually like to go out and buy ribbons and bows at half-price on the morning of December 26”.

        Even then, it’s not appropriate. Holiday leave shouldn’t ever be based on who has more “important” things to do during that time.

        1. KellyK*

          I think it only matters when you’re deciding whether to go above and beyond the standard policies, or whether to take on more hardship than you usually would. Say, for example, that your normal rule is that everybody can have three days, and there are limits on how much they can overlap. Someone might ask for an exception, like getting 5 days when too many others are already off. If that’s because it’s their mom’s last Christmas and their only chance to see their first grandchild, it’s a reasonable and kind thing to do *if you can* to let them take off and accept that you’re going to be short-handed and that those two days will suck. (You also have to make sure the people who are overworked on those two days are treated well too.)

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I can see doing that for exceptional circumstances, but it’s a slippery slope. And since some managers will only consider “exceptional circumstances” to be those that involve family members (not that you’re saying that, but some managers would think that way), an entire class of people will find that none of their circumstances are ever going to be exceptional.

            1. Emma*

              And a limited subset of family members, at that. I’ve worked at places that bend over backwards to accommodate parents (which I don’t entirely consider a bad thing, mind) but would and have balked when I’ve needed to, say, take leave to pick up my then-minor sister from school ’cause she was ill, or when my nephew, who I help raise, needed someone to stay home with him. Or balked at me taking time off after my mother had foot surgery because she had no one else to help her out.

              Because, you know, they’re not my kids and that’s apparently all that matters to some people.

    12. Elsajeni*

      What if all my family is here in town, so I COULD just stay right here and visit them, but this year I’d rather vacation in Hawaii? Do I get special consideration because I need to travel for my holiday plans, or do I get less time because “the holidays are for family” whether that’s how I want to spend them or not? For that matter, what if my family is far away but I’m not visiting them — do I get extra time to spend laying around the house?

      This is a case where treating people the same really is the desirable outcome; it is absolutely not a manager’s business to decide whose holiday plans are more important. If the employee with the far-away family wants to try to negotiate with her coworker to trade extra holiday time for extra weekends off, that’s fine — as long as she’s willing to take no for an answer — but it’s really, really inappropriate for the manager to decide for them that they’re making that trade.

  17. CBH*

    A few things to note….

    I think as a supervisor, the OP is doing all he (?) can to accomodate the employees personal situation. I think the OP is stuck in a moral dilemma. I’ll say that first and foremost.

    I believe that OP needs to tighten up on managing the situation. OP you mention that the pre-employees need to learn to negotiate with each other. To me this is a red flag. Its one thing for employees to casual discuss a solution to bring to you but really the final say, the policy should come from management. In the current way of doing things it almost seems like you are wiping your hands of this responsibility. I only bring this point up because the second I read your letter I immediately thought of the Ask A Manager letter from the manager who wouldn’t let the employee go to her college graduation. It’s a totally different situation, but that college letter too had a similar policy.

    Has it been brought up to this employee that they accepted the job knowing the times required to work? As Alison said you can’t make assumptions on their grieving process. However there must be a way to communicate that they know what the requirements of the job are. If they need more personal time to deal with the situation maybe the pre employee should take a leave of absence.

    On the other side of things, regardless of what the employee’s company rights are, it seems like the employee is asking for a lot of time off. If this is a pre-employment job used to guide them, somehow it needs to be communicated to the employee that this is not the norm in most work environments. (It sounds like you tried this) If you company has a bereavement policy maybe point it out. I interpreted this letter as the employee is taking advantage of the situation. I understand the loss of a parent can be difficult, especially when you have to be supportive of/ there for/ strong for other family members. But I get the feeling there are a lot of things that the employee is using this as an excuse for. Again I’m not judging the grieving process.

    OP have you spoken with your other pre employee? I’m not saying to specifically discuss problem employee’s situation. To me it sounds like other employee is taking the brunt of things. Have you had a check in with them? Ask how they are, ask how they think the job is going, any complaints.

    A lot of random thoughts came to my mind when reading this letter.

  18. Kate*

    This story hits all sorts of buttons for me, because my mother’s father died 50 years ago on Christmas Day and it is still an issue for her (and by her logic, for us), every. single. year.

    It’s not that I think should be a statute of limitations on grief, but maybe, as part of the social contract, there should be a statute of limitations on expressions of grief that strongly impact others.

    And that would apply here. You can be sad, you can be grieving, but you can’t hijack the entirety of the Christmas holiday schedule.

    1. AP*

      Agree. I also get that certain times can be harder- my dad passed away when I was 12 and you feel a certain twinge around the holidays and other special days.

      But, and this is just my own presonal take on similar situations and isn’t necessarily applicable here, I think it’s really depressing to take special time off on holidays/his birthday/anniversay of his death to just sit around and be sad. That sadness never goes away, not on Groundhog’s Day or Flag day or just the second Tuesday in August. And I don’t think dad would want me to mark the days by his absence. I think there’s a time when you accept that time without this person is your new normal and you realize that’s your burden to carry, not necessarily everyone else’s. That said, if this person is struggling, it might be worth talking to someone. Grief is… hard.

      1. Escape*

        I think when my father passes away, he would be mightily pissed off if I took days off to grieve him. “GET BACK TO WORK”, I can imagine him saying from the great beyond.

        1. AP*

          Hah! You can work a double-shift in his honor :D

          I’ve seen some really lovely memorial tattoos people have gotten and all I can think about is my dad being absolutely horrified: “What did you do to yourself?! You look like a biker.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            ‘Want to the new Harley, Dad? I got a full set of riding leathers, too.”

            My dad learned lots about bikers when I married my husband. (giggling) It actually went quite well.

  19. PeachTea*

    My biggest problem is that the employee is using this to justify having EVERY holiday off. This isn’t just an argument about Christmas. I would have to assume from the letter that she’s already used this to get Thanksgiving and whatever else has happened recently.

    OP needs to stick with her policy. Employee 1 can have the week before, Employee 2 can have the week after. No exceptions. Otherwise, this boils down to a version of one employees family situation is deemed more important than the other. If this employee was asking for three weeks to spend with her kids because the other employee was single and childless, we’d all be in an uproar. I see this the same way. Being with her family isn’t anymore important because her parents are deceased than the other employee being with her family when her parents are alive.

    1. Michelle*

      I agree. I understand when you live far away from your family, you might only get to see them at the holidays. But I would be super pissed if I was told I had to work the entire Christmas/New Year holidays because my family was local and I got to see them more during the year.

    2. Questioner*

      This was what we worked out (1 the week before, the other the week after). But yes, the employee in question wants extra time off for very small family events that would have involved her father–like the parents’ anniversary for instance. So, I have the feeling it is going to come up again.

      1. Sofia*

        I think your solution is actually reasonable as they are both getting equal time off. When is the parent’s anniversary? Is it also during the holidays or at a different time?

        1. Questioner*

          The anniversary has already passed, and I had no problems giving the time off because we had enough employees around to cover. I’m very flexible about time off, no questions asked as long as someone else can fill in. But the holidays get extra emotional for everyone and travel can be crazy, so I have to be fair.

          1. Sofia*

            Agreed. You have to do what is best for everyone not just one person. That is a hard part of being a manager I think, just because you feel or have sympathy for an employee doesn’t mean you can accommodate them.

          2. One of the Sarahs*

            It also gets difficult when she’s wanting multiple “important” times off – her parents’ wedding anniversary, the anniversary of the death, AND Christmas? That’s extreme, and like someone else said, I’d be recommending grief counselling for sure.

            1. Sofia*

              If the Christmas time wasn’t three weeks, I wouldn’t find this extreme at all. Those are 3 days out of the year. Not really too much time.

              1. Sofia*

                PS in my culture, we do have a tradition where close family gets together for the anniversary of a death for a few years for a service. It varies by family, but most do about 2-3 years.

              2. Elsajeni*

                Yes, and two of them are presumably only “important” times for her and her family — lots of people want time off around Christmas, so that’s a coverage issue, but assuming her parents’ anniversary and the anniversary of the death don’t also happen to fall on major holidays, taking time off for those days shouldn’t be a big deal.

            1. Sofia*

              If she is able to without it impacting others, I don’t see why not. It doesn’t have to paid as OP mentioned the student doesn’t get paid time off anyway. If it impacts others then that’s a different story.

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              I don’t think the OP said she gets an unlimited amount of time off, just that her ability to take time off won’t be as limited as long as it’s not on holidays.

      1. Sofia*

        How do you know that she is being deliberately manipulative and is no longer really grieving? I know plenty of people who have a tough time during the holidays. I have seen it in one of my closest friends who gets very emotional during the holidays and spends a lot of time in bed, crying and looking at pictures of her mother. Her mother passed away four years ago. I can imagine people assume my friend is being manipulative as well, but I have heard her pain.

        I am not saying OP should give the student the full three weeks off if she can’t. She needs to compromise and do what is the best for the team. But we shouldn’t judge or assume the student is purposely being manipulative.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Even if she truly is grieving, she’s being manipulative. She’s using her grief as an excuse to get exactly what she wants.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              She is asking for something she wouldn’t normally be entitled to, and her rationale is that she’s grieving. Whether or not she’s doing it intentionally, she IS being manipulative, by turning to emotional reasons rather than objective reasons to get what she wants.

              1. Emma*

                This, exactly. People keep acting like manipulation means that the employee’s story is false or that she’s somehow being unemotional and coldly calculating, but you can be manipulative and genuinely grieving, and you can use the truth to manipulate.

      2. TL -*

        The thing is, in pretty much all of the labs I’ve worked in, this kind of flexibility would not be unreasonable for the grad students. I don’t think she’s being manipulative; she could just be operating under a different set of norms.

  20. she was a fast machine*

    So this kinda hits home to me because I lost my mom around the holidays when I was 17. Years have passed, but that’s still a very difficult time for me, to the point where when I got my current job(two weeks off during the holidays) I jumped for joy. I know my productivity nosedives and my depression worsens, so it’s nice to be able to take the time off and not have to worry about keeping up appearances. I’m also really bothered by the LW’s thought that this employee should be over grieving. Some people have very close knit families and depending on the situation a death can seriously effect someone for years. I was my mom’s primary caregiver(at 16/17) before she passed, and you better believe the next two years were incredibly difficult as I became an adult, got my first full time job, tried to get my GED, and tried to go back to school. I had a slew of health issues starting a few months after my mom passed, and ended up losing my job because of them, which sent me into even more of a spiral. I needed my mom then, and as much as it sucked financially to lose my job, I ended up discovering that I did need the time to myself to recover. So…I don’t know. I do feel like there’s a strong change the employee is taking advantage of the situation, but I’m also really wary of what the LW can do about it that isn’t horribly rude and tone-deaf. Death is such a sensitive topic.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Additional wrinkle: I read of a study that said what happens to us around age 20 SHAPES our thinking for the rest of our lives.

      Now that is one powerful statement.

      I tend to believe it. I lost my mother when I was 23 [insert long story here]. That story became my frame of reference for many other things in life for a looong time. I think I was into my 40s when I have finally collected up enough stories to balance out the mother story.

      1. she was a fast machine*

        Definitely agree with you there! Losing my mom quite literally has shaped the following years greatly, the trajectory of my live has changed dramatically since I had to take care of her and she passed away.

  21. So Very Anonymous*

    Also, you don’t necessarily know what their future jobs’ holiday leave policies are going to be. I’ve worked at at least two universities now where the campus shuts down for two weeks around the winter break (even for nonfaculty). At my current workplace, we have to take one of the weeks as PTO, but at another university I worked out, we got the two weeks without it coming out of PTO (IIRC this involves juggling some other federal holidays). Not saying that’s any kind of norm, but the main issue is that the student needs to learn to work around their particular workplace’s expectations for holiday leave, period, whether they’re allowed a small amount of time or are able to take/get a longer chunk of time.

    1. Cat steals keyboard*

      That’s true. I worked at a university in a department that was closed for all of December and January!

    2. Dan*


      I get 4 weeks PTO that I get to take whenever, wherever, however I want. I don’t really travel for family reasons (small family, a long holiday weekend is enough) but do travel extensively for personal reasons. I tend to take my entire allotment at once. Last year, I took off the month of December, this year, I’m taking October off. And this isn’t the first job I’ve had that allows it — my last job gave me 5 weeks PTO, and I did the same thing. Oh, we are all individual contributors who aren’t in a customer support role, so coverage isn’t an issue.

      Yes, I’m well aware that not every company works this way, but OP should stay out of teaching “real world” lessons.

      1. Tomato Frog*

        Yes, I’m well aware that not every company works this way, but OP should stay out of teaching “real world” lessons.

        Right. Please don’t impose unnecessary restrictions on people just because you think they might have those restrictions in the future. We’re all in the real world now and we don’t need to make it artificially harder.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I think OP is supposed to be preparing this person for the work world.

          “It is stressed that the position is pre-professional, meaning we treat the employee like any other professional, while giving them coaching and help looking for full-time work in the field.”

          If OP is supposed to be coaching her, I see nothing wrong with OP saying, “Because this is pre-professional, we have flexibility that other places do not have. I don’t want you to have the impression that asking for 3 weeks around the holidays is the norm in our industry. It’s not. People will look a sconce at that. It would be wise if you can find ways to work with the norms of this arena.”

          This is a middle of the road solution, where OP does X but tells her to expect Y once employed in a professional position.

          1. Dan*

            The thing is, “pre professional” really isn’t a commonly accepted position classification. If you were to ask me what I thought it meant, I’d say an intern.

            I’m also a bit stuck on what this department/position actually is/does. Academia is its own beast, and we hear plenty of stories about professors and career centers who are very out of touch with business norms.

            Realistically, OP should be managing for the needs this position has. “Industry” is such a broad term, that trying to figure out what norms are for whatever it is is an uphill battle and likely futile.

            1. AD*

              “Academia is its own beast, and we hear plenty of stories about professors and career centers who are very out of touch with business norms.”

              You’ve said as much elsewhere on this thread, but please don’t make this blanket judgement about academia. College and university jobs are real jobs, that most certainly have professional norms. Yes, some schools are less well-run than others. But some private companies/firms are less well-run than others, so what exactly is the point of this distinction? You must think that university jobs are nothing more than grad students working the campus store, selling gum to tourists or something. That is definitely not the case. And if a student slacks off, they will get dinged if they need a reference in future (as they most likely will).

              1. So Very Anonymous*

                Yes, and it’s fully possible that these are grad students in a professional program, so the point about industry norms makes sense. Also, there are university jobs that aren’t professor jobs, and hours/vacation/etc for those often work quite differently from teaching jobs.

                I really only cited academia because that’s where I work (not as a professor) and our holiday leave time works in a particular way. I think the broader lesson the student needs — as Alison points out — is that you have to work your leave-time needs around what your *present* workplace needs and expects. (The student may not decide to go into that industry after all, or may shift fields later — who knows?) You might or might not have much more limited holiday leave at your next workplace, but the real issue is that you have to learn to work around those limitations.

  22. Cat steals keyboard*

    If she’s really struggling this much, maybe it’s time for an occupational health referral for some grief counselling? (If that’s how it works. I’m in the UK and don’t get how occupational health works in America with the whole insurance thing.)

    Sidenote: one of the ‘you may also like’ items linked to a post that made reference to requiring an obituary to verify bereavement leave. Sorry if this is more off topic than I intend but is that really a thing over there?!

    1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      Requiring to see an obit to get paid leave is very much a thing. I’ve worked at 3 banks and three other professional offices and they all required it, at least per the handbook. I’m sure that some supervisors wouldn’t have required it before approving a time sheet, but I know mine did the one time I had to use it.

    2. Questioner*

      I’ve wondered about this as well. The student is eligible for free counseling from the university health center.

      1. KR*

        Maybe the right step then would be to explain how the grief policy normally works both where you work and in most workplaces (took that from a comment downthread), then segway into why taking 3 weeks of leave over the holidays is not feasible and how bereavement leave doesn’t really apply here (insert polite reminder that an essential part of the job is covering other people nights weekends and holidays), and then talk about what you can do – can you give her a few days around Christmas, reduced hours during those 3 weeks, ect. You can mention that if she finds herself unable to work for the entirety of December due to grief, services are available to her but it’s generally expected that she not take the entire holiday season off.

    3. caledonia*

      @ cat.

      When my mum died my long term boyfriend need to miss a uni exam to attend the funeral with me and he needed to scan the death cert (we didn’t do a obit). Scotland.

      1. ceiswyn*

        When one of my oldest friends died unexpectedly, I had to turn up to the exam five days later. Deferring was for first-degree relatives or dependents ONLY.

        Fortunately by the exam I was just about able to hold a thought in my head for five seconds running; before that I couldn’t concentrate for long enough to make a cup of tea. Even better, I only had 48 hours to submit a Special Circumstances form to the university, and they required a copy of the death certificate (which had not yet been issued).

        By comparison, my workplace basically just told me to go away and come back when I was over the shock. And they didn’t require evidence, either.

    4. Maria*

      Providing an obit or a program from the funeral service has been standard at the full-time post-college jobs I’ve worked.

  23. EJ*

    Things to consider… does she live farther way? Like a 8+ hour car ride? Or only a place she can there get by flying (states away or another country)? Maybe they had traditions where they want to keep going …or planned a big family trip in remembrance? Things like that will make someone want to stay home as long as possible, especially while family/friends also have time to take off.

    This makes me thankful that the University I work for adopted a paid “Winter Break” a few years ago! We’re off Christmas to New Years. Only essential staff have to work on the non-holiday days. But they are given it in comp time to take after the holiday… so so so thankful!

  24. Pari*

    Maybe I’m cold also but I’d ask more questions to get a better understanding of the situation. When the parent died, whether there is some special obligation outside of the normal desires to spend the holidays with family. Then I’d talk about what most managers consider reasonable in terms of time off for deaths.

    1. Sofia*

      I think that’s a good idea and not cold at all. As a manager she is in a tough situation and although if the manager has the ability to accommodate the employee, without being unfair to the other employee she should definitely do that, but if she doesn’t she has to be as fair as she can with everyone. Rereading the letter it looks like the employee wants to go home for the holidays (as in her family lives far away). I am wondering what the other employee’s situation is and if she wants to pick up more hours during the holidays. I know when I was a student everyone loved time off school because we could work more hours.

  25. Tiny*

    This is a tricky situation. I would definitely go with Allison and make sure that the news source you found the obituary on is, without an iota of doubt, a relative of this employee. Not everyone posts obituaries in the papers, so this could easily be another person by the same name. However, it does seem your employee might be trying to take a slight advantage of your sympathy in this case. She does need to know that accommodations like this won’t even be considered in the working world (except in very special circumstances), but I think the best way would be to explain to her that she can have a portion of her time off so it doesn’t put her coworker at a severe disadvantage. Grief is a highly personal experience, some people can cope with it well and others can’t, but it doesn’t mean that you can take such huge allowances with it and disregard how it affects others.

  26. CAinUK*

    Look, I sympathize. But I would actually be a bit more pointed than Alison suggests. You say this grad student is “demanding” time off, and she won’t negotiate? And for the core hours she was hired to work (holidays, evenings, weekend) and the core job description?

    If she can’t do a significant part of the job, and she won’t negotiatite, I’m not sure she should have this job. But it sounds like this is also her last year working for you so it might be moot?

    “I just want to understand this – are you saying that you will not be able to work any holidays, ever?

    1. Willis*

      Yeah. Three weeks of time off at once is not typically something you’d just assume (or demand) would be ok with an employer. And while the other grad student may be fine with taking additional shifts, it’s totally understandable if she wouldn’t want to double her work schedule over the holidays. At the same time, if the extended time off is more of a priority than the job (which it may be depending on a bunch of factors only she would be able to determine), then maybe this isn’t the job for her. Honestly, I could see leaving a part-time internship over this if I really felt that strongly about being with my family.

      In the future, though, she should probably consider vacation time/policies when deciding to take a job, if traveling home for multiple weeks around the holidays will continue to be a big priority.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      I agree with this. “One of the requirements of this job is that you must be available on holidays. I understand if you decide you are no longer the person who can be in this job, but the job requirements cannot be changed due to your continuing personal circumstances.”

  27. crazy8s*

    I think her reason for requesting the time off–if other than an emergency or a current, as in “just happened’ death in the family–should not be a determining factor in the decision. We all have what to us are good reasons for the time off that we request. I don’t think bosses should be in the business of deciding whose reason is best. Keep it business related and be sure you are being fair to everyone who works there, almost all of whom would probably like to have more time off at holidays.

    We used to own a business that was staffed almost entirely by students. they all wanted the same times off–spring break, holidays, exams, etc. I had to put a general guideline out–for example, everyone had to work X number of the major holidays, Y number of weekends, and so forth. It was either that or just stop hiring students. within the guidelines I asked them to provide me with which X holidays and weekends they would be willing to work, and their 1 (ONE ) holiday, weekend, and such request for time off. It was still very challenging to schedule, but at least they all recognized that we were doing our best to balance their needs with our business needs.

  28. Alice*

    My take is a little different from Alison’s and the comments so far, based on my own experience as an hourly grad student worker (in the past, thank goodness!).
    Like the OP’s employee, I was working night and weekend shifts. From here on I don’t know if the situations are comparable. I staffed a service desk interacting with clients who would have interacted with full-time, professional employees at the same desk during the daytime, and provided the same level of service (solving problems or making referrals to experts).
    I earned $12/hour, no benefits. I got very little training (4 hours), very little feedback (nothing more detailed than “keep up the good work”), and almost no interaction with professional colleagues. OP, you mention coaching, so that might be a significant difference between your situation and mine.
    I did get a line on my resume in the industry I wanted to switch to. So it was worth it for me to do it for a year, even though I could have filled the same number of hours easily with independent clients in my old field at more than five times the rate. And if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it well, so I didn’t flake or pull things like this.
    That said, I think that employers get professionalism when they pay professional rates. Paying pre-professional rates to pre-professionals means that in an important way, you’re not treating them as professionals.

    Now, I’ll admit that working with or managing this person would be frustrating as hell. But you get what you pay for.

    You can pay professional rates and get low-drama professionals (with luck and good hiring practices).
    You can pay cheap rates and get drama from students who aren’t aware of professional norms,or who are aware but have other priorities than their $12/hr temporary/student job.
    You can pay cheap rates and hope you get someone like me (tooting my own horn) who behaves like a professional — but even in this best-case scenario you’ll have lots of turnover.

    1. Marmalade*

      The same thing crossed my mind. This whole ‘pre-professional’ concept … well, you are obviously going to get ‘pre-professional’ candidates and staff, then. This worker sounds like a PITA, no argument there, but I think these kind of issues might be par for the course with the parameters under which you hire.

  29. Retail HR Guy*

    This reminds me of one of our employees. She had one of the most horrible, legitimate of sob stories you could imagine: her adult stepson was shot and killed right in front of her adult son. Terrible, terrible stuff. Everyone’s heart went out to her…

    …at first. Boy did she milk it. Over the course of a couple of years she managed to drain that sympathy bucket completely dry. She would demand all kinds of things from her manager and from HR, which became more petty over time. We said yes to a lot of it, but if we said no she would try to use the tears to get what she wanted. If we still said no then she would yell at us, “My son was MURDERED!!!!!” and either storm off or hang up on us. Preferred shifts and schedules, easier job duties, extra paid vacation, to be scheduled as a part timer but receive full time benefits anyway, coworkers trading shifts they didn’t want to trade, full pay for attending several weeks of court proceedings (in the audience, not as a participant), being able to just no show for work without calling in, having other people fill out work forms for her (she’s just too distracted to deal with any of it because her son was MURDERED!!!!).

    It became a running joke, with coworkers coming up with joke scenarios like the employee being in the break room and demanding that someone else give her their sandwich, and then yelling “But my son was MURDERED!!!!” when she was told to get her own.

    After about two years the random requests died down and she stopped being a problem to others (unsurprisingly, everyone’s sympathy for her situation magically returned).

    I guess my point is that some people have no shame in overplaying the sympathy card.

    1. Hotel GM Guy*

      “coworkers coming up with joke scenarios like the employee being in the break room and demanding that someone else give her their sandwich, and then yelling “But my son was MURDERED!!!!” when she was told to get her own.”

      Oh lordy lord, I hope she never heard any of those jokes? Or heard management busting out in laughter after one.

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        Yeah, I’m really hoping none of them got back to her. Management handled it pretty well actually by discouraging it, but you can’t really control what jokes are being passed around by the workers when managers aren’t around.

        1. Temperance*

          I can get why that would happen, though. The jokes aren’t great, but I think that’s a natural reaction to someone trying to play the “MY SON GOT MURDERED” card for things that have LITERALLY nothing to do with her grief.

    2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      Oh wow. It seems really unfair to everyone involved that most of those requests were approved. It makes me wonder how much of this was really on the employee and how much was on her manager and HR for letting things get so out of hand.

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        There’s definitely some truth to that, but we only said yes to the more reasonable of her demands and my examples above aren’t really representative (most of those were turned down). I’m in a position to remember more on HR’s side of things, and I think she got more considerations out of her managers and coworkers than she did HR. But even I myself let things slide that I probably wouldn’t with most employees (she was extremely disrespectful and unprofessional over the phone, and I just took it without reporting it to her manager) so I’m guilty too.

    1. VintageLydia*

      That shouldn’t give her priority over the other student, though, who may also be under pressure to be with their family.

      I live almost 4 hours from my entire family and the guilt trips are really bad around the holidays. But as an adult, if I can’t or don’t want to go, it’s my responsibility to stand up to them and say no.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        Oh yes. This. It is September 29th and the guilt foundation is being laid now. it will be a full blown sky scraper by the holidays.

  30. Turtle Candle*

    The “all holidays” thing stands out to me–does that mean other people are having to regularly work more than their “fair share” of undesirable shifts (holidays/evenings/weekends) ? That seems… untenable in the long run. If a coworker needed extra time to grieve, I would gladly be flexible, but if it turned into “she’s grieving so you have to cover all the holidays indefinitely,” that would… well… feel different. And if this is a job that requires coverage, the sad truth is that increasing flexibility for one person often means reducing it for another. At my current job, it matters to me not a bit if a coworker takes three weeks off–the impact on my workload is minimal. But at jobs requiring coverage, not so much.

    I think that I feel this way partly because I come at “everyone grieves differently” from the other direction; I am likely to be very quiet about it, because discussing it is very painful and I want to avoid crying at work. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want a chance to see my family for holidays too.

  31. anonderella*

    Huh. I started to comment saying that I think the employee is being a little unreasonable, and should definitely open up the leave accomodation requests with more quid pro quo-type conversation – actually still think that – and was also trying to stifle my guffaws at anyone, in any position, just refusing to work *any* holidays or around their coworkers’ needs.

    But that could mean possibly skimming over the word ‘parent’ here, and what that could mean to the employee. Is the employee taking over some amount of responsibilities to other siblings, or other relatives who depended on the deceased? It’s still a bit of a stretch, as surely such an arrangement would be testing the limits of sustainability in regards to the employee’s physical distance from whoever they’re helping. But when I reread that the employee asks off “for smaller family events, such as a relative’s birthday, because “it is important for them to be there since they lost someone recently.” “, that’s what set off those parental-responsibility alarm bells for me.

    Regardless, that wouldn’t be bereavement leave anyway; the employee should reexamine the familial demands/personal grieving process that requires such extensive leave, and try to better align those needs with career goals, where possible.

    1. EddieSherbert*


      I think this is a super great thing to take into consideration. I’m not in this position, but I have a friend who was. One of her parents passed when she was fairly young and the other shortly after she finished college.

      She has younger siblings… and while they were at least 18, they still needed help.
      Figuring out bills, FAFSA, job hunting, wanting family to celebrate your birthday, what are you doing for christmas, who do you call when you have a flat tire – all the things parents typically “figure out” or help you with at that age… fell on my friend.

      Doesn’t mean she should get three weeks off over anyone else. Obviously, you do have to approach this like any other time-off request.

      It’s just good to keep in mind that there might be more (or a lot, or all of it) going on that you aren’t aware of, and should probably withhold any judgement.

  32. anon (the other one)*

    I used to work with someone who told everyone her son had died. When the anniversary of his death rolled around, she needed time off. If you talked about children in front of her, she started to cry. If she made a mistake at work, her eyes would fill with tears and she would murmur her son’s name. Somewhat oddly, his name was Peanut. Her grief never abated, and after some years we began to wonder. Her fellow employees at the time of his death had not been invited to the funeral, nor had they known it occurred. Somewhat morbidly, we began a search for an obituary. Nothing. I’m sure you know where this is going. Turns out her “son”, Peanut, was her dog.

    1. Maxwell Edison*

      I bet my next paycheck that she called her dog her “fur baby” (rolling my eyes so hard I’m in danger of bumping my brain).

    2. DragoCucina*

      I was driving with a co-worker to a meeting and made a right turn from main street to main street to get to our destination. He started screaming at me that I couldn’t go that way. I almost jumped the curb trying to figure out the problem. It turned out the vet he used to take his dog to was located on that block. The dog did not die there, it was just the vet’s office. He never drove on that street. Having lost dogs that I still mourn I understand grief, but this became dangerous to drivers.

  33. Dan*

    “This employee is an hourly graduate student who mostly works nights/weekends when our full-time employees do not.” “I reiterated that this is her last year as a student and thus her last year getting a month off for the holidays, and she needs to get used to not being able to go home for weeks at a time.”

    Given what you’ve described, I’d avoid references to how things work out in the “real world” or what she needs to “get used to”. For one thing, the median professional job doesn’t require night and weekend coverage. And… I don’t know what the norm is for holiday leave, at least in such a way that you can make general statements about norms or what students should “get used to”. Some places shut the place down for the week between Xmas and NYE, some places don’t actually shut down but don’t care when you take time off. At my last employer of ~150 on the main campus, the day after Thanksgiving was a work day, and there’d maybe be a dozen people in the office.

    At that job (and my current one, too) we get generous amounts of leave without any restriction on how we take it. I take an entire month off and travel overseas. Sometimes I do it over Xmas, sometimes I don’t.

    Right now, she’s a grad student under your supervision. Your focus should be on what the role needs right now, and not how things might be at some other job. Right now, she’s got several weeks off from school for winter break because she’s a grad student. A future, undetermined job should have no bearing on your management style here.

    Run your department the way you need to (and don’t weasel out on coverage assignments by saying “figure it out yourselves”). If you need that coverage, you need it. Are you prepared to tell her that she needs to work some period of winter break and she is fired if she refuses?

    BTW, you don’t go into much detail on the rest of your staff, and your business line. I come away with the feeling that your grad students are just coverage at some campus office during times when full time employees aren’t in the office. If grad students are your *only* coverage during these periods, that becomes just a little tone deaf over the holidays. It probably works well when school is in session, because students have classes during the day M-F, and typically work nights and weekends. At some places, it’s not unusual to excuse the student staff at times the university is not in session, and expect full time staff to pick up some slack around these periods.

    If your business isn’t a university department, then it shouldn’t matter as much that your staff are students. With students, you expect turnover, and them to disappear during the holidays. You also expect them to quit if they don’t get the holiday time off — they’re at the perfect times in their life to do it, because they never have to admit to the $10/hr job they just quit because of scheduling issues in school. With students, either turnover or flexibility are part of the deal.

      1. AD*

        No they’re not, they’re real jobs that require understanding of professional norms like any other. And to those who think differently, this is bad advice to be handing out.
        In a previous role, I worked in a university department that employed grad students. There were some stellar students who did amazing work, and learned a lot in the process. These students would invariably get good references from potential employers who called, after they had graduated and were job searching.
        The students who slacked off, or had spotty attendance, or in any way treated their *paid job* like some of you are describing (it’s not a real job, you can take extended amounts of leave no problem, etc.) did not get good references. And yes, they would put our department down on their resume. I have a feeling this did not work out well for some of them (bad references are bad references, irrespective of the fact that the experience was working as a grad student in academia).

        So lesson is, treat every job as if it is the real thing.

  34. Tavie*

    When my mother died suddenly 5 years ago this coming November, my company allowed me 2 weeks of paid leave. Actually they said, “Take all the time you need”, and after 2 weeks I was ready to come back to work and felt like I had been away too long. And the distraction of work was very helpful. (They’re very good employers. My elderly father was traveling out of the country with her when it happens and we spend 3 agonizing days just waiting for the cruiseline to deliver him home.)

    I still take the anniversary of her death off as a PTO day to spend the day with my family. We don’t obsess over it, but do something together that she would have liked. (I may stop doing that as of this year; I’m not sure yet. It depends on how I feel and how the rest of my family feels.)

    1. BabyShark*

      Mine told me the same thing, even though I had only been with the firm a few months. I probably could have stayed longer, I ended up just taking the week before Christmas and then coming back on the day I had originally planned to come back after Christmas. I don’t know that I could have been out much longer for my own sanity.

  35. Jenny*

    I’m not sure what this position is exactly, but I’m assuming it was stated clearly to the students when they were hired that they would need to be available and working over holidays? Part-time student jobs so often mimic the academic calendar that I don’t think it would be unreasonable for student employees to assume they wouldn’t be expected to work over school holidays.

  36. Master Bean Counter*

    This is bizarre. Was she hired on with the knowledge that she’s need every holiday off? I’m guessing not. If it were, that would be a different issue.
    Honestly I’d sit down with her and outline the expectations of the job again. Make sure that you and her on are the same page, or at the very least that she understands the expectations of the job.
    Tell her that while you are sympathetic to her situation, she is creating a hardship on others, who want to have time off around the holidays as well. If she balks or doesn’t understand, ask her if the three weeks around Christmas is a deal breaker for her. If it is, make plans to hire her replacement before then.
    In other words treat her like you would a real employee who’s schedule can’t meet the needs of the business anymore. Try to be flexible and understanding, but also be willing to let her go.

  37. Museum&Zoo*

    I may have missed the OP commenting on if this job is part of the student’s scholarship/fellowship or is something separate. That being said, grad students by and large are a very cheap and often exploited labor force. While many people would say that the privilege of being in graduate school should outweigh this, many are working for less than minimum wage and/or living below the poverty line in order to pursue their degrees. And while going to school/doing research full time. There’s a reason so many burn out.

    My advice would be to exercise so compassion towards this student and towards other graduate student employees. Give them some time off and don’t force them to work on the actual holiday. If you really need coverage for those time periods, then perhaps you need to, as someone upthread pointed out, hire professionals and develop clear holiday coverage plans for all of those involved (rotating holiday schedules much like doctors/nurses do with call).

    (Maybe I’m just a sucker though, I give my interns a lot of time off).

  38. caledonia*

    Since my mum died in 2009, I haven’t been that close with my family – but that’s another story. It is interesting though that research shows your brain chemistry changes when you’re grieving, I think it’s just a temp change.

    I’ve never asked to have particular days off, I choose to remember my mum in other, small, more everyday ways. But maybe that’s just me.

    Not helpful to the actual OP though, sorry.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I read a disturbing article that said with our parent’s deaths we begin to show the symptoms of what will eventually kill us. The author’s point was that a parent’s death can hit us so hard that our bodies actually begin a permanent down turn in health. That kind of gives new insight on the doctor’s question about parents being alive or dead, doesn’t it?

      OP, I see in your letter you are talking about time frame for grief, etc. I am going to guess that you were looking for a set of words and did not mean it exactly that way.

      I have a suggestion for you: Take the approach that “losing a parent is one of the toughest losses in life” and you “know it is hard” either first hand or through friends. Then you continue on to say that when these hard things hit in life we have to take extra steps that we probably would not do under ordinary circumstances. Then suggest that she get counseling or join a grief group. Explain to her that sometimes grief does interfere with our ability to go about our daily life when this interference happens we need to pull in some extra help for ourselves. It’s a quality of life issue. Explain that it’s not much different than if our arm or leg hurts for a long period of time. It gets to a point where it is cutting into our ability to live life. At that point, we need to go talk to someone about our arm or leg. Same deal here, when we are faced with overwhelming grief we need to pull in some help.

  39. specialist*

    This would really anger me. The holiday thing isn’t right. Of course, I have a different take on this. I think this grad student is just trying to get what she wants, and screw anyone else. I would have a talk with the grad student and explain that this behavior is frowned upon in the workplace. I would then dictate that the holiday would be split. The two grad students can work out which takes which day. Oh, but I can’t leave it there. I would likely tell the two grad students that I wouldn’t object to one paying the other an extra $500-1000 cash on top of the salary if they really really wanted the time and the other didn’t mind. I like the idea of penalties.

  40. mccoma*

    Not sure about the two years or the amount of time off in this case, but I’ve experienced another aspect of this that might be of interest to some managers. Some cultures do have different requirements around deaths. I work / live in an area where the funeral is a pretty large deal with an all night wake. The second part comes up a year later with a gathering to honor the dead and end the grieving. I lost a friend around Christmas and had two holidays of pain. Neither event was viewed as optional.

  41. LadyCop*

    I have an aunt whose first husband died on a date a couple of days from my birthday….before I was even born. This has been her excuse for all 30 years of my life to not give me a present, or even a card…she’s upset… *eyeroll*

  42. EmmaLou*

    This all seems really, really unfair, if it has been two years, to the other grad student. I mean, I can see slack for a recent death, but the other student has a life and friends and family and things she/he would like to do over weekends and holidays as well. He or she has living family they’d like to see probably. Yes, losing a parent changes you forever. But it’s not unique. The fact that I can’t call my mother and ask her what is wrong with my gravy?! It won’t thicken! (and that sometimes I forget that for a moment and reach for the phone) doesn’t mean that it is more important than my co-worker wishing he could hear Uncle Borgolt tell the story of his first car again. And yes, I still cry sometimes even though it’s been a few years. But not unique except to me. Everyone has unique losses. Mine are not more important than anyone else’s.

  43. Amber Rose*

    As someone who lost their mom over 5 years ago and still cries about it around once a week, I beg you to never, ever tell someone that it’s time to “get over it” or “move on.” I once had a chat with a woman who cried because her mom died 10 years before. You never fully recover from that kind of pain. It always hurts.

    That said, you do have to get on with your own life and be reasonable about how much you request from other people. This student seems to be exploiting the situation and that is upsetting. At the very least, they are being unrealistic and if they are so upset they need 3 weeks to cry at a holiday, they should be addressing that with a mental health professional, not insisting on special treatment.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I agree. My dad died 15 years ago and I still cry about it at times! Usually in private, thank god. Often in the car for some reason. (Weirdly, he once told me that he was prone to crying about his own dead parents while he was driving.)

      I don’t think that’s at all unusual. But there are limits to what you can expect from other people around accommodating it.

      1. AnonNurse*

        I completely agree. My father passed away on a holiday weekend (I mentioned it below) 14 years ago. I still miss him deeply and cry when it becomes too much. But it seems very manipulative in how the employee had addressed this situation and I wouldn’t like it at all.

        Oddly enough, the car is where I tend to have my emotional moments too. I have about a 20 min commute in the very early mornings and evenings. It’s usually in the quiet and private that suddenly things will bubble over and the tears will fall. And then I keep going. Funny how it works that way sometimes.

      2. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

        I think its because in the car there aren’t many distractions. You can’t (or shouldn’t) look at your phone or talk to other people so you’re just alone with your thoughts.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Twenty four years for my father. Yep. I cried in the car. There was a song at that point, I have no idea the name/artist. But a line went:

        “now that you’re gone, I can’t cry hard enough”

        My tears felt constipated. I could. not. cry. hard. enough. I didn’t cry really, I leaked a little around the eyes. This went this way for months. I leaked on my way to work and leaked on my way home. It was the only time of the day that I was not surrounded by people. I could actually start a thought and followed it to it’s conclusion. I really want to have a hard cry, but it just would not come out.

        I think this is why they recommend walking for grief symptoms. You can be alone with your thoughts while making your body move about. The mind has to sort the pain at some point in the day, why not while we are alone in the car?

        1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

          It’s the Williams Brothers, Can’t Cry Hard Enough. It’s a VERY cathartic song.

    2. MLE*

      Agree! My youngest sister died in a car accident the day before Thanksgiving almost 12 years ago. I too have cried in the car and at times will have difficulty talking about her, the accident or my grief. I try to take the day before Thanksgiving off because for me that is the death anniversary (her actual death date doesn’t bother me as much). I haven’t always got it off, which is fine. I host the holiday for my family every year now so I do need the day to prepare, which I use as an excuse and not my sister’s death. It gets easier with time. The new normal.

    3. Society of Potted Plants Who Get Mistaken for Chamber Pots*

      Perhaps the student is asking for too much accommodation. And perhaps the OP (based on the iffy action of googling the obituary and the tone of the letter) is inclined to be less accommodating or empathetic. But AAM’s last paragraph says it all. Take a step back and examine the situation from the role of a supervisor, based on fair assessment of the requested accommodation’s impact on other employees and shift coverage.

      I also think that, regardless of whether the student’s leave request is too much, the student might *not* be taking advantage of her parent’s death. No two people mourn the same, and students can be particularly stressed. If I requested excess accommodation and my boss (who I have this kind of relationship with) told me it was more than the organization could handle BUT tried to be as generous as was fair and expressed that she was genuinely concerned for my well-being and reminded me that there are community resources for grief… I would be really grateful for the empathy.

      P.S. AAM has a really, really nice commenting interface.

  44. AnonNurse*

    I actually fall on the side of telling the employee that three weeks is unreasonable. My father passed away very suddenly on Labor Day weekend when I was 22 years old. I took a week off to deal with arrangements and details that needed to be handled immediately and then went back to work. I took a few days off here and there to address other needs but did not expect special accommodations from my coworker’s outside of the normal. Moving forward I have never asked to be off the Labor Day weekend just because it’s a hard weekend for me. Actually, I worked the holiday weekend this year. I wouldn’t expect special treatment because of a personal situation. I grieve and still function. Asking for 3 weeks over the Christmas holiday period isn’t reasonable and that’s how it should be presented to the employee.

  45. ArtK*

    After two years and requesting several holidays plus a full three weeks at Christmas, this begins to smell of someone using an emotional appeal to take advantage. Either that or someone who really needs help in managing her grief. Neither of which is the OP’s responsibility to accommodate. I’m on the side of “sorry, that isn’t reasonable” and working from there.

  46. Not So NewReader*

    I think that sometimes people are surprised by how hard grief is. Other times people are surprised by how hard a particular death hit them. Most of us have not been taught much about grief and there is a lot to learn about it. I think that some of this type of stuff is coming into play here for OP’s employee. I am not sure that we can really help the employee here, but we can encourage each other and encourage those around us that knowledge is power. Learning about grief, it’s causes, it’s symptoms, and it’s process can empower us in our own lives and can help us in talking with others.
    Personally, I think this knowledge ought to be in our genes at birth or at least a course in school. But that is not how life goes.

  47. MW*

    It seems bizarre and like a massive invasion of privacy to me, to look up the obituary for an employee’s parents. Surely, unless they’re acting very suspiciously (i.e. taking time off for 3 mums’ funerals), you should just take what they tell you in good faith. If I tell my employer I need time off for a death in the family or a family issue I would be mortified if they then started googling to see who died or what’s up.

    1. Temperance*

      I absolutely disagree. I think it’s reasonable and normal to request an obituary for special paid leave.

      1. Observer*

        It’s normal, but not reasonable. Believe it or not, obituaries are NOT standard. And, even when they exist they may not be on news outlets that your organization “recognizes.”

        1. Brandy in TN*

          I wont have an obit for my parents, theres no one I need to tell, and as a family we don’t believe in them, ins a waste of money to us. So what then??

          1. Kyrielle*

            If someone’s employer requires one, a note from the funeral home can sometimes be substituted. (Also, obituaries in small local papers are often free, and/or the funeral home may have an online obituary site.)

            It is, however, a bit disturbing that we have to notify the world of the loss – in spite of not really feeling the need to – just to satisfy employers.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t think you really need to though. I’ve never heard of an employer that wouldn’t accept something from the funeral home or other documentation.

        2. KellyK*

          Totally agree. If you have an individual employee who’s been caught lying to get time off before (and for some reason decided that wasn’t worth firing them on the spot), fine. For an employee that you have a remotely decent relationship with, it’s a huge slap in the face for your response to “I just lost a close family member,” to be “Prove it.”

      2. Kyrielle*

        I don’t know if it’s entirely reasonable but it is normal.

        However, that doesn’t make it reasonable to *independently Google the obituary* and assume you found the right one. Depending on the name, it may be more or less likely – but it’s not guaranteed.

        1. Society of Potted Plants Who Get Mistaken for Chamber Pots*

          I didn’t even know that was normal… Yikes… I just can’t imagine losing a loved one and then my boss being like, “So, I know you look like a windswept wraith right now and you cried when a fly hit the window this morning, but like… you think you could get me real proof that your loved one just died?”

          Anyway, re: Google-sleuthing employees’ dead parents, it seemed in this context to be a sweet-smelling rose on the edge of the dangerous Path of Petty, or, at the very least, a bit of a waste of time.
          As goes the classic motto,
          “Why google the obit / when you can just decide it! (itbeingreasonableaccommodationbasedonyourcompanyleavepolicyandstaffingneeeeeeeds)”

    2. paul*

      Except they’ve been asking for tons of time off throughout the year for it. I’d argue the line has been crossed.

  48. bopper*

    I agree with many others…keep this about the needs of the jobs and not what they “should learn”.

    “Unfortunately you taking 3 weeks off won’t work. The purpose of this position is to cover when the full time people are out. I need to split the time off over Christmas between you and OtherPerson. Let me know if the first or 3rd week would be better for you, and I will also check with OtherPerson to see which one, if any, is better for them. I will let you know by Tuesday what your schedule will be.

  49. 2 Cents*

    OP, just as a life lesson:
    You don’t get to tell someone how long is appropriate to grief a death or loss. You just don’t. Everyone is different. Every loss is different.

  50. Blackout*

    I personally take issue with the fact that the student is “demanding” the time off (and so much time, too). If she had phrased it differently (“Is there any possible way that I could have extra time off” or “I would be so grateful if I could spend extra time with my family this year”, etc.) I would be a bit more sympathetic.

  51. voyager1*

    There is being able to grieve and there is being away from work to grieve. Your grad student is past the later but she is more then in her right to do the former.

  52. TheBeetsMotel*

    This comment will be buried at this point, but oh well.

    Its not clear from the letter if the student’s parent died AROUND a holiday, or just that the holidays are hard when dealing with grief. It it’s the former, I think it would be kind and compassionate to find a way to give the student the anniversary date off at least, if possible (but I think 3 weeks is excessive). If it’s the latter… well, not to sound unsympathetic, but by early adulthood, a lot of people will have lost at least one family member and will miss their presence at family-oriented holidays. I don’t think this person should get a blank free pass to always have any and all holidays off. Who knows; their coworker might also have lost someone and finds Christmas difficult, but doesn’t feel entitled to 3 weeks off to cope each year.

    1. Chickaletta*

      I agree with you. A lot of people have suffered grief and hard times, but that doesn’t mean that they can just take 3 weeks off during the holidays as a way to cope with it. Holidays can be a difficult time for a lot of people for various reasons, but they still go to work.

      I agree with Alison that the focus of the OP’s message should be “your job requires you to cover shifts during the holidays” and not “move on, get over it”. Perhaps, if the OP was up for it, they could offer suggestions to their employee of other ways to help them get through the holidays other than taking extended time off. The employee, at some point in her life, is going to have to find a way to deal with her grief and come in for work at the same time, unless she can find a job at a company that shuts down in December, but I don’t know what that would be.

    2. Emma*

      I don’t think you sound unsympathetic. I think, rather, you’re sounding sympathetic to more than just this one person.

  53. HRish Dude*

    “I want to think that this employee and their family has had enough time to grieve, and should get on with their lives.”

    I was with you OP, right up until this sentence.

  54. WillowSunstar*

    I would say she needs to take PTO, and possibly save up if this is important to her, and negotiate with her co-workers. I understand some of this, because I had a housemate commit suicide one year a few days before Christmas. He did it by starting a fire. I narrowly survived out of sheer luck, as it was early morning and I was only woken up by a window breaking due to the air pressure change. So, Christmas is one of those holidays that is a mixed bag for me every year. However, I would rather deal with it personally by being busy around that time, as opposed to having nothing to do and to think about it. But maybe that is just me. I would also say she needs possibly therapy of some sort. It can help.

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