we have to provide food to our managers for Boss’s Day, my boss hates me, and more

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

1. We have to provide food to our managers for Boss’s Day

It’s that time again — Boss’s Day is Monday. The staff where I work have received the usual cringe-worthy email from the office manager, notifying us we are to provide a breakfast potluck plus afternoon desserts for our bosses. There is a sign-up sheet, no doubt for convenient tracking of who participates. The office manager kindly suggested that “store bought treats” would be acceptable, although the expectation clearly is “homemade.” The office manager complimented us on a great job last year and notes they hope to see “full participation” again this year.

You’ve written about the ridiculousness that is Boss’s Day a few times (thank you!), but I think you’ve only addressed actual gift-giving. What do you think of the obligatory potluck? I would much rather cough up $5 or $10 for a gift collection than spend my time and resources either cooking for my boss or buying stuff for them to eat. (My boss is a particularly bad one, which makes all this even worse.) In my view, the potluck thing just adds insult to injury in that we’re expected to do extra work on our own time in addition to spending our money.

Ick, yeah, that’s gross for all the reasons I talk about here. What about sending that article to your coworkers, including the office manager, with a note that says, “You know, there’s actually a move against Boss’s Day for the reasons talked about in this article. I’ve also found most managers feel pretty awkward and uncomfortable about the whole thing. If we’re going to do something, though, I’d suggest that we keep it small — like a card signed by all of us. How’s that sound to everyone else?”

Alternately, if most people in your office are fully on-board with the current plan, you could change those last two sentences to, “I think we should be careful not to pressure people to participate — asking for full participation or even tracking who does and doesn’t contribute is something that I’m sure would make Jane and Fergus really uncomfortable.”

2. My boss hates me and is actively cruel

My boss hates me. He goes out of his way to correct me when I speak, interrupts me, and screams at me in front of others. He goes for days at a time without speaking to me, and walks around the room and talks to everyone else and makes it obvious that he’s ignoring me. He walks in and greets everyone except me, and leaves without saying good night or says it to everyone but me. He never tells me when he is going to be out of the office even though I am his assistant and have to handle his work when he is out. If I check to see if he was coming in, soI know whether or not I have to handle his projects, I am being “nosy” and they become secretive around me. He makes passive-aggressive comments within earshot and makes fun of me with other managers.

Because I didn’t stand up for myself early on, my coworkers and other managers started to also ignore me and be obnoxious, like screaming while I was trying to work or whispering while I was around. Some flat-out stopped their conversations when I passed by them or laughed when I walked by.

The only feedback I get is from a coworker, who is his best friend and also ignores me 99.9% of the time, and who made a comment about how one has to “have a sense of humor in this environment.” It’s a really toxic environment, so the higher-ups don’t care and HR is nonexistent. Is there any way to resolve this or should I just leave?

I don’t think you can fix this — I’m sorry. These sound like horrible people in a horrible environment. The behavior you’re describing is cruel and intentional, and it’s widespread too — it’s not like it just coming from one or two people who maybe you could try tuning out.

I would do everything you can to get out of there as soon as possible.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. We can be fired if we mention a coworker was fired

I had recently found out from my coworker that telling another person why another coworker no longer works here is grounds for automatic termination.

I do realize that not gossiping about such information is a sign of respect of the ex-employee’s privacy. But I remember being told last year by a first/lowest level management person that another person in upper management was fired for unacceptable work performance/conduct issues.

There was a recent incident of another first level manager asking me why s/he hasn’t seen my coworker for quite a while, and after my saying that it was because the person was let go, my group leader who overheard us warned me that the company has the right to fire me if I disclose any details why someone is no longer there. It doesn’t matter if the person who asked me was a manager. It can only be “s/he no longer works with us” or “s/he still works with us.” Ignorance of this rule will not excuse me from termination; I will not be a given a second chance and apparently no one will advise us to read company policy regarding this.

I haven’t found this policy yet, but it stands to reason that if it is our responsibility to find such company policies and to keep them in mind, then I don’t know how to ask about another coworker’s whereabouts without putting the other person in an awkward position. So what should I do? If necessary, I would feel comfortable meeting with the highest-level manager in my branch, asking to clarify some of this. But should I expect to get help to find where I can find all such relevant information on grounds for dismissal?

That’s a pretty odd policy, and it’s particularly bizarre that it would be grounds for immediate firing. But if that’s really the policy, then now that you know it, it doesn’t sound terribly hard to comply with — if someone asks you where someone is and that person no longer works there, you’d presumably just say, “She no longer works with us,” right? It’s definitely annoying and weird, but I don’t think that it’s worth asking to meet with the highest-level branch manager over.

If your bigger concern is that there might be other policies that you don’t know about, that’s a very reasonable concern. You could ask your manager this: “I realized that there’s at least one policy that wasn’t intuitive to me and that could be grounds for firing. That makes me want a refresher in all of our policies. Is there an employee handbook or other place that they’re all gathered together so that I can make sure I’m operating the way the company wants me to?”

4. Juggling a side business with a full-time job

I have held my current job for six years and it is fine — not too stressful, not too hard, pays decent. My side hobby has recently developed into a full side business, which I run on weekday evenings and weekends. It depends heavily on publicity and social media presence, so I can’t run the business quietly. It’s totally unrelated to my regular job (say I’m a teapot maker and my side business is cat grooming), but it’s been widely publicized and most of my coworkers know about the side business.

How do I handle wearing both hats? I feel strange about my teapot-maker colleagues asking me cat-grooming questions at work, and I worry that my teapot-making boss will think I’m gearing up to leave for the world of cat grooming when it’s in fact a side job and a hobby, albeit one that may start making money.

If you think it’s pretty likely that your boss is going to hear about it, I’d just address it head-on with her. For example: “Hey, I wanted to mention to you that even though I’m doing this cat-grooming work on weekends, I’m really committed to not letting it affect my job here. I really like my work here, and I have no plans to take the cat-grooming full-time. I’ve been careful about keeping the two things separate, and I’ll continue to do that.”

And of course, make sure that’s really true. It shouldn’t be a big deal to answer occasional cat grooming questions at work, but if it starts getting frequent and feels like your boss could reasonably worry about it distracting you from your job, be prepared to say something to coworkers like, “I don’t want Jane to think I’m running this business from here, but I’d love to talk about this with you. If you want, you can email me at home or text me after work and I can give you some advice. Or let’s talk when we grab coffee tomorrow.”

5. The new overtime rule is messing with my hours

I work for a nonprofit in NYC that’s starting to figure out the new overtime law that starts December 1. I will be classified as salaried non-exempt, so will be eligible for overtime.

My job description, and the offer letter that I signed, designated my working hours as 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. with occasional nights and weekends. There are lots of after-hours events with my job, but I’m being told I can’t work more than 40 hours a week after December 1. Are they within their rights to require me to come in late or leave early from regular work hours to stay within 40 hours on a week when I need to work late? If my work hours are specifically stated as 9 – 5, are they allowed to change that to avoid paying me overtime? They are notoriously stingy and I’m concerned that I’m going to end up getting stiffed. Help!

Yes, that is legal, and in fact it’s a pretty normal way to do it for people who are non-exempt. Since you working more than 40 hours in a week will now cost them more money than they may have budgeted for your position, they’re asking you to manage your time to ensure you don’t go over 40. That’s not stiffing you — they’ll still be paying you for all the time you worked.

The fact that your offer letter lists your hours as 9-5 doesn’t change anything; they’re talking there about your typical hours, but that doesn’t bar them from changing that if they need to. (If you had a contract that stated specific hours, that would be different, but most workers in the U.S. don’t have contracts.)

This is a pretty normal thing for non-exempt positions.

{ 299 comments… read them below }

  1. Cat steal keyboard*

    #2 “Because I didn’t stand up for myself early on, my coworkers and other managers started to also ignore me and be obnoxious”

    Oh OP. No. There is no excuse for their behaviour. You not standing up for yourself early on – when you were new and finding your feet and learning the ropes – is not justification for the way they are behaving. This is not your fault. This is a nasty pack mentality and I’m so sorry it’s happened to you. You need to get out of there.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Agreed. Don’t take that on, OP. Your boss and coworkers are assholes and would be assholes regardless of anything you may have or may not have done.

    2. Amber*

      This is a huge reason why you need to get out and find another job as soon as possible, if you don’t you’ll start to be conditioned to feel like that treatment is normal. It is not normal. Find another job and you’ll be much happier.

    3. mazzy*

      That’s a good catch, this is true.

      I also think it’s a dick move on their part that, if forever reason they don’t want OP there, to not come to some sort of arrangement where there can be severance and say they left on their own. Instead, they ignore OP and leave it totally on them to fix the “problem.”

      I’m genuinely surprised at a letter for once. I couldn’t deal with that all day every day.

    4. Nea*

      OP#2 – Remember the letter writer who thought it was all about her tone and started reading books to deal with a toxic co-worker, and we all yelled in unison “IT’S NOT YOUR TONE”?

      Let me add one more voice to what I’m sure will be a unanimous shout of “It’s not because you didn’t stand up for yourself.” Get out. Get out as fast as you can. Get out now. You didn’t do anything wrong; they’re just incredibly, universally toxic there.

      1. Marisol*

        Well said. I’m the queen of assisting executives who are overly demanding/have difficult personalities, in order to get the higher paycheck that dealing with such bullsh*t usually brings, and often there are upsides to be had in such a position, but in this case there is absolutely no upside here. As Alison says, it cannot be fixed. And it wouldn’t be worth fixing anyway. Yes OP, please get out.

    5. MC*

      Oh LW, this is not about you. This is toxic and not your fault. Sometimes someone needs a target and they pick the person with the least power who can not fight back. I’ve seen this first hand with a boss who made the receptionist his target and many of the other office members followed suit. Get out. Don’t use them as a reference. Just get out.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This is so toxic OP needs to get out of the yesterday. Honestly you could have a case for constructive dismissal to get unemployment even if you quit, so document, document, document.

      2. HoVertical*

        Merde. This is just so far beyond OK. LW, it is not about you, absolutely not! This is an office of hideously toxic bullies. Do not wait, begin looking now now now, and when your last day arrives, leave a vapor trail behind you!

    6. heatherskib*

      +1- I have commented previously about a nasty office environment that I was in with a similar temperament. I was stuck when the economy crashed, but you don’t have to be! It took the better part of 6 years of excessive kindness to win that office over. Nobody has time for that.

    7. Michele*

      +1. Even if they don’t like you, you still have the right to be treated professionally. Sadly, they won’t acknowledge that. It’s not going to be better. Sock away as much cash as you can (build up a go to hell fund) and get your resume out now. Sign up with temping agencies even.

  2. Cat steal keyboard*

    #5 I’m in the U.K. where this works differently but could you do what we do and have time off to make up for hours at events after 5?

    1. Cat steal keyboard*

      Sorry, I missed the fact that you don’t want to do that. It’s 5.30am here and I seem to have forgotten to switch my brain on, apologies.

    2. LSCO*

      I don’t think that would work in OP’s case any how. I know I’ve had jobs in the past where evening/weekend work was given as time off in lieu, but you could use that time whenever you wanted (say, 3 weeks later, or build it up and take a few days off). It’s my understanding though that in the US the time worked can’t exceed 40 hours in the work without incurring overtime pay, so if the OP were to work 4 hours on a Tuesday evening they would need to take those 4 hours in that same week (by leaving early on a Friday for instance).

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        That’s correct. If OP5 worked an additional 3 hours, say, on a Wednesday evening, then she would have to take 3 hours off somewhere else in the week, either by coming in late or leaving early.

        OP5: I would suggest discussing with your manager how she wants to handle it. My mother’s last position was salary/non-exempt and she traveled a lot to conduct trainings. She frequently had to juggle her hours within the work week to make it work, but as a trade off her manager was very flexible on this – unless there was a business need otherwise (and there rarely was), she was allowed to take those additional hours of leave whenever she wanted (within the same work week, that is). It worked especially nicely when it butted up against already planned time off, as it meant her using less PTO than she otherwise would have!

        1. OP 5*

          That’s true! I’m just very nervous about being micromanaged – my job often just can’t get done in 40 hours a week, and I’m concerned about being fussed at to leave after 40 hours and my work quality suffering. There are definitely weeks when I’m done every day at 5pm, but also many weeks when I’m not.

          Hopefully it’ll work out better than I’m anticipating…! I’ll definitely be talking with my manager to understand exactly what the official plan is and how she wants to address it specifically within our department.

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            I understand your concern, but if your job really can’t be done in 40 hours a week, and the ONLY reason your work quality may be suffering is because you simply have too much work to complete most weeks in the allotted time, they have three options:
            1. They can hire additional help (from the sounds of it, that doesn’t really sound like a realistic solution)
            2. They can budget for occasional overtime
            3. They can raise your salary to the threshold

            This isn’t on you to solve.

      2. Judy*

        For non-exempt workers in the US, that is true. But also, as long as it is constant, the week can be defined in any way. So if a job generally had weekend events, the week could be defined as Thursday 8am to the next Thursday 7:59am. That way, any weekend work could be used as comp time within that defined week.

        1. Anna*

          Yes, but that has to be across the board for every employee otherwise you’ve got a payroll headache. It doesn’t seem feasible to move the whole week for one employee.

      3. Lisa*

        The thing – if OP can’t go over 40, then OP may meet 40 by Thursday, and then have no coverage for the weekend. OP needs to track all hours and give an update to the manager mid-week to show when OP will reach 40 hours. If they choose to hire another person, it would be cheaper than OT. But OP shouldn’t get sucked into doing 60 hours this week and 20 next week – OT law is supposed to give overtime pay for over any 40 in a GIVEN week – not moved around to the following week to avoid paying. So if OP gets to 40, OP needs to stop at 40. It is not comp time. If OP goes over, the employer has to pay OP. Its best for OP to track meticulously, and warn when she will go over – and then don’t do any work for free.

        1. Patrick*

          I’m sorry, I’m really confused about your example – if a worker works 60 hours one week and 20 the next they’ll still be coming out “ahead” as they’ll get 20 hours of OT the first week. The FLSA stipulates OT hours are calculated weekly and you can’t “average” them across a two week pay period (and if you live in California OT is calculated by the day.) Apologies if I’m misreading your post.

          1. Patrick*

            I’m sorry, I totally misread that you were giving that as an example of an illegal practice! I think I was just confused because people seem to be jumping to the assumption that OP #5’s employer is trying to commit wage theft.

      4. INTP*

        This is true, and depending on the state, there may also be a daily limit in addition to the weekly limit. In California, barring industry-specific exemptions, the employee would be owed OT for any hours exceeding 8 hours in a day PLUS any hours exceeding 40 in a week.

    3. Red Rose*

      We have occasional special 3-day meetings that always run Tuesday-Thursday. The (non-exempt) admin who works the meeting has to come in early and leave late on those days which adds up to a full working day, so she is required to take Friday off those weeks. They used to give her take-anytime comp time instead, but realized a couple of years ago that wasn’t legal. If there is no money in the budget for overtime, then this is what the law requires.

    4. OP 5*

      That’s my organization’s plan – but the fact is that my job often times just can’t be done in 40 hours a week! Not all the time, there are certainly weeks where I’m out the door at 5pm every day, but when I have to work a Saturday event and an event event and still do my whole job, it’s hard to fit that into 40 hours.

      I guess it’s all still being figured out so everything is a little up in the air – I’m just very hesitant to trust them to handle this gracefully and respectfully of their employees.

  3. Fortitude Jones*

    #1 – They’re demanding breakfast and dessert?! Nope. Unless you’re a caterer, this is ridiculous. If Alison’s suggestion doesn’t work, I would be tempted to tell Dear Office Manager that while I would love to participate, I recently learned my kitchen has E. coli, so unless they want a Chipotle situation on their hands, I should probably pass.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Well, OP doesn’t like her boss, so if she’s a bad cook, she could very well bring him something she made herself. I guarantee she’d be exempt from ever having to participate in something like this again.

        1. OP #1*

          Actually, last year, I was in such a bad mood about having to cook the night before that I messed up my dish somewhat. It was still OK, and I brought it anyway, but no one ate any until the next day when leftovers were brought out and not much else was left. I did NOT get off the hook this year, though.

          1. bridget*

            If not for the breakfast-and-afternoon timing, I would wonder if you worked at my old workplace. I’ve mentioned it in the comments before, but we had a similar potluck and on the receiving side, it was awful. Even worse was the fact that we didn’t even really have traditional boss/employee relationships; it was a law firm, and all the support staff made a giant homemade potluck lunch for the attorneys. As a fresh attorney out of school, way younger and less experienced than most of the staff, this was SUPER awkward, made worse because I wasn’t really the “boss” of anybody; I was supported by people in staff positions, but I wasn’t their manager.

            For admin day, the firm paid for a catered lunch for all support staff, and the attorneys didn’t have to lift a finger (other than to get their specific assistants a starbucks card or something).

            1. Kira*

              That’s so weird. They set it up as a personal sign of gratitude from the staff to the bosses, but then the bosses got to just treat it as a business expense.

          2. Lisa*

            Just get store bought that looks homemade, and put them in a tin foil container with plastic wrap. DONE.

            1. Chinook*

              My mother used to always bring her homemade goods in bakery containers (because they were the right size and shape) for church lady baking events. As a result, the go to assumption was that all items in those containers were homemade when they came from our house.:)

              And, as someone who actually helps organize bake sales and church lunches, if the church ladies are perfectly fine with people bringing in store bought baking/vegetable trays/etc., then I can’t think of a reason why an employer should complain.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      This whole thing is so bizarre. I love cooking, and in theory I wouldn’t mind making something for my coworkers, but I’m gluten- and dairy-free, so the things I make adhere to that; people would definitely notice. But I’m not about to go and bake a cake AND roast potatoes or whatever for this ridiculous “holiday.”

      1. Kira*

        Yep, if they just had a staff potluck where everyone (including boss) brought in food for the whole team that would be better. But by making it a gift to the boss, and tying it to the day, they made it a sign of deference.

  4. Scotty Smalls*

    Allison for #3 I believe she was more worried about asking someone who didn’t know of the policy, “Where’s Fergus?” and them saying “Oh he was fired.” And then that person would be fired.

    If this company really wants this policy it needs to email everyone when someone leaves and let them know who the new point of contact is.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      So Jane would be fired for saying that Fergus was fired, and then Wakeen would ask Sansa what happened to Jane and Sansa would be fired…If they’re not careful, the office could be empty by the end of the day.

      1. Scotty Smalls*

        About halfway through the day they would switch to write ups.

        “Sansa was fired”
        “Write up!”

      2. KM*

        The best part is that, the more people suddenly get fired for secret reasons, the more alarming it will become, and the more people will want to ask about it. When they ask why half of their department was just fired for secret reasons, their supervisors just say, “They no longer work with us!” in increasingly strained, bugged-out voices, as they struggle to keep their own jobs. When one of them cracks and says, “You’re not allowed to talk about why somebody was fired!” thus revealing why the last eighteen people were fired, he sows the seeds of destruction for everyone in earshot, like passing on The Ring. God, I love this policy.

    2. MK*

      Frankly, I doubt the existence of this policy. The OP didn’t know about it, they can’t find it anywhere, the manager who asked also presumably didn’t know it. The only evidence that it exists is the coworker’s claims, so I wonder if they are projecting their own views as company policy or are mistaken about it (say there was once a case of a co-worker getting fired after revealing the reason for another one being let go, but it’s possible that firing was the result in those particular circumstances, not an overall policy). The OP should ask someone higher-up about this.

      1. Fjell & Skog*

        At my old job I was admonished (by HR) for asking where the receptionist was…turns out she had been fired, but I was in trouble for just asking where she was. I did not even ask why, just where she was. I just wanted to know who the hell to turn my timesheet in to…

        There are some crazy policies out there, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a thing at OP’s workplace.

          1. Fjell & Skog*

            I have no idea what they expected, and also why no one else asked where she was…but that’s when I stepped up my job search!

        1. Joseph*

          Those policies about keeping things super quiet always seem counter-productive. I can maybe understand not wanting to go into details, but you need to at least let affected people know that Jim no longer works here. Because otherwise, you get situations where Clients are the ones informing your employees that Jim’s working elsewhere (not a good look) or where someone tries to contact Jim and gets frustrated when they can’t get in touch with him.

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            At my old job we would get emails after someone was let go that said, “Joffrey has decided to pursue other opportunities. We wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.”

            Everyone knew what happened. Because when someone gave two weeks notice usually their manager sent out a note with the transition plan, and we usually had some sort of goodbye event. But it was so incredibly helpful if it was someone you worked with that was in a different department, or a different building in terms of keeping work flow steady.

            1. Arjay*

              I so wish we’d do this, mostly from a security standpoint. Sure, we aren’t supposed to let people piggyback into the office on our badge access, but it happens. (The restrooms are located outside the badge scan, and I’ve accidentally left my badge at my desk when I’ve stepped out.) So when someone I’ve seen every day for 2 years might follow in behind me, I’d be a lot more vigilant if I knew they didn’t work here any more.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                We’re not supposed to either–but it’s super convenient when Mary from Teapot Customer Service runs toward you screaming “Hold the elevator!” to just let her on. I do discreetly check for a badge, though. I’ve even asked–“Got your badge?” Still, I get nervous doing the front desk even though they do alert us to problematic terms. What if I accidentally badge someone!?

            2. LizB*

              This is how it works at my workplace — you either get an email saying “I’m both happy and sad to announce that Sansa has taken a position with Strawberry Teapot Corp, and will be leaving Chocolate Tea Industries on September 1st! We’ll all be sorry to see her go. Please join us for a farewell happy hour on Friday.” or you get one saying “This email is to inform you that Sansa is no longer employed by Chocolate Tea Industries. Please contact Ned if you have any questions.” One of those emails means the person left of their own initiative… the other means they didn’t. But you’re informed in either case.

              1. Lemon Zinger*

                We do the same thing at my job! My functional group is quite large, so the departure emails are frequent. Not long after I started (and had read some lovely emails regretting to inform us of so-and-so’s new job), a director sent out an email stating “Effective immediately, Phil is no longer the manager of teapot services. His last day in the office was yesterday. Susan will be acting in this role for the foreseeable future.”

                Yep… Phil did something really bad. I never found out what, but the email said enough!

            3. KimberlyR*

              We always get emails when someone is leaving the company. I have only been here for one firing (that I know of!)

              I knew of the firing before it was announced because someone told me in confidentiality. The email stated that “Fergus has decided to move on to new opportunities. Unfortunately, yesterday was his last day so please direct all items to Jane. We are sorry this has happened so suddenly…” (not exact wording but the gist). So either they told him to quit or be fired, or they fired him but made it sound like he chose to leave. Makes me wonder if there were others that I wasn’t aware of.

          2. ThatGirl*

            Seriously. We had a brief all-team meeting to inform everyone that one of my immediate team co-workers had been let go. We were not told why (beyond “violated company policy”) and we didn’t need to know why, but we did need to know that he wasn’t working here anymore. Nobody telling us would have been a real disaster.

          3. Kira*

            Agreed. My last place would announce the “good” departures when the departing employee was suitably “nice”, but was very hush hush about all the “bad” departures. Since everyone in my department was fired without notice (therefore, a “bad” departure”), they were never announced, ever. I had to lie to board members about where my boss had gone, two months after she left. And another time a coworker stopped by my office and asked if Sansa was on vacation — Sansa had been let go without notice two weeks before, and I was still struggling to process that.

      2. Rafe*

        Oh I’m thinking it’s pretty clearly their policy — people are fired — whether in a handbook or not. Some places are exceptionally strange about departures, and this can be especially true with higher ranked firings, and almost treated like violations of general nondisclosure agreements regarding a company’s sensitive internal information.

        1. Former Usher*

          At a former employer, a director was fired. His former manager informed us that we would never know the reason for his firing. We were told that even speculating aloud as to the cause of his firing could lead to our dismissal.

          1. LBK*

            Hmm, that doesn’t sound that unreasonable to me actually. Threatening to fire you for talking about it is extreme, but almost every time I’ve worked with someone who got fired, management has requested that we not discuss it – it’s generally not your business why someone got fired and it’s not productive to speculate. I don’t think that’s quite the same as the OP’s situation where they’re not even allowed to mention that the person was fired, never mind talking about why.

          2. Lemon Zinger*

            See, THAT is reasonable. Especially if there was an investigation going on due to inappropriate conduct.

          3. Lissa*

            See, that to me would just cause so much more speculation! I mean, to go out of your way to say “You will never know why! Don’t even speculate!” would have all kinds of dramatic scenarios spinning around in my head. Whereas a “Yeah, we had to let Boris go, it wasn’t working out” would probably die down more quickly.

            1. OhNo*

              Yeah, that definitely sounds like a case of “don’t think about purple elephants!” It’s not going to work.

      3. Colette*

        It’s possible it isn’t a real policy, but some portion of the company believes it is, and it’s pretty easy to avoid saying someone was fired. There are things I’d be willing to lose my job for, but this isn’t one of them, so if I were in the OP’s shoes, I’d just say they don’t work there and claim ignorance of any details.

        1. Oryx*

          I wonder if it’s a policy meant for outsiders, like if someone calls asking for Sansa the person answering is supposed to say she doesn’t work there anymore but it is getting misapplied to internal people.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            It’s funny you mention this because a couple of weeks ago, one of my coworkers contacted an outside party who does work for some of our clients and she never received a response. Then she emailed this person’s coworker who also sometimes does work for our clients, and the coworker sent back an email saying, “Unfortunately Jane was let go last week, that’s why you didn’t get a response.” My coworker ended up sending the email to our supervisor because he noted who our new contact person would be, and my supervisor forwarded the email chain to our entire division. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw it because, wow – whatever happened to the old PC standby, “This person is no longer with the company?” He just told everyone she was fired (and she should have been because she wasn’t very competent) – I thought that was understood to be a professional no-no with external contacts.

            1. LBK*

              Yikes – yeah, that seems like a breach of etiquette to me. Let people read through the lines, saying it outright is airing a bit too much dirty laundry.

      4. Lemon Zinger*

        No way, I believe OP. My first employer had a similar policy. There was tons of turnover, so to keep morale up, whenever someone quit or was fired, only his/her immediate team was told in a private meeting. Mentioning the employee was verboten; my manager once said “Let’s focus on the team as it is now” when we were reminiscing about a funny, beloved coworker who had been fired.

        It can be distressing and/or traumatic when people leave, and those left behind might need to talk about it– it’s healthy!

      5. Moonsaults*

        I have learned in my career that some firings come along with great big lawsuits attached or to follow, so that’s another reason not to talk about “oh they were fired” and talking about “why” would be strongly discouraged or forbiden.

      6. INTP*

        I don’t see a reason to doubt the existence at all of the policy, but I also feel like it probably isn’t actually put into practice often if so few people in the company have heard of it. It might have been created as a knee-jerk response to a specific situation, or by someone paranoid about a certain scenario. But as the OP, I wouldn’t worry about it being hypothetically possible to get fired over this policy if I hadn’t ever heard of it actually happening. Just because the policy doesn’t cite ignorance of the policy as making you exempt from it doesn’t mean that management is actually going to be so unreasonable as to fire people rather than point out the rules when it’s truly done in ignorance.

    3. Pwyll*

      Even then I’m not entirely sure this policy is legal. In recent years the NLRB has taken a fairly hardline stance that companies cannot even remotely imply that employees cannot discuss their working conditions. Unless an employee is in a special position of knowledge (HR staff, the immediate manager, etc.), it seems contrary to the NLRA to prohibit line employees from mentioning that an employee no longer works there.

      There was a relatively recent case that found that employers can’t require employees (except HR staff and managers) from discussing disciplinary actions, as employees have a right to be aware of the nature of discipline, how to avoid it, and how to defend themselves. That involved firing an employee for discussing his own discipline with other coworkers, but the NLRB takes a dim view overall of “no gossip” policies.

      1. Pwyll*

        Err. Recent case says employers can’t prevent employees from discussing disciplinary actions amongst themselves.

      2. Retail HR Guy*

        Yep, I was thinking the same thing. Preventing employees from discussing how coworkers are treated by management is not going to be a legal policy in the US.

      3. MillersSpring*

        I think we are discussing the sharp difference between saying that Fergus no longer works here versus saying that Fergus was fired/let go. The former is neutral.

        And FWIW, saying that a person was laid off also does not imply they were fired.

  5. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: If you work at an office that happens to employ a few people who love to cook AND if this will translate into a 30-minute paid party, be prepared for there to be some pushback to your pushback. I agree that Boss’ Day is dumb, but with the way this is being planned (the implied two small celebrations – or at least approved occasions to be less work-oriented than usual), you’re going to find that some people don’t mind the excuse to be walking back and forth to the break room and eating all day. Which of course, is the point, but still. It’s helpful to try to anticipate whether your coworkers would agree with you.

    OP2: Get out now and don’t hesitate to leave as soon as you find something better. This boss isn’t going to give you a good reference anyway.

    1. Artemesia*

      I hate this but would probably just buy some pretty cookies and not commit to fighting it unless I thought the concern was widespread. Pick your wars.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        This. And if someone makes a remark about homemade, you can make a joke about how you don’t want to subject your coworkers to your cooking. ;)

        *It comes in handy that my cousin works in the distribution center for a large regional bakery chain. He gets access to lots of free cookies!

      2. Kelly*

        My late mother was a fantastic cook and baker, but it got to the point when it came to family gatherings that her contributions were taken for granted by my father’s family. She quit taking her homemade fudge to my dad’s family Xmas after she caught two of her sister-in-laws and their kids cutting it up, putting it in their own to go containers. Even after she wasn’t working, she would go to the grocery store to get some baked goods and salad to take along, after putting them in her own containers and disposing of the store containers. My dad never caught on. She passed that habit down to my sister and myself. She did start bringing her own stuff along after she was diagnosed with cancer because she wanted to make sure there was something that she could eat safely.

        I do think it’s often safer to go with store bought rather than homemade for potlucks because of allergy issues.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          Does anyone remember the Chobani recall from a few years ago? Around that time I made a banana bread recipe for the office that happened to call for greek yogurt. So I made the bread and then I cut it into smaller pieces so it would be easier to share. That’s when I noticed something weird looking and odd smelling in the middle of the bread. I thought it was maybe a banana that had gone a little past it’s reasonable life (since banana bread is made with old bananas anyways). To be safe, I threw the whole thing out. A week later, the other Chobani I bought the same day but hadn’t eaten yet had exploded all over my fridge. And a couple days after that, the news of the great Chobani recall was everywhere. In retrospect, that’s pretty likely what was wrong with my banana bread.
          I could have poisoned the whole office. Just imagine, one tainted casserole and your whole office is out for a week with food poisoning.

          1. Kelly*

            That is a great example of why it is often easier and safer to prefer store bought or professionally catered food for work events. Not everyone is as observant as you are about the food they prepare for others.

            My father comes from a family where bad cooking is a genetic trait. His late mother was a truly awful cook whose cooking caused him to get food poisoning frequently, which he refused to admit. Towards the end of her life, he quit eating her pies because she used outdated/expired shortening in her crusts and would throw away anything she sent home with him. Only one of his sisters is a good cook, which she picked up on from her mother-in-law. One sister who has delusions of being a good cook gave my late mother and sister food poisoning last year at Thanksgiving because she undercooked the turkey. I escaped that because I picked that day to be the day of the week I ate no meat, a normal habit.

    2. Dweali*

      That’s why I think pushing back on the 100% participation would be a better route. Those who like to cook and enjoy doing the pot lucks can still participate and those who don’t bring anything can either grab a plate or not.

      1. Liz*

        Also people usually forget that bringing plates/napkins/plasticware is just as needed in a potluck. Not that I want to enable stupid rituals like these, but you don’t have to cook at all to contribute!

            1. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I got a “talking to” when I was young from the women in my family because I would always bring tortilla chips and salsa as my potluck contribution. They thought I should make more of an effort on the home-made front; I thought they were a bunch of mean cows (except for the one who defended me and said that chips and salsa was always a welcome contribution).

                1. Moonsaults*

                  What kind of monsters would ever think Timbits are not the best contribution possible? Are you sure it’s because you didn’t bring enough Timbits >:D

                2. Chinook*

                  Timbits or a box of Timmy’s coffee should always be welcome at any potluck. It is the Canadian way!

              1. Moonsaults*

                I will admit that the folks who bring chips to potlucks are usually not my favorite, however this reminds me of one BBQ my mother hosted. Everyone was asking her “what do I bring?!” her response to EVERYONE was “Uhhhh, bring some chips?”

                So guess who had a house full of chips and nobody could blame those poor souls who came in and saw the pile growing. We had a great variety though, that’s for sure!

            2. Grayson*

              When I worked at my prior job, the woman who coordinated potluck efforts was a thorn in my side. There was always the understanding that if you didn’t bring something to a potluck you weren’t allowed to partake. The number of people that listened to that rule were minimal. I stubbornly refused to partake because of how very much I disliked this person. Grr, inter-office conflicts. Grr I say.

              1. INTP*

                I feel like that rule is pretty fair, to be honest. If you don’t contribute you don’t partake. The problem is when potlucks are officially or unofficially mandatory, so everyone feels like they have to contribute whether they have the time/money or not. Then you have the people contributing the bare minimum because they feel forced to participate, and others who made a homemade dish or picked up an expensive store-bought item feeling ripped off because those people are eating their more generous contributions.

        1. Noobtastic*

          I was once at a work potluck where there literally were NO plates, forks, spoons, cups, or anything. Our only option was going to be sticking our hands in the serving trays and eating from our hands.

          One of our co-workers was sent out to buy the necessary plasticware. Then someone found some plastic cups and a few plastic spoons in a closet, and people scooped food into the cups and started without her.

          She was TICKED OFF!

      2. INTP*

        I think this depends on the office. Some offices have a lot of people who would never contribute, then eat TONS of the food. At my old job, EVERY SINGLE unmarried male would bring something totally worthless to the potluck (like dollar store cookies), then eagerly eat the food other people brought (and in one case, criticize my lentil taco filling for being “weird” when I would have had no taco filling options if I didn’t bring it).

        I’m not at all a fan of mandatory potlucks, but a lot of people also make those that provide the food feel taken advantage of. I think potlucks should always just be 100% optional (not unofficially mandatory, but truly optional), and people should be accountable for themselves and only participate if they really truly want to and plan to contribute enthusiastically. (Which doesn’t mean everyone has to bring something high effort and homemade, but if you do bring something store bought, make sure it’s REALLY good, or a very generous supply of utensils and plates, or something – not a token “ok I brought an item, now feed me.”)

        1. Rater Z*

          At one place I worked, it wasn’t a potluck but a guy who would wind up working the evening shift as the supervisor sometimes if the actual person was on vacation. Craig would pass around a list ahead of time asking who was bringing treats and such each night of the week. Each time, there would be a note on the list that Dick brings the bread. I had a great recipe for Dilly bread which he loved and wanted. I was happy to bake it because my wife always got mad when I made bread. (Hers always came out being like rocks…)

        2. Noobtastic*

          Another reason not to have mandatory 100% participation – some people are immuno-compromised, and simply cannot eat potluck. You just don’t know how clean their kitchens are, or how clean are the hands of all the other people in line before you.

          Not to mention the people with special dietary needs.

          A meeting may be 100% participation mandatory, but not a pot luck.

  6. Meihyr*

    OP2: They don’t have any respect for you and I don’t think there’s really anything you can do to change that. Nor should you bother. You’re better off leaving. Don’t humour them by giving them a response because I get the feeling if you do respond, that tool of a boss will fire you for it.

    1. Purple Dragon*

      I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I seriously cannot believe how juvenile some people are.

      I’d suggest getting a new job and leaving ASAP so you don’t have to use them as a reference down the line. I don’t even want to think what they’d come up with. If you’ve not been there long maybe an employment gap would be preferable. Good luck and let us know how you go.

      1. Liz*

        Minus the screaming, a previous position was a lot like this, a total exclusive cool kids club where you were expected to put everything into work and worship the leaders and go along with their tasteless bullying- if not you were frozen out. I had started looking for a new position the day my probation ended and it was only a matter of who left who first.

  7. Mike C.*

    OP2: Now would be a great time to document and report anything that your workplace is doing that’s illegal or could otherwise expose them to civil penalties. Things like blatant discrimination, fraud, labor or safety violations and so on.

    It doesn’t even have to be against the government – the BSA loves hearing about cases of commercial software piracy.

    Does your employer cheat clients? Dodge taxes? Be creative, as the assistant you see and hear a great deal.

    If nothing else, it will help you keep your spirits up while you look for a workplace that will treat you like a human being. Best wishes and always remember that you deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

    1. Rebecca*

      I totally agree with this. OP says “HR is nonexistent”, but I’m sure the big bosses won’t want things to continue that could interfere with their pay scale. I feel so sorry for the OP; that has to be hell going to work every day in that environment.

    2. DoDah*

      At Toxic Co, someone turned them in for just that—using pirated versions of MS. I don’t know what the penalty was (if any) but all of a sudden we got updated versions of every application we ran. It was glorious!

      1. Anna*

        Lesson: Don’t be a jerk to the people working for you AND be doing something illegal. It will probably not go well for you.

    3. Noobtastic*

      At the very least, pretending you’re a spy in enemy territory will help keep your spirits up until you can go elsewhere.

  8. Lady Blerd*

    LW1: Please start looking for a new job. There is nothing to salvage at that awful workplace. Heck if you can, just walk away now.

    LW4: I have colleagues with side businesses. For one of them, his heart and motivation is clearly on his side hustle that is pretty successful based on what I see on Facebook and although I should be happy for him, I am annoyed by how he just doesn’t care about his day job and isn’t reliable. That’s an issue for upper management to deal with but all I’m saying is be mindful for the fact that although for now you side hustle is mostly a hobby for now, there may come a time you will be at a cross road as it grows and you may have to put more of your focus and energy there. And maybe it may end up being your main occupation.

    1. LKH*

      This comment made me think of Sherwood Anderson’s resignation letter, which he wrote in 1918 when leaving his job in advertising to write novels instead:

      ” Dear Barton:
      You have a man in your employ that I have thought for a long time should be fired. I refer to Sherwood Anderson. He is a fellow of a good deal of ability, but for a long time I have been convinced that his heart is not in his work.
      There is no question but that this man Anderson has in some ways been an ornament to our organization. His hair, for one thing, being long and messy gives an artistic carelessness to his personal appearance that somewhat impresses such men as Frank Lloyd Wright and Mr. Curtiniez of Kalamazoo when they come into the office.
      But Anderson is not really productive. As I have said his heart is not in his work. I think he should be fired and if you will not do the job I should like permission to fire him myself. I therefore suggest that Anderson be asked to sever his connections with the company on August 1st. He is a nice fellow. We will let him down easy but let’s can him.
      Respectfully submitted,
      Sherwood Anderson”

      1. Cassandra*

        Wow. Wow wow wow wow wow. This just made my day. Thank you for posting it!

        (I’m fine in my current job! But I sure would have LOVED to riff on this in a couple previous ones…)

      2. Golden Lioness*

        Thank you for sharing this! It was awesome! I am going to have to come up with my own version of it some day.

    2. OP #4*

      I’m trying to be very mindful of being focused on my main job while I’m here. I think this is why the cat-grooming questions at the teapot makers feel so awkward to me, because I’m enthused about cat grooming and love talking about it but I know it’s not the place.
      For now I’m happy with how things are but I’m not sure what I’ll decide if the side business starts paying me (right now it just covers its own expenses).

  9. Rahera*

    LW 2, I’m so sorry you’re going through this, and I hope you can get out soon and into an environment where you’re treated fairly and with respect. None of this is your fault. You didn’t cause it, and you couldn’t have prevented it. Some people are just nasty.

  10. anonforthis*

    OP#2 OMG this is my last job, from the hateful manager to the cliques and nastiness from coworkers. Get out now. It almost destroyed me, and my confidence is still shaky even though I’ve been in a new job for 6 months now. It also had severe health consequences for me, worsening my migraines to the point where at one stage I thought I was going to have to stop working entirely.

    Find something new asap, it took me longer than it should have because the place sucked up all my energy and left me no motivation to job hunt after work.

    1. Ayla K*

      Seconded! I was in a terribly toxic place – people would stop their conversations suddenly when I walked into a room and my manager told me that she thought my work was “subpar” and that she would make sure I would never get a promotion. (This was after she promised to help me with a potential location transfer I was angling for.) Her poisonous attitude spread and my mental health suffered to the point of near hospitalization. I decided no paycheck was worth my life and sanity and quit without a backup plan. I know that’s not always an option – I was unemployed for four month and it’s going to take a while for my savings account to recover – but I’m in a new job and now, six months later, I can’t believe how many incredibly and unspeakably awful things I thought I had to put up with because I needed a job.

      It’s not worth it. Please get out of there.

      1. Anonymous 40*

        Third. I had one of these jobs several years ago. I started getting migraines for the first time since I was a teenager (32 at the time). I couldn’t leave until I had another job because I was the only income our family had. I developed an anxiety problem and spent the last few months I was there almost constantly on the edge of panic. Six years later the anxiety problem has never completely gone away.

  11. LSCO*

    OP3 – I wonder if your co-worker is mistaken, and it’s the details surrounding a departing employee which are off-limits, not the nature of the departure. So you won’t get fired for saying “Fergus was fired last week” but you would get fired for saying “Fergus was fired last week because Sansa suspected him of stealing from the petty cash”.

    I may be wrong, but it would seem a more reasonable policy.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Nah, it still wouldn’t be reasonable for a company to fire people for telling the truth.

      1. Colette*

        It’s possible that someone who wasn’t involved I. The firing doesn’t know the truth but thinks they do – and that can lead to legal issues.

          1. Dweali*

            It could always get back to the terminated co-worker and the company could very easily face a lawsuit for slander.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              You could sue anyone for anything – that doesn’t mean a) it will happen or b) the claimant will win. Punishing people for talking about whether or not someone was fired is ridiculous, if that is in fact what’s happening and not like someone mentioned above a misunderstanding of the policy by the coworker.

              1. Colette*

                Defending against a lawsuit and winning still costs time and money. This policy seems excessive, but it’s possible there are real concerns behind it.

              2. Dweali*

                You asked about what legal issues could be faced for talking internally, I brought up a legal issue.

                1. Fortitude Jones*

                  Yes, and I’m disputing the validity of that issue. Slander and defamation are extremely hard to prove.

                2. Dweali*

                  You never asked how easy a case would be to prove, frivolous or not a lawsuit takes time and money to defend. And if the coworkers were to testify about what had been said about why someone leaves then it would not he such an easy case to throw out.

            2. Anon4Now*

              Years ago I worked for a company that had a call center in the same building. I worked in a back office along with payroll, HR, The director and his executive assistant. The door to our office was locked and we needed a code to enter the room.
              One day, A man that I had never seen before was standing between my cubicle and the HR manager’s office. I said hello to him and went about my business. Later that day the director explained to the back office group that the man was a undercover detective and he arrested Fergus (a call center team lead) who had been selling drugs! The director asked us not to discuss this information with anyone. And if asked about Fergus, we could say that he no longer works for the company.
              Later that week while I sat in our break room eating my lunch, I overheard a couple of call center employees talking about Fergus and his arrest. They knew more details about the arrest and I did not! I think hearing this conversation proved to me that there are co-workers at my company that will somehow have more info. (or come up with a good story) about what really happened.

              1. Moonsaults*

                In the situation of an arrest, you can find that kind of information on the news. Also many places have employees who are friends outside of work, especially with a call center set up! I know a lot of folks who have built long standing friendships with people they met doing just that work.

                It’s also one of those things that if he’s arrested, they’re probably questioning people who may have information on him, including coworkers.

                I had someone come in and ask “where has Dude been?! I always at least see him around town…” And needless to say, I didn’t know, he was a total no-call/no-show and just suddenly turned up a couple weeks later to get his paycheck…and he seemed to be coming down off a bender -.-

                1. Anonymous 40*

                  You’re so right about the news. I’ve seen several people I worked with in call centers on the news. Dealing meth and felony theft (same person, different times), killing someone while driving drunk, and a murder-suicide. It’s not that where I worked was so awful, overall, it’s just that we went through a LOT of people due to the high turnover.

          2. neverjaunty*

            There could just as easily be legal issues in the other direction – such as the fact that employees generally have a right to discuss working conditions under the NLRA.

  12. Justanotherthought*

    The link to the article about boss’s day wasn’t working for me – US News said the page no longer existed. Is there anywhere else this article is posted?

  13. Clinical Social Worker*

    OP #2 You have my sympathy I worked a job like that once. Stonewalling you (pretending like you aren’t there/refusing to speak to you) and the cruel mockery can sometimes get so weird when you describe it to other people they think “that can’t be real.” Especially when literally an entire department is engaging in it.

    I’m so so sorry. I hope you find an amazing job soon.

    1. Catalin*

      I really wish I could visit there, sitting with OP at their desk when some of this crap starts to happen. I would burst into hysterical laughter the first time someone stonewalled/middle-school-shitted you until THEY were the ones that were uncomfortable. Of course, as a non-stakeholder I’d have more leeway than OP could, but these people deserve to be mocked and emotionally shredded (okay, fine, just a little shredding). (Who am I kidding, my words are weapons if I let them be and these ________________ really make me mad.)

  14. Dawn*

    #2: Oh my gosh, I’m echoing everyone else when I say NOT YOUR FAULT!

    Work should *never* be personal- I mean sure people can be human and have co-workers they like and co-workers they really don’t like BUT everything should be done professionally and on the up-and-up. Anyone at work (and doubly so for managers) who pulls some sort of Mean Girls clique high school crap is basically Doing It Wrong. And anyone at work who pulls a Mean Girl is the one with the problem(s), NOT you!

    Please look for another job and know that the entirety of the AAM community is rooting for you!!!

    1. AnonAnalyst*

      Yeah, there is so much WTF in that office that I don’t even know where to go with it.

      Seriously, OP, this is so not normal and so not because of something you did. Please start looking for another job ASAP if you haven’t already. These people sound horrible.

  15. Anon For This*

    #2 – I was in that situation (plus other toxic stuff) in my last job. It took so much out of me, I didn’t have much energy left for job hunting. I finally quit without anything lined up and changed careers. I couldn’t find a job in my field because I couldn’t use references from the last workplace.

    After I gave notice, a co-worker from an adjacent department reached out to me and started inviting me out for lunch. He was married and we weren’t work friends. I said no. Then he invited himself to my going away party, got me drunk, and asked for dirt on my co-workers. Who I hadn’t gotten along with, etc. I said too much.

    Then he added me on Facebook and “liked” my public pages. He started showing up to events I was participating in, filming me, and asking me to come back to Old Company. He commented on everything I posted and the comments had a sort of passive-aggressive tone to them, or implied that we were close friends when we actually were not. He sent me messages asking me to go out for drinks with him, asking where I was, asking me to add his friends on Facebook, offering to help me move and asking where I was moving to. When I didn’t respond to his, “Where are you?” posts, he would post something publicly saying something like, “Hope you’re having a great time in Wisconsin! Wish I was there. Thinking of you.”

    The thing was he was one of the only people from that workplace who was kind of nice to me and who I could have potentially used as a reference. So I went along with it for a while, thinking I had no choice. I’m still dealing with this to an extent. I moved across the country in part so that he would stop showing up unexpectedly and filming me. These are public events so he wasn’t doing anything illegal, but it was really creepy. I’m afraid that if I block him on my public page, he’ll retaliate by posting the footage online and presenting it in a way that’s not flattering; that’s happened to me before in a similar situation.

    One of the worst things about all of this – the toxic workplace and the co-worker’s behavior afterwards – is that no one I’ve talked to has been the least bit sympathetic. The job had a prestigious title. So everyone acts like I’m complaining about nothing and taking my good fortune for granted. Two career counselors, family, friends, everyone. I finally decided those people don’t care about me and I’d be better off without them. My dad was ok with my boss sexually harassing me because he got to brag about my job title. He begged me to stay. So I stopped talking to him. I’m still trying to find someone – anyone – who I can talk to about any or all of this.

    Anyway, my advice to the OP is to get out as soon as possible. These kinds of situations can spiral and have far reaching consequences.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      What the hell?! This is all kinds of wrong, and the fact that no one in your life seems to understand that is mind boggling. I’m glad you cut everyone off and moved away because this could have ended pretty tragically. Your former coworker sounds unhinged. “Wish I was there. Thinking of you.” to someone who’s not your wife?! What in the ever loving…

    2. Temperance*

      What do you mean by he would show up to public events and film you? That’s so weird. It’s weird to me that it’s happened to you before, too. Not doubting you, because I’ve had a creepy work stalker (who, even 8 years later, still occasionally friends me on Facebook).

      If you’re giving talks, you can always ban recording at the events.

      I’m also encouraging you to try to see this from the outside perspective: for many people, it’s incredibly difficult to get a foot in the door, much less a prestigious job title. That may be why so many people are dismissive of you. Also, your dad is a jerk.

      1. Anon For This*

        I’m being vague for privacy reasons, but it’s equivalent to being a speaker at events that are open to the public and are publicly advertised. I don’t want to ban filming because I that would be unfair to people who want to film for other reasons. Filming is good if people are doing it to be supportive. But in this particular case, I don’t think the guy is interested in what’s going on. The last time this happened, it was in a city 300 miles away, and he asked me to leave the event and go have some food and drinks with him. He was wearing a tshirt with Old Job’s logo on it and kind of acting like he was representing them.

        1. Anon For This*

          Oh, and re: “It’s happened before.”

          Not the exact same thing, but I have been filmed/photographed at public events and the person later posted it online in a less than supportive manner after I didn’t do something they asked me to do.

          I have also had creepy stalkers before, but it was a different type of situation. This guy acts somewhat professional and gives the impression that he may be acting on behalf of Old Company. At first I thought Old Company was concerned because I had left with nothing lined up after being visibly unhappy at work, and trusted with confidential information.

    3. Myrin*

      Anon, you say that no one in your life has been sympathetic about what you’ve been through so let me say right now: I am so incredibly sorry for all of that, for you horrible boss and coworkers, for that one creepy coworker in particular (who sounds like a veritable stalker, if you ask me), for the fact that you don’t seem to have anyone to support you (your dad, like, wtf?!). I know it’s not much coming from a random internet stranger but be assured that there are people who hold kindness in their hearts and don’t want this to have happened to you. It also sounds like a therapist is in order, although that’s obviously your call, but once you’ve found a good one, they can be worth their weight in gold. I wish you all the best!

      1. Anon For This*

        Thank you! That means a lot to me. I actually did seek out a therapist when all of this started, but she wasn’t that supportive either. Now I can’t afford it, but I’ve been trying to find some sort of free or sliding scale services I could use.

    4. Anna*

      I am so sorry. That is complete bullshit and it’s a stupid world where you have to move across the country and cut people out of your life because they are creeps.

    5. Golden Lioness*

      This is horrible. I cannot believe counselors were not sympathetic. I went through sexual harassment in my 1st job and I quit on the spot. That is not normal!!!

      Hope you are doing well.

    6. Moonsaults*

      All these unsupportive…so many bad words right here (just imagine them to spare those who don’t want to see them, I’m spouting off every bad word right now).

      I’m so glad you got away from it all, including your (asdfasdf) father.

      You are not alone, you should never put up with sexual harassment for any reason, I don’t care if you’re the CEO of the world, you don’t get treated like trash just because “well you have a fantastic title, why aren’t you happier?!” Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew. EW. I sincerely hope that as you distance yourself from all that, you are happier and find people who are loving, supportive and have your back like you deserve.

    7. Chomps*

      Wow. Those peopel are awful.

      Also, if you need to process this talk to a psychoterapist (I recommend someone with a clinical psyc PhD, a PsyD, or a LCSW), not a career counselor. While they’re trained in counseling, if they’re focused on career stuff, I doubt they have the depth of knowledge required to deal with this well.

      1. Anon For This*

        I saw an LCSW while I worked there. I no longer have insurance or disposable income, but I’m looking for free services in my area.

    8. margarets*

      I had to respond to this. It’s SO difficult when people simply won’t believe or take seriously one’s experience with harassment and toxic workplaces. It’s adding insult to injury.

      I’ve been there – if I wrote out all my crazy toxic workplace stories no one would believe it – and talking to people mostly didn’t help and sometimes hurt me. People assume it’s just the usual “work sucks” experience, or that the income, benefits, or whatever make it worth it. They don’t or won’t understand that your experience was on a whole other level. Like if a romantic partner or friend were doing it, it would be called out immediately as abusive.

      I’m so sorry you are going through this, and I hope the comments here have provided some support.

    9. Noobtastic*

      I believe you, and I’m so sorry that your “family” and “friends” don’t. Or that they value a stupid job title over your safety and well-being!

      I really want to rage right now. It’s probably a good thing I don’t know who your father is.

  16. BobcatBrah*

    #2 is absurd.

    Why would they treat her like this? If they just really don’t like her, then let her go.

    Now from OP’s side, she should be seriously job searching.

    1. RVA Cat*

      I think they like having her to pick on. Looks like being Office Chew Toy should be part of the position’s job description. Anyone else guess the job has been a revolving door?

      1. pope suburban*

        Bingo bango. If I had business cards, my title would be “Whipping Boy;” although my workplace is milder than this letter writer’s, I recognized the themes very well. And sure enough, before me, the position had cycled through seven or eight people over the course of two years. The truth is that some people– some small, immature, terrible people– just want someone around to blame, or to use to siphon off feelings of stress, anger, or anxiety. As long as you’re doing that, your job is safe, because they don’t want to lose their punching bag (and because I’m sure you’re getting your real job done just fine, LW, and that counts for something even in places like these) and they definitely don’t want to pick up the slack/find themselves in the pool to replace the scapegoat. It’s a contemptible way to be, and I hope the LW finds a new job and leaves them cut off at the knees– because they’re not getting a good reference out of this no matter what, on account of working with and for monsters.

        1. Sweet Potato*

          Yeah, people who act like that are, nine times out of ten, also doing other abusive/sketchy things. Maybe it’ll come out, maybe it won’t. But best to distance yourself before your boss winds up in the paper for some yucky thing he was also involved with.

        2. margarets*

          Yeah, this explains why my most toxic co-workers were shocked, SHOCKED, when I left for another job/to get a master’s degree. They apparently expected me to organize my whole life plan around being available for their toxicity.

    2. Sweet Potato*

      Agreed. If you don’t like a co-worker, you have two options:

      1) Keep that opinion to yourself, or try to change it, and treat them like everyone else.

      2) Let them go.

      Some people get something out of abusing someone who’s subordinate to them. Some people have issues with people of certain demographics. It sounds like something like that is going on here. Those kinds of things tend to be part of a bigger picture, unfortunately. Best not to associate with people who behave this way.

      1. pope suburban*

        Heh, your second point really resonated with me. My boss has said one positive thing about my work in over two years (I think it actually caused him physical pain to do it, too). Mind you, everything’s getting done, I’ve never had a client complaint, I’ve never made a costly error, and I’ve never had any issues regarding work/collaboration with coworkers. Everything is fine. But my boss only talks to me to complain or to make insane (and often incorrect) criticisms of minor things like clients leaving a door I cannot see (It’s a whole building away, there’s no alarm or CCTV or other way for me to know what is going on) open. And there have been times where I just want to look at him and say, “Dude. If that’s really how you feel about it, you know what you can do, right?” There’s no real need for him to keep putting up with someone he clearly loathes. And that’s pretty much how I figured out, after a lot of anxiety, that there’s nothing wrong with my work quality, he’s just terrible at managing his emotions and he harbors certain prejudices that make accepting toxic emotional waste look like part of my job to him (He’s got a distinctly Mad Men bent, if you catch my drift).

    3. Moonsaults*

      There are adult bullies out there that are vicious nasty creatures that thrive off humiliating and hurting others. It breaks my heart knowing it exists but it certainly does.

      People who are degraded and beat down like the OP is also sometimes lack the self esteem it takes to move on, which is why the obvious response is “find another job!!!” but that’s not so easy when you’re stuck in that pit of hell.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      Why would they treat her like this? If they just really don’t like her, then let her go.

      I always wonder about that. It’s an “at will” workplace, just let them go, don’t dispute the unemployment, and forget about them. Why make such drama?

      1. Devil's Advocate*

        Maybe it’s a type of workplace where it’s hard to let people go. Like a university or government office. This would NOT explain or excuse the behavior, but it could be part of the story.

  17. Joseph*

    “The office manager kindly suggested that “store bought treats” would be acceptable, although the expectation clearly is “homemade.” ”
    This part made me laugh. Unless you work for a food magazine or something, expecting homemade treats basically guarantees you’ll get *at least* one dish that’s so bad it’s inedible.

    1. Temperance*

      I’ll never forget when we had a potluck at work, and our gross receptionist, who did NOT wash her hands after using the bathroom, contributed something. I can’t do potlucks anymore because of that.

      1. MashaKasha*

        That’s pretty much the reason why I’m extra careful around work potlucks. Only the food that I know came from the closest and oldest of work friends. The rest? they look nice, I’d chat with them around a water cooler, but I don’t know these people and I don’t know how they handle the food they cook.

        Also, I developed a habit of bringing my own silverware to work every day, after I caught a coworker at OldJob sticking his hand down the back of his pants while talking to someone, picking his butt for a good several minutes, then heading on to the breakroom and helping himself to the plastic utensils. I also always made sure to be ahead of that guy in the food line whenever we had a catered lunch at work.

      2. Orca*

        Yeah, I had a workplace where whenever there would be a potluck we would spread the word which dish was from one of our coworkers with questionable cleanliness so everyone could avoid it.

      3. Lana*

        Yes. Someone at my work loves potlucks – LOVES them. She always makes something and she means well but she has three pet cats. And she always talks about how the cats helped her cook. And people who are new and don’t know will eat the treats and then be like “Oh man, there’s hair in this!” and it’s cat hair. And it’s gross.

        1. MashaKasha*

          Eww, no!!! My son has two cats that live with me part-time, and they love love love to “help me cook” when they’re over at my house. When I’m throwing something together for myself like packing a work lunch, not gonna lie, that’s no big deal to me. But when I have guests coming over or making a potluck dish? The kitties are in one of the bedrooms with the door closed, and remain there until I’m done. I’m fairly new to the whole cat ownership thing, but not having them jump on counters while I’m making food for other people seemed kind of reasonable.

          1. Temperance*

            I let my ferrets crawl around on the counter and do all kinds of weird stuff when I’m with them, but I absolutely don’t let them near food I’m cooking for others and I clean up after them. Because I’m not a monster.

        2. A Nonny Mouse*

          We have… several… cats at my house, and whenever I bake, I vigorously scrub the counters and bakeware before I use any of it. Then I distract the kitties with food in their bowls on the other side of the kitchen, and lo and behold they have no interest in what I’m doing with the bacon and chocolate chips.

        3. Moonsaults*

          What the…

          I have always had cats and like hell they’re going to be crawling all over the kitchen when I’m cooking for anyone. They know better than to get on the counters and they’re spoiled AF…

      4. Noobtastic*

        I’ve worked in a lot of places, and while most people do wash their hands, I can truthfully state that every job I had in a large company, there was ALWAYS at least one person who did not wash her hands (I can only speak to the people who used the ladies’ room with me).

        One said it was OK, because she used hand sanitizer at her desk. Just before grabbing the door handle, which I then had to figure out how to use to open the door with my CLEAN hands. Thanks a lot.

        I do potlucks, but I also try to figure out which dishes THAT one is bringing, and avoid them, at least. And be in front of her in the line, so I don’t have to use contaminated serving utensils.

        Ugh, I am so grossed out right now.

      1. Joseph*

        Relatedly, you can also do the old standby of repacking store-bought goods in a plastic container. A few people will complement your “cooking”, a few people might wonder but not have the gall to call you out, and the rest (majority) of people won’t realize the difference.

        1. Noobtastic*

          I read in News of the Weird that there is a restaurant in London who will (for a fee) allow you to rent the pots and pans that they used to cook the dinner that you take out and transfer to your own dishes to impress your guests.

          It’s just a matter of time before they have “potluck ready” “homemade” food.

          And I think it’s a brilliant business concept.

    2. Eddie Turr*

      Store-bought treats are ALWAYS welcome at our company pot-lucks because, y’know, we’re all busy working. We usually end up with 1-3 homemade dishes and a bunch of donuts. And nobody keeps track of who participates; I’ve definitely eaten for free at two or three pot-lucks when I didn’t have the time/money to contribute.

    3. Marillenbaum*

      I would recommend bringing something horrible–like one of those 1950s jello mold salad things with vegetables in it. Act terribly proud of it, and then watch as your office manager realizes that having people bring food to the office is a terrible, awful idea.

          1. Lauren*

            *laughing hysterically*

            This. With a single package of Saltines. Lay it out nicely on a cheap paper plate with a cheap (easily breakable) plastic knife.

      1. SophieChotek*

        Yes I am afraid that is my thought too.

        I just ran across one of my Grandma’s 1950s Jello cookbooks or something like that. Laughed at what was so hip then.

        Or go bring something absurdly high in calories and fat that tastes really yummy…and then watch people’s face fall when you explain it has eggs, whipping cream, sugar, cream cheese, lard,…? Guess I am being cruel. I like bringing in things to share…until it becomes an obligation and then I have no desire…

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            I have a couple of my grandma’s church cookbooks, as well as one that my aunt’s PTA or something put together. So if I had to, I could bring in treats like “7-Up Jello Salad!”

      2. Marisol*

        this is awesome. I suggested a tin of sardines and some saltines below, but a jello mold has more plausible deniability. I still remember my aunt Verna’s raspberry-celery salad/dessert thing she brought every Thanksgiving. Totally hideous.

        1. MashaKasha*

          Aunt Verna’s raspberry-celery salad sounds like 99% of my dating-site dates – two things that are not compatible in any way and should never be together, somehow end up sitting next to one another for an hour; nothing good comes out of it.

          Got to admit though, the morbidly curious side of me wants to google the salad to see what the other ingredients were! And I assume there was a nice layer of (raspberry or celery flavored?) jello covering all of that. Yuck!

          1. MashaKasha*

            Oh my god, you guys will never believe what my google search brought back.

            OP, I’d make this for Boss’s day if I were you. I’d even throw a few raspberries and cranberries in for good measure. They would NEVER ask you to participate again.

            1 pkg. raspberry Jello
            1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
            2 hard – cooked eggs, chopped
            1/2 c. stuffed olives, chopped
            Salt, pepper to taste
            1 c. water, boiling
            2 cans water – packed tuna, drained
            1 c. finely cut celery
            1 tbsp. minced onion
            1 c. chopped nuts
            Salad dressing

            Dissolve Jello in water; add cranberry sauce and mix well. Let cool. Mix rest of the ingredients and add to Jello, using salad dressing to make desired consistency. Pour into oiled mold. Refrigerate until set. Serve on lettuce.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              Gazebo Slayer took the words right out of my mouth.

              And that reminds me of one of my childhood comfort foods, which sounds just as awesomely horrible and is much easier to make: tuna pancakes. Essentially, mix tuna with pancake mix and make pancakes, serve hot with butter. Easy, fun, and you’ll probably be requested to not bring something next year.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  I know – it sounds nasty, and the reaction I get is universally negative. But I like it. It’s rather like a tuna sandwich, but with the bread and tuna all one. My mum had to be creative to feed a passel of kids when she didn’t have much food in the house.

                  Raspberry Tuna salad, on the other hand, sounds like a lot of work to mix several completely incompatible flavors into a horrifying awful dish. You found a masterpiece of terror, and I’m really, really tempted to bring it to a family dinner, just for the awkward laughs.

            2. Noobtastic*

              That AAM letter about the woman whose office-mate spent hours vomiting at her desk? She must have been reading this recipe.


      3. Spice for this*

        Look up James Lileks. The title of the book is: Gallery of Regrettable Foods.
        There are lots of foods that you can take to office potlucks! One of my favorite books when I need a good laugh.

  18. Rebecca*

    #1 No one brought up the whole “Boss’s Day” thing and I thought for once we’d be off the hook, but no. I tried to point out the reasons for not doing it, suggested a card, etc. but I was told I am grumpy.

    So, I just got an email from one of my coworkers, stating what we’re having on Monday, and that the cost will be split evenly among us. I don’t even have a choice, apparently. Another coworker is going to buy everything and bring it. I guess I should be thankful I’ll only be out $5 or $6.

    1. Gaia*

      I just want to point out you *do* have a choice. I would opt not to contribute and when questioned, point to my original objection.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Exactly. Your coworkers do not get to dictate how you spend your money, and they certainly can’t spend it for you. If they want to go out and buy stuff for a potluck, that’s their problem.

      2. OP #1*

        I’m not brave enough to object (it’s a small office and I’m already seen as a bit of an outsider), but one year I did decline to participate. My boss asked what I had brought, and I got side-eye when I admitted I’d brought nothing.

        1. Rebecca*

          I’ll be brave enough to object very, very, very soon. In fact, I can say with 99% confidence this will be my last “Boss’s Day” here.

        2. Important Moi*

          This is all the proof anyone needs when offering solutions and comments. Your boss is neither professional nor etiquette appropriate on this issue.

    2. Garland Not Andrews*

      I’d be asking if they would take a hot check! (Does anyone even know what that is anymore?) My budget is so tight I’m using each dime as 12cents. I need to know about things MONTHS in advance.

    3. Ginger*

      They started doing the Boss’s Day thing in my department a number of years ago. I wasn’t a boss at the time, and I really didn’t mind at first because it was pot-luck and I love to cook. Then somehow it changed into everyone chipping in a few dollars and ordering from a restaurant. I wasn’t as thrilled with that, but went along with it. Now I am a boss (but not the department head) and I’m pretty uncomfortable about it. Last year, I politely let the office coordinator know that it is really not something we need to do, so I was really hoping it would not happen again. Hopes were dashed this morning when I got the email for lunch next week. Ugh.

  19. LQ*

    #2 this is so weird. Everything about this is so weird. Get out your resume and start working on it.

    #1 Assuming this food is for everyone it might make it easier if you think about this as a for everyone thing rather than a bosses day thing. (If the food is literally only for the boss I’d offer to make the biggest thing and call in sick.) Some people really like the potlucks and pushing back is like pushing against a mudslide. Try to push back on the full participation. (You don’t actually want someone sick making things, get the germaphobe in your office on your side, etc.) If your office isn’t normally a potluck having office though I think you can push back harder on it.

    1. OP #1*

      I wish I could think of it as “for everyone.” I probably should have said this is a professional services environment, so we have staff and bosses in roughly equal numbers. Our Boss’s Day breakfast is handled in the most cringe-worthy of ways: The staff set everything up in a conference room and then the bosses go in and get their food. After they finish, another cringe-worthy email goes out to the staff telling them they can come in and eat the leftovers. (I say “them” here, because I have never eaten, even when I brought something. The whole thing is just a big appetite suppressant.) The desserts are a bit less formal — I think, though again, I’ve always just put my contribution on the table and gotten the heck outta there.

      1. Myrin*

        :| :| :|
        It’s stuff like this that makes me immensely glad that “Boss Day” isn’t a thing that exists in my country. What the hell, man.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Same. We don’t do Boss’s Day here but we do get something on Admin Day. (I know, but I like getting something so I’m not going to push on it!) I’d be really annoyed if we had to do this. It would be store-bought pie all the way.

          My first year, I did send my bosses each a separate email with pictures of flowers thanking them for being so cool, and they loved it.

        2. OP #1*

          My boss doesn’t personally do anything for Admin Day (for which I am grateful, since I consider it almost equally as distasteful as Boss’s Day). Some of the others do flowers. But the same office manager again carries on a time-honored, condescending tradition of week-long “goodies” for Admin Prof’s Week — cheap trinkets and smarmy gimmicks, and then everyone is taken out to lunch on the day. I purposely scheduled vacation for that this year, too.

          1. Noobtastic*

            I think Admin Day is more acceptable. After all, they’re quite frequently doing grunge work for lousy pay and little recognition.

            GOOD bosses appreciate their admins all year long, so it’s not needed, and feels smarmy. But a lot of admins feel really put upon all year round, and this is a sanity-saver for them. Even though they know that they’re only getting the cheap flowers because it’s socially expected, and the boss doesn’t really mean it, and will go back to being a jerk the very next day.

            OP#2, Get our of there!

      2. Important Moi*

        Are you my co-worker?

        This happens at my Teapot company. I thought I was the only one who thought those emails were cringe-worthy.

      3. Lauren*

        Breakfast contribution: One cold fried egg with a sprig of parsley.

        Dessert: One doughnut nicely sliced into (how many bosses there are) pieces.

      4. MashaKasha*

        What the actual hell!!!

        This is especially odd if it’s never done the opposite way around.

        I’ve seen it at several jobs around the holiday season or another work milestone, that the management team would order a catered lunch, serve it to the group or department, and then sit down and eat with the rest of the group. This comes across to me as nice and thoughtful gesture and a great way to thank the team for doing a good job throughout the year. The staff cooking a lunch for bosses and then getting locked out of the lunch room until the bosses are done and they are allowed to pick at the leftovers is a great way to deliver… what message exactly????

      5. AnonAnalyst*

        What…? I’ll echo Alison’s “gross.” How are the bosses not mortified by this process?

      6. Moonsaults*

        I was in the “meh it’s a potluck” crowd until I read this atrocity. How incredibly tacky, ick.

  20. Kriss*

    OP#2: none of this is your fault. had you tried to stand up for yourself you would have been labeled insubordinate. You have a toxic boss who has mistreated you & the kiss ups who work for him are just following his lead in mistreating you. get out, get out, get out. There is nothing for you to gain from continuing to work there.

    when I was young & in the early stage of my career, I had a boss who decided that she didn’t like me & didn’t trust me & I could do no right in her eyes & she harassed & yelled & screamed at me. she even went so far as to call me on my day off to scream at me & accuse me of stealing from her. she had me in tears as I told her that I couldn’t have taken the missing money because 1. I was off for the past 2 days & 2. I didn’t have access to the money when I was at work. (another employee in the office used her intense dislike of me to steal from her & blame me. I told her who her thief was but she yelled even louder because he would never steal from her, he was her friend, & she knew him for years, blah blah blah)

    It wasn’t until after I transferred out from under her that I found out that I physically resembled her daughter who was a conartist who had stolen from her & other friends & family & quite a few strangers & she decided that since I reminded her so much of her daughter that I must be just like her daughter & she began her hate campaign. I only worked for her for about 6 months but it was 6 months of hell. when I left she still had a theft problem–the idiot didn’t know I had transferred out & continued to blame me for the missing money. She fired him & had another employee call me to apologize.

    If I had it to do over again, I would have transferred out sooner. fwiw: a couple of years after I moved on to another company, she called me all sweet & nice because she was being sued by one of her clients & I was a witness to the incident in question. I let her lawyer know my version of what happened & exactly what I thought of her & he decided they didn’t need my testimony after all. (no I wouldn’t lie under oath for her & I would gleefully tell them in gory detail what I remembered of the incident. they decided it was in her best interest to settle out of court)

    1. JM in England*

      OP#2, I was in your situation early in my career. Put in Star Trek terms, it was a Kobyashi Maru scenario (no-win). I needed the experience and the reference, so could see no way out and didn’t want to have to explain at future interviews why I quit with nothing lined up. Like you, I suffered the public humilations by the boss and most of the rest of the team; the few that didn’t just stood and watched (later learned that this was probably through fear of being the next target). I even told my then-agency about the situation and they basically didn’t want to know, claiming that they simply could pull me out of one contract then place me into another: after much arguing and persuading, I eventually brought them round to my viewpoint.

      I have been impressed by how the anti-bullying policies of employers have improved by leaps & bounds recently. At least two employee handbooks I’ve seen in the last few years include verbal abuse, humiliation and freezing people out under forms of bullying/harassment; I just wish this had been the case in my situation described above, which happened over 20 years ago.

      As others have already said, don’t stay in this hostile workplace any longer than you have to and best of luck with whatever happens next……………

    2. Noobtastic*

      ” She fired him & had another employee call me to apologize.”

      She had another employee call you to apologize for her.

      She had another employee apologize…


  21. AndersonDarling*

    #4 You should loop you boss in just in case something comes up. I part time at a medical spa and everyone once in a while there will be an emergency training and I need to ask my boss if I can leave for 2 hours in the middle of the day. Then he understands why it is important. You never know when you could get a call from a local tv station wanting you to do a segment on the morning program, or when an important conference is scheduled during an inconvenient time at work. You wouldn’t want that to be the first time you bring up your side business.
    We also have a disclosure agreement buried in our policies that few employees know about. We are required to disclose any other employment, just in case there will be any conflict of interest situations.
    But my issue is that I don’t know how to handle my linkedin profile. I’m starting to see clients on my own and it must be odd to google my name and get a linked in profile for something completely different career.

    1. Ayla K*

      I’ve seen plenty of people with two “current” LinkedIn titles. The site doesn’t bar you from having two active positions either. Could you list both?

      I had a friend who was working as a teapot analyst but he did some major consulting for a restaurant on the side. The two jobs weren’t related at all but he had professional relationships through both positions, he put a good amount of work and time into both positions, and both ended up being equally important for his career long-term.

  22. Merida May*

    #1 – Could you and any of your coworkers who are lukewarm about this kick in five bucks for donuts/bagels/coffee? I completely agree that Boss’s day is ridiculous, but if your office has a long standing history of celebrating it, or even just co-workers who are super committed to potlucks, you might not be able to sway everyone in time to avoid it this year. Maybe think about it as contributing towards a day of grazing in the conference room as opposed to celebrating your bosses? My participation in office parties tends to be less ‘I’m super excited to be celebrating X event/milestone/person’ and more ‘I can totally see myself eating sheet cake two weeks from now’.

    1. OP #1*

      To my knowledge, none of my coworkers is lukewarm about it. I may well be the only person who sees the problem. This place has very low turnover, so even though I’ve been here nearly 5 years, most of the staff have much longer tenure than I do. (My position turns over more often because of the awful boss.) And because of the demeaning way it’s handled (see my earlier comment), it’s really hard for me to psych myself into seeing it as something other than humiliating.

      1. Merida May*

        Ugh, yeah, the execution really bites. I don’t know your office social climate, but would there be any reprocussions for just ‘forgetting’ to bring something come Monday?

  23. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #2

    I didn’t even read the whole post yet, but just had to say, where the f*ck do you work that grown-ass adults act like this??! I can’t even wrap my mind around this.

    I agree with AAM, you can’t fix this. Just move on. And, really, why would you even want to fix this? Unless the benefits and pay are awesome, or you totally love your job, I’d just move on when you can.

  24. Lora*

    1. It’s not a hill I would die on. As a manager, may I say that Dunkin Donuts would even be overkill for any reason other than “I felt like it” or “it’s Tuesday”. But, I am a weird manager, sycophants give me the creeps; I just want people to do their jobs and be decent to each other. “Don’t bug me about petty crap like Fergus didn’t make a fresh pot of coffee and Cersei violated the dress code” would be my favorite Boss’ Day gift of all time, tbh.

    2. GET OUT. RUN. RUN WITH THE LEGS GOD GAVE YOU. See, sometimes I wonder, when I see some richly deserving a-hole get fired for being an a-hole, where will this person find another job? Because where will they get a reference that isn’t, “yeah, Joffrey was…definitely here on those dates.” I’ve seen people who had to move across the country because everyone in the local community of professionals in my field, knows what an a-hole the person is and won’t hire them. Hell, one guy had to move to another country because the company had a facility on the West Coast too and the guy was just that infamous. NOW I KNOW WHERE THEY GO. They went to work at your job! I guess you don’t work for S*****g? That seems to be the dumping ground for personality problems in Boston.

    3. I sort of think your co-worker might have misunderstood something. Sometimes it can be hush-hush about why a particular person is no longer there (e.g. one of my colleagues was fired for doing something particularly egregious and embarrassing to the company and they did not want anyone to speak of He Who Shall Not Be Named ever again), but that would be all sorts of infeasible to implement as a general policy. Maybe it happened once or twice and co-worker was told off for asking about it, and it was memorable to them?

  25. Purest Green*

    #3 – If the workplace doesn’t want its employees stating former coworkers were fired, then it seems the company should be responsible for keeping that information under their hats. How hard is it to keep a termination between the appropriate parties and send an email stating, “Fergus will be seeking opportunities elsewhere,” or some such thing?

  26. Mary*

    OP #5: For what it’s worth, I started my current position as non-exempt overtime. My job also involves a ton of nights and weekends, and I ended up submitting the strangest timesheets (it didn’t help that I was split between two different departments, one of which paid for all my benefits–so I needed to work exactly 19 hours in one department and exactly 21 in the other).

    The upside of this arrangement was that it was very helpful for keeping me disciplined about work-life balance and prioritizing many different kinds of responsibilities, and offered me a lot of immediate feedback about what I was actually spending my time doing. My work habits really improved, and I became a much better employee over the year I was in this type of role.

    In addition, it quickly became apparent that my role really was misclassified, and that I should be considered exempt; also, there wasn’t really a way to do my job effectively without working overtime at certain times of year. After a year I was able to make a convincing argument for this–and I ended up getting a substantial raise as part of it. So having to track your hours in this way may be helpful in the long run!

    1. OP 5*

      Yeah, I agree that it may work out better in the long run. I’m so close to the threshold that I think they’ll push me over it relatively soon – I hope so, at least. It’s frustrating bc I’ve gotten a ton of praise over the past few months about the work I do, the quality of work I produce, the way I get everything done, and the initiative I show – which I’m able to do because I’m able to stay a few hours late once or twice a week (or more, if need be) to focus and get things done. I totally agree with and support this law, but I’m dreading being micromanaged after a year of doing my job, and doing it well, without being micromanaged.

  27. OP #1*

    I am deathly afraid to say anything about this other than anonymously. I really just wrote for some reassurance that I’m not crazy and the potluck is just as gross as I think it is. As far as I’ve ever been able to tell without asking outright, I’m the only staffer here who has a problem with the Boss’s Day festivities. If anyone agrees with me, they’re just as afraid to say anything as I am. In defense of the bosses, I think our celebration is really driven by the office manager. Most of the bosses are decent enough people who probably just don’t have a clue that gifts aren’t supposed to flow upward, and they probably never even see the office manager’s icky “full participation” email. They just see the generous morning and afternoon spreads and think how great they must be to deserve such largesse.

      1. OP #1*

        That’s such a generous offer, Alison! Thank you, though I’m afraid I’m too paranoid to accept. The validation I’ve received here today has gone a long way toward making the situation bearable. Oh, and by the way, I’ll be on vacation for Boss’s Day and so can get away without participating.

        1. Marisol*

          Could you print the “full participation” email out, with an anonymous note and/or this article, and leave it on a bosses desk? It’s sneaky, but justified…

    1. Myrin*

      That really does sound weird and out of sync with… well, many things. If you don’t mind, I’m not quite following one thing – you say your are “deathly afraid” to bring this up, which is, well, a pretty strong fear. But then you say the bosses are actually okay people. So is this whole fear – that maybe other coworkers are feeling, too – concentrated on the office manager? Does she have any kind of power over you (I don’t really understand how that “office manager” thing works, sorry)? And I guess you’ve probably thought about this already but would it be at all possible to approach one of the bosses about this? From what you’ve said in the comment detailing how these meals look, this whole thing seems really extreme.

      1. OP #1*

        You make excellent points. The office manager has very little true power, but they can make my job extremely difficult to do, and I have no recourse. (I hope to be out of here early next year and just want to survive until then.) I didn’t want to go into ad nauseam detail in my original question, but suffice it to say the company culture is one of fake yet very strong esprit de corps that you sort of feel compelled to go along with. The previous office manager probably authored it, and the current one is carrying it on with equal enthusiasm but less tact. My guess is I’m bothered by it more than most because I’m a highly sensitive person, and because the treatment I get from my boss is particularly bad compared to the experiences of most of my peers. I do rebel in small ways (e.g., skipping lunch-hour “training classes” on skills I already possess) but feel I have to concede in some areas to keep from being pegged as the difficult one — which I kind of already am.

    2. Wheezy Weasel*

      I like to think of things like this as a ‘work tax’ so that I don’t get worked up…and I’d definitely be worked up in the situation you describe, especially getting the email to come eat the leftovers! But in some jobs my work tax was I had to wear a tie, or the parking permit was way more expensive than it needed to be, or we had to pitch in to buy our own Kleenex/water/paper plates or something equally ridiculous.

      1. Ayla K*

        I really like this way of thinking about it. My current workplace has a really generous flexible schedule policy, but my work tax is that I do have to provide my own desk supplies (stapler, post-its, tissue, etc.) At least I can get reimbursed for it.

  28. Chriama*

    OP#3 – have you read the book Catch 22? Because that’s what I thought of when I read your letter. Ignorance of the policy, which doesn’t seem to be clearly stated anywhere or actively disseminated, is no excuse for not following it. And whether or not the person asking you to violate it is a supervisor you have to follow it? Even when they should presumably know better? Are there any other secret rules like this at work? Are your coworkers actually all gossipy 13 year olds? Alison is right that now that you know it you can follow it pretty easily, but if you’re so inclined I would follow up on this. Next time a supervisor asks you follow the policy but also quote it, as in “She no longer works here. I was also recently informed that talking about a coworker’s reason for leaving is grounds for termination, so I don’t know any more information about when or why she left.” (Actually now that I look at that it sounds a little passive-aggressive, so ymmv on that one). Also check with the highest level manager about this. It could be the person who told you is misunderstanding or misrepresenting a more reasonable rule, but if not then it’s definitely worth letting people know so they don’t accidentally find themselves fired for a rule they didn’t know about. Maybe you can even ask the highest level manager for permission to tell coworkers or post a notice about it, so they don’t get blindsided.

  29. Caroline*

    Apart from the stupidity of a “Bosses Day” (which honestly I’ve never heard of and hope my boss hasn’t either!), it is extremely rude, from an etiquette perspective, to demand to be thrown a party for any circumstance. Do you also demand workplace birthday parties? Baby showers? I’ve never heard of such a thing.

  30. A Nonny Mouse*

    Yeah, we do the office potluck for Boss’s Day too. It makes me crazy every year, because now we’re being pressured to bring specific items (e.g., “please bring breakfast dishes rather than desserts, as we always have far too many of the latter.”). So not only am I pressured into providing food for my bosses, I’m now pressured into making SPECIFIC things on my one day off for the week (I have two other jobs and very little free time). My bosses are all great, but frankly, they all make far more money than I do and I can barely afford my own groceries let alone stuff for a potluck. Sigh.

  31. Pari*

    #3. That policy is likely a violation of the NLRA if you’re discussing with another co worker why someone was fired. The NLRA says you have a right to talk about work conditions

  32. Ruby Jackson*

    I work in California and non-exempt employees schedules can only be changed 2 times in one year (at least at the place where I work.) So needing to have OP on a fluid schedule might be reason to classify her as exempt.

  33. KittenLittle*

    Hehe. Just now I received an e-mail from some coworkers who are planning a Boss’s Day breakfast in the break room Monday morning, and want each of us to bring something. I had planned to anonymously place a copy of your article in our suggestion box, but now I think it would be pointless! =D

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You could reply-all to the email with a link to the article and say “I think this is worth considering.”

      (I’m on a mission about this one — sorry for the overly passionate urgings to everyone in this thread.)

      1. Pari*

        To me this is a huge risk of coming off as the office curmudgeon. I would guess most people do these sorts of things (community food) more for themselves than the boss. people love break room food spreads and look for any excuse to have one.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There are usually other people who feel the same and have kept quiet about it (as so many people here are saying they do). Very often people are relieved when someone speaks up about it because it gives them an opening to say “yeah, I think so too.”

          1. Pari*

            Oh I agree but many of those are like kittenlittle who would never take the risk of voicing their opposition in public.

      2. KittenLittle*

        Thank you for the reply! Our e-mail does state that participation is voluntary, but we don’t have a good management team; I don’t feel the need to thank them. However, knowing how crazy this place is, I’d never have the courage to send such a reply for fear of backlash.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            Are you also willing to share with us some of the responses you get? Please?

            My bosses live in another state, we don’t celebrate Boss’s Day here (AFAIK), and the people at my job are reasonable about making things voluntary, so I won’t take you up on the offer. But I really want some others to do so.

      3. Anna*

        I am truly grateful that I don’t work at a crazy place like this. The only time our boss gets gifts is during Secret Santa ($5 limit on gifts) and since I’m in charge, this year I’m making sure she’s swapping with another director level manager or similar.

  34. Trout 'Waver*

    In regards to Letter #3, is anyone else seeing a parallel with Cowslip’s warren in Watership Down?

  35. Marisol*

    #1 if all else fails, maybe you could buy something really disgusting and cheap. I don’t mean something obviously insulting like dog food, but more like…a can of sardines and a box of saltines.

    1. OP #1*

      That’s awesome! I hope to be gone from that place by Boss’s Day 2017, but I would almost welcome an opportunity to do something very close to that.

    2. Adonday Veeah*

      I’m sorry, but add a dab of spicy mustard and this is the perfect meal for me. Love the concept, though.

  36. Geneva*

    OP #2. There is NO EXCUSE for their terrible behavior and it’s not your fault. Start documenting everything – curt emails, conversations, phone calls, etc. I suggest starting an “escape” folder in DropBox or on a thumb drive so if for some reason you lose access to your work email you’ll have a copy.

    That’s what I did when I realized I was being bullied by my boss and the CEO of the company where I had my first job out of college. After months of enduring something similar to what you described, I quit without notice. But thanks to my “escape” folder, I was able to collect unemployment because my local office determined I was subjected to “harassment, intimidation and racial discrimination.”

    You are not powerless in this situation. Arm yourself with knowledge and get out now.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Given the frequency of such stories, I think a big subset of bullying bosses intentionally recruit new grads just so they can treat them like crap. People with a little more experience know that this behavior is not normal and will not put up with it.

  37. A Nonny Mouse*

    Y’know, I think I just realized why this whole Boss’s Day thing makes me so uncomfortable. In my office at least, the bosses are 80% male, and ALL of the secretaries are female. To me, it feels like, “Oh, the LADIES are going to bake for us,” and then when they’re finished eating, the peons get the leftovers. I’m sure that’s not how it’s intended, but on some level I feel like it ends up being almost a sexist thing. I may talk to my own boss about this. Last year I got him a Christmas present (under $20, it was a six pack of craft beer), and he goes, “While I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness, please don’t get me anything next year. Gifts should flow downward. It’s my job to appreciate YOU.”

      1. A Nonny Mouse*

        He truly is, and I tell him so often. My other boss is great, too. He baked me cupcakes for my birthday.

  38. Blue skies*

    Related to #1: I’ve heard of places where the situation is flipped: the bosses provide a potluck to all the admins. If such an event was voluntary on both sides, would that be an okay thing? (I’m sure a lot depends on culture. We have a pretty functional group so I think it *could* work but I bet I’m missing risks and benefits.)

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I think it really does depend on culture. At Exjob, our holiday potlucks were company-wide, and the sign-up sheet included everyone. Even the managers would bring stuff. Not the original big bosses, but they shared other treats with us–on Bosshusband’s birthday, we got his favorite pie. When they went to Hawaii, they brought us pineapple. :) But it was a small business so easier to manage this. (Boss’s Day and Admin’s Day weren’t really a thing.)

      However, I’ve worked at other places with other bosses/employees where I wouldn’t touch this with a 39-1/2 foot pole.

    2. Emma*

      Bosses providing potluck for the admins = fine.

      Both bosses and admins doing a potluck = fine as long as no forced participation.

      Admins providing potluck for the bosses = not fine in my book, even if it’s voluntary on all sides. Not only because gifts should flow downward, but because bosses tend to make more, and because it sets up a cultural pressure, even if unintentional. I also, frankly, find it sycophantic and off-putting even in the best of situations. Bosses get enough already, y’know?

  39. I Love Spreadsheets*

    I have a question on Boss’s Day. None of this potluck or gift craziness is talked about or expected in our office, I actually just found out by reading this about the upcoming “holiday”. I happen to really like my current boss – he is great. How appropriate would it be to get him a card and have a few of us under him sign it? I honestly don’t think he expects anything, so it would be a surprise. As a manager, would that make you uncomfortable? Would it put the other employees under him in an awkward position if they don’t feel the same? I can easily do nothing, but I actually want to give a card. I’m not the kind of person to kiss a$$, it’s actually coming from genuine desire to do something nice (albeit small). Thoughts?

    1. Jennifer Who Knits Too*

      Just tell your boss what a good boss they are, and include a specific reason that’s business-related, or something that you’ve learned from them. And if you’ve had crap bosses so you really see the contrast, tell them so.

      I’ve done this more than once, and it’s always gone over really well. Most people never hear feedback on “ordinary” things, and we all like to know that we’re noticed and appreciated.

      But keep it personal. It will mean a lot more, and there won’t be any question of people feeling obliged to sign something.

  40. MissDisplaced*

    Yes, the Bosses Day thing is going around my office too, and emails about potluck food items. Strictly voluntary. There are several bosses, and some I like. But I can’t stand my own boss and so I will be trying to work at home that day!!!!
    Ugh! This is just such a stupid day.

  41. EvilQueenRegina*

    We had someone fired for child porn related reasons a few years ago. The official communications just said things like “Ramsay Bolton is no longer with Winterfell Company”, but it made the local paper so everyone knew about it. A few years later, Neal, a new apprentice was dealing with the mail and some junk mail had arrived for Ramsay. Neal didn’t know the story, and had only been there a week so didn’t know many names anyway, and innocently asked “Who’s Ramsay Bolton?” Ruby then proceeded to tell him the entire story and our manager immediately stopped her…there was never any question of firing her though!

  42. Megan Schafer*

    Re: #3: My husband is in a similar situation, but he’s salaried (it didn’t say one way or the other). He works standard hours but sometimes will work extra nights or weekends to complete a project. He’s concerned that if he works a part-time job with set hours outside of his normal 8-5 M-F job, it would look bad to his boss because he’s salaried. Thoughts?

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