employee’s long bathroom breaks are tying up the customer bathroom, staff had meltdowns after talking with each other, and more

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

1. Employee’s long bathroom breaks are tying up the customer bathroom

We own and operate a retail hardware store that has been in business for 35 years. My brother and I grew up in the business and a few years ago bought the store from our parents. We employ 8-10 staff and operate in a little under 6,000 square feet.

We have an employee who has been with us for over five years. He is vital to out small operation. However, he routinely takes extended bathroom breaks. We have one bathroom downstairs that we all use, including customers. it is the only place for us to wash our hands on the ground level of our building. We also have two full bathrooms and a full kitchen upstairs. These are kept clean and operable at all times.

We have advised all of our staff that for extended bathroom breaks we would prefer that they use the upstairs bathroom. We as owners also sometimes use the upstairs facilities.

In the last year, this employee has routinely been in the locked bathroom on the ground level of our store for more than 20 minutes. Once for 31 minutes. We have asked that ALL STAFF alert management or other staff if they are having “bathroom issues” and use one of the upstairs bathrooms. This employee refuses to comply and today used the downstairs bathroom for 24 minutes!

I think you need to get away from the focus on tracking the exact number of minutes that he’s using the bathroom; the exact number of minutes isn’t really the issue and it’s just agitating you and will look kind of weird to him if he realizes you’re tracking his bathroom use to that degree.

Just tell him that you need that bathroom to be available to customers and ask if there’s a reason he’s not using the upstairs bathrooms. It’s possible that there’s something health-related in play here (like that he has a situation that makes it hard to get to the upstairs one in time) and if that’s the case you’d want to figure out how to accommodate that. But otherwise, tell him he needs to use the upstairs bathrooms from now on.

2. My employees had meltdowns after talking with each other

Long story short, I am the big boss — and I’m super new, just shy of two months in this position and still learning the ropes and personalities. I have an assistant manager under me and a number of staff members. Here’s what happened:

A staff member interacted very poorly with a customer. Customer is a friend of Assistant Manager (AM), so Customer complained to AM. AM told me about Customer’s complaint. I sat down with Staff Member and AM. AM and I told Staff Member that they need to act better, etc., and gave reasons why. It got quite heated from AM. AM overreacted and tried really hard to make Staff Member feel BAD. I did not see this coming and tried to gently shut it down, but AM was on a roll. It was bad.

Mission accomplished: Staff Member felt so bad (crying for days, can’t sleep, etc.) that she came back to work and complained to me about AM. Then AM is sobbing with regret and anger, and Staff Member won’t even talk to AM. I feel caught in the middle. I’m at a total loss of what to do. I can’t relate to people who can’t control their emotions at work — I’m very calm and I keep things in perspective. I think both sides are behaving unprofessionally. I have no idea what I should do next.

Talk with AM and find out what on earth happened. Is that her normal way of talking to employees when something goes wrong? Does she not see anything wrong with what she did, or does she recognize that she handled it badly? If the latter, what does she think happened? If the former, this is the time to have a serious conversation with her about how you expect her to operate. Depending on what was said, she may need to apologize to the staff member.

Once that’s done, talk to the staff member, explain that AM wasn’t correct in how she handled it, that you’ve spoken with AM, and that you don’t expect a conversation like that again. But let her know that she does need to talk to AM in the course of doing her job; not speaking to her isn’t an option and you expect both of them to behave professionally to each other going forward.

Meanwhile, I’d have a sharp eye out for other tendencies toward drama on this team, especially from AM. “Sobbing with regret and anger” is pretty off-key in a workplace, and if it turns out that it’s part of a pattern, you want to be ready to manage it pretty aggressively, particularly if it’s coming from someone who needs to manage others.

3. My coworker is misleading our boss about when she’ll have a certification

I am one of two new practitioners, in the same position, joining an established practice. Our boss has made it clear that it is essential that both of us recieve full credentials as soon as possible. I will receive mine in a few weeks. My coworker has yet to even pass the certification exam, but has stated repeatedly in the past she will have her credentials in a month. She has since started saying “at earliest, in a month.” The actual timeline is no earlier than five months from now (provided she passes the exam this time around). I’ve tried to keep out of it, but her blatant dishonesty to keep herself competitive is not only personally bothersome, but ethically negligent and does a disservice to the practice. I’m struggling with how or if to approach my new employer about it.

Why not ask your coworker what’s up the next time she says it? You could just say, “Are you sure about that timeline? As far as I know, it takes at least five months after passing the exam.”

Beyond that, though, you could certainly say to your boss, “I’m not sure if this matters, but I know that Jane has said a few times that she’ll have her certification as soon as a month from now. I don’t think that’s possible — it takes at least five months after passing the exam.” This isn’t tattling; it’s giving your boss work-related information that you know she cares about. And you’re not passing judgment on Jane’s ethics or honesty; people get facts incorrect all the time without doing it intentionally. (Of course, you’d want to be 100% sure that your information is right before saying anything, though.)

4. Should I give this token to our company president?

I have had a good relationship with the manager of our human resources department. I have considered giving him a gift. Really, it’s more of an idea. It is a little wooden token that was given to me by the president of the college I went to. It says on the token, “Good for a cup of coffee with the president.” His personality is such that I think that this would really work for him.

Then I thought, he really isn’t the president of the company. Is it possible that I could do this with the president of the corporation? I never had a real conversation with him. We have said hi in the hall, and when he speaks to the company he has a really good sense of humor. He is the president of our North American headquarters. Our company has about 13,000-14,000 employees worldwide. Would it be appropriate to ask for a meeting with him to give him this token?

No. I mean, it’s possible that he’s in the minority of people who might find this charming, but I think most people will think it’s a little strange (and especially asking for a meeting to present it to him, as he’s probably quite busy).

5. Interviewing for jobs that may be affected by the new overtime rule

I’ve begun to actively job search in the past few weeks. My department (I work in higher ed) is one of many across the U.S. that will be heavily affected by the new overtime regulation. I’m currently exempt but soon will not be. My newish employer (I was transferred internally) refuses to even talk about this (or about new coping strategies since we are already suffering from severe budget cuts and lack of staff) until it goes into effect in December. Behavior like this is representative of why I’m searching for a new position after working at the same institution for 14 years.

However, because of my current education level and area of expertise, the majority of jobs for which I will be applying will also be affected by the overtime change, which makes me nervous. I’d like to think that other managers already have a plan in place, but I’ve heard from many other friends with experiences similar to mine. Should I wait until December to begin job hunting so all the positions are reclassified first and exempt/non-exempt (rearranged salary levels) already worked out? If I didn’t, and I’m interviewed for a position that falls into this category, do I/can I bring up this topic?

No, you should start now. Job searching often takes a while, and there’s a good chance that it’ll already be December or later by the time you get to the offer stage anywhere. But even if you do get an offer before the new regulation goes into effect on December 1 (more here for people who don’t know what we’re talking about), you can simply ask: “Will the salary for this position be increased on December 1 to keep it exempt once the overtime law changes, or will it become non-exempt at that point?” We’re getting close the time where employers won’t have a choice but to have a plan for people who they’re bringing on late this year — and if they don’t, you can ask to negotiate that as part of the offer.

{ 223 comments… read them below }

  1. whippers*

    Why do employees need to alert management if they are having “bathroom issues”? Why can’t they just use the upstairs bathroom regardless?

    1. Jaydee*

      My guess would be it’s less about needing to know the exact details of the “bathroom issues” and more about letting someone know that you will be away from the register or sales floor for a while so they know not to worry and can have someone cover. In that small a business, there probably aren’t a lot of people working at once and having an employee away for 20+ minutes when it’s not a scheduled break time can be fairly disruptive in addition to the employer’s concern about having the only customer bathroom tied up for that long.

      1. VioletEMT*

        From my read, I’m picturing the downstairs bathroom as a one-seater. So it’s not just the issue of having an employee off the floor for so long, but the issue of having the one-seater public-access restroom with the only first-floor handwashing sink routinely tied up, and the optics of having the person exiting the bathroom after such a marathon session be an employee in uniform.

        I completely sympathize with the employee, and my first thought while reading the article was wondering if the employee has IBS or IBD (Crohn’s/UC), because if so, that’s a special hell and making it to the upstairs bathroom may not be possible for the employee.

        I know it might not be possible to install an additional first floor bathroom in the store, but might you be able to put in another publicly accessible handwashing sink on the first floor that’s not in a bathroom? That way, if folks JUST need to wash their hands, they’re not needing the bathroom.

    2. MillersSpring*

      I usually don’t know if a bathroom session is going to be 5 minutes or 15 until I’m sitting there. And if I do have some advance idea, that’s when climbing a flight of stairs is inadvisable. I wonder if this is the case with the OP’s employee. I’m curious if he is apologetic or embarrassed by his lengthy downstairs sessions.

      1. MK*

        But after this has been happening to you for a few weeks, you really should start defaulting to using the upstairs bathroom, if possible.

        1. TheLazyB*

          my dad has a medical condition where, when he needs to go, he needs to go NOW. It’s usually kept under control but every so often he has a bad day. There is no way he would be able to get upstairs if it was him in that situation (if the bathroom was occupied he’d have to stand outside and keep very still till it was free). Definitely ask first if there are medical reasons.

          1. Ashley*

            Exactly. I’m a 29 year old, in super good shape, eats healthy adult….and I have IBS-D. Sometimes, if I need the bathroom, I need in NOW. Not “find my coworkers and then walk upstairs” now, like immediately or I will soil myself now.

            For what it’s worth, this is a fairly new medical issue for me and I ALWAYS thought people exaggerated. Karma is a cruel, cruel thing because now I’m the person bolting down the aisle of the airplane while the fasten seatbelt light is on.

              1. Kyrielle*

                It is so hard to raise even when you do think it will be an issue, I imagine knowing it will be an issue won’t help. Talking about things like this that may inconvenience the employer is awkward; talking about bathroom habits and symptoms is *also* awkward. Most of us are socialized that you don’t talk in detail to just anyone about that sort of thing (some of us have trouble discussing it with our doctors).

                I hesitated before discussing with my managers at my new job, honestly – because I just don’t want to talk about my bathroom habits with them at all – but at least I knew the accommodation I was asking for (“I may have to dash out of meetings unexpectedly and may or may not make it back before they finish – this should be rare, but it could happen”) wasn’t a huge inconvenience to most people. Not like having someone off the store floor for so long at a go (pardon the pun). (And yes, 15-30 minutes is … totally plausible to me.)

                1. Kyrielle*

                  Also, I should have said, in an annoying twist, IBS is exacerbated by…stress. So if you’re stressed about talking to your manager about it, you may be about to demonstrate it. In the middle of that conversation.

                  A low FODMAP diet, medication (which we’re hoping I won’t need forever), and mindfulness/stress reduction techniques have helped me a lot. They do for many people. But not all, and that’s only for IBS; if it’s IBD/Crohn’s/something else, the symptoms can be similar but the ways to address it (if at all) totally different.

                2. Pari*

                  I don’t have a lot of sympathy for someone who’d rather disobey direct orders and put off dealing with it when they get in trouble.

                3. Murphy*

                  Not everyone handles it well either. I was a TA for a professor and she said to the class that they were adults and that they could hold it for 75 minutes without needing to use the restroom, and that if they couldn’t, they should go see a doctor. I was having IBS issues at the time, and told her vaguely that I did have a medical condition that may force me to have to use the restroom suddenly and she scoffed at me like I was making it up.

                4. Kyrielle*

                  I don’t have a lot of sympathy either, although – has there been a direct order? The letter says “We have advised all of our staff that for extended bathroom breaks we would prefer that they use the upstairs bathroom. ” and “We have advised” in another spot.

                  Most people would take that for an obligation, but – someone might not, especially if they were having a hard time bringing themselves to have the discussion in the first place. And especially if they couldn’t make it upstairs anyway.

                  Not an ideal way of dealing with it, no. I didn’t *enjoy* bringing it up to my managers but I wanted to do so before it came up as an issue instead. But…I can understand how someone gets to that series of decisions, at least.

                5. Zahra*

                  Yeah, a preference (“we would prefer”) is not a hard and fast rule. Same thing for “should”. The message should (ha!) be: “Barring emergencies/extenuating circumstances, you MUST use the upstairs bathroom.”

                6. Kira*

                  @Murphy, It’s so strange this professor took that stance! All my professors took the opposite approach, “You’re adults, you should go in and out as you need to.”

                7. Pari*

                  If the employee is going to argue it wasn’t explicitly a direct order he’s probably not someone they want to keep around anyway.

                8. Kyrielle*

                  He may not have taken it as an order at all! Different communication styles mean that he may have taken it as, they really would *prefer* they use the upstairs restrooms. And he might be thinking “if I do that, I will go in my pants, so of course I can just use the downstairs – if it weren’t so urgent, I would go upstairs since they *prefer* that, but it’s urgent”.

                  If they phrase it as employees *must* use the upstairs restroom, then instead of thinking “I should use it whenever I can”, he should hopefully think “oh no, I have to talk to them about that, I can’t always make it up there”.

                  But when you say ‘advise’ and ‘prefer’ some people are going to think you literally mean that. (And some people do literally mean that…and if they are my boss, I will probably take their ‘prefer’ as a direct instruction that I’m expected to do that, and if I couldn’t, I’d talk to them about it. My communication style would work fine with the OP’s. But not everyone’s will.)

              2. The Strand*

                Murphy, I’m so sorry your professor (mentor) was a D-hole like that, especially when you took a risk and revealed something very personal like that. In similar situations it can sometimes work to look them in the eye, and say “I am not exaggerating. Do you need a doctor’s note, or for my doctor to call you directly?” Some blowhards will have the decency to squirm at that point. Seriously, is this person running a classroom or a session of Landmark Education? (That’s “est” for you “The Americans” fans.)

                Someone who has a policy of not letting their students take bathroom breaks should have no problem at all with the information anonymously going to their department head, and the Student Health clinic. Hell, if it’s a friendly person, just talk to the department administrative assistant(s) and watch the game of Telephone start.

                Perhaps someone in the classroom has IBS, Crohn’s disease, or kidney stone disease (not urinating when you need to go = great for stone formation).

                If word gets out to actual, you know, adults (e.g. assistants, department heads, Deans, whatever), it will make this person look ridiculous, not the students who have biological, human needs.

            1. Koko*

              I always thought people exaggerated too (especially in movies where it’s played for comic effect) until it happened to me.

              Luckily I don’t have a chronic condition but I ate some bad beef at a restaurant with a friend once. I was already starting to feel a bit ill at the end of the meal so even though we’d planned to hang out at her boyfriend’s place with a few friends after dinner, I told her I was going to just drop her off and go home.

              It was about a 10 minute drive to her boyfriend’s place. It’s another 25 minutes past that to my place. By the time she got out of my car I realized there was no way I was going to make it another 25 minutes! I was literally having cold sweats. I had to go inside and use the boyfriend’s bathroom before I could get back in the car and go home.

          2. Michelle*

            My son has that issue. When he feels it coming, you has to go RIGHT THEN or he’s going to need new clothes. It was hell in high school but I spoke with his teachers personally every year and if son got up and went running out of class, they knew why.

          3. DMC*

            It’s not wise to first ask if there are MEDICAL issues, but to use Alison’s wording — “Is there a reason you aren’t using the upstairs bathroom?” vs “Do you have some medical issue and that’s why you’re using the downstairs bathroom?”

        2. TrainerGirl*

          I have complications from having my gallbladder removed, and I’ve always made a point to tell my boss/coworkers that if I get up in the middle of a meeting/call, it could not wait and please don’t ask for an explanation until I get back. In my current office, if our bathroom is being cleaned, getting to another floor is a stressful experience…I either have to wait for the elevator or go down several flights of stairs, hoping I make it. It’s not as simple as simple using another bathroom.

          1. Renee*

            You may have already explored this option but I had the same problem after gallbladder removal. It turned out to be bile malabsorption, which is a really common complication. It has been fully managed for me with a bile sequestrant (in my case, cholestyramine). Normally I wouldn’t offer up unsolicited suggestions, but the difference before and after the med is remarkable. I understand that some people have some problems tolerating it, but I had only some slight nausea at the beginning (which was still better than having to race to the bathroom).

    3. Jenn*

      If the bathroom issues are health related it can sometimes mean unable to make it upstairs in time, or for issues like crohns there might be extra intestional symptoms like joint pain and fatigue that make it difficult to use a specific location also. Not insurmountable at work but often a difficult conversation with a supervisor because it can be difficult to explain without feelings of embarrassment – I deal with this myself as a supervisor and an employee and even with 35 years of managing my own illness it can sometimes be difficult to communicate my needs to someone else who has a different life experience and expectations. Practice does help though so if it is a medical problem hopefully the employee has support in managing both social and physical issues

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Oh yeah.

        I have IBS.

        And sticking to low FODMAPs food has my symptoms mostly under control.

        Sometimes I have a flare up and when I need to go I need to go RIGHT NOW. Otherwise I’ll need fresh underwear.

        1. Misc*

          This. While I don’t usually risk needing to actually change clothing (usually. Though I have seriously reconsidered walking anywhere ever in the past), I MAY end up in so much pain (because apparently extra pain sensitivity is part of it) that all I can really manage is standing very still breathing carefully, and at that point stairs or extra walking or anything other than trying not to audibly whimper while waiting for a bathroom to be free, are just not options.

          And yeah, 15-20 min is a pretty normal bathroom break for me, even when my stomach is otherwise doing great (i.e. I have avoided all FODMAPS for the past week). Bad days might involve me hiding out in the bathroom for up to two hours, on and off, and the idea that someone might be noticing how long I took? Would just make it a loooot longer, as it would make it very hard to relax, and trying to rush my stomach or move on before its finished having its tantrum is a very, very, very bad idea. OTOH, this would encourage me to go find the upstairs bathrooms more often, if I felt like that was the least noticeable/disruptive option, so simply pointing that out would be fine.

          1. Former Retail Manager*

            YES!!! To you and Knitting Cat Lady. My husband has IBS and he can go for days and be great and then have several days in row that are BAAAADDD. When he has to go he would practically tackle an elderly lady if she stood between him and the restroom. I can’t imagine that this would be anything other than a bathroom issue. And if it is, while Alison’s advice is excellent and the right thing to do, be aware that the person may not take this inquiry well. Early on in dealing with this, my husband was not forthcoming when discussing it with management when it was an issue at a previous job for the same reasons that the OP seems to be indicating (floor coverage, etc.). He was defensive and angry, bordering on rage. He didn’t feel that he needed to discuss his personal health issues in that area, especially with a manager that really seemed to care less about his health. He later came around and is now very up-front about it, but that took some time.

    4. Clever Name*

      Honestly, if I’m having bathroom issues at work, the last thing I want to do is alert anyone. I’d not request this of your employees. Instead, I’d frame it as, “let your back up know if you’ll be leaving the floor for a bit”.

      1. KellyK*

        But if the OP needs the employee to use the upstairs bathroom if possible, I’m not sure how they get around asking. Obviously, they don’t want details, but they do need to know if it’s a health thing or a disciplinary thing.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        I had the jerkiest 6th grade teacher. If we wanted permission to use the bathroom during class, we had to raise our hand and raise one finger if we had to go “number one” and two fingers if we needed to go “number 2”. As you can imagine, no one ever raised two fingers. One guy put three fingers up as a joke and got in trouble. I hated that teacher so much (for many, many reasons).

        1. TootsNYC*

          #2 (all the drama and EMOTION!!!)

          One of the most important things that grownups do for kids, teens, younger adults is to model appropriate demeanor and reactions.

          In your situation, you are apparently the more mature person. So modeling the appropriate behavior and demeanor is important, and it’s something you should focus on in the one-on-ones that Alison recommends.

          Setting these standards (explicitly laying them out, modeling them, and enforcing them) is part of your job.

          It’s so interesting to me that so many people only have a parenting model as a boss one–and usually a bad parenting model at that, in which scolding and making someone feel bad is the only tool they’ve got.

          That’s a backward focus, not a forward one. Maybe lay that out–that a manager’s goal is not to shame people but to TRAIN people.
          And of course -you- need to model that by treating this as a training session: “I’m not here to scold you over this–this isn’t a situation for a reprimand. But of course this isn’t how we want things to work at our business. Let’s work through this: can you identify what was motivating you or what your paradigm was; what might create that motivation again; how can you control it; here’s what I want your focus to be on; how do you think you could handle something like this in the future?”

          You also might greatly benefit from specifically saying to them:
          “The purpose of this conversation is to establish what I think the proper goals and reactions should be.” Make it a teaching conversation.

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


          If my 6th grade teacher thought a kid had taken too long in the bathroom, she’d loudly ask in front of the other kids “So, was it constipation or diarrhea?”

          She also went around for a week with a camcorder filming everyone’s most embarrassing moments to show to the class. She threatened to film one kid naked for this.

          But because she was nice as pie to all the other adults, none of them ever believed us about the things she did.

      3. Elliot*

        Perhaps the policy should be that all employees use the upstairs bathroom, all the time, whenever possible. I have been in several workplaces with policies like this (including a hardware store) to avoid the situation OP described. Having employees gone for an extra few minutes on a bathroom break is worth not dealing with having a customer bathroom plugged up with employees all the time. Then OP’s employee would just need to say “Hey, I’m going to be off the floor for a minute” (which is very common in retail positions). If he’s using the downstairs bathroom because he’s too embarrassed to go upstairs or he doesn’t know how long it’s going to take when he goes in there (or he’s having a seat and reading AAM because his feet hurt from walking on concrete all day… I worked at a hardware store.), the situation would be immediately taken care of. It sounds like everyone uses the downstairs bathroom, so he’d single himself out by going upstairs. I remember times at work where being the only person who has to use a bathroom really far from the workstation (I’m transgender), and it’s not a good feeling. It’s embarrassing to have to alert people and walk to a different area of the building when everyone else can just pop into a restroom without saying anything. Having a bathroom separate from customers that employees are required to use (unless it’s needed for accommodating a health issue, obviously)

  2. DEJ*

    I’ve heard that many, many institutions of higher education don’t have a plan in place yet (including mine….). So odds of you running into this elsewhere are pretty high.

    1. PNW Dan*

      What, higher ed being slow and disorganized? That *never* happens!

      (I’m a community college professor.)

      1. ginger ale for all*

        I am taking a community course from a college. The last class us next week and the instructor still hasn’t gotten a class roster. Thank goodness it isn’t for any credit. I had just thought they were just screwing the students over and now that I know it is the instructors too, sheesh.

      1. Mona Lisa*

        I work closely with postdocs, and I am hearing all of the time how concerned they are that our university doesn’t have a plan in place yet. HR had our assistant dean and some other key staff draw up a proposal, and they recommended that postdocs be divided into two classes (hourly at the 1-3 year experience level and salaried at the 4+ year level). Then HR decided they don’t like that plan and think that it shouldn’t be an issue to just make everyone salaried, which obviously shouldn’t be a problem when the new plan creates a several hundred thousand dollar deficit.

        I feel really badly for the postdocs because they’re concerned for their jobs right now, but our hands are tied as long as HR continues to drag out the farcical discussion and not listen to anyone.

      2. blackcat*

        Some of my friends in such post doc positions expect to be converted to hourly and forced to work off the clock by PIs who do not know and do not want to know about labor laws. It’s already pretty common for lab techs (who are hourly) to be coerced into working off the clock. It’s a big issue with PIs being managers with absolutely no training or support to *be* managers.
        The exception is people who are on NSF or NIH-funded post docs. Those agencies have plans, and most are being brought up to the new threshold.

      3. Bob Barker*

        Mine just announced the policy for postdocs yesterday! The fact that this is occurring in the middle of the academic year (also the middle of our fiscal year) was not motivation enough for them to work out a policy before October.

        I’m lucky, in that I’m in a big enough institution that we have a staff union, which bangs the drum on exempt/non-exempt pretty hard. (I also live in an expensive location, so base wages are higher than the exempt minimum anyway, but looking around at other local universities, it’s pretty obvious that quite a few “shouldn’t be exempt” positions ARE exempt — just not at my job.) So really, it’s postdocs and atypical cases (exempt part-timers, things like that) that are going to be changing in my workplace, which is small percentage of total employees.

    2. Nonyme*

      I just started at a job that is going to be affected by the overtime change and as far as I can tell, they have NO idea what they’re going to do.

      Job is secure so I figure I’ll either get a fat raise or they’ll convert the job to hourly. I’m guessing the latter will happen. In the grand scheme of things, I’m not going to worry too much as long as the money gets deposited in my bank account somehow.

    3. Sparrow*

      Mine either. I won’t be impacted, but 75% of my office will be, and as far as I know there’s no plan. It should be pretty straightforward since we rarely work >40 hours a week, but I’d feel better if something were actually set…

    4. HRChick*

      Unfortunately, I’ve found that this is true.

      We have a higher ed HR email thread on FLSA with other local institutions. They range from very prepared (which I would like to think we are!) to the very very unprepared. You’d be surprised the number of times someone has had to say “You can do that, it’s illegal. Here’s the regulations.”

      Hopefully they get their rears in gear.

    5. ThatGirl*

      My husband is a mental health counselor at a university. Their proposed solution for his department, at least, was to give the two affected employees (him & one other) raises but then cut their positions to 10 months – two months off “unpaid” (but with the 10 months prorated). But the details are still up in the air, and I get the idea they haven’t thought this through 100%.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        They have definitely not thought this through. Because that still wouldn’t meet the requirements of the rule. The salary has to meet the threshold. Not the prorated threshold.

        We are quasi-academic, and the solution we are at is to raise any exempt full time salaries to the threshold (we don’t have many) and only let people go part time if the PT salary will meet the threshold (as opposed to converting to non-exempt if PT/tracking hours). (Which … I have concerns, but this is not my specific area and wasn’t my call, and from what I gather the group working on this HAS thought this through.)

        1. ThatGirl*

          Are you sure? I mean – I would love that to be true – but they can’t pay him approximately $38-39k a year (I haven’t done the exact math) for a 10-month position and have it be legal? 10-month positions are pretty common in academia so I thought that seemed like a legit, if somewhat weasley, way to get around it.

          1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

            I’m fairly confident that Alison’s covered it here before that the yearly amount has to be met. No “part-time” salaried people, unless they make more than the yearly amount. But…it does seem like there were exceptions for education.

            1. ThatGirl*

              It’s not part time — it’s part-year. He’d work full time 10 months a year. As long as he’s paid for a full week of work when he is working, I don’t think there’s a problem.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              There’s no prorating the threshold for part-time people. However, the pay level is weekly, not annual — so if they’re paying $913 per week for the weeks those people are working, that would be legal. If they’re not, those people are still non-exempt and must be paid overtime.

              1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

                Which makes sense. If you go on LWOP (or quit), obviously they aren’t paying you for the full year. I think a lot of us are in the yearly salary mindset when thinking about this!

        2. ThatGirl*

          What I’m seeing — and please, correct me if I’m wrong — is that the minimum is $913 per week, $47,476 for a “full-year worker” which makes me think that as long as he’s paid $913 per week when he is working, they’re in the clear making him a “part year worker”.

        3. Pwyll*

          I’m not sure that’s right. The regulation is based on weekly pay. So long as the employee is paid on a salary basis at least $913 per week for every week in which any work is performed, they can pass the salary test. So long as zero work is done for those two months off (or the employee is paid $913 for a week if they do come in for a meeting or something) that should still meet the criteria.

            1. blackcat*

              The big deal is that he shouldn’t be answering any email/attending any meetings at all during his 2 months off per year. I can see that being an issue in a an academic setting where there are a lot of “10-month” positions that expect work outside of those 10 months.

              1. ThatGirl*

                Yes, I understand that, and he would make sure not to do any work. I agree that it could be a problem for some academics.

                1. blackcat*

                  Right, I’m not saying that he *would* do any work, just that there may be a lot of pressure to do so. Other employees might not see why it’s a big deal.

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            Ahhh, yes, I think you are right. I’m in the part-time/full-time mindset currently.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Haha, that’s kind of my approach too… though, actually, (awkwardly, unfortunately) I asked my manager what the plan was for the new rules… and found out she had no idea what I make and didn’t realize the law would affect me (sooooo I could have been making more this whole time?! Sigh).

      2. Patrick*

        I work for a large (Fortune 500) company that hasn’t decided what to do yet – not out of sticking our head in the sand, but because our finance dept is still running the numbers on what makes the most sense. We have a lot of employees who are right below the threshold, and a good amount who are around the current minimum. I can buy that when you’re talking about tens of thousands of employees it’s not as easy as just making a judgment call.

    6. Anon 2*

      I find that sort of amazing.

      The rule change is December 1. That is now less than 60 days away. Where I work, we instituted the new rules this month to make sure that we had a few months to work out the kinks before the rule went into place. We didn’t want to be caught violating the rule after the fact.

    7. Lemon Zinger*

      Yep. I work at an enormous public university and nobody knows what’s going on. It’s pathetic. Our managers are really nervous and upset because they want to plan for this now, but HR can’t/won’t say anything.

      1. HRChick*

        Part of the problem is there is still so much uncertainty with the law itself.

        At my university, we’re moving forward as if nothing will change, but we have to be cautious at what we communicate to employees because there are so many law suits, changes, etc that could be pending

        So, we’ve let the employees know what we are taking into consideration when recommending changes, what our process is (meeting with VPs, University president, etc), we’ve updated our applicable policies and send them out, but we’re still being restricted on who we can notify on their status. It’s a mess.

        1. an anon*

          There really isn’t uncertainty. Any attempt on the part of Congress to override the final rule will certainly be vetoed.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes — also, while the House passed a delay, it’s highly unlikely that the Senate will join them. This is going into effect on December 1; there’s no real uncertainty.

  3. Cynical Lackey*

    It isn’t a total solution, but you can mount a Purell dispenser outside the bathroom and t least cover the hand-washing issues.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      Hardware store employees probably need to wash actual “stuff” off their hands with soap and water.

    2. Panda Bandit*

      Even better, install a handwashing station with a working sink. They’re a hardware store, they’ve got all the parts already!

      1. Elizabeth*

        The challenge may be the plumbing part- the water has to come from somewhere. Without knowing more about the layout of the place, it may be hard to run piping to wherever the sink would go.

        1. Candi*

          Plus red tape. Permits. Local building codes. All the fun that started as a way to protect people, and got clogged up with beauracracy.

  4. Purple Dragon*

    #2 – Wow !
    This situation would have taken me completely by surprise too. I think now that you’re a bit more prepared for it, if the AM does this again you need to be a lot more forceful in shutting it down instead of trying gently. Maybe send them from the meeting if they can’t behave professionally.

    I can’t even fathom an AM doing this but I’m learning from this site that I’m fairly sheltered from a lot of work place antics.

    1. Caroline*

      Yes, I was going to say this too. I can understand being so blindsided when it happened that you weren’t able to stop it. But if it happens again, you should be much firmer in shutting AM down, asking her to step out if necessary. This is as much for AM’s benefit as whoever she’s berating; it’s not going to do her any good in the long term if this becomes a regular occurrence.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      What I’d be worried about is that this is normal behaviour for the AM, but she’s not used to being called out on it, hence the over-the-top sobbing with embarrassment and anger when it was addressed.

      The other thing I’m wondering is if the AM is trying to talk to the other employee about neutral work related things, or is trying to re-address the blowup after the employee’s complaint. If the first case, the employee needs to be told that the incident has been dealt with and they have to communicate about work stuff in a polite fashion. If it’s the second, the AM needs to be told that the incident has been dealt with and they need to move on.

    3. Vanilla Nice*

      Unfortunately, my own experience working people like AM leads me to think there’s a much deeper problem here here. Perhaps AM is a bully, or perhaps there’s some history of animosity between AM and the employee that the letter writer doesn’t know about.

      Whatever the cause, Allison’s advice seems spot-on to me. Both AM and Employee need to be told to act professionally from here on out, and any further blow-ups should be dealt with forcefully.

      1. NYC Weez*

        Yup, that was my take too. We have a workplace bully on our team, and my new manager didn’t realize the extent of it until he set up a meeting to chew me out over a perceived slight. I was well aware that I was dealing with a bully, so I focused on minimizing drama and proving my value to the team. My manager began monitoring our interactions and reprimanding the bully when he was out of line. She also made it clear to me that I only had to focus on her feedback.

        A few years later, the bully no longer has enough social capital to be taken seriously if he bitches about anyone. For the OP, I know my manager struggled at times bc of how pushy the bully could be, but she was very upfront and direct with him and made it clear how the chain of feedback would work. He could complain about coworkers to her, but she ultimately would determine how (or if) to address it with the other coworkers. She made sure she was impartial, so he couldn’t complain that she was only taking our side, and she was consistent. With the drama having to funnel through her, it eventually dissipated.

    4. Finman*

      I think they should all go on a mandatory team building exercise where they share feelings and hold hands, and do ropes courses as a team like AAM always suggests. ;)

  5. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: I realize this isn’t answering the question that you asked, but you might need to consider restricting the downstairs bathroom access only to employees and customers with medical needs. Check you local regulations, but if you routinely have a certain number of customers in the store (varies by municipality) with an understood expectation of being able to use the bathroom, you need to have separate men’s and women’s bathrooms in the public area. This regulation is only relevant if you choose to make the bathroom public. Choosing to make the bathroom public also makes you subject to ADA accessibility requirements. I bring this up because in my experience, waiting for the bathroom isn’t a frequent issue unless there aren’t enough fixtures. It’s normal to have to wait a few minutes sometimes. If it’s a consistent problem, there are regulations in place to help you resolve it. You’re not a restaurant; you probably don’t have to allow public restroom access (but check your local laws to be sure).

    1. Turtle Candle*

      That’s interesting to me–I’ve lived in severs states where unisex bathrooms were common even for fairly large stores. Do you have a cite for the requirement to have sex-segregated bathrooms over a certain occupancy?

      (ADA requirements for public bathrooms, I am aware of.)

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        Common doesn’t mean legally required. My take on this situation also changes depending on whether the upstairs bathrooms are part of the zoned business space or are really, say, the private bathrooms in the owners’ residential apartment. There’s no practical reason why employees couldn’t use a nearby residential bathroom, but the owners should be aware that they might be running afoul of OSHA requirements and don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to outright requiring that long bathroom breaks occur off company premises. You can’t really put it out there that you’re incorporating non-business facilities in your tally of fixtures. There are also regulations about access. Are the upstairs bathrooms easy to get to? Do you need a key? Is that key available to all employees?

        Much of this is OSHA stuff as well as the Uniform Plumbing Code. Bathrooms are a weirdly fraught issue at small businesses. You hire that 16th person and suddenly you need to build a new bathroom.

        1. Myrin*

          I don’t know nearly enough about US laws to contribute to that part of the discussion, but – while not clearly stated – I don’t think the upstairs bathrooms are the owners’ private bathrooms since OP says “We as owners also sometimes use the upstairs facilities.” – that doesn’t sound like the language of someone talking about their own private bathroom they allow employees to share sometimes.

        2. Bob Barker*

          My building manager calls each toilet/urinal an “opportunity”, as in “We’re renovating the 5th floor to have more opportunities without expanding the footprint.” I haven’t been able to figure out whether that’s his own euphemism or lingo from the building code. Anyway, it would be less hilarious if the building hadn’t been designed for 300 people but now serving 900 people. (Not all employees, just people who are there 12-15 hours a day every day, so OSHA rules are… skirted, or not as strict, or annoyingly ignored.) For a while, there were two opportunities per sex per floor, aka 20 potties for 900 butts.

          We routinely had to queue up to pee. I don’t know what we would have done if there’d been someone with IBSD on any given floor — thankfully, we never had to find out. The 5th floor renovations, as shoddy and irritating as they were, gave us more potties, and we were so pathetically grateful.

        3. KR*

          Zoning often covers bathroom access to occupancy requirements. My guess is that the store may be “grandfathered” in

      2. Stellaaaaa*

        I misunderstood your comment about unisex bathrooms. They may be unisex as long as each is a self contained room that locks from the inside, and you still need to have the proper amount of toilet fixtures, meaning separate full bathrooms on this instance. The rest all depends on whether there are private employee-only bathrooms on the back. But if you’re talking about having one unisex bathroom for over 15 employees and all the clientele, that’s illegal. Target and the like have to have bathrooms because they serve food in the cafe areas.

      3. Stellaaaaa*

        Sorry for the responses! I realized I wasn’t clear that I was basing my numbers on the idea that this one in-store bathroom is primarily for employee use. You count your 8-10 employees (or however many are on premises during a shift) toward that. If there are enough customers in there regularly to bump the occupancy up sufficiently, you either need to add a new bathroom or decide that customers can’t use it anymore. The upstairs bathrooms are a red herring here unless we can be sure that they’re part of the business space; two bathrooms + a kitchen + my inference that there are no product shelves or cash registers up there read as “someone’s living space” to me, barring some weird office building setup that I can’t visualize without more information.

        1. sunny-dee*

          It didn’t seem like living space at all to me. It seemed more like “back rooms,” where the offices and employee areas are. A ton of places have second stories or split levels for precisely that kind of use.

        2. Kira*

          Yeah, I’m pretty sure the upstairs bathrooms are part of the business. 2 upstairs for employees, and 1 downstairs for customers + employees.

    2. Oldie*

      This business is 35 years old. It would have been built to regulations of 35 years ago, and usually you are not required to update to new regulations unless you do a renovation.

    3. BananaPants*

      This is really, really dependent on local and state/provincial building codes, whether it’s a new or existing building, etc. Unless specific changes have been made to the type of occupancy or significant renovations have been done, it has to comply with the code versions that were adopted by the jurisdiction at the time the building was permitted.

      The scenario you’re relating varies significantly by jurisdiction and depends on the details of the occupancy.

    4. Koko*

      In DC it’s actually illegal to designate a gender for a single-user/single-seat bathroom. Only multi-stall bathrooms can be gender segregated.

  6. The Wall of Creativity*

    OP1: You came up with a rule, the employee isn’t complying with it and you’re umming and ahhing about whether t o do anything about it. Either shit or get off the pot.

    1. sstabeler*

      the problem is, there may be an actual medical issue (like IBS) which would mean there is actually a good reason why the employee can’t use the employee toilets. If you treat an actual medical issue like a disciplinary issue, you open yourself both to morale problems (“the boss is trying to force me to use the upstairs loo when it would make me shit my pants”) and to legal issues (“the boss not only won’t accommodate my IBS, but is actually changing the rules to make it harder for me to deal with it!”- basically, if it is IBS, it is roughly equivalent to insisting an employee in a wheelchair go up a flight of stairs.)

      1. Unsubstantiated Evidence*

        But the employer doesn’t actually know if there is such a medical issue, and no accommodation has been requested. It’s not unreasonable, in the absence of such information, to make and enforce the rule that employees should use the upstairs bathroom.

        If the employee then requests an accommodation due to medical necessity, they can re-evaluate this situation.

      2. Pari*

        That’s crap. The employee can’t just say “screw the boss’ instructions I have a medical issue.” The employee has to alert the boss of an issue if there is one. having a medical issue doesn’t get you out of discipline if you didn’t bring it up when you should have.

        1. OhNo*

          Agreed. It’s not the owner’s/management’s job to consider every single past, current, or future health issue that every single employee might have when creating policy. That’s just not practical.

          If the employee has an issue that means they can’t use the upstairs bathroom, the onus is on them to inform management. It would be polite for the OP to ask if there’s a reason before they start enforcing consequences, but it’s not required.

        2. LBK*

          Yeah, and if you need a medical accommodation, the ADA specifically says it’s your responsibility as the employee to request it. I’m less certain about this element, but I believe the ADA actually prevents the employer from either asking the employee if they have a disability or giving them an accommodation based on the appearance of needing one without the employee asking.

          1. Pari*

            The Ada doesn’t prevent asking about disabilities or giving accommodations based on appearance. It’s more legal advice to help protect against claims that you assumed there was a disability which would invoke ADA protections.

      3. BananaPants*

        Or there may not be a medical issue and the employee is spending 20 minutes on his phone playing a game or on Facebook. In a single-room bathroom it’s awfully easy to do that if dude feels like he wants to take a break from the sales floor when it’s not his scheduled break time. A lot of folks seem to have defaulted to “The employee must have a medical issue!” without any indication that the employee actually has a particular medical need to use the “customer” toilet. The employer is allowed to tell employees that they have to use specific bathroom(s). If an employee has a medical issue that would prevent him/her from doing so, they need to discuss reasonable accommodations with the employer.

        So, OP1 – set a policy that employees must use the upstairs bathrooms and alert the supervisor if they will be leaving the sales floor. If your employee does have a medical issue needing accommodation, he has to speak up.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Agreed, he needs to speak up. We’re not saying he does have the condition, but that he *might* have such a condition, so the OP should – as Alison noted – be open to that possibility coming up. (And meanwhile, say ‘must’ regarding the upstairs restrooms, and not ‘prefer’.)

      1. The Wall of Creativity*

        Yes. Always a good feeling using a figure of speech where the imagery is close to reality.

    2. AJ*

      Why is everyone assuming a medical issue? We had one colleague who would disappear to the toilet for similar durations as the OP’s worker, and it wasn’t for a ‘medical issue’. He apparently got a thrill knowing his colleagues were just feet away from him “doing the deed”.

      Fortunately he was let go when it was found out he was fraudulently claiming expenses to the tune of thousands and thousands of $$$. But, no doubt, he’s out there getting his thrill at another office gents.

  7. Daisy*

    4. I can’t follow this at all. Are you trying to give the president of your company a token to have coffee with the president of your college? Or are you trying to cash in this jokey IOU with someone who didn’t give it to you in the first place? Or giving it to the company president to bestow on other people? None of those really make sense.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Yeah, I didn’t get it either. I was thinking the third possibility was most likely, but wasn’t sure.

    2. lawsuited*

      I’m just really glad that LW4 asked this question here before embarking on this dogged mission to gift this token to someone – anyone – they work with.

      1. Myrin*

        The “anyone” feeling is something I got from this question as well. Like others, I don’t quite follow what that token even is, let alone who it could best be gifted to, but I understood that OP originally wanted to give it to her manager but because the token has the word “president” on it, she feels it would be more fitted for the actual president, even though she doesn’t really know him. So it did kind of come off like OP really really wants to give this token as a gift, come what (or who!) may.

        1. Myrin*

          Aaah, having read hbc’s comment below, I think I finally understand the first thing I wondered – OP uses “token” in a “voucher” or “coupon” sense, right? I’m not a native speaker so this was extremely hard to follow, ack! Now that I got that, at least, I’m still left with the questions Daisy poses, though. I wouldn’t know what to do if I received such a thing, to be honest.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yes. I think this is kind of like those homemade coupons people will give as gifts to their partner or family member, the “This coupon is good for one breakfast in bed!” kind of thing, except adapted to a business setting. And the use of the word “token” makes me think it’s probably in the form of a fake coin. It could be a cute keepsake…for the OP, who’s the one for whom it has sentimental value.

    3. AnonAnalyst*

      Yeah, I also didn’t follow this. Which I think suggests that this is perhaps an ill-advised idea.

      I’m trying to imagine what I would be thinking if someone gave me a token that was redeemable for coffee with myself. Particularly if I didn’t really know that person and didn’t have much interaction with him or her. I think I would find it quite odd. I’m assuming that is not the reaction the OP is hoping for.

      1. Alienor*

        My first thought was that it was a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to be noticed by a higher-up, along the lines of “send cookies to the hiring manager to make yourself stand out!”

    4. BananaPants*

      I know in the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, there’s something called a challenge coin which can be pretty meaningful (my brother’s on active duty and has quite the collection) – but this isn’t a challenge coin or an environment where they’re given out or exchanged.

      This is just WEIRD. OP4, don’t bother the president/CEO of your company with this. It’s silly and won’t reflect well on you if you do manage to wrangle a meeting to give it to him. To be blunt, in a company that size, he doesn’t know you and doesn’t care in the slightest about you or your silly coffee token, but he (or his assistant) will definitely remember the employee who thought it was a good idea to waste their time with it.

      1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

        Yep, I have a TON of coins like this. But they’re not something you pass on to a third party either.

    5. CanadianKat*

      Though the post starts out with “I think the HR manager is cool and I want to give him a gift”, this is really about the OP having this token that he thinks is cool and wanting to pass it on to someone, anyone – maybe the HR guy, maybe the president – whomever.

      Bad idea. If you want to give a particular person a gift – fine. Consider whether the gift giving is appropriate, and what an appropriate gift may be.

      But if you just want to get some mileage out of some silly coin – forget it. Give it to a non-work buddy.

    6. Kira*

      Agreed. #4’s story just seemed odd to me. But I’ve seen a couple stories here where a worker was trying to figure out the best way to give a gift and none of them resonate with me–I’m just not a token-giving type of person I guess.

  8. hbc*

    LW4: I’d find it really odd for one of my direct reports to give me a token like this, let alone someone I’ve only said “hi” to. Then there’s setting up a meeting to give me something that looks like an obligation to have a social outing with you.

    The only person that token should be given to is your college president, if you feel like redeeming it and having coffee with him or her.

    1. nofelix*

      Yeah, there’s no indication the college president intended the tokens to be transferable. They’re likely just a cute gift that is meant to convey “I know you’ve left the college but if you’d like a chat please get in touch”. I very much doubt the president wants lots of strangers redeeming coffee tokens with him!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      It sounds to me like the OP admires this person and wants to connect with them (not necessarily in a personal way), but a better way to do that would be to just speak to them. Since the OP says the person gives great talks, maybe a good opening would be, “Hey, I really enjoyed your talk at the big meeting. [Insert thought about point here.]” Or ask a question relating to it.

  9. nofelix*

    #2 – What do people think is the best way to deal with very emotional people in situations like this? I too have struggled with how to communicate “I do care about how you feel, but how you’re expressing your feelings right now is not okay”.

    1. Red Reader*

      Pretty much like that, I think. “I understand that you’re upset. However, I need you to address that in a professional manner.” I’m not a terribly emotional or empathetic person though, so I find that the more emotional and melodramatic people around me get, the more logical and Vulcan I get. Which has pros and cons. :P

      1. Hotel GM Guy*

        I’ve been known to give people the Spock eyebrow while they’re being melodramatic, and come across as cold when replying.

      2. Kira*

        I feel like I clam up when people are getting emotional. My manager said I come across as very professional and collected, but in the moment it just feels like I’m putting up walls.

      1. Koko*

        Yes, this is what I would use.

        “I notice that you seem upset. I understand this might be overwhelming or upsetting to you. Would you like to take a few minutes to collect yourself before returning to work?”

        The meaning being, of course, that you don’t return to work until you have collected yourself, but it’s kinder to offer the opportunity rather than to order them to do it. I think when you’re trying to get someone to reign in their emotional outburst, giving them an opportunity to make the choice to calm down and then calm themself down, helps them feel more in control and like their emotions are more manageable. Just telling them to stop displaying emotions takes that choice agency away and might just feel like yet another “unfair” or upsetting thing that’s been heaped upon them to cry over.

        1. catsAreCool*

          I like this. There have been a very few times I have cried at work. I never wanted to but these were the rare times I couldn’t control it. Either someone handing me a kleenex and ignoring the crying or let me have some time would be good. Trying to control tears isn’t always something I can do.

    2. Rowan*

      That script sounds perfect to me! You can also add: “I really want to talk to you about this, but we can’t have a safe and productive conversation right now. Let’s agree to meet again in (an hour, this afternoon, tomorrow) and try again.” Pick a specific time and keep to it, so the person knows you mean what you say.

    3. VioletEMT*

      As someone who’s an angry crier, I have explained to my manager that I have a condition where sometimes, when I become frustrated, my face gets red and my eyes leak, and to please carry on as usual. If I need to, I will (and do) ask to pause for a moment, excuse myself briefly, or reschedule the meeting. In other words, I’ve learned to deal with it in the workplace.

      If the employee who starts crying isn’t handling the situation themselves, then I suggest that the manager excuse themselves and get up and go get the employee a glass of water. Drinking actually makes you stop crying for a minute and can help get your breathing under control. If the employee can’t refocus after that, the manager should reschedule the meeting. If the situation continues to be a problem (e.g., you can never give the employee feedback without them breaking down crying and it details the whole meeting), then maybe just try powering though and pretending they’re not crying.

      1. BPT*

        OMG yes. I am someone who cries when I’m frustrated. It’s only happened once at work in six years, but it’s really embarrassing when it does. And I’m not trying to manipulate anyone by crying, it doesn’t mean I’m sad or even that upset, it’s just something that happens with my body and I hate it.

        That said, I think there’s a difference in tears leaking out of your eyes when otherwise you are trying to carry on a conversation, and hysterical crying and sobbing. I mean, everyone can have a bad day they regret. But if they do end up acting inappropriately and unprofessionally, they need to rectify it and make sure it doesn’t happen again, and be on guard to act VERY professionally in the future.

      2. ExceptionToTheRule*

        I have an employee who cries every time we have to talk about something that’s not kittens & bunnies. I’ve stopped really caring. There are kleenexes on my desk and this person can cry all they need to, but we’re going to have the discussions that we need to have about performance.

    4. michelenyc*

      When I have had this happen in the past I have told the person take a moment to collect themselves by going to the restroom or taking a around the block. For a majority of people this will work but I do tell them that before we can continue the conversation I need them to compose themselves so it is constructive.

    5. KR*

      I like to use phrases like “tone it down” or “dial it back” especially if things get too heated or the volume gets too loud. Either, “I realize this is stressful/criticism can be hard to take/you’re excited about this project but part of communicating professionally is to look at things objectively and not be so emotional/loud/obviously frustrated/off-topic. You need to tone it down/dial it back/calm down/have some discretion.”

      1. Trix*

        Please please please tell me you don’t actually tell people to calm down.

        I can get overly emotional at work, but much like some of the amazing commenters above me, I have figured out how to deal with it.

        Being told to “calm down” is easily the most effective way to ensure that I do not, I’m fact, “calm down” to your desired level.

  10. Murphy*

    #2: I don’t know how your meeting went, but I hope you asked her for her side of the story before telling her that she needed to act better, and did t just take AM’s friend’s word for it. I used to work in a place where this was not the case and people were lectured on their behavior or my whole department would receive an email based on someone else’s complaint without the employee in question even being as about the incident or invited to explain. Made us feel very defensive and like we had no managed uppity. Even when an employee from another department was being unreasonable.

    As for AM’s reaction, I don’t know. Maybe her friend made her feel embarrassed or like the employee’s behavior was her fault? I would talk to her like Alison said.

    1. Red Reader*

      “#2: I don’t know how your meeting went, but I hope you asked her for her side of the story before telling her that she needed to act better, and didn’t just take AM’s friend’s word for it.”

      Seriously. One of my housemates is a retail AM, and I shop at her store pretty regularly, and I tell her when their employees behave poorly. But unless it’s bad enough that I’m willing to fill out a comment card at the store (which I have done in the past) for guest services, as far as she’s concerned I’m talking about poorly-behaving employees at pretty much any other store on the planet. And the couple of times she’s recognized my handwriting on a comment card, or recognized the situation from me telling her about it after the fact, she’s passed the card off to another AM and says “I think my roommate wrote this, can you address this one instead of me?” There’s official complaint channels for a reason. :P

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      I was thinking the same thing. Here we have an emotionally unstable AM and her friend not using conventional or official complaint channels.

      Until you can confirm that the staff member behaved poorly from something other than AM’s word, I would be disinclined to believe the AM. There’s likely a back story to this one.

    3. Parenthetically*

      “people were lectured on their behavior or my whole department would receive an email based on someone else’s complaint without the employee in question even being as about the incident or invited to explain”

      I’ve been in this situation too many times. It’s incredibly frustrating to come into what is essentially a sentencing hearing when you haven’t even been informed of the charges.

  11. The Wall of Creativity*

    I’m wondering whether the employee in Case 1 is suffering from piles. In the words of the great Ivor Biggun:

    His botty
    Feels grotty
    And standing up you’ll find him.

    He can’t sit down
    But he shouldn’t frown
    ‘Cos his troubles are all behind him.

      1. The Wall of Creativity*

        My brother has got haemorrhoids.
        We laugh; it is unkind.
        The kids all call him choo choo train
        ‘Cos he haaaaaaas
        A tender

        That’s all for tonight. Good night everybody. God bless.

  12. Former Retail Manager*

    #3…Talking to the co-worker is a great idea and encouraging them to maybe mention the correct timeline to the boss is also a great idea.

    However, I don’t believe that talking to your boss is a good idea. I am assuming that you are obtaining some sort of medical license such as nurse practitioner, PA, etc. If your boss has elected to hire people that don’t yet have the required certifications for the field, knowing that time constraints will be in play, it is their responsibility to monitor the employee’s progress in obtaining those certifications and request supporting documentation from the employee when necessary. Accounting is similar. If a partner hires a student pending CPA certification and gives the student 18 months to pass all portions of the exam to become licensed, it is incumbent upon them to follow up and ensure the employee is on track for the agreed upon timeline and to have the requisite knowledge to know if the information being provided by the employee is accurate.

    Also, as an admittedly new employee, I don’t know that it would be perceived very well by your co-workers should it come to light that you were the one that informed your boss that your co-worker is not on track. That is between the boss and the employee and doesn’t directly affect you in any way and this is something that should be discussed between the two of them. If you talk to co-worker and she continues to provide inaccurate information and you’re later asked about the situation, I’d certainly be honest at that point, but to do so preemptively seems to be sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, in my opinion.

    1. VioletEMT*

      I’m inclined to agree that you should stay out of it until/unless it affects you directly, like if you wind up having to do extra work because this person isn’t licensed/certified and you are.

    2. Camellia*

      This. I was a bit surprised at Alison’s answer; I was expecting her usual “It’s none of your business,” answer.

    3. Candi*

      Alison probably said to mention it to the the boss because this might be a patient care (even indirectly) or liability issue if the worker is not certified in a timely manner. Thirty days, ninety days, whatever regs require.

  13. Rusty Shackelford*

    Question for Alison regarding #3… If you were the boss, and Jane had been leading you on about her pending certification, and you made plans based on that, and these plans crashed and burned because Jane hadn’t been honest, would you be upset with Fergus if you found out he knew all along that the plans were going to fail?

    1. BPT*

      To me, it’s the business’ job to make sure everyone is certified properly and to keep up with it. I mean, if they are hiring medical personnel that need proper certifications, I would assume that the business would be in the know about how long it takes to get certifications, etc. If the business isn’t following up properly or sitting the employee down and saying, “tell me exactly what you’ve done so far, how long it will take, what are the steps you still have remaining, etc” then it’s really on them.

      The one difference I could see is if the employee told the boss “I have taken and passed the certification” and OP heard her say that and knew it wasn’t true (as in 100% knew for a fact), then I would give a heads up to the boss.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, but it sounds like that’s what the boss is actually doing. Reading between the lines, it sounds like Jane lied about passing the test, and the boss thinks she’s simply waiting on the paperwork instead of waiting to pass the test. So it’s not like the boss is ignoring the situation.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I certainly wouldn’t be upset with Fergus, but if I knew that Fergus must have known all along that what Jane was telling me wasn’t true, I’d make a mental note that Fergus took the principle of “minding his own business” to the extent that he was willing to let it impact business-related things that he could have spoken up about … and that’s not a great look.

      Again, I wouldn’t be upset with him, but I’d assume I’d need to make a particular point in the future of asking him more questions about things than I might normally do; I wouldn’t be able to assume that if there was something I needed to know, he’d tell me.

      1. Amy G. Golly*

        I have to say, in this specific instance, I have to place some of the blame on the boss for not doing her due diligence and following up with the other employee. Presumably, an official certification is something that would happen on a fairly predictable timeline, and not at some nebulous “oh in a month or seven” rate as the coworker is representing it. If the question of when she’ll receive this certification keeps coming up, and the certification is important to the job, why hasn’t the boss taken her aside to get some specifics about where she is in the process?

  14. Arty*

    #1 I would assume a medical issue is at play and say to the employee that if he expects a restroom break will be more than a couple of minutes, to alert another person on the floor that he is going upstairs, then use that restroom. If the situation is urgent, to use whatever restroom is closest.

    Restrooms in small businesses are first come first serve. It is not all that unusual to have to wait. We are talking about a problem that lasts 20 minutes a day. Perhaps a customer in dire need during those 20 minutes could be directed upstairs.

    1. Pari*

      Or more simply the boss can assume the employee just prefers the downstairs bathroom. I wonder if it’s nicer somehow

    2. caryatis*

      If there’s a medical issue, the employee should say so–the manager isn’t obligated to “assume” it. And the employer certainly isn’t required to accommodate a preference for a “nicer” bathroom–although I suspect it’s more than that since the employee has already been told to go upstairs.

      1. Newby*

        It is also possible that there was some ambiguity in the instructions. The OP said “for extended bathroom breaks we would prefer that they use the upstairs bathroom.” The employee may not understand what is meant by “extended” or may think that it is a preference but not a requirement. They could make a blanket policy that employees should always use the upstairs bathroom unless it is an emergency. That might clear up any misunderstanding about their preferences.

    3. BananaPants*

      There’s no reason that OP1 should “assume” a medical issue is at play. For all we know the employee could be retreating to the bathroom to surf the Internet on his phone, or he just prefers the customer bathroom for whatever reason.

      OP1 should actually establish the policy rather than saying they “prefer” employees to use the upstairs bathrooms. If the employee does have a legitimate medical issue preventing him from getting to the employee bathrooms, then he will need to disclose it and discuss reasonable accommodations.

  15. Fluke Skywalker*

    Regarding the new overtime law: Is it like the ACA, where it only applies to employers with a certain number of employees, or is it across the board? I just started a new job at a nonprofit three months ago. We have about 30 employees. No one in HR has said anything about this, but I know most of the salaried people, including me, regularly work 50+ hours week. I have my doubts that I’d get them salary bump (it would be nice, though!), so I’m concerned. But I’m also not sure if/how to bring it up. I’m low in the hierarchy and approaching senior management is frowned upon by someone in my position.

    1. Judy*

      I can say that my Girl Scout council has 12 employees, and they’ve adjusted their office hours “to be sure to comply with the new overtime regulations”.

    2. Zahra*

      Here’s some information:


      The paragraph in small characters at the beginning has information about which organizations are covered. Do note that even if an organization does not meet the 500k requirement, the interstate requirement is most often met.

      Other point to note, employers must post a notice about FLSA in a conspicuous place and employees must be able to read it. I’m guessing that most employers who refuse to discuss FLSA do not post that notice either. It might warrant a call to the DOL, although I don’t expect they will do anything about it.

    3. Pwyll*

      The simplistic answer is that the FLSA effectively applies to all employers regardless of size.

      Technically, non-profits are not subject to the FLSA unless they engage in commercial activities of at least $500,000. However, the FLSA applies to individual employees who “engage in interstate commerce”. This means employees are covered if they ever make or receive out-of-state phone calls, send/receive out-of-state e-mails, order supplies that have crossed state lines, etc. If your non-profit somehow has employees who never, ever come in contact with out-of-state people or goods, they may not be covered, but that would be exceedingly rare.

      1. Callietwo*

        This is interesting… I work for a non-profit where they call us salaried but we’re *forbidden* to work OT because they would have to pay us OT. We are required to flex our time throughout the two week pay period to never go above 80 hours, not weekly/40 hours, currently.

        I go to the next state over at least once a month to work with a site there, though. I make less than the threshold so I’m now curious if I’m to be covered by this rule or not? I usually work 42/43 hours the first week of the pay period and then reduce my second week accordingly.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I work for a non-profit where they call us salaried but we’re *forbidden* to work OT because they would have to pay us OT.

          It sounds like nothing will change for you. Since your employer already keeps you from working overtime, the fact that you would be legally required to receive overtime pay if you DID work overtime is irrelevant.

          (Although, depending on your state, the 42/38 split might not be legal.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, they’re already treating you as non-exempt so nothing will change in that regard.

            However, they’re calculating your hours wrong — for the purposes of paying overtime, it has to be based on a single week, not two weeks.

            1. KellyK*

              This might actually depend on when the week starts. My company starts the work week at noon on Friday, because this allows people to work 9-hour days and get every other Friday off, without getting overtime the weeks they do work the Friday. But I would think that in that case, it would be obvious to the employee, because time sheets would be set up that way.

        2. Pwyll*

          Well, you’re allowed to be salaried and not be exempt. This is where I think the terminology makes this confusing. Sounds to me like the organization is acknowledging that you’re subject to the FLSA (because otherwise there wouldn’t be an OT concern under Federal law). And if you’re going over state lines once per month, you’re almost certainly covered by the FLSA.

          That said, organizations aren’t allowed to do flex time like that. OT is calculated per week, not per pay period. You probably should be receiving OT for those 2-3 hours.

        3. Jules*

          Sounds like you are a salaried non-exempt. Technically, flexing time over 2 weeks is illegal. You can flex time within the week. Only government employees can ‘bank time’. I work with bigger org and we actually have a training video which explains that flexing over 2 weeks (which is a common pay period) is illegal.

        4. Kira*

          @Callietwo, there’s a different between salaried/hourly and exempt/nonexempt. It sounds like you’re currently salaried (paid the same amount each paycheck) and nonexempt (they have to pay you overtime).

        5. Callietwo*

          Thanks everyone! I get stuck with that salaried exempt/non-exempt thing.

          How would one pursue this with an employer when you know they’re doing this wrong, and have been at least since I started three years ago and I’m sure it’s just their way all along?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            “I just realized that we’re actually not allowed to calculate this over two weeks — it looks like the federal law requires it to be based on a single week, and we can get in trouble by doing it this way.”

    4. ugh*

      I’m in a slightly different boat where I am salaried but usually work less than 40 hours a week (not counting when I’m answering questions or emails from my couch while “off”) and I make less than 47k. I’m dreading seeing how the company deals with this, especially as they just hired someone below me, the terms of whose visa require that she be in a salaried management position. To keep her, are they going to have to give her a bump to the new requirement? She is something of a pet project and I could see a future where they opt to keep her and pay her more than me. Blech.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        As far as I understand it, no business is *required* to make certain roles exempt. You can be in a management role an still earn overtime, or be told to keep your work hours to 40.

        1. ugh*

          From what I understood, she needed to be a salaried employee per the terms of her work visa. That could have been miscommunicated to me.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            It sounds like you’re conflating salaried and exempt. They are two separate things. She can be salaried and still be non-exempt.

    5. Kira*

      @Fluke, this is probably a discussion you can have with your direct supervisor, rather than “approaching senior management”. Maybe you could say something like, “We haven’t discussed the impact of the new overtime regulations on my role. Will I be getting a pay increase to meet the new minimum? Or will I start getting overtime if I work more than 40 hours? If that’s the case, do you want me to limit my hours to 40 hours a week or are you okay with me continuing to work the same hours?”

      1. Fluke Skywalker*

        Well, the problem is that I don’t have a supervisor right now. The person who hired me and who I directly reported to left two weeks ago and I’m in limbo. So I don’t know what they best approach is here. I’m honestly doing the work of two people without a supervisor and it’s wearing me out, but I don’t know who I can go to or how I should approach it. :/

  16. Zahra*

    #4 I took it that the token is for a coffee with the president of the college, not any president. You can’t hold any president to a promise made by a different person. The only transfer that sounds sensible to me is one to another person who would have a coffee with the president of the college, and only after you check with the college whether you can actually do that.

    #5 Do check if educational requirements are a hard requirement. A lot of HR/hiring manager consider education as a flexible/nice to have/indicative of concepts a candidate should master. Such knowledge can be acquired on the job, especially after 14 years. However, you do mention that you work in higher ed (which is its own beast) and in a particular area where this might be relevant.

    Still, if you have any contacts that hire in this area of expertise, ask them if the education level is really that important. Try to get the perspective from different organization (i.e. one person who worked at different places or multiple people in different places). The worse that can happen is that you are right and your job search goes on as you’ve started. The best that can happen is that it widens the range of jobs (and salaries) available to you.

    1. Pwyll*

      The only way #4 makes sense to me is if the token literally says “Coffee with the President” without any college logos or insignia, and OP thinks it’d be a nice gift so the President can give it to other people to offer for them to get coffee with her. But even that is stretching it.

      1. sunny-dee*

        That’s how I interpreted it, but it is still so weird. Especially at a company that large — that’s a huge corporation. There is so much distance between the president and the OP at that point, that trying to give them a token like that is just weird.

    2. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

      If I could redeem it with any president, I’d be hitting up POTUS before he leaves office :)

  17. littlemoose*

    OP #1, please talk to your employee in a kind manner and see if there’s a medical reason for needing the first floor bathroom for the extended bathroom breaks. I’ve had IBD (ulcerative colitis) for 13 years, and your employee’s behavior sounded familiar to me. The urgency and pain that can accompany diseases like this can be so severe that traveling to the further bathroom may be out of the question, and other symptoms can certainly cause the need for bathroom breaks to be longer. As embarrassed as I might be if my employer asked me about my bathroom usage, I’d prefer that over having the employer quietly angry at me because they didn’t know about my medical condition. I appreciate Alison acknowledging that possibility in her answer. Personally my approach has been to privately inform my supervisors of my condition shortly after being hired and to tell them that I may need more frequent or longer bathroom breaks, and I’ve never had a problem with that. But we’ve talked about all of the different concerns people have with disclosing disabilities to their employers, and particularly with a sensitive condition like this, I can understand why your employee might have been reluctant to say anything proactively.

    1. Elfie*

      My husband doesn’t have any digestive disorders, but his mobility is limited, and walking causes him discomfort and pain. Perhaps this person has a similar issue -my husband asked to use a particular bathroom that was closest to him instead of the one that his manager wanted him to use, and his manager’s response? “How short do you want your walk to be?!” With management like that, I can totally understand why people fail to disclose disabilities.

  18. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    For OP#1, did anyone else immediately think of the Captain Awkward column about the woman whose live-in partner would spend hours in the bathroom, forcing her to *go in the kitchen sink* because she couldn’t hold it anymore? I wonder if it is the same guy?

    1. esra (also a Canadian)*

      Was there ever a follow-up on that one? God I hope she just packed up and left him while he was in the washroom.

      1. Myrin*

        Coincidentally, the Captain posted about this only five days ago (and while referencing Alison, no less! – someone had asked her if she’d ever considered doing updates AAM-style); she said: “I know the woman who wasn’t allowed to pee haunts us all to this day”, so I’m guessing there wasn’t ever an update.

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          That’s why I was thinking about it! I still can’t believe she was so timid around him that she wouldn’t knock on the door and say, “I need it now, let me in.” I would be a nag x 20 before peeing in the sink!

          1. Kelly L.*

            If I remember correctly, she did! She tried knocking and begging and pleading and he still wouldn’t let her in.

              1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

                Good point. I read it as her not being aggressive enough in her need to use the bathroom (which CA advised her to do). But, not fair to blame her for his poor behavior!

        2. DeskBird*

          When I read that I wanted to yell out “It does haunt me!” That is the number one Captain A. letter I would want an update from. So I’m glad we all think alike.

  19. JMegan*

    #4, it sounds to me like the token was originally an invitation to you, to go for coffee with the president of your old college. If that’s the case, it’s not really appropriate for re-gifting. It’s the same as of the president had sent you an email inviting you to go for coffee – you wouldn’t forward that email to someone else.

    Like some of the others, I’m not clear if you want to pass along the token as a way of inviting someone to go for coffee with you; or as a suggestion for a way they can invite someone else to go for coffee. Either way, it’s not a good idea. If you want to invite someone to go for coffee, if it’s someone you know personally, you can just ask them (although this can be complicated if the person is your boss – check through the archives here for some ideas on that.) If you don’t know the person already but would like to get to know them, try connecting on LinkedIn first before inviting them for coffee – this is especially true if it’s the president of your organization.

    If you’re thinking of suggesting to the president that he could use the token as an invitation for someone else, it’s not necessary. It is kind of a neat way of sending an invitation, but it’s not an unusual one – chances are that he already knows about “coffee with the president” tokens in some form or another.

    I think your best bet is to hold on to the token as a memory of the time it was given to you, which I’m sure is the way it was originally intended.

  20. Intrepid*

    OP 5, I’m job-searching and in the same boat, and I’ve found the new overtime law is actually an excellent way to get employers to divulge their salary ranges. I find the conversation usually goes like this:

    Known Lowballer Employer: What salary did you have in mind for starting $Role?
    Me: Actually, I heard there was a new overtime law going into effect; how does your company plan to address that?
    KLE: Well, our range is $33k-36k. Traditionally we let $Role shadow mentors and go on ## trips per year, but we’re taking those away because we can’t afford to pay any more.
    Me: NOPE.

  21. Natalie*

    LW #1, it sounds like the only way you’ve attempted to communicate with this employee is by all-staff memos. Don’t do that. It’s annoying for the staff that are already complying with your rule, for one. But more importantly, it gives the non-complying employee too many mental opportunities to disregard it, whether because they believe “everyone is breaking this rule, after all they keep sending out memos” or because they assume you know about some medical condition, or whatever. It’s essentially diffusion of responsibility in memo form.

    Yes, it’s awkward, but you *have to* speak with this employee personally.

  22. Roz*

    #3 – depending on the type of practice, her not having her certification while practising could be a MAJOR problem for her, the practice as a whole and the owner/lead practitioner. It’s not just an ethical problem, it’;s potentially a legal/statutory violation that puts clients/patients at risk.

    This may be a reportable office depending on the profession so I’d check with what ever board or registration agency and report her if she continues to act like this. It’s not acceptable for anyone to be falsely representing themselves.

  23. Callietwo*

    Re: #1) I think it’s been covered here by most that this employee may have medical issues and I agree- I have severe IBS and I felt it was my responsibility to advocate for myself when they moved me about as far away from the bathroom as was possible.. I’m now three doors down, phew! Unfortunately, this employee may be too embarrassed to admit the problem.

    Re #2) I’m not sure what kind of business but if the AM is a bully, I’d be concerned about how they’re acting towards the employees when they’re left in charge of things. (I’m thinking particularly in service industries where both the manager and assistants are rarely both working the same shifts.) I’d be taking a hard, hard line with them, given they’re to be considered a leader. Bullies rarely make good leaders.

  24. Kira*

    #2, Your story reminds me of bad interactions I had with a second-in-command at my last workplace. She was very emotional. She would work herself into tears over perceived slights, or loudly lecture employees about how they should feel bad for doing something wrong. Last year she unloaded on me (I wasn’t even in her chain of command!) — I cried every night for a week and struggled to interact normally with her afterwards. While discussing the situation with my family they pointed out that the top boss wasn’t blameless since he was supporting the 2nd in these situations and not holding her to a higher standard. Realizing that upper management was siding with the abusive 2nd instead of trying to rein her in really ruined my morale.

    1. LeRainDrop*

      Yes, OP #2 really needs to keep a close eye on AM for a little while and make sure that her trust in AM is not misplaced.

  25. Jules*

    #5 I agree with AAM. Most organization are working on compliance even right now (despite the challenges by 21 states). HR probably knows if the role will change to non-exempt or if the salary range will be moved up to the minimum threshold. Typically, an effective organization will hire new people at this late stage of the game (October is so close to December) in the category they decided to go with. That way, in December, we are not suddenly increasing your salary or turning your role into a non-exempt. Asking will not hurt at all, it’s just wise. Just ask in a matter of fact manner.

  26. Moonsaults*

    Everyone is giving the employee the benefit of the doubt and thinking that it’s certainly medical issues.

    I wish you all could come hangout at my place of business where we have had constant issues with people using the “guest” bathroom instead of the employee bathroom. It’s very much because it’s easier to tuck away in there and surf the internet, take an extended break of sorts kind of thing. It’s also because you don’t go and knock loudly on that door because others may see you, instead if it’s in the employee restroom you’ll hear the “Did you fall in???? Dude what’s going on in there?” if they tuck into that location, also it’s not suited for hanging out in there unless you’re doing your business.

    What strikes me as odd is that the management isn’t upset that Employee is taking extra long breaks, it’s just that they’re taking them in the less ideal bathroom because customers may not be able to use it. I’m more pissed that someone is taking long extended breaks. You’re paying that guy about 1.25 hrs just to hangout in the pooper…

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