my former intern ghosted her new job, coworker won’t stop talking about his Porsche plans, and more

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

1. My former intern ghosted her new job — should I contact her to see if she’s okay?

Last fall I had a terrific intern who was in her last year of school. She was very reliable, she learned a lot about our industry, her progress was trackable in the improvement of her work, etc. So, when Former Intern asked if I would be willing to act as a reference for her when she began applying for full-time jobs after she graduated, I was happy to do so. She also sent me a lovely thank-you note after she secured a job with the help of my recommendation. (The job was in a slightly different field, but it utilizes a lot of the same skills.)

That was several months ago. Today, the guy from the firm who had initially gotten in touch with me while checking Former Intern’s references just emailed again to tell me something kind of… weird: Although they had hired Former Intern over the summer and she had gotten off to a promising start, she evidently quit last week without notice and simply stopped showing up to work. She also apparently hasn’t responded to any of their attempts to communicate with her, although she has remained active on social media. He said they were disappointed in her lack of professionalism; he also said he figured I’d just want to know about the situation, in case she asked for another reference in the future.

Honestly I’m quite shocked; this behavior is completely unlike what I observed while she was working with me. I’m of course a little mortified that someone I recommended has put the employer to whom I recommended her in such a tight spot — and yes, I likely would think twice about providing a reference for her again — but I’m also a little worried about her. Since this behavior is SO far off from what I previously saw, I can’t help but wonder if something may have happened or if she’s dealing with something difficult. Would it be inappropriate for me to reach out to her to see if she’s okay?

Well … you don’t necessarily have the right to know what’s going on with her; if you weren’t close, this might be something you should just let be unless she contacts you.

It’s also possible that she had a decent reason for going AWOL; we can’t know either way, obviously, but if the workplace was abusive, for example, she might have felt this was the best course of action. Speaking of which, did you know the guy who contacted you from her firm (other than speaking to him when giving a reference)? If not, it’s really weird that he contacted you. If you already knew each other, that’s a normal thing to do — but if you didn’t, it’s pretty awful for him to be phoning her contacts to smear her name, and the sort of person willing to do that might be the sort of person who one would feel obligated to quit without notice to get away from.

In any case, I think I’d figure out what outcome you’d be aiming for by contacting her. If you’re genuinely concerned and want to make sure she’s okay, I could see doing it — but I’m not sure there’s enough here for that to feel warranted. At most, I might just send her an email that says, “Hey, Fergus at your firm let me know that you left. I hope everything’s okay, and if there’s anything I can do to help, get in touch anytime.”

2. Coworker keeps making financially insensitive comments about his Porsche plans

I work in the software industry in an open office plan. One of my new teammates, Carguy, interned for us for a year and has been working for us full-time since September. He’s quite good at his job, but his interpersonal skills…are problematic.

Carguy is planning to buy a Porsche in the near future. We have a productive team that uses break time to chat, and he spends most of this time talking about the Porsche. Fine – it’s his hobby and I can put in headphones. However, in the past month or so, as he’s gotten more comfortable with his position on the team, the talk has morphed into a discussion of how “affordable” this car is, how foolish people are who don’t want to “invest” in this car, how he’d rather pay no-front-plate tickets than drill holes for front license plates through his $2000 bumper, etc. Several of us on the team, including me, have taken him aside and point-blank told him that we’re happy to listen to him talk about the car as his hobby, but his focus on financial matters is rude. Carguy’s behavior hasn’t changed.

Headphones aren’t cutting it anymore and I don’t think this issue rises to the level of management involvement. I think a lot of the issue is workplace normalization – this is his first full-time job, he comes from a background that hasn’t known economic hardship, and he doesn’t have a lot of expenses so this car can be the focus of his financial goals. Which is fine! But it’s really bothering me that he’s so clueless about other people’s possible financial positions. Any advice on helping me tune this out or redirecting his behavior?

Well, you and other have already tried to talk to him about it privately, and he apparently doesn’t care. So I think at this point your only real options are to call him out in the moment when he makes these comments — for example, “I think we’re over hearing about this,” “I guess you don’t realize how out of touch this makes you sound,” etc.

Really, though, someone who keeps talking about how people are foolish not to “invest” in luxury cars even after people point out the problems with that is an ass, and that’s going to be clear to anyone who overhears him. I don’t think you can save him from himself, so I’d just write him off as a ridiculous person.

3. Leaving voicemail when the person’s message says they’re away but will be back a few days ago

If I’m leaving a message in someone’s voicemail and the voicemail message says, for example, “I’ll be out of the office today, which is Thursday, June 11, returning Monday, June 15” and the day I’m leaving the message is the 17th and I know for sure they’re back, should I mention it to them? Is the answer different based on if it’s a client or a colleague?

Yeah, people sometimes just forget to change the away message, and most people appreciate a quick head-up. It’s fine to just leave your message and then add, “by the way, I wasn’t sure if you realized that your out-of-office is still on but has a return date from a couple of days ago.” I’d generally only do that for a coworker, though; somehow it feels less helpful if it’s a client or someone else outside your office (unless you know them very well).

4. Paying back a year’s worth of accidental overpayment

My mother is an adjunct professor at a big private university. Due to an accounting error, she got overpaid a significant sum of money in each paycheck in the past year. She caught on to this error pretty quickly and, last December, she called the university to inquire about it. The person she talked to told her they would look into it and her paychecks did diminish (though stayed above her previous year’s salary). She thought the matter was solved.

Fast forward to a few days ago — she got a letter from the university asking for the entire sum back, including taxes. She was on vacation, got back to work today, and talked to accounting. They told her that the most they can do is let her pay the money back by the end of the calendar year, and that she will need to sign a document tomorrow to that effect (“I owe $X and will pay it back by 12/31/2016”).

I told my mother to refuse to sign the paper, to tell accounting that she does not have this money (true), and to ask them to take the money out of her paychecks in installments. I also told her that if they get pushy, to say that she needs to talk to a lawyer. Does my advice sound right to you? Would you have any other advice in this situation? If you think that a lawyer is called for, are there any general employment law resources (incl. places online where we could find an attorney) that you could recommend?

This sucks, but they can indeed legally demand the money back. If an employer makes an error in your favor, you’re required to repay it if they ask you to — just like you’d expect them to correct an error that was in their favor. (That said, some states handle this differently than others. In California, the state with the most restrictive law on this, it can’t be deducted from wages, but the employer could file a civil suit to recover the money. Most other states do allow employers to reclaim the money through payroll deductions, but some have limits on exactly how it’s done. It’s worth checking your state law, either via Google or by calling your state department of labor.)

However, it’s totally reasonable for your mother ask to pay it in installments and to try to work out a plan that’s doable for her. Most employers will be very willing to work with people on this, because they understand that it can be a hardship and they don’t want to punish people for something that was their (the employer’s) mistake. At the same time, they usually have an interest in not letting it drag out forever, because their ability to collect the money will go way down if it’s not repaid by the time she leaves her job. But she can and should explain to them that repaying it as quickly as they’re asking will be a hardship (if in fact that’s the case) and ask them to work with her to come up with a more manageable plan.

5. When should study abroad experience come off your resume?

I am five years out of college and looking to make the next move in my career. Is my college study abroad experience still worth putting on my resume? At what point should it fall off my resume?

Additional details: I work in tech consulting, so I do sometimes work with international clients/partners, and there is also sometimes international travel/work involved – but not often, especially not at my level. The school where I studied abroad typically ranks in the top 50 global universities, but its name recognition value probably isn’t that high. I’m multilingual (and it is on my resume), but the country where I studied is English-speaking.

You’ll hear different opinions on this, but I’d say that unless you’re applying for a position where it feels relevant, I’d leave it off — not because it’s a horrible faux pas to leave it on but because five years after graduation, it’s likely not among the strongest things you have on your resume. Hiring managers are usually skimming when they look over your resume, and you want to maximize the chances of their eyes falling on your strongest stuff. I think at this point, five years out of school, it’s likely to feel more like filler to most hiring managers (again, assuming you’re not applying for jobs where it’ll be relevant, which doesn’t sound like the case). Being multilingual is much more likely to carry weight.

If you ignore me and keep it on anyway, I’d say definitely take it off within the next few years, as you move further and further away from college.

{ 479 comments… read them below }

  1. Mags*

    #4 – But if it’s paid back in installments, rather than deducted from future checks, won’t that amount count as income that you pay taxes on? So she’ll be actually losing money, no?

    Either way, in a situation like this I think it’s pretty gross for a company to demand money back due to an error on their end. Especially if it was previously brought to their attention. For it to go unnoticed for so long, it can’t have been a sum that would cause them hardship to relinquish for good.

    1. Goats*

      I think it is the individual’s responsibility to know how much they are paid. I realize in this case the employee brought it to the employer’s attention, but she still had a sense she was being paid incorrectly. I don’t think it is fair to expect to keep the money when you know you salary and know that what you are receiving is out of line with what you are expecting to receive.

        1. Goats*

          Does the hypothetical “you” not get a pay stub? Also the OP describes the over-payment as “significant” so I think there is definitely some personal liability here. “You” don’t just get a “significant” over-payment and think “sweet, more money” with no logical explanation.

          1. Mike C.*

            Don’t forget that the OP’s mother did call HR a year ago, was told by HR that the problem was fixed, and noticed that the new paychecks were lower. I think that complicates things.

              1. Mike C.*

                Perhaps. Either way I’m not arguing that the money should be kept, only that there should be a reasonable period of time to repay it. I would argue the same amount of time that has passed since HR confirmed everything was “fixed”, but that’s arbitrary.

                1. Goats*

                  While I do believe the employee should be given a reasonable amount of time to repay this, the OP describing the over-payment as “significant” leads me to believe that the OP’s mom might have been aware that she was still being overpaid. I think it is the responsibility of the employee to get to the bottom of the over-payment… she contacted the employer once, but the issue was not corrected. It sounds like the OP’s mom had a pretty good sense that she was still being overpaid, so to me it is still her responsibility to follow up (or at least be prepared to re-pay the over-payment on demand, within a reasonable time frame.)

                2. Christopher Tracy*

                  Agree Goats. There’s nothing gross about these people wanting their money back, just like it wouldn’t be gross in reverse. If they’d been paying OP’s mom less money and she let it go for awhile thinking at some point they’d correct it, but they only gave her part of her funds, it would be perfectly reasonable for her to follow-up a few months later to get what she’s owed.

                3. Kathlynn*

                  In Canada, the laubor board will only award 6 months of back wages, AFAIK the only similar protection given to employees is their holiday time/pay. They can’t deduct previous overpayment from your current year’s holiday accural. I don’t see why a similar protection shouldn’t be given to workers for over payment as what employer get.

              2. Karo*

                I was once given two raises instead of one (as in, they processed the paperwork twice). I was obsessively budgeting at the time, so when it went down I knew it was back to the correct amount. If that were to happen again right now, I wouldn’t know the exact number I should’ve gotten and would’ve assumed that, since it was higher than last year’s but lower than the mistake amount, it was fully corrected. (And I would still have noticed the initial over payment because it was so much more than it should’ve been.) It would never cross my mind that they boned up that badly twice.

                TL;DR: I can see how it could happen very easily, and it wasn’t done with malicious intent, so we should give OP’s mom the benefit of the doubt.

              3. Megan Schafer*

                Perhaps, but in my company the only way you learn about a raise is when your check gets bigger. More money wouldn’t necessarily cause me to investigate, especially if it was in sync with annual raise time.

                1. Mike C.*

                  I’ve had to deal with this. Combined with the intermittent overtime and getting paid every two months, I actually asked for a raise without realizing that I had already received one.

            1. Marzipan*

              Strictly, per the letter, she called HR, they said they’d look into it, and her payments then dropped (but not to what they originally were). It doesn’t sound from that as though anyone (either HR or mother) communicated anything to the effect that it was, in fact, resolved – and since they have now contacted her trying to resolve it, presumably on their end that’s because it wasn’t resolved. I absolutely think they could have communicated with her a lot better, but I also think in her situation I’d have wanted to contact them and check that it was sorted rather than assuming it was.

          2. Queen Gertrude*

            I haven’t received a physical pay stub since 2012 and I get a bi-monthly direct-deposit (each deposit is slightly different depending on the calculation for the division of the days/benefits). This is salaried too, not hourly with overtime or anything extra-special. I have to go out of my way to look up my pay stubs on my companies HR portal or request back copies if I need them for proof of something or other. I have been with two different paperless organizations during this time both working the exact same way. It’s not hard to believe at all that most people aren’t keeping a close eye on the exact numbers and could easily not realize that things aren’t adding up right away. I actually find not having the numbers laid out for me every paycheck very annoying, I wish I had a way of opting out of such a “convenient” system. But I don’t have any reason to suspect that I’m being cheated (or overly compensated) either to cause me to dig deeper every single pay period. Instead I just check them about quarterly, which I’m sure is 99% more frequently than most people.

        2. Dan*

          At my last job, we were paid bimonthly *and* had significant overtime. Our pay periods had anywhere from 9-12 days of pay on them.

          I worked there for five years, and never new what my “regular” paycheck should look like.

          Not to mention that what a regular paycheck “should” look like also depends on how you with hold taxes.

          1. Stellaaaaa*

            The OP’s mother is an adjunct whose paychecks are going to be the same every time for the length of the term, holiday and shortened weeks excepted. Non-full-time college/university instructors know exactly how much they’re being paid per teaching hour. This isn’t a case of someone having a shifting schedule or working for tips.

            1. Adjunct Sometimes*

              This is true if you’re handling your own time sheets. I’ve taught in a department where the admin (occasionally irregularly) submitted the paperwork to payroll on our behalf. It was a slight interpersonal struggle to get access to these.

              Paycheques weren’t the same every month because one month might have 5 teaching weeks, and another only 2, depending on when the term breaks fell.

          2. Goats*

            Absolutely – but did you not receive pay stubs detailing your pay for each period? (this is required in my jurisdiction, but maybe not in yours?)

            Also, this is not the nature of adjunct professor-ing. You generally get a set fee per class and should be award what that fee is in advance. By nature, it’s generally not an hourly position that receives significant overtime.

            1. Adjunct Sometimes*

              In my experience, adjuncting is “generally” an hourly position, up to a set number of hours per contract. It’s been a fight (in my experience) to convert these types of employment arrangements to fractional salaried positions, which can be administered with less fuss and have the benefit of predicable monthly income over the length of the contract.

              1. Nerfmobile*

                Yes, I was an adjunct for a short time and was paid on an hourly basis for teaching hours. The checks did vary depending on where the pay schedule fell in the week/month/term). (For those who aren’t familiar with the adjunct model: the amount of time you have actual class hours is known and paid for – any work you do outside of class is not compensated directly. In theory there is a ratio of time-spent-out-of-class to time-spent-in-class that the apparently high hourly teaching rate would compensate for. But in practice any conscientious teacher spends far more time than that in planning and grading and meeting with students. )

              2. Goats*

                My point was just that she should have known what the contracted amount was. I meant was that in my experience, it’s not the kind of position you submit an hourly time card for and you while your pay would vary depending on the contract and how much you are teaching that semester, it’s not going to go up and down wildly because of the number of hours/overtime. (At least this has been my experience – I work in admin at a university, but maybe it works differently at other schools!)

                1. Adjunct Sometimes*

                  Why do you continue to insist she should’ve known better, when she clearly trusted HR’s statement that everything had been resolved?

              3. Lima Joe Coo*

                At the university I work at, adjuncts are not paid on an hourly basis. They are a salaried position and the monthly pay is consistent across the term they are teaching for.

              4. Callie*

                When I was an adjunct (I adjuncted at two different schools) I was NOT paid hourly. I got a flat fee for each class, divided into equal installments throughout the term.

            2. Marcela*

              It’s not the same area, but I work in academia in software and I’ve never received a pay stub. I recently moved to a scientific startup and no pay stubs again. I had to wait for the first check in the bank to see how much I was going to actually get, and that’s not what I received later, for I didn’t work the first full month.

            3. Analyze All The Data*

              At my current company, it is a pain in the patootie to actually see my paycheck stub since it is through an external website, and I wasn’t informed of said website until I needed to know my sick leave accrual (which is on the stub). So, I don’t actually look at my stubs all that often. And my SO does the accounting in the family, so I also don’t usually see my paycheck coming in. The only thing I check weekly is my hours (since I’m a contractor and submit them myself).

              So, for me, it would be easy to miss this. It would still be on me to notice and fix it, yes, but the point is that not everyone is super aware of their money. We live comfortably within our means so that we don’t have to pinch pennies.

          3. Klem*

            Not to mention, I have never seen a check stub at my current job – we’re paid on direct deposit and have to log in to a website to download our stubs, which means most of us look once a year when trying to figure out how much vacation we have.

      1. chickabiddy*

        It read to me like the mother realized in the beginning of 2015 and contacted the employer at the end of 2015: if my read is correct, she collected the money for nearly 12 months. I am sympathetic that paying back a big chunk all at once is likely to be a hardship, and this was the employer’s error so she should not have to encounter hardship, but if she kept quiet and kept the extra for a year, she is not entirely a victim here.

        1. Doodle*

          My guess is that “year” here means school year — she started getting overpaid in September or October 2015, contacted HR in December, and then the checks continued for the rest of the school year/summer term such that she’s now been overpaid for a year.

      2. Rey*

        I think you’re right in principle, but as an adjunct I’d like to point out that some universities pay us kind of oddly. I have no way of knowing how OP’s mom’s school handles their finances, but mine tells me my salary in lump-sum amounts ($5000 per class, $250 per student in ensembles and lessons for the whole semester, for example), but pays in monthly installments that are designed to look “hourly”. The size of these installments is based on the amount of teaching time happened in each month, so it’s not divided evenly over the semester. And it could easily change, if I pick up a new student or have one drop. I never really know what my paycheck is going to be before I receive it. If there was a discrepancy, it would be pretty easy for it to slip past. I’d notice if it were $1000 higher than I expected, but I might not notice if it were $200 higher. Again, OP’s mom’s school might pay her very straightforwardly, but I find it entirely possible that she might not have realized that her paycheck wasn’t truly back to normal after she contacted accounting.

        1. Goats*

          That makes sense.

          Maybe I’m being too stubborn on the personal liability aspect of this, but a big part of my job is managing student stipend payments for graduate students. We drill it into them that it is their responsibility to know their pay, and actually have had students paying back large sums of money that they’ve been overpaid (like, tens of thousands of dollars.)

          1. Kate M*

            Yes, but in the same vein, it’s also the employer’s responsibility to know how much they’re paying people. It is the employee’s responsibility, but not her’s alone. And she was the one to bring it up. Some of the responsibility for this can be foisted on her, but not all of it. It seems like the university she works for is pretty crappy in this respect also. You can’t claim “personal responsibility” for one party and not give any to the party actually making the mistake.

          2. Kate M*

            Also, if your employer has overpayed graduate students more than ones in sums of tens of thousands of dollars, it seems like your employer is the one with the problem here, and needs to take some responsibility on itself to fix the issue. Once, I can see. Multiple times? Then you are the one with the problem.

            1. Goats*

              This happens when students don’t inform one funder of funding that they are getting from another funder (which would make them ineligible for continued funding from the first funder)…. Or they try to work more hours in the lab than they are technically allowed to and out their funding in jeopardy, etc… We’re not just blindly pumping tens of thousands of dollars into their bank accounts. And it is not a common occurrence, but it has happened.

              1. Anna*

                Not the same situation at all. Funders aren’t connected. What you tell Org A has no reasonable expectation to get back to Org B, so you are relying entirely on the student to bridge that gap. At a university or corporation or what have you, payroll and employees are all within the same structure and information isn’t not solely in the hands of the employee; the employer (payroll) has equal access to that information.

          3. A grad student*

            I could totally see this situation happening at my university without being caught. We only get told what we’re paid for the year before taxes and are required to enroll in direct deposit so few of us look at our (online) pay stubs. Our pay changes depending on whether or not the semester is in session and whether it’s winter or summer break so that FICA taxes and/or student fees are or are not individually being taken out, so if an error like this began happening at any of the pay transition times, I could totally see it not being caught.

          4. Big10Professor*

            Having once been an adjunct, it is not only confusing, but you have, like, zero standing to question anything. Adjuncts are seen as so disposable, it’s not like calling up your payroll department in a normal job.

          5. Rey*

            Under most circumstances, you’d be right. And I agree, she needs to pay back the money, even if she didn’t realize the error was continuing. I just don’t find it at all surprising that, as an adjunct, she wouldn’t know exactly what her paychecks should look like and so missed the second error.

        2. Mazzy*

          Oh OK this is interesting, I was trying to find a comment that made it make sense that she didn’t catch the error. I guess in this guess you’d need to get a few paychecks before you know there is an error.

        3. teclatrans*

          Yeah, my adjuncting experience was similar. I was quoted a lump sum, ans then my checks came in odd amounts that made no sense the first check was large, the secons check was small, and I had no way of knowing if things were on-track or off- until I had several (and even then it wasnt totally clear, because they toon both taxes and mandatory retirement out of the checks, but didn’t provide explanation about what percentage was going to retirement). There is no way pay stubs could tell me that I was being overpaid or underpaid until I had several, and even then I can see trusting HR when they made a change.

        4. Noah*

          This. Mine pays per class, but a class isn’t really a class it is 36 student credit hours or 12 students enrolled in a course. To make it more complicated you can have decimal points if you have say 14 students enrolled. To make it even more complicated, this is somehow converted to an hourly amount for the payroll system and paid out semi-monthly even though courses generally last either a semester or six weeks.

          I have yet to figure out a good way to determine what I am supposed to be paid. With all of the various corrections for students dropping or adding the course it is really a nightmare. I look in my bank account twice a month to make sure direct deposit happens and it is a reasonable amount and leave it alone otherwise.

      3. AdAgencyChick*

        But it sounds like the employee alerted her employer to the mistake nine months ago, and the only action they took at the time was to reduce her paycheck to the correct amount. I think it’s pretty fair of her to have assumed, especially after so much time has passed, that that was the resolution of the problem. And it’s not cool of the company to suddenly demand that it all be paid back at once, when they’ve known about the issue since December.

        If I were OP’s mom, that’s the argument I’d go back with — I did my due diligence, I thought the situation was resolved, and I’m not in a position to pay the full sum immediately, so can we please work out a more gradual payment plan?

        1. Goats*

          It doesn’t sound like it was “reduced to the correct amount” when she brought it up. It was reduced, but it sounds like she continued to be overpaid, just by less.

          I don’t think she should have to pay it back all at once, and I totally agree she should be able to work out a payment schedule. But she should have to pay it back.

          1. Analyze All The Data*

            I think a lot of us are arguing the same thing, so not sure where all the debate is coming from… I agree that she should pay it back but demanding a lump sum is ridiculous when it wasn’t given as a lump sum.

    2. Dan*

      1) No. What’s actually going to happen is that when she does her taxes, she will have overwithheld, and could get a pretty fat refund check. Say they’re paying her $120k/yr when they should be paying her $100k. She’ll pay taxes throughout the year as if she’s making $120k. Then, when April 15 rolls around, she’ll actually just be taxed as if she made $100k.

      2) I don’t think it’s gross to ask for the money back within some reasonable time frame. If she quit five years ago and they’re coming after her now? Yeah, that’s gross. But within the year? No. Things can slide for awhile depending on who is in charge of the books.

      Side note #1: I was asked to pick up the books on a project six months or so into it. I was tracking down a small line item for someone’s business travel that just wasn’t adding up. Went to accounting, they didn’t have supporting paperwork. I went to the employee directly, who swore he turned it in and was reimbursed. The reimbursement was for $1k, and he claimed that there’s no way he’d forget to turn in an expense report for so much money. Turns out he forgot.

      Same project — I caught one of our sub contractors billing us an administrative fee they weren’t entitled to after they had been doing it for several months. While the OP’s mom’s pay errors were certainly greater than anything I dealt with, depending on the magnitude of the budget, the error can certainly go unnoticed for awhile.

      1. J.B.*

        It would be a pretty good argument to have them wait until she gets her refund to pay back the taxes. Along with an installment plan in general!

      2. Finman*

        There are big tax implications for both you and the company and if it is repaid in the same year as the overpayment it is much easier for everyone to recoup. Also, if it is paid back in the year it is overpaid you need to only repay the net figure. Next year she will have to repay the gross amount of the overpay

      3. Retail HR Guy*

        Your first point would only be true if adjuncts were actually paid close to $100k. Most adjuncts are paid so little any refund difference would be negligible. Some are actually paid less than minimum wage when you do the math.

        1. SimontheGreyWarden*

          This. I am paid a set amount per class, which is broken down for recording purposes as a set amount per hour that the class meets, so each week I earn that amount x3 (since I teach 3 days a week). However, I am required to have one unpaid office hour per hour that class meets, and the general expectation is that on top of the office hour, I will spend 2 hours a week unpaid on grading and class management, as well as any enrichment opportunities that I may want to take advantage of – those are unpaid, though generally if there are fees associated I can request reimbursement for that, since we are required as adjuncts to complete “faculty enrichment” each semester. So if my hourly wage on my paycheck looks like (for example) $40/hr, that’s one hour, and when I divide that by unpaid time (3-5 hrs per week depending on if they had long papers due, which take time to grade), I’ve generally figured out that I make less per hour teaching than I did at my retail job.

          1. Loose Seal*

            This is off-topic and days late too boot but I wonder if there are movements to try to get adjuncts a more equitable wage, or at least paid for all the time they put in. I’m glad to see the $15/hour movement and support it in all the small ways I can. But every time I see discussion about adjunct professors, my heart breaks. Any chance we can have a discussion in the Friday Open Thread?

      4. Mazzy*

        I cleaned up books at a post job and found a dozen or so cased where we owed other companies between $10K and $15K and their records were messed up too and they didn’t realize it, or they “forgot” about it. It was weird, I researched each of those for hours to make sure I was seeing it correctly but it is true, some people don’t realize $10K mistakes for years.

        1. Roxanne*

          Second that; but for me, it was on a smaller scale but we did owe on several outstanding invoices that the supplier waited six to 18 months before asking us to settle up and with the recent high turnover of staff, each time it was a project to track down who asked for the service, where was the PO (oh, there is no PO?) and the project code. Our late payment was often another four to eights weeks down the line by the time I had sorted everything out.

      5. Evan Þ*

        About taxes – Not really. She’d get a big refund check which would wipe out the difference for income taxes, but she’d still have overwithheld for FICA. The employer should definitely correct this problem.

    3. Dan*

      Random story about employer billing errors:

      I once worked for an airline where we got buddy passes. Our buddy passes were billed based on mileage after the ticket was flown on, and then payroll deducted. My pals warned me that accounting takes *forever* to process the passes, and that by the time they’re billed, you forgot what they were for and have to call and ask.

      Turns out they were right. I had a friend travel with me and six months later, I left the company. I had yet to be billed. I was checking my credit report a couple of years later, and turns out they sent that unpaid bill to collection. (After trying to contact me at an old address. They had the correct address on file, I had no idea why they were billing something I hadn’t lived at for quite some time.) I left the company in September 2002, and the collection item didn’t appear until December 2003, over a year after I left. The travel was done in like March 2002. The bill was for about $70. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed off.

      1. Noah*

        Yup, I do not miss random buddy pass deductions from my paycheck that happen months later and I totally forgot about. Even worse was hunting friends down to repay me for those buddy passes. My current airline charges the traveler at the airport on the day of travel. Much better system, all I have to do is list them for the flight.

    4. CAA*

      [quote]#4 – But if it’s paid back in installments, rather than deducted from future checks, won’t that amount count as income that you pay taxes on? So she’ll be actually losing money, no?[/quote]

      This has to be divided into two separate issues.
      1) For the portion of the overpayment that occurred in 2015, she’s already paid taxes on that income. She still owes it back to the employer, but since it will be repaid in a subsequent year, she will probably want to consult a professional tax preparer for that year’s returns. There are options for how to report this, and it also depends if you itemize deductions or not. This is discussed in IRS pub 525. For this repayment, it doesn’t really matter whether she repays in 2016 or 2017, so maybe getting this part of the amount postponed until next year would help her financial situation.

      2) For the portion of the overpayment that occurred in 2016, it’s best for both her and the employer if she pays it back in this calendar year. If she pays it back, then yes, she will have had too much tax withheld, but it will all get straightened out when she files her tax returns in April. She could also submit a new W4 with a higher number of deductions and have the employer withhold less tax for the remainder of this year. Just don’t forget to submit another one in January to reset the withholding for next year.

      If she tries to carry over the repayment of this year’s error into the next calendar year, then she still has to pay income tax on all the money she actually received this year, even if some of it is being repaid next year. Assuming the entire overpayment is repaid in 2017, then for that year’s taxes, which will be filed in 2018, she’ll have to work with a professional to figure out how best to report it on her taxes.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I would agree with this. We had a similar (but much shorter) situation with my husband’s pay a couple years ago. I noticed his direct deposit was higher and asked him if he got a raise. He didn’t. Turns out that OPM transferred him to NYC and he got a cost of living adjustment. The problem is that we live in the DC area and hadn’t planned to move. OPM moved him back to the DC metro, but they started paying state taxes for him to Maryland. Where we do not live. So, within six months, OPM paid state taxes from his check to NY state, Maryland, and the state in which we actually live. Trying to sort that out was a nightmare, and OPM disputed every calculation my husband made to figure out how to fix it.

  2. CMT*

    Three months to pay back a whole year’s worth of overpayments sounds tough, if not impossible. I hope the employer can be reasoned with.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I once had a savings benefit from a previous job and there was a huge tax bill to pay at the end of the savings period. HR cheerfully informed me that “You won’t receive any salary for the next 2 months to cover it.” I knew there would be a large repayment, but I still needed to pay my rent and the electricity bill!

        Once it was pointed out this was illegal (and HR was in a different country) a repayment plan was established with deductions from the following 6 months or so. Under the law, repayments could be no more than a certain % of the income, so I thankfully was not destitute.

        1. Jen RO*

          I don’t think HR in any country should think it’s reasonable to withhold your *entire salary* over something!

          1. Chinook*

            But then common sense needs to prevail. DH’s pay was zeroed once and we only learned about it, on pay day, because he was talking to someone about another pay issue. The corporal who zeroed it mistranslated something and thought we were double paid for a moving expense and only mentioned it by accident. It took getting a sergeant involved to reissue the cheque and I still marvel that a government cheque was cut the same hour. If it hadn’t, we would bounced rent and had no money for food as credit cards were still maxed from the move. We still marvel that zeroing someone’s pay could be done without authorization and without notification (because paystub were available online the day it is deposited.)

        2. DoDah*

          I live in California. A former coworker was overpaid by a large sum about 30% for about 6 months (we are salaried, same check every two weeks, check stub online–like clockwork). While I rolled my eyes at her, “I didn’t know..” excuse, they didn’t pay her wages until the debt was reconciled. It’s so interesting to me (but not surprising) that that was illegal.

          1. Chocolate Teapot*

            I think the message about not being paid was received about a week before payday, so I suppose it was considerate of them to have warned me. However, if your job is your only income, and perhaps you don’t have too many savings, then trying to scrape the money together for rent and bills could be pretty difficult. Before they told me they would deduct a percentage, I had calculated how much money I could spare per month and proposed they deduct that amount, which would have cleared the debt more quickly.

            To make matters worse, the company had decided to do away with paid overtime, and whilst there wass a clause in the contract saying you could take on extra work with permission and as long as it didn’t interfere with your main job. it was frowned upon.

    1. LBK*

      My guess is that they want to tie it up as soon as possible from an accounting perspective and not have this issue spanning 3 years of books (since it sounds like it’s already spanning 2 years, given that the initial discussion of the problem was last December).

      That doesn’t really make it more reasonable, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re going to fight her on extending it further than that.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      I think you should be given the same amount of time that you were overpaid. If they overpaid you for 9 months, give you 9 months to pay it back.

    3. Kyrielle*

      That’s the part that bugs me the most. They overpaid for a year; the first three months of overpayments were significant enough to be obvious; and they want it all back in three months? Yikes.

      I mean, when she knew she was being overpaid, logically she’d have set that money aside and not touched it. But the other months (even if it’s only, say, 5-6 if she didn’t do any summer work)? She didn’t realize, to set that aside. (Also, the first three months are already in another tax year, which is going to make this a big mess, I imagine.)

      1. ADDYAnon*

        I once worked for a university that paid once a month and under and overpaid with shocking regularity.

        In many states wage reductions of any kind can’t put the worker below min wage for hours worked. Also I’m fairly certain that in the US, if the checks were physical, the laws are different than if they were direct deposit. If direct deposit the Employer can’t go in and take the $ back and also can’t reduce the paycheck unless the employee agrees in writing.

        The employee may have agreed to repay errors as part of hiring paperwork, but since they want a signed letter, then probably not. Depending on employment status the employer can fire an employee for not repaying, but it can’t necessarily recoup if it was a direct deposit. TL/DR Don’t sign anything yet – she’s got bargaining power if it was direct deposit in the US.

        The reason they want the letsigned is

      2. irritable vowel*

        It’s hard for me to decide who’s more at fault here. The employee contacted HR to let them know she was being overpaid, and they corrected it (at least partially). If HR said nothing or did nothing at the time to immediately request repayment of that money, then I could see how the employee might have thought (naively) that she wouldn’t be required to pay it back. But still, that’s hard for me to believe. I think even though it wasn’t her fault, the employee should have immediately asked how they wanted her to pay it back, or at least realized that she shouldn’t be spending that money because it wasn’t actually hers.

        1. JB*

          Yeah, I have a lot less sympathy for her (though I do have some, just less) for the part where she definitely knew she had been overpaid. Did she ask anyone how she go about repaying it? Or did she think she would get to keep it? A lot of people do seem to believe that if money that isn’t there’s gets into their bank account somehow, they are entitled to keep it. It’s her responsibility to know that she couldn’t, but it’s such a common belief that I wouldn’t be surprised if she thought it was hers.

          Regardless, the university should definitely let her pay it on a payment plan.

    4. Anna*

      It feels like this is them trying to cover their huge mistake by getting it done before someone else notices. The timeline is a little arbitrary, so perhaps there’s a deadline Payroll has to hit by the 31st that they’re trying to get this done by.

  3. Kathlynn*

    I think the reference writer should contact the former intern. The Intern could have left because of stalking or harassment, and needs a head up. Or just to be aware that he might have also contacted her other references. Also, yeah, to make sure she’s okay.

    1. Marzipan*

      I think the thing Alison hasn’t touched on so much is #1’s concern about possibly being asked to give references for this person in future and now feeling a bit unsettled about that – and on that basis, I think contacting them would be fair enough. So, not so much an ‘are you OK?’ conversation primarily; more an ‘I thought you should know your former employer contacted me about you and told me you left without notice. That sounded so unlike what I know of you that I was a little concerned – and it’s really unusual for employers to contact referees in this way, so I wanted to check in with you.” Your goal in contacting her in this way would be to establish whether you were comfortable giving her references again in the future – obviously, if she describes an awful, toxic workplace then you would be, so you’d have moved your understanding on from where it is at the moment.

      1. Ultraviolet*

        I was thinking this too! That would be one of my answers to “figure out what outcome you’d be aiming for by contacting her” (which is really strong advice).

      2. Stellaaaaa*

        I agree. I wouldn’t suggest this course of action out of the blue, but since the information fell in OP’s lap, it’s reasonable to get in touch and say, “I’d like to discuss this with you. I can’t pretend that I don’t have knowledge of this, and I need a little more information if you would like me to continue being an honest reference for you.”

        1. Rafe*

          Yes this. I was a little taken aback that the advice was heavily toward this not rising to the level of OP being concerned about personally for the young woman or professionally for herself. I mean, OP DID recommend this woman, and it could have implications for her future recommendations with the company or even reputation — I wouldn’t assume that the caller is an off the wall stalker, in fact I thought it seemed like a courtesy call to the OP.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            Yes! I was surprised that Alison said it’s weird for the person to check with OP – I would have done the same exact thing because I would be worried if my new hire just disappeared.

          2. LBK*

            I really doubt this will reflect poorly on the OP’s reputation as a reference-giver since all her coworkers presumably also saw the same great work from the intern. It’s not like the OP lied about her being a good employee.

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              It’s not the OP coworkers that are a concern, it’s her reputation outside the company that’s in danger.

              1. Anna*

                I don’t think it’s in danger. I think it sucks and it means the OP will have to be more thoughtful in the future but it is unlikely anyone semi-professional will take this as some sort of sign of the OP’s bad judgment.

          3. Ellie H.*

            I tend to agree, I could be wrong because I don’t have experience in management or giving references, but it doesn’t strike me as exceptionally strange that the new firm guy contacted LW – especially if the intern had seemed to be an excellent employee before she abruptly stopped showing up and it was a particularly glowing recommendation. I would imagine that part of his interest in contacting LW might be to get a better idea of why she stopped showing up, if something terrible had happened. But if the vibe was really more like, “I wanted to let you know that your great recommendation was WRONG and your intern was bad” then I would agree more with Alison.

            I DO agree though, that it could be some horrible personal situation (or work situation) that isn’t LW’s business and that would be uncomfortable to be asked about. I’m trying to think of how I would feel if it were me – I have a wonderful relationship w/my former employers and I know that they would give me a glowing reference, and if I suddenly disappeared from a new job and it was for a good reason, I think I would be mortified if my former job were contacted, unless my life were in peril, in which case hopefully someone would contact my emergency contact first (?). Ultimately I feel it could go either way, so maybe it is indeed best to err on the side of doing nothing.

            1. LBK*

              I would imagine that part of his interest in contacting LW might be to get a better idea of why she stopped showing up, if something terrible had happened. But if the vibe was really more like, “I wanted to let you know that your great recommendation was WRONG and your intern was bad” then I would agree more with Alison.

              I think this is a good point and maybe why I’m seeing it differently than others – I read it in the latter way, that the email was purely to let the OP know that the intern’s work hadn’t lined up with the reference she’d given, which seems unequivocally weird to me unless there was an existing relationship between them. But I agree it’s less odd if the approach was more like “normal channels for contacting her haven’t worked so as a last resort we’re trying to see if anyone else who knows her has heard from her”.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes, I read it that way too — that the call was to let her know that intern had done something wrong. If it was a call of concern, I’d totally change my advice (and support contacting her).

                1. Anna*

                  I don’t know that it’s that weird to give someone a head’s up that the person they recommended ghosted. There’s no indication that the Former Intern was at an abusive worksite and if someone I gave a solid recommendation to suddenly disappeared, I might want to know about it in case they approached me about a reference in the future.

      3. Artemesia*

        I am really surprised at Alison’s take. I am a conclusion jumper who often assumes ill intent (and have to watch that) but it didn’t occur to me that a stalker or abuser might have driven her away and now sought to smear her. If someone cave a rec and I employed that person and they ghosted I might very well give them a heads up that the person they suggested behaved unprofessionally. I would assume this young woman behaved un professionally rather than that the boss was an ogre. It would probably be prudent to contact her to make ‘make sure she was okay’ just so you would know whether she is someone to drop from your list of people you will provide references for.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            Bad managers are not rare but I don’t think truly abusive ones (to the level that an employee feels the need to disappear with no notice) are common at all.

        1. SophieChotek*

          I admit, Artemesia, I was also surprised by AAM take on it. I learn new perspectives every day here.

          But I also admit I hadn’t even gotten to abusive employer angle; at most I thought “oooh, I hope intern didn’t have some awful personal thing happen” or at worst the intern-that-acts-awesome-til-they-get-the-job-then-their true colors show.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Abusive managers may be rare. Abusive partners are not. I’d be dropping a line to this young woman to make sure she’s okay, but not because of her boss.

          1. LBK*

            Genuine question – if she’s in an abusive relationship, is that something she’s really going to divulge to a former manager? I guess I just can’t envision how you picture that call going.

            1. valereee*

              Here’s how I picture it.

              OP: Hey, Jane! This is really difficult and uncomfortable for me, but I got an email from Fergus — he told me you’d quit without notice. I was really surprised to hear it, as of course I’ve always been impressed with your professionalism. As I know I’ve been one of your references, I felt I had to follow up. Can you give me some insight?

              And then let her give you whatever insight she’s willing to give. If her response is something along the lines of, “For reasons I’d prefer not to go into, I had to make the incredibly difficult decision to leave my job without giving appropriate notice. I deeply regret the inconvenience I caused the organization, and I’d give anything to have had any other choice, but in this case I didn’t,” I’d accept it and continue to give her a good reference. If her response was, “I found a better job but they wanted me immediately,” I’d probably revise my reference for her to, “We were very happy with her work here for us.”

              1. LBK*

                Trying to put myself in the shoes of the intern, I would be kind of affronted if I received that call because I don’t think you’re entitled to insight on what I do after I leave your company. I’d find it particularly offensive if you prefaced it with a comment about my professionalism, because I’d hope that if you trusted and respected me as a professional, you’d write off a trash-talking stranger as a loon and move on rather than questioning my integrity.

                1. OhNo*

                  I don’t think I would be affronted, but I do think that if the OP goes with this wording it might be better to focus on their side of it. The OP would be looking for information for their own benefit, to help them decide whether or not to continue being a reference. If it were me, I’d modify it to be:

                  “…I was really surprised to hear it, as I’ve always been impressed with your professionalism. I know I’ve been one of your references in the past, and while I’d open to acting as one in the future, I would really like some more insight into what happened. Would you be willing to let me know?”

                  Instead of being an “are you professional or not?” demand, it’s more of a “heads up, I got some info that means I won’t be able to speak as highly of you in the future. If you want to correct that impression, I’m absolutely open to your side of the story.”

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yeah — the wording sounds like it’s demanding a response to something she’d not really entitled to know.

                  That said, if she’s asked to be a reference in the future, she can certainly mention it at that point and ask what happened. But I’d avoid characterizing her professionalism or lack thereof until she knows more, not just based on something she heard from a stranger (a stranger about whom the only thing she presumably knows is pretty weird, no less).

        3. Catalin*

          The number 1 rule leaving a domestic abuse relationship is to not tell anyone what you’re doing or where you’re going. The minute I read the letter I thought 2 things: 1) if a great employee suddenly quits and disappears, they probably REALLY HAD TO. If you really have to reach out to her, use email (she’ll have ditched her phone) and talk in vague terms (abuser might have hacked her email) about wanting to get together to talk about a work development.
          2) The man who bothered(?) to reach out to former references might just be an upset boss or he might have ties to abuser. Abusive people are often extremely good at playing the concerned lover, i.e.
          ABUSER: “Oh, she has mental health issues/She suddenly went off for no reason/I’m so worried that something may have happened to her…maybe her former boss would know where she could be?”
          Boss: “This is so unlike her, I’ll reach out to a contact that referred her.”

          1. LBK*

            Re: #2 – The follow up came from the same email address as the original reference request, so unless the abuser is playing the long con here I find it unlikely that this was actually someone else posing as the OP’s new manager.

            Also FWIW, the OP says the intern has remained active on social media, so it’s not like she disappeared off the face of the earth.

            1. Big10Professor*

              I think the implication is that the abuser reached out to the boss to dig for info on where she went.

              1. Anna*

                And the boss then reached out to the former supervisor to dig up info for the abuser (who, as far as I can tell, only exists in the minds of some alarmists here)? This is becoming really far-fetched.

          2. Anna*

            See, I work with young people who come from a variety of difficult backgrounds and sometimes they up and quit because of circumstances beyond their control, but honestly, they most frequently up and quit good situations because they’re young and haven’t had good models of professionalism and sometimes think a bad day is enough of a reason to just not go back. So, I’m not exactly sure I’d go the alarmist route on this Former Intern having to bug out because of something horrible in their personal lives. Sometimes people just make poor choices. I don’t think there’s a single piece of evidence in the OP’s letter that the boss who called has some weird relationship with an abuser who was after the Former Intern. Come on people. Let’s put the conspiracy theories down and walk away from them.

        4. Kate M*

          I was surprised too. I once hired an intern who ghosted after a few weeks. About three weeks after she started, she came to me and said she had gotten another internship offer, and wanted to know if she could cut her hours down at my firm to 1-2 days per week so she could work the other one as well. I said, “I’m sorry, but we really need you to work the hours you signed on for. Let me know if that will be a problem.” The next week, she didn’t come in on Monday. So after a couple of hours, we called and emailed her. No answer. We called her several times over the next few days. No answer. But she was still posting on Facebook and Twitter, so we knew at least she wasn’t dead or in the hospital. So she did end up taking the other internship, leaving us high and dry, and never even said anything to us. I still get really angry thinking about it.

          So it’s not like we called her references or anything, but it was entirely unprofessional, and personally, I’d want to know if someone I had recommended had done this, because I wouldn’t give them a reference again. So yeah, I’d check with her to see if there was an acceptable reason for her to ghost, but if not, I’d ask her to not put me down as a reference again.

          Sure, it could be that the workplace was really toxic or something. But it could also be that she was just really unprofessional. I’d want to know which one it was.

          1. Kate M*

            And I wanted to add this girl came very highly recommended. Everyone we spoke to loved her. And she was 22 and just out of college, and not her first internship. So she should have known better.

        5. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think it’s fine for the OP to ask her about it the next time the former intern asks her for a reference, and then she can decide based on that answer if she’s comfortable continuing to recommend her.

          But I don’t think that requires tracking her down now to find out what happened, and the fact that the manager called her is really odd (assuming they were strangers to each other). It says “I’m going to try to smear this person to people who know and respect her,” and there’s no reason for the OP to jump at that call.

        6. Helen*

          I disagree that it is reasonable to contact references of employees who didn’t work out, unless you already have personal relationships with them (As Alison mentioned.)

          If I started my job and did something egregious or quit without notice, that’s really between me and my current employer. It has nothing to do with my performance at other jobs at other points in life. For a manager who had a bad employee to contact the references of that employee to try and tarnish all of that person’s references for the future is low.

            1. Anna*

              I don’t agree. I think it’s weird that the take is that it’s automatically a vindictive move when all it seems to have been was a head’s up. Possibly a misguided head’s up, but not a lot of malice behind it.

              1. Stranger than fiction*

                Why does he need to give her old boss a heads up? About what? It doesn’t change anything regarding the intern’s performance while she worked for the Op, which was great.

              2. Sas*

                Wow, Anna and Kate M. Bad management at its finest. It is not any of your business. You are not NOT out to ruin someone’s life, are you?? Maybe it didn’t work out. If someone worked good for you, they worked good for you. That’s what you report on. Not whether or not you have creepily stalked them through their career and whether they have worked out for other people. Out of touch much, I would say that someone should report on your bad behavior. Maybe then your horrible behaviour would get another opinion.!!

      4. LBK*

        Honestly, unless the OP and the intern had a fairly close personal relationship, it’s really not her business. If she wasn’t keeping in touch with this intern anyway, I think it’s weirdly out of place to follow up now – if I were the intern and something bad were happening, I probably wouldn’t divulge that to a random former manager that called me anyway. I can’t imagine that I would tell her I was being stalked or that the new workplace was abusive.

        I also think framing it as some sort of professional courtesy is weird – it’s not like the intern doesn’t know she quit the job, so she has to assume she’s getting a bad reference from her new manager. Assuming the ghosting situation is a fluke, the best thing the OP can do is just continue to give a good reference for the intern, because that will highlight that the bad reference is an outlier.

        The only person acting bizarrely in this situation is the new manager, who had no reason to follow up with the OP unless they had an existing professional relationship. Chalk him up to being a weirdo, don’t let it cloud your perception of the intern and move on.

        1. Newby*

          Just chalking him up to be a weirdo would still hurt the intern. If he is contacting her other references as well she probably would want to know. I had a friend who was having a very hard time finding a job after graduation. He kept getting interviews and the interviewer would indicate that they would like to hire him but needed to sort out funding and do reference checks first only to have the job fall through. Finally one of them contacted him to say that after the reference checks they decided not to hire him and that he may want to rethink one of his references. She had been actively telling people not to hire him (which honestly seems like a terrible thing to do after agreeing to be a reference). If someone is calling around saying bad things about the intern, she should know so that she can be ready to address the issue in future interviews. Alternately, if she didn’t have a good reason for leaving like that she should know that she seriously messed up.

        2. Kathlynn*

          My thought isn’t to find out why she left, but give her the heads up that someone from the other company is contacting her references. That way, if there was a negative reason for her leaving, she knows. And just generally I think the former intern would want to know that at least one reference was contacted.

      5. Nico m*

        Huh? Why stop giving a honest good reference for someone because they later had issues at another job?

        1. Namast'ay In Bed*

          This was my thought too. If you had a wonderful experience when she was your employee, why should a bad experience with someone else change that?

          1. Brooke*

            Yeah… I can’t imagine leaving a job and my boss calling up old references. That would be so weird. Even if I left on bad terms I’d imagine they’d just be annoyed and move on. It’s like, calling up a random person who has some tie to your employee that you talked to once, trying to slander your name.

          2. sparklealways*

            I came here to say exactly that! Yes, it sucks this job the OP recommended for her didn’t work out, but it is very bizarre that the employer contacted her unless it was to a.) figure out if the OP lied for some reason or b.) they were actually concerned about the well being of the intern.

            There could be many valid reasons why the intern disappeared without saying anything: hostile work environment, domestic abuse, depression, amnesia, maybe she was kidnapped and someone else is posting as her on Facebook to delay the search. NO ONE KNOWS….

            No one is 100% on their game all the time. Very few people I know have had a smooth career and sometimes people go through stuff and it makes them not the best employee they are capable of being. It sucks if it happens when you start a new job because you don’t have a track record with your new employer that can help, but for anyone to insinuate that the OP should not give this person a good reference in the future because of this one thing that didn’t happen with her employment, which we DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT is shameful.

            1. Lily Rowan*

              Yeah, if all of my references were repeating the worst things you can say about my performance over my career, I’d never get another job.

            2. OhNo*

              That’s a really good point. I can understand if the OP wants to check on the intern just to make sure they’re okay (assuming they had that kind of relationship, of course).

              But changing the reference they give because of second-hand information from a questionable source is not okay. For all the OP knows, the intern quit with very good reason, like not getting paid or an EEOC violation, and this guy is just trying to badmouth them.

              And even if the intern did just ghost… so what? That doesn’t negate all the excellent work they did with the OP, or how professional they were while in the OP’s office. In my opinion, references should be speaking about what you know, and not speculating based on things you’ve heard.

              The very most you can do, if you have concerns about their professionalism, is to mention to some future reference checker, “We really enjoyed having Intern here, and I was very sad to see her move on to Company A” as a subtle heads up of “hey, check with Company A if you want more recent info.”

        2. Temperance*

          If they ended up getting weird / flaky on other jobs, I would absolutely stop giving them a good reference. It can impact your own professional reputation.

          1. LBK*

            Someone else said this above and I don’t really see how – it’s not like she’s lying about the work the OP did for her. If the intern has become less reliable over time, let the other references talk about it and establish that pattern. I don’t see why it’s the OP’s responsibility to paint a picture of the intern’s entire work history, especially given that 99% of the time she wouldn’t even know what the intern did at other jobs. It’s really unusual that you’d hear from a future manager like this unless you had an existing relationship.

            1. Graciosa*

              As a manager, identifying and nurturing talent is a key part of my job, and I myself am judged on how well I do it.

              Bad (possibly evil) managers will give great references to bad employees to get them out, and give poor references to great ones to stop them from leaving. Merely mediocre managers give unenlightening references across the board (“Yes, Chris worked here from StartDate to EndDate. His work? Fine.”).

              I try to do much better than this (not just with the reference part of managing) and the result is that I am developing a reputation *as a manager* and not just a professional. When I say someone is great at X and would be a terrific fit, part of the weight it carries is not just the words, but the fact that *I* am the one saying them.

              If I recommended someone for a position who walked off a job, I would be horrified. I agree with Temperance and would absolutely expect my reputation to take a hit – it would be well deserved. Notice is a pretty minimal professional courtesy, and I wouldn’t recommend an individual who couldn’t manage it.

              There’s a lot of speculation about why the person did this (and wow, a lot about stalkers despite the lack of anything in the letter to support it) but I’m honestly not wildly sympathetic. A quick email to HR specifying a last date is better than nothing (and hey, you can use a disposable email address if there’s an actual reason to do so).

              If there was a real reason to damage your reputation by walking off the job with no notice, the smart thing to do would be to contact your professional network for help. So far, the individual who ghosted their employer hasn’t done so.

              In the OP’s place, until I heard otherwise, I would assume this was, instead, just immaturity (Occam’s razor – let’s not try to find a zebra when we hear the patter of hooves on the horse ranch). I’m not risking *my* reputation recommending someone who behaves this way.

              1. LBK*

                I understand where you’re coming from. I think the problem with this approach in this particular situation is that the OP only has two data points – she doesn’t have enough context to determine if she’s going to look like the unreliable one if she continues to give a good reference. If I’m staking my reputation on someone else’s word, I’m going to side with the person I actually worked with and who I personally know as a reliable and professional employee over some random stranger I’ve spoken to once.

                I also think this is highly dependent on the size of your industry. My industry is huge – there’s no chance in hell news of a situation like this would spread far enough outside of the people involved that it would impact my reputation. In fact no one would probably ever know about it except me and the manager she quit under.

                1. LBK*

                  Oh – and this approach makes me nervous because it’s so completely in contrast to what she’d seen from the intern. If she had been mediocre and the OP had seen signs of concerning behavior, and then those concerns had been validated by finding out she’d ghosted her next job, I think I’d be more okay with using that to inform the way you give references for her in the future.

                  But some people are saying they’d just feel completely unable to give her a reference at all because of some unverified story that’s diametrically opposed to everything the OP knows about the intern, which is mind boggling to me – I can’t imagine assuming that someone I liked and respected had done a 180 rather than assuming the person who followed up with me was just a crappy manager. I certainly hope all the managers who have praised me in the past wouldn’t throw that out the window for a stranger’s opinion.

              2. Student*

                The person who is relaying information to the OP is the most likely person to actually be the stalker or harasser, if that is what happened. This would be exactly within the standard MO of an abusive person – trying to smear intern’s reputation so she has no place else to go but abuser. At minimum, if the OP was going to decide to revoke the good reference over this incident, she needs to do due diligence by asking for the intern’s side of the story.

                Also, as a person who prizes his reputation as a serious and diligent manager, let me ask you – under what circumstances would you reach out to an employee’s original references to complain about a departing employee? This is invoking your Occam’s razor. What type of manager does this, and under what circumstances? What does this action tell us about this specific manager via Occam’s razor? How often have you, personally, as a diligent manager, reached out to prior references to complain about a departing employee?

                To me, and a lot of other commenters, it screams crazy manager. I’ve had problematic employees that had to be let go, but I cannot imagine smearing them to their professional network afterward – at least in part because I sincerely hope the former employee finds a job that’s a better fit, even if I personally detested the employee.

                1. LBK*

                  100% agree, and I’m surprised how many people think this is a reasonable or even standard course of action. I’ve fired someone for stealing before and I still didn’t find it necessary to go contact his references – didn’t even cross my mind. You have a problem with someone at your company, you deal with it within your company.

        3. Mel*

          would you recommend someone who did good for you but otherwise had a terrible professional reputation?

          And how would you answer when that new employer asks you ” would you rehire this person?”

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Is the potential new employer going to ask about MY experience with her? Then I would tell the truth – that she did good work for me. And if I was worried about her reputation, I might remind them that my experience was X years ago and I haven’t kept up with what she’s been doing since then.

            1. Alton*

              Yes, I think that’s a good way to look at it.

              The reference can still speak to her own experiences with the intern (with a possible caveat that they haven’t worked together recently). And personally, I don’t think one job where the intern quit suddenly is enough to establish a bad reputation all on its own. There’s no indication that this is part of a larger pattern, and I think it’s okay to give the intern a little bit of benefit of the doubt here. Even if her actions were a mistake on her part, if she’s usually conscientious it might not be a reflection of her usual work ethic.

              1. LBK*

                There’s no indication that this is part of a larger pattern, and I think it’s okay to give the intern a little bit of benefit of the doubt here.

                Yes – and in fact, I think it’s important for OP to keep her reference clear of any tainting from this situation, because that will help future reference checkers get a better picture of the intern’s overall work history. If she’s got 5 glowing references and one bad one, it’s much safer to assume the bad one is the outlier and that was just a bad match or bad manager.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            In my experience, being a reference for someone involves talking about the work that they did for me when they worked for me during X timeframe. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to comment on someone’s overall professional reputation.

            I also don’t think that it would preclude me from answering the rehire question. If someone did good work for me and left on good terms, they would be eligible for rehire but would have to interview like everyone else and submit to a reference check. If their interview or new references weren’t good, they wouldn’t be rehired.

            1. Mel*

              I think you might be thinking about a reference as more of an employment verification where I think of it as someone who im looking to to tell me whether they think this person is a good fit for my position.

              1. LBK*

                That’s exactly how I’m thinking of a reference, and I would still never expect someone to speak about the person’s career and reputation beyond the work they did for them. As the reference checker, you’re the one who’s supposed to be building an impression of the person’s reputation based on all the info you collect from doing all the reference checks, because you’re the only one who would normally have any information about what someone did at a company other than your own. It’s not my responsibility as a reference to know a single damn thing about what they did once they left, and normally I wouldn’t – it’s only because of this weird situation that the OP has any info about it.

                1. Mel*

                  So if for example you read in the news that your former babysitter was convicted of child molestation you wouldn’t say anything as a reference?

                  Or if you saw a former good employee bragging on Facebook about stealing from employers would you still talk glowingly about him?

                2. Rusty Shackelford*

                  @Mel – the former babysitter being in the paper for child molestation is different. That’s a known conviction, not idle gossip from someone who may or may not be telling the truth. And the employee bragging about theft is (assuming they haven’t been hacked) coming from the employee – again, not idle gossip from someone who may or may not be telling the truth.

                3. LBK*

                  That’s a false equivalence. Empirical evidence of criminal activity is not remotely comparable to a questionable but not egregious one-sided story.

                4. Mel*

                  It’s no different to me. Both aren’t necessarily accurate. Papers twist stuff all the time, report things inaccurately, sensationalize, and don’t always provide context to the story. Maybe the babysitter was 18 dating a 16 yr old or maybe the conviction got expunged from his record later. Maybe the employer could care less that an employee stole unwanted items. My point is that no second hand data is as credible as you may think it is.

                5. LBK*

                  I feel you’re intentionally going down a wormhole of hypotheticals to try to come up with some gotcha where I have to renege my original statement, and I’m not really interested in that game. Suffice to say I see no reason in the actual, real situation we’re discussing here to have this information influence the OP’s view of the employee.

              2. NotAnotherManager!*

                No, I’m not thinking of a reference as an employment verification. We do those as well (well, HR does, I just refer to them), but they are literally only dates worked, title while employed, and, if the staff member has authorized it, a salary history.

                A reference for me is a chance to talk about an employee’s performance that I directly supervised. Did they take care of their assignments without drama, how was their quality of work, do they have things they do particularly well, etc. I can’t tell a reference checker whether someone is a good fit for their position. I don’t know their organization or their open position. All I can do is answer the questions I’m asked based on my experience with the candidate. In this case, my experience with the candidate would not have included her ghosting her job, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about that.

        4. CanadianKat*

          This new infomation will certainly colour the way in which the OP perceives the intern, and as a result, probably the references. Whereas before, the OP could say: “She did wonderful work and I’m sure she’ll be a great asset to any employer”, the OP would now have to question whether he can say that again. He’ll be more careful in choosing words, for example, trying not to speculate how great she’d be anywhere because of his information that, for whatever reason, she wasn’t great from the perspective from the employer who called him. This “choosing of words” may be perceived by the refernce-seeker, and the OP may thus inadvertently end up giving her a less-than-stellar reference, which may not be deserved.

          For this reason, just to clear her name in my own mind, if I were the OP, I would contact her. She may have a good explanation (or an explanation that can be interpreted as a good one, filling in details she may wish not to provide), explaining that she had no choice (urgent family reasons, toxic workplace, employer seriously misrepresenting what the job would be). She may also challenge this verion of the story that there was no notice.

          Also, it would benefit her to know that this employer is reaching out to her references like that. If she knows this, she will be prepared to address this when she asks for any of the same people to provide a reference in the future. As the OP shouldn’t assume, without hearing her story, that her actions were improper, why deny her the opportunity and this knowledge?

          1. LBK*

            Whereas before, the OP could say: “She did wonderful work and I’m sure she’ll be a great asset to any employer”, the OP would now have to question whether he can say that again. He’ll be more careful in choosing words, for example, trying not to speculate how great she’d be anywhere because of his information that, for whatever reason, she wasn’t great from the perspective from the employer who called him.

            I completely and utterly disagree. Let the manager who had a bad experience with her explain it for himself. Why would she or should she do that for him?

    2. Anon for this question*

      I had a trainee in a previous job who did an excellent job and was made permanent. Then I had a somewhat nasty break-up with the management and left the job. I wrote this off to a misunderstanding and remained friends with the management and even did some freelancing for them – basically I allowed myself to believe that it was a bad fit and the job hadn’t worked out, but it was all OK.

      Then my trainee, with whom I kept in touch, started to emit strange vibes about the job and finally admitted she was being (in her words) unfairly disciplined. Eventually she was suspended and resigned before she could be sacked. Hearing her side of it, the management had completely screwed her over and almost ruined her burgeoning career because they made her the fall guy for other things that were going wrong. They also mistreated my successor. This opened my eyes to the awfulness that was going on there – and tot he reality of how they treated me – and I cut off my contact with them.

      I have since supported the former trainee who is now flourishing. I have given her pep talks and good references – which she now no longer needs as she has many other colleagues and clients who are willing to vouch for her.

      I go into this detail because I do think that there is more to this than meets the eye and it made my spidey senses tingle. I would 100% contact the former intern and make my own judgement about what happened to her. If it turns out she has been flakey, you can tell her so, but I would bet my next paycheck on her having had the need to preserve herself by acting out of character.

      1. MK*

        I don’t think it’s usefull for the OP to speculate about what is going on; it could be an abusive situation at work, it could be that she was diagnosed with a terminal disease and told she has three months to live, it could be that she had a religious epiphany and decided to become a nun, it could be practically anything. The issue is to what extend the OP can inquire into her former intern’s business, given that she has not been asked (and may never be in the future) to provide another reference. I think one email is as far as she should go.

        1. CanadianKat*

          The OP is no longer her employer, – what’s wrong with inquiring? He wouldn’t be doing it for any improper purpose. Perhaps the OP should make clear in this communication that the intern is not obligated to respond (even though it’s self-evident).

          I don’t think it’s ever inaproppriate to reach out to find out how a person is doing, especially since the boss/employee relationship is no longer there.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Because it’s weird that the former employer contacted a reference to share that information. If OP is not in regular contact with the former employee and is only reaching out because of the bizarre contact from the ghosted employer, then that’s not reason enough to contact her to make personal inquiries. I would be upset that my former employer was contacting my references in this context (because what I did at job B should have no bearing on my work at job A) and be concerned about being the subject of industry gossip. Contacting her would just make a weird situation weirder.

    3. sometimeswhy*

      And, as someone who takes in interns, it might be useful for the OP to know if that workplace was toxic to the degree that someone would reasonably ghost.

    4. NonProfit Nancy*

      I wouldn’t contact her without more information. I had a similarly high-performing young colleague here who was promoted, but after about a year they flamed out completely and ended up quitting in a very unprofessional manner. I think they were overworked but also, in this specific case, had a mood disorder crop up relatively late in life (it happens, although has no real bearing on this case). Point being, a promising intern isn’t always going to go on to be a superstar, and I don’t see any advantage to a former employer who they presumably aren’t socially close to, reaching out at this point. Assume it’s her own business you don’t need to be involved unless she reaches out again to have you be a reference. At that point, it’s reasonable to explain your reservations and give her the opportunity to provide context. Otherwise, the phrase “not my monkeys, not my circus” comes to mind.

  4. Mike C.*

    The OP from letter 2 is well within typical norms to not want to hear about someone else’s hobby, but I don’t buy the whole idea that simply because a car had a famous badge means that it’s expressive enough that it’s suddenly classless to discuss it. There was a famous story about a mother on food stamps with a Mercedes that drew a ton of ire before folks bothered to understand that it was a really old, entry level model.

    Used Porsches are actually quite inexpensive. Pulling up Craig’s List for the Seattle area shows Caymans and Boxsters around 15 to 30k, with some below 10k. “Everyman” type sports cars like a BRZ, Miata or your pony cars will certainly fall in this price range if not higher. Heck, there are a ton of folks at work who drive huge pickup trucks, and those are certainly 2-3x the price, and when folks talk about those, I don’t see a similar stigma about discussing those as I see with recognizable luxury/sports cars.

    So while I totally understand not wanting to hear about someone hobby over and over again, I don’t think the moral judgement that seems to be attached is necessarily justified. Even if he’s taking about buying a new, high end version, just tune him out.

    /Also, there no way I’m drilling holes in my front bumper either.

    1. Gaia*

      I drive an entry level compact sedan and I *will not* put front plates on my car because I *will not* have holes drilled in my bumper.

      1. Joseph*

        Do you live in a state that requires them? If so, how often do they pull cars over for it? When I lived in a state that required them, basically every car on the lot would already have front plate attachments. And while I never specifically looked for it, I can’t remember ever noticing a vehicle without a front plate.
        It just seems like the kind of thing that would get you tons of tickets. I mean, it’s a low-effort, easily proven thing that any cop looking to meet a quota and/or any city desperate for revenue could easily ticket you for. To get a speeding ticket, you need to be speeding, the cop needs to establish your speed in a way that can hold up in court, and you might still be able to fight it by arguing.
        But a front plate violation? You’re breaking the law 24-7-365, any cop you drive by can clearly see you’re breaking the law and it’s impossible to fight in court (“Judge, see this photo of his car with no plates? Enough said”).

        1. Gaia*

          I do live in a state that requires them. In two years I’ve been pulled over twice. Both times I’ve told the officers I have a front plate…in my glove box…and I don’t intend to put it on my car. I bought my car in a state that doesn’t require a front plate and I bought it (among other reasons) because I like how the front of the car looks and I don’t intend to alter that.

          The tickets are low and I pay them. It is worth it for me. If I started getting pulled over more I might reconsider – but maybe not. Honestly, most people just get “fix it” tickets. I just get real tickets because I’m honest and say I don’t plan to fix it.

        2. Orca*

          I’m from a state that requires them, and my brother has gotten pulled over in the past for not having them-it probably would have been a warning but he had other…illegal things happening. I now live in a state that doesn’t require them and got pulled over when visiting once…the cop walked up and was basically like “I’m guessing your state doesn’t need front plates, sorry.” So it does happen but I don’t know how frequently.

        3. OP2*

          OP 2 here. We’re in MA, and in the Boston area. This is definitely something you get stopped for on a regular basis.

          Someone else pointed out he could get a clip mount to comply with the law and prevent holes being drilled in the bumper. His response was that it would make the car ugly.

          1. BTownGirl*

            I’m in the Boston area and I had a Porsche SUV that sucked in the snow. I’d be happy to show up at your office anytime and follow your obnoxious coworker around, yelling this fact every time he started yapping. Let me know haha! :)

        4. De Minimis*

          I’ve driven without one for years, never been stopped. Cops here seem to have their hands full with other types of traffic enforcement. The car was originally purchased in a state that didn’t require them, and apparently the make/model of car is notoriously difficult to attach front plates. I’ve looked into it, I would need to purchase some special attachment that is usually marketed toward classic car/luxury car owners. The car is probably approaching the end of its life and isn’t driven much these days so I’m comfortable continuing to take the chance.

      2. ThatGirl*

        I don’t understand this?

        I live in Illinois, which has front and back plates by law. All the cars sold here – and I believe in border counties in neighboring states – have the holes already drilled. What’s the big deal? All of the cars in your state have holes and front plates but you have to be special? I’m sorry if that comes off a bit snarky but I genuinely do not understand why this is a big deal?

        1. LBK*

          Me neither. I didn’t even realize this was a thing – I’ve only ever lived in states that required front plates. Is it aesthetic? Does it tank the resale value? I don’t get it.

          1. SophieChotek*

            Yes, I didn’t realize it was a thing either. My car has plates in front and back too. I think some newer models now are starting to only have one, but I was told it was a “cost saving” effort in terms of the state not wanting to have to print two plates! (Which now I think might not be true…?)

            Showed my ignornace.

        2. Gaia*

          I bought my car in a different state that doesn’t require it. It is an aesthetic issue. My car is not made to have them and putting them on would significantly alter the look of my vehicle. If I had bought the car here I would have taken that into account and bought one that would look fine with front plates.

          1. ThatGirl*

            Well, I think you’ve been lucky to only get two tickets so far, for me it would not be worth the risk or apparent aesthetic injustice.

        3. Dot Warner*

          I agree. No offense, folks, but if two holes in a piece of plastic is really that big a deal to you, maybe you should stop and think about how lucky you are.

          1. BLM*

            Yep – lucky to not have to worry that getting pulled over for not having a front plate might result in your being mistreated by the police.

            1. Callie*

              Yep. Some people will be able to “get away” with this with just a warning or a fix-it ticket, and some people might just get shot over it.

          2. Marcela*

            Don’t think it like that. I mean, I could not care less about my car, except I paid enough money for it so I don’t want it destroyed, but there are people like my husband who loves their car like I love my books. For them, making two holes is like making holes to my books or ripping their pages. You can feel pain thinking about it. However, I can’t help to think this is somewhat ridiculous, not from the user end side, but from the car maker side. I mean, cars are expensive and they are getting more and more complicated, but somehow the manufacturers and designers haven’t figured out a way to allow to mount and dismount license plates? Come on!

            1. SusanIvanova*

              There’s no international standard for plate shape. The back ones go on a big flat area so not much adjustment is needed, but the front is streamlined.

    2. Anna the Accounting Grad*

      There’s perpetually hearing about a hobby, and then there’s perpetually hearing a hobbyist expect the same enthusiasm about it feom others. One is part of life, but the other indicates that said hobbyist is self-absorbed. Not everyone likes cares; still fewer care enough about them to drop a significant chunk of change on a fancy sports car — new or otherwise — when they really don’t need one.

      1. Mike C.*

        See, you’re doing it too.

        I totally agree that hearing about any topic repeatedly is obnoxious. What I don’t like is the additional moral judgement attached to this particular situation because it’s “a fancy sports car” (are there plain sports cars?) that they “really don’t need”.

        Name a hobby that people do need, I certainly can’t think of any.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But the issue is that he’s making comments like “how foolish people are who don’t want to ‘invest’ in the car.” That’s ridiculous, particularly after people have taken him aside to say he’s coming across as insensitive.

          1. Blurgle*

            I bet the coworker who takes the bus because he can’t afford a car feels respected and valued by this guy.

          2. Ultraviolet*

            Yeah, the fact that it’s a hobby is almost a red herring I think. It’s more like someone saying that it’s foolish to buy a house smaller than 4000 sq ft because the resale value is so good, or if you pay less than $1500 for a laptop you’re throwing your money away. And saying it over and over again despite being asked not to by multiple people.

            1. Sarianna*

              Hah. This reminds me of a former roommate saying that if your family makes <$80k annually then you're poor.

              (Given the cost of living where she grew up, maybe there, sure, but overall? lolno.)

            2. OP2*

              This is exactly the issue. Payscales in our office differ wildly, and we have several employees dealing with major life events that can strain finances. When someone is constantly discussing the $52,000 car they want to buy and calling others “foolish” for not investing in it, that’s…it’s a level of insensitive that is starting to affect the way people want to work with Carguy.

              1. Mike C.*

                Ok, so he’s actually talking about the car as a literal investment? That certainly clarifies things.

                He’s a complete idiot.

                1. Darkitect*

                  Depending on the age of the Porsche, it might actually be a good investment. 1980’s era air-cooled Porsches are rapidly gaining value. It’s unclear from the post whether the car in question is new, used, or vintage.

                2. OP2*

                  I think he’s using “investment” as a justification of purchase. I also think he’s into cars and having trouble clarifying the difference between “luxury” and “antique.” “Idiot” is a strong statement.

                3. Marcela*

                  Yeah, Darkitect, but you have to have spent more 30 years now taking care of those Porsches to make it an investment. Think about all the maintenance, all the repairs, including taking care of the interior, that you need to do to keep the car in top condition. I don’t believe, actually, that a car can be an investment, for all the time and care required to be able to sell that car for more or even the same money as when you bought it.

                4. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Yeah, the idea that a car as an investment is insane to me. This is something that depreciates the second it’s no longer brand-new and, at least around here where traffic is insane and the accident rate is 4-5x the national average, kind of like setting a Waterford crystal vase in the middle of the road. This is why I drive a 10-year-old Honda. If someone hits me, the financial loss is not that great, plus I haven’t had a car payment in 5+ years.

                  I get it as a hobby. I get it as a fun treat for yourself. I do not get it as a way of increasing your net worth. Either you buy an investment vehicle that you fix up and show or you risk taking a your “asset” on the road with you every time you drive. I’ll stick with my 401K.

          3. Mike C.*

            I took the “invest” comment to mean, “people don’t often realize the price for performance” which is a really common thing to discuss when it comes to these sorts of cars and a used Porsche is a great example. I certainly didn’t until I actually looked up the prices.

            The use of the word foolish certainly seems over the top. Unless there’s some other meaning or context for “invest” that I’m not understanding, I only see the continued discussion of a topic no one else is interested in as the real issue here, not the specific topic being discussed.

            1. Liz in a Library*

              I think it’s analogous to conversations we’ve had here before about the rudeness of a coworker insisting others should follow a certain diet. He’s at the point where he’s repeatedly pushing a particular POV that he’s been told is unwelcome and he’s assigning the first value judgment (that colleagues are foolish for not acting as he does). That’s rude whether it’s about cars, food, or anything else. Whether the car is expensive or not is irrelevant, IMO.

            2. Zillah*

              The word “foolish” does indeed seem over the top. It’s not something Alison made up, though; it’s taken directly from the letter, and it’s a word the OP seems to be attributing to the coworker.

              However, in the past month or so, as he’s gotten more comfortable with his position on the team, the talk has morphed into a discussion of how “affordable” this car is, how foolish people are who don’t want to “invest” in this car, how he’d rather pay no-front-plate tickets than drill holes for front license plates through his $2000 bumper, etc.

              Beyond that: an integral part of belonging to a functional society is being able to read the room and identify potentially uncomfortable issues. Liz’s analogy about diet is apt; there are certain subjects you tread carefully about, particularly in a work setting, because they touch on a variety of sensitive subjects. Sports cars belong to that class, as does criticizing others’ handling of their own financial situations; this coworker is apparently doing both. That’s problematic, and not just because he’s not backing down despite repeatedly being asked to do so. The issue isn’t that liking sports cars is inherently wrong; there’s nothing wrong with writing erotic fiction, either. It’s still not appropriate to wax poetic about either at work.

              1. Mike C.*

                I didn’t say foolish was something that Alison made up, it’s clearly in the letter.

                But you’re going to have to explain how taking about sports cars at work in general is somehow now a completely taboo topic of discussion, especially when put into the same category as erotic fiction. What sensitive issues are you even referring to? Surely you wouldn’t report me to HR if I have sports car on the desktop, like you would if I had some erotica there instead, right?

                This is certainly the first I’ve ever heard of this rule and I think you’re going to take others here by surprise as well.

                1. Rubyrose*

                  I’m taken by surprise. I don’t see sports cars as inherently a sensitive work topic. Now carguy is out of line with what he is doing but sports cars in and of themselves tome are not a sensitive topic.
                  I worked with a young guy once with much of Carguy’s same outlook and background. Bought a Mercedes-Benz at age 24. But he did not obsess on it or make negative remarks about others over it. We were all happy for him and he always drove when we went out to lunch together.

                2. Colette*

                  I don’t think there’s a problem with discussing sports cars at work. However, there is an issue with making repeated judgements about other people’s financial choices, particularly when done in an arrogant and condescending way. Really, it’s more foolish to pay for a house, food, or daycare than to buy a luxury vehicle?

                3. Meg Murry*

                  Yes, I think the bigger issue is that he is effectively passing a value judgement on his co-workers. If he says to the person that drives a 10 year old mini-van or the person that just bought a new low-end subcompact (that he has seen them with in the parking lot) “I just don’t understand why people are so foolish not to invest in a car like a Porsche” – he is effectively calling THAT PERSON foolish, to their face, for not spending their money the way he would. It’s insulting and tone deaf.

                  It’s annoying to hear a co-worker drone on about a topic you don’t care about. It’s doubly so when he’s basically insulting you for not being like him or valuing the same things he does.

                4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  Sports cars are fine.

                  Talking about how important it is to drop money on a luxury item, regardless of what that luxury item is, and to talk about how you’re going to just take paying fines endlessly so that you can avoid doing something that is pretty normal, on the other hand, can be extremely classless.

                5. Rusty Shackelford*

                  I don’t think talking about sports cars should be taboo. I think the WAY this guy is talking about sports cars should be taboo.

                  “Man, I love Porsches, and I can’t wait until I get this one, and let me tell you all about it.” Boring, but not inappropriate.

                  “This Porsche I’m buying is so awesome, and so affordable (even though it most likely costs more than some of my coworkers make in a year), and anyone who doesn’t appreciate it is foolish, blah blah blah…” Boring AND tactless, and therefore inappropriate.

                  And I think that goes for any large purchase. I used to have a thoughtless, well-off boss who would publicly chastise those who didn’t spend money the way he did. We’re sending you to a conference in Orlando? You should take several days off, bring your entire family, and tack on a trip to Disneyworld. You’d be stupid not to. Only an idiot would pass up this opportunity. Etc.

                6. LBK*

                  Totally agreed that it’s the moral judgments about how others spend their money and the calling out of how expensive his bumper is that make this more annoying. If someone wants to talk about an expensive hobby they have, go for it – I certainly talk about my traveling a lot and I don’t think anyone is assuming that the 2 weeks I just spent in Europe were cheap. But I’m not going around saying “I can’t believe people wouldn’t want to spend the money on a trip like that, it’s so worth it!”

                  Also, all I can think of with the $2000 bumper comment is GOB’s continual escalation of the price of his suit. Come on!

                7. aebhel*

                  It’s rude to comment on other people’s financial choices, particularly when you have a lot more money than they do, which sounds like it’s the case here.

                  It wouldn’t matter if it was sports cars, fancy overseas vacations, designer clothes, whatever. When you judge people for not spending a lot of money on something that is essentially a hobby, it’s boorish.

                8. LQ*

                  I don’t think this is about that I think this is about being the person who talks endlessly about how much better they are because they don’t own a tv. Or in my case, I don’t own a car. They are gross (the things people do in them!), they are giant weapons that people wield like toys (hello accidents!), and how much better I am as a human being to the earth and my community and blahblahblah because I don’t own a car.

                  You’re annoyed because that guy (me) won’t shut up about it. Great. Have a hobby. But stop acting so damn superior about it.

                  And stop driving a death machine in My Downtown because clearly I am the superior human being here.

                9. Kyrielle*

                  Yeah, to me it’s the talk of money (no one needs to know the bumper is $2000; that he doesn’t want holes in it because he likes the look without them better is sufficient) and the criticising of others’ different choices, specifically saying others are foolish if they don’t “invest” in the car (and to me that seems strange because I think of an “investment” as something that earns money – if he has the right car picked out, he may indeed get great value for his money, but cars don’t usually go up in value as I understand it).

                  Note that the OP said “Fine – it’s his hobby” when he was just talking about the car. It was the talking about the money and saying others should do like he did that escalated it to where it was bothering the OP enough to ask him to stop…and he didn’t.

                10. annoyed and anonymous*

                  People have explained it multiple times but you are refusing to hear it. It’s not about the subject – it’s the method and language he’s using while discussing it. We get that you like to play devil’s advocate here but we are reaching “beating a dead horse” territory.

                11. OP2*

                  Mike C. – as Colette, Meg Murraym Rusty Shackleford, aebhel, and Kyrielle have pointed out, the issue is that Carguy is continually using language that makes a value judgment on the way fellow coworkers spend their money.

                  I didn’t include this in the letter, but he’s talking about a brand-new, $52,000 car. Again, fine – his hobby is cars and if he can afford it, great. But he is constantly discussing the *monetary* part of his car hobby, not the cooling system or the braking system or the RPMs or the actual car aspects of the car.

                  Payscales in our office differ wildly, and we have several employees dealing with major life events that can strain finances. When someone is constantly discussing an expensive item they can buy and calling others “foolish” for not investing in it, that’s…it’s a level of insensitive that is starting to affect the way people want to work with Carguy.

                12. Mike C.*

                  @annoyed and anonymous

                  Hold on here. I never, ever play “Devil’s Advocate”. You don’t have any right to call me out as being insincere or arguing in bad faith. I don’t care if you disagree with a position I’m taking, but if you think I’m somehow being dishonest you can stop right there.

                13. AVP*

                  @LBK I just came here to talk about Gob! “What, you thought the guy with the $2000 suit was gonna hold the elevator for the guy in a $200 suit?!?!”

            1. periwinkle*

              That’s like a regular MLM but the only ones who make any money are the mechanics.

              (we considered upgrading from a Miata to a Boxster, did the comparative math on predicted maintenance costs, and ran away screaming)

              1. Mike C.*

                Yeah, I wanted a Mini for a long time until I realized I would have to pay the BMW tax, holy crap.

                But if you want that Porsche feel, there’s a new Miata RF that has a retractable hardtop just like the Porsche Targa.

                1. periwinkle*

                  Once Mazda finally puts rear-view cameras on the MX-5 we’re going to trade in our 2008 MX-5. Definitely thinking about that RF version – but not to the point where I’m going to insist that my co-workers are idiots for not buying a loud 2-seater convertible instead of their foolish minivans and sedans.

                  If this were my co-worker, I’d just shrug at his tone-deaf babbling and wait patiently for the schadenfreude to kick in once he starts paying for the upkeep on his “investment.”

        2. Willis*

          I agree. There’s been times that co-workers talk about spending decent chunks of money on things I have no interest in, but I don’t begrudge them it. Everyone has different financial priorities, just like they have different priorities for how to spend PTO, etc. But, to the point that he is obsessing over it or giving unsolicited “investment” advice, I think the co-workers are well within their rights to change the subject.

        3. Myrin*

          Except that it doesn’t at all seem like OP judges her coworker because of the thing he keeps talking about being a “fancy sports car” – in fact, she says no less than three times that, while annoying, she is fine with his being enthusiastic about this car and excitingly talking about it. What OP judges coworker for is “his focus on financial matters” and that “he’s so clueless about other people’s possible financial positions”.

          1. OP2*

            Exactly. Payscales in our office differ wildly. When someone is constantly calling others “foolish” for not investing in a luxury item, it’s a level of insensitive that is starting to affect the way people want to work with Carguy.

            1. Alison Read*

              It feels you’re attributing your values as well here, OP2. You clearly don’t agree that a car can be an investment – there are many times it indeed is an investment but that’s moot. He could be considered just as boorish if prattled on about paying for that custom counter top in his “oh so affordable” new condo that everyone is foolish not to invest in… what about the team member being forced to move because her neighborhood is being gentrified? Or by prattling on about what a great return on donated dollars Teapot Charity is and as a society we would be foolish to not contribute heavily to them, after all society would be so much better if there was a teapot in every kitchen. A bit extreme but the fact is it is about him being a boor about personal finances rather than investing in what you deem to be a luxury item, that’s applying your values to others. How is it any better to prattle on about the ability to donate significantly to cancer research to a person filing bankruptcy over heart disease?

              1. OP2*

                Cars can definitely be an investment. So, to use your example, can custom counter tops. Or homes. Or Beanie Babies. Or action figures.

                The issue here is that the discussion of the car hobby has morphed from being about the car – horsepower, engines, RPMs, braking systems, etc. – into a discussion of the finances of the car. If a coworker loved home DIY but the talk morphed from which countertops are the best for their love of baking and sauce-making to why we’re all “foolish” for not “investing” in Carrera marble countertops, I’d be feeling the same way.

                These discussions are taking place in front of a team whose payscales differ wildly. When Carguy is continually discussing the financial aspects of his hobby, and using language like “foolish”, he’s making implicit value judgments about people who have different financial priorities or saving abilities. That’s why I’m frustrated and upset – he’s causing negative feelings , which is making people not want to work with him, which is bad as he’s quite good at his job.

              2. Myrin*

                I don’t think anybody disagrees with that? In fact, many many comments have brought up analogies just like yours to illustrate that his behaviour would be inappropriate and insensitive no matter what costly thing exactly he’s talking about.

                (Apart from that, I know very little about cars but there’s an entire discussion upthread about how a car usually isn’t much of an investment, objectively speaking.)

              3. blu*

                The OP isn’t making a judgement on his investment strategy, she clearly says the issue is him calling other people foolish. If someone was repeatedly insisting that others were foolish for not buying counters, donating to cancer research, etc they too would be inappropriate and boorish. Quite frankly even if he was talking about investing in retirement savings, it’s still rude to call other people foolish multiple times because they don’t make the same decisions as you. It’s especially rude to do it in a setting (like work) where other people’s financial choices or circumstances are none of your business.

            2. Myrin*

              OP, I really commend your actions and thoughts about this whole situation – you sound like you have a good head on your shoulders all-around. If I may ask, how did Carguy (awesome name, btw, I find myself chuckling about it even now) react when you or other coworkers took him aside and called him out on his words (right in the moment, I mean, not overall where there doesn’t seem to be any reaction at all)?

              1. OP2*

                With me personally, he just blinked a few times and said “Okay”. Nothing has changed.

                I’m glad for the scripts people are giving me and other suggestions as to how this needs to roll off my back. At this point I’m concerned that Carguy is causing irreparable damage to his working relationships, which is frustrating as he’s excellent at his actual job. His manager (who returned two days ago from a month of business travel) is now aware of the situation and monitoring.

                1. sayevet*

                  His response of “Okay” without making any changes is his full permission for you to interrupt him and change the subject, even in front of other people. Remember that it’s not rude for you to interrupt someone else’s rudeness! Alternately, excuse yourself from the conversation altogether if you don’t have the energy for a subject change. Good luck :)

        4. chickabiddy*

          I drive a 11yo entry-level small SUV with a stick shift and drill holes in the front bumper. I am obviously not a car person. I have no jealousy or judgement about someone who wants to spend money that he can afford on something that he wants. But there aren’t many times that I want to hear a detailed analysis about the price tags of *anyone’s* hobby. A quick “and it was on sale, too!” is fine. But exhorting the “investment value” of a luxury good and seeming to put down others with different priorities is insensitive.

          1. LBK*

            Yeah, exactly – “price for performance” is a meaningless argument to me because the only performance I care about in my car is if it will take me from my house to the grocery store and back without falling apart. There’s no point “investing” in a car for me because it’s a perfunctory purchase. The whole conversation would feel like forcing some kind of financial imperative on me that doesn’t apply to the way I buy cars.

            1. Mike C.*

              Yeah, I’m with you, it’s 0bnoxious. I know a bunch of folks that were visibly irritated that I bought a car with an automatic transmission rather than a manual.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I thought I felt this way, but I have to say, I accidentally bought a car with higher than usual horsepower and it’s actually more fun to drive. I didn’t realize that could be a thing I would care about, but it turns out that now I might care slightly.

            3. sayevet*

              In this situation, I think it’s appropriate to switch from “agree to disagree” to “let’s talk about something else.” I have friends who rained on the Pokemon Go parade without knowing anything about it, so I put my foot down and said no to the conversation because there’s nothing to say if none of us play! Conversations about cars can be treated like conversations about any other hobby; if it’s not interesting to some participants, or if there are differences in opinion, it can make more sense to change the subject or leave the conversation.

            4. HannahS*

              Hah! I feel that way about computers. Can I use the internet? Can I use a word processor? Can I reasonably play movies on it? Good. I don’t need anything else.

        5. Nea*

          I don’t know – there was a guy like this in a job I worked and his favorite topic was his favorite car. It wasn’t that he liked this car that was a problem, it was that he Would. Not. Shut. Up. about how his car was the best thing on wheels, to the point of going over to a co-worker who had just bought a new car specifically to insult their choice and praise his own.

          At that point, nobody cared if his car was Consumer Reports’ best buy Economodel SensibleCar 3000. We hated it on principle.

        6. LBK*

          Name a hobby that people do need, I certainly can’t think of any.

          It’s not that the hobby is needed, it’s that there’s a necessity-based version of the hobby (buying a car because you need a car, not because you particularly care about them). Generally, if you don’t like knitting, you just don’t knit. If you don’t like Game of Thrones, you just don’t watch Game of Thrones. But if you don’t like cars, there’s a good chance you’ll still have to buy a car, and it’s annoying to have someone who does like cars engage you in a way that makes it seem like you should have the same priorities or level of enthusiasm for the purchase.

    3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      It sounds like Carguy himself is bringing up the money aspect of it, though – that he’s talking about how much it costs (or even how much just the bumper costs). That’s what makes it sound extra-annoying to me. It’s not that it’s an expensive hobby, it’s that he seems to want the people around him to know that it’s an expensive hobby.

      If my coworker were remodeling her house and talked about it all the time, that would be tiresome but tolerable. However, I’d feel much more irked if she kept saying things like “I don’t know why anyone uses domestic granite for countertops; the French enameled lava stone I found is so much more modern. The color I wanted was $400 a square foot but really that’s cheap because it’s such an investment!”

      1. pony tailed wonder*

        Yes, if the money wasn’t mentioned, I would think that there would be more tolerance. I have a relative who will speak at great length about the drinks and meals he gets while on vacation and tells you the price of each and compares them with prices at home and on other vacations. I can tolerate the food and drink descriptions but when he gets all The Price Is Right, I start mentally checking out.

        1. Meg Murry*

          Exactly! If he was going on about how he didn’t want to ruin the bumper by drilling holes in it because it’s such a shame to ruin the clean lines and the aesthetics, that’s one thing, but bring up the cost of paying tickets and that the bumper costs $2000 is the part that tips it from annoying to rude.

      2. Myrin*

        That’s my read on it as well. The fact that he talks about “how “affordable” this car is” probably means that he doesn’t repeat “it’s so affordable” a hundred times but actually names concrete prices.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        When people say that kind of stuff, I always want to use a really fake voice and say something like, “I know! Even though the resale value is zero because of the location [or whatever undercut I can think of], I can’t imagine NOT doing that!”

        I’ve done it a couple of times and the braggart was completely clueless, which was amusing to others, but didn’t stop them. :P

    4. Jen RO*

      I’m not American and I don’t understand this (w)hole business… Why do you have to drill holes in your bumper? Don’t your cars come with those plastic things for the plates? And you’re actually allowed to drive without front plates? My Romanian mind is boggled!

      1. NM Anon*

        Here in the US, I’d say most vehicles don’t come with the plastic front plate mounts, but some do, like my Jeep. Also, whether a front plate is required varies by state, for instance Florida and New Mexico only require rear plates, but Texas requires rear and front plates.

        1. Zillah*

          Wait, NM doesn’t require front plates?? That explains so much!

          (I just moved here and I keep thinking it’s weird that so many cars are missing them, haha.)

          1. NM stuff*

            NM also doesn’t require cars to be inspected for safety–just for emissions. While you can be ticketed for things like excessive oil leaks or broken taillights, you don’t have to prove that anything on your car actually works in order to register it. Welcome to the Land of Entrapment :)

          2. MsChanandlerBong*

            I moved here last year. Welcome! It’s nice to be in a place that doesn’t totally suck (sorry, Pennsylvania).

        2. ExceptionToTheRule*

          If the vehicle is sold in a state that requires front plates, it comes with a front plate holder. I live in a state that requires them and have never bought a vehicle, new or used, that didn’t have a front plate holder.

          1. TL -*

            I bought my car in Texas and had to drill holes in the bumper.

            It was a new model that wasn’t heavily advertised and I didn’t see many of them on the road for the first couple of years I drove it, which could explain it, but yeah, you do sometimes have to drill holes in a 2 plate state.

            1. MaggiePi*

              I did too. And it was a rather older used car. It must have been from out of state, but it seemed really weird and actually inconvenient. Thinking back, I’m surprised the dealership I bought it from didn’t add the holes automatically.

          2. JessaB*

            Yes but if you bought the car in a one plate state and move to a two plate state you have an issue. I brought my old clunker from Florida (one plate) to Ohio (two plates,) and had to have a front holder put on.

            However, if you own a Porche or any other high end vehicle like that and you move to a two plate state and take the thing to an actual Porche dealer, I guarantee they have a way to mount a front plate without drilling the bumper like a 3d rate mechanic. Porches can and do come with front plate mounts, and if he’s so concerned about his 2000 bumper he can have them swap it out for a factory front plate one.

            His issue is not that he has a Porsche it’s that he wants to brag about the finances of same next to people who probably can’t afford that.

            Also I hate to tell him but around the 3d or 4th warning ticket for no front plates, they’re gonna start getting nasty about it. They’re not going to let him pay endless “no plate” tickets before they start towing the thing for failure to comply with state law.

            The problem with front plate states, is that for awhile there was a push to go to one plate universally (saves a tonne of money, resources, etc.) and so a lot of car makers stopped putting on front plate mounts except in the states that still want them. Then the push went away (no idea why.) So you do have tonnes of cars sold in places with only one mount. For which I am absolutely sure that dealers have a solution for that doesn’t require ruining the integrity of the bumpers by indiscriminate drilling.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              His issue is not that he has a Porsche it’s that he wants to brag about the finances of same next to people who probably can’t afford that.

              Yep. He’s showing off.

      2. Panda Bandit*

        Some types of cars aren’t designed to accommodate front plates. If you can’t find another way to attach them then you’re stuck with drilling your bumper. 19 states don’t require front plates so if you live there you don’t need them.

      3. Artemesia*

        We had to drill our bumper when we moved to Illinois that requires front plates; our previous state did not provide them.

      4. ThatGirl*

        My state requires front and back plates, but neighboring states don’t, so if you say, bought your car in central Indiana and later moved to Illinois, you’d have to have holes drilled for the plate holder.

        But if you already live in an area that requires front plates, I would think the holes would already be there, and if not, the consequences of not having them seems to far outweigh whatever tiny aesthetic loss you think you’re taking.

    5. Artemesia*

      The issue is not the stupid Porsche — it is the endless nattering about the money. This is always tone deaf in the workplace and particularly so where many people would not be able to afford this kind of expenditure. (and there is no ‘investment’ involved in 99.9% of car purchases; there is a rare antique but mostly a car purchase is one of the least financially astute purchases one can make) Bragging about money, particularly around people who may not have as much is gross. It is like the boss who travels abroad and talks endlessly about how affordable it is to the AA who makes 30K a year.

      1. Colette*

        Agreed, and if this was my coworker, I’d start shutting it down in the moment. “I have different priorities than an expensive car”, “cars are not investments”, “I’d rather pay my rent/babysitter/travel”, or even “wow, what a rude thing to say”.

          1. Mike C.*

            Look below for the comments on maintenance and repairs for more tidbits. If his car is in the shop for any length of time (and it will be!) make sure to remind him daily in case he forgets.

      2. Joseph*

        “and there is no ‘investment’ involved in 99.9% of car purchases; there is a rare antique but mostly a car purchase is one of the least financially astute purchases one can make”
        This is really the part that makes the whole thing laughable. You’re a fool if you think it’s a smart investment. Even if you want to be optimistic and assume that you could pay in cash, it’s still not a smart investment compared to buying a Civic or their ilk (or even a Lexus) and investing the difference.
        If you want to drive it for your own personal reasons, that’s fine. It’s no more or less a waste of money than buying Super Bowl tickets instead of watching on TV, playing Pebble Beach instead of a local course, or any other hobby, really. And even as a non-car guy, I can admit that you can tell the difference riding in a luxury sports car compared with a Civic – everything’s just smoother. But don’t fool yourself (or irritate others) by talking about how it’s such a smart investment.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, this is why the investment comment confused the hell out of me – cars are terrible investments. So either this guy is really dumb or he’s inarticulate and trying to talk about value instead.

          1. Allison*

            When people talk about “investing” in a car, they’re probably referring to paying extra money for a nice car that will not only be more pleasant to drive than a beat-up Civic, but will (theoretically) last a long time and not need a lot of repairs as long as it’s properly maintained. But I would say they’re not using the word “invest” properly.

            1. Daisy Steiner*

              Yes, it’s like ‘investment pieces’ in a wardrobe – it’s more about the quality and longevity than the resale value.

            2. TL -*

              I swear it’s starting to be a thing with some people – instead of just saying they want something, if it’s extra money it has to be an investment, not a purchase.
              My friends have told, seriously, that they needed to invest in new shoes and tights. I don’t get it…

              1. Allison*

                I mean, if you go by the “penny saved is a penny earned” principle, then I guess going for quality to save money in the long run could count as an investment. Kind of.

                1. TL -*

                  I don’t think tights are ever going to have that kind of pay off :P

                  I mean, I do understand buying quality for long term use and maintenance reason but…still not an investment. Even if the extra money up front most likely saves you money in the long term, it’s not really making you money.

              2. Kelly L.*

                You know, I just realized I sometimes use “invest” that way too. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek to me and it basically means “It’s going to be kind of pricey to buy new shoes and tights, but dammit I need them, and I figure I’ll get my money’s worth out of them in the long run.”

                1. TL -*

                  It drives me crazy-and with my friends, it’s always used to justify a want, not a need. It’s for that 5th pair of sandals, for example, rather than to replace your everyday shoes which aren’t wearable anymore.

                  Sandals are fine things to spend your money on but they’re not an investment. :) Pet peeve, I suppose.

              3. Izzy*

                I guess if you “invest” in a good interview outfit, or a career wardrobe, that might have an actual financial payoff in a job that pays more. “Investing” in a car that uses less gas, or a less expensive grade, might pay off in fuel savings in the long run (but not necessarily, that might be the thinking.)

              4. Snazzy Hat*

                Well my sister has alluded to buying stock in RocketDog and Chinese Laundry when she gets a well-paying job, but I don’t think that’s what your friends are talking about. ^_^

            3. JessaB*

              That or he’s really rather not thinking about the fact that 99% of vehicles never become classics or maintain the amount of value that their purchasers think they will. He’s looking for instance at 40-50 year old Porsches that have become classics (because A: well made and B: rare as heck,) and thinking his is going to be worth that some day.

              It’s like the person who buys baseball cards now and thinks okay these are going to be worth a fortune to my grandkids because “Honus Wagner.” What they don’t realise is that back in the day those cards were not produced by the millions and were routinely tossed out not saved in fancy plastic sleeves. What makes them valuable is that they’re very rare. Modern collectibles are just about the opposite of that.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                All I can think of here are Beanie Babies. Remember that? So many people thinking they’d be worth a ton of money, and when I go to the flea market, I see zillions of them.

                1. Myrin*

                  Oh my, I just googled “Beanie Babies” because I had no idea what those are and the first thing it autocompleted was “value”.

            4. Darkitect*

              I didn’t read it that way. Collectible cars do gain value and can accurately be considered an investment. Depending on the model, age, etc. of the Porsche, he may be correct. I suspect that Carguy is really, really excited about his new car and is unaware that he is coming across as braggy and entitled.

              1. Myrin*

                You can’t really play the unawareness card if he’s been told multiple times by several colleagues how he’s coming across.

                1. OP2*

                  Yes. Myself and at least two other coworkers have told him that the focus on the financial aspects of the car hobby is rude and insensitive to others who may be on a different payscale or have different financial priorities. “Unaware” isn’t a factor here.

            5. A grad student*

              Well, there are some classic cars that go up in value over time assuming they’re in good shape (including some models of Porsches), and even some relatively newer cars that are holding their value well (source- I used to watch a lot of Top Gear). In this case though, it definitely sounds like he’s using the word “invest” like you think he is.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          And I wonder if that might be the way to get the guy to shut up. “Ha ha, your car isn’t an investment, it’s going to depreciate X% every year, how foolish to think it won’t.” ;-)

          1. Joseph*

            FWIW, Edmunds does a True Cost of Ownership…and they estimate that *depreciation alone* on a Porsche 911 is about $50,000. You could literally buy a Lexus with just the money that you’re losing on depreciation.
            Also, if you really want to mess with him, you could wait till he talks about service or maintenance which are ungodly expensive and must be done at the dealer if you want to sell the vehicle in the future. “Oh, you had to pay $700 to replace one low-profile, special tire at the Porsche dealer? Man, I know what you mean. I ran over a nail in my Civic a few months ago and had to pay NTB eighteen dollars to install a cheap patch and put air back in it! Eighteen bucks! Isn’t that such a racket!”

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Ha! I like that idea. Though he might be like my former boss who complained about how expensive things were as a way of showcasing how much money she had. She would definitely be one to complain-brag that her tires were SO expensive, and isn’t it a shame that her oh-so-special car requires such ridiculously expensive tires.

        3. Darkitect*

          As a “CarGal” myself, I guess my view on this is pretty narrow. My family has always owned/restored vintage cars and have always made enough money from them to keep the hobby sustained. I currently have a non-vintage car that I strongly believe will be collectible in the not-so-distant future; I keep it garaged and have a beater as my commuter car. The same with my husband. So I guess we also have investment cars. I can appreciate where CarGuy is coming from, although the office cooler talk may be annoying.

          1. OP2*

            If he spoke mostly about the car itself – working on it, comparing horsepower and the engine model to other vehicles, restoration – that would be one thing. But he’s no longer talking about the car aspects of the car. He’s talking about the financial investment in a brand-new car (which I didn’t mention in the original letter). And he’s doing it in a way that is totally insensitive to the reality of finances when payscales around him differ wildly.

            On a completely different note, it’s awesome that you come from a family of car restorers/owners!

            1. Darkitect*

              Thanks! FWIW, it’s a completely different story if we’re talking about a brand-new car. The investment aspect is misguided and I can completely understand how annoying it would be listening to this at the office. I have wireless headphones that are permanently affixed to my ears at work for just this reason :)

            2. sayevet*

              Rather than debate with him on his points (as any objection would surely be interpreted as a challenge to overcome with more information/opinions), ask him why he think you’re interested in discussing the car? Skip the content altogether and question his need to engage you in conversation about personal matters at work.

          2. A grad student*

            Would you mind sharing what kind of cars you are collecting? I know it’s not really relevant, just curious :)

        4. LCL*

          You can steal my phrasing. I keep this handy when I have to buy a car.
          “A car is not an investment. It’s a disposable consumer item. It’s the same thing economically as a can of coke or bag of doritos. You buy it and are going to use it until its value is gone.”
          Or you can go a little jerkier, not necessarily recommended at work. “you didn’t just call a car an investment, did you? How does that work?”

          I still think the no-front-plate crowd are being glassbowls about this particular subject. And if they tell me why they don’t have front plates, I tell them that. The only time I took the initiative to point it out to someone was when the person was a new hire from out of state and still had his out of state plate. I told him that we are a front plate state and let it go after that. I’m suspecting the vehicles without any way to mount a front plate are the same models used in testing to meet federal mileage standards, the manufacturers can get away with it because that model is available to the consumer.

          1. DeskBird*

            Eh. I feel like this would be moving away from the main issue – that it’s obnoxious to humble brag about how much money you are spending – and rude to judge coworkers for their own spending habits. If it’s a true ‘investment’ or not is not the main point. And i feel like poking that particular bear will result in nothing but a big argument about car value – something I personally as not-a-car-person would so not be up to. I know that you are pretty much never ever gonna make money on a brand new car – but I do not have the car knowledge or sources to prove it to a stubborn person.

            I feel like calling out the exact behavior that is the problem would be the best thing to try to train him to stop bringing it up. “Hey Carguy – can we not talk about money? It stresses me out” “Hey Carguy – you’re kinda doing that thing again, could you stop please? Thanks.” “Hey Carguy – I know you are excited about this car but I would really perfer not to hear about the cost”. And maybe see if you can get some of the other people who pulled him aside to talk about his to take turns calling him out? Maybe you can evolve this to where if he starts talking about it there is just a choir of people going “Dude!” He has broken the social contract here and continues to do something once asked to stop – time for him to feel uncomfortable instead of you.

            1. OP2*

              Thank you for the scripts! I’ll share them with the other two coworkers whom I know have spoken to him.

      3. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

        This, exactly. He’s deliberately letting everyone know at every opportunity how much money he has, and insulting them for having less and/or spending it on things other than sports cars. I’m a temp who makes just over 30k in an expensive city and takes the bus, and if If I worked with him, I doubt I’d be able to resist a blistering lecture.

        1. OP2*

          This is exactly why I wrote in. Payscales in our office differ wildly, and we have several employees dealing with major life events that can strain finances. Carguy’s level of insensitivity is starting to affect the way people want to work with Carguy, and I’ve been through something like that in another job. It never ends well.

      4. Allison*

        Right, it would be the same as someone talking about travel, and how everyone should travel and it’s really not that expensive, so they think it’s foolish that some people are unwilling to spend money on it. I’ll admit that anyone can afford to travel, if they budget their money well and know how to travel frugally, but even then, it’s just not something everyone cares about enough to spend money on.

        Spending is a very personal thing; it’s not just about what you have, but what you value. Not to mention, there are people going through very personal things that might be costing more than people realize (sick relative, debt, drug problem, etc.), if others know about it at all, which can make spending decisions an even more sensitive topic. I wouldn’t want to hear my coworkers go on and on about how they think other people should be spending their money.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I’ll admit that anyone can afford to travel, if they budget their money well and know how to travel frugally

          Actually, that’s not true, and kind of ironic considering the context of this conversation.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            Exactly. Growing up, we had no money to travel anywhere no matter how much fancy finagling of funds my single mother tried to do. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck with two small children and you’re the only one putting food on the table, clothes on backs, and a roof over everyone’s heads, that kind of expenditure is usually not feasible.

            1. Kathlynn*

              yeah, it’s hard enough to buy new glasses (at least $500 for new frames and lenses), let alone travel anywhere.

        2. an anon is an anon is an anon*

          I’ll admit that anyone can afford to travel, if they budget their money well and know how to travel frugally

          This is definitely not true, and is just as rude to say as the issue the OP is dealing with. Traveling is super expensive and not every is lucky enough to budget for travel because they need to budget for things like bills, medical expenses, or, you know, just surviving week to week.

          I wish people would stop with the “if you just budget, you too can travel!” mindset. It’s insulting to those of us who grew up without any money to travel within the state we lived in, let alone across the country or internationally.

    6. Elysian*

      This whole thing about not drilling holes in the bumper has an air of “the law does not apply to ME because MY car is better than YOUR car” (ie. I am better than you!). It’s a pretty obnoxious thing to bring up in a group of coworkers if you know they’re not into the same thing. (Same with whatever other minor law you’re bragging about breaking – speeding, not shoveling your walk after the snow, lacking construction permits, etc.) I can see why the coworkers are annoyed, I would be, too! The problem is one part how he’s talking about it and another part how much he’s talking about it. That said, I don’t think the OP can really change anything other than to tell him to stop in the moment, if they’re already told him to stop separately.

      1. Callietwo*

        Except it isn’t a law in 19 US states, so perhaps it isn’t breaking the law?

        That said, it’s still obnoxious to bring up the financial piece and really calling people foolish for choosing/needing to spend their money on something else. That is where I’d focus my responses back to him, if it were me.

        1. JessaB*

          It is if it’s in a state that he has to brag about paying tickets rather than having the actual Porsche dealership fix the bumper properly.

          1. Callietwo*

            You’re right. I missed the tickets part of that, just that he wasn’t going to drill the holes. That’s a wise investment, huh? What a jackass!

        2. Meg Murry*

          The only way you can get a ticket for it is if it is the law. If it wasn’t the law, he couldn’t be ticketed for it.

          And yes, that’s part of the tone-deafness/rudeness of it as well – it takes a certain amount of privilege to say “I’d rather pay a fine than comply with the law”. Especially since in many states there is an escalating fine (so the first offense ticket is $X, but the second is $2X, etc).

          But I suspect OP is at the BEC stage with this coworker and has reached the point where if she even hears the word “Porsche” or “car” or “bumper” come out of his mouth she cringes. It he brings up the car with her again, I’d say “mmm-hmm” or “how exiting” or “oh, cars aren’t really my thing” and then change the subject or need to make a trip to the water cooler, coffee pot, bathroom, and walk away. The problem to me seems to be that OP can overhear him talking about the car to others, even when he’s not talking to her (at least, that’s what I’m guessing by the “headphones aren’t cutting it”) aspect. If it is limited to a couple short breaks a day, I think OP could probably just start avoiding him, but if it’s getting excessive I think OP should probably just deal with it like any other (even work related) conversation that is interrupting her ability to work and say “hey, I’m having trouble concentrating here, could you guys take the conversation somewhere else or wrap it up”? and just treat it more as teaching him open-office plan manners. Honestly, I might stop being so polite about pulling him aside if he’s getting too far into the financial stuff and call him out in the conversation at the time by saying “Dude, some of us have mortgages and student loans and daycare payments and don’t really care to hear about you ‘investing’ in a Porsche anymore, so lets change the subject, ok?”

          Since he hasn’t actually purchased the Porsche yet, I’d focus on trying to cut this off now, because otherwise I could see it getting worse once he actually buys it. Or maybe not – maybe once he’s actually moved out of the researching phase and owns it he’ll shut up about it – although his next favorite topic might be just as annoying.

          1. OP2*

            Thanks for the scripts and suggestions!

            I keep my headphone listening-volume low because I’m often approached during the day for work conversations (nature of my role), so unfortunately I can hear everything he says. And everything everyone else says. I think I’m tuning into it now, actually, because the financial aspect frustrates me so much. (Which is a weird thing, but I do tend to do tune into things that frustrate me. I’m getting CBT for it.)

            1. Meg Murry*

              “invest” (haha, see what I did there?) in some large over the ear headphones so people that want to talk to you can see that you’re obviously wearing them and don’t start chattering to you right away before realizing you have headphones in.

              When I start getting rage-y in an open plan space, I’ve found listening to some of the white noise tracks (like ocean sounds, thunderstorms, etc – tons of things out there to download as mp3s or free phone apps) can help calm me down so I can get back to work, instead of sitting there fuming about how much of a jerk the chatterbox is, even after they’ve stopped talking. And white noise doesn’t distract me the way music can.

              My other suggestion is to make some actual physical white-noise. If your office plan isn’t a hotdesking situation, a small fan on your desk can provide some noise canceling effects but is still easy to hear over when someone walks over to your desk to talk to you (or easy to turn off with the push of a button).

              I get that he’s excited, and since this is his first full time job, this is probably the first time he’s ever had money like this to make a big purchase himself. But shut him down, because otherwise it will shift from the Porsche to how apartments rent for in various neighborhoods, etc.

              You could also try being more explicit with him (without naming names) and remind him “look, there are people here who are worried about how they are going to be able to [afford their mortgage now that their spouse lost her job, pay for their family member’s cancer treatment, keep food on the table and the lights on]”, so you talking about how you will pay for your $50,000+ car is really rude. I’ve asked you to stop once, and now I really mean it. Enough.”

              To be fair, I’ve talked through some big financial decisions with some of my younger co-workers that I mentor – like how to apply for a mortgage, how to determine how much you can afford to pay for rent on an apartment, whether they should pay for short-term disability insurance, whether it makes sense to buy a new car or keep fixing their old clunker. But I’ve always kept it extremely generic (“here’s a spreadsheet you can use to add up expenses”, or “start with getting a pre-qualification” or “don’t forget to include the cost of utilites into your budget” etc), and only when they ask for the advice.

      2. Gaia*

        My car is not better than anyone’s car (entry level compact sedan – certainly not luxury). But it was not designed to have a front plate, is not advertised or sold heavily in states that require front plates and was not bought when I lived in a state that requires front plates. Now that I do live in a state that requires them, yea I balk at the idea that I am told I have to alter my property for something that provides no real advantage to law enforcement (are they going to read my plates through their rear view mirror?) and has no statistical benefit. Back plates make a lot of sense. Front plates don’t and I won’t be adding one until I actually am forced to do so or I get a car that is built for them.

        1. Oryx*

          ” (are they going to read my plates through their rear view mirror?)”

          No, but they can see your front plate from traffic cams and speed traps on the road.

          1. Myrin*

            Yes. As someone from a country where both plates are required and normal (and who honestly didn’t know that it wasn’t like that everywhere), I’m surprised by people having strong feelings about this – a front licence plate exists so that people can identify you when you come frontally at them, no matter the specific situation.

        2. Darkitect*

          I remember reading somewhere that the intent of front plates was that the vehicle information is visible when cars are backed into driveways. But take that with a grain of salt. I live in a state that doesn’t require them.

      3. Izzy*

        I was thinking he sounded like the guy who parks diagonally in three parking spaces and justifies it by his right to “protect his investment” in an expensive vehicle. There was a You Tube video that was very popular a while ago, where someone in a compact managed to squeeze in anyway, “protecting the investment” was in one of the comments. You know, my car is worth more than everyone else’s convenience.
        I live in a no front plate state. Some parking lots have a “front in parking only” policy to make plate checking easier. In a high crime area, a vehicle parked backed up to a building so the plate can’t be seen looks suspicious (and may actually be someone who shouldn’t be there.) Cars get towed because of that.

    7. Photoshop Til I Drop*

      I live in a state that does not require from plates, but bought a car from a state that did require them. The holes in the bumper really bother me, but not enough to buy a new bumper for a used car.

      1. hermit crab*

        You can always put some kind of inexpensive novelty plate on there, if you want! I grew up in a one-plate state and lots of people had a front novelty plate that they bought to support the football boosters or whatever.

        1. Callie*

          I lived in a front-plate state for a while and now that I’m in a state that doesn’t require them, I need something to go on the front. I want a plate for the school where I’m ABD for my PhD… but it is in a front-plate state and they don’t even make them! Just frames. I’m about to DIY myself one!

    8. Roscoe*

      That is what I got from it. Its a hobby just like any other. Just because its an expensive one, doesn’t mean is is a jer for talking about it. I wish I could tell people “I’m over hearing about your craft beer brewing” or better yet “I’m over hearing about your kids”, but I don’t because its rude. This just seems like they are maing a moral judgment because his hobby is one many people can’t afford or relate to.

      1. Artemesia*

        It isn’t the car, it is bragging about his money that makes it intolerable. I don’t want to hear about your craft beer or your kids either but I really really really don’t want to hear about your money money money.

      2. Joseph*

        It’s not the hobby, it’s the attitude: “how foolish people are who don’t want to “invest” in this car,”
        Using your example, it’s basically the difference between talking endlessly about craft beer brewing (boring, but allowable) and insulting people who don’t share your hobby or can’t afford it (being a jerk).

      3. Meg Murry*

        Yes, it’s rude to tell them you don’t want to hear about it, but it’s also rude for them to not notice you don’t care and are just making polite “mmm hmmm” noises while they are monopolizing the conversation, or for them to talk to you about *nothing* but craft beer brewing.

      4. OP2*

        As I pointed out multiple times in my original letter, I’m fine with him talking about the car hobby all he wants. However, he isn’t discussing the car itself – things like braking systems, cooling systems, the engine, horsepower, etc. – but the financial side of the hobby. Payscales in our office differ wildly, and we have several employees dealing with major life events that can strain finances. When someone is constantly discussing the $52,000 car they want to buy and calling others “foolish” for not investing in it, it’s a level of insensitive that is starting to affect the way people want to work with Carguy.

    9. Temperance*

      I disagree. Talking about money, which is what he’s actually doing here, in this way, is pretty classless.

      I have a friend who has a Porsche and she’s a car hobbyist. She talks about her car and her car club but doesn’t ever veer into HEY I BOUGHT THIS EXPENSIVE THING LOOK HOW DAMN FANCY I AM territory. She’s also not a boring windbag.

      1. Izzy*

        Times have changed, I’m going to date myself here, but I was taught that speaking of money (outside of an actual business or purchasing interaction) was horribly gauche and rude. As was showing it off. The people I knew who had money might buy luxury cars, good quality clothing, jewelry, and live in nice neighborhoods, but the ones who truly had class never mentioned these things, and were just as happy to visit us in our apartment and accept a ride in our beater. There was a football coach (don’t remember the team, sorry, not a big football follower) who discouraged his team from end zone celebrations. “Act like you’ve been there before.” Same with money – act like you’ve always had it and it’s no big deal. People with true class are humble – they know that having money does not make them a better person. Buying a Porsche and saying nothing, except perhaps with other expensive sports car hobbyists and owners – that would be classy.

        And now I have Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” looping in my head.

    10. Purest Green*

      Other than the “foolish” comment, I agree this isn’t some sensitive, taboo subject even with the financial discussion. Plenty of people in my workplace(s) have talked about how much replacing a home appliance costs, repairing or adding on to their homes, paying for their kids’ private school or college tuition, etc. Talking about a car and associated costs seems no different to me. It sounds like this guy is trying to share something about himself (albeit maybe not in the best way) and none of his coworkers happen to be interested.

      1. Roscoe*

        Exactly. I think the money thing is because its something that people see as foolish. I completely think it would be different if he was talking about his home improvement or something.

        1. OP2*

          I commented on this specifically upthread, but the issue is the financial matter. If he loved DIY and spoke about all the different countertops he’s considering that will make his baking and sauce-making easier, that would be fine (if boring to me, personally, after a while). If he started talking about how everyone at work was “foolish” for not investing in Carrera Marble counters, that would be just as frustrating, because the conversation has shifted from hobbies to finances.

          My frustration also stems from the fact that he’s been told by several people that focusing on finances is rude and harming his relationship with coworkers, because he’s being insensitive to payscales, unseen financial hardship, etc. other coworkers may be undergoing, and he insists on continuing to talk exclusively about the financial aspects of the car.

          1. TL -*

            Does he still get a response when talking about his car? He would probably talk a lot less if you changed the topic every time he brought up money with you (with a specific, “I don’t like talking finances at work; let’s change the subject.” every time.)

            1. OP2*

              For the past two weeks or so, the response from most of us has been “That’s nice, now about the Vanilla teapot contract…”. The talk is still happening.

              There are some good script suggestions in this comment section that I plan on trying before I just resort to a zombie-like vacant stare.

      2. blu*

        Does it matter if it’s taboo or not if the people you are talking to have repeatedly told you they don’t want to hear about it? Even if this was about another topic, if multiple people have told you give it rest, then find a new audience if you feel the need to talk about it.

    11. the gold digger*

      no way I’m drilling holes in my front bumper either.

      My husband did not want to do that with his car, either. He bought it from a friend in Pennsylvania, where I guess a front plate is not required. He drove it for three years in our state, which does require a front plate, without problem. It wasn’t until I was driving it once that a cop noticed. I am always the one who gets in trouble.

    12. Rey*

      I think the problem stems more from Carguy’s recent tendency to make comments about other people–even hypothetical ones–and their financial decisions. OP says, “the talk has morphed into a discussion of how “affordable” this car is, how foolish people are who don’t want to “invest” in this car, how he’d rather pay no-front-plate tickets than drill holes for front license plates through his $2000 bumper, etc.” So he’s not just talking about this car, he’s subtle-bragging about his financial status. He wants to talk about a vehicle he admires and wants to own at work? Fine. He wants to be smug about his “investment” and mention specific dollar amounts ($2000 bumper)? That needs to get shut down fast.

      1. OP2*

        Thank you for articulating this. It’s going to help me use some of the scripts suggested in this thread in the moment and not feel rude about it.

      2. Mike C.*

        So I did a bit of research last night (I couldn’t sleep, can you tell?), and apparently a $2000 bumper isn’t all that much to brag about. It turns out that OEM parts are subject to design patents, and many different manufacturers have been jacking up the prices of various parts simply because they can.

        So I looked at my car (about half the price of the jerk’s Porsche), and the cost of the bumper? About half the cost of his. So he’s bragging about getting ripped off.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          No, he’s not getting ripped off, he’s simply forced to buy a much higher quality bumper than you are, to go with his higher quality car! Don’t you understand the investment value of that bumper? :-)

    13. Manders*

      I actually do have a couple of friends whose hobbies include sports or luxury cars. They talk about them quite a bit but I don’t think they’ve ever brought up the price, or so much as hinted to me that they think less of my 10 year old sensible compact car. There are certainly polite ways to discuss an expensive hobby, but this guy sounds waaaaay over the line.

      1. Joseph*

        +1 – Same exact thing here.
        The people I know who have and love cars will love to brag and talk about everything *except* the price. You want to know performance stats, features, the history of the brand, the wonders of low profile tiers or why the 2007 model year is just flat out inferior to 2006? They have stories, oh boy do they have stories!
        But price? Never discussed unless someone else brings it up. And even then, it’s usually just a quick brush-off “yeah, it’s expensive, but whatever. It’s really about the [insert detail of car here]. Have I told you about the time I took her out to the track? Man the steering is so smooth, even at 140+…”

        1. OP2*

          Thank you for these comments. If it was just a discussion of the car aspects of the car, I’d be bored (cars aren’t my thing), but I wouldn’t be bothered. Same if it was home improvement DIY. I’m sure I’ve bored people at work with my discussions of World of Warcraft gear or my NHL fantasy team. There’s ways to talk about your hobbies without bringing in the financial aspect at all.

          For contrast, we have a total “gearhead” here who restores vintage Corvettes in his free time. He talks a *lot* about the body work, the special equipment he had to get to jack one up to work on the coolant lines, advantages of different tires and paint, best roads to drive them on, etc. I get bored after awhile (again, cars aren’t my thing), but I never get frustrated, because he doesn’t talk about money!

            1. OP2*

              Some of our employees weren’t born here, though. I forgive anyone who grew up in a state without an NHL team for not caring about scoring percentages. ;-)

  5. Gaia*

    I’m torn about #3. I think they should give her a bit more time to pay it back but…I also think she shouldn’t have just assumed they wouldn’t want it back. I’d have tucked it away in savings and left it there.

    1. CMT*

      But she thought the problem was fixed. She noticed an overpayment, brought it to their attention, and then her pay checks got lower.

      1. Anna the Accounting Grad*

        Exactly. I doubt it makes much difference from a legal standpoint that she did so (but I,m not a lawyer), but it would probably be a useful cluebat to affectedly display.

      2. Gaia*

        They got lower but still were not correct and the original amount was never repaid. When it still wasn’t right she should have brought it up again and asked about repaying the difference.

      3. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

        Yes, but they went back to what they were before. She should’ve assumed she would have to pay it back. That’s… really always the case.

        Story time: I got paid about $1000 too much TWO years ago during a summer job. I brought it to their attention as soon as it happened, they said they’d fix it. i asked for payment details so i could pay it back. never got them .Asked 5 or more times that summer. I’ve emailed them several times in the past two years but still haven’t gotten payment details.

        I’m STILL holding on to that money. I’m pretty sure it’s just gotten lost in their accounting systems and that I will be able to keep it but I don’t know. I’m totally willing and able to pay it back as soon as they give me a way to.

        1. Lanon*

          Not always. My company is pretty notorious for our shoddy old payroll software. Due to this and the amount of times people end up paid a couple dozen bucks to many a month (They set the calculating thresholds so it will almost never short you, at the expense of overpaying you sometimes.) the employer just instituted that any payroll errors in favor of the employee will not be resolved in this way anymore.

        2. Scotty Smalls*

          I got paid double last Christmas thanks to a time sheet error. I asked how to pay them back, I called, I emailed and had the admin talk to payroll. Finally the admin said that I didn’t have to pay them back. I put that money in my savings anyway. You never know when accounting will want it back.

    2. Callietwo*

      My current company gives COL raises with no notice of any kind. One day your paycheck is just… more than it was before. I’ve been here three years and it’s happened every year in Dec or Jan.

  6. likeOMG*

    #1, That’s very interesting… I know that part of the point of having interns is teaching them workplace norms, but she isn’t your intern anymore, so is it your place to be *teaching* her anything? Not really, and yet…

    Look, I’ve got a weird feeling the person who contacted you had some kind of grudge. Can you think of a situation that would make *you* call up all of an ex-employee’s references to give them news about what he sees as bad behavior? I’m thinking I would do that for sexual harassment or thievery, not a new employee who at worst abruptly realized that her job was a poor fit.

    I wonder… did he do this to *all* of her references? Obviously he’s not going to give her one, and you’re hesitant now, did he call up everyone who liked her to tell them this? Does she have *any* references left? Is quiting without notice extreme enough for her to be this adversely affected by it?

    I don’t know. *You* don’t know. We’re running around in circles here, wondering. I think no matter what happened, you can still give her a decent reference— you can tell anyone who asks that she thrived in your workplace and was competent and professional as long as you knew her. That’s all true, and when you don’t know what might have made your former intern, who was professional and competent as long as you knew her, quit her new job abruptly, an honest and true reference is really all you can do.

    1. cncx*

      A grudge was my first thought too. what could be going on that someone would call an ex-employee’s other references? I have never had that happen in a long career of job hopping. I think it is less likely that the employee did something THAT egregious and more likely that the person calling OP1 had some kind of grudge. i mean, bad employees happen, i am not saying it is unlikely… but is quitting without notice enough in it self to make sure this girl have no references ever again? something in the milk ain’t clean here

    2. Rafe*

      A courtesy call to the professional who vouched for this employee. I’m surprised by how many people think this is … an aberration.

      1. valereee*

        It’s not that the courtesy call is an aberration if the caller were someone I knew well. The reason it raises red flags for me are:

        1. If he’s NOT someone I have a relationship with, then emailing the former employee’s references to badmouth her feels very over the top. When an employee doesn’t work out, who takes time to email strangers to tell them the person they gave a reference for is unprofessional?
        2. The former intern apparently didn’t show signs up being unprofessional when working as an intern. In fact, the reference-giver is “shocked.” Unless the reference-giver knows the emailer better than she knows the former intern (and really, can you say you know any boss well unless you’ve worked for them yourself?) then how does the reference-giver know that what she’s being told about her former intern is even the truth? Does she KNOW that the former intern quit with no notice? Does she KNOW that the former intern isn’t responding to communications from the company she left? Does she even know the former intern is still “active on social media”? And, BTW, WHY does this former employer know the intern is still active on social media? And why is the company making multiple “attempts” at contacting a former employee who isn’t responding?

        To me, this looks scarily like stalking behavior by a man of a young woman. I’m not saying it is; there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything. Maybe the OP worked for the emailer herself for a decade and is positive he was just trying to give her a heads up. Maybe the intern did suddenly exhibit unprofessional behavior out of the blue for personal reasons unconnected to this job. Maybe the company is trying to contact her more than once because they need to know what she did with such-and-such file. Maybe she’s so out-there on social media that you can’t avoid seeing that she’s instagramming photos of her puppy morning, noon and night. But until you contact her, you don’t know her side of the story.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          1. If he’s NOT someone I have a relationship with, then emailing the former employee’s references to badmouth her feels very over the top. When an employee doesn’t work out, who takes time to email strangers to tell them the person they gave a reference for is unprofessional?

          I love a good conspiracy theory, and I’ve got to say, this is very suspicious to me.

  7. Blurgle*

    My spider senses are tingling after reading LW1; how does he know the guy on the other end of the phone is really (or still) his former intern’s coworker?

    1. Office Plant*

      Exactly. Well, it was an email, and presumably it came from the address of the person she contacted to give the former intern a reference. But how does she know any of what he’s saying is true?

      Calling someone’s references to smear their name is pretty creepy. I think that if someone with good intentions were to do that, it would be because something illegal or nearly illegal had taken place, and they would provide some kind of documentation. Even then, it would be weird.

      I agree with Allison that this says more about the employer than the former intern.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Since its a email, it’s also difficult to interpret tone. Was he trying to smear the former interns reputation? Or was it more of a “this seems so unlike her we’re wondering if she’s ok so we’re checking in with other people”.

        I might start with seeing if she’s on LinkedIn and if she’s moved to another position. If she quit with no notice to jump to a better job, yes, that’s poor behavior on her part, but I’d not worry too much about it (although my future references for her might go from extremely glowing to a more tempered “yes, we were happy with her performance while she was working here”.) If she quit with no notice from her first job out of college with nothing else lined up, I’d be more concerned for her that something went really wrong and I’d probably try to reach out.

      2. Artemesia*

        I assumed the people knew each other but that is not at all clear. If my friend Ovid called me for a reference for Fergus and I gave it and then Fergus ghosted, then I would expect Ovid to give me a call or mention it in passing. It does seem odd if this manager was a stranger.

    2. Rafe*

      PLEASE. This is getting way out there. Even my Mom doesn’t know who my references were for my current job. I don’t like or appreciate that AAM acted as though it were weird to five a heads up to the professional who vouched for the employee, especially if you respect that person’s judgment and standing.

      1. valereee*

        Unless I knew you at least as well as I knew my former employee, I’d be pretty surprised to get an email from you that smeared someone I’d agree to be a reference for. To me, it would come off at best as a complaint about my judgment and at worst as an attempt to get back at an employee who had quit by tainting their relationship with their references. You would have to be a very good friend of mine for me to see it as honestly trying to give me a helpful heads up.

        1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

          Really? I would very much expect the professional courtesy of a heads-up that someone I was vouching for had flaked like this. My reputation is on the line too.

          This must vary by industry, because apparently lots of people feel differently and I was quite surprised by Alison’s take on this one.

  8. Charlotte W*

    Re: #5, I might just leave it as a single line under your education section (under whatever degree it was a part of).

    1. Khal E Eessi*

      I’m several years out of college and this is what I did for my last job. Left just the name of the study abroad program and the location under my main college’s info. (I leave it on because it helped me snag my first job out of the college – the hiring manager had done the same program, which I didn’t know when I applied!)

  9. Dan*


    One bit that got glossed over is that as an adjunct, your mother would typically “serve at the pleasure of the president.” Getting a lawyer involved would piss some higher ups off pretty quickly, so I’d be really careful before involving one.

    1. Ultraviolet*

      I think I’d recommend she talk to her department head before bringing in a lawyer, depending on her relationship with that person. They’d have a little weight to throw around and contacts higher up. This is a little outside my experience though.

  10. GiantPanda*

    #4: Under no circumstances sign this without verifying the correct amount first. If they got it wrong once, then they can have it wrong again.

    1. Meg Murry*

      This! If they’ve screwed it up twice now, how can she trust the 3rd time? Because it’s not just a matter of “your salary was supposed to be $X, but we paid you $X + $Y, so now you need to pay us back $Y”.
      Because plenty of other things could have been screwed up as well, like the amount withheld for taxes, or how much was put in her retirement plan. Heck, one college I worked at charged for your insurance as a percentage of your salary, not a fixed $X amount, so she could have overpaid there too.

      The other part that no one has mentioned is that mentioned is that the employee was overpaid in 2015, and now is being asked to repay in 2016, and it sounds like she is being asked to repay by check outside of the payroll system. This could have big tax implications, and I wouldn’t trust a payroll department that has screwed this up twice already to get the W-2 right.

      I think more so than a lawyer, this needs to be gone over by a CPA. If the college has an EAP, I’d suggest she start by calling them – but since this is the college’s screw-up, I think it would be totally reasonable to ask that they pay for a CPA to review her 2015 taxes and to do this year’s taxes.

      If I were her, I would also suggest that she hand deliver any repayments she turns in and gets a receipt for them – because again, if they already screwed up twice I wouldn’t trust them not to keep messing it up.

      1. blackcat*


        I was overpaid once. I caught it immediately. And I had to go through 5 HR people before there was one who figured out how to deduct the gross amount from *pretax* pay, not post-tax pay. All of the others were all like “$GrossOverPayment needs to go back into account X.” And I said, “I understand. But I did not receive $GrossOverPayment. I received $NetOverPayment. The rest of the money should be sitting in an internal tax account and that is for you all to figure out.”

        It was a huge pain, and that was only over a 2 week double paycheck (I switched roles and I got paid for both the first month).

        I’m worried that she’s an adjunct, though. Depending on where she is, she may not have access to any benefits (including an EAP). The result of her doing anything other than what is asked may very well mean losing her job all together.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          +1 for visibility

          OP, this is critically important. Have your mom make absolutely certain that she’s not being asked to pay post-tax dollars toward a pre-tax difference. Depending on her withholdings, they could be making off like bandits and screwing up her 2016 taxes.

          1. Vlad*

            OP#4 here: Thanks for the comments, this had never occurred to me! Could you explain what you mean by “post-tax dollars toward a pre-tax difference”? I know that they want her to repay the gross amount, and that they claim she will get some money back on her 2016 tax return (this was discussed in a comment thread above, too), but obviously I want to make sure she’s being treated fairly.

            1. J*

              They should absolutely be issuing her a W2 for her CORRECT 2016 salary, which would not result in windfall on her tax return when she files. So, no. She should be paying back the net amount only.

              1. blackcat*


                She should have been paid $X, gross, which netted $x (big X and little x). She was paid $X+Y, gross, which netted $x+y.

                She received $y extra, not $Y. So she should only pay back $y. The difference between $Y and $y is in the hands of the government if the tax was for last year or, possibly, in some internal account.

                The best way to resolve this (from her perspective) is to have $Y, gross, deducted from her current pay, gross. That means that the tax erroneously withheld will basically balance out. That must go through payroll, and likely would need to be spread over several paychecks if the overpayment was large. This would make taxes easy on her part, and hard on the university’s accountants. But HR messed up, so this should be a pain for the university’s accountants, not her.

                If HR won’t budge, get an accountant involved to make sure she would *actually* get back the tax difference. It may be that, if it’s not recorded right on the W2, she won’t be eligible to get it back and would simply be out the money. If that is the case, then it’s lawyer time. Only go the lawyer route if she is prepared to lose the job, though.

            2. Gandalf the Nude*

              Pre-tax is basically the gross and post-tax the net. Essentially, if she gets paid $1000/month gross, or pre-tax, with 10% taken out for taxes, her post-tax takeaway is $900. If they paid her $1200/month, her take home would be $1080. So, she’s getting an extra $200 pre-tax, but she’s only getting an extra $180 post-tax.

              So, they’re asking her to pay back the $200. If she pays that out of her post-tax earnings, she’s out $20 because part of that $200 gross difference was actually sitting in a tax account. And it may be that they record that correctly (which is far more complicated than running a salary reduction through payroll), and she may get that $20 back in her tax return, but that’s months away, and she shouldn’t have to be out that money until next year when it was their error to start.

              1. Vlad*

                FWIW, my mother does have an accountant who does her taxes and I will definitely bring this up with her as a thing to bring up with her accountant. Yikes, the tax situation is much more complicated than I had thought!

  11. Nobody*

    #3 – I once had a manager who forgot to change his voice mail message for months. I called him in April and his voice mail message said, “I’ll be out of the office the week of October 19th…” I don’t know if nobody told him, or if they did but he just ignored them (as he did with everything else).

    1. CMT*

      The phone system where I work is so incredibly complicated and you can have different voice mails I think for internal vs. external callers? I’m not really sure. I’ve changed one greeting and it’s entirely possible there’s another greeting with a previous employee’s message that some people get. I figured it wasn’t worth trying to figure out this Byzantine system, but I also get very few phone calls.

    2. Jennifer*

      I can tell you as of today that my old message from March about having surgery is still on my voice mail, because I got a complaint about it. The voicemail is buggered here. I know I’ve replaced that message since then, and yet it rears its head like a ghost periodically. This happens every time I have to leave an away message. Meanwhile, my coworker who was out having surgery wasn’t able to leave one At All.

      Anyway…could just be defective voice mail. I wish I could just leave a message asking people to call instead of e-mail since my phone is so screwy anyway, but god forbid I say that.

  12. FD*

    #2- I think you’re likely going to have to put up with this yahoo. It’s annoying, but I’ve found that if you think of him as a comic relief character in a sitcom it can help. One of my favorite techniques for dealing with idiots like this is to mentally add a laugh track.

    However, I’ll say this–he’s a complete moron. You don’t “invest” in a car. Cars depreciate over time, and more so as you consider maintenance and the like. Heck, I don’t even really buy the principle that you invest in a house you want to live in–not when you look at inflation, interest, and home repair costs–but that’s at least a common belief.

    Laugh at this guy in your head and move on.

    1. sayevet*

      That’s a helpful coping strategy, but this situation can be distilled to “co-worker talks about personal subject in a professional setting” and then could be deflected with “That’s not what we’re here to discuss. How about that [subject change]?”

      1. OP2*

        If these discussions were happening in a meeting or during a work-related discussion I’d totally use this script. However, Carguy is aware enough of employment etiquette to only discuss the car during breaks.

  13. M from NY*

    OP#1. If you’re confident enough to give a referral than at the very least you can call (not email) to find out what is going on. Possible scenarios could be that she just had a terrible work experience & needs to know that job is calling former references or there is something bigger (personal) going on. Calling to check in and see if she’s ok isn’t crossing a boundary. When you have direct information then make decision whether you want to offer to provide another reference or if to step back. But OP won’t know if you don’t ask directly. There are so many red flags from the phone call I would err on side of caution to make sure former intern is in fact ok.

    1. Anna the Accounting Grad*

      Yeah, I think a quick call would hardly be out of line here. No need for anything fancy: “Hey Intern, I got an e-mail from Employer that you’d ghosted them. I hope everything’s OK, but I thought you should know.”

    2. C Average*

      I think the answer to the intern question depends on the maturity level of the intern and the closeness of the relationship between the LW and the intern.

      At my former employer, I trained and worked with a lot of very young people fresh out of school. We were the first “real job” for a lot of them. I came to know and care about them as both colleagues and fellow humans. Some of them, despite their age and experience level, read as very mature. They had a solid grasp of professional norms and they seemed very able to take care of themselves and to navigate challenging situations. I knew they would do fine. Others seemed still stuck in a student mentality. They needed a lot of coaching and shepherding. Though they performed fine at most of the core functions of their job, they seemed . . . interpersonally needy, for lack of a better phrase.

      I would give–have given, in fact–a positive reference to people from both groups. (I’ve given stronger references to those from the first group.)

      If I’d received a call like the LW did about someone from the first group, I’d have assumed that something highly unusual was going on, and I would be inclined to worry and to want to reach out in some way to ascertain that the person was all right.

      If I’d received a call like the LW did about someone from the second group, I’d have assumed that the person probably made a poor choice about how to handle leaving a job–a choice in keeping with a lack of maturity and a lack of awareness or lack of respect for professional norms. Depending on how close I felt to this person and how receptive they’d been to coaching in the past (and, frankly, how much I liked them and cared about their future success), I might reach out to them and say, “Hey, about how you left your job without notice? You probably shouldn’t do that. It will affect your reference, and your reference will affect your ability to land other jobs in the future.”

      Yeah, I know it’s not my responsibility, and it’s no longer my intern we’re talking about, and it’s not strictly speaking my business, but I tend to think that when it comes to making young people workplace-ready, there’s a bit of an it-takes-a-village phenomenon: it’s a kindness to humanity and to the greater business community to gently coach entry-level people who happen to come into our orbit when we personally observe them making avoidable and correctable mistakes.

      1. shep*

        I’ve seen really compelling arguments both for and against contacting the intern and I’ve been torn throughout my reading of the various threads on the topic. I think you sum of both of those excellently, and tailor your hypothetical course of action to the situation and the person you’ve recommended.

        Two women I worked very closely with in my last job were both very nice. Granted, they weren’t interns at all, but both asked me to be references for future positions. If the first ghosted, I wouldn’t bat an eye because, while she’s never done that on the job and has always been a hard worker in a client-facing role, I got to know her “behind the scenes” and I’ve seen her temper (never directed at ME, thank goodness) and impulsiveness. Once committed to a job, she’s great, but I could definitely see her ghosting on something she decided she didn’t want to do within the first week or two.

        The second woman I’ve known far less time, but she’s dedicated, even-tempered, and reliable. If I got contacted about her ghosting, you bet I’d be worried and I’d reach out.

        But I also know her well enough to where I wouldn’t feel like I was encroaching *too* much, if at all. We’ve had the occasional coffee date/email update in the years since we’ve worked together.

      2. Loose Seal*


        I wonder also if the internship with the OP was the intern’s first office job. If they worked only in fast food and retail before and during school, they may think that it’s fine to leave jobs with no notice since that’s what a lot of people do in those jobs. How to leave a job professionally might not have come up in the internship because it likely had a natural end date.

        If the OP knows the former intern’s work history, it might give a clue as to their thinking when they left this most recent job. I’d probably call them, if it were me. But I can certainly see where the don’t-call people are coming from.

  14. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    #5 – I’m 8 years out of college, and I do still have my study abroad listed on my resume — but then, it’s for a language that is also reflected in my work history and is in high demand. What I’ve done is relegated it to the very small section of my education, so that I’ve got something like this:

    Teapot University, College of Language Studies
    Bachelor of Arts 2008
    Immersion studies in Arendelle

    I’m not making much of it, but it’s there — because in my personal experience, employers have responded positively to hearing about it. When I stop feeling that they’re interested, I’ll take it off — studying abroad certainly does go stale! My ex-father did it in the 70s and now can barely speak a word of the language he studied in.

    1. Venus Supreme*

      I agree. I add my study abroad experience in my education. I actually studied abroad through a different school. I’ve usually gotten one or two questions about it, and I don’t I list it as:

      Teapot University, BA Teapot Arts, 2014 (Teaville, TX)
      College of Teavana, London Semester, Fall 2013 (London, UK)

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Seems about right! It was my university that ran the study abroad, so I don’t need to split up the schools that way, but that’s about right. And for mine, I do emphasize that it was immersion; the family I lived with spoke maybe three words of English, and English was banned at school except in cases of emergency — and most of our professors didn’t speak it anyway.

  15. valereee*

    OP#1: If I were considering EVEN SLIGHTLY revising my recommendation of this former intern again, I would absolutely get to the bottom of this. If it were me, I’d call her and asked what happened. If her story varies at all from the story her former boss is telling, I’d advise her to check with her other references to see if they were also contacted. This story is giving me the willies. It feels like the beginning of a made-for-TV horror thriller.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      This. Absolutely. You can’t revise your recommendation based on something that a third party told you about her. For all you know she actually gave a month’s notice.

  16. HRChick*

    Never ever ever ever spend money you KNOW you’ve been overpaid.

    I agree that the payroll office screwed up here – not only in their miscalculation of the paychecks, but also in not immediately telling your mother what she owed back. BUT, that doesn’t mean that your mother got a sudden windfall at the expense of her employer. That really was not her money.

    I’d have more sympathy if your mother had no idea and got this demand out of the blue and wasn’t aware she’d been “significantly” overpaid (more sympathy, but not a lot – as others have said, you get a paystub for a reason and it’s your responsibility to be aware of what you are being paid). But, your mother absolutely knew that this was an incorrect amount because SHE brought it to the attention of payroll.

    Then she went and spent the money anyways?

    I have no idea what the delay was about from payroll, but I have been in a position where I was overpaid and I knew it was not my money and I would have to return it. I set it aside.

    1. Allison*

      In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to put the money into a savings account so it could earn interest until the company wanted it back, maybe even do some low-risk investments with some of it depending on how much there is. But I wouldn’t hold onto it forever! A few years, maybe.

    2. Loose Seal*

      Of course we don’t know the mother’s financial state but I’d like to point out that adjuncts typically are paid peanuts — lots of times, it works out to below minimum wage since they are not compensated for out of class preparation.

      I’ve certainly had times in my life where I would have had to spend the overpayment just to get by. I would have done what the mother did here — brought it to their attention once I noticed it — but I absolutely would have spent it if they didn’t indicate they were going to try to recoup the money. Maaaaybe I’d have put it aside for a few months depending on how tight finances were at the time but somewhere in that year, I’d have started thinking that money was mine.

      So I can have sympathy for the mother. Heck, I’d have sympathy for her if it turns out she’s independently wealthy and spent the overage on a splurge-y type item (like a $2000 bumper, ha!). She did what would seem to many people to be the right thing at the time — report the overage — and they took a year to say it had to be paid back. So I don’t think it helps to Monday-morning-quarterback the mother’s actions.

  17. Rusty Shackelford*

    I just realized I’ve done something similar to #1. A contractor I was already working with (Fergus) recommended another contractor (Jane) for a similar type of job. Jane did half of the job and then ghosted, and wasn’t responding to calls or email. I did contact Fergus. Not to say “hey, you should know Jane has turned into a flake and you shouldn’t recommend her to anyone,” but to say “I can’t get hold of Jane, do you happen to have an updated email or phone number for her?” In fact, I took pains not to tell Fergus what Jane had done. Because for all I know, Jane was in a coma somewhere. (Now, the fact that Jane responded immediately to Fergus using the same email address did rankle a bit, but that will only come up if she uses me for a reference.)

  18. Jessie*

    #2: Bragging in weird ways about finances is actually one of the red flags of someone who’s doing something illegal (it seems counterintuitive, you would think they would want to hide it.) I learned that the hard way when someone I worked with started bragging on a daily basis about ridiculously expensive purchases … turns out he was stealing upwards of $100K.

  19. Vlad*

    OP 4 Here:

    Ms. Green, thank you for responding to my letter, and commenters, thank you for your comments!

    My mother mentioned that she would have to talk to her lawyer about the doc the University wanted her to sign, and (as Ms. Green suggested) that the repayment plan they suggested was a financial hardship to her. A day later, accounting agreed to a much more reasonable repayment plan. They want her to pay back the first 2.5 months right away (this weird amount is for tax reasons I think), and the rest in monthly installments. So, I count this as a success story!

    I saw the comment about her getting her taxes right and possibly asking the University for a CPA to look over them — this strikes me as a really good idea, and I think it won’t hurt for her to ask.

    FWIW, both my mother and I accept that she does owe the money; we were mostly aghast at the initially unreasonable (for her) demands for paying it back, and the pressure to sign an agreement right away. To clarify, the initial letter she got from the University, when she was still on vacation, said “bring us a check for the entire sum on next week.” When she got back from vacation and talked to accounting, they said the best they can do is let her pay everything back by 12/31/16 right away, and they were strongly pressuring her to sign a letter to that effect at 9AM the following morning. Only when she mentioned a lawyer and financial hardship did they offer her a reasonable payment plan.

    It is a helpful life lesson to know to put those kinds of overpayments into a savings account.

    1. Lady Blerd*

      Glad things worked out for your mom.

      I’m in HR and my employer has a strict policy about about employees being responsible to make sure their pay is all right regardless of who’s responsible for the mistake. I’ve had to tell a good friend of mine she owed a few thousand dollars in overpayment for a maternity leave benefit. We have a 6-month payback policy but we can authorize extending if it causes a hardship.

      Whoeve much it sucks, I always say it’s better if our employer owes you money then the other way around because that payback can cripple you.

    2. East of Nowhere south of Lost*

      So glad you got it worked out. This same thing happened to me at JobFromHell. After i left, i kept getting automatic deposits for about 3 months. When i called them about it, they were nasty to me, and pretty much called me a thief and demanded all the over payment back immediately. I was planning to pay them back, but the attitude really stung when i notified them of their error. I made them send me a certified statement on paper by snailmail with the exact amount that was owed back to them, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope with the stipulation that my personal check was valid. Always check everything when changing jobs!

      1. Loose Seal*

        Wow, that was horrible that they acted that way when you were being kind enough to point out their error. Do you ever wish you could have a parallel life where you didn’t let them know just to see how long they kept paying you?

  20. Not Karen*

    #2: OT but next time he mentions the plates, suggest that he move to a state where front plates are not required. It’s a win-win situation for both of you.

    1. Jessie*

      To be fair, this is definitely not the first time I’ve heard someone say they would rather pay the tickets than put a front plate on (I’m from a state where it’s required.)

    2. OP2*

      I’d be upset if he left – he is quite good at his job.

      Someone at work pointed out the mounting system he can use for a front plate on the particular car he wants that won’t require drilling holes. Now the conversation has moved onto the ruined aesthetic. Admittedly I’m not a car hobbyist and I believe in complying with car laws, so I don’t get this argument. But it’s his choice to take consequences around no front plate in MA, so no skin off my nose.

      1. Temperance*

        It’s supremely weird to me that buying stuff and talking about buying stuff counts as a “hobby”. I have a friend who does car shows, but she’s not tacky and never talks about the price of her car.

        1. OP2*

          Originally he spoke about the car as a car – horsepower, engine, paint, tires, coolant systems, etc. And still does off and on. That’s definitely a hobby. When the discussion morphed to the financial aspects of the car it changed a bit, but I’m not sure how to define it other than as a hobby.

      2. Allison*

        I’d still be annoyed if someone I knew was insisting he shouldn’t have to follow the same laws as everyone else, just because they have a nice car. I know it seems to be a common attitude, but I still hate it.

        1. OP2*

          Two coworkers called him out on that – “so you’re saying there should be one requirement for expensive cars and rich people and one for other cars?”

          Reply: “Exactly!” I *think* he was trolling at that point.

  21. Jessie*

    #4: I owe money back to my company several times a year because I’m in the Reserves. When I’m on military leave, the company continues to pay me, but I owe most of my paycheck back when I return and give them my LES from the Army. They always deal with the taxes themselves (so I only owe back the money actually paid to me, not what was paid + taxes.) It’s weird that they’re saying she owes back the whole thing including taxes.

    1. Dzhymm*

      This seems rather complicated to me… is it really easier to do it this way than to have the company just not pay you when you’re on leave? Or am I missing something?

      1. Jessie*

        It’s because of something called differential pay. The company makes up the difference between what the military pays me and what the Army does, so they need to actually see what I was paid during the time I was on leave. For accounting reasons, I think it’s easier to do this retroactively.

  22. Alex*

    #5: I’m still within five years out of school so not quite at the stage of the OP but I’m wondering if AAM’s advice would remain the same in my situation: I graduated from a top 15 university, but had the opportunity to study abroad at Oxford. I studied there for a whole year, so technically 1/4 of my undergraduate degree was spent there, and I completed a significant number of upper-level elective credits towards both my majors there. Given that it was a whole year and the name recognition Oxford has, and that it is an interesting conversation starter, is it worth leaving it on there almost permanently as a part of my education? It doesn’t take up TOO much room and I would probably take it off if I end up going back for a graduate degree.

    1. Elizabeth*

      Alex, for what it’s worth, I’m 12 (eeesh!) years out of undergrad and still have my study abroad program on my resume, even now that I’ve gone on to earn a graduate degree. It’s a single line with the university name and dates studied, so I don’t think it clutters my resume. Like you, I was there for an entire year and took courses that were in my major and required for graduation. It was a prestigious European university and I took all of my classes entirely in another language – a language that I still speak and which is in high demand for employers. In just about *every* interview that I’ve gone on, I’m asked about my language skills and I point to my time spent in university in that country. In my case — and it sounds like yours — it seems to be a benefit added.

    2. Joseph*

      I think it might be a bit different, for two reasons:
      1.) It was a whole year. This is different than a typical study abroad program which is just a single semester or held over summer. We’re talking a significant fraction of your collegiate degree.
      2.) Oxford has name recognition and status here in the US that the vast majority of foreign colleges don’t.
      Honestly, the thing to keep in mind is that Alison’s point is not a hard yes/no, but more along the lines of “Consider if this truly adds to your candidacy – is this the best use of your limited resume space?”. Think about it from that viewpoint, then you can decide whether or not it makes sense based on what else you have on the resume, how much the study abroad highlights your candidacy, etc.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yes, for many jobs, you spending a year at Oxford will mean nothing. For some jobs, it may mean a little. You really have to look at each job and decide whether it’s more the latter than the former.

    3. Eddie Turr*

      Sounds like something you could spend maybe one line on, under education. Oxford has lots of name recognition and might make you sound smart, but it doesn’t say much about whether you’ll be good at the job you’re applying for.

  23. EmilyG*

    Interesting how we’re all bringing our own assumptions to #1. I thought “depression!” and that the LW should check on the former intern. I guess if LW does so, they should do it in an open-ended way that allows for any kind of situation, because there are so many possibilities.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      For what it’s worth (which is zero) that was exactly where my mind went too. Early 20s can be a time when stuff crops up. It’s not necessarily a contradiction that they were formerly excellent and have now dropped off the radar. That was the reason I wouldn’t push reaching out to the former intern and pushing for an explanation; it’s really not any of your business at all, unless she comes back asking for another reference.

  24. Anon for this one*

    OP 1: In my opinion, it’s perfectly ethical for you to continue to be a reference (if you want to) and say that she was great, because it’s true. You know she’s capable because you saw it, it’s not your burden to help future employers assess history you weren’t there to see. I may take some heat for this, but as troubling as it is, what the new job told you is still secondhand. It’s the responsibility of any prospective employers talking to references to contact the other employer and weigh those references against one another. I like Alison’s suggestion on wording for a short and sweet e-mail. If it’s a smear campaign by a toxic employer as some others have suggested it could be, now she knows about it and can take steps to protect herself. If it is a personal issue, sometimes it helps to know someone cared enough to say “I hope you’re ok.”

    That being said, I have an example of a situation where I’d advise differently. I had a coworker who I was very close to, and we actually both moved from one employer to another in close succession (not unusual in the combination of our industry and geographic area). I would have recommended them to the moon and back based on our work together at Employer 1. They ghosted Employer 2. Just stopped showing up, and when their boss sent someone to check up on them, they were hostile and refused to even open the door. It turned out that an addiction issue that had been well controlled for several years had resurfaced. My friend had been up front about their history with both employers (part of the reason they were worried enough to send someone to physically check in), but the sad reality is that the nature of addiction is a lifelong battle. My friend is getting back on their feet now, but relapsing meant a great professional loss, including a hard earned good name in our industry. I care deeply for this person and still try to stay in touch, but would never offer a professional recommendation for them now. If I’d only worked with them at Employer 1 I would still be ok giving a reference, but since I saw the ghosting firsthand, I couldn’t in good conscience only talk about the good without acknowledging the bad.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      As someone who has given references, I try to stick to being scrupulously honest. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, “I had an excellent experience with [intern]. I heard some odd accounts of their next job so you might want to check with Fergus, but I have zero complaints and would strongly recommend them.” This has the advantage of being true.

      1. Chaordic One*

        I’m inclined to agree with Anon and would continue to be a reference and to talk about my experience with the intern. I would NOT say anything about Fergus and the ghosted internship.

        I would imagine that the former intern is probably going to leave her ghosted internship off of her resume and not mention it to prospective employers. Since it was apparently only for a short period of time it probably isn’t all that important in the overall scheme of things and it doesn’t seem to be part a pattern.

  25. Kimberlee, Esq*

    One thing I’ll flag, because it’s a bias I’ve definitely noticed I have as I’ve been reviewing job applications on behalf of hiring managers for like 5 years now: I would remove all internships and education-related stuff (except the credential itself and where you got it) probably like 3 years after you graduate college, unless they’re important to keep for a specific job (eg, super relevant or you need to demonstrate X years of doing something). The reason? At the 3-5 year mark you’re no longer applying for entry level jobs, but having internships/study abroad/specific classes taken subtly reinforces the idea that you are an entry-level candidate. Especially if you’re trying to move into more mid-career positions, this can have a major impact on whether the hiring manager perceives you as a mid-career professional or someone who “just got out of school.”

    1. J*

      Well, maybe?

      I think there’s a compulsion to fill the page (maybe it’s just me?). If you’re 3-5 years out, unless you’ve job-hopped, you’ve got one, maybe two jobs on there in addition to the education bracket. Perhaps I’m an underachiever–totally likely–but I would have been STRETCHING to put more than three or four bulletpoints under each position. I’d have been down to “reloaded the copier toner on regular basis”, or some similar nonsense. That’s a lot of white space.

    2. NonProfit Nancy*

      To me, I agree. College stuff is fine to to list if you don’t have much else to talk about, but I’d be mildly concerned if an applicant still thought it was one of their strongest recommendations 5 years later. Especially if it’s not a lock for the job.

  26. Mel*

    #1. I would absolutely want to know if someone I recommended flaked out and went AWOL. I’d probably reach out to find out what happened, not so much because I think I have a right to know, but to decide if I still want to be a reference. There are very very few circumstances where I’d be okay with being a reference for someone who didn’t handle this sort of stuff maturely.

  27. Lady Blerd*

    LW3: I did this this week for a friend who’s voicemail said she was absent until the end of August. And it’s not just voicemail, some people don’t remove their out of office email messages.

    Personally I use the automated end dates to avoid the hassle of having to remove the messages (ok mostly because I’ve forgotten).

  28. Pwyll*

    The part that concerns me about this is the “including taxes” part. Are they expecting the employee to reimburse the employer-paid taxes to the University? That’s pretty outrageous.

    1. Mel*

      The only deductions that are reasonable to pay back would be any retirement or healthcare contributions that were a result of the error. Otherwise It’s kind of ridiculous to ask an employee to pay back more than the amount they took home.

  29. Anonymous Educator*

    If an employer makes an error in your favor, you’re required to repay it if they ask you to — just like you’d expect them to correct an error that was in their favor.

    While I do agree that it’s only right to pay the money back, I don’t really think that the two situations (employer pays you too much / employer pays you too little) are equivalent, for two reasons:

    1. Either way, whether it’s underpayment or overpayment, the primary fault is with your employer, not you. You may have been the (seeming, since you have to pay it back) beneficiary of that fault, but it’s still primarily your employer’s (accounting) fault, not yours. Should you double-check your paychecks? Of course. But that doesn’t make it your fault if your employer overpaid you.

    2. There are businesses on the verge of bankruptcy, but almost every place I’ve worked has had a significant (to an individual, if not to the organization) chunk of money lying around. Individuals themselves, however, do not necessarily have that. $5,000 at a small-to-medium business that’s doing okay isn’t horrible to pay immediately or over the course of two months. $5,000 to an individual who isn’t making over $120,000/year is pretty chunky. So I would expect an underpayment to be paid almost immediately in full by the employer, but a payment plan makes a lot more sense to rectify an overpayment to an employee.

    (I’m just throwing out arbitrary numbers here, because I’d assume if you were being overpaid by $10,000 or $20,000 you would definitely notice, and if you were being overpaid by only $500, you could probably pay that back almost immediately.)

    1. Norman*

      She’s also just wrong in saying the money is definitely owed. It’s possible, depending on the surrounding circumstances, that the monthly payment creates an expectation that that is the new salary, which likely prevents the employer from getting the money back.

  30. Allison*

    #2, I get why Carguy wants to keep talking about his upcoming purchase. Buying a new car is exciting, just like buying a new house or getting married can be exciting. That alone is just annoying but not obnoxious. What is obnoxious is how he’s putting down other people’s spending habits, and making statements about what he thinks people should spend money on. As I said upthread, spending decisions are super personal, and having someone insult yours, even through general, indirect comments, feels pretty terrible.

    I’m wondering if this guy actually knows this car isn’t a good idea for him, but really wants to get it for some reason, so he’s convinced himself this is the right choice for everyone, and the more he says it the more he believes it.

  31. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    #2 – I do wonder if Porsche guy has been getting grief over buying what is considered a high end car and is on the defensive? We bought a “luxury” model SUV and got a ton of “must be nice” comments and “I’d never spend that much on a vehicle” remarks. The funny thing is we bought it used and it had been heavily marked down (for reasons I forget), so it was only $13k. People kept assuming it was a super expensive SUV and it was way less than what the loudest complainers had spent for their brand new “cheap” vehicles.

    And here we are still driving our 2005 SUV in 2016 because it’s super reliable and still in great shape. And we’ll probably hold on to it for another 5 years, at least. We enjoy not having a car payment.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      I’d say anybody who goes on about anything when they’re aware their audience is not interested is, by definition, a major bore. That being said, the OP should try not to let this get under their skin; in the grand scheme of annoying coworkers (a spectrum that includes back-stabbing, stalking, and harassment) this is minor. As other commentators have said, I’d try to mentally reframe it as an amusing personal foible. I’ve had good luck with this technique in the past, and since he’s unlikely to change, I’d say it’s not something you want to waste a bunch of personal energy on.

    2. OP2*

      I’ve been thinking back over the original conversations, but nobody brought financial matters into it besides him. Initially the conversations went like this:

      Carguy: I’m buying a new Porsche sometime this year! I’ve been doing a ton of research! I’m really excited!
      Coworker: Oh really? What do you like about it?
      Carguy: Do you know anything about the cooling system?
      Coworker: No. Is it different than my Jeep?
      Carguy: Yes! [technical information]
      Coworker: Sounds like you really know your stuff! Oh by the way, what do you think about the new timeline for the teapot spout contract?

      Later, as we all got a bit tired of it, conversations went like this:
      Carguy: I’ve decided to add Blu Tooth to the Porsche I’m buying!
      Me: Is that a basic feature or an add-on?
      Carguy: Well with Porsche everything is an add-on.
      Me: Oh, that’s interesting. Is it a brand thing? Do other car companies do that?
      Carguy: [technical discussion]
      Me: -cutting in at a pause for breath- Thanks for the explanation. I appreciate the answer. Hey, have you done any work on the Vanilla Teapot?

      Now, conversations go like this:
      Carguy: Oh hey, I found out that I can get cheaper insurance on my $52,000 car if I add [item], taking the value of the car to $54,000, and remove [X part of the policy]. Isn’t that awesome?
      Coworker: Sure. I have to get back to testing the Chocolate Teapot so it doesn’t explode in a fountain of molten sugar.
      Carguy: But that extra $2000 is going to save me $6000 over five years! I don’t understand why someone would be foolish enough not to research this type of thing when buying a car and spend the extra money.
      Coworker: That’s nice. Explosions are imminent, I’m going back to work.
      Carguy: Hey, Coworker X, did you hear about the way I can get cheaper insurance on my car?

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Gawd. He sounds really intolerable.

        (Also, why hasn’t he pulled the trigger yet? Is there a possibility he’s never actually going to buy this car at all, but just plan on buying it for the next decade?)

      2. Marisol*

        Anytime I hear about someone who earns a normal, middle-class salary driving an ultra-expensive car, I think they’re an idiot for mismanaging their money. It doesn’t make me feel bad, it makes me feel superior because I consider myself very savvy about personal finances and would never put such a huge chunk of my disposable income toward something like that. This guy might be earning a fabulous salary, but if he’s thinking in terms of saving a few thousand dollars over a five-year period, then it doesn’t sound to me like he’s a really high earner, and an investment of $2000 saving $6000 over five years is a net “profit” of $800/year, but how much more is he spending on insuring the damn thing than if he just got a cheaper vehicle? Ultimately it’s a net loss of money right there, not to mention the cost of servicing, etc. What if he needs new brakes? There’s your 800 bucks right there. Granted, I assume OP2 was just plugging in some random numbers as examples, but you see my point (hopefully, if I’m making sense).

        If I wanted to shut the guy up I would question his judgement in that way. I’d take out a pencil and do some back-of-envelope calculations: “so, you say you’re saving four grand, eh? Let’s see…” and then I’d show him his folly. “Actually, you’re costing yourself xx dollars every year, so this is really a cost, not an investment. But you enjoy it, and that’s the important thing. I wouldn’t keep talking about it like an investment, though. It might give people the impression that you don’t understand how money works.”

        Now everyone has to determine what purchases best improve their quality of life, so in that way, maybe a Porsche *is* the best “investment” if he gets that much satisfaction from it, but no one who understands anything about investments or money management could claim that it’s a good investment from a purely financial perspective. Even a multi-millionaire will say it’s a cost, as opposed to an investment–it’s just an affordable cost.

        Am I right? Am I missing something?

      3. Marisol*

        Anytime I hear about someone who earns a normal, middle-class salary driving an ultra-expensive car, I think they’re foolish for mismanaging their money. It doesn’t make me feel bad, it makes me feel superior because I consider myself very savvy about personal finances and would never put such a huge chunk of my disposable income toward something like that. This guy might be earning a fabulous salary, but if he’s thinking in terms of saving a few thousand dollars over a five-year period, then it doesn’t sound to me like he’s a really high earner, and an investment of $2000 saving $6000 over five years is a net “profit” of $800/year, but how much more is he spending on insuring the damn thing than if he just got a cheaper vehicle? Ultimately it’s a net loss of money right there, not to mention the cost of servicing, etc. What if he needs new brakes? There’s your 800 bucks right there. Granted, I assume OP2 was just plugging in some random numbers as examples, but you see my point (hopefully, if I’m making sense).

        If I wanted to shut the guy up I would question his judgement in that way. I’d take out a pencil and do some back-of-envelope calculations: “so, you say you’re saving four grand, eh? Let’s see…” and then I’d show him his folly. “Actually, you’re costing yourself xx dollars every year, so this is really a cost, not an investment. But you enjoy it, and that’s the important thing. I wouldn’t keep talking about it like an investment, though. It might give people the impression that you don’t understand how money works.”

        Now everyone has to determine what purchases best improve their quality of life, so in that way, maybe a Porsche *is* the best “investment” if he gets that much satisfaction from it, but no one who understands anything about investments or money management could claim that it’s a good investment from a purely financial perspective. Even a multi-millionaire will say it’s a cost, as opposed to an investment–it’s just an affordable cost.

        Am I right? Am I missing something?

        1. Marisol*

          Or how about this: “yeah, it will bring the value up to $54,000 in the short term, like maybe for the first six months of ownership, assuming you don’t get into an accident, but you do realize you will never actually recoup that investment, don’t you? The car will depreciate in value while all your peers who have invested their money in a retirement account will have actually increased their net worth…”

          I don’t know, maybe this is mean-spirited, but I would just patronize the hell out of that guy.

          1. OP2*

            I understand where you’re coming from. However, as I’m mostly concerned that Carguy’s insensitivity on financial matters is harming his working relationships – which will eventually harm my working relationships, as we’re assigned to several projects together – I don’t want to do anything that would humiliate him or make it more difficult to work with him.

    3. Allison*

      “We bought a “luxury” model SUV and got a ton of “must be nice” comments and “I’d never spend that much on a vehicle” remarks.”

      Ugh, I hate comments like that. My mom says stuff like that sometimes, and it drives me nuts. If you’re worried about my spending habits, let’s have an honest conversation about it. If you’re not, or it’s not your place to comment, don’t say anything! Apparently at Corporette they’re totally fine with “must be nice” comments if they’re used to call out obnoxious behavior (and the assumption is that if someone says “must be nice,” it means you’re being obnoxious). Spending money on a car isn’t obnoxious, but maybe someone should tell Carguy it must be nice to have so much money.

  32. Helen*

    I find the best way to deal with tiresome braggarts is to ignore them. “Oh, that’s nice.” “mmhmm.” “Interesting.” (the tone of which signifies you are anything but interested).

    Hopefully, bragging will get boring if he isn’t engaging anyone.

  33. Me Too*

    I haven’t read all the comments, but it surprises me that no one seems to have considered foul play. The intern could have been kidnapped or murdered, or just died in her house (happened to someone I worked with, unknown heart defect). Her boss should have been in touch with her emergency contact or gone to her house, not just assumed that she didn’t want to show up.

    1. MommaTRex*

      Apparently, she’s been active on social media. Not that someone couldn’t be catfishing her identity, but I would think a friend would notice pretty quickly.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      It actually has come up, but you would have had to have read all the comments to know that. ;-)

  34. designbot*

    oh my gosh, seeing the Porsche guy title I thought one of my coworkers had written in, but more than one person does this! In my case it’s a department head, and I can reasonably surmise that everyone who sits around him makes less than he does, which makes this (as well as his talk of fancy face creams, international travel, not being able to afford retirement, etc.) extra uncouth.

    1. OP2*

      I wish you were not also dealing with this. Hopefully some of the scripts other commenters shared in this thread will help you too!

      1. designbot*

        I’ve mostly accepted that it’s just who he is–he says everything in a tone that makes you not be able to 100% tell whether he’s serious or joking and makes it as outlandish as possible. BUT, if I ever see the right opportunity I’m ready to bust out with “You know Fergus, since you’re a director here you might consider that everyone who sits around you who is not management is probably making even less than you do, and all the porsche talk might be rubbing their faces in your higher salary a bit.” But, I am saving it for the right moment, if he says anything and it’s just him and I because I don’t want to call him out too publicly, just make him think.

  35. other rick*

    #1: I had an intern do the same thing–social media use and all. Turns out there was a sudden, acute, long-term medical issue that had raised its ugly head into what should have been the start of a wonderful career. I won’t go into specifics, but the issue dogs my former intern’s heels to this day. I back them up whenever I’m asked. I wish I could do more.

  36. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    OP#1: my first thought, which I admit is really dark, was, “This guy sexually harassed her, she felt threatened, and shut the whole thing down by leaving with no notice or contact info. Now he’s worried that she’s going to take legal action. He’s calling OP#1 to show what a stand-up guy he is, because he’s dumb enough to that that will keep OP#1 on his side if/when the suit comes out.” Yes, speculation, I realize. It’s up to OP#1 to decide if she should call to check based on how well she knows the intern.
    OP#2: I work at a private university and have had to deal with this with students. I suggest you talk to him privately again: “Carguy, being able to talk about this comes from a place of great privilege. Whether you mean to or not, it makes you sound extremely insensitive to others. Part of being a good employee means working well with others; when you do this, you’re not working well with others, which could affect your performance reviews.”

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      That’s a good point. It’s not just that he’s annoying; it’s gotten to the point where his coworkers don’t want to deal with him. That’s a performance issue.

    2. OP2*

      Thank you for the script. His manager returned from a month of travel recently and is aware of the situation, so hopefully this conversation will come from his manager.

  37. AB*

    #2, as an automobile appraiser by profession, I can say with complete surety that “investing” in a high end car is not a good financial move, especially Porsche. A late model car is a depreciating asset, period. I see people lose an insane amount of money on cars every day. For instance, 2015 BMW with 135k MSRP, 1600 miles is now worth 78k a month later. Ignore car guy and laugh to yourself about how disconnected he is.

  38. Siobhan*

    Re: study abroad, that depends. I have a very Irish name and live in Miami (where fluency in Spanish is a prerequisite for most jobs). I’m in my mid-30s and my full-immersion study abroad in LATAM is still on my resume. I’m aware it’s kept my resume in consideration on more than one occasion.

  39. Norman*

    Bad answer on #4. It may be right sometimes, but not always. Not all employers are good about communicating details of raises. If the employee reasonably believes their salary to be their raise, it is possible for them to gain an expectancy interest in the money and therefore would not be required to pay it back. It sounds like that is *probably* not the case here, but the letter is far from clear. (For example, Mom may have discovered the error when the employer finally told her the details of her raise months after the up in pay.) But even if the advice applies in this situation, the absolute nature of the answer is wrong, so hopefully nobody is confused by it.

  40. Narise*

    Several states require employees to sign a form stating that money can be withheld from their check. It sounds like payroll is asking for her to sign something implying that she lives in a state that requires this before they can deduct anything. If she refuses to sign they can’t take the money. They can take her to small claims court but most companies won’t not sure about Universities though.

  41. Persephone Mulberry*

    I *think* I read most of the comments re: #1 and I didn’t see my perspective, so here goes: I actually think that the intern’s new (now ex-) boss is trying to help her by reaching out to the OP, not smear her. This was presumably Intern’s first full time professional job after college. If I were in the ex-boss’s shoes, I would feel that it isn’t my place anymore to follow upnwoth my ex-employee to lecture her on professionalism, but I could totally see giving a heads up to the person tasked with coaching Intern on professional norms and who might still have a relationship with Intern – the internship supervisor.

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