3 updates from letter-writers

Here are three updates from people who had their questions answered here earlier this year.

1. I’m temporarily mute due to a medical condition (#4 at the link)

So, I got my voice back! I saved the flashcards I used with common words and phrases for the next time. I lose my voice at least once a year, just not usually for indefinite periods!

Health-wise, the issue that caused the laryngitis is mostly resolved. There are going to be some permanent changes to accommodate my new normal but nothing that impacts me professionally.

Work-wise, my coworkers and boss seemed to completely understand, just like all the commenters said. I really felt reassured, especially hearing from a commenter that they have a permanently mute person in their office. We have a great telework policy, and I’ve been encouraged to use it when my health would benefit from it.

Moving forward, I feel a lot less guilty/burdensome when my health impacts my coworkers. I happened to be very sick the same time you were recently: I ended up being out or teleworking for a week. When I returned, the only thing anyone said about it was more encouragement to use the telework option! (It helps that my boss also teleworks frequently and my job is far more dependent on my mind than my body.)

2. Manager is in a romantic relationship with a junior staff member (#2 at the link)

I followed the advice from Ask A Manager, to share my concerns with the state inspectors regarding a staff member being promoted even though he was dating a coworker and giving her special treatment. The state and administrators were appalled at the behavior of both our department head and our newly appointed department manager and were very adamant that either our department manager or his girlfriend would have to be moved.

The day after the state left, things got nasty. We were called in individually by our department head and grilled about what we said and to whom. After the individual sessions, we had a staff meeting where we were told to “start acting our age” and “get over it” if staff are in a relationship and my favorite, “this isn’t high school.” Our department head, department manager, and the girlfriend were by this point all really close friends who spend a lot of time together outside of work, so there were levels of personal interest and favoritism going on.

Afterward, several of us held a private phone conference with the administration and HR, which began a massive restructuring across the department. The department manager was let go, our department head was transferred, and the junior staff member quit. It was ugly but now department morale is better, our clients are getting the attention they deserve, and it’s a better place to work.

3. Was I fired or laid off? (#3 at the link)

I took your advice, which was repeated by just about everyone I knew, and tried contacting my former manager and HR at my former company for clarification. Not surprisingly, not one single person wrote back. I suppose that’s why I didn’t do it in the first place; I pretty much knew once I was gone they weren’t going to have anything to say.

Still, it all worked out. The biggest thing I was worrying about at the time was that they would fight me on unemployment, even though I was told that I should file for it by several people at the company. I did, they didn’t fight it, and I ended up taking a seven-month vacation. Not that it wasn’t without stress, because being unemployed with a mortgage sucks and is not a situation designed to be stress-free.

Seven months is a very long time, but I guess that might be typical for looking for a job from scratch. I worked with my state’s workforce commission to revamp my resume. I got some good and bad advice from them, but they also pointed me to some very helpful tools for beefing it up and finding key words. I got a ton of calls as soon as my resume was something that employers were willing to take a chance on, even though I am still very very new to my field.

At the beginning of July, I had an absolutely fantastic interview with a company in an industry that I didn’t even think needed developers. It was so good I told people that it was the best interview I’d ever had. Two weeks later, I had another with the company’s CFO/General Counsel who leads the software part as well. That interview topped the first one for awesomeness. I’ve NEVER clicked with people the way I did with this team. Then, radio silence. Nothing at all. They finally offered me a job at the beginning of August, but they didn’t want me to start until late in the month. Suddenly, my very stressful “vacation” really turned into funemployment. I spent that month wandering around Seattle and finding new and interesting places to read and people watch.

I’ve been at this company for two months now. I LOVE it. The people are fantastic. They do things other than just work and go home. I wouldn’t say I’ve exactly made friends yet, but there are a few that I can see going that way. I found out that one of the reasons they liked me so much over more experienced candidates was because I wasn’t afraid to say “I don’t know” and ask questions about how they would approach a problem. The best thing though, the absolute best, is that I’m waaaaaaay ahead of where they thought I would be on the project they assigned me. So much so that the boss pulled me into his office and asked me to take on another one. I haven’t felt that appreciated by an employer in… 20 years maybe.

Getting fired from my job might have been the best thing that ever happened to me.

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. Whats In A Name*

    #1: I remember your original letter and am glad that everything has worked out for you professionally and seem to be improving health-wise!

    #2: I am so so so glad you brought this up with the state and that action was taken. Wonderful to hear.

    #3: CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1111

    1. LeisureSuitLarry*

      Thanks. Keep working on it and keep working on your skills. Don’t take everything you read on a job description as gospel. I had 1 year of experience, but I applied for anything that was looking for a minimum of 3 years. The worst that could happen was that they said “no.” That happened a lot, but I also got a lot of interviews. And whatever you were doing before, be it Accounting, HR, Customer Service, burger-flipping, or whatever, figure out how to make it relevant to what you’re applying for. As long as you’ve got some experience doing something there’s a way to make what you did before relevant.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        When I needed experience in a particular language, I found a cool open-source project and ported it. And then I spun it – they’d ask for X years of experience in it; I had twice that in a language that was its ancestor.

  2. Murphy*

    #2: You don’t need me to tell you this, but you totally did the right thing. Good for you!

    #1 & #3: Yay! Glad it all worked out well in the end!

  3. eplawyer*

    #2 – so instead of doing the easy thing and moving the girlfriend or the manager to a different department so everyone could remain employed, continue their personal relationships and be adults, they instead went all Nixon with his Plumbers on the situation? Then had the gall to say “this is not high school?” I would so wish I were brave enough to say at that point “Then act like it” to the bosses.

    At least it had a happy ending.

    1. Jeanne*

      I wish I would have the guts to say something like that, too. I would have lied in the meetings about what I said to the state people so as to avoid the direct anger.

      1. Annonymouse*

        I’m agree with this.
        If I remember the original letter correctly the girlfriend had access to every bit of information about everyone in the department: salary, disciplinary action, leave requests etc.

        This wasn’t just “oh she can start late and leave early” this was a huge and serious breach of privacy and probably policy.

        I’m surprised she wasn’t fired too.

      2. designbot*

        I probably would have told a soft lie, like “oh, it may have come up, I can’t remember for sure… was that a secret? Everyone seems so open about it around the office that it didn’t occur to me that we weren’t supposed to acknowledge it.”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I definitely would have laughed at the pretense that this was a secret. I refer them to that old quote, (Twain?) “Three people can keep a secret as long as two of them are dead.” For abundant clarity I would add, “You are asking x number of people to keep a secret, that is just NOT going to happen. They will not be able to do this for you.’

          Group secrets cause me to chuckle. This almost never, ever works out. Someone blows it, each time, every time.

          1. Candi*

            I originally read it as attributed to Ben Franklin.

            I remember reading the original letter, and frankly, I would be surprised if the friend/lover fiasco wasn’t all over at least their floor, if not their building. That’s prime vine fertilizer.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      It’s interesting that the management continued to demonstrate their bad judgement by going in a witch hunt.
      I’m so glad that everyone banded together and contacted HR. I’m so glad HR did the right thing. Firing the manager is the only appropriate response at that point. If further retaliation comes up they need to contact HR immediately. Companies can get big fines for retaliation.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Just want to point out that under the law getting retaliated against for reporting quid pro quo sexual discrimination is in itself sexual harassment. The courts have already ruled on that one.
        I suspect that the director made a career limiting move when he started grilling people. I’m sure he got extra training but this is a huge black mark on his record. Which he earned.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Not sure if my comment disappeared or is simply on hold in moderation, but I wanted to say—congrats, OP #2 for making it through dark times.

          And then my other comment was that this doesn’t sound like a situation where workplace retaliation laws would have applied (at least based on the previous letter, there was no quid pro quo sexual discrimination). So it doesn’t sound like the shadiness was illegal, but it certainly was wrong and unprofessional, and I’m glad HR backed up the other staff.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            The girlfriend was receiving preferential vacation in exchange for sex. How is it not quid pro quo? Help me understand this?

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              All employment discrimination laws, with the exception of third-party discrimination or retaliation, are limited to circumstances where the person experiencing discrimination is subjected to an “adverse employment action” (non-meritorious discipline, severely altered job duties that serve as an effective demotion, cut hours or advancement duties, firing, sexual harassment, etc.).

              Here there’s no quid pro quo because, based on OP’s first letter, the girlfriend was in a consensual relationship (i.e., no threat of adverse employment action if she refused her coworker-boyfriend’s advances, just unfair benefits as a perk from being in her relationship). So she received preferential treatment, but from what was provided in the letter, that treatment was not contingent on having sex with her coworker.

              Additionally, because the girlfriend was the only coworker receiving preferential treatment, and because there were ostensibly other similarly situated women who did not receive benefits, there’s no disparate impact claim, either. This is just straight up nepotism/favoritism, which is wrong but not always illegal.

              Of course, if the underlying situation were different and the girlfriend was being coerced with job-related threats, then the analysis changes entirely.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m actually surprised that they didn’t fire the three Stooges when it was reported that they pulled this nonsense (calling everyone in and witchhunting). But I’m so happy that things have at least improved for your team and that you made it through dark times!

        Re: retaliation, while you’re spot on that a third party reporting sexual harassment is protected under Title IX and Title VII, the information in OP #3’s original letter doesn’t sound like there was quid pro quo sexual discrimination. It also doesn’t sound like the shady behavior would have fallen under whistleblower or First Amendment protections, either, which means that the director, et al., probably didn’t break any law by attempting to retaliate. It also doesn’t sound like there were internal policies around these issues, although I would be shocked if someone had a policy for the things in the original letter because they’re so obviously inappropriate. Regardless of the legal stuff, the trifecta demonstrated extremely poor and unprofessional judgment, and I’m very happy that HR stepped up so that OP #3 and their team was not stuck in that vortex of morale-crushing suck.

        1. Jeanne*

          Not everything is illegal or I can sue but this was obviously wrong. I’m glad in the end someone recognized that and took action. I can’t imagine writing a policy that included questioning who told about the manager’s girlfriend getting extra time off.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Totally agreed that it was wrong, although likely not illegal. I’m glad there was an appropriate response (firing), although I would have fired the witch-hunting manager who let this go on, too.

            By policies, I meant policies about internal, third-party complaints that don’t quite fall into whistleblowing, but that raise important (non-legal) problems for an organization.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I was happy to hear that the witch hunt was not the end of the story. So often the witch hunt starts and everyone clams up.

    3. Venus Supreme*

      The high school comment gave me flashbacks to this one couple at my high school who would always make out in front of my locker… Lol

  4. Golden Lioness*

    To all the OPs, thank you so much for giving updates! I’m glad they are all so positive… All’s well…

  5. Moonsaults*

    Cackling that someone would think that ‘acting your age’ means to sit back and let someone act any way they see fit, while others in the office and standard procedures/policies are disregarded. I’m glad that they cleaned house, those people do not belong there and nobody should have to deal with their shenanigans.

    1. ArtK*

      I think that the perpetrators regarded the OP (and others) actions as “gossiping” and “tattling.” They didn’t consider that their actions were objectively wrong. I’m glad that they got some serious consequences for that — some lessons require harsher application than others.

      Saying “act your age” while trying to cover up immature actions is the very definition of irony.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Eh, right back at them, I say. “If people weren’t acting like school kids, there would be no need to ‘tattle’. This is a basic cause and effect relationship. If someone does X then predictably Y will happen.”

  6. JuniperGreen*

    Hooray for updates! I get so invested in some of these letters it feels like hearing from friends.

    Allison, I know “closing the loop” can take a lot of time and effort so thank you for pursuing regular rounds of updates!

  7. Cary*

    Op number two.

    I have no poker face whatsoever, and I would struggle keep my mouth shut during the we all need to be adults meeting. So, I’m wondering what you did during the meeting. How did you keep your cool? Assuming you did keep your cool,

    1. Observer*

      I was wondering that, too. I think I would be choking. But, then again, how did you manage to get through the grilling, altogether.

  8. Observer*

    #2, I’m so glad it worked out.

    The department head is amazing, though, and not in a good way. The state auditor was “adamant” that the staffing would have to be changed, and his response was to grill staff (hello, retaliation!) and double down on NOT making the changes?! Seriously? You’d think that this was someone six months into their first, low-level job, not someone with enough experience to be expected to run a department. Wow!

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      You would think, but then having worked with a CEO who sexually harassed a number of employees, the idea that people should know better seems almost quaint. :S

    1. LeisureSuitLarry*

      Thanks. It was a long, stressful slog and it’s going to take me months to recover financially, but in the end everything worked to make me a very happy camper.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Your story is inspiring, thank you so much for sharing. May you have many, many good years at this job.

  9. Jeanne*

    Great updates. #1, It sounds like you work with some really nice people. It’s great to hear about that.

  10. Anon for today*

    #3 – I somehow missed your original letter back in January, or I definitely would have commented. I was in a similar situation, where I was told I was “terminated” and that my position was soon going to be “eliminated anyway.” There were also very personal and corrupt reasons I was being let go (you’ll have to take my word on that) just to complicate things. It felt like, “You’re fired, but if we weren’t firing you, we were going to lay you off within the next few months anyway.”

    When on the phone with unemployment they asked if I was fired or laid off and I said, “I think both?” and they said it had to be one or the other. When I mentioned the position being eliminated, they said to go with that.

    I was VERY fortunate to use my former boss there as a reference who left right before the s*** hit the fan. Meaning, future employers never had to contact them (I suppose they could have) because I had someone else on my side from that job who served as a reference.

    Like you, it was definitely one of the better things to happen for me, and I’m so glad everything worked out for you!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This has been my experience with unemployment folks also. You have to give them something they can hold on to, but they are most willing to support you if your situation is unfair.

  11. Product person*

    #3 – I took your advice, which was repeated by just about everyone I knew, and tried contacting my former manager and HR at my former company for clarification. Not surprisingly, not one single person wrote back. I suppose that’s why I didn’t do it in the first place; I pretty much knew once I was gone they weren’t going to have anything to say.

    Here’s advice to anyone in need of information from a former employer: pick up the phone and call. Not even when I was trying to figure out how to return the extra money I received after resigning from my job (knowing that at some point the company would figure out the overpayment and ask for it back), I was able to get an email reply from my boss or HR. As soon as I called my boss on the phone, things started to move.

    As much as you may want to avoid speaking with the people from your former company, and would prefer to deal with them via email, phone calls are the best way to avoid eing ignored. Just thought I’d mention it here for people who in the future find themselves in a similar situation (by the way, I think that’s precisely what AAM meant when she recommended contacting the former boss: calling the person, not writing to them, which seems to be what OP3 did).

    And, of course, congratulations on your new great job, OP3!

  12. LarsTheRealGirl*

    #3: That sounds awesome! A word of caution…I would advise against calling your 7 months of unemployment as a “vacation”. Even if you were actively job searching during that time (which is sounds like you were), collecting unemployment – taxpayer money – and calling it a vacation can really rub people the wrong way. Again, not that you weren’t doing everything right in terms of job search – just maybe don’t call it vacation.

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